Monday, February 04, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: A Flavorful Night in the Ukraine

Magic Jug
6354 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago
Yelp page; AllMenus page

What I ate: Varenyky, Mushroom Soup, Pechenia

On the evening after I discovered and enjoyed an intimate and authentic Korean restaurant called Pusan—which I wrote about here—I had a similar experience with Ukrainian food at Magic Jug in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood.

This time, I was accompanied by my friend Ken, who had been introduced to the restaurant by a friend of his. Coincidentally, Magic Jug is located just around the corner from the Chicagoland Canoe Base, whose recently passed proprietor, Ralph Frese, I had come to admire, interview and profile in 2011 after tagging along as Ken got Yakima bars installed.

Without any pronounced signage other than its name painted on a darkened window, Magic Jug was a bit hard to find even when we were standing right next to it. But after almost careening into the door due to a slippery sidewalk out front, I entered to discover a delightfully decorated restaurant with just a few tables.

We were greeted by a very pretty waitress, who if not instantly perceiving us as a couple of old leches, was assuredly left with no doubt by the time we departed.

While Yelp identifies Magic Jug as Ukrainian, the menu heralded Ukrainian-Polish-Russian food, so I was not surprised to find that it included Varenyky, which are essentially pierogies, a food I more readily identify with Polish cuisine. We ordered five with sweet cheese and five with meat; both were delicious, but I preferred the cheese ones.

Also in the shared appetizer realm, we ordered a Cheburek, which the menu describes as [sic]  “Fried stuffed with ground meat pie.” Unfortunately, likely due to the lovely waitress not writing down our order, the Cheburek never came. No big deal, as we wound up having more than enough food, but given the name I wonder if it is essentially a burek, a Balkan specialty I’ve eaten at places in New York, Milwaukee and Chicago.

Ken ordered Mushroom Soup, which despite not being a mushroom fan, I sampled and really liked, as did he.

For the entrée, we both ordered Pechenia, roasted pork with potato pancakes. Per the restaurant’s name, it was served in a jug, as shown at right.

Despite the potato pancakes therefore being soggy, unlike Jewish latkes, the dish—er, jug—was quite savory and filling.

There were no desserts and unlike other patrons freely pouring vodka from quaint yellow pitchers, we did not indulge in any liquid delights stronger than Diet Coke.

We got out of there for just $34 for two rather robust meals, and between the food, waitress, décor—including cute salt & pepper shakers—and an odd non-Eagles version of “Hotel California” piped overhead, Magic Jug made not only for a delectable world dining destination, but a rather distinctive one.

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