Old Timey Liquor Cabinet

On my most recent trip to visit my grandparents, I was rummaging around through all their old stuff. I always do. No matter how many times I look in their cabinets and closets, I always find something new (well, new to me), whether it is a massive collection of vinyl (The Best of Jack Benny anyone?) or a collection of slides from when they lived in Germany, my grandparents' stuff never fails to entertain me.

This time around, I found their liquor cabinet!

It was full of all your standards, and some of the bottles were so old, we had to use pliers to get them to open. But standing next to the bottles of Bacardi and Smirnoff, were some liquors I had never even heard of, so I did some research. Have any of you ever tried these spirits? I imagine some of them were popular "back in the day".

•Tia Maria: a coffee liqueur, resembling Kahlua but produced in Jamaica using Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Beans

•Cherry Kijafa: a Danish cherry-based wine

•Galliano: properly known as Liquore Galliano L'Autentico, Galliano a sweet herbal liqueur created in 1896 by Italian distiller and brandy producer Arturo Vaccari of Livorno in Tuscany. Among its approximately 30 herbal ingredients are star anise, Mediterranean anise, ginger, and citrus and vanilla.

•Cherry Heering: another Danish cherry drink, a liqueur that has been in production since 1818! It may have even been in their cabinet since then!

•Cream Sherry: a sweet sherry which has been aged longer then normal to provide a richer flavor. My grandmother said that when they lived in Germany, it was common to have a small glass of sherry at lunch.

•Creme de Banana: quite simple, a sweet banana flavored brandy

•Sloe Gin: a gin flavored with sloe berries, which are relatives of the plum

•Kamora: I couldn't find much on this one, other than the fact that it is a coffee liqueur

My Grandparents are VIPs

I always knew that my grandma and grandpa were special and important to our family in so many ways, but I had no idea that they were actual VIPs! But I learned this on a trip with them to Mickey's Country Cafe in Riverdale, IA, where my grandpa shakes hands and my grandma pours coffee.

Mickey's is the best kind of cafe - a downhome, home cooking joint. They are open most days at 5 am and serve breakfast and lunch. Today, we were here for the popular Saturday breakfast buffet. The first thing that tipped me off to my grandparents' status as super VIPs, was the fact that they said we should take the back entrance. Entering through the "back entrance" was basically walking in right through the kitchen! They said their hellos to the staff they knew and we were immediately seated and greeted by one of the lovely waitresses.

the VIP entrance

"Hi Helen. Hi Eldon. These must be your family members you're always talking about." Introductions all around. Soon enough, a woman at the table next to us leans over "Are you Eldon's granddaughter? Just how is Chicago treating ya?" Next, Mickey herself comes over with a big grin and a cup of hot coffee for the g-p's. "Hi everyone!" After we order, Grandpa makes the rounds, shaking hands and making jokes with the patrons.

Soon they spot someone rolling silverware in the corner. They say "That's our job! Who is that girl rolling silverware?", while I tell them to relax an enjoy the eggs and bacon. Apparently, they roll silverware for Mickey on most visits to the cafe. When we want more coffee, my grandpa goes behind the counter to get it. And when it's finally time to go, our bill reads $0.00. They don't pay here because to Mickey and her husband Bill, who run this cozy place together with the help of their daughter, my grandparents are like family. And since I can't be with them in Iowa as often as I would like, I am so grateful that Mickey's is around. I suggest, if you're ever in Riverdale, IA, make a stop off at Mickey's. Just tell 'em Eldon sent ya - you'll be VIP all the way.

Mickey beats up gramps

Grandpa holding court

a heavenly breakfast


Cafe Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Ba Reeba

After a fancy cocktail at The Violet Hour, we headed to Cafe Ba Ba Reeba in Lincoln Park. This tapas restaurant is perpetually packed and Wednesday night was no different. We waited until 8:45 for a table, and our growling tummies were making us grumpy and uncomfortable, but once the food was served, all was forgotten. Check it out.

the hanging pig parts in the front of the restaurant

I could live on olives and cheese alone

a sneaky fork heading for the Patatas Bravas - crispy potatoes

shrimp with garlic and lemon, so simple but so good

steak filets with blue cheese and fresh cut potato chips, good for the meat-eaters of the group

The Time Of The Violet

My mom was in town last week and we decided to take her to the very trendy Violet Hour. The idea was that she wouldn't find a place like this back in McKinney, TX.

The unmarked door on Damen Ave. leads to a hallway with a giant velvet curtain (was it a violet curtain? I'm not sure). Once you get through the curtain, you enter a candle lit room and are seated at chairs with exaggerated high backs.

The drink menu is separated by type of liquor - whiskey, tequila, gin, vodka, brandy, rum. And the ingredients are exotic and interesting. I had a sloe gin cocktail which included bitters and egg whites, which made the drink frothy. My mom had the classic Pimms Cup, which she loved, and Steve had a tequila cocktail. I'm a sucker for a bar with a cocktail menu - especially if that menu includes things like pineapple-infused beefeater, rosewater, ginger syrup, and chocolate bitters.

hipster tested and mother approved

I would like them to add a cocktail utilizing my favorite cocktail ingredient, Gorgonzola-stuffed green olives...if anyone can do something new with that, I know The Violet Hour can!


Off to Iowa!

My Mom, Rufus, and I (a motley crew) are off to visit my grandparents in Iowa this morning. I'll be sure to bring you back some nice corn pics but in the meantime, I'll leave you with these "arty" shots of the Chicago skyline that I took last night while on a little Lake Michigan boat cruise.


Omn A Highmay Smar!

My old coworker, the illustrious JBJ, and his wife Tara have the CUTEST kid in the world, Mia. And this MP3 of her singing Deep Purple just brightened my morning. I hope you enjoy it too.

CLICK HERE to hear the cuteness


Interview With a Rockstar Cheesemonger

Most people who know me well, know that cheese is my favorite food. Gouda, Gorgonzola, Feta, Sharp Cheddar, Parmesan, Havarti, Sage Derby...it goes on and on. In fact, I seem to remember on my first date with Steve, I may have asked him to list his top 5 fav cheeses in order. I'm so cool.

Anyway, when I found out that Steve's good friend Erik had experience cheesemongering (is that a word?), I jumped on the chance to ask him a few questions. A cheesy interview follows...

CV: What exactly does a cheesemonger do?

EH: Quite simply, a cheesemonger is the person working behind the cheese counter. Ideally, the monger helps the customer determine which cheeses they need by offering up samples and any information they have on the cheeses displayed. Once the choices have been made the monger cuts and wraps each piece for taking away.

CV: How do you become a cheesemonger? How did you get into it? It sounds so glamorous!

EH: Funny, you're not the first to think that the position might be glamorous, or even sophisticated. On the contrary, it's really quite simple, and it's just about being helpful. Cheese is for everyone, and it's not supposed to be complicated. I encourage people to simply find what they like.

I got into selling cheese by working at Zingerman's, a deli and all-around fantastic food shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It wasn't until after I'd started working there that I realized that cheese was becoming a passion of mine. I was able to learn quite a bit from being there, and I've since worked at Neal's Yard Dairy in London, and Pastoral, right here in Chicago.

CV: Can you recommend a great local cheese or dairy?

EH: One of my favorite cheeses happens to be from just over the Wisconsin border, and that is Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Company. Mike Gingrich is the cheese maker, and from what I know he has always exhibited passion, dedication, and consistency. His is an alpine-style aged cow's milk cheese, similar to Gruyuere or Beaufort.

There are also a couple of excellent goat's milk cheese makers here in the midwest: Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, Illinois and Capriole in Greenville, Indiana.

CV: What are your top 3 favorite types of cheeses?

EH: Robiola, a soft and delicate, mixed-milk Italian cheese. Montgomery's Cheddar, the king of cloth-bound cheddars, traditionally made in County Somerset, England. And finally, Eppoises, a pungent Burgundian cow's milk cheese which is washed with Chablis as it ripens.
[Ed. note-holy cow!]

CV: What's your band, NOMO, been up to lately?

EH: NOMO is doing great. We just returned from two months of touring after releasing our third record, Ghost Rock. We'll be playing out a bit during the Fall months, in addition to finishing up work on another album.

CV: What's the band's favorite food to eat on the road?

EH: In our hearts we wish we could eat much better than we actually do. Our absolute favorite is when any sort of meal is prepared for us, be it by the venue in which we're playing, or the gracious host who's putting us up for the night. While actually underway, I would have to say our favorite food to eat is a tie between Taco Bell and Subway.

CV: Easy Cheese vs. Cheez Whiz - who wins?

EH: Easy Cheese by a long shot. I used to keep a can of it in my dresser drawer as a kid, making myself late-night snacks without having to go downstairs to the kitchen. Plus, I love that crusty part on the top that shoots out after the can has been sitting unused for a while.
[Ed. note-me too!]

CV: Best cheese for nachos?

EH: Admittedly, I've never gotten adventurous with my nachos. You can't really go wrong with true nacho cheese from a jar. However, if I were to try something found at the cheese counter, it might be grated Mahon, an easy-to-like aged cow's milk cheese from Spain.

You heard it people, get out there and try some new cheeses (and check out NOMO while you're at it)! Thanks Erik! Hope to eat some cheese with ya soon.



I had walked by the very chi-chi Japonais many times since moving back to Chicago this February. The building it's in also houses Motel Bar, Kitsch'n and office bathrooms with super high tech Dyson hand dryers. But that's beside the point. The point is that I had walked by many times, never venturing inside because the slick design and sports cars parked out front just didn't seem like me. I had also heard stories of outrageous bills at the high end Japanese restaurant.

Well last night, I actually ended up inside Japonais for a late dinner with my best friend who was visiting from Dallas. We were 6 total and the service was nice and slow. But my fear about the price of the food was pretty much justified. Just to give you an idea on the pricing, a "Salmon Special" roll, essentially 6 small pieces of panko-crusted shrimp maki with a delicate, thin layer of salmon gently placed on top, ran about $17. It was delicious though. In fact, everything was delicious - the lobster spring rolls, the Japanese consume, the eel rolls - everything.

The Salmon Special. Or was it Special Salmon?

The star of the evening (in more ways than one) was the dessert "Coffee and Donuts". Let me describe this for you...3 fluffy cinnamon-and-sugar beignets, filled with chocolate hazelnut sauce, served next to a coffee cup filled with a green tea semifredo (like a mouse), topped with whipped cream, raspberries and a Pocky stick. It was irresistible for even me, one who would rather have a slice of Havarti than a slice of cheesecake.

Allison, such a fan of Coffee and Donuts

So was it worth it? I'd say yes, mainly because I didn't have to foot the bill and was with one of my favorite people in the world. But the next time I walk by Japonais, will I be stopping in for a bite? Until I'm a high-roller, naw.

Cubbies Kraut Fries

Sunday was the Cubs' last home game and my first game of the season. And while I'm not what you would call a "sports person", I love going to sporting events to stuff my face with junk food. Believe it or not, Wrigley Field is pretty vegetarian friendly. Here's a little taste of my Sunday...

My all time favorite sporting event junk food

I'm pretty sure I invented a new junk food...french fries with sauerkraut, tomatoes, and onions! I think I'll call the dish Kraut Fries

Live Long and Prosper

Last Thursday night I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a taping of NPR's Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me, a current events quiz show with an irreverent tone. Hosts Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell kept things witty while asking the members of a panel questions about everything from Sarah Palin to Russia.

In the middle of the taping, Peter invited out his childhood hero, Leonard Nimoy, for an interview! Spock!

He was very entertaining and while I was(am...) a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was cool to be sitting 15 feet from the original space dude with pointy ears. Paula Poundstone was also a hilarious highlight as a member of the quiz panel. I had no idea! I'm now a Paula fan.

More Spock!

All in all, a very enjoyable night. I know NPR sells tickets to these tapings and I'd highly recommend this to anyone looking for a different type of night out. All in the heart of Downtown Chicago.

The view from below, Dearborn and Madison


Sparks Loses It's Spark?

The makers of Sparks, a popular(?) malt beverage that combines alcohol and caffeine in a can that resembles a giant battery, are being sued to remove the product from the market. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is suing MillerCoors, claiming that the drink allegedly poses health and safety risks. There was a time when my friend, let's call her S-Blade, showed up to parties with a 6-pack of this high voltage beverage but after a while, we realized that all it really did was turn your tongue yellow and make you feel slightly cracked out. So I wouldn't recommend Sparks to anyone. But check out the full story here and decide for yourself!

America's Next Top Quiche

Photo by noted fashion photographer, Nigel Barker

Kate had me over on Wednesday night to watch our favorite show, America's Next Top Model. It really is the perfect reality show. It has crazy host Ty-Ty Banks, the drama that is enevitable when you put 14 girls together in a house, fabulous gays (shout out to Ms. J!), fashion, but most importantly crazy Ty-Ty. Seriously, I think she's lost it this season, but it's so fun to watch. And this Wednesday, it was even more fun to watch because Kate made a delicious quiche for dinner. It had mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and Havarti cheese and managed to be hearty and light at the same time. Here a pic of the lovely Kate in her(and Tim's) fabulous orange kitchen. Thanks for dinner!


Rufus loves looking out our front window. He spends most of his time just checking things out in the 'hood. What a weirdo.


Snack Shout Out!

Yesterday, a coworker and I ate at the Frango Cafe (as in Frango Mints) on the 7th Floor of Macy's downtown. And I feel compelled to tell you that this place has the BEST potato chips. They came as a side with my coworkers sandwich and they looked so good that I had to ask her if I could try just one. And then another. And then I just went ahead and ate the rest of them! (she said I could). It was like a force of nature was compelling me to eat these chips. Crinkle-cut, salty, and with mounds of black pepper on each chip, I believe they are my new snack obsession. Watch out Frango! Photos to come as I conduct more research on this topic.


Mexicanos, viva Mexico!

That's the cry of Father Hidalgo, the driving force in Mexico's struggle to break free from Spainish rule in 1810. Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16th, and honors Hidalgo, as well as the events leading up to Mexico gaining its independence from Spain. Don't I sound smart? Well, I didn't know any of this until last night, when my friend Peen took me to Tecalitlan Restaurant in the Ukrainian Village for a little education and celebration. Yeeeaaa!

Not only did I learn some Mexican history, but also that Tuesday nights are $3.00 margarita nights. The nice price applies to their "special" flavors only but oh what a deal. Check out these beauts.

Not only pretty - also very strong

While telling me how most cities in Mexico are likely to have a September 16th Street, Road, or Avenue, we chowed down on a plate of Queso Fundido, without the dido. That's right, Queso Fun. No chorizo for us - just a straight up huge plate of melty chiuaua cheese to eat with corn and flour tortillas. Take a look. The photo doesn't quite capture the glory(read, grease) of the dish.

mmmmmmmm, cheese

Finally, we forced down few simple but good tacos and called it a night. All that food, 2 margaritas, and a history lesson only set me back $20. Viva Mexico indeed!


Aunt Sue's Lemon Cucumber

My lovely and lively Aunt Sue sent this photo of a Lemon Cucumber that her neighbor grew. An heirloom variety dating back to the late-1800s, this cucumber is apparently sweet, great for pickling, and despite it's appearance, not sour at all. I say, gimme!

Thanks Sue!

The Joys Of Pet Ownership

Score: Rufus - 1, Glasses - 0


This Feels So Wrong

Soy Bacon and Meat Bacon...together at last!

Tigercity, USA

photo by ebru yildiz

One of The City Vegetable's favorite bands and good friends, Brooklyn's Tigercity, have submitted to an intense food questionnaire for all you City Veggie readers. They rule because they're my friends but mainly because they are a REALLY REALLY good band. And we once paid Joel(funk bass) $26 to drink a half jar of pickle juice. So yeah, don't mess with them. Read on for more juicy info from Joel himself!

CV: What's your favorite new fast food joint that you've discovered on the road?

TC: Probably Torchy's Tacos in Austin, but if we only have like, two dollars, then Taco Cabana is THE JAM.

CV: What are your personal favorite dish/dishes?

TC: As a band, we've been known to go on huge Mexican kicks. But I personally am always down for a $50 Fillet Mignon.

CV: What's your fav place to eat when you come to Chicago?

TC: I'd say at this point we have two solid favs. Tony's Burrito Mex has never let us down. It's the cheapest, most awesome Mexican hangover cure around. Our latest Chicago food obsession is this place called Victory's Banner. Its a vegetarian restaurant that we only go to for breakfast but I think they have lunch and dinner. Its the most new age/spiritual breakfast you'll ever have. The waiters and waitresses wear robes and they sell books on meditation and all sorts of shit. Its the only restaurant I've ever heard of being affiliated with Mahavishnu Orchestra. Totally sweet.

CV: Do you like to cook? If so, what are some of your signature dishes?

TC: Brady could seriously be a competitive guacamole making champion. His guac is way better than most restaurants'. We cook a lot at home. Fish tacos, stir fry, veggie dishes, rice, kale, all that hippy shit....ummmmm Omelets, pasta with elaborate sauces, stuffed peppers, tuna melts...

Bill saw a kid running through the projects shooting a gun the other day on the way to the grocery store. That is what our neighborhood is like right now; band dudes and gang warfare.

CV: Who would win in a fight: Chester the Cheetah or Tony the Tiger?

TC: According to family guy, Chester the Cheetah is a coked out Rush fan, so I'd have to go with him over Tony.

CV: Pizza: Thin crust or Chicago style?

TC: Chicago's Pizza is the best pizza I've ever had. Our manager gets it for us every time we play a show in CHI. Its unbelievable. Bill didn't know what it looked like until a month ago, because every time he ate it (at least 10 times) he was blacked out and never remembered. I like both the veggie version with jalapeno, and the meaty one with a layer of peperoni on the bottom. My mouth is watering.

Thanks guys! We'll hopefully see you back in Chicago soon!



Riverside Cafe

While you certainly can't see the river from this restaurant, it lies on a little strip of Cortland Street in Bucktown that had intrigued us for some time. There are 4 or 5 bars and restaurants on one block of this otherwise very residential street, and this morning we tried Riverside Cafe for a 1 pm breakfast. On a rainy Saturday, I'm pretty sure it's illegal to get out of bed before noon anyway.

The decor here is what I like to call "Grandma Chic". Or maybe "Olden Day Chili's". Checkered table clothes, Tiffany lamps, and old Chicago memorabilia, along with numerous pictures of the rat-pack era (think Richard's on Milwaukee if you know it) made being inside on a rainy day feel that much cozier. I feel like Grandma would have kept up the dusting a bit better than Riverside has but then again, Grandma has OCD.

Steve loves to dust too!

On to the food! They had everything from lox and bagels, to a Havana-style breakfast consisting of plantains, black beans and eggs made-to-order. On this trip, Steve choose the lox scramble and I had the breakfast burrito. While neither of these dishes were amazing, they filled us up for around $8.00 a piece and came with crispy hashbrowns.

They had 2 bottles of hot sauce on the table that I had never seen or tried before. Both "hecho en Mexico", one was a chile and lime-flavored "snack sauce" (love that) called Tajin and the other, Salsa Huichol, reminded me of Tapatio hot sauce and was definitely spicier than Tajin. Both were a nice addition to my breakfast burrito and any cafe that has 2 bottles of hot sauce on every table, is my kind of place.

So here's Steve's take on the place in picture form:

1 thumb up - not 2

Overall, the atmosphere, service, and hot sauce selections were great, but the food we had today was just ok. I'd recommend that place for a rainy day when you're maybe feeling a bit nostalgic for the days of yore and want a casual and cheap brunch.