Chicago Eats: Part 2 – The Publican, Grahamwich, Al’s Beef, Kumas Corner and Slurping Turtle

Last weekend I went to Chicago with my three best friends and had a pretty fantastic time. Heading into this trip I knew that food wasn’t going to be the main attraction for the weekend. Two of my friends are somewhat picky eaters and they weren’t in the mood to embrace their inner foodie, but we made compromises and made a list of a couple restaurants we wanted to try while we were in town. Yesterday I posted Part 1 of the trip and wrote about my experiences at Portillo’s, Lou Malnati’s, Big Star and Xoco.

When my friend Mike and I started thinking about potential restaurants to visit, we decided we’d have to pick at least one nice meal for the trip. Chicago has so many great restaurants but we decided to make reservations at The Publican, a Euro-style beer hall that is dedicated to meat in all of it’s glorious forms. It was our second trip to a Paul Kahan restaurant (he’s also responsible for Big Star) and it exceeded my lofty expectations. Honestly, I fell in love with the restaurant from the minute we walked in. The dining room is gorgeous with a large communal table (at the time was separated into several smaller tables) and cool dome lights hanging from the ceiling. Mike and I decided to try a little bit of everything and ordered several small plates. The Chicken Liver Pate (gallery) was served with raspberry jelly and toasted bread; the combination of the savory pate with the tart/sweet jelly was fantastic and reminded me of a decadent PB&J sandwich. I also tried Beef Hearts (gallery) and Blood Sausage (above) for the first time; the Beef Heart didn’t have a strong flavor but the Blood Sausage was amazing and maybe one of the best things I ate the entire weekend. The watermelon and feta salad provided an interesting contrast but the juicy, finely ground and rich blood sausage was great. My friends Eric and Doug shared a half chicken which was seasoned well and served on top of french fries, which worked out great since they had soaked in almost all of the chicken juice. The Pork Belly (gallery) nearly melted when I ate my first piece, an incredibly sweet flavor with just enough fat to provide a butter like texture without being chewy. We also shared a half order of Benton’s ham (gallery) and again I really enjoyed the dish and could have eaten the entire serving by myself. A perfect food to pair with a really good beer. I love everything about Publican, from the casual atmosphere to the interior design and the incredibly affordable meal. For the four of us the bill was just around $40 a person before tip and we were very happy.

Another restaurant that was recommended to me by several serious foodies was Slurping Turtle, a noodle bar that I visited on Monday while I was exploring Chicago on my own. I’m not sure why I decided to get ramen on an incredibly warm and humid Monday, but I was glad I did. I also ended up trying their Duck Fat Fried Chicken (above). These were pieces of chicken (on the bone) that were lightly breaded and deep fried in duck fat (presumably) and only cost $8. While a little difficult to eat around the bones it was really good and a little spicy. I ordered their Tonkotsu Ramen (gallery) which had a couple large pieces of pork and creamy broth, it wasn’t outstanding but was a nice change of pace from our weekends heavy/meat focused meals.

I also made one last touristy stop before leaving Chicago and decided to stop by Al’s #1 Italian Beef. I had heard of Al’s from their appearance on the short lived Food Wars and knew it was a popular chain that specialized in Italian Beef (pictured above). To get the Chicago trifecta of cheap eats, I also ordered a Tamale (meh, prepackaged) and a Chicago Dog (alright) but their specialty is the beef. Hands down their Italian Beef was the best I had that weekend which included Portillos and two dive-y restaurants near our apartment. It was very messy and included a large topping of their hot peppers and tender juicy beef. The restaurant had all of the touristy signs with awards and television appearances posted throughout, but it appeared that I was eating with mostly locals, which made me feel a little better.

That same day I also hopped on a train and bus to head out to Logan Square to check out the small, cute french bakery La Boulangerie. It was my last day in the city and I was looking for French Macarons (in gallery) to bring back home to Alli. After some failed trips to restaurants/markets that were closed on Labor Day I finally found my French Macarons at La Boulangerie. They didn’t have a very large selection but a dozen Macarons it only cost $18. I ordered their Mint with Chocolate Ganache, Cherry, Apricot, Vanilla with Chocolate Ganache and Rose. Some of them didn’t survive the train ride back to Buffalo in one piece, but they were still good (not Sarah Walley good, but good). The Apricot and Cherry both had really sweet and tasty jam fillings, nothing that revolutionary but a solid dessert/snack. It probably wasn’t worth the 30 minute commute in the hot sun, but if you were already in the area it’s a cute cafe that’s worth stopping in for a quick snack.

While on this trip, I also really wanted to try some of Graham Elliot’s food but without heading to his fine dining restaurant. So instead we visited Grahamwich for a late lunch, Elliot’s affordable sandwich shop. Right before we went I looked at their ratings on Urbanspoon and was surprised to see a really low score. I ordered the grilled shrimp wrap with their homemade salt and vinegar chips. The sandwich was fresh and the shrimp had some nice seasoning but it wasn’t exactly mind blowing. The chips were a little stale but my friend Doug loved his BBQ chips and it was a refreshing/light break from our previous meals. Their homemade root beer was really damn good, though, and I thought about getting a refill when we left.

The last meal for the four us was a stop at Kuma’s Corner, a heavy metal bar that’s a bit of a hike in Logan Square but is pretty famous for burgers and a “we don’t really give a crap about our customers” attitude. We arrived around 7pm on a Sunday night to find the place packed and with a 2 hour wait for a table. We decided to put our names in at the bar and place an order to go and see which one came first while having a couple delicious beers. Unfortunately, our to go order came out right as a table opened and we had to eat our burgers on the steps outside, which proved difficult due to the incredibly messy/large burgers. I ordered the Kuma Burger (gallery) which has a fried egg, bacon and cheddar on top. It was absolutely delicious and one of the better burger’s I’ve had, the picture below doesn’t do it justice. The meat was incredibly juicy and flavorful and I think I ate the whole thing in just a couple minutes while people smoking outside looked on in horror. My biggest regret was not getting there earlier and spending some time just hanging out inside, listening to metal and drinking delicious beers. Definitely one of the coolest places we went to the entire trip and I have to thank Chef Ed Forster for the heads up.

Chicago was amazing and I totally fell in love with the city in the short four days I spent there. I can’t wait to go back with Alli and continue working my way through their culinary wonderland. In a year where we spent some serious time in NYC and Toronto, some of the best food I’ve eaten this year has come from Chicago.

Photo Gallery:

Grahamwich on UrbanspoonThe Publican on UrbanspoonAl's #1 Italian Beef on UrbanspoonSlurping Turtle on UrbanspoonLa Boulangerie on UrbanspoonKuma's Corner on Urbanspoon

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