This October the duo of Dave Witte and Bruce Lamont traveled North America as the drums and saxophone combo Brain Tenacles. Riding around in a Scion xD, they also used their exploratory musical mission as way to try some of the great food this continent has to offer. Here they report back on some of the restaurants and food that fueled the tour. Written and photographed by Dave Witte with Bruce Lamont.
We’ve both been to Longman & Eagle in Chicago, which is one of Bruce Finkleman’s restaurants. Finkleman also owns the Empty Bottle, which is a great bar/music venue that hosts loads of international bands of all kinds, all year long. The focus here though is Bite Cafe. Bite adjoins the Empty Bottle and has a small late night window right into the club where you can order food during the show. Very convenient. The finely crafted menu by Dave Cooper is nothing short of excellent—creative, tasty and has a great price point. We came back four times to this place while in Chicago and would gladly eat our way through the menu if we lived there.
Among the menu staples, daily and nightly specials are in place along with daily chef’s choice creations. Migas was the first dish we ordered and it delivered tenfold. We went back the following day for migas again and to our dismay, it wasn’t on the specials board. Though migas should be cemented into that menu, there’s another part of us that was glad it wasn’t available, as it made us branch out and try the bi bim bop, which was killer!
Bite was up 2 to 0 at this point and we were convinced we needed to witness a hat trick. Bite kept popping up during rehearsal and as soon as we were finished, we headed back over. This time the chalkboard spoke again and the incredible bahn mi crushed. Pork belly, fried chicken livers, pickled carrot and cilantro aioli was the combo and did it ever work. Before we looked up at the board, we were glancing over the menu and the fried chicken sandwich put a hex on us. Long story short here, we left for tour and couldn’t stop thinking about the chicken sandwich, so when our later travels took us back through Chicago, we went to Bite again and made short work of the chicken sando. It was insane—served on a housemade biscuit with green tomato jam, cheddar and then practically submerged in bacon gravy.
Bite Cafe, 1039 N Western Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Thalia Hall: John Dusek’s and Punch House
John Dusek’s (re-established in 2013) lies in the beautiful Thalia Hall building built in 1892, located in Pilsen on the southside of Chicago. The menu primary focus is on seafood (oysters!), greens and a variety of meats with some of the protein dishes getting finished off in a firewood brick oven.
First off the oysters are the bomb. Representing the west coast we had Kumammoto oysters from Washington, and off to the east we had the Malpeque from Prince Edward Island. Both are the jam. Onto our favorites: First we had the choucroute plate, an old world style dish combining duck confit, garlic sausage, sauerkraut, potato and fresh bacon. The blend of flavors is unreal. Second is the veal sweetbread schnitzel. Uh, yeah, the idea of veal sweetbreads breaded and done Schnitzel style is otherworldly! And third amongst all the meat and fish offerings (so hard to choose, everything rules), the Moroccan spiced vegetable tagine is an excellent vegetarian dish that needs a shout out.
To round out Thalia Hall, Punch House offers punch drinks on draft downstairs in a chill bar setting (try the Space Juice for Jered), and lastly (and most exciting), in the spring of 2014 a newly restored 1200 seat venue will open in the space to bring the rock to Pilsen. Bang!
John Dusek’s and Punch House, 1227 W. 18th Street, Chicago, Illinois
Northdown Taproom features one of the best beer lists in town, and the food to back it up. Veg and vegan friendly along with a barnyard of animals, they really rack up the good time points over there.
Our visit was a quick one on the way out of town and left us wanting to experience more of the amazing service and selection. The Quack Attack special burger of the day ate like the kickback of a shotgun, leaving you stunned and wonderfully wounded. All that excitement and flavor packed into a burger. Genius. Here’s the devil in the details: whiskey/strong ale infused beef and stout/hoisin braised duck, all topped with kimchi. Don’t think, go get it.
Northdown Taproom, 3244 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Jonathan Sawyer is a total hero and his food stands like a victorious armed warrior. A two-time James Beard nominee, his flavor blending talents are aces all across the board. Eating at either of his Cleveland spots is instantly memorable. Noodle Cat is Asian-inspired with ramen to pork buns and beyond, featuring Sawyer’s twists that breath creative life into and an already exciting food category. They have amazing specials all the time.
Greenhouse Tavern is one of the best restaurants in the country in my opinion. This is where we were almost murdered by food (you won’t want to stop eating!). This is the type of spot where you save all your per diems and blow them all at once. The experience, excellence and quality here are a tale for the ages, a memory you’ll dwell on and make you wish the Greenhouse Tavern was identically franchised across the country. Creativity takes the driver’s seat and what a fantastic journey it is. Udon noodles made of pork skin, blood fettuccine, confit chicken wings and duck zampone are just a few of the things that sent us over the edge. Everything is so well done here that you can’t go wrong. The
Devils on Horseback (bacon wrapped date, almond, bitter chocolate and roasted fresno pepper) could be eaten by the dozen and the Buttered Popcorn Pot De
Creme with sea salt and caramel made me jump up and down like a child.
Noodle Cat, 234 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, Ohio
The Greenhouse Tavern, 2038 E 4th Street, Cleveland, Ohio
Three Floyds Brewing
Regarded as one of the best breweries in the world (truth!!), Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana, also has a passion for fine foods and music, making this a not to be missed destination by all touring bands from heavy to experimental to whatever. Their slogan “It’s not normal” rings loud and true in regards to everything on the menu. Dark Lord Day—the day their Russian Imperial Stout of the same name was released, only sold at the brewery, celebrated with live metal bands all day and attracted 10,000 people—Zombie Dust (which is considered to be the fountain of youth for beer), and of course their band beers are only a few of the good reasons to check this place out.
If you’re lucky, you’ll happen to be at the pub when one of their band beers debuts as they’re gone in the blink of an eye. They’ve already done Amon Amarth, Pelican, Pig Destroyer, Municipal Waste and High on Fire, to name a few. And they have some good stuff up their sleeves for the future.
You’ll find metal and punk dominating the speakers all day, people very excited to chat about beer and music (it’s an amazing place to learn about beer without the snootiness) and a food menu to make you all warm and fuzzy. This time we had the wings (soy, cashew, cilantro, lime) and they were sick! The Tijuana Dog—bacon wrapped beef frank, avocado lime aioli, pico de galo and queso fresco—all came together like the Voltron of hotdogs. Highly recommended.
Three Floyds, 9750 Indiana Parkway. Munster, Indiana
Dearborn Meat Market
Our friends in the Detroit band Old God hipped us to the Dearborn Meat Market, which is a treasured oasis for these guys. Bass player Derek has a local cooking show and appreciated our hunt for amazing grub and insisted we go. Glad we did. The storefront has a meat counter when you first walk in and a small dining area in the back with a charcoal brick grill. The gentleman working the counter totally ruled (Missing his teeth and a finger! Tough!). He came in the back to take our order and seemed rather excited that we stopped in. First they served up grilled tomatoes, onions and peppers along with hummus and pita. The grilled tomatoes were cooked so well, yet still firm enough to get into without becoming a hot mess. The hummus? Stoopid great.
Not long after that it was the meat that mattered. Shush twook (chicken) and kafta (beef, lamb, minced onions), along with kidney and liver all done perfectly. Nothing was over or undercooked. Eaten with more pita and hummus, we could have sat and ate there all day.
Dearborn Meat Market, 7721 Schaefer Road, Dearborn, Michigan
Located in the Little Italy area of Toronto, Hey Meatball offers up meatballs served up a whole lotta ways. First off the meatballs come from locally sourced meats, and they also have a vegan meatball made from eggplant, onion, mushroom and so on.
They have an array of sauces from traditional red marinara, to pesto, to a vegan mushroom gravy. You are able to order them with pasta, mashed potato, al a carte or in sandwiches. We went with a couple of al a carte meatball samplers, which included chicken balls, beef balls and pork balls, topped with marinara. Yum. But I gotta say, the champion of the day is a sandwich called “The Rodfather.” Wow! Pork balls, pesto, parm cheese, bolognaise sauce on this wicked ciabatta bun. Coming from a dude who was raised in Jersey and the other from Chicago, twas wicked awesome!
Hey Meatball, 719 College Street, Toronto, Ontario
Woodlands Vegan Bistro
We went looking for Everlasting Life Cafe and wound up 15 miles outside of Washington, D.C. at the wrong place. Apparently, there’s been a separation of business owners. Anyway, Woodlands Vegan Bistro is the place to go if you want a very healthy and delicious meal. They had so many sides, mixed green creations, salads, mock meats and freshly made juices it was almost an overload.
The trick here is picking up a menu at the door and then heading right to the back to order. The food cases were like rainbows of healthy deliciousness. So many fresh and vibrant colors that just upon site it was almost impossible to not want to try everything. The garlic kale salad, vinaigrette kale, pickled beets, artichoke and cabbage of the day we all righteous and I felt healthier with each bite. The showstopper here though is the almighty Fried Chick’n Sandwich. I have no idea what the special seasoning and sauces are on this wonderfully double breaded, fried to perfection bean curd fillet are, but I can tell you it’s hands down the best vegan sandwich I’ve ever eaten. I live about 100 miles from D.C. and it’s crossed my mind to drive up there just for it. I really can’t wait to go back.
Woodlands Vegan Bistro, 2928 Georgia Avenue, NW Washington, D.C.
Where on Earth can you get a glass of one the world’s finest beers (Abbey Saint Bon Chien from BFM) for only $5? Mekong in Richmond, Virginia, is where! This amazing Vietnamese restaurant boasts the best beer list in town, it’s ever changing and cheaper than anywhere else in Richmond.
Vietnamese cuisine pairs perfectly with any of the 50+ taps here, as there is a flavor/spice to accommodate any style of beer, from stouts to saisons to sours. You get great portions for great prices and one amazing experience. Vegan and vegetarian friendly dishes are found throughout the extensive menu of appetizers and mains. Rocket Shrimp and twice-fried sweet chili chicken wings are worth the trip alone. Pho, clay pot tofu, various noodles, Vietnamese pork chops crowned with a fried egg! You can’t go wrong here. Mekong has also won “Best American Craft Beer Bar” two years straight with over 30,000 votes cast each year and is completely deserving of the title. This is a place not to be missed, and if you’re still craving from aftershocks of greatness while traveling west, stop into their second location in Sandusky, Ohio.
Mekong, 6004 W. Broad Street, Henrico, Virginia
Mekong, 4318 Milan Rd, Sandusky, Ohio
This great, to the point restaurant serves authentic Italian food at its best. Located in Richmond, Virginia, this easy to miss location (on top of a sandwich shop with not much signage) is a must visit. Everything I’ve eaten at Edo’s Squid is done just right. There are plenty of pasta (penne or spaghetti) dishes ranging from basic marinara, meat sauce, seafood, karl (mushrooms and garlic) to broccoletti with olive oil, garlic and cheese, which is my favorite one. The pasta dishes are huge, served family style with a small price and perfect for touring bands and food nuts alike.
The fried squid appetizer and the eggplant parmigiana are two of my favorite dishes here and honestly the best we’ve ever eaten anywhere. The specials are certainly that—handwritten on the wall and always changing, ranging from one of the best steaks we’ve ever eaten (seriously), to skatewing, to osso bucco, to multiple fresh fish choices, to soft shell crab, to duck and many others. Edo do their take on dishes you may see other places, only they do it much better.
Don’t forget dessert either, as their tiramisu is probably our favorite dessert of all time. We haven’t had a better one, even in Italy. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Edo’s is one of four great places owned by the same group of people, and if you’re still hungry, seek these other three out: Mamma Zu, Dinamo and
8 1/2. Side note: 8 1/2 is home of our favorite pizza in town as well. Check out the Breakfast Pizza, with fontina, pancetta, red onion and two cracked eggs
adorning this magnificent pie.
Edo’s Squid. 411 N Harrison Street,
Related Video: Watch Dave Witte Race Around The Track With The Scion FR-S