Friday, May 27, 2011

A Big Star over the 'City of the Big Shoulders'

Once I had an inkling of the Sonoran Dog offered up by Big Star in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago, I knew I had to make a pilgrimage.

Inside the spartan, functional restaurant crafted in an old service station, I was pleasantly surprised to find vintage vinyl honky-tonk favorites like Waylon Jennings spinning on a record player behind the bar.

Big Star offers up a $3 whiskey shot of the day, and today I sampled shots of warm, comforting Old Heaven Hill bourbon with bottles of Lone Star to chase down the impending eats.

To the main event: the Sonoran Dog, a popular treat in southern Arizona and the neighboring Mexican state of Sonora, but little known in the Midwest. A crispy bacon-wrapped, all beef wiener in a bolillo roll, adorned with pinto beans, lime mayonnaise, mustard, onions, and Big Star’s house hot sauce. What can I say?

Messy, messy, messy. So deliciously messy. This dog needs to come with a wiper blade!

Bow to the awesomeness of the Sonoran Dog.

An excellent beef wiener at the core, its savory flavor shines through all the toppings. The hot sauce is aggressive: the tingle on my lips was an unexpected treat. Pintos added a nice contrast to the more bolder condiments. Aside from the description on the menu, the Sonoran Dog also sported some chopped tomato and roasted poblano. Bonus!

The bacon mostly takes a back seat to the wiener and toppings, but does pop up on the occasional bite. The bolillo roll is lightly crisp on the outside, but very tender and yielding as you bite into the sandwich.

Emboldened and giddy, I sampled more of Big Star’s creative takes on Mexican cuisine.

The Tostada de Rajas y Chicharos smelled wonderfully of roasted poblanos. A purée of peas with crema spread onto a crispy tostada shell, then laden with the aforementioned poblanos, chayote, and grilled scallions. Roasted peanuts added a delightful crunch and flavor. Shoestrings of radish were visually appealing.

The braised long beans of the Taco de Ejotes are tender, but still retain some toothiness. Chile de árbol adds a nice warmth. A single corn tortilla keeps it together but is fairly unremarkable. Garnished with queso fresco, red onion and mint, the latter deserves top billing.

The porky aroma of braised belly meat and the subtle flavors of tomato-guajillo makes the Taco de Panza a solid meat eaters' delight. Queso fresco, onion, and cilantro distract little from the crispy, chewy chunks of pork belly. A squeeze of lime brightens it nicely.

Tostada de Rajas y Chicharos.
Taco de Ejotes.
Taco de Panza.
Scenes, at the bar and outside, at Big Star.
Big Star on Urbanspoon Photos from the Picasa Web Album: A Big Star over the 'City of the Big Shoulders'

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