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The Food Guy: A Taste of New Orleans in Chicago

NBC Chicago 9/30/2022
© Provided by NBC Chicago

The Great Migration brought African American food traditions to Chicago, but cajun and creole dishes from New Orleans have been harder to find.

According to NBC 5's Food Guy Steve Dolinsky, there’s a new restaurant in Hyde Park focusing on a few dishes from the Big Easy. Heaven on Seven in the Loop was a pioneer in Chicago, but finding places making gumbo and po’boys has been a challenge ever since. Enter the James Beard Award-winning chef from Virtue in Hyde Park, who saw a space just down the street become available, and thus, provide an opportunity to share his love of New Orleans food culture.

Mardi Gras may be months away, but there’s always a Big Easy theme at Daisy’s Po-Boy and Tavern in Hyde Park. The restaurant is just a block away from Virtue, Chef Erick Williams’ other ode to the South.

“I really wanted to do po’ boys because I love the tradition of New Orleans and like many things I’m doing these days, it deals with migration and how the South has moved North,” said Williams.

His first priority: finding the right bread.

“The most consistent thing about a po’boy in New Orleans is the Leidenheimer bread. We went to great lengths to having them deliver bread, hold it, refresh it and make sure that it eats as well as it does,” he said.

“Dressed” means a base layer of mayo, shredded lettuce and ripe tomatoes. There are several options, like fried oysters, but go for the outstanding shrimp version.

“And so we lightly coat the shrimp and gently fry them. We flash fry the shrimp just until they’re done,” said Williams. “I don’t love the pickles in Louisiana. They kinda fall a little flat for me, and I like a little bit of snap on my pickle, and I like a little bit of zip.”

So naturally, he makes his own.

“They have a little bit of sweet and a little bit of spice,” he said.

Another option is roast beef, but it’s a far cry from our beloved Italian beef.

“The roasting of the beef is very similar. The big difference is the gravy.”

There’s also excellent fried chicken emerging from a pressure fryer, served with biscuits, and warming bowls of gumbo.

“In the South, the gumbo tends to be a lot thinner. It’s more of a broth,” he said.

Here, Williams makes a medium dark roux, loaded with the Holy Trinity of celery, onions and peppers - plus andouille sausage - garnished with shrimp, fresh crab and rice. Speaking of rice, it also plays a role in the housemade boudin, a Cajun sausage rolled into balls and fried.

“We make ‘em fresh. We do use liver in our boudin, and rice,” he said.

Williams says he’s pretty happy with how the po’boys are turning out, which is, of course, only one opinion.

“Based on the amount of regulars, it seems like the customers are pretty happy as well,” he said.

Other po-boys include spicy sausage, barbequed shrimp, fried green tomato and catfish. They come in six or 12-inch sizes, and another classic from NOLA on the menu: the muffuletta, made with olive giardiniera, a little bit different than our version used on beef sandwiches.

Here's where you can go:

Daisy’s Po’Boy & Tavern

5215 S. Harper Ave.

773-675-8767

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