Though many have seen it, few have dared ventured in to the smoky confines of Bourbon Cafe
. Situated in a plum position at the north end of chirpy Lincoln Square, the blacked-out windows and synthesizer-infused, karaoke-style music that dominates every time another straggler rolls out don't necessarily mesh with the sunny disposition of one of the hottest foodie neighborhoods in Chicago (Cafe Selmarie, Charlie's on Leavitt, Aqualina). The attitude screams a of a remote Eastern European roadhouse. You know, the one that's barely breaking even on the food, but racking in the contraband cash (from pelt smuggling, no less). How's that for diversity in the 'hood?
I stumbled onto the joys of Caffe Bourbon after a late-night editing session (happily fueled up on a swish of tequila), with a surly crew obsessing of nothing but greasy French fries with mounds of ketchup. Being the only place open that late at night (thanks, Garcia's), we roared in the front door expecting a raucous shindig (I’d seen the type of cologne-heavy men who have staggered out of there) and instead, we're met by a weird, iridescently lit, smoke-filled atmosphere full of older, good looking regulars that were just as stunned to see us as we were them. All were just quietly going about their business with a simple card game and a bit of telly (staring us down suspiciously, of course, as if asking how did we finally find them?), as we quickly piped 'er down a notch and clamored to fill the empty seats.
Being that it was so late, I figured the kitchen had stopped serving, so we were shocked when we ordered a batch of French fries and no questions were asked. Just a nod of the head (the waitress barely spoke a lick of English) and a quick disappear. After a bottle of cheap wine, about a half-hour later (just as the three of us were preparing to bolt due to starvation), a chuckling, proud Nana teeters out of the kitchen with a gigantic platter of beautiful, hand-cut French fries.
As she placed them on our table, we all inhaled and exclaimed that we couldn't believe she made them from scratch, just for us (you'd think a place like this would just do as most do and sling the frozen kind in a batch of decades-old oil). But no; it seemed as if a whole bag of Yukon Gold's had been slaughtered lovingly for us as she was stoically standing by, waiting for us all night long, just prepped and ready to pan-fry a starchy batch of goodness.
Since the potatoes were that stellar (no matter what some folks think, you can screw up the fry), maybe everything on the menu was to be reckoned with. Always curious, and after a long overdue visit, I strayed back in there last week, expecting to be let down (Perhaps the fries were so good due to all the liquor flowing through my veins?). I hesitantly ordered an omelette ($3; with absolutely nothing in it) with a side of fries and Lisa (my dining partner in crime) made a bold move and ordered the entree of grilled sausages ($9).
Cut to: A half-hour flies by and after stuffing ourselves with thick slabs of dense country bread and butter, our platters arrived; one with fat, juicy char-grilled sausages (oh, the confusion when we ordered mustard to slather them with), old-school mashed potatoes (it's as if they were actually riced), and one with a buttery, egg-only omelette and a stack of French fries. The food was just as delicious, just as cheap and came with a surprising double-potato whammy. So, after a week of horrific $5 Restaurant.com gift certificate meals, when Nana scooted over to our table to ask how everything was, all we could do was hug her tightly and whisper our thanks (time to lay off the liquor, kids).
The Final Rave: Never mind the sultry stares from the room full of ogling men, Nana the chef was happy as a goose, gently wiping her hands on her apron and loving our compliments and hugs.
KEEP IT GOING:
Read It: Barnes and Noble
Pick up a copy of "How to Read a French Fry" and head home to fry up your own pan of spuds. What's the big secret? Just remember to soak the potato first.
Drink It: Four Moon Tavern
This perfect neighborhood bar in Roscoe Village has hand-cut and unpeeled frenchies that aren't to be missed; ask for a side of homemade ranch dressing to dunk 'em in and you'll leave a happy camper.
Eat It: Hot Doug's
Fried up in duck fat, these succulent French fries should be served every single day of the week, not just on Fridays. Start your own petition now.
Get Crazy With It: "Supersize Me"
Watch this award-winning documentary and be prepared to never eat a fry again. Well, 'til the next late-night shove down comes a callin'.
Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.