Rainy Season

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I got out of the house by taking Etta to the plant store on a rainy Monday. We went to Adam & Sons, the beautiful garden center in Humboldt Park. The man told us that in the top five easiest plants to care for, the big cactus would be number one, but it can’t be on the list because it’s a cactus. He said to water on the first and fifteenth of the month: when I get paid, the big cactus drinks.

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I would like to think that the cat has a connection to the cactus. Maybe I should start calling him Roly Poly Cact. On the way we stopped at West Town Bakery for some cake balls. Cake balls are an indulgence. My favorite are the white cake balls covered in rainbow sprinkles: I love it like a fat kid loves birthday cake balls. The dark chocolatey one pictured, on the other hand, was kind of minty.

Jerky Versions of the Dream

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Meghan’s sister Liz, a manager at the outstanding German beer and food restaurant the Radler, and her boyfriend, Ivar, one of the lead servers at Blackbird, were also at the Bad Apple. I love hanging out with them and listening to their wild stories about the restaurant business. I got to tell them my tale of brown seduction:

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When I got to work on Saturday, I realized (too late) that my outfit was all brown. Brown collared shirt under brown sweater, over brown pants. But the brown look was working for me…

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Towards the end of the night, two young ladies entered and exited in a hurry, having wisely decided they were too intoxicated for the Xoco experience. On their way out the door, the sloppy drunk woman looked me full up and down and slurred, “Sexy brown sweater.”

Slow Burn

Meghan van leuwen marathon chicago attorney runner 3rdarm rob lamb finisher

It’s been a couple years since I have run a marathon, and even longer since I had a hamburger at the Bad Apple. My friend Meghan, on a bad leg, crushed the Chicago Marathon in 5 hours. Even in spry youth, I had never crushed a marathon in less than 8 hours. At that pace, it’s no longer clear who is crushing what.

In her honor, Meghan’s boyfriend and old school Chicago eating expert, Rob, invited us to one of the city’s legendary hamburger homes, the Bad Apple. They accommodated our party and the beer service began. Their list has some neat beers, and must be about new stuff because I had never even seen Pipeworks on draft before.

Bad apple burger hand cut fries 3rdarm slow burn

Meghan’s mother Mary was in town to support the run that weekend and we met for the first time. The night before I had a stress dream about Syria. It was like Xoco and Kobani intersected in the stress sector of my subconscious. Not wanting to make a weird impression on Mary, I held my tongue while we destroyed the cheese curds.

They were golden and fluffy, some of the best cheese curds I’ve ever eaten. As any marathon runner will tell you, one of the most stressful scenarios would be self-defecating in public on race day. To celebrate overcoming those odds, Meghan got a Hot Brown. These poutine fries, rich and complex, are named after a famous sandwich from Louisville, Kentucky.

The burger was pretty unbelievable. The grass fed LaFrieda beef was perfectly pink and juices oozed out into the pretzel bun with every bite. I got the Slow Burn, meaning my burger was topped with spicy chiles that had been cooked down in dark beer. The flavors intensified but never into the orange zone, nevermind the red zone. On our way out, the chef joked with Meghan’s mom Mary.

Milk Spot

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The third and final bad omen was a white whale, and I was Captain Ahab. There was a big fish on the line. We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Xoco catering trays of tortas lunch 3rdarm milanesa torta pepito

I set up the biggest to-go order in the history of the restaurant. The chefs totally had my back and said lets do it. After a sitdown tasting with the clients to finalize the menu, we agreed to serve 200 tortas for an investment office lunch. I wrote about it in my end of shift email, and talked to my bosses. They were nonplussed: the next day, in my weekly meeting, I was scolded for over-stepping my bounds.

Xoco 3rdarm chef Andres Padilla Topolobampo office catering

It was made clear that these order must be approved by my bossed, who were initially reluctant, cautious about maintaining the top quality of our tortas. I found my crumber on the floor under the Micros computer. Later that week Chef Andres, Carlos and I delivered and served on the 36th floor of an office building in the Loop. The 200 clients said it was one of the best of all time, hall of fame Friday lunches. With over $7K in total togo sales, we set the all-time high score for Xoco togo sales in a day.

Days of Gluttony

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Three things happened that were bad omens man:

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First I lost my lucky crumber, from the days of crumbling white tablecloths as a server at Topolobampo. It was a big deal for me, my first experience in fine dining service. That crumber was my Dumbo’s feather, and when I lost it after years of luck protection, I was lost in the den of the lion with no sword.

Xoco Chicago chef Alonso alfonso sotelo day of gluttony filming new tv show

The second thing was I approved a TV show to film in the restaurant, thinking I had my boss’ approval when it turned our she had turned them down. Jen Fite was in Colorado with Chef when she learned from Facebook we had gone ahead with the filming. In a comment on the photo, she asked, “Is there a dislike button?”

Lickety Split

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After years of friends telling me about how good Lickety Split is, I finally got my sweet treat on. And let me tell you something, Lickety Split is amazing. Hands down the best concrete I have had in Chicago, and in the top three I have had in life. The damn custard is round in the mouth, not too sweet, so smooth, I was not able to stop eating despite being in real physical danger of exploding.

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Etta got cheesecake ground up into concrete, Jimmy Hoffa-style. It had semi sweet cream cheese custard, berries and crumble, very refreshing. Rob Lamb got a petit looking red velvet cake sundae, with raspberries and vanilla custard, the quality of the red velvet cake brought it all together. I bought 2 peanut butter cookies (rich, salty, soft) for a midnight snack as well as a corn cob and black rooster sugar cookie for the next day. Excellent, excellent (rubbing hands together, Mr. Burns-style).

3rdarm meghan vanleuwen rob lamb etta kostick arthur mullen lickety split chicago custard concrete ice cream 3rdarm sweet treat broadway

For my sweet treat, I got the Peanut Butter Blowout. I was in a custard trance for the first 3 quarters of eating it, and then I suddenly realized I was about to blow out. I continued to nibble all the way until I had one or two little bites left, and then I had to stop (all this after an epic feast of Chicago-style thin crust pizza) and let the sweats take over. Let me just say this: if I was Mr. Lickety Split (and I’m not) I would not put Butterfingers in the Peanut Butter Blowout.

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Butterfingers is not peanut butter, but that’s just like my opinion, man.

Gino’s North

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Gino’s North is the kind of place that I would have never visited without my friend Rob who was born and raised in Chicago recommending it. Etta, Rob and I took Meghan to Gino’s for a birthday pizza party. The exterior is nothing special, a long narrow building next to Campus Police, under the red line tracks. Inside, however, is one of the most beautiful pizza parlours in the city.

The tables are all circular booths, comfy and intimate. The bar is a historic gem, with a sculpture of a woman in a fountain as its centerpiece. The woodwork and sculpt of the place is top notch. Gino’s North is the kind of place where you want to linger at the bar or booth and take in the ambience. It ranks amongst the classiest old school pizza joints, ever.

ginos north chicago style pizza thin crust tavern style cracker crust peggy 3rdarm meghan rob lamb van leuwen

And that’s where Gino’s North really excels: in the old school pizza. It is no longer common knowledge that there are 2 varieties of Chicago-style pizza, but it’s true. There is deep dish, which Gino’s North offers and I haven’t tried: then there is Chicago-style thin crust, which is where Gino’s North shines.

The crust is cornmeal dusted cracker style, super crispy, the crispiest for this style i have yet experienced. The perfect foil for juicy, cheesy toppings. Gino’s North uses real pepperoni, the kind that curls in the pizza oven. That and the Gino’s Special (sausage, onion, chile, mushroom) should not be missed.

ginos north chicago style pizza thin crust tavern style cracker crust peggy 3rdarm meghan rob lamb van leuwen

Gino’s North operates with a lot of care, from the food to the service. Afterwards we went to Lickety Split for a concrete, dessert Jimmy Hoffa-style.

Erie St Autumn

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The fall has begun, and even in Chicago there is sometimes the hint of smoke in the air to remind us of autumn in more pastoral lands… In NYC, at the climate meeting, the point was made that by 2050 the warmest year currently on record would be considered their coldest. Detroit and Chicago are considered ideal cities at temperatures predicted for mid to late 21st century, along with beautiful climate from San Francisco up the northern west coast to Alaska.

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Meanwhile, the almanac and meteorologists predict cold winters in pairs, meaning winter 2015 in Chicago may be the evil twin of the polar vortex.

What does Targe+ think of me

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My friend Target, a far north Canadian who loves Quake 2 and is awesome at casting games, has been sharing his thoughts on various players of the game on an AcmeCTF forum thread. What he said meant a lot to me:

“Maybe you are forgetting that I have met Reefer (IRL). I went to the Buffalo Lan with the intention of hanging with friends, playing video games, and having a few drinks. But I think that Reefer went to the Lan with the intention of learning some things to make him a better Q2 player. He was always asking for tips and advice. His only other goal from the Lan (from what I could gather) was to try the fine foods of Buffalo and write up Yelp reviews (and take pictures for FB).

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When Reefer first arrived at the Lan he made me uncomfortable, but I’m not sure why. I feel like I am a good judge of character and can read people pretty quick. But not with Reefer. He would say something that sounded absurd and 100% ridiculous, and yet he was 100% serious. I could never tell if he was joking or not (and later determined he wasn’t) so I was always thrown off. I came to the conclusion that he is likely the funniest person I ever met, and tried my damnedest to convince him to write a book. Some of the stories he had (and the tattoos to remind him) are beyond hilarious.

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As a player, Reefer has gotten WAY better. At the Lan we were playing 2v2 with Me/Cartman vs Rusty/Reefer (so basically a 2v1) and we were still able to win. Now, I don’t even know if I could win 1v1 vs Reefer. I would say the MIP in the last couple years would be between him, HF, and Baccaco.”

Old School Frontera Strategy

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I have become obsessed with the financial picture painted at the last All Manager Meeting. All year the trend has been Xoco 2014 dinner nosediving versus Xoco 2013 dinner. In August, it was shocking to see that we actually did MORE COVERS at dinner in 2014, but still came up thirty thousand dollars short. In fact, the check average across the board, for both lunch and dinner, was $4 less in August 2014. Despite serving thousands more people in August this year, we came up ten of thousands of dollars short in sales.

xoco action plan 2015 chicago arthur mullen 3rdarm manager

Unfortunately, I have no one to blame but myself. We changed the menu format completely in July, and I never trained the staff how to sell the new format. I take responsibility for that failure. We are going to tweak the format so that the Lunch / Dinner side is formulated to SELL. The first column will start with the Xoco margarita and seasonal margarita, and then list all the starters and guacamole bar. The middle three columns will be entrees: tortas, caldos and salads. The final column will be desserts.

xoco action plan 2015 chicago arthur mullen 3rdarm manager

I am calling this money ball menu, and it will be a great training tool for the servers. We are going to old school Frontera the Xoco. I am 100% focused on getting this menu and my team to encourage every guest to have a starter, entrée and dessert. And margarita. And hot chocolate. Every guest, thirty dollars. The buck stops here.


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