Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
Growing up in a Korean-American family, I never really ate meatloaf until high school, when my mother decided to try making it once. It didn't catch on. I mean, it's sort of a confusing dish as a concept. It's meat shaped like a loaf of bread. Meat? Bread. Meat? Bread! Ketchup? Wait, what?
Maybe I'm crazy, or there's a cultural disconnect somewhere, but I didn't start enjoying it until a few years ago, when I learned how to make it myself. As it turns out, the stuff can actually be pretty good, but I still approach it with the mouth of a skeptic. So when I learned about the Meatloaf-a-Go-Go food truck, which serves nothing but meatloaf, I figured I could give it another shot. And this meatloaf is even more confusing: it's meatloaf that's in the shape of a cupcake. Whoa. If the concept seems familiar to you, that's because Meatloaf-a-Go-Go is an offshoot of The Meatloaf Bakery up on Clark, which Nick covered a while back.
These things are pretty cute, aren't they? The main attraction, the loaf, is on the bottom half, while the top half of each consists of the side dish. This is the vegetarian (not vegan) Yentl Lentl Loaf ($8.45), and, surprisingly, this is one of my favorites. It's a blend of brown rice, lentils, eggs, cheese, mushrooms, and is topped with sweet bell peppers. It is also served with a red pepper coulis. Despite the fact that it's loaded with brown rice and lentils, it's not that starchy and somehow gives the illusion of meatiness. When eaten with the coulis, you have a tomatoey, peppery, and lentily loafcake.
The Mother Loaf ($8.95) is the classic version of meatloaf that I've learned to enjoy. It's an ideal blend of beef, pork, and veal, that is bound with breadcrumbs. The topper is a smooth yukon gold mashed potato. Since onions and ketchup are already incorporated into the mix, the sauce on the side is a demi-glace laced with Worcestershire sauce (which for the record, is still the hardest thing to spell). I'm not sure how I feel about the demi-glace—while it has a good acidic punch to counterbalance the meatloaf, ketchup is just as good of a companion.
No Buns About It Loaf ($8.95) is a playful take on a bacon cheeseburger. It's topped with cheesy mashed potatoes, and, to complete the picture, is served with a "special sauce," which is your typical ketchup and mayo blend. It really does taste like a cheeseburger, and one of my coworkers raved about it.
The Loaf-a-Roma ($9.95) is easily the most playful of the bunch, as you can see by its Marge Simpson beehive pasta hairdo. If you think about it, the recipe for meatballs isn't much different from that of meatloaf. The meat is beef and fennel-flavored Italian sausage, and combined with the angel-hair pasta, it tastes like a comforting bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.
Thanksgiving, anyone? Herby Turkey Loaf ($8.45) is a turkey meatloaf with a similar texture to the Mother Loaf, and is topped with sagey bread stuffing. To complete the Thanksgiving theme, it comes with a side of sweet and tart cranberry sauce. This one wasn't nearly as interesting as the others, as nothing particularly stood out, but the cranberry sauce was particularly punchy and flavorful.
What's meatloaf without a side of mac and cheese? Macnificent Pasta ($4.95) is a cup of pasta shells and cheese, topped with breaded panko, and even though it's been sitting in an on-board oven, its deep cheesy flavor and texture is surprisingly intact. It reminded me a lot of the excellent macaroni and cheese you can get at Smoque, but with a bit less moisture.
The whoopie pies (2 for $4.00) are impressive. The chocolate cake discs are filled with a cream cheese buttercream, and for someone who normally dislikes buttercream for being too rich, the filling manages to be sweet and fluffy without being too dense. The tangy cream cheese also helps cut through the sweetness. I would easily return just for the whoopie pies.
The prices are high for a serving of food that is the size of one of my child-like fists, but in this case, it's all part of the fun.
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.