Friday, December 9, 2016

Cafe Tola is building an empanada empire

Posted By today at 03.50 PM

Empanadas at Cafe Tola - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Empanadas at Cafe Tola

Somehow over the last four years I slept on Lakeview's postage stamp-sized Cafe Tola. Maybe I just blinked and missed the tiny, 400-square-foot empanada emporium on the Southport corridor. Or maybe it's because the neighborhood isn't one normally associated with credible Mexican food. But the little place turns out some 700 of the savory stuffed pastries every day, co-owner Victoria Salamanca told DNAInfo in July. And when Salamanca and her husband, Gerardo, branched out onto hot dog holy ground—the Avondale space formerly occupied by Hot Doug's—it was time to reckon with the couple's nascent empanada empire. (The Salamancas are in the process of opening a third, even larger location on Southport.)

Chorizo-and-egg empanada - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Chorizo-and-egg empanada

I wouldn't have guessed it possible, but the Salamanca family have managed to crank up the kitsch level of the space far beyond anything Doug Sohn dreamed up, with glass display cases packed with Japanese robots and monsters, Frida Kahlo art, Dia de los Muertos-style skull imagery, a working Gorf arcade machine, and an exterior mural that manages to incorporate Yoda, E.T., and Transformers character Snarl.

Torta al pastor - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Torta al pastor

It's a diverting environment to take in these empanadas, some half dozen each day, none of which were duplicated both times I've been in. Some are better than others, of course. I like none better than the simple version with refried beans and gooey melted cheese. The piquant chicken salsa verde bests the dull chicken mole, while the chunky egg-and-chorizo outperforms the dry egg-and-cheese. I've enjoyed plenty of the others: rajas, birria, spinach-ricotta, ropa vieja, and more. The pastry is consistently wonderful, tightly crimped, blistered, and flaky; it's light but sturdy, and more than capable of holding the sometimes dense fillings together.

Taco de pancita - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Taco de pancita

Tola 2 also features a remarkably diverse lineup of caffeinated beverages (cold brew, coconut iced coffee, spicy mocha, masala chai) and an expanded menu of tacos, tortas, burritos, and even a queso flameado, a kind of queso fundido doused with tequila and set ablaze. I'm still working my way through all of these delights, but I can say the torta al pastor—even though it's missing the requisite pineapple—is legit, carved right off the trompo, and the taco de pancita features a thick slab of pork belly smothered in beans and pickled cabbage that gives Big Star's taco de panza a run for its money.

Cafe Tola - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Cafe Tola

Cafe Tola Loncheria y Tacos, 3324 N. California, 773-293-6346

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Everything is terrible, so here are some classic Chicago TV commercials

Posted By today at 03.30 PM

For no reason other than that everything sucks right now, why not indulge in some nostalgia?

Eagle Insurance

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Shame on Wheels, It's a Wonderful Life, and more things to do in Chicago this weekend

Posted By today at 03.15 PM

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra presents the holiday classic with a live performance of the original Dmitri Tiomkin score.
  • The Chicago Symphony Orchestra presents the holiday classic with a live performance of the original Dmitri Tiomkin score.
Don't let the snow get you down. Go ahead, stick out your tongue, catch that drifting snowflake, then go out and do something! Here's some of what we recommend:

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Pew study: Majority of Americans say information overload not a problem

Posted By today at 02.17 PM

  • Legendary Pictures
A new Pew Research Center study offers some good news I'm not so sure about. Given everything the Internet is telling us 24/7, Pew was pleasantly surprised to find out that "the large majority of Americans do not feel that information overload is a problem for them."

Just 20 percent of the people Pew talked to—that's one in five—said they felt overloaded, down from 27 percent when Pew asked a decade ago. The information spigot certainly hasn't been turned to low since then, so acclimatization to technology has apparently taken place. A confirmation of this is the Pew finding that the Americans who own the most information-spewing devices tend to be the ones most nonchalant about them: "Those who are more likely to feel information overload have less technology and are poorer, less well-educated and older."

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Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt visits Chicago with one of his best bands

Posted By today at 02.00 PM

  • Sally Pritchard
  • Jeremy Pelt

Jeremy Pelt
has firmly established himself as one of the finest mainstream trumpeters in jazz, zigzagging among varied projects but retaining a strong identity. His latest recording, High Art (HighNote), is billed to the Power Quintet, a skilled combo that works within the tradition, summoning the spirit of classic 50s hard bop but adding a measured contemporary sheen. Joined by pianist and longtime colleague Danny Grissett, liquid-toned vibist Steve Nelson, redoubtable bassist Peter Washington, and casually versatile drummer Bill Stewart, Pelt complements the music's brisk swing with his melodic fluidity and pure, plush tone.

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At the Chicago Theatre, Jerry Seinfeld is given a stage to match his celebrity

Posted By today at 12.44 PM

Seinfeld at the Theater at Madison Square Garden - THEO WARGO/GETTY IMAGES
  • Theo Wargo/Getty Images
  • Seinfeld at the Theater at Madison Square Garden

It was with great enthusiasm I went to see Jerry Seinfeld last night at the Chicago Theatre. I took a dozen photos of the marquee. I absolutely checked my coat. I ordered an $8 plastic chalice of chilled red wine. I wasn't meeting my maker, but I was encountering a stand-up comic who has informed much of my everyday hack comedy, filled with quips and digs to which I'm often obliged to acknowledge, "That was a Seinfeld joke." (Here let me also shamelessly mention I cohost a modest Seinfeld trivia night at a dive bar in Avondale.) I was candidly making the night about seeing Seinfeld rather than seeing Seinfeld's comedy. I was very hopeful regarding the latter, but not totally confident. Because let's not fool ourselves, as fans of something great from long ago, we're always hoping that the great thing will stay the course, right?

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Illinois universities protect undocumented students but decline ‘sanctuary campus’ label, and other Chicago news

Posted By today at 04.00 AM

Students walk across the quad on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana. - HEATHER COIT /THE NEWS-GAZETTE VIA AP, FILE
  • Heather Coit /The News-Gazette via AP, File
  • Students walk across the quad on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana.

Welcome to the Reader's morning briefing for Friday, December 9, 2016. Have a great weekend!

  • Weather: Very cold again

It will be very cold again Friday, with a high of 25 and a low of 16—but it will feel even colder. The sun will be out for a bit during the day. [AccuWeather]

  • Illinois universities offering protection for undocumented students refuse "sanctuary campuses" label

Illinois universities are not declaring themselves "sanctuary campuses" despite petitions and other pressures, but they are taking other action to protect undocumented students, according to the Tribune. Northwestern University campus police are not allowed to detain students who are unable to  prove their legal residency or question anyone about their immigration status. "We cannot declare our campuses as sanctuaries, as the concept is not well specified and may actually jeopardize our institution," according to a letter signed by University of Illinois president Timothy Killeen and other school officials. "However, we will continue to do everything we can within the law to reassure, support and protect our students." The University of Chicago will continue to support undocumented students and raise more money for their financial aid. [Tribune]

  • Democrat Chris Kennedy considering run for governor

Chris Kennedy, son of the late Democratic senator Robert F. Kennedy, is considering running against Governor Bruce Rauner for the state's top job in 2018, according to Politico. The businessman has kept a low profile for many years despite being a member of the fabled Kennedy clan. "He's making pretty aggressive outreach across the state," an anonymous aide told Politico. "He has made a decision internally that he is going to move forward." [Politico]

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Chicago punk label Not Normal Tapes goes hard right out of the gate with the debut of its Infestational fest

Posted By on 12.08.16 at 04:00 PM

A carefully edited flyer for the Infestational - COURTESY NOT NORMAL TAPES
  • Courtesy Not Normal Tapes
  • A carefully edited flyer for the Infestational

"For me hardcore has always been more of an adjective than a noun. Doing something to the utmost extreme."

Maybe Ralph Rivera would've said the same thing in 2012, when he was 23 years old and the Reader profiled his fledgling label Not Normal Tapes, whose catalog at the time amounted to barely 15 releases. But he's saying it now, and today it carries much more weight. He's earned that rhetoric by rapidly expanding the label—it now sells vinyl as well as cassettes, it has a robust Bandcamp page, and it's recently topped 50 releases—and by cooking up an ambitious festival for this weekend.

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Chance the Rapper’s Grammy nominations are a win for his community

Posted By on 12.08.16 at 12:00 PM

Chance on the red carpet (take our word for it) outside Metro on Tuesday night - ROSARIO ZAVALA
  • Rosario Zavala
  • Chance on the red carpet (take our word for it) outside Metro on Tuesday night

The Recording Academy announced the nominees for next year's Grammys on Tuesday, and Chance the Rapper racked up seven nominations—including Best Rap Album for May's Coloring Book. It's hardly unprecedented for Chicago rappers to get a little extra love at Grammy time—Kanye received eight nominations this year—but there is something new about the Coloring Book nod. It's the first streaming-only release to be nominated, a milestone made possible by an Academy rule change in June that granted such albums eligibility. (Bill Freimuth, the Academy's Vice President of Awards, told Billboard in October that the change wasn't in response to Coloring Book and had been in the works for months.) Tuesday night Metro hosted an invite-only party to celebrate Chance's nominations, and when the man of the hour finally arrived onstage with a bottle of what appeared to be champagne tucked under his arm, he still looked surprised by the news. "I don't know—Coloring Book, that shit was a mixtape," he said.

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Rahm Emanuel had ‘frank, direct, and honest’ meeting with Donald Trump, and other Chicago news

Posted By on 12.08.16 at 04:00 AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to the media after a meeting at New York's Trump Tower Wednesday. - SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES
  • Spencer Platt/Getty Images
  • Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to the media after a meeting at New York's Trump Tower Wednesday.

Welcome to the Reader's morning briefing for Thursday, December 8, 2016.

  • Weather: The cold front begins, snow likely

It will get colder Thursday, with a high of 27 and a low of 21—but it will feel like the temperature is in the single digits. It's supposed to be cloudy and windy, with a good chance of snow during the day. [AccuWeather]

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Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
The Complete Deaths Chicago Shakespeare Theater
November 30
Performing Arts
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre
December 09

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