Chow, Baby: Wednesday, January 31, 2007
The Un-Haunting

In the mixed-blessings department, our local cursed addresses seem to have exorcised their demons. The Dr. Orpheus of the bunch is El Pollo Palenque, going strong after two years in the one-time “six months and you’re out” building at 4117 Hemphill St. They’ve even got a taco truck now, stationed a few blocks away in front of Terry’s Supermarket (3910 Hemphill St.), that serves everything from tripe and brains to chicken and steak, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. And the home base, open ’til 4 a.m. on weekends, still offers supernaturally delicious huevos-any-style, any-meat breakfasts; lunch specials; and hearty plates. The best of the best is the namesake dish, mesquite-grilled Chicken Palenque (eight pieces plus rice, beans, and tortillas, $12).

Maybe the “Palenque” is the talisman. Invoking the ancient Mayan city (thank you, Wikipedia) has apparently bestowed immortality on Taco Palenque, which has survived more than three years at 3412 E. Belknap St. — the former and short-lived home of we-still-miss-you El Oceano and Los Caporales, among others. It must be the name, because it sure ain’t the tacos. Chow, Baby will take half the monolingual (on both sides) responsibility for its plate of three (with rice and bland beans, $6.95) arriving in, yecch, flour tortillas, but there’s no linguistic excuse for having to specifically request cilantro and onions. Especially when the too-mild meats needed all the magic dust they could get.

Like Taco Palenque, Rodney D’s Steakhouse (5500 Brentwood Stair Rd.) is thriving in a spot where its betters have failed, despite a less-than-miraculous title dish. Chow, Baby’s 16-oz. ribeye ($18.95) must have been born in sin: We could hear the tenderizer-pounding as the meat had the devil beat out of it; then the poor thing was baptized in various rubs and flavorings, including what must have been an entire bottle of Worcestershire sauce. But dinner comes with a movie, on this night Roll Bounce — you know, the one set in 1970s Southside Chicago in which Bow Wow and his disco-rollerskating friends come from nowhere to (spoiler alert) win the championship at a neighborhood rink. Rodney D’s shows spellbinding movies like that all the time!

In between shouts at the movie (“Look out! He gonna trip you!”), Chow, Baby thought of charming Chicagoan Teresa Colette Lister, proprietor of the lovely but luckless café that occupied this space two incarnations ago. She’s now in Montgomery Plaza, right on the hallowed alley, and has given up baked chicken (temporarily, we trust) for ... fruit baskets? Yes, but what bewitching fruit baskets they are, as pretty as flower arrangements but you can eat them! (Chow, Baby briefly considered sacrificing some word space to run a photo, but you can see them all at Edible Arrangements is a franchise (other area stores are on Keller Parkway and Overton Ridge Boulevard), which accounts for nom de blooms like “Delicious Party” (a gorgeous spray of ultra-fresh melon, huge strawberries, perky grapes, and pineapple-cantaloupe “daisies,” from $45) and “Touchdown Delight” (that one sprouts from a football, from $59). The idea is that you give these to people in lieu of flowers, and an enchanted Chow, Baby knows a certain impish sweetie who might rate a “Honeydew You Love Me” bouquet come the next saint’s day.

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