One burning question was quickly dispatched: Sure, Sweet Home Chicago (3501 Sycamore School Dr.) and Windy City Grill (2041 Rufe Snow Dr., Keller) have great Vienna hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches – but are they really Chicago-authentic? Chow, Baby tested them against the popular Chicago chain Portillo’s (which Texas rubes pronounce “Por-TEE-yo’s,” vastly amusing the locals) and couldn’t tell any difference, right down to the bright green relish and choice of sweet or hot peppers. And though Chicago’s renowned pizzeria Home Run Inn has the visual advantage of being in the shadow of Wrigley Field, Chow, Baby actually likes our own Sweet Home’s fantastic deep-dish pizza much better. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper here, too.
“As Chow, Baby learned when it toured Michigan” doesn’t have quite the same cachet as “when it visited Zacatecas” or “when it was in Istanbul,” yet there was some exotic fare to be had in the Wolverine State. At the annual Highland Festival in tiny Alma, a.k.a. “Scotland U.S.A.,” Chow, Baby had its first-ever nibble of haggis and certainly hopes its new expertise in sheep-organ aftertaste won’t ever come in handy. Trusting that a Detroit-style restaurant will open here someday, Chow, Baby familiarized itself with the Motor City’s signature dish: a hot dog with chili, mustard, and an astounding heap of chopped onions, incongruously called the Coney Island. (Interestingly, as Chow, Baby learned when it last visited Brooklyn, on Coney Island this combo is sometimes called a “Michigan.”) In a divey Dearborn bar, Chow, Baby happened on possibly the best cheeseburger it’s ever had in its entire life. Yes, it might even be better than … well, more on that soon: Chow, Baby has some local research/memory-refreshing to do.
Lansing, the state capital (yeah, Chow, Baby always thought it was Ann Arbor, too), doesn’t have a signature dish but claims to have good Italian restaurants. Hah. Chow, Baby’s had much better Italian at Texas strip-mall mom-and-pops, most recently at pretty Bella Amore (2819 W. Park Row Dr., Arlington). Here the deliciousness begins with a whole head of roasted garlic in olive oil; scoop out a clove to spread on your warm bread, dip into the oil, enjoy. Serverthrob Jessica, who kept answering Chow, Baby’s questions before it could ask them, practically clapped with delight at our delight over the amazing chicken gorgonzola ($12.95 dinner), and the signature dish, chicken Bella Amore with al dente asparagus and melted fresh mozzarella ($13.95 dinner). Both featured tender chicken breasts and delicately nuanced sauces, the first a brandy-spiked gorgonzola cream sauce of shallots, sundried tomatoes, and peas, and the second a plush sherry demiglace piqued with dill and a touch of cream.
The entrées leave little room for dessert, but just a whiff of the layered chocolate mousse cake and the cocoa-dusted tiramisu (each $5.95) set Chow, Baby a-swoon. One bite authenticated the aroma: Yes, these lovelies are velvety, rich, fresh, exquisite – but are they really, truly, bona fide Italian? We’ll see. “As Chow, Baby learned in Venice” has a nice ring to it.
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