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Restaurant Tours: health-conscious fast food to go

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The office where I work celebrated Christmas this year with a spread from Metropolis Rotisseria, a tiny new restaurant with carryout on Armitage, just west of Halsted. Unlike the original Metropolis, on North Avenue, which was replaced by the more expensive, more formal, and never as good Metropolis 1800, this spin-off isn't so much a gourmet carryout as an attempt at "healthy fast food." So's my daily diet, and our success rates are about the same. For the most part, what set Metropolis Rotisseria apart from other carryout restaurants are the unusual items on its menu and the superior quality of its food.

We swept the papers off one of the desks and loaded it with our Christmas feast. The better than average rotisserie chicken ($3.95, or $6.50 with two side dishes) was infused with walnut basil pesto and accompanied by an outstanding yogurt-garlic sauce. One of the side dishes, an herbed polenta ($1.25) was nothing short of sensational, ditto the olive oil bread on which the sandwiches were served.

The marketing associate's broccoli soup ($2.50) wasn't the usual cream-based diet destroyer, but a dense chicken-stock-based creation. One of those artsy people in graphics had a Tuscan sandwich ($3.95): roasted tomatoes, sweet peppers, onion, eggplant, garlic, basil, and olive oil ($4.50 with feta). Telemarketing ordered the Muffaletto ($4.95): Italian style hams, salami, provolone, and olive spread. Both were enormous and satisfying.

The chunky red potatoes with olive oil ($1.50), sauteed with onions, tasted just like one of my all-time favorites, hash browns. There was also a nicely flavored cold Mediterranean salad ($1.95) consisting of red potatoes, vegetables, and feta in vinaigrette.

A few of the dishes left something to be desired. The mostaccioli ($6.95) with chicken, mushrooms, spinach, garlic, and red onions in an alfredo sauce was soupy and bland; the Pizza Metropolis Style ($6.95), topped with sausage, tomato, mushroom, roasted garlic, basil, and three cheeses, was an oversalted thin-cruster; another time the cheese and tomato pan pizza ($1.50 a slice) was also oversalted.

A faux Caesar salad ($1.75) was too gloppy, with no croutons or anchovies--its creator, Caesar Ritz, would have rolled over in his hotel. Why is it that now that Caesar salads are back in style, nobody can make them right? For that matter, why is it that they started popping up on menus again at the same time health warnings about raw eggs began appearing?

To add to our comfort and joy, the restaurant sent over a delectable selection of desserts, none of them healthy: fudgy brownies ($1.50 each), oatmeal raisin cookies (2 for $1.50), and a huge mound of cinnamony bread pudding with creme anglaise ($1.75). The paper plates and plastic cutlery were history at this point, so we used our fingers to pick up chunks of bread pudding and dunk them in the creme anglaise. Then we dunked the cookies in it, and then the brownies.

As superb as the creme anglaise was, I still wish Metropolis's owners would go back to their original bread pudding with caramel sauce, the one I used to buy at their North Avenue place. Fortunately the chef gave me the caramel sauce recipe. Here it is, adapted for the microwave:

3 cups brown sugar

6 cups whipping cream

1 1/2 sticks butter

2 tablespoons vanilla

Mix together and microwave on high, stirring every two minutes until the mixture comes to a boil (about ten minutes). Continue to cook on medium for six to eight minutes, stirring every two minutes. Let thicken. Serves six. On a regular stove, mix and heat in a double boiler, stirring constantly until the back of the spoon is coated.

Now I suppose you'll be wanting a great bread pudding recipe to go with the caramel sauce. Here's mine:

3 large eggs

1 1/4 cups sugar (some brown)

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/4 teaspoons nutmeg

1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup melted butter

5 cups cubed very stale French bread with crusts

1 1/3 cups milk

2/3 cup cream

1/2 cup raisins

2 handfuls coconut

a little ginger

1/2 cup chopped pecans

In a large bowl, beat eggs until frothy (three minutes). Add sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and butter. Beat in milk and cream. Stir in raisins, coconut, ginger, and pecans. Place bread cubes in greased loaf pan or bowl. Pour egg mixture over. Toss until bread is soaked. Let sit 45 minutes until mixture is absorbed, patting down occasionally. Place in oven preheated to 350 degrees. Immediately reduce temperature to 300 degrees. Bake 40 minutes. Increase to 425 degrees and bake another 12 to 15 minutes. Serves four to six. To reheat, warm 20 minutes at 200 degrees.

Metropolis Rotisseria, a spanking clean little place with white metal chairs, has a few tables for two and counter seating along the walls. Although it only accommodates 20, one of the owners, Gregg Parmley, told me they plan to have outdoor seating by next summer. Delivery service, presently limited to large orders, should be available in the spring.

It's located at 924 W. Armitage and open 11:30 AM to 9 PM Tuesday through Saturday, 2:30 to 9 Sunday. Closed Monday. For takeout call ahead: 868-9000.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Phara Fisco.

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