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You're Eating What?

These dishes may sound peculiar, but they taste mmm-mmm good.
Monday Aug 23, 2010.     By Mary Susan Littlepage
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Pineapple coleslaw at <A HREF=/restaurants/els-kitchen.html>El's Kitchen</a>.Pineapple coleslaw at El's Kitchen.
Chicago has such a vibrant, diverse variety of cultures and exciting foods around town, and that means that many foods sound peculiar, odd, adventurous, bold and funky but still taste good. Try one of the dishes from these spots, like vinegar pie, pineapple coleslaw and sesame fig chocolate chip gelato, and you just might agree.

El's Kitchen – Pineapple coleslaw
Coleslaw can be boring and plain, but it gets dressed up at El’s. Creamy-like pineapple coleslaw adds a zing of flavor that goes perfectly with the grilled chicken club sandwich or a barbecue brisket sandwich. Manager Ellen Haran came up with the idea of pineapple coleslaw, and chef Sirino Bautista fine-tuned the recipe.

"I wanted it to be a little light and not a heavy, mayonnaise-y type but not a vinegary type either, so it’s kind of in the middle," Haran said, adding they must have tried about 50 times before they nailed the recipe to her liking.

Haran said the response has been "very good. ... I had a lady today, she said, 'Wow! What is the flavor?' She couldn't figure it out and [after Haran told her, the woman] said 'Oh, yeah!' "

Hoosier Mama Pie Company – Vinegar pie
We'll eat just about anything in our pie, but vinegar? It might sound like a turnoff, but try the vinegar chess pie at the Green City Market (1750 N. Clark St.), and you’ll be coming back for more and be bummin’ if they are out of it. The pie filling bursts with butter and sweetness with a smooth, slightly chewy consistency, accompanied by a flaky, homemade crust.

"We bake seasonally, so right now in the summer, we can't keep up with all the fruit," says Hoosier Mama Pie chef/founder Paula Haney. "It's actually stressful trying to make sure that we get all of the wonderful fruit and flavors used before they go away for the winter. About January and February, we start running out of stuff, as you would have, say, in a farm somewhere in the Midwest if you were out there growing your own food."

Haney and her fellow employees started going through old cookbooks and came across recipes for vinegar chess pies, which she said originated in old England. She said that the first week that Hoosier Mama Pie had the vinegar pie for sale at Green City Market, people said, "You gotta be kidding me," but then they would try samples and say how amazing the pie is. Hoosier Mama Pie also makes lemon chess and chocolate chess pies.

Paciugo – Black pepper olive oil gelato
The gelato chain also offers intriguing flavors like chai, green tea cheesecake and black pepper olive oil at its Lakeview and Lincoln Square locations.

Marlena Irizarry, a manager of the Lakeview location, said when Ani Poddar (who owns both Chicago Paciugo shops) first tried the black pepper olive oil at a Madison, Wis., Paciugo shop, it was love at first taste. Irizarry said that many customers try the black pepper olive oil.

"I usually get people to try it by saying that it’s the owner’s favorite flavor,” she said. “The olive oil is very subtle at the beginning, and then toward the end you get the spicy kick of the black pepper."

A lot of people like it, she said, "But some people say it's strange and it’s weird. We get a lot of mixed reviews, but most people generally say they like it but that they wouldn’t want to have a whole lot of it."

Irizarry likes to pair the black pepper olive oil gelato with panna cotta gelato or fondente gelato because she said the flavor combination tastes like cake icing or chocolate mousse. "It just kind of blends really well together," she said.

Einstein Bros. Cucumber and peanut butter bagel at Einstein Bros.
Einstein Bros. – Cucumber and peanut butter bagel sandwich
At first, the cucumber-and-peanut butter combo might sound icky. It tastes way better than it sounds, though — really. A toasted bagel sandwich offers just the right combination of crunchy creaminess from the peanut butter and slight sweetness from the cucumbers.

Catering, Chocolate – Lavender ice cream
Lavender is good for potpourri, the invigorating Thymes shower gel and — ice cream? Yep, it's true: Rich, creamy and decadent, the lavender ice cream wows at Catering, Chocolate's gourmet chocolate and gourmet food shop in Old Town. In fact, the first time the kitchen staff made a batch of the stuff, employees enjoyed the lavender ice cream so much that only a few pints made it to the refrigerator for customers.

Black Dog Gelato – Sesame fig chocolate chip gelato
Black Dog offers a number of bold, adventurous flavor combinations, including the addictive sesame fig chocolate chip gelato. It's well worth the 10- or 15-minute wait in line, as the gelato ripples with awesome flavor, providing a salty-sweet combo and tasty crunch from the chocolate chips.

Bleeding Heart Bakery – Corn and peach cupcakes
This has to rank high on the list of things you would never expect to go together, but the folks at Bleeding Heart make it work. Chunks of peaches and corn kernels are mixed into the cupcakes, which are topped with icing and corn kernels.

Twisted Sister Bakery – Potato chip cookies
While the cookies at this Old Town might sound annoyingly salty and crunchy, the chips are chopped to tiny bits that are mixed well, and the cookies turn into tasty, perfectly crispy treats topped with powder sugar.

English – Lobster mac and cheese
It might sound a little funky, but "Top Chef" alum Radhika Desai’s rich, gooey lobster and white truffle mac and cheese impresses with tasty chunks of lobster mixed with parmesan and cheddar pasta topped with panko bread crumbs.


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