TGI Fry-Day: Fried Artichoke Hearts from Masa Azul
While Masa Azul in Logan Square has quickly made a name for itself with its inventive agave-focused cocktail program, I couldn't resist going straight for the Fried Artichoke Hearts ($8.00). Spinach artichoke dip is a party staple in my family, and I know that steaming is a popular preparation, but I'd never encountered a fried 'choke before. How would it stack up?
Funny I should mention the word "stack," because that's the general idea behind the presentation of this dish. Masa Azul has been criticized for using tired 80s plating tropes, and this is hardly a departure. A bed of romaine provides cushion for the fried blue corn disk that forms the base of the tower. A parmesan nest perched upon this foundation overflows with more romaine lettuce, fried artichoke hearts, fried carrot strings, cojita cheese, cilantro leaves, and a healthy drizzle of ancho chili aioli. There's more of the aioli served on the side for dipping. Outdated presentation or not, the dish is visually stunning—it actually looks like an artichoke! See what they did there?
The best way to approach this thing is to treat it like a Kit Kat and get to work. The sturdy blue corn disk could've used some salt, but was otherwise assertively corny. The parmesan disk was actually baked, though you'd never be able to tell by how crispy it was. The salty, brittle latticework was rich and addictive and was my favorite part of the dish. Since artichoke hearts retain a lot of water, I wondered how they would hold up to frying. But much like the Fried Virginia Oysters from the Southern, they featured a just-fried-long-enough exterior that gave way to a gushing center. While each component of the dish lent itself to being eaten separately, the rich and faintly spicy aioli dipping sauce cohesively brought everything together.
While the dish went well with a Victoria, next time I'll give it its due and order a Habañero Lemonade or one of Masa Azul's many other inventive cocktails.