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Belize Does it Better

Misty discovers some of the tastiest grub on the planet, and it isn't from Mexico.
Monday Nov 12, 2007.     By Misty Tosh
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

photo: Misty Tosh
What have you ever heard about Belizean food? I'm betting pretty much nothing, and I'm not sure why that is. It's some of the most lip-smacking grub on the planet, at least as far as Tickie's Belizean Restaurant is concerned. This tiny joint has been doling out affordable food for just over a decade, and once you taste it, you'll know why the husband-and-wife team has kept it up as long as they have.

It's easy to compare every type of Central American cuisine to that of mammoth Mexico, but Belize's cuisine couldn't be further from typical Mexican food (even though only a river separates baby Belize and mama Mexico). To me, Belizean fare tastes much richer, more concentrated and, dare I say, better across the board. There's nothing even remotely familiar about the flavors of Belize, save for the starchiness of the steaming pile of rice served with most meat dishes.

My pal Lisa, who always looks out for untrammeled hideaways she knows I'll enjoy, tuned me in to Tickie's. I can usually tell from the exterior of a place if I'm going to like it, with the more grunge the better. Upon first glance of Tickie's abandoned storefront look and tropical-blue eyesore hue, I was in love.

With scant tables, the interior is tidy and flowing with takeout traffic. Rogers Park locals are way in the loop on the goods here, and when Lisa and I walked in, all eyes turned on us. We weren't sure if we ordered at the clustered counter or should just grab a table, so we opted for laziness and plopped down at a booth. Within a few minutes, a twinkled-eye gentleman slow-poked over to our table and dropped off some menus, whereby I proceeded to go ballistic and order out the ying yang.

photo: Misty Tosh
We started with conch fritters, chicken tamales and a slew of words I'd never come across in all my eating adventures: salbutes, panades and garnaches. Each of the latter were a wildly flavorful combo of deep-fried goodness—think crispy masa erupting with chicken, veggies or beans. The cheap-o chicken tamale was in the exact style of one I had on a small island off the coast of Nicaragua a few years ago—a homespun, super plump mess that had an entire tender chicken leg tucked inside. It's quite literally the tamale of all tamales.

Of course, we were stuffed by the time our main courses arrived, but there was no chance we'd be able to resist plowing into more new bites. We'd chosen wisely; the tender oxtail and beef entrees were better than they had any right to be, and we managed to put away half of them. Each shred of meat went down so easily that we just stared at each other in long minutes of sheer happiness. I loved how the foot-long sweet plantains snaked around the mountain of rice, and we dunked giant tears of steaming hot, fried bread into the rich sauce. Tickie's has also managed to perfect potato salad, which comes with each entree. It tasted exactly like my mom's southern-style version and brought back every meal of my childhood. Talk about talent.

photo: Misty Tosh

For dessert, we swiftly dabbled with perky coconut tarts, dense bread pudding and sweet milk cake. At that point, not only was I stunned that we were still eating, I was baffled as to how we weren't rolling out of Tickie's like giant beach balls. Maybe next time, eh?

The final rave: For a low cost taste of Belizean soul food, stop in for a Malcolm, a scoop of rice crowned with a bit of cooked down meat. Affectionately named after a homeless guy who stops in regularly, it's a perfect segue into the bliss that is Belizean.

Keep it going

Order it: Marie Sharp's Belizean Hot Sauce>
Though Tickie's makes its own hot sauce, it also keeps a healthy stock of this popular version on hand.

Eat it: Recipes from Belize
This site is the on the money for anyone looking to recreate a taste of Belize. I could get lost for days in these recipes.

Drink it: Seaweed Shake
Found all over Belize (and at Tickie's), this funky drink is a potent concoction of dried seaweed, evaporated and condensed milk, cinnamon and nutmeg. If it's good enough for the locals, it's good enough for me.

Get crazy with it: Travel Belize
Winter is just around the corner, and tickets to this happy-go-lucky paradise are usually pretty cheap. Find out all you need to know at this loaded website.

Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.

 

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