The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Mid-morning link roundup

So much to read, so much eye strain from the fluorescent lights:

And finally, this year's Punderdome competition took on food; the audience ate it up.

Base Hit ribs

I had the opportunity yesterday to get some ribs from my favorite vendor at this year's Ribfest. Base Hit BBQ opened their restaurant in March after five years of catering and festival cooking. (They framed their Chicago Defender review.)

Their thermostat showed 33°C inside the small two-table eating area, but that isn't why I was sweating. Their hot sauce lives up to its name, and they use a tasty spicy rub on their bones. Excellent quality meat, good smoke flavor, and all chopped up for easy eating when served.

At Ribfest they had more caramelized sauce than in their brick-and-mortar location, but that's because they leave the sauce off while smoking and grilling the meat. (Ribfest has certain constraints.) They were still so tasty that I managed to eat a full slab and one of the bread slices they added.

My only complaint: they don't have a bathroom and they don't provide wet-wipes. So after stuffing all those ribs into my belly, it took some MacGuyvering with paper napkins and hand sanitizer to get to a point where I felt I could touch any surface of my car.

I'll go back. But I think the next slab I have will be from my second-favorite vendor from this year, Fireside Grill.

In other news, one of Chicago's oldest pizzerias is closing today. Father & Son Pizza in Logan Square will cease operations after 72 years.

Ribfest 2019 after-munching report

This year, I went whole hog and got a 3-day pass to Chicago's main Ribfest. So this past weekend, I had a lot of ribs.

First, I should note that on days 2 and 3 I took friends. This is important because if you share four 3-bone samplers with someone you don't feel like you ate an entire pig as you stagger home from the event. Or five samplers. Not that I ate that many ribs on Friday...maybe.

Second, the weather Saturday and Sunday ranged from cool and damp to cool and rainy. Between that and arriving Friday evening just after opening, I didn't see the balls-to-the-wall crowds that I've usually encountered. Here's Saturday evening, after the rain stopped:

Contrast with, for example, 2013:

(Parker, having just turned 13, didn't go this year, poor old dog.)

Having three days, I got to try a lot of ribs:

  • City BBQ, locations in Downers Grove and Orland Park: smoked, tug off the bone, firm meat; original sauce was sweet-tangy, "brush fire" sauce was a little spicier. Not great, 2½ stars.
  • Austin Texas Lightning (two visits), itinerant: Smoked for 4 hours, then grilled. Tangy original sauce, good kick on the spicy one. Tasty meat but a lot of salt. Not bad. 3 stars.
  • Famous Dave's, national chain: Pretty good meat, tug-off-the-bone; sauces all right, sauces OK but with lots of HFCS, so I have to ding them for that. 2½ stars.
  • Fireside Grill (two visits), right in my neighborhood: tug off the bone, good crunchy finish on the grill, ladled-on sauce with good spice and flavor. My favorite from Friday. 3½ stars; will visit soon.
  • Big Joe's Backyard BBQ, Homer Glen, Ill.: Dry meat, overcooked; sauces was eh, way too sweet. Good-sized bones. 2½ stars.
  • Base Hit BBQ (two visits), Austin neighborhood of Chicago: Fall-off-the-bone, really tasty meat, nice char, excellent sauce. My favorite from this year's Fest. Worth a trip out to the West Side. 4 stars.
  • Mrs Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro, Chicago: My favorite from years past, and still good, but their sauce tasted sweeter to me this year (which is not a good thing for my palette). Fall off the bone meat, really tasty. 3 stars.

On Sunday I also stopped by itinerant Chicago BBQ, which was just as itinerant as in years past, and just as acceptable. 3 stars.

Now: was the $100 3-day pass a good deal? It came with $50 in food tickets (which I used, and then some, because 3-bone samplers cost $8), free entry to the festival (a $30 value), skip-to-the-front access for drinks (saved some time), and air conditioned bathrooms (nice to have with their real soap and running water). I will probably do it again next year, especially if we have a hot June, which will make the cooler bathrooms maybe worth $20.

But before that, on July 4th, I'll bring Parker to the Windy City Ribfest less than 400 meters from my front door.

Farmers just starting to plant in water-logged Illinois

Climate change has arrived with a splash in Illinois. Unusual rainfall combined with bad timing on this past winter's freeze-thaw cycle means we may not have much of a soybean crop this year:

The soggy conditions will likely delay planting, again. Dillon, the Machesney Park resident, lives across the river from a plot of farmland he said has been barren for the last five years due to persistent flooding.

"You used to be able to raise corn in that field," Dillon said. "In the last five years, I don’t know if he’s had a crop in there or not. It’s always flooded. It’s too wet to plant, too wet to harvest."

The torrential rainfall and runoff has been known to wash fertilizer, animal waste and other pollutants from farm fields into waterways. It can also cause sewer systems to back up.

In either scenario, the untreated water can contain an unsafe amount of nitrogen, which can render the water dangerous for consumption. Fertilizer and sewage can also stimulate algae blooms that can degrade water quality. This, in turn, raises the costs associated with treating water, the new report says.

On Wednesday, [Illinois governor J.B.] Pritzker toured flooded areas of Winnebago and Stephenson counties. While no deaths related to the flooding have been reported, state and local officials say nearly 200 people have been evacuated.

“These are some of the highest river levels this area has seen in more than three decades, and I commend local emergency managers, law enforcement, fire and the volunteer organizations that have come together to keep people safe and preserve property,” Pritzker said in a statement. “For downstream communities that will be impacted by flooding in the days and weeks to come, I know that many groups are already preparing to help their neighbors. While we know that rebuilding will take a lot of time and work, we are committed to being your partners for the future.”

The Tribune explicitly tied these events to climate change in its headline.

Where are the ribs?

No, I haven't forgotten about my favorite food festival of the year. For the last 10 years, Ribfest has been the second weekend of June. This year it's the third weekend of June. I've no idea why.

Next weekend, then, I'm going to visit all three days and sample all 12 rib vendors. Already bought my ticket.

Parker, alas, will not come with me this year. He doesn't like to walk very far now that he's pushing 13. Even though Ribfest is less than 3 km away, that's about twice as far as he wants to walk under the best circumstances. But next Sunday is his birthday, so he might just get a bit of grilled meat anyway.

Welcome home, Attila

The former owner of Chicago restaurant Embeya has returned to the city to face charges he misappropriated $300,000 of the restaurant's money:

Attila Gyulai hasn’t been seen in Chicago since traveling overseas in 2016 shortly after shuttering Embeya — then one of the city's most illustrious restaurants. At the time, Gyulai blamed family obligations and the demands of running a restaurant.

But his partners, Thai and Danielle Dang, filed a lawsuit alleging he had been looting the business. And more than a year and a half later, federal prosecutors charged Gyulai with wire fraud, alleging he had misappropriated at least $300,000 “by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises.”

Gyulai was arrested in late December in Valencia, Spain, where he’d traveled from Ecuador on a 10-day vacation. He waived extradition in March and was finally brought back to the U.S. to face the charges this month, court records show.

An upscale Vietnamese restaurant on the highly competitive Randolph Row, Embeya opened in 2012 to praise for polished cooking by chef Thai Dang and the artfully designed dining room.

Yet the charges alleged that Gyulai, who with his wife owned 56.5 percent of the restaurant and handled the finances, was engaged in fraud from as early as August 2011 to just after Embeya closed.

When the Dangs raised concerns about how the restaurant was being managed, Gyulai fired them and brought in a new chef.

The Dangs prevailed in two court cases against Gyulai, one for $90,000 in unpaid wages and another for breach-of-fiduciary duty among other claims, winning a $1.4 million default judgment in May 2017, according to a previous Tribune report. 

I guess $300,000 doesn't go as far as it used to. Maybe he's just done running? Or maybe he forgot Spain and the US cooperate on law enforcement?

Two Illinois anniversaries

First, today is the bicentennial of Illinois becoming a state, which involved a deal to steal Chicago from Wisconsin:

If Illinoisans had played by the rules to get statehood, Chicagoans would be cheeseheads. By all rights, the Wisconsin border should have been set at the southern tip of Lake Michigan when Illinois was admitted into the union, 200 years ago Monday.

That would have made a 60-mile strip of what’s now northern Illinois a part of southern Wisconsin. Stripped of the smokestacks of Chicago’s factories, Illinois’ landscape would have been dominated by grain elevators and dairy barns. But that didn’t happen.

The fix was in, even as the state of Illinois was conceived.

It's a good story. Today is also the 75th anniversary of Pizzeria Uno opening in Chicago, which introduced deep-dish pizza to the masses:

Pizza had been around the city’s Italian cafes for decades.  It was served in tiny wedges, and mainly used as an appetizer.  Even on a full pie the crust was wafer-thin.

The pizza at Pizzeria Uno was going to be different—cooked in a deep dish, with a thick crust and heaps of cheese.  Who came up with this innovative style?  Riccardo?  Sewell?  Their chef, Rudy Malnati?  The debate goes on.

So on a wartime Friday evening in December, Pizzeria Uno opened with little fanfare.  Business was slow at first.  Gradually, Chicago-style pizza caught on.  By 1955, people were lining up outside in the cold, waiting to get in.

Longtime readers know that despite my Chicagoan heritage, I prefer New York-style big slices that you have to drain before eating. Preferrably bought from a window on 3rd Avenue around 4am.

Other things I'm reading

If the Kanye West–Donald Trump crazyfest didn't do it for you, there are plenty of other things to take a look at this lunchtime:

That's all for now. Enough crazy for one Friday.

Bad timing, good timing

My strategy of sleeping until noon (i.e., 6am Chicago time) to avoid shifting my body clock didn't exactly work this trip. That's because, unfortunately, my hotel's air conditioning is being replaced. Fortunately I'm here now, when it's 23°C, not a month ago when it was 34°C. And fortunately, my windows open. That means I had the windows wide open last night, which, unfortunately, meant the sun poured in starting around 6am. Fortunately, I have this view:

And the hotel left a couple of big fans in the room, fortunately.

Then, unfortunately, this terribly disappointing thing is also going on right now:

That's The Blackbird, my second-favorite pub in London, undergoing a gut rehab, apparently. It closed mid-July and won't open again until mid-October, according to my hotel's staff.

But fortunately, the Prince of Teck is just down the road a bit, and they have a pretty good Full English breakfast:

Now, having only gotten four hours of sleep last night, I'm going to have a kip. Because fortunately, I have absolutely nothing scheduled for today.