Reader contributors Rob Lopata and Peter Engler, who scoured the city to find the off-the-radar soul food joints profiled in this week's Food & Drink, offer this additional report on the sad state of biscuit and corn-bread making in Chicago--and the happy few exceptions to the norm:
On our yearlong soul food quest, we were surprised to find how neglected the art of biscuit making has become. These days not many restaurants bother making them at all, and if they do it's usually only for the morning meal. Few of these biscuits are paragons of the baker's craft, and none improve sitting around for hours. But a few shining stars beam through the darkness.
Edna's (3175 W. Madison, 773-638-7079) has been making biscuits "with love" for 40 years. Her bold claim of serving "The BEST BISCUITS on Earth" is justified, at least in Chicago circles: we rarely found biscuits with tenderness and body as well as a healthy tang, but Edna's delivers. And unlike most restaurants, Edna's bakes biscuits continuously throughout the day, ensuring freshness.
Miss Lee's Good Food (203-05 E. 55th, 773-752-5253) is another bright spot. Lee Hogan shows off her talents as a baker with biscuits as well as with her famous cobblers and baked "herbal chicken."
The corn bread situation isn't much better. Most restaurants include corn muffins with each order, but too often they left us wondering if the baker's name were Jiffy. The lack of quality is often compounded by staleness. These muffins add bulk but little else to the overall meal.
One notable exception is the pan corn bread at Turner's Family Soul Food (8233 S. Ashland, 773-488-5700). This relatively hard-to-find square version has a terrific balance of moistness, grit, and sweetness. Pancake-shaped griddled corn bread, sometimes called johnnycakes or hoecakes, can be found at Edna's as well as at Roy's Soul Food (403 E. 71st, 773-873-1990). Like the common pancake, these are almost always cooked to order. They're a super accompaniment to the entrees, and finding one is a treat.
Photo by Peter Engler