Tasting Notes: Uncle Mike’s Place

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I’m taking a little bit of a break from theater coverage and sharing my thoughts and impressions on some recent memorable dining experiences in this great food town I call home.  The next several blog posts will be restaurant-focused, and hopefully will whet my blog readers’ appetites for more!

In agrarian-based cultures such as the Philippines, breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day:  it is hearty, comforting, heavily-laden with protein and carbs to support, in the olden days, sweaty, backbreaking physical labor in the rice fields or coconut groves, often eaten at daybreak.  Traditional Filipino breakfast, then, doesn’t have room for namby-pamby buttered toasts or wimpy egg white scrambles.  So, in this humble Filipino immigrant’s opinion, it’s quite pleasantly incongruous to find the best Filipino-style breakfast in Chicago at a West Town diner, of all places.  Uncle Mike’s Place has been around since 1991, and it does give off that attractive world-weary rumpledness of someone who’s been around the block and some, a cozy neighborhood hangout way before the hipster invasion of the neighborhood, but only recently has it gotten the attention of Chicago’s food media and pundits with its Filipino breakfasts (its owner, Mike “Uncle Mike” Grajewski, is married to a Filipina).  Yes, amidst the Santa Fe omelettes and corned beef hashes, Uncle Mike’s Place serves up the crown jewels of Filipino breakfasts –tocino (marinated pork) and longanisa (Filipino sausage)- and serves them up well, evoking memories in its Filipino diners of languorous childhood mornings, of breezy picnics by the sea, or of loud, joyous, toddler-filled family reunions after Sunday mass (and in my case, of unhurried weekend trips with my family growing up to Pampanga in the central Philippines, where arguably the best tocino and longanisa come from, using recipes handed down through generations). 

When I eat at Uncle Mike’s Place, I usually get the breakfast combo – served on a humungous plate that could fit a Sumo wrestler’s mug, it’s an enveloping feast of crisply charred pieces of tocino, with a deliriously random ratio of pork meat to fat; plump, garlicky, toasty-skinned longanisa; two defiantly-packed mounds of assertively garlic rice; two eggs made to specifications (I usually get mine over and medium, with the egg yolk semi-firm and barely liquid); and a bowl of kamatis at sibuyas, a mini-salad of tomatoes (kamatis) and onions (sibuyas) with vinegar, eaten as a condiment.  It’s the Filipino flavor profile on a plate – sweet, sour, garlicky bitter, generously pork-fatty; a comforting shroud that fills you up and gives you strength.  On the weekends, a complimentary bowl of lugaw, or Filipino congee, comes with the order of the Filipino breakfasts (a spicy Spam, a pork chop, and a skirt steak marinated in the traditional Filipino barbecue marinade are also available), and it is robustly flavored with ginger, fish sauce and long-simmering chicken stock, and full of generous slices of white chicken meat, a terrific palate-opener.  It’s food intended to build resiliency, a trait that Filipinos, given our long, tumultuous history of colonizations and political volatility, have in spades.

Uncle Mike’s Place is at 1700 West Grand Ave.

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One Response to “Tasting Notes: Uncle Mike’s Place”

  1. tom sherman Says:

    Looking forward to the food-related posts!

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