Alfred’s Basement

chef richard james frontera grill backyard bbq fabiola arthur mullen tortoise south side chicago 3rdarm

Chef Richard and Fabiola invited me to their house for a Sunday BBQ on the South Side of Chicago. I was to be introduced to the entire gang, including Alfred, of Alfred’s basement fame. The only other folks I knew were Kyle, Chef Mel, and Chuck, of Chuck’s restaurant, who I was more or less afraid to talk to the entire time. I did manage to awkwardly tell Chuck how much I love his chili.

chef richard james frontera grill backyard bbq fabiola arthur mullen tortoise south side chicago 3rdarm

Chef Richard smoked rib tips for just under 8 hours that morning, beside the biggest tree I have seen in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin combined (I was unable to frame a photo to do it justice – it’s really unbelievable), which happens to be growing in his South Side backyard. Chef made an amazing potato salad with jalapenos as well as some sweet Italian sausage.

chef richard james frontera grill backyard bbq fabiola arthur mullen tortoise south side chicago 3rdarm

Kyle and I met Chef Richard’s core group of friends, all from the same South Side block growing up, all of whom were good people. Dave is the best at videogames. Brian introduced Richard to good hip hop, like Blacksheep, the tastemaker.

chef richard james frontera grill backyard bbq fabiola arthur mullen tortoise south side chicago 3rdarm

It was great to hang with Garfield, Richard’s brother I had never met, and of course Kelly, Richard’s brother who used to work at Xoco, who riled up their sweet tiger striped dog Chiquita. Chef Mel bucked me up with some good old school Xoco wisdom and I got a small glimpse at Fabiola’s tortoise collection… before I drove home to play Quake 2 with my friends. It was an awesome Sunday!

Cat Days of Summer

nichols farm melon doughnut vault jelly 3rdarm roly poly cat 3rdarm arthur mullen xoco chicago manager

Tom Skilling Forecast: 90’s return next week!

nichols farm melon doughnut vault jelly 3rdarm roly poly cat 3rdarm arthur mullen xoco chicago manager

Kitchen: Big thank you to Chefs Alonso and Glenn and hope you guys get some well deserved rest after this big week to close out August! With the all day rain I didn’t think we would be able to match our sales goal: because of you guys and the kitchen, we did it!

nichols farm melon doughnut vault jelly 3rdarm roly poly cat 3rdarm arthur mullen xoco chicago manager

Mood Scale (Don’t Poke the Bear Edition): We had an intoxicated couple in line. The gentleman had the random bruising and wardrobe that I imagine go along with a “Harley Davidson rider lifestyle.” I was at the register when they ordered, in case they were a handful or wanted to order alcohol, I would be there to gently cut them off. I gave recommendations and the lady was actually very nice. They just wanted water to drink. The gentleman ordered a Poc Chuc and a piece of chocolate cake. I said, “We will hold off on serving the chocolate cake until you ask for it at the end of dinner.” No, the Hell’s Angel said, I want my cake. I said (here comes the slip in judgement,) “What if you don’t have room for the Poc Chuc, because you eat the whole piece?” The guy leaned across the counter and growled, “I want my cake now bro.” We brought the cake right away, and they had a great dinner!

Chicken Parm

 

As the manager of Xoco, I live with a dark secret: my addiction for PQM chicken parm!  Take it from someone who eats at least one awesome torta a day: the PQM chicken parm is a must have sandwich. As in, I must have one just writing this. I need one a week, at least.

  

I love that it comes with Deep River chips. They’re made in Connecticut (where I’m from) and I can’t stop eating them. The pickle is also top notch.  Get the chicken parm.  Everything else is amazing too, it’s just…  Chicken Parm Is The Thing You Cannot Not Get.

Xoco Breakfast Future

xoco chicago arthur mullen manager ramon wendy santana pastry chef kyle frontera grill maura 3rdarm reefer

In envisioning the Xoco future and how to increase sales, I’ve become focused (some may say obsessed) on the breakfast menu as the key. I propose we serve the breakfast menu until 10:30AM. This is in line with the majority of Americans’ expectations of breakfast hours set by market leader McDonald’s.

Focusing the menu on customization would attract more business and tourist guests alike by catering to the lowest common denominator. This no surprises / create-your-own adventure approach to breakfast is shared by the highest volume breakfast restaurants.

xoco chicago arthur mullen manager ramon wendy santana pastry chef kyle frontera grill maura 3rdarm reefer

Xoco Breakfast

Served Until 10:30AM

Create Your Own Mexican Breakfast

Torta- Scrambled eggs, Samuels cheese, black beans. $6

Add: cilantro crema $.25 roasted serrano $.50 poblano rajas $.50 arugula $1 avocado $1 zucchini $1.50 chorizo $2 bacon $2 chicken $2.5 beef short ribs $2.5

Scramble- Local farm eggs, Samuel’s cheese or house made queso fresco, black beans, arugula. $6

Add: avocado $1 zucchini $1.50 chorizo $2 bacon $2 huevos rancheros $2 mushrooms $2 chicken $2.50 beef short ribs $2.5

Chilaquiles (Dine-In Only)- Tortilla chips, roasted tomato-serrano sauce, Samuel’s cheese $6

Add: avocado $1 zucchini $1.50 chorizo $2 bacon $2 chicken $2 scrambled eggs $2 chicken $2.50 beef short ribs $2.50 pork belly with salsa negra $3

xoco chicago arthur mullen manager ramon wendy santana pastry chef kyle frontera grill maura 3rdarm reefer

Breakfast On the Run

Greek Style Yogurt- with honey or cajeta $4

Add: fresh fruit $.75 granola $.75 dried fruit $.75

Chorizo Egg Empanada- homemade chorizo, scrambled egg, roasted poblano $5

Veggie Mollete- wood-roasted vegetables, ancho chile, oranges, tomato marmalade, Samuel’s cheese, avocado-lime dressing $6

Smoky Bacon Mollete- Gunthorp bacon, Samuel’s cheese, smoky chipotle, anejo cheese, local mushrooms, grilled red onions $6

Breakfast for Sharing- Chorizo Egg Empanada, Veggie Mollete, Smoky Bacon Mollete, 3 Churros with Chocolate, any combination of 4 orange juice / coffee $35

xoco chicago arthur mullen manager ramon wendy santana pastry chef kyle frontera grill maura 3rdarm reefer roly poly cat maine coon

Daily Breakfast Specials

Tuesday / Steak and Egg Torta- Creekstone flank steak, scrambled eggs, salsa verde mojo, woodland mushroom, crema $12

Wednesday / Pork Belly and Egg Torta- Gunthorp pork belly, scrambled eggs, dark salsa negra glaze, arugula, queso anejo, zucchini $11

Thursday / Beef Shortrib and Egg Torta- guajillo-braised Creekstone beef short ribs, scrambled eggs, grilled cactus salad, avocado, black beans $11

Friday / Shrimp and Egg Torta- Mexican blue shrimp, scrambled eggs, local artisan Jack, pickled manzano chiles, avocado-tomatillo salsa, arugula $12

Saturday / Chef Alonso’s Breakfast Enchiladas- handmade tortillas, scrambled eggs, creamy roasted poblano tomatillo salsa, black beans, arugula $12

Jaguar Dance

xoco chicago arthur mullen manager ramon wendy santana pastry chef kyle frontera grill maura 3rdarm reefer heirloom tomato nichols farm

Tom Skilling Forecast: Ample sunshine, low humidity, offer warm comfortable conditions Saturday.

Thoughts on Sales: This is the kind of day I live for… from an 8AM delivery of a $200 breakfast to an office group on the 40th floor of a building on Wacker Dr …to those web sales numbers and total to-go sales of over $5000… we were able to crush 2014 sales by $3000 while doing the same number of dine-in guests!

xoco chicago arthur mullen manager ramon wendy santana pastry chef kyle frontera grill maura 3rdarm reefer heirloom tomato nichols farm

Appreciation: When I was up against the brick wall of rental car policy last Saturday, Katy jumped on the phone and ironed out all the details. Yesterday an amorous couple were smooching in line and gyrated against one of the chocolate photos. They knocked it from it’s mount, and the glass shattered on the floor. Katy got the photo repaired and remounted by Artist Frame by noon the following day. Thank you for being a badass and having my back, Katy Lawrence!

Guests: Alec Miller, Indiana regular. Jameel with friend from NYC. Mark with 3 colleagues from national YMCA. Adriana during lunch. Urvi Shah, office breakfast. Marta Bueno Martin, who bought small bags of Xoco cocoa to give out to her wedding guests. The wedding will be in Europe I wish we could put a GPS tag on each bag of cocoa to see Xoco cocoa disperse around the world!

Moon Palace

xoco chicago arthur mullen manager ramon wendy santana pastry chef kyle frontera grill maura 3rdarm reefer

Tom Skilling Forecast: Wednesday predicted to be first sub-80 degree day in more than a month. Mid seventies with gusty winds.

xoco chicago arthur mullen manager ramon wendy santana pastry chef kyle frontera grill maura 3rdarm reefer

Chef Glenn was born in Shanghai, China and learned English when he came to the US as a 7-year-old. I would never have guessed he was ESL in a million years, but I guess he used to get made fun of for his accent. It turns out he is a member of THE Wangs of China, a powerful family before the Communist Revolution. This news, in addition to the story of him dropping out of high school to be a professional CounterStrike player, has deepened my fascination with Chef Glenn. When I finally broke off my veganism back in the day, it was with soup dumplings at the Moon Palace, the restaurant in Chicago’s Chinatown I just found out is owned by Glenn’s parents. Glenn himself may have been the one to cook my first bites of meat in almost a year…

Nichols Family

nichols farm frontera grill xoco topolobampo staff trip farm visit 3rdarm arthur mullen hector cotorra nick lloyd nichols hamburger cockscomb apple orchard rick deann bayless

We visited Nichols Farm as a restaurant staff to see where our beautiful fruits and vegetables are grown, and to see the Nichols family 2015 investment in a new distribution center with winter greenhouses, the entire facility powered by geothermal and solar energy.

nichols farm frontera grill xoco topolobampo staff trip farm visit 3rdarm arthur mullen hector cotorra nick lloyd nichols hamburger cockscomb apple orchard rick deann bayless

I rented and drove the 12-seat passenger van that included Chefs Rick and Deann Bayless. We left Xoco at 8AM on a Sunday morning and arrived in Marengo about 9:30AM to begin our tour.

nichols farm frontera grill xoco topolobampo staff trip farm visit 3rdarm arthur mullen hector cotorra nick lloyd nichols hamburger cockscomb apple orchard rick deann bayless

Doreen Nichols welcomed us with water, a farm visit essential. Lloyd Nichols, one of my favorite people, began by showing us the bulletin board used to categorize the many hundred if not thousand of varieties of heirloom species of fruits and vegetables growing in their orchard and fields.

nichols farm frontera grill xoco topolobampo staff trip farm visit 3rdarm arthur mullen hector cotorra nick lloyd nichols hamburger cockscomb apple orchard rick deann bayless

Sons Nick and Todd, with their close friend our chef Hector Cotorra, drove us through the farm on all terrain vehicles, stopping occasionally for the best part – small bites in the field. Nick and Todd are lifelong farmers and when I showed them my bb gunshots, they laughed and said they shot each other with bb guns all the time growing up.

nichols farm frontera grill xoco topolobampo staff trip farm visit 3rdarm arthur mullen hector cotorra nick lloyd nichols hamburger cockscomb apple orchard rick deann bayless

As the afternoon sun blazed overhead (giving me quite the sunburn,) the chefs prepared a summer feast of fruits and vegetables (and hamburgers made from Topolo’s ridiculous grass-fed sirloin) for the staff and Nichols family.

Soft Bulletin

arthur mullen chicago bike ride shot bb gun blood smoky mountain taffy mayan parrot 3rdarm chicago

I got back from my Connecticut trip and hit the ground running: we had a menu change on the day of my return, bringing local melon, sweet corn and heirloom tomatoes to the menu for August. Shane brought me a box of taffy from the Smoky Mountains. Roly Poly flattened himself on my legs and refused to budge. I felt needed and loved. A busy summer week at the restaurant followed, with Chicago’s annual air and water show that next weekend.

arthur mullen chicago bike ride shot bb gun blood smoky mountain taffy mayan parrot 3rdarm chicago

I was riding my bike home from work. It’s a short trip (15 minute ride) and I take caution, always using lights and a helmet. I was on Grand Ave. crossing over the Kennedy when a black SUV pulled up behind me. I heard two loud explosions and I roared in pain. The SUV shot forward, swerved around a turning car and sped off. I kept riding and didn’t notice my arm was dripping blood until a block from my house.

arthur mullen chicago bike ride shot bb gun blood smoky mountain taffy mayan parrot 3rdarm chicago

In the aftermath of getting shot twice by idiots with a bb gun, a stupid act of random violence, I have cried and I have taken time off from work. I have been to a farm and rehabilitated with corn on the cob and a hamburger. Mostly I have been emotionally overwhelmed by the people in my life, some of whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in many years, reaching out and wishing me well. Thank you for making me feel needed and loved.

Bluefish Hobo Pack

the place unusual restaurant guilford connecticut 1971 arthur mullen favorite chicago 3rdarm corn clams bluefish

I’m a big fan of yelp and an even bigger fan of The Place, my favorite restaurant in Connecticut, maybe the world. It bugs me that The Place’s review average has dropped to 3.5 stars, seemingly on the back of a single one star rating from a night when they were short-staffed. I know that’s the nature of the restaurant business: you’re only as good as your last service.

the place unusual restaurant guilford connecticut 1971 arthur mullen favorite chicago 3rdarm corn clams bluefish

The Place deserves more respect, putting out delicious and unduplicable offerings from a huge backyard firepit since the early seventies! I returned this summer with my aunt for dinner. The clams were briny and spicy, hot off that blazing fire pit. I burned my tongue on a hot clam because I seriously JUST COULD NOT WAIT. The bluefish was one of the best pieces of fish I have ever had: it was unbelievably fresh and cooked to perfection in its hobo pack.

the place unusual restaurant guilford connecticut 1971 arthur mullen favorite chicago 3rdarm corn clams bluefish

The owner (man with beard) was everywhere, making sure all details from the kitchen and in the stump-filled dining room were on point. That’s the recipe for success! It was the best dinner of my summer so far. This the one Place I tell my restaurant industry colleagues in Chicago HAVE to visit when they find themselves on the Connecticut shore.

the place unusual restaurant guilford connecticut 1971 arthur mullen favorite chicago 3rdarm corn clams bluefish

The cooks were super nice (over the top enthusiastic, actually!) to answer a couple questions at the end of dinner about their old school firing board. Basically they’re marking long domino-like tiles with pencil to group tables’ orders into pick-ups. Refreshingly old school, unique and with a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” mentality, just like The Place!

Hot Dogs and Mac

ray yakaitis new haven connecticut jordans hot dogs and mac arthur mullen 3rdarm

As a lover of hot dogs and macaroni and cheese, Jordan’s Hot Dogs and Mac caught my attention. It looked good on paper, but how does that combination actually taste? Amazing.

ray yakaitis new haven connecticut jordans hot dogs and mac arthur mullen 3rdarm

I met my friend Ray who works down the street for lunch. If I worked down the street, I could see myself having lunch here at least twice a month. What can I say: I love hotdogs and mac!

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