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Michael Nagrant

Standing Room Only: L' Patron Conquers Chicago's Carne Asada Scene

Nice review Nick. Coppertone24, it's true, I seem to be in the minority on this place. Reader liked it too. I hope I can convince you that, at least for me, a bad review isn't a result of a bad day. I make multiple visits and in this case, I live literally right around the corner and have a vested interest in the place being awesome. And to some extent it is. Most taquerias don't make the Sun Times review column. It made it because there's a good story and as I acknowledge, an effort to do something different. However, I'm comparing Patron to Asadero, Cemitas Puebla, Tio Luis, Taqueria Moran, Big Star and Antique Taco and my experience it wasn't better, at least not yet.

Does Ordering Di Fara on Facebook Really Work?

I might add I did drop a real sob story on Di Fara's wall about flying in from Chicago and dying if I never got to try Di Fara, so it's possible they took pity on me. If you're from Williamsburg and you're just nursing a hangover, who knows if they might be so accommodating.

For the Best Fried Chicken Thigh in Chicago, Go to Kith and Kin

In case no one got it, I was being tongue-in-cheek. Obviously Thomas Keller is one of the greatest chefs in the world and I respect him wildly. Though that all being said, given a choice of a perfect roast chicken from Keller or a perfectly fried one from Gus in Memphis, there's no question where I'm going here.

Getting all that subconscious need to defend Keller's honor and the worry about the waistline or the guilt of hardening arteries and with a gun to your noggin, I'm pretty sure I know where the majority of Americans will be going on this one too.

Chicago BBQ is Better than Memphis BBQ

In response to AV Club’s criticism of my BBQ piece:

http://www.avclub.com/chicago/articles/chicagos-bbq-is-worse-than-memphis-bbq,36152/


Marah,

I appreciate the criticism. I'll be the first person in the world to admit that I didn't eat at every spot in Memphis, which I admitted in the piece. However, I did make a good run at the places that make almost every critics top list from Memphis and outside Memphis. What stands as you point out, that there may be one better place I didn't get to, as of course we know critics miss stuff...I also made that point in my piece. My point here being, I understand the weaknesses in my argument and I disclosed them. Having someone else reiterate them as you do here is kind of feels like piling on the fat kid who already hates himself for being fat.

But, hey, that being said, the places I went to in Memphis were the analog of Hot Doug's, i.e. critical darlings purported to have the best bbq in Memphis. If I went to Hot Doug's, as I have, I would agree with those critics wholeheartedly that it represents most of what they say it does. (However, some would say they have the best fries in the world and I think you might find fRed Hot's and Fries frites are superior, and yet people don't wait hours in line for what may be some of the best fries in Chicagoland - some of the sausages are just as good if not better, as well.)

However, the case in Memphis is not the same. Those places lauded as their best, with the exception of Cozy Corner, were good at most. I honestly believe (this is an important distinction - because I think you may be arguing that I'm just a blogger blowhard trying to raise a fight for pageviews, which is not the case, especially since I don't get paid per pageview) they probably would not have beat Smoque, Uncle John's, Honey 1, and Honky Tonk in a blind taste test or ribs alone between people who pay attention to what they eat.

I believe with every fiber of my being that I would not travel to any of those places again for BBQ because of the quality I have right here in Chicago. That's might seem like a given, i.e. well because of all the inconvenience etc of course you wouldn't, however, I am a professional eater, so much so that it's also my passion and takes up most of my non-professional life too. I've driven, flown, boated, and waited in collective hundreds of hours of lines including 4 hours once to eat at Uglesich in New Orleans (and it was worth every minute).

I wait and I travel for good eats as a matter of life. And indeed I would travel in a minute to Memphis anytime for Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken, as would I fly to Louis Mueller's for brisket in Texas. I would not make any special arrangement however to go to any of those Memphis bbq spots again, maybe Cozy Corner. I would make such arrangements if someone made an argument for three or four BBQ places I should have checked out that I missed. I believe only one person did that and it's on my radar.

You say:

"Sure, we have great barbecue, but barbecue is inherently pretty great—it's meat so tender it practically melts in your mouth, sometimes with delicious sauce on it. Loving it is practically a given."

If you pay close attention to your food, this is the biggest lie ever told. People would say the same about burgers or ice cream, some going so far as to argue the Big Mac is the greatest thing ever. Pay attention to that piece of meat, isolate it from the sesame seed bun and then tell me what you really think. Likewise, most people who really love BBQ will tell you that meat that "melts" is the sign of bad BBQ. BBQ is actually much easier to mess up than you think, and the places that do so are legion, here in Chicago and elsewhere. I'm not taking in to account some inherent advantage of the form and mistaking that for greatness.

You also say:

“What makes Hot Doug’s famous, and what’s made Memphis and St. Louis and Texas and all the other barbecue cities famous, is that what they do, they do on a level above everyone else, and totally different from anyone else. Can Chicago say that yet?”

I believe that Smoque in general has the best sides I’ve had at any BBQ spot in the country. I believe the quality of their ribs and brisket and the quality of the sauces served on the side would also put them in a serious contention any given day of the week. I think if Robert at Honey 1 on his best days put his ribs out there in competition he’d have a shot at taking top prize as well. You could argue that they’re not distinctive enough or different from St Louis, as you do, but I’ve never had Smoque’s or Honey 1’s sauce or rub in St. Louis – it is its own thing. I think Mac Sevier’s hot links are distinctive and maybe the best link served at a BBQ joint in the country, certainly better than the garlicky European Czech sausages served in Texas. So, yeah to answer your question, I believe Chicago can say that. I also believe those pther cities are famous based on a legacy and some more than others are relying on their laurels. People wait in line for hours and believe Lou Mitchell’s is the best breakfast spot we have. It may have been great at some point, but now all most people get are stale Milk Duds and a medium to decent normal breakfast at best.

Also, though you don’t say it explicitly, there seems to be an argument – certainly from the commenters on Serious Eats, that the number of places or the density of BBQ competition matters. I agree, on number of spots, Chicago loses. However you only need one good place to matter. If Chris Bianco were the only pizzamaker in Phoenix, the city would still be one of the best spots on earth to get pizza.

Finally, and I applaud your courage for admitting that you haven’t eaten at a lot of the places in Chicago, but this is my biggest quibble about your argument and many others who’ve debated: that you dispute my conclusion so vehemently without having checked out at least all the places I did. Had you gone to some or all of the places in Memphis and Chicago I did and said, no, he’s wrong, I’d totally respect that, as Nick Kindelsperger of The Paupered Chef did, but instead, you’re acting like a Catholic Priest writing a sex advice column. That being said, certainly having only gone to the critical darlings in Memphis, I myself am operating like a man who’d only had a handful of lovers writing a sex advice column, but I’d rather have his advice over the lifetime celibate any day.

Best,

Mike

Better Than Bacon: Fresh Alaskan King Crab from Dirk's Fish in Chicago

Depending on the size of the crab, it's usually 3-5 legs per pound...I think they have four plus claws, so a two and a half pounds per at least, maybe more if they're huge.

I don't know why they don't kill and chill, but I suspect it has something to do with the meat being super-perishable and coming from alaska, it's at least a day before it gets anywhere else. Potentially also, because most crab is consumed out of season and thus always cooked, and the haven't made provisions for the small fresh kill window. I'll see if I can find out for sure.

Better Than Bacon: Fresh Alaskan King Crab from Dirk's Fish in Chicago

It would only be prudent to take bacon to the desert island, since I'll probably have no lack of fresh caught crab available. However if that island was somehow crab free, the fresh king would be my first choice. That being said, yes the pictures are of par boiled crab, but, they're not frozen crab. What happens is that the boats offload the crab, it gets processed minimally (salt water cooked) and sent directly to Dirk's within a day or two. That being said, it's never been frozen and it's worlds apart from what you usually get. However, if you want live king crab, Dirk has been know to have a few in his tanks and can get it if he doesn't. Also Richwell Market in Chinatown usually keeps it on hand - though I don't know if they are Alaskan or Russian, which I understand makes a difference in flavor.

Chicago BBQ is Better than Memphis BBQ

If it's on TV, it must be true. That being said, man can only eat at one place at a time. I'd rather have one perfect bbq joint, than mediocre ones.

Chicago BBQ is Better than Memphis BBQ

Albert Einstein wouldn't exist without his father Hermann, but it's pretty apparent which of the two ended up displaying more brilliance.

Chicago BBQ is Better than Memphis BBQ

I grew up in Detroit, and thus not on Chicago cue as I point out in the piece. That being said, my main premise is that I don't feel I am missing out on anything if I only eat Chicago cue again. Agree, same can't be said for Kansas city, if only for a plate of burnt ends. Also agree with Adam, Gus fried chicken in Memphis is the best I've had anywhere.

A Full Dimensional Sandwich: Detroit's 3-D Special Sandwich

The party store is the Detroit areas answer to the urban bodega or corner market. It's like a 7-11, Circle K, White Hen etc, but usually privately owned. Since it's not state controlled, nor are there huge emporiums, usually party stores have a nice selection of liquor, wine, and booze - henceforth the parties. The really special ones tend to have a sandwich counter or a mini-pizza operation in back. Another place I dig is Buscemi's which have decent Italian Subs and what is really a mediocre square bready pizza that has this cloying sweet sauce I can't seem to get enough of.

Head to Macondo for Chicago's Best Empanadas

I think they're very close to Tango Sur's empanadas. I think they get the edge however based on the homier nature of the filling. Tango Sur is maybe more refined, which at least for me in this case isn't necessarily superior. You want the empanada to be a true comfort food.

Head to Macondo for Chicago's Best Empanadas

Tartin it Up in Chicago at Fritz Pastry

I was talking about the next generation of multiple generation family owned shops.  I think it is a fair general statement about those places.  I wasn't talking about the next generation of new pastry shops.  Those generally are returning to artisan techniques.

Tartin it Up in Chicago at Fritz Pastry

I was talking about the next generation of multiple generation family owned shops.  I think it is a fair general statement about those places.  I wasn't talking about the next generation of new pastry shops.  Those generally are returning to artisan techniques.

Tartin it Up in Chicago at Fritz Pastry

I've been three times and had every flavor. That being said, since I wrote this I did have some Fritz macorons made with Cardamom hibiscus rum at a birthday party for Adam Seger. Those macarons were pretty good. Not the best I've had, but very good. Much better filling to crust ratio

Paula & Monica's: When an Italian Beef Makes Love to a Pizza

I've tried Vito and Nick's pizza, though never the Italian beef version, it's one of my favorite pizzas in the city. I've written about it a hundred times. All I know is that this pizza is good. Is it the best in the city, no. Is it in my top five? Maybe. Top 10? Definitely. I wouldn't call it mass-produced, it's from a pretty small store front. Also, I don't spend a lot of time on what the definition of a pizza is. I put it in my mouth, taste it and decide whether I like it. I like this one a lot.

Chicago: I Want This Sandwich ... NOW

The new menu items at Goose at their best ARE compareable. But like I say in the review, it's still not Publican. They serve big crowds and the consistency is off some times at Goose. That being said, there is something about good service, and the Publican's been a mad house the couple of times I've been there.

Chicago: Gettin' Sauced at Honky Tonk Barbecue

Well we can't win 'em all. At least you live closer to Smoque.

Chicago: Gettin' Sauced at Honky Tonk Barbecue

Just make sure not to flick any lit cigarettes or matches near Honky Tonk, or we'll be facing armageddon.

Hoosier Mama Pies in Chicago, Worth the Extra Fat Rolls

Well, I can't think of a better mistake to make than finishing the whole thing.

D'Candela for a Taste of Peru in Chicago

No, but I do recognize that it is a part of the culinary culture, so you never know it might be on a secret menu. I'll ask next time. I do know some of the live chicken spots in Chicago can and do procure guinea pig for some local South American folks.

Considering the Chicago-Style Lobster Dog by Phillip Foss

Well, I'm straighter than Rupaul, but maybe less straight than the Roger Clemens.

Kiss My Grits at Province in Chicago

I agree. Whenever possible, American gulf shrimp are preferable. Though I can't change what the chef has chosen, and they were really good. Agreed, that cheese is certainly not used in every recipe and probably not the original, but it's generally used so much in modern times, that's "classic" has become displaced by recipes from whose momma is doin' the cooking.

Vietnamese Surf and Turf at Chicago's Hai Yen

Right, but it's more orange citrus based...no garlic, though some chili.

Vietnamese Surf and Turf at Chicago's Hai Yen

No, they actually serve a citrus dipping sauce that likely has nuoc cham in it...but in general the sauce they serve is otherwise very similar to a ponzu.

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