I knew this reunion would come sooner or later.
I am standing just north of the Chicago River and I feel a bit like that silver-haired guy from “Mission Impossible.” My covert instructions arrived a day or so earlier via email. The note says: Meating Coordinates: 400 N. Michigan Avenue, just over the bridge. 4 p.m. sharp. Last one there is a vegetable.
So, I get there as early as I can. The girls already think I eat too many green beans during the summer months.
It is a stunning spring afternoon and Chicago is luminous. I look south and spy a lithe, slender figure in dark glasses approaching. It’s Zany! My heart leaps … or is it my stomach growling? It’s often hard to sort out these kinds of inclinations when she is around. We share a big hug.
“Did you fast all day?” she asks. “Because we’ve got big plans.”
Approaching us from the north is that high priestess of carnivores, Mad Me-Shell. The crowd parts as she cuts a path towards us. I haven’t dined with Mad since the dog days of summer 2010 in New York when we shared the notorious adventure of Mr. Pink and the Double Dog. These days, she makes Chicago her personal barbecue pit, and she’s been working diligently to cement her reputation as the Redneck Culinary Aficionado.
My all-time favorite New York food truck expats have spent days instant messaging and organizing our itinerary and have planned a sort of savory scavenger hunt. “Our first stop was suggested by one of your readers, The Food Blogga,” says Mad.
“You can see she spent hours on her research,” cracks Zany.
Mad ignores her and continues. “We’re going to the Purple Pig. It’s an entire pork theme and everything’s fried,” she says with a lusty look in her eyes.
Indeed, the Purple Pig’s catchy slogan is “Cheese, Swine and Wine.” We belly up to the outdoor terrace bar and brace for a porker of a good time.
Zany whips out a large refrigerator magnet depicting a smiling porcine pal. “This is our mascot for the day,” she tells us. “His name is Bacon.”
“Bacon” watches amiably as we proceed to – no pun intended – pig out. Our selection includes an excellent white Burgundy with which we celebrate our reunion.
The wine is paired with what the restaurant calls “a smear” - a lardo crostini, that is a generous serving of pure, luscious fat.
This is followed by a light helping of prosciutto bread balls.
As we eat, they tell me about all the strange and wonderful people they’ve met in the land of Chicago. “We’ve started to find some local watering holes,” says Zany.
“When I first moved to my neighborhood, I realized there were Brazilian barbecue places on practically every corner,” says Mad. “I said, This is my kind of city.”
While food trucks are few and far between, they have struck up a fast friendship with “The Jerky Queen.”
“She’s the latest entrepreneur of dried goods, explains Mad using air quotes.
Our tasting menu culminates with the Purple Pig’s specialty – Fried Deviled Eggs. We order three. Our server is a bit of a Debbie Downer when she hears the number. “They’re kind of rich,” she warns us, but jots down the amount anyway.
“I don’t like people telling me what I can’t eat,” mutters Mad after the server departs.
Needless to say, the Fried Deviled Eggs (which are served in a ceramic pig, as if we needed a reminder of the state of our table manners) are sheer barnyard bliss – the crispy fried coating concealing a perfectly seasoned, molten yolk. With one bite, I’m ready to abandon Manhattan forever.
Zany has selected our next stop, so we grab a cab on Michigan Avenue heading towards Old Town. In the cab, Mad slips into Chamber of Commerce mode. “You may have heard about our fine lake in Chicago, which you’ll see to your right.”
Our destination is the Twin Anchors Tavern and Restaurant. Zany has chosen a perfect fusion of food history, New York and Chicago lore, with a petite helping of barbecue on the side. Twin Anchors was Frank Sinatra’s favorite joint in Chicago in the 1950s. His legendary request was “Ribs, and keep ‘em coming!”There is a warning posted at the doorway – “Positively No Dancing!” We are seated outside on the sun-drenched pavement. Have you noticed that we never seem to eat indoors? Yet, not a food truck in sight.
We start with a round of beers. Mad orders a can of Gossamer Half Acre, from a local Chicago brewery.
“That’s a lot classier that the brands Mad usually drinks,” says Zany.
Zany gives the menu a cursory glance. “I don’t give a #$*%! about the fish fry. We’re here for the ribs!”
Mad is a purist. She’s not totally sold on the Midwest barbecue style.
“We’re not in North Carolina,” replies Zany. “It’s time for you to embrace the culture.”
Drinks are followed by a sublime order of pulled pork sliders.
I am quickly reminded that there is a level of decorum that must be maintained when dining with Mad Me-Shell. I’m having a little trouble handling my slider.
“T.W., did you just use a fork with your pork slider?” asks Mad, aghast.
“I dropped some pulled pork on the plate,” I mumble sheepishly. “I didn’t want it to go to waste.”
Then, in the grand tradition of the Chairman of the Board, we order Twin Anchor’s slow cooked Baby Back Ribs, both the spicy barbecue version and a serving with the mild option. Zany wants to make sure we get our vegetables, so she includes an order of onion rings and a serving of spinach with pepper jack cheese. When Zany spots the waiter approaching with several plates the size of skateboards she gasps, “Oh my God!”
“God Bless America,” murmurs Mad Me-Shell.
We tackle the ribs as if they were our final meal. The barbecue sauce is a perfect blend of smoky and sweet, and the meat is like hot, melted butter. There is more conversation as we eat. Mad bemoans the current dating scene. “All the good carnivores are taken,” she complains.
Finally, Zany drops the last rib bone on top of our collection. There is a reverential moment of silence.
“You know what would really make this meal?” asks Mad. “Wet Naps!”
No sooner said than done:
We wisely decide to walk to our final destination for dessert. Along the way, Zany has an immediate fascination with one local establishment.
The Fudge Pot is the perfect coda to our gracious evening of gluttony.
We take our sweets to the street again, and sit at a sidewalk café table. Zany waxes philosophical. “Anything dipped in chocolate is just as good as anything fried.”
It is Mad Me-Shell who offers the benediction. She ticks off the evening’s menu items, sits back, and sighs with contentment and murmurs, “Well done.”
The banquet has lasted nearly four hours. The time has flown, but it is time to say goodbye.
“I hope you’re full,” are Zany’s final words to me.
I jump in the car that will return me to my hotel, and watch from the window as the sun sets and Mad and Zany vanish into the crowd of nighttime revelers. I feel just like “King for a Day.” Perhaps “Butcher for a Day” is more appropriate. The adventure – and the infusion of protein – will do much to fortify me in the days ahead.
Many thanks, my friends. Until we meat again.
©2011 T.W. Barrit All Rights Reserved