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It was the ideal dish for a grad student since it was cheap and the preparation was time-consuming, ideal for procrastination, although I would tell myself that the precise chopping of potatoes and onions and the supervision of the frying so that they browned to the ideal degree of crispness without burning was the sort of boring task that put one into a meditative state, ideal for working out the subtleties of arguments about the subtleties of Henry James or plot developments in the novel I was supposed to be writing.
Only after I graduated and a friend passed along a copy of Nora Ephron's Heartburn did I realize that others had discovered my beloved crap potatoes before I had and called them "hash." I hate Nora Ephron.
Nonetheless, when I learned that there was a new cafe on the Wicker Park-Humboldt border so devoted to hash that it called itself Hash, I signed up to review it.
Hash is a pleasant place. It strives to pay homage to the 70s, but the macrame wall hanging and iPod player that masquerades as an eight-track tape deck give it more of a Portlandia vibe.
But who really cares when there is hash to be eaten?
But the potatoes in Hash's hash lacked the crispness of my own crap potatoes. They tasted underseasoned. Whoever applied the bacon did so with a far lighter hand than mine.
And they lacked the mysterious quality that my own crap potatoes always had. Or, rather, the memories attached to my crap potatoes. My memory has edited out the piles of terrible freshman composition papers I had to grade, but it retains the evening I spent too long cooking and had to take my bowl of potatoes with me on a long car ride to Homestead, Florida, where one of my classmates was competing in a beauty pageant. I ate them while sitting on the floor of a Miami hotel room, during the collective basking in her victory. It made me think, well, this is wonderfully bizarre, and I should get myself into wonderfully bizarre circumstances more often.
But in terms of more conventional restaurant-reviewing criteria:
Did I clear my plate? Yes. Did I slap away the hand of my dining companion as he reached for one more bite beyond his allotted "taste"? Yes, I did. (In my defense, he claimed to be a lifelong hash hater.) Is eating hash at Hash more convenient and worthwhile than eating crap potatoes at home (or, in a more refined form, as bacon corn hash)? I am loathe to travel across town for it again, at least in an uncaffeinated state, but I may have to, because my curiosity about the possibilities of hash—as opposed to crap potatoes—remains unsatisfied.
Hash, 1357 N. Western, 773-661-2964, hashchicago.com