Saturday, April 24, 2010

Milwaukee Avenue: Chicago Polish... and then some.

In search of Polish Chicago, I walked from 1200 N Milwaukee Avenue – the Division Street stop of the L to 4600 N Montrose Avenue. Although I was disappointed that I did not see much of a Polish influence anywhere except for a few blocks along Milwaukee and Belmont (old Chicago Polish - next month I'll check out the Polish section on Central Avenue), I found some really fun little places that you will want to check out.

Here are some of the places that I got caught up in along the way:

The Earwax Café at 1564 N. Milwaukee Ave.

A local coffeehouse, this is a great place to people watch and soak in Wicker Park's artsy vibe.

You are likely to see just about anyone here so have fun. It’s a place that I could sit for hours… and definitely not for the coffee.

Mojo Spa at 1468 North Milwaukee Avenue

The Mojo Spa began with one woman’s hunt for the perfect lip balm. Amanda Kezios, a personal chef turned beauty product trendsetter made use of her talents in the kitchen to concoct a rare and natural lip balm that could heal her dry chapped lips.Today, Mojo Spa creates over 200 pioneering bath & beauty products inspired by comfort foods and nostalgic treats.

Mareanao at 2246 N Milwaukee Ave

Don't underrate this little shack--the authentic Cuban sandwiches and coffees keep the place packed every day. The regulars line the counter to order grilled Cuban sandwiches (roasted pork, ham, cheese, mustard, pickles – see my recipe last week), toasty steak sandwiches or simple grilled ham and cheese…all a bargain at under three dollars and that fits right into my budget.

Logan Bar and Grill at 2230 N. California Ave.

This place has mixed reviews on every board but what it does have is a fireplace…something you need to curb the cold throughout the long Chicago winter.

Some say it is the mirror-image of the Northsider layout. It looks unusual for the neighborhood but people who like it really love it.

You be the judge.

Café Con Leche at 2714 N. Milwaukee Avenue

The long awaited expansion is ready to be experienced at this little BYOB. The owner told me that he has hired a chef and they plan to have a dinner menu in a matter of months. I really liked the feel of this place.

Like its name, you’ll absolutely LOVE the café con leche – almost as good as the Café de la Parroquia in Veracruz. I asked for a “real cup” instead of the Styrofoam. Great coffee should not be served to a stay-in customer in Styrofoam. The Owner is all about getting it right so I am sure the next time I am in, I’ll drink my café con leche from a Porcelain Cup.

Look for a fun time this summer when the windows pull back and the expansion pulls off a totally outdoor feel along with a great new menu. We’ll be back to try it out.

Kurowski's Sausage Shop at 2976 N Milwaukee Ave

Hands down, this is the best Polish grocer in Avondale. The language barrier with some of the staff is tough if you can't speak Polish, but not a problem because it certainly does not bother them.

Everything is so cheap and you will love all of their offerings from the sausages to the homemade desserts.

The staff was lovely to me and went about their business like the professionals they are. Every once in awhile, they smiled when they knew I caught them on camera.

Best value and service in the city. If I lived down here, this is where I would shop for all of my Polish chow including some of the best sausages that you will see.

The beer signs along the way…

This was one of the most polish things about Belmont and Milwaukee…the Okocim Beer signs. Okocim Brewery is in Brzesko in southeastern Poland and is one of the oldest and most renowned breweries in the country.

Staropolska’s at 3028 N Milwaukee Avenue

Right where Milwaukee Ave turns over from Mexican to Polish lies Staropolska. Don't turn away if you hear some polish drinking and loud debate at the bar. Consider the entertainment value and rake in the benefits of watching everyday polish… Staropolska style.

Staropolska is one of the few Polish restaurants where the staff is mostly friendly. No matter who you are, they greet you and say 'thank you' in Polish.

For all the first timers, get the Polish Plate: 3 pierogis, 1 stuffed cabbage roll, 1 4" Polish sausage, mashed potatoes and a pile of sauerkraut. It’s really good and you will not have one itty-bitty tiny space left even for dessert.

Polish Store Chicago

In more ways than one, The Polish Store is like the city's other markdown stores. Cheap T-shirts, pots and pans and other stuff stacked from floor to ceiling in the store's undersized aisles. On warm days, the merchandise is on the sidewalk.

The Polish Store also sells everything Polish from books to trinkets and souvenirs including Polish flags. People were filing in to buy them. Poland’s President had died last week and everyone was feeling the pain and motivated to carry a little polish flag. I was so touched I decided to carry one myself.

I got inspired to try a pastry filled with cheese---not because the Pasieka Bakery at 3056 North Milwaukee was the friendliest or the most attentive to anyone who walked in the door that was not polish. She was the first shop keeper who did not allow me to take photos inside. Wondered if that’s because the store was half empty?

Out of the neighborhood but still in the hood…

Smoque at 3800 North Pulaski Road

When I sent a message to Barry asking about Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, he wrote me this email back:

“Guy was here in August of 07 and the show aired in November of that year. They ran reruns pretty regularly for the first year or so and then they tapered off as new episodes came out. But I will tell you that we still get lots of first-timers who found us on the show. It’s really amazing how powerful that stuff is!!”

That stuff is powerful… and so is the food at Smoque. This is my all time favorite spot for BBQ.
The last time I was there, we had the ribs – DELICIOUS – but this time I opted for the pulled pork. I am slowly becoming an expert and know that this pulled pork was the perfect combination of flavors and sauce. I like the fact that nothing is drown in sauce and they use it to compliment the perfectly cooked meat. There are so many great things on the menu, you’ll have a difficult time deciding.

The sides are all enormous and really showcase the variety of things that one has to choose from here. If you know someone who loves great BBQ – this is the place!

My favorite – the hand cut fries. I thought that Al’s had the best but this place can put anyone in a quick second place.

Also saluting the great staff at Smoque…especially Carlos who ran off some google walking directions for me to make sure that I did not get lost on my way to my final stop - Susie’s. Thank you Carlos!

Susie’s - 4126 W. Montrose Ave.

This is the best place to go if you're craving greasy food and need to nurse a hangover…at least that is what most of the people dining there told me. Super cheap, cash only and I am a sucker for anything with my name on it.

Heard they also have great hand cut fries but I was stuffed at this point and will have to come back to try them…and I will try anything that is reported as fabulous and cheap.

Closing out Milwaukee Avenue with a great Polish recipe that my friend Letty gave me. It belonged to her great grandmother and they have been cooking Pierogi’s in her family for generations.

Pierogi Ruskie

For the Dough:

• 2.5 cups wheat flour (about 450 g - 16 oz.)

• 1 egg

• boiled warm water (just enough to make a smooth and flexible dough)

Flour the board and knead the dough from ingredients above (prepare a smooth and flexible one).


• 5 large potatoes

• 400 g (15 oz.) cottage cheese

• 3 medium onions

• salt and pepper

Cook potatoes and grind them. Brown the chopped onion in butter. Mix the ground potatoes, onion and cheese together and add salt and pepper.

Flatten the pieces of dough and cut it in the circles with a glass. Put some filling on it (in the middle of each circle). Roll each circle up and seal its edges.

Boil salted water in a large pot. Drop the pierogi to the boiling water and keep them inside until they float to the surface (about 3-4 minutes). Stir gently if your pierogi stick to the bottom of the pot or to one another.

Before serving pierogi, it should be poured over with some melted butter or chopped browned onion gravy. Not exactly low-cal but Polish good!

JULY 23, 24, & 25 2010 kicks off the 16th annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Indiana. We'll be covering it so watch for a post this July.

One thing I discovered on Milwaukee Avenue: If you are a walker like I am, Milwaukee Avenue is the place to go. Starting with a short section at N. Canal and W. Lake Streets, it begins in earnest at the corner of N Des Plaines and W. Kinzie Streets and heads northwest for about 40 miles (64 km) before joining Skokie Highway (U.S. Route 41) in Gurnee, Illinois which continues on to the city of Milwaukee.

Sometime, before the summer is over, I intend to walk the entire 40 miles.

Bon Appetit!