Dining review: A taste of the second city on the left coast
Taste Chicago offers up a decent approximation of its titular town's ethnic cuisine
Taste Chicago's mini deep dish pizza is one of the specialites at the Italian restaurant on the 600 block of N. Hollywood Way in Burbank. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / September 5, 2012)
Chicago has ethnic delis that feature cultures rarely seen in L.A., and my luggage will be bulging with Lithuanian brown bread, Italian cured beef, arcane Polish cold cuts and other delights that are unavailable locally.
Now I have found a place at which I can sate at least some of my Chicago cravings — Taste Chicago in Burbank. The specialties inspired by Eastern Europe and Greece are missing, but the Italian and indigenous items are present and accounted for. The restaurant is small and spartan, decorated with sports team jerseys, menu boards and yellowing newspaper articles. A trio of TVs tuned to sports completes the décor.
Besides Chicago dogs slathered with mustard, tomato, celery salt, peppers, and neon-tinged relish, the city is probably most famous for deep-dish pizza and barbecued ribs, so we ordered both. Deep-dish pizza is so different from New York thin crust as to be another species — a thick, dense crust with the toppings under the cheese rather than over, and usually with a layer of sauce on top. They are much more expensive than thin-crust pies, but much more filling, and people used to California or New York pies usually over-order and are surprised when two slices turns out to be a meal.
The thick crust also means they take longer to cook, so calibrate your time accordingly. We ordered a sausage and mushroom, and it was as good as you can get in L.A. — a little short on the sauce, and they used canned mushrooms instead of fresh, but it was still a pizza that would sell in Chicago, where they take these things seriously. True to form, we ordered the “personal” size pizza and it would have fed two people — we took half of it home.
Chicago ribs are a style of their own: steamed or baked to half-done, then grilled with a sweet and spicy sauce that caramelizes into a tasty, messy glaze. They are pretty good — a bit on the chewy side, but the meat is flavorful and the sauce hits all the right notes. The half slab dinner for $16 is plenty for a healthy appetite, and comes with fried baked potato with cheese sauce and a house salad.
That salad is nothing special, but they allow you to change it to an anisetta and romaine salad, which is. This simple mix of thinly sliced fennel bulbs and lettuce in a lemon dressing is endlessly refreshing, a perfect complement to the spicy and meaty flavors, and I want it with barbecue from now on. Unfortunately the potato wedges were almost inedible — battering and frying baked potato wedges is not a bad idea, but these had been over-fried and then left too long. They were lukewarm and flavorless, and not helped by the heavy cheddar cheese sauce. The cheese sauce isn’t bad with penne — think of a super-rich homemade version of boxed macaroni and cheese, with a dusting of paprika across the top.
Our dinner for two ran $33 with two glasses of wine — plastic cups, really, with mediocre wine, but it was wine. It was a modest price for a reminder of the virtues of Midwestern cooking, and we’ll be back for the Italian beef and a dog or two. I’d bet that if we schedule our trip around a Bears or Cubs game, the hometown crowd will be out in force.
RICHARD FOSS is a freelance writer on food and culture.
Where: 603 Hollywood Way, Burbank
When: Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Contact: (818) 563-2800; tastechicago.biz