Street Smart Chicago

Where Dreams Lie: Inside the strange compelling worlds of Jesse Ball

Events, Lincoln Square, Lit, News etc., Wicker Park No Comments »

By Tom Lynchjesseball_014

Growing up in Long Island with a father in social service and a librarian mother, Jesse Ball was a hyperactive kid. He was held back in kindergarten as a result—yet, because he showed signs of budding intelligence, he was also enrolled with the gifted students in advanced classes. At one point, he would bounce between special education and elevated study at the same time, one class right after the other. He also liked to draw, vivid doodles of grotesque demons, with such frequency he was sent to see a psychoanalyst. When he was 5, he mailed some drawings to the Queen of England. In response, her Lady in Waiting wrote, “The Queen has asked me to write to tell you she liked your drawing very much…”

Such a colorfully ironic childhood is that of fiction, it’s no wonder Ball grew up to be a writer, though the man himself contends that when he was young the first thing he wanted to be was a garbage man, because, as he puts it, “They get to ride in the back of the truck.” Second was writer. Read the rest of this entry »

Well Whatevs: Modern Life with Eugene Mirman

Events, Lincoln Square, Lit, Literary Venues No Comments »

eugenemirmanarticleThe Book Cellar is packed, with room only left to stand, for comedian Eugene Mirman’s first-ever book reading. His book, “The Will to Whatevs: A Guide to Modern Life,” is something that spawned from an advice column that he has had on his Web site for the past six years. “I made little books out of that [advice column]. I printed little books and took them on tour. I would sell lots of them,” says Mirman. “I sort of pitched it as answering questions, but then it turned into really what this is, which is sort of ephemeral self-helpish.”

Just after 7pm he rushes in, grabs a beer and quickly sets up. He begins with a PowerPoint presentation. The video, similar to those simple Web-cam videos that have made Mirman something of an Internet sensation, shows his advice on how to get a husband, with one possible suggestion to conduct the ceremony while the man is still in bed half asleep and will agree to anything. Mirman goes on to read from his book. He tells the story about someone from high school. He introduces the character by reading, “It’s important to note that he wasn’t an emotionally troubled pyrotechnic, which I would have forgiven at the time, but simply a crappy kid who lit a bunch of paper with a Bunson burner and threw it into my hair.”

“It was really fun,” says Mirman after the presentation and Q&A session that followed. “It’s not like I have to do stuff for some period of time, or anything like that. It was mostly like what seemed fun and enjoyable. It was fun taking questions and answering them. It was great.” (Todd Miller)

Hang Loose: Loose Leaf Tea Loft loves its books

Lincoln Square, Literary Venues No Comments »

img_3809Nailed firmly to almost turquoise walls are box-shelves made of unfinished wood that hold pots, moleskin journals and books ranging from Sartre to “House of Leaves.” A tranquil mood is set by slow music playing overhead, where far from bright lights shine from up above. The place: the Loose Leaf Tea Loft.

The Loft is set up by Michelle Wu and Conor Pewarski, Harvard and Yale graduates who, on a brave whim, decided to set up the tea joint in Irving Park after a post-graduation return to Chicago. “We decided to open a tea shop in July 2008, drove all our things in a U-Haul from Boston to Chicago, found a few spaces on Craigslist, and fell in love with this corner immediately,” Wu says. “Then, with help from family and friends, we repainted the entire space and collected wine crates for the wall display. We tasted hundreds of teas to pick our thirty-six for the menu. We filed for restaurant licenses and business permits from the city.”

After about three and a half months from conception to their actual opening, Wu and Pewarski have established a space with a relaxing atmosphere with character to boot. “Our general mission is to promote health and happiness through balance and community,” Pewarski says. “Tea is the perfect way to do that, because a key ingredient is time—time for the leaves to steep, time for conversation. We also wanted to create an intimate space that the community feels free to use for their own artistic, social and intellectual gatherings—poetry readings, musical performances, open mic nights, writing workshops, game nights. We love it when someone comes to us with an idea for an event that they’d like to host at the shop.”

With hopes of attracting delightful crowds, Wu and Pewarski have added to the Loft all the necessary tools for a nurturing atmosphere. “Hoping to create an atmosphere of reading, writing and conversation, we decided to sell notebooks along with tea and put all our favorite books up on the wall for decoration and use. That gave us the name of the shop: Loose Leaf Tea Loft, for loose leaf tea and loose leaf paper. Then with our favorite books in the wine crates, it just made sense to connect the teas with our sources of inspiration,” Wu says. And the teas’ names are no joke, either. “Each tea is named after a different literary character that has some trait or connection with the tea, and almost all the characters come from a book in the shop. For instance, Jack Kerouac’s character in ‘On the Road’ gave us our Sal’s Paradise tea, sharp ginger with tangy orange freshness. Miss Scarlett’s Sweetest is a white tea with playful peaches and spunky tangerine, reminiscent of Georgia and southern society in ‘Gone with the Wind.’ And of course, our Barack’s AudaciTea promises to ‘change the way you think of oolong with the flavor of hopeful hazelnut.’”  (Micah McCrary)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Loose Leaft Tea Lost is closed as of July 2009, and will soon reopen as Latte on Lincoln.

Loose Leaf Tea Loft, 4229 N. Lincoln, looseleaftealoft.com

Bowling for Eats: A few tips for catering your Super Bowl party

Food & Drink, Hermosa, Lincoln Square, Lower West Side, Pilsen, Roseland No Comments »
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Cemita

By Michael Nagrant

Unless you want to be branded a Detroit-Lions-like Super-Bowl-party-throwing loser, you better stay away from the powdered French-onion soup-mix dip this year. Sure, all your friends suggest that the real reason they come over is for your drunken bonhomie and so they don’t have to talk to their cat when they make fun of bad commercials that cost so much that you could bail out a small auto-maker or a mortgage bank with their budgets. But, watch your guests closely and you’ll likely spot a grimace when they spy an appetizer table flowing with cream-cheese-and-veggie-slathered Pillsbury-dough veggie pizza or a crusty tomato-topped jar of Pace picante. But don’t despair, beleaguered ball-lovin’ brethren, in these tough economic times, there are still plenty of affordable tasty party-eat alternatives.

Little Hotties, Take Me Out, 1502 West 18th, (312)929-2509
Though Buffalo wings are a perennial favorite, we believe that chowing down on the tired Buffalo wing gives tacit approval to the Buffalo Bills’ Super-Bowl-losing ways. And trust us, giving up the treasured neon-orange-hued treat invented at Buffalo’s Anchor Bar won’t disappoint the city anymore than Scott Norwood’s Super Bowl XXV wide-right missed field goal with eight seconds left. Better to back a true champion and Super Bowl XL MVP like the Korean-American receiver Hines Ward, who despite a nagging knee sprain is expected to play in Sunday’s big game. The only proper way to salute his courage is raise one of these spicy, garlic-soy hot wings originally invented on a mostly Korean stretch of Lawrence Avenue by Chinese immigrant Nai Tiao at Great Seas restaurant. Best of all, owner Karen Lim and her cooks remove one of the wing joints and push all the meat up to the top—lolli-pop style—so you can keep one hand free for that sloshing suds-filled Solo cup while you dine.

Lumpia and Tocino, Isla Pilipina, 2501 West Lawrence, (773)271-2988
Speaking of Lawrence Avenue, this storefront puts out a Thrilla’ in Manilla-quality egg roll, aka lumpia, or succulent deep-fried fingers filled with oozy garlic-slathered pork, along with a citrusy dipping sauce. A party tray of 100 ($25) might sound like a lot, but no one’s counting calories on game day and rest assured these crispy golden batons will disappear like McDonald’s French fries. Of course, nothing follows a serving of pork better than more pork, and you’d be remiss if you didn’t also walk out of here with a heaping portion of Tocino, deep-fried pork nuggets glazed in a sweet smoky sauce touched with a hint of what tastes like (though they assure me the goose liver gets nowhere near the glaze) foie gras fat.

Sheet pizza from Italian Superior Bakery, 933 South Western, (312)733-5092
Sure Domino’s will be there in thirty minutes, but after one bite of their cardboard crust and substandard sauce, you’ll be regretting your decision for thirty days. Avoid the Noid and hit Superior Italian Bakery instead. Founded in Ozone Park in New York City back in the 1930s and relocated to Chicago’s Little Italy in the 1940s, SIB is more traditional than the Arizona Cardinals’ losing history and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ winning ways. These days, only the second family to ever own the place, the Saccamenos, are making touchdown-worthy bakery-style sheet-tray pizzas. While we got no beef if you top yours with onion and sah-sidge, we implore you to check out the basil, tomato and fresh ricotta (made by a local neighbor lady).

Cemita Atomica from Cemita’s Puebla, 3619 West North, (773)772-8435
Everyone needs a sammie at their Super Bowl party, but not just any sinking submarine will do. Try the cemita atomica, a porcine dream of breaded, thinly pounded, deep-fried pork cutlet, a slice of lean ham, spicy chipotle-drizzled enchilada and fresh mozzarella-style string cheese from Oaxaca piled on a freshly baked sesame-studded roll. Despite the fact that pork fat runs in equal flow with the blood in my circulatory system, know that I laud the sandwich not for its piggy way, but because it is truly one of Chicago’s best.

Dessert Donuts from Old Fashioned Donuts, 11248 South Michigan, (773)995-7420 and Glazed Donuts Catering, glazedchicago@gmail.com
For those of us who grew up on crullers culled from commercial bakeries like Dunkin Donuts, the deep-fried apple fritters at Roseland’s Old Fashioned donuts dripping in tooth-enamel-threatening glaze will make your heart sing or give out, whichever comes first. The fritters are so big, just cut them like apple-pie wedges and enjoy. If your crew is looking for more of a one-stop drinking and eating option, Kirsten Anderson of the underground handmade donut factory, Glazed Donut Catering, recently cooked up some Irish Car Bomb and Champagne Chambord (raspberry liqueur) donuts for New Years. While her flavors change each week (Maple Bacon and Chinese Five Spice chocolate last week), maybe if you ask really nice, she’ll whip up a Miller-Lite-malted version for you.

Bohemian Rhapsody: University of Chicago profs study the migration of hipsters and other urban phenomena

Andersonville, Bridgeport, Bucktown, City Life, Edgewater, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Kenwood, Lakeview, Lincoln Square, Little Village, Logan Square, News etc., North Center, Pilsen, Roscoe Village, South Shore, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Washington Park, Wicker Park, Wrigleyville No Comments »

By Sean Redmond

Entering Wicker Park by the Blue Line, you emerge into the intersection of Damen, North and Milwaukee to a long-familiar sight. There’s the Double Door across the street, Flash Taco and, until just recently, the façade of Filter, Wicker Park’s former hipster coffeehouse extraordinaire. These staples, like many along these primary roadways, fade into the background with repeated visits; yes, you know you can find Reckless Records and American Apparel and the venues and art galleries in the surrounding area, but getting where you want to go requires little thought once you’re situated enough to put your eyes to the sidewalk and your feet into autopilot. But then one day, you get off the train and, surprise, the boarded-up shell of Filter is replaced with an expansive Bank of America, and your mind jolts back into motion. Suddenly, a wave of thoughts bursts forth: “Man, there are a lot of banks in the area,”or “Wicker Park really is getting commercialized,” or  “Maybe I need to start spending more time in Logan Square.”
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Gnome for the Holidays: European travelers visit Lincoln Square

City Life, Holidays, Lincoln Square No Comments »

The gnome sports electric lime-colored shorts, chunky hiking shoes, binoculars and a rifle. He is an explorer, transported from Germany’s Black Forest to Chicago’s Lincoln Square. Like the garden gnome in the movie “Amelie,” he is sent around the world, proving that travel is good. The hiker gnome retails for $59.90 at the German import store, possibly proving that commerce is good, too.
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