Fake brothers from a fake country serve up real treats from a DC food truck, a former construction worker cooks up Cajun food surrounded by Illinois cornfields, and a California winery creates bar snacks to pair with its wines.
Gourmet food trucks have been catching on everywhere (well, except here in Chicago, where draconian health regulations continue to thwart most attempts). In the past couple of years, chefs and wannabe chefs have been rehabbing used postal vans, delivery trucks and even old ice cream trucks and creating rolling restaurants that serve up an amazing range of eats in cities across the country. But few do it with the style and charming back story of the Fojol Bros.
Only two of the four Fojol Bros. are actual brothers, and no one is named Fojol. Wearing turbans and patently false mustaches, they peddle a changing menu of delicious, healthy Indian food with no preservatives from their homeland, “Merlindia.” And they let people know of the whereabouts of their “traveling culinary carnival” on Twitter. The Fojol Bros., back story and all, are the subject of my latest piece on cable station USA Network’s USA Character Approved Blog. The blog is in soft launch mode at the moment—I’ll let you know when it goes into full launch (heck, I’ll probably take out a full-page ad somewhere).
At Ron’s Cajun Connection, a lively roadside place about 80 miles southwest of Chicago, every order comes with a side of sass, from chef/owner Ron McFarlain himself. He regularly makes the rounds of the tables and booths of the three-room restaurant, seeing who ordered what and letting diners know what they did wrong.
We didn’t order gator, mistake number one. And we did order salads, instead of the cup of gumbo. Ron really took us to task for that one. “Eat what I cook. Eat what I cook. I didn’t cook the salad!”
It’s hard to go wrong with anything Ron cooks. Born and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the heart of Cajun country, he started following construction jobs north. Along the way, he would cook for his fellow workers. Late in 1995, he gave up construction and took up cooking full time, in his own restaurant, Ron’s Cajun Connection. Improbably enough, he did so in the midst of cornfields in Utica, Illinois.
Not much Cajun cooking makes it this far north. Ron soon had a loyal following. Taste his catfish, crawfish, shrimp (all breaded and fried, of course) or his jambalaya, étoufée or red beans and rice, and you’ll know why. Nothing is overly spicy—he believes in flavor, not heat. If you want to heat things up, though, there are hot sauces at the table. Just make sure you save room for dessert—especially the key lime pie or pecan pie, baked on premises. Missing those would be the real mistake.
Ron’s Cajun Connection
897 East U.S. Highway 6, Utica, IL, (815)667-9855
The idea of serving salty, savory snacks with cocktails ranks right up there with the invention of moveable type or the discovery of penicillin for me. Whoever first did it is a genius. Now, the owners of Clif Family Winery & Farm have taken that brilliant idea one step further—they’ve created Gary & Kit’s Gourmet Mountain Mix, a collection of salty, savory (and a little sweet) snacks specifically designed to pair with wines.
The Mountain Mix snacks are the first in a new line of gourmet foods with an emphasis on great taste and local and organic ingredients. Reflecting the importance of local food sourcing and sustainability, the ingredients for Mountain Mix are sourced from California, and each flavor is made with at least 70% organic ingredients.
There are four flavors to choose from: Sundried Berry & Cherries with Roasted Almonds (our personal favorite), Smoked Paprika Almonds Sprinkled with Sea Salt, Glazed Walnuts & Apricots with Bing Cherries and Roasted Pistachios and Almonds Tossed with Rosemary. And while they’re meant to pair with wine, they’re just as tasty with other alcoholic beverages or, dare I say it, stone cold sober. Currently, they’re available at the winery, on their website and at gourmet grocers and specialty stores throughout California.
Clif Family Winery & Farm
St. Helena, California