Best Food Finds

Wed. December 8, 2010 12:00 AM
by PJ Gray

You must admit this year gave us plenty of reasons to feel discouraged. If we weren't dealing with a catastrophic oil spill, buried-alive coal miners or the miserable economy we were subjected to another Paris Hilton arrest or LiLo's latest courtroom drama. Fortunately for me 2010 was filled with exciting new food finds and, quite frankly, these couldn't have come at better time.

Here is a list of my favorites from 2010 that cheered me up and made the year more shall I say "palatable." I encourage you to try them and/or find your own favorites during the coming year. Here's to a better and more delicious 2011.

Cinque e' Cinque from Lucini Italia

Tired of the same ol' Hummus just to get your chickpea fix? From the company that makes the world's finest olive oil comes a new product that will excite your creative culinary interests. Cinque e' Cinque, also known as Farinata in Italy, is basically a baked chickpea frittata. The name "Cinque e' Cinque" was coined in the early 1900s by sailors coming through Livorno Italy and refers to the going rate – five cents for the patty and five cents for the bread.

The good news: this product is extremely easy to use, high in fiber and protein, and is gluten free and vegan. The best news: once baked, it becomes a blank culinary canvas. You can use it as a protein source in a main dish, serve it as a side dish topped with fresh tomato and basil, slice and serve on a baguette for a delicious sandwich, chop it into a light salad, use it as a base ingredient for party hors d'oeuvres or simply drizzle it with olive oil and enjoy on its own.

Find this and all of Lucini's other quality products at Whole Foods, Treasure Island, Dominick's, Jewel or shop on their website.

Bravo, Lucini! I love this product.

Lucini Italia

Ramen with Pork Belly, Shiitake and Pho Broth from Urbanbelly

All I heard from friends was talk, talk, talk about this wonderful Chef Bill Kim and his fantastic restaurants—Urbanbelly and Belly Shack—and how wonderful the food was. Blah, blah, blah. Okay! Enough already! So I went.

And now, ladies and gentleman, I can say that I have become one of "them." I have officially crossed over and I am now a faithful Chef Kim follower and graciously bow at his Urbanbelly alter. And what made me a believer? A simple bowl of ramen. What makes his ramen different and irresistible isn't so much the food component floating in the bowl, but the pho broth itself. This broth has such amazing complexity and depth that you would be happy to enjoy it all by itself. Seriously, it's so flavorful and delicious and will make you very happy and satisfied. In fact, during my last visit to the restaurant I inquired sheepishly if they might add a "tank of Pho" to the menu. My server simply smiled as if she had heard that request a thousand times before. Then, suddenly from the back of my head I heard a soft voice whisper, "It's the Pho, bro." Yes, indeed.

3053 N. California Avenue, Chicago, IL

The deli counter at City Provisions

Owner Cleetus Friedman has been dubbed a local-food pioneer and for good reason. His Ravenswood deli and grocery provides customers with personable service and a link to a variety of Midwestern food sources and local farms. Due to its limited space, Friedman has thoughtfully selected grocery items of quality and purpose. But it's the deli counter that can't be missed, especially the salads. Whether its egg, tuna, chicken, shrimp, potato or quinoa you won't be disappointed (neither will your home fridge). And don't miss the crab cakes. They're chock full of real crab meat and a tasty seasoning without the typical overload of breading. I mean it. You must try the crab cakes.

City Provisions Delicatessen
1818 West Wilson, Chicago, IL

Whole Food's Broccoli Crunch Salad

If I were a guest on the Food Network's Best Thing I Ever Ate show, this is likely the first thing I would talk about…and not shut-up! And if there was ever a food that I would admit an actual addiction to, this would be it. This salad hits all of the right points for me. It's loaded with broccoli florets, red onion, bacon chucks, raisins and sunflower seeds enveloped in a creamy mayo dressing. It's sweet and salty and savory and HIGHLY addictive. Seriously, I buy this stuff wearing sunglasses and a trench coat and refer to the counter person at Whole Foods as my "dealer." Shameful but true.

Mirai Corn from Twin Garden Farms

The days of boiling or roasting corn on the cob at summer barbeques are over my friends. I discovered this natural hybrid sweet corn (pronounced "MEE-rye") at the Lincoln Park High School farmers market last summer after a tip from a close friend. She said, "You have to try this corn. It's so tender you can eat it right off the cob!" And she was right. Simply shuck the husk, brush off the corn silks and dive right in. It's amazing. Now I simply serve it to guests with a side of melted butter and its one less thing to worry about cooking during a summer party. Even better, it makes a great to-go snack (to the chagrin of my follow CTA travelers). Don't be surprised if you see me chomping on some sweet tender Mirai on the Red Line next summer. Sah-weet.

Look for their booth at a Chicago farmers market near you next summer, or go to their website for more information.

Twin Garden Farms
Harvard, IL

Yeast-raised Doughnuts from Rise N' Roll Amish Bakery & Deli

OK. I don't know what your opinion of the Amish might be, but until recently I didn't have one…until now.

There is a small storefront innocently located in Chicago's Loop near Clark and Monroe Streets. Be prepared when you enter. You will be greeted by an extremely cordial young Amish woman. Yes, dressed in authentic Amish attire. No lie. If you're a jaded retail consumer like me you will be unnerved at first by the friendly service but try to relax and enjoy it. They are sincerely happy to help you. And the shelves are stocked with tempting jars of wonderful foodstuffs like homemade salsas, pickles and chow-chow. The baked goods are prominently displayed in the front of the store and among these are the most heavenly doughnuts you may ever consume. They are firm yet soft and spongy and sweet and decadent, and I guarantee that you'll want to punch someone out of sheer joy after your first bite. I almost did but that Amish cashier at the store was so nice and helpful, I pulled back in gratitude.

Oh, and another warning. These doughnuts go FAST so get there in the morning. They open at 7:00 a.m. You're welcome.

Rise N' Roll Amish Bakery & Deli
42 S. Clark Street, Chicago, IL