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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tasty! Yes!

We ate in a new (to us) restaurant last week. One of those places that we have driven by a thousand times, always meaning to stop, never finding the right moment. We are adding this to our list of "take our friends here" places.

The restaurant is called Smak Tak. Apparently that is Polish for Tasty! Yes! It's true. This is a tiny store front on Elston Avenue, just a short drive from the house. Inside it looks like somebody's log cabin. Perhaps at one time it was intended as a tavern, or maybe this is the way Polish restaurants are supposed to look. Looks aren't everything. But being cute AND having good food are both good things.

The menu is small but appears large, because the left hand page lists all the dishes in Polish, while the right hand page lists all the same dishes in English. Choosing is not made any easier by the few photos of laden plates of food which adorn the menu.

This place serves one of those "I will have to get that next time" dishes. It consists of a Hungarian potato pancake generously wrapped around a healthy portion of Goulash and adorned with sour cream and two or three vegetable salad selections. Other choices include Bigos (Hunter Style Stew) pork loin served with fruit, Pierogi and Potato Dumplings. Shish Kebab and BBQ ribs are also listed. Entrees range from $9to $12. Each includes potatoes and at least two vegetables or salads, chef's choice.

Stuck into the menu is a plain white sheet of paper listing the specials of the day. This takes the form of a $15 full meal and includes your choice of 2 or 3 soups, your choice of entree, potatoes, bread, vegetables and dessert.

On our visit, Bill ordered the special. Some kind of dumpling resembling round Pierogi, a generous basket of bread and butter, mounds of cucumbers in sour cream and shredded, pickled beets. The dumplings were swimming in melted butter, which Bill felt somewhat made up for the brilliant fuchsia beet juice encroaching on their space. Bill chose the chicken noodle soup (I would have opted for the mushroom) and also had a slice of torte as his dessert (no choice of dessert was offered).

I ordered the pork cutlet. A piece of pork, pounded thin and flat, large enough to be imposing on the platter-sized plate which held it and blanketed with sauteed mushrooms. Three small ice-cream scoops of mashed potato, garnished with minced parsley and dill, and mounds of shredded carrot salad and good red cabbage (I don't know how to spell Rotkohl).

The food, along with two slices of bread and butter, was enough that I was able to take home two of Bill's dumplings and one scoop of my potatoes, along with the uneaten portions of salad for a nice lunch the next day. We shared the slice of cake, which was drizzled with Hershey's chocolate syrup and which the wait person presented with two forks, due to her powers of insight.

Although the place was empty when we arrived, and a quick read of the restaurant reviews decorating the walls indicated that evening crowds were not the norm, at least three other tables (of the 10 or so available) were occupied while we ate. Apparently construction crews and other hearty eaters frequent the place for lunch, less so at supper. But no liquor license means you can bring your own choice of beer or wine and appropriate glasses will be offered without asking.

This is not a typical Polish all-you-can-eat buffet and lacks something in the "stuff yourself" factor. But the well prepared food, nicely presented in pleasant surroundings and not too expensive make it a hit. We will be back. Hopefully with friends. Hopefully soon.

Quotable Quotes; in the category But Fish Wasn't Even On The Menu!

"Fish, to taste right, must swim three times - in water, in butter and in wine."
Polish proverb

Saturday, April 18, 2009

You're Smokin' !

About a year ago, a restaurant called Smoque was reviewed on our local TV restaurant review show. It got high marks. It should. I hesitate to highlight it here lest it become overrun with barbecue hounds. Then again, the lack of comments on my posts suggests that teeming hordes are not clamoring to read my blog, so maybe we're safe.

Another little place opened in our neighborhood a couple months ago. They serve the ubiquitous Chicago specialty "Italian Beef" (roast beef sliced paper thin and simmered in a broth heavy with spices and herbs, served on a hearty roll with some of the "jus" and "sport" peppers optional. I do not care for this delicacy even when it is well prepared. This place, well, soaking leftover sliced beef in hot water just doesn't cut it. Even if they try to spare the customer from eating bad beef by serving miserly portions.

Likewise their "barbecue pulled pork sandwich" was a major disappointment. Some kind of pork, cooked and pseudo shredded, scantily dabbed on a doughy bun with a smidgen of commercial barbecue sauce - uh, ya, no!

This place, so close, makes me glad to know that when I want GOOD barbecue, I can get it. At Smoque, not here! Smoque serves up delicious shredded pork or sliced brisket, cooked/smoked to melting tenderness and each served with an appropriate sauce, engineered especially for the taste and texture of the meat. Each is served on a glossy crusted roll with hand cut fries. We usually get one of each sandwich, cut each in half and swap, and divvy up the generous portion of well cooked fries.

We have not yet tried the chicken or ribs. I have no reason to think they will not be delicious. Apart from an excellent vinegary cole slaw, the other sides we have sampled are, in my humble opinion, unnecessary - good mac & cheese and cornbread and serviceable beans. The dessert, an individual peach cobbler, could not stand up to the memory of dad's homemade cobbler, cooked in a cast iron dutch oven in the campfire. I'd rather have more fries or another bite of that brisket.

I know some people believe that "real barbecue" cannot be had in Chicago. I don't care about that. I care about good. The barbecue at Smoque, real or imaginary, is good.

Here's a hint. Call ahead and place your order. When you breeze in (if you can find a place to park) and sail past those in line, you will enjoy their dismay that they did not think of it too!

Quotable Quotes; in the category Can't talk, eating!

"Smoke is the soul of true barbecue". Steven Raichlen, Barbecue University

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Palms

Tomorrow is Easter. Last week was Palm Sunday. I used to love Palm Sunday as a kid. We were given palm fronds at church. Anytime I was given ANYTHING I thought it was special.

At home, we placed the palms over and around crucifixes, paintings of Mary, and any other place that was appropriate. When we were very young we even had a little holy water font on the wall - a small dish to hold holy water, with the likeness of a saint or an angel behind it. We were supposed to dip our fingers into the holy water and bless ourselves each time we entered or left the house.

There was a large container of holy water in the vestibule of the church. Occasionally, we brought a small bottle to fill and take home, to keep our little font filled. Our home font eventually disappeared. I have not seen one in a home for many, many years.

The palms I received in Baptist or Methodist churches were different from the palms I used to receive at our Catholic church. Ours were long and slender. Theirs were a single branch with many short leaves branching off the center stem. I liked ours better - what you're used to, I guess. Since I have been singing in the choir at the Community Church, I get the same kind of palms I used to get as a kid. I like them. They remind me of the "old days".

At one time I became intrigued by palms folded and woven into crosses, roses and other shapes. I determined to learn to make them. On Palm Sunday, I take home extra palms and fold them into numerous palm crosses, which I then take back to church on Good Friday and leave them on the table for everyone to take home. Lately, the children have been making palm crosses in Sunday School, but I still continue to make mine.

Sometimes I give them to friends and neighbors and once, I sent them to my brothers and sisters, hoping they would be mailed before they dried out completely and were crushed to bits in the envelopes. The crosses twist and curl as they dry - you could dry them in a phone book or under a heavy weight to keep them flat, but I don't bother.

I made palm crosses this year. I was going out with friends and brought a couple of crosses for them. To my surprise, they gave me two crosses they had brought home from church. Theirs were folded the same way mine were, only the palms had been cut short before folding. Thus the crosses were uniform in size, and appropriately scaled to be worn as pins (a straight pin was stuck into each, for attaching to one's lapel).

This year's palm crosses were placed on the table in the vestibule. I hope they will be taken home. Last year they were left and later someone had laid them on tables and desks all over the church, apparently unwilling to throw them away.

If you would like to fold palm crosses and don't know how, here is a link that can show you. Leave your palms long as I do, or cut them short, about 6 - 8 inches long should do it. Split the palms to about 1/2 inch widths, or try folding a cross from an un-split leaf and enjoy the bulky cross that results. You can fold the long points into the middle, or leave them hanging long, or wind them around the cross piece and thread them through the final wrap. I make them all ways. They are all pretty and fun.

Happy Easter!

Quotable Quotes; in the category But I Spent All My Money On Jelly Beans And Marshmallow Chicks!

"Those have a short Lent, who owe money to be paid at Easter."
Benjamin Franklin

Saturday, April 4, 2009

It's Electrifying!

A few weeks ago the light in our kitchen ceiling fan went out. Several months before that, the light in the kitchen hall had gone out. We had not gotten around to replacing that so we went to Menards to check out fans and light fixtures.

We could not find the fan/light combo we wanted and the neighbor who would be the one replacing it was at a month long seminar so we did not feel the need to hurry. We continued to shop for fans, not finding anything we liked, learning that Sears no longer sold the massive stock of fans and light fixtures they once did.

Then I saw a tiny display of switches. One was designated as a light switch (pull chain type) for a ceiling fan. Could it be that only the switch had broken and the light still worked? It would only cost about four bucks and a little time and effort to find out.

I questioned Bill who said he could not stand on the ladder long enough to make the change. He did believe he could guide me as I was able to abide the ladder legs and we decided to try - on a bright, sun-shiny Saturday afternoon two weeks before said neighbor was due back.

It took the better part of an hour. I had to remove and reattach the switch twice because wouldn't you know, it only fit if everything was lined up properly to the original configuration (although there was no marking to indicate where that was).

At last, the new switch was installed and tested, the glass light shades washed, dried and replaced and the tools and ladders put away. And not a moment too soon as the afternoon sunshine was fading into evening dimness.

I feel as if we got a new ceiling fan and a sense of accomplishment all for $4. The fact that the house has not blown up is a bonus.

Quotable Quotes; in the category How Shocking!

"Electricity can be dangerous. My nephew tried to stick a penny into a plug. Whoever said a penny doesn't go far didn't see him shoot across that floor. I told him he was grounded."

Tim Allen