Oh, what wonders and delights the summer of 2014 has offered. In what I could have titled “Eating My way through Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and then Back to the Texas Hill Country,” I was in for great expectations fulfilled as well as piquant culinary surprises.
Who, for instance, would expect a delicious Italian Stromboli sandwich in the heart of rural Indiana, served in the very British looking Nick’s English Hut of Bloomington, Indiana?
Or a superb Cajun Pasta Alfredo, already a mixed marriage, at an Irish Pub in small town Illinois?
Or some of the best pizza ever in the middle of Beer and Brat Wisconsin?
Thomas Wolfe told us You Can’t Go Home Again, but of course, I do, every summer, where I drink in the green cornfields of Illinois on my sister’s farm and explore the crystal glacier fed lakes of Waupaca, Wisconsin.
This year we added a nostalgic trip back to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where my husband and I first met in 1965. Gary had worked as a bar tender there to put himself through graduate school. Not only were we delighted that Nick’s English Hut was still up and standing, but Gregg "Rags" Rago, who started tending bar there in 1978 and now owns the place, couldn’t have been most hospitable, even feeding coins from the cash register into the hungry parking meter outside to secure a curbside parking place.
Natalie, one of the waitresses, the fiercely loyal type that almost seems a fixture of the place, shared memories of Ruth Collier, the icon she had replaced, who had been there when Gary was.
We ordered their classic Stromboli Sandwiches to go, and Natalie packed them up with the same care as a grandmother preparing a picnic lunch for her brood, stuffing in extra napkins, and cheese packets as she chortled about old times.
Some claim the Straomboli sandwich was invented in 1954 at a burger joint in Spokane, Washington; others that it all stared in 1950 in a Pizza Place outside of Philadelphia.
Whatever the case, Stromboli is a small island off the north coast of Sicily, which sports an active volcano, Mount Stromboli, which has been in continuous eruption for the past 2000 years. The name of the dish, however, comes from the 1950 film of the same name starring Ingrid Bergman and directed by Roberto Rossellini. The film is probably best known for the love scandal it produced rather than its artisitc merit or lack thereof.
Stromboli is perhaps best remembered for the affair between Rossellini and Bergman that began during the production of the film, as well as the resultant child born out of wedlock. In fact, the affair caused such a scandal in the United States that Bergman was denounced on the floor of the US Senate by Colorado Senator Edwin C. Johnson. Furthermore, her Hollywood career was halted for a number of years, until her Oscar-winning performance in Anatasia.
Illinois surprised us with the Cajun Pasta at D. C.’s Irish Pub in Gibson City. The delicious recipe is featured below. It was creamy and spicy, the perfect marriage of passionate Italy with Charming Cajun earthiness.
Further Illinois adventures brought us to Elmwood Park’s Baciami ("Kiss Me") Italian Restaurant, where we all chose our favorites.
Sonny, my 89 year old cousin who hosted us, chose that delectable Chicago standby Italian Beef, I was healthy with a great Baciami Italian Salad, my sister chose the Baked Clams, while Gary had the Caprese Salad, although he also felt compelled to sample the Pasta Fazool, the bean soup Dean Martin made famous in “That’s Amore:”
"When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool..."
Sonny made all of us laugh when she said to call someone a “fazool.” literally a little bean, was a good Italian insult.
In Wisconsin, we lunched at Clear Harbor, a fabulous restaurant in Waupaca in the Chain of Lakes region, where customers tie up their boats and come ashore to eat. The resident ducks enjoy all the crumbs and sidle up to the more informal customers immersed in the water seated in plastic chairs provided by the laid back establishment.
A specially outfitted pontoon boat was a floating musical stage that entertained us as we enjoyed our favorite Cobb Salad.
Later on, it was Monday night at the Wheelhouse for their All You Can Eat Pizza Night.
I rejected the local favorite, taco pizza, after having had a bad experience ordering anything Mexican outside of Texas or the Southwest; in particular the Fajitas I once unwisely chose at a Vancouver Pub. Tremendous pizza in Wisconsin sounds a little weird from this largely German Beer and Brat crowd, but when you remember that Wisconsin is known for its cheese, it all makes sense.
The only thing that saved me from complete diet destruction was the booth I was in with all the grandchildren. It was a really complicated affair to wriggle out of and rather embarrassing after I had made 3 trips back to the buffet.
And what would Friday night is Wisconsin be without a Fish Fry. Ours was at the King’s Table, rightly named, where the Beer Battered Pollock was incredibly light and tender, and the marbled rye bread a colorful interlude.
Finally back to Texas and a long wet weekend at the Frio River in the Hill Country. What is more fitting for a welcome home to the Lone Star State than a decadent Chicken Fried Steak, smothered in rich, creamy gravy and saddled up next to some tasty Garlic Mashed Potatoes? Thank you, Neal’s Restaurant in Concan, Texas.
Now, if I can get my nerve up, I may approach the bathroom scale. Awe, let’s wait until next week.
Cajun Chicken Pasta Alfredo
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cut into thin strips
- 4 ounces fettuccini cooked al dente
- 2 teaspoons cajun seasoning 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 thinly sliced green onion
- 1 -2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (my preference is for shredded)
1. Place chicken and Cajun seasoning in a bowl and toss to coat.
2. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté chicken in butter or margarine until chicken is tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Reduce heat add green onion, heavy cream, tomatoes, basil, salt, garlic powder, black pepper and heat
4. Pour over hot linguine and toss with Parmesan cheese.