Growing up, every year I looked forward to the St. Joseph’s table during Lent at our church. Those who know me wouldn’t be surprised by the fact that my favorite thing about church is a celebration where you fill a huge table with baked goods and share them with your friends and family! There is no better place to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph than at The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, the spiritual home for Italian Americans in Chicago. At 11 am on Sunday, March 17, Rev. Richard Fragomini will celebrate mass in honor of St. Joseph, and directly following will be the feast. Donations will be accepted in honor of St. Joseph and will be shared with the poor. The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii is located at 1224 W. Lexington, in Little Italy. Visit their website and make a donation at www.ourladyofpompeii.org.
For those of you who are not familiar with a St. Joseph’s day table, it is a Sicilian tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages. The story goes that a terrible drought had caused widespread famine in Sicily. With hope running out, the faithful began a novena, praying for nine consecutive days to their patron, St. Joseph the Protector. If St. Joseph heard their prayers and the drought came to an end, the people promised to share their plenty with the poor. Their prayers were answered as rain came and ended the drought. At the end of the harvest season, great tables overflowing with food were set out in the piazza and the poor were invited to come and eat their fill. The tradition is continued today by Italians all over the world. A bountiful table is set overflowing with vegetarian foods (because the feast day falls during Lent, a time of fasting). The table usually rises in three tiers representing the Holy Trinity and at the top sits a statue of St. Joseph, holding baby Jesus, with loaves of bread and baskets of food overflowing at his feet. The bounty is enjoyed and then a portion of it is given to those less fortunate, and a collection for the needy is often taken. The crop that was spared by the rains in Sicily all those years ago, was the fava bean. This is a food that is often served at the Festa di San Giusseppe. Because St. Joseph was a carpenter, foods with breadcrumbs, symbolizing sawdust, are also represented on the table. Now that you know what a St. Joseph’s day table is, I’m pretty sure you want to experience one for yourself. You can do that this Sunday at The Shrine!
I first met Jeni Wahl at the Pilsen Community Market. She looks like the the kind of girl I might see at a rock show if I could stay up late enough to go to rock shows anymore. When I heard that she was a rock and roll caterer, I loved the concept and I loved the sample of her food, deliciously porky chick peas (her grandmother’s recipe).
She told me about their catering company, Get Off the Couch Catering and their upcoming tamale shop called Dia de Los Tamales to be located at 939 W. 18th Street in Pilsen. I knew then and there that Jeni was the kind of woman I wanted to know.
Jeni, her husband, Sam Wahl, and their friend and chef Kieth Carlson are behind the future tamale empire. Sam is a local musician and event promoter who started a music showcase called Get Off the Couch. Jeni took to cooking for the artists and their friends after the show, her food was a hit and the concept for a rock and roll catering company was born. With their background in the music industry, they know what it takes to cater to touring bands and musicians.
Luckily for you and me, we don’t have to be in a band to enjoy some of the delicious offerings from Get Off the Couch Catering and Dia de Los Tamales. I recently got to sample some of their food like their delicious roasted corn and black bean tamale with homemade salsa. It was hearty and spicy like a tamale should be. I really loved their media noche sandwiches on sweet Hawaiian bread, bringing a little Cuba to Pilsen! The threesome is currently finishing construction on their commercial kitchen and tamale stand on 18th Street. In order to raise money and awareness for their business, they are running a Kickstarter campagin. You can learn more about it here. They aren’t just soliciting donations on Kickstarter, they are selling Dia de Los Tamales gear and catered party packages to raise the money. This is your opportunity to have a fancy, shmancy catered party with your friends or to go all out next Bears season. Check out their dinner for 12 for $1000 or tailgating party for 8. You can pledge $500 to the Kickstarter campaign and the Get Off the Couch team will literally meet you at the parking lot of Soldier Field with all the food and beverages you would need for you and seven of your friends to tailgate in style. That is only less than $65 per person. How about a tamale party for 40 people for only $400? If you wanted something a bit more accessible then, you can get a Dia de Los Tamales iron-on patch for $10 or a dozen tamales for $25. Any way, you will be supporting a business that we should all be proud to have in our community. They have until February 22nd to raise the $30,000 they need or, according to Kickstarter rules, they don’t get a single penny. Every pledge makes a big difference toward their larger goal! Please take the time to check out their Kickstarter campaign, or visit Get Off the Couch Catering at the next Pilsen Community Market on February 17th or at www.rock-n-rollcatering.com/ .
One of the things that initially drew me to City Garden Waldorf School in Pilsen was the big role that food played in the life of the school and the life of the community. When I heard that there was a school close to home where they baked bread and made soup and kept an organic garden, an apple tree, and honeybees, I knew that it was the place for me. Alas, I am not in Kindergarden, so I have to settle for attending the Holiday Fair at City Garden.
The Christmas or Holiday Fair is a long-standing and much anticipated tradition in Waldorf Schools. For one day every year City Garden, and many other Waldorf schools around the world, is transformed into a winter wonderland full of holiday cheer and merrymaking. This year, there will be live entertainment throughout the day including snow carving, a puppet show, carolling, and many live musicians. There will also be a petting zoo, a fairy house, kids crafts, vendors, food, and so much more!
For this wonderful holiday event, families of City Garden and Urban Prairie Waldorf School students pitch in to prepare and donate so much of what you see at the fair. The “workshops” they hold are not only a way to prepare items for sale at the fair, but a way to build community at City Garden, says Jone Hellesoy, Director of City Garden Waldorf School. All of the foodie elves at City Garden have been busy making homemade soft pretzels, baked goods, quiche, and lots of other amazing homeade goodies. Last week some City Garden families got together and made over 650 tamales to be served at the Holiday Fair on December 8th. City Garden’s crafty elves have also been at work turning out handmade holiday and children’s items to be sold, proceeds for the sale of items at the City Garden craft table and the food in the cafe will benefit City Garden Waldorf school. This event is free and open to the greater community. Please come and get to know City Garden and enjoy all the wonderful things this season has to offer. City Garden Waldorf School is located at 920 W. 19th Street. The Holiday Fair will take place on Saturday, December 8, 2012 from 12pm-6pm.
Kim Dao and Dao Nguyen may be the new kids on the block as owners of the newest restaurant on Maxwell Street in University Village, but they are not new to the neighborhood. They both graduated from UIC last year. Since graduation, they have been developing and perfecting the recipes for their newly opened restaurant, While studying Biology and Nutrition for Kim and Civil Engineering for Dao, they enjoyed watching the Food Network together and taking road trips to seek out the dishes they saw on television. The idea for their restaurant was born during that time, as they saw a need on the Near West Side for fast, healthy, fresh, and delicious food at affordable prices.
Today they are at the helm of a destination all their own. Lotus Cafe is a wonderful addition to the University Village neighborhood. Next time you are thinking of grabbing a quick lunch or dinner at Subway or Quizno’s on Halsted, think twice and go to Lotus Cafe and get yourself a Banh Mi sandwich. What is a Banh Mi sandwich you ask? From what I have learned since recently falling in love with these delightful sandwiches, is that the term Banh Mi refers to the torpedo roll traditionally made of both wheat and rice flour in Vietnam. These rolls remind me of Mexican Bolillo rolls and they are perfectly chewy and crusty – quite right for sandwiches. Kim, who is the mastermind behind the menu at Lotus cafe fills her Banh Mi with deliciously savory fillings and fresh slaw and bright green cilantro leaves. On a recent visit, my husband and I tried the Honey Grilled Pork and the Sunny Side Beef sandwich. Both were transcendent. My husband brought some Siracha sauce over to the table before our food arrived and I commented that we didn’t even need it, our sandwiches were perfect as is! Its hard to believe how much flavor and complexity one can pack into a seemingly simple sandwich and for only just over $5.
Lotus Cafe is a modern space and Dao was quick to point out that he and Kim designed every detail in it. I can’t really think of a better place for students and neighborhood residents to come to enjoy some of the best sandwiches I have had in recent memory. Their attention to detail carries over from the authentic and flavorful food based on Kim and Dao’s family recipes to the personal touch that can only be found at a locally owned establishment like this.
My first visit to The Rosebud restaurant on Taylor Street was while I was in Junior High School. This was one of the times when I went to work with my dad as a kid. On the schedule for the day was a lunch meeting at The Rosebud. During lunch, the maitre’d brought a phone along with a pad of paper and pen over to the table because my dad’s friend and colleague had a phone call. I was beyond impressed that our lunch date was important enough that the staff at the restaurant addressed him by name and that he actually got a phone call at a restaurant. It seemed to me that there were lots of important people eating lunch at The Rosebud that day. The wood paneling, the white tablecloths, the crowded room full of suits and handshakes, and the attentive service really left an impression on me.
Very little has changed at The Rosebud on Taylor in only the best ways. The white tablecloths are just as neat and freshly starched, the wood paneling has not lost its lustre, and the service has not missed a beat. The Rosebud on Taylor continues to be the restaurant I frequently recommend on Taylor Street. This place maintains enough formality to feel special when you are there but still has a neighborhood feel so that you can go there on a weeknight with kids.
Of course, I would never recommend a restaurant that didn’t have amazing food. The Rosebud does not disappoint in this department and their portions are very large. They serve one of my all time favorite salads: The Rosebud Chopped Salad. Corn, beets, garbanzo beans, fresh Italian cheeses, roasted red peppers, basil, all diced in the most perfect little cubes and tossed with thinly shredded iceberg lettuce and house Italian dressing. They also have my favorite eggplant parmesan that I have ever had in a restaurant. They slice that eggplant so thinly, I don’t know how it doesn’t fall apart. It fries up so beautifully and they pile those thin slices high with marinara sauce and melted cheese. Additionally, they have very fresh seafood specials, I have really enjoyed their Cioppino. They also have great Osso Bucco, that really hits the spot on a cold winter night.
I think that The Rosebud on Taylor is a great way to start to get to know Little Italy. This is why I have chosen it as the subject of my first blog post and hope that you check it out for yourself the next time you want to feel like someone very important.
Gina “Onesto” Joslin has deep roots in Little Italy. She lives steps aways from where her father and grandmother were born, she graduated from St. Ignatius College Prep and she has been back in the neighborhood, living and eating, for the last ten years. Gina has always seen this as a quintessential Chicago neighborhood. It is literally a crossroads of so many different cultures and backgrounds. “Walking through the neighborhood, I can see both Chicago’s past and Chicago’s future,” says Gina.
Gina is a busy mom of two little girls. On nights when she doesn’t want to cook, you can find her and her family having dinner at Pompeii Pizza. On a sunny morning you can find her chasing her girls around the fountains at Piazza DiMaggio and picking up ingredients for dinner at Conte di Savoia On girls night out, you can find Gina and her friends drinking wine and sharing small plates at Davanti Enoteca. On date night you can find her and her husband at a table for two at Urban Union. On a Sunday evening you can find Gina and her entire extended family having dinner at Tufano’s. At any time, you can bet, that you will find Gina thinking about food. She is excited to be sharing that with the C4C community, revisiting old favorites and discovering new ones. After all, what really connects communities, but food?