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Aiming to Cheese

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“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.”

– George Miller

While many different countries have certain culinary stereotypes that may or may not be true like the British being terrible cooks (try a pasty and get back to me) or Indians only serving spicy food, one interesting cultural interaction in the kitchen is between Italian and Italian American cooking.  While both emphasize fresh ingredients that often times circle around staples like olive oil, tomatoes, and a feisty nonna (grandmother) who’ll put you in your place if you mess around in the kitchen, there is a clear difference in presentation and dishes that exist in the USA that would never happen in Italy.

Made in America

Made in America

 Italians have always enjoyed big meals, and when large waves of Italian immigrants initially came to America, they couldn’t really afford much food or had to stretch their resources to make do.  Thus, one icon of Italian American food culture in Chicago was born, the Italian beef sandwich.  However, as time went on, the concept of abbondanza or “abundance” came to the fore as more and more Italian immigrants and their children were able to integrate into American society and earn a decent wage.  With extra money, came extra ingredients to classic Italian plates to show to the world that these often times poor Southern Italians had finally made it in America, i.e. more cheese, sauce, and meat.  Their legacy survives today from coast to coast especially in Chicago  and New York City.  I do love my Italian food, aside from pasta (yes, I know I’m a weirdo), and Papa Joe’s in Orland Park is a good family restaurant serving down-home Italian cooking.

Upon walking into the establishment, we were greeted by the strains of Old Blue Eyes and Deano.  We went there for my cousin’s graduation party (congrats, Jen!), and there seemed to be an initial confusion with the reservation.  It was a mere hiccough as we were quickly suited at the far end of the lower section by the wrap-around bar.  I wouldn’t recommend sitting there since the some of the air vents on the ground might make it harder to roll your chair back when getting up and down from your table.  Floor plans aside, the wait staff was competent and started us off with baskets of fresh bread.IMG_3343  These piping hot bread orbs were wrapped up in cloth, and were pre-sliced which I enjoyed.  The crust was a bit thick for my liking, but it had a nice crunch and an almost pretzel-esque flavor.  My favorite part was the warm, white interior that was ideal for mopping up the olive oil and Parmesan cheese dust on my plate.  Using butter on such a loaf wouldn’t be too Italian of me now.  After that, we had a few salads places along our table including a typical mixed green salad, a pasta salad, and then a cucumber salad I was especially fond of.  IMG_3345It was soaked in a vinaigrette that also had flecks of pungent goat cheese to counter the tangy and smooth cukes.  The tomato pieces also added a bit of color to the mainly green plate.  Once we moved beyond these antipasti, we ordered our main dishes.  The menu was long and filled with Italian favorites like a plethora of pastas, meat dishes, chicken dishes, paninis, pizzas, fish dishes, and appetizers.  I went for the chicken parmigiana ($14.95) since it was another dish I missed from home while I was in Korea.  We also got a free cup of soup on the side, and that day’s choices were either cream of chicken or minestrone.  I plumped for the former.

The soup came out first, and it was delicious.IMG_3344  I liked to dip the bread in it since it softened up the thick crust.  There were large nuggets of chicken in the creamy, pastel yellow broth along with a few slices of celery and carrots.  After quickly downing that small but rich appetizer, my selection finally was placed in front of me.  A chicken parmigiana consists of breaded and fried chicken cutlets that are then covered in marinara sauce and a hefty layer of mozzarella cheese. IMG_3346 Papa Joe’s also offered veal and eggplant parmigiana.  My poultry version was great.  The tomato sauce was savory and buoyed the gooey cheese that topped the crispy and juicy chicken breasts.IMG_3348  It was all white meat that left me extremely full after just one piece.  My meal also came along with a side of pasta, but I managed to swap it for mixed cooked vegetables that were sauteed and delectable.

So if you’re looking for a cozy and authentic Italian restaurant in the south suburbs of Chicago, pay a visit to Papa Joe’s.

Papa Joes Pizza on Urbanspoon

Everytime a Cowbell Rings a Devil Gets His Wings

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WARNING:  If you think jalapenos are spicy or if this (see 0:40 and on)happens to you when eating dry chili flakes or do not have a stomach for spicy food in general, do not try this eating challenge!!

Hello to everyone out there in the blogosphere!  I am writing this post after a very eventful and historic day in my eating adventures.  Now for those who know me/read my (amazing) blog, they can tell you that I am not one to shy away from eating spicy foods.  In fact, I seem to revel in the challenge to see how much fire I can eat in one sitting.  One day a certain Man vs. Food host in conjunction with the Travel Channel highlighted a Chicago hot-spot for getting some of the fieriest chicken wings in the nation which I will be reviewing today.  The place in question is Jake Melnick’s located on 41 East Superior Street  Chicago, IL 60611.

I checked out their website to see what exactly these XXX wings were made of, and I found out that they used both the Ghost Chili and the Red Divina which is an extremely spicy strain of Habanero.  Now, the actual heat level of the peppers can vary depending on where they’re grown due to various factors such as rainfall, elevation, and sun exposure.  However, I did the Scoville unit math according to Wikipedia’s page, and their combined spiciness is equivalent to standard issue law enforcement pepper spray.  Somehow this didn’t stop me, so I went there to test my mettle.

The waitress was wary at my request of the XXX wings, and they even make you sign a legal waver containing fun phrases like, “you’re an adventurous spirit who eats chilis for fun” alongside the more litigious “you won’t sue us in case of bodily harm”.  However, since I ordered the wings, I got a free fireman hat that stated I tried the XXX wing challenge along with a cowbell that I could ring if the heat became unbearable.

My bell and my brew (IPA, fyi)

This action would lead to the staff bringing out a “cool off” tray which consisted of a glass of milk, a cup of sour cream, and some white bread.  Little did they know I had the eye of the tiger to finish off the wings.

Hell in a hand basket

When they were presented to me, I was intrigued by how they looked since they weren’t glowing or smouldering or looking like pure evil.  However, I did notice a particular pungent aroma when I moved my face closer to them lying upon each other like eight little red smouldering coals nestled in a little hibachi.  I also got a side of blue cheese just in case I couldn’t handle the heat, and the celery was complimentary.  So I started off with the first wing, and I was expecting to get punched in the face with a fireball of spice.  Surprisingly, I was greeted instead with a savory and slightly garlicky heatwave that just spread the proverbial gasoline on the inside of my mouth.

The first wing goes down for the count

The next four to six wings decided to have a firework party while playing in the aforementioned gasoline a la Zoolander.  At this point, the back of my throat was quite scratchy and almost numb.  My lips and the surrounding area on my face just felt like it was touched up by a flamethrower, and I had a good sweat going on the whole time.  Plus, I kept in mind a key element to eating any sort of spicy food with your hands:  don’t rub your eyes even if you have an itch anywhere around them. I did try a wing or two in the superbly made blue cheese sauce that had whole blue cheese crumbles in it which was so much better than the blue cheese sauces I’ve sampled at Hooters and Buffalo Wild Wings.  While all of this was going on, my waitress kept coming by expecting the cowbell to be ringing out for mercy, but I just kept on truckin’ (like I’d ever stop truckin’ in the first place).  By the last wing, I downed it with gusto as my nose began to run slightly.  Perspiration aside, I knew that I had done something impressive especially judging by the shocked reaction from our waitress.  So I ended up getting my picture up on the digital Wall of Flame and the knowledge knowing that I had survived one hell of a challenge.  Unfortunately, they did not let me celebrate in true Will Ferrell fashion with adding more cowbell to the victory.

So for all of those thrill seekers/chili-heads out there, definitely try the XXX wing challenge at Jake Melnicks.  If spicy food isn’t for you, they also have a great variety of  delicious burgers (including an eight pound burger challenge), barbecue dishes with in-house smoked meats, hearty soups, savory sandwiches, and satisfying salads you can chow down on.

All done and it feels like I’ve smeared lava on my face

Jake Melnick's Corner Tap on Urbanspoon

Jake Melnick's Corner Tap on Foodio54

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