Food Truck Pros share quick and easy recipes for home

By Daniel Patton, March 18, 2020

 

Social distancing has elevated the kitchen to a new level of importance in America. Loosely defined as the practice of staying away from other people to avoid spreading a virus, it is one of the recently issued federal guidelines that are turning private homes into new favorite restaurants throughout Chicago.

To help keep things tasty and efficient, New Eastside News interviewed food truck owners and cooks to learn how the pros make tasty meals on limited supplies.

 

Mario Martinez’ Huevos a la Mexicana

“Everybody has eggs,” says Mario Martinez. “Everybody has onions, tomatoes. You can make Mexican Eggs.”

Mario Martinez

Martinez was born in Mexico City and immigrated to Chicago, where he built Tacos Mario’s, a two-truck restaurant that has been featured on Chicago’s Best for the past two years.

He offered the following recipe while managing one of his vehicles at Clark St. just south of Monroe St.

“It’s sliced onion, sliced tomato, and sliced hot peppers,” he explains. “Fry the vegetables together and, when they are ready, just throw in the eggs and stir it all up. That’s it: huevos a la Mexicana.”

The peppers can be either hot or sweet. “My favorite is Serrano pepper,” says Mario. “It’s tasty. It’s better than the jalapeno. It’s the perfect hot pepper for everything.”

The same fried ingredients can be placed on top of eggs over easy to make huevos rancheros, ideally with a couple fried tortillas underneath it all. 

The authentic versions of both recipes call for cilantro, if it’s available, and they can be spiced up with oregano, chile guajillo molido, paprika, and a dash of vinegar. Mario says mushrooms don’t hurt either.

 

Thomas Brewer’s Roast Chicken

Chicago native Thomas Brewer learned how to cook from watching YouTube at home in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood near 75th and Halsted. He used the skill to launch Whadda Jerk Food Truck — where Jamaican and Mexican cuisine come together in a crunchy taco shell — which can usually be found serving customers across from Northwestern Hospital at 251 E. Huron.

Thomas Brewer

“When I don’t have much stuff,” he says, “I hit the freezer and thaw some chicken thighs or chicken wings, some chicken legs.”

Although his preference is to grill the bird for a couple hours to make it tender, Brewer gave us an oven-friendly version for preparing the meal.

“If I have a whole chicken or hen in the freezer or in the refrigerator, I would season it up with some seasoning salt, pepper, onion garlic, and a little Caribbean spice,” he says. “Dry rub it on, put it in a pot, put butter on top, add a little water, and just let it simmer for about an hour and thirty minutes,” he says.

The chicken should roast at 375 degrees for one to two hours, depending on size. During that time, according to Brewer, “the steam from the water will start tearing that meat apart.”

The best way to serve it is over rice.

“The rice you put a cup in a pot and two cups of water, let it steam until it’s nice and fluffy, maybe about forty minutes,” says Brewer. “I put that at the bottom of the plate, take that chicken out the pot, place it on top, and you have a little feast there.”

 

Jaime Salinas’ Sopas Aguadas

When asked about simple dishes that go a long way, Mexi-Tacos cook Jaime Salinas remembers the sopas aguadas that he enjoyed while growing up in Toluca, Mexico, about 40 miles southwest of Mexico City.

Jaime Salinas

“It’s soup with noodles and a lot of juice, like a lot of chicken broth,” he says. “It’s not that many ingredients, and it’s not difficult to cook as long as you get tomatoes, chicken broth, noodles, vegetables, garlic, and onion.”

Jaime fries the noodles in oil for a few minutes, then adds the onion, garlic, and tomatoes for a few more minutes. When it all begins to simmer, he adds the broth and brings the pot to a boil for a minute, then reduces it back to a simmer.

“In Mexico, we prepare the simple things,” he says. “It’s very good, and you can feed as many people as you want because, with one pot, it lasts a lot.”

 

Mario Martinez, Jr’s Rice and Beans

Chicago native Mario Martinez, Jr. developed a knack for cooking from his father, the founder and owner of award-winning Tacos Mario’s. He recommends recipes that include beans and rice because, among other things, they are “easy to stock and won’t go bad.”

Mario Martinez, Jr.

“For the rice, first I fry it, actually, with oil,” he says. “You fry the rice and the garlic and the onion and then you want to add some chicken broth.” When the rice and chicken broth starts to boil, add the tomatoes, reduce it all to a simmer, and then just “cover it up about fifteen minutes.”

“You can store it in the fridge,” he adds and use it to complement beef, steak, pork, or whatever Type of protein you’ve stocked up on.”

 

Curly Adams’ Ham and Eggs

Curly Adams learned his way around a kitchen by growing up with four brothers in Chicago. “My mom made sure we all know how to cook,” he explains. Today he uses the skill in the Harold’s Chicken Shack food truck, often located on Huron across from Northwestern University Hospital. When it comes to quick and easy meals, he prefers the breakfast route.

Curly Adams and Jessica Jarmon

“Ham and eggs,” he continues. “I have my toast in first. Then I put my ham in the microwave. Then I scramble my eggs. So, ten minutes, breakfast is ready. That’s why you got that microwave.”

As one of seven kids — three boys and four girls — Adams’ coworker Jessica Jarmon not only learned how to make her own food but also to eat it fast. “When we used to be hungry, it used to be crackers, baloney,” she recalls. “Also, we had bread and syrup.”

Her other recommendations for cooking in a pinch include grits, “which is easy,” Oodles of Noodles (a just-add-water brand of ramen noodle), and oatmeal with sugar and butter.

 

Julio Quilez’ Tacos Autenticos

Julio Quilez

Julio Quilez is the manager of Mr. Quiles Mexican Food Truck and a self-taught cook. “I just watch and learn,” he says.

Although the truck’s most popular item is chicken quesadillas, he believes that “the easiest thing to cook” is tacos. “Just stock up on tortillas — corn, the best ones — and get some different Mexican spices. Fry them up, add seasoned meat and, for the authentic way, add onion and cilantro.” 

Pinched on the River opens wine bar with dollar deal

by Doug Rapp

A local eatery is offering mid-week wine deals.

On Wednesdays, Pinched on the River, 443 E. Illinois St., is offering first glasses of wine for $1.

From 6 to 8 p.m. on hump days, customers can try a glass of red, white, rose or sparkling wine for a buck. The choices will be rotating varieties selected by staff, general manager Nasi Dimashi said. 

The wines will be offered upstairs at Pinched, where their coffee shop is located, but are also available downstairs at the main bar in the restaurant. 

Dimashi said the restaurant, which serves fast-casual eclectic Mediterranean food, started the deal in late January.

“People want to grab a quick drink,” Dimashi said. “We thought, why don’t we offer wine since we have so many delicious ones?” Customers aren’t obligated to eat but can grab a drink for a nice “mid-week break.”

“We want to bring some unique wines you don’t find daily yet they are delicious,” he said, noting that many came from countries not known for wine, such as Bulgaria and Slovenia.

Dimashi said his favorite is the Pullus pinot grigio from Slovenia, which is dry but looks like a rose since it’s fermented with the grape skins to give it a rosy shade.

“It’s a very interesting wine,” he said. 

The initial dollar wine night exceeded their expectations, Dimashi said. They thought a few people might stop by, but “the entire place filled up…which was a good problem to have,” he said.

The response from the neighborhood has been great, he said. “Overall the neighborhood has been very supportive. We’ve seen an increase in walk-in traffic.”

In addition to wine, Pinched offers cider and beer, both traditional and craft, including local breweries such as 312 and Two Brothers, which makes a special hazy IPA called Son of a Pinched exclusively for the restaurant. 

Happy hour at the main bar is 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays. 

Pinched on the River, named because of the “pinch” of many flavors, Dimashi said, is the business’ second location. The original is in Lombard and owner Ranka Njegovan chose Streeterville when looking for restaurant space in the city.

“We wanted to be somewhere neighborhoody,” Dimashi said. “It’s a friendly environment, a family environment, and touristy with Navy Pier nearby…I love the neighborhood.”

Police want to keep Streeterville residents safe

by Stephanie Racine

Streeterville police want to work with residents to help keep them safe.

After a slew of violent muggings and surprise carjackings in Streeterville at the end of December and beginning of January, 18th district police held a community meeting on January 11 to discuss safety tips, plus the efforts being made to combat crime in the area.  

Officer Theresa Kelly led the talk, with help from Detective Colin O’Shea. They both emphasized the notion of being aware. 

“Maintain awareness of the people and circumstances around you,” said Kelly. 

A gut feeling of feeling in danger is oftentimes a sign of fear, according to Kelly, and trusting that gut feeling is often wise.

Detective O’Shea noted that using a phone while you walk can be dangerous and unsafe in several ways. 

“Stealing a phone is an instant $100 to $200,” said O’Shea. 

Paying too much attention can also make you unaware and make you look like an easy target. Shoulders are hunched, attention is on the phone and hands are occupied. 

O’Shea and Kelly also warned residents to be wary of any solicited donations—it can be a sleight of hand trick to steal something. If you want to help the community, research what official charities are in the area, and donate or volunteer there. 

“Carry as little on you as possible,” said Kelly. 

Kelly and O’Shea recommended carrying portable alarm systems that make a loud noise when pressed. They are available for under $10 on Amazon, but Kelly reminded the crowd to keep the alarm in your hand—not in your bag or pocket—so it can be easily accessed. 

Keeping a purse or bag on your weaker shoulder is advised by Kelly and O’Shea. Having your stronger hand free is recommended. Cross-body bags should only be worn under coats—thieves will take victims down in their attempts to steal purses. 

Many residents were grateful for the advice, but wanted to know how the police are going to respond to these attacks.

Commander Daniel O’Shea was also present and he assured the attendees that they had asked for more resources from the city, including more officers, both uniformed and plain-clothed. 

Alderman Brian Hopkins said he was working with police to make sure they would get those resources. Hopkins said he had received a phone call from the Mayor’s office approving extra police resources in Streeterville during the meeting. 

Police reminded the crowd to always call 911 if they see anything suspicious. They also reminded residents to attend CAPS meetings to further discuss ongoing crime in the area. 

The next CAPS meeting for Streeterville is on at 6 p.m., March 5, at Access Living, 115 W. Chicago Ave.

The crust is crucial: l’Aventino brings next-generation Roman pizza to Streeterville

by Doug Rapp

When Adam Weisell would return to Rome after growing up there with his United Nations-employed parents,  he often heard about a new style of pizza. 

People would tell the budding chef about pinsa (pro- nounced “peen-sa”). 

“I’d go eat it and think, ‘This is delicious,’” Weisell said. He was used to the wide, thin-crust Roman pizzas but pinsa had a different crust—a crispy exterior with an airy texture, moist and fragrant inside.

Weisell loves pinsa so much that after nearly two decades cooking for others, including Mario Batali, he’s opened his own restaurant, L’Aventino Forno Romano, 355 E. Ohio St., featuring this “modern play on a very traditional Roman pizza.”

“Chicago is such a pizza town and yet there’s a style that’s vastly underrepresented here,” said Weisell, who has cooked in mostly Italian restaurants in New York City, San Francisco and Chicago, including Eataly.

“Pinsa hasn’t come across the U.S. in a big way and I’m hoping to be part of that,” Weisell added, noting that oval flatbread pizzas are popular throughout Italy and Europe. 

Open since late November, l’Aventino has three levels that seat 48, a full-service bar and patio that will open for warmer weather.

“It’s a little funky,” Weisell said. “It reminds me a lot of a Roman restaurant.”   

The menu features several pinsas, with a variety of top- pings and vegetarian-friendly options. Weisell said the crust  is made of soy, wheat and rice  ours and takes 48 hours to ferment, which increases its  flavor and digestibility.

“The reception has been overwhelmingly positive,” Weisell said. “Once people are in the door and eat it, I think most people are hooked.”

Weisell said l’Aventino, named after one of the seven hills ancient Rome was built on, has gotten a lot of foot traffic from people coming in out of curiosity.

“One of the appeals of the location is that people are going to be constantly walking by on their way to the (Northwestern Memorial) hospital or their way home from work,” he said.

Weisell said he’s pleased with how his  first restaurant is going.

“At the end of the day, this is dough with sauce and cheese on it, so it is not that different,” he said. “It’s just a slightly different style.”  

Local charities left short-handed after season of giving

by Jacqueline Covey

The Chicago Help Initiative gives free meals to guests who are in need. During the holidays, there is no shortage of volunteers, but post giving-season, this organization, like many non-profits in the area, becomes short-handed.

Executive Director of Chicago Help Initiative Doug Fraser sees an increase in volunteerism around Christmas each year, but he said that’s not when it’s needed. Between now and February, he’s calling on Christmas-time aides to  re-sign up with the organization. New volunteers are  always welcome, too. 

Every Wednesday, volunteers provide sit-down dinners to 130 guests and 70  take out meals as part of the Chicago Help Initiative free meals program. The idea is that providing a dignified experience fulfills a sense of place for participants. Before dinner, some guests take advantage of classes in  technology, creative writing and art facilitated by  Catholic Charities at their community center located at 721 N. LaSalle St.

“We are all a community, we all have each other,” said Sandra Dillion, a student in the knitting group. “We  share our ideas and our thoughts. If we get stuck, we are here to help each other out.”

The first dinner was in  2001 when Catholic Charities opened their space for  a weekly gathering with food donated from local restaurants. A speaker  mini-series was added,  then social and health services were brought in and  over the years relationships have been built between long time volunteers and guests.

“We have volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, some of whom have been  coming for years,” said Brigid Murphy of Catholic Charities. “There are lovely  relationships that have developed among volunteers  and supper guests.”

The organization has created a space built on  respect where social stigmas are broken down. For  a couple hours, guests can  enjoy the simple joy of having a warm meal in a warm  place with friends.

“What we’ve learned is  that if you treat a home- less person with respect…  we can get them off the  streets,” founder and president Jacqueline Hayes said.  “Efforts to help are good, but we fill them up with  such good feelings about themselves.”

As a Chicago real estate broker specializing in retail  leasing along the Magnificent Mile and Oak Street,  Hayes sought ways to  help the homeless population that congregated at  storefronts.

Now, 20 years after the  group began, the organization is still growing largely  as a result of a robust volunteer community.

For more information or to volunteer, contact the Chicago Help Initiative, 440 N Wells St., Suite 440, Chicago, (312) 448-0045  or visit chicagohelpinitiative.org  

Local doctor finds freedom, uses real medical innovation to kill in fiction novel

By Mat Cohen

In the last scene of the 1977 film “Annie Hall,” Woody Allen jokes most people can’t break from a rut if they need the means it’s providing.

Dr. Michael Young, a Streeterville resident, had a private urology practice from 1991 to 2017 and is thankful he wasn’t dependent on a proverbial chicken providing him eggs. This led Young to break free of the medical industry and write his two books, The Illness of Medicine and Consequence of Murder.

“If you are stuck, but you don’t have any options and you need the eggs, you’re still stuck,” Young said. “I had an opportunity to say goodbye—I financially was secure and was able to cut that chain. I have other interests, other abilities and the means to pursue them.

“So I took advantage of that.”

Young’s other interests include medical innovation, underwater photography, teaching, riding his bike along Lake Michigan and writing. At the peak of his game, as the head of two departments and with a private practice, Young stepped away for those interests.

“I just got fatigued with where medicine was going,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, I just don’t enjoy the environment in which we have to practice.”

Currently, he is the director of the division of innovation in the Department of Urology at the University of Illinois Chicago and has been on radio shows discussing the state of the medical industry.

His first book, Illness of Medicine, published February 2018, recounts his 33 years of experience in the medical field.

“I wanted patients to understand what physicians are going through and I wanted physicians to understand what patients are going through,” he said. “I wanted both to see the other side of the table.”

Consequence of Murder, a fictional story published in June, uses a HydroGel to kill evil. The gel, which Young developed in real life for about a year, changes its state based on temperature. Its original purpose was to hold kidney stones still for doctors to break them down easier. But when the Office of Technology Management found other work in that area, the HydroGel was used to fictitiously take away lives instead.

“I’ve done all this work and now I can’t do anything with it,” he said. “What do you do when you get upset? Well you say, ‘I’m going to kill somebody,’ figuratively. So I decided I was going to use this stuff to kill somebody. It was my venting.

“So, that’s the process of murder. It’s a little warped, I know, but this is how I think.”

Christian Luciano, Ph.D., is a colleague of Young’s at UIC was impressed Young was able to turn the book into a mystery.

“It’s amazing how this involved a mystery novel,” he said. “It’s an extraordinary complex thing and he makes it understandable. The perfect balance between facts and details, but while still keeping the essence of what it is.”

Young said fictional writing is more challenging than nonfiction. He is currently writing his third book with many of the same characters overlapping from his second. 
For more information, visit https://michaeljyoungmd.com/.

Streeterville CAPS meeting brings complaints of homelessness

At the Sept. 5 CAPS meeting in Streeterville, Residents complained of homeless people living in Streeterville parks and sleeping outside on Michigan Avenue and Chicago Avenue.

Officer Ramona Stovall said people couldn’t legally sleep in parks as they close at 9 p.m. and generally people can’t sleep on the sidewalks either.

“The public walkway is not supposed to be impeded,” she said. Officers can ask homeless people who are sleeping to “move on,” if they’re breaking a law.

Sgt. Christopher Schenck pointed out that being homeless isn’t against the law. Police can refer homeless people to social services, but police can’t compel anyone to go to a shelter.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said. “If they’re not going to impede the sidewalk and if they refuse our services, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

At this point, a person alleged some homeless people use children to beg for money. Stovall said this could be illegal, depending on the circumstances.

“I’ve taken children away from parents,” she said. Stovall told residents to call the police if they believe children are being exploited.

Schenck said the police will take the kids and have them checked out at the hospital.

The next meeting will be 6 p.m. on Nov. 7 at Access Living, 115 W Chicago Ave.

Preservation Chicago aims to save the fabric of Streeterville


(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Elisa Shoenberger

Preservation Chicago champions Chicago’s legendary architecture and is working to preserve the character of neighborhoods. The nonprofit is behind recent efforts to landmark 15 post-fire mansions in Streeterville and River North. These buildings include 42 and 44-46 E. Superior Street and the building that houses restaurant Les Nomades (222 E. Ontario).

Ward Miller, Executive Director of Preservation Chicago, explains that “the proposed Near North landmark district has received preliminary landmark status. It has received a report from the Department of Planning and Development Preservation Division.” The process can take more than a year but sometimes “a demolition permit is expedited by three months.” 

The three buildings on Superior had an active demolition permit, which helped precipitate these landmarking efforts. To be eligible, the buildings have to meet at least two designation criteria as well as integrity criteria; in this case, there was enough historic significance to help make the case for landmarking efforts.

Part of the landmarking process requires consent of the building’s owners who have 45 days or of no more than 120 days with an extension to make a decision in accordance with the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance.  That period ends on November 4th, according to Peter Strazzabosco, Deputy Commissioner, Chicago Department of Planning and Development. If any owners reject the proposal, there will be a public hearing.

Founded in 2001, Preservation Chicago has had their share of wins and loses; Prentice Women’s Hospital, located at 333 E. Superior, was demolished in 2013 despite efforts of advocates like Preservation Chicago. The building had been built by Bertrand Goldberg, who was also behind Marina City. 

But Miller explains that the loss of the building “did force Northwestern and the city to have robust discussion about protecting the historic buildings that form that Chicago Avenue wall” including the Montgomery Ward Memorial Building, Wieboldt Hall, and the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. However, Miller explains that the nonprofit is not against development but wants to “encourage sensitive development.” 

“We want to see buildings preserved and to avoid bigger taller buildings that have an impact on the quality of life,” Miller explains. These smaller buildings help keep the character of the neighborhood and provide homes for local businesses. 

“These buildings give a sense of neighborhood from another age and add to the charm and vision of Michigan Avenue,” Miller says. Miller questions: “Are we killing the golden goose? by overdeveloping Streeterville and River North.

Preservation Chicago will continue in its work to help preserve the character of Chicago in Streeterville and all the other neighborhoods in Chicago.

Streeterville park offers green oasis due, in part, to innovative deception

(Published July 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

As residents move into the newly-opened One Bennett Park luxury skyscraper, the building’s flagship amenity—the two-acre Bennett Park—prepares to open Aug. 6.

By all expectations, the park is shaping up to be equal in its design and ambition as the skyscraper next door. The park, designed by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the firm behind Maggie Daley Park in New Eastside, seems to offer something for everyone.

“Bennett Park includes an inspired children’s play bowl with innovative playground equipment, two dog runs, a lawn bowl for gathering and a shady grove and meandering pathways with native plantings, flowering trees and design elements such as stone formations,” said Annie McDonell, the director of marketing for project developer Related Midwest. 

“[The park is] open space that serves as a respite within the city for all generations,” McDonell said. She added that the park, “enriches the neighborhood, builds community, and enhances the health and wellness of those living at One Bennett Park.”

But the beauty belies the brains behind the project because the park is as every bit as modern as its namesake luxury skyscraper and this oasis owes more to engineering than mother nature. 

Constrained on one side by Illinois Street and on all other sides by a high rise, the landscape architects relied on design to turn the rectangular plot into a park.

“The undulating topography and earthen mounds not only serve as a strong contrast to the flatness of the public streets and sidewalks, they add dimension to the space,” explained McDonnell. “This dimensional element of the design incorporates abundant plantings and rolling topography along the edges of every pathway and around the central lawn bowl, giving the park a lush and spacious feel.”

The rolling landscape covered by prairie grasses and bushes are also something of a design trick. Dig down deep enough and there’s a parking garage. What appears at first as green prairie is actually a garage roof, meaning developers had to create a lightweight prairie facsimile. The small, rolling hills? They’re fake. 

“To make the undulating topography that gives the park its character, horticultural soil was piled atop lightweight styrofoam structures, which are eco-friendly and very durable,” McDonell said. “By using lightweight foam as the underlying structure to create rolling topography, we kept the soil limits low, allowing more bandwidth to add plantings and trees and still stay under the weight limits of what the garage structure can support.”

Cookie DŌ pop up comes to Navy Pier

(Published June 30, 2019)

By Angela Gagnon – Staff Writer

New York’s popular edible cookie dough has come to Chicago. 

Cookie DŌ Confections set up a small stand at the base of the Navy Pier Ferris wheel so Chicagoans and visitors can enjoy edible cookie dough treats through Labor Day. 

Ryan Manley, a filmmaker from Atlanta, wanted to check out the trending treat in New York, and he was pleasantly surprised to find the pop up Cookie DŌ kiosk at Navy Pier while visiting Chicago to see “Hamilton.” 

“It’s really good,” Manley said. “I thought it would be small, but it’s very filling. I’m glad I got to try it here.”

The abbreviated menu features the raw Cookie DŌ, cookie dough ice cream, cookie sandwiches and ice cream “SanDos.” 

“We use a pasteurized egg product and a heat-treated ready-to-eat flour which make all of our desserts safe to consume just as they are—unbaked,” founder Kristen Tomlan said. 

Cookie DŌ ships nationwide. To purchase  flavors outside of what is served at the pop up, visit cookiedonyc.com. 

The Cookie DŌ pop up at Navy Pier is open Sundays-Thursdays from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.-midnight, weather permitting.

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