Sunday, March 4, 2007

A Great Food Town

One of the great pleasures of my childhood was my Sicilian grandmother’s cooking. On any occasion she could whip up a magnificent plate of spaghetti and meatballs, or veal cutlets, or a pizza, or a pot of what my family called “Grandma’s Soup.” She also made stuffed artichokes I will miss for the rest of my life, now that she’s gone. At the top of her game, she would produce a briciole—a rolled, stuffed flank steak served with her homemade sauce and a plate of pasta.

But that part of my life is over, and now I live in the great food town called Chicago. Over the last 15 years I’ve grown to love Indian food and Thai food and dim sum. And though I’ve reduced my intake of red meat substantially, I still need to hit a Chicago steak house once in a while. I eat differently, now, but there is one hard and fast rule of eating in Chicago that I always follow:

“If briciole is on the menu, order it.”

It turns up in unlikely places. If I was seeking it out, I assume I could find it in the restaurants on Talyor Street or Harlem Avenue, but I’m not usually craving briciole. I don’t really think about it that much. It’s just one of those lovely surprises, like a fond memory, that turns up now and again when I don’t expect it.

That happened on Tuesday night. We were going to an author reading at a bookstore. We arrived a bit early, found street parking, and wandered up and down the street looking for an interesting place to eat. I was thinking pot stickers but wasn’t seeing anything promising, so we went into the bookstore and asked the owner for suggestions.

He said, “Go next door to Jimmy’s, he’ll take care of you. Tell him I sent you.”

So we did, and I opened the menu, and there it was—briciole—right at the top. It’s the best feeling! You don’t even have to read the rest of the menu. And even though every briciole is different (and none are like my Grandma’s), it is always excellent, it always hits the spot, and it makes me deeply, deeply happy.

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