- Mike Sula
- A fungal mother-in-law, River Valley Farmer’s Table
Maybe you’ve visited the River Valley Ranch and Kitchens farm store in Burlington, Wisconsin, not far from the Illinois border—but if not, that’s too bad, because it’s a wonderland of edible fungi: fresh, pickled, dried, and deployed in soups, salads, spreads, pasta sauces, salsas, and dips. It’s more likely you’ve run across their stands at farmers’ markets all over the city, pretty much every day of the week during the summer. But what are you gonna do in the middle of January when you need a fresh bag of shiitakes and a jar of their nearly narcotic Spicy 5-Cheese Garlic Spread?
Now you can hie yourself to Ravenswood, where they’ve opened a permanent store and deli in the space vacated last year by City Provisions. In some ways the store is a lot like Cleetus Friedman’s noble attempt to run an all-local-foods emporium. There are tons of locally made products on the shelves—heavy on the mushrooms of course, featuring RVRaK’s extended line of fungal sauces, dips, chutneys, spreads, pastas, and sauces, but also products from a number of different producers. There’s a bakery operation making bagels and other things, a cafe menu of mostly breakfast items and sandwiches, and a deli counter with cheeses, meats, and prepared foods.
- Mike Sula
- Beer-battered mushrooms, River Valley Farmer’s Table
As you can imagine, the menu is full of mushrooms too. There are mushrooms in a bagel and mushrooms in a baguette. There’s a portobello “Italian beef,” a mushroom veggie burger, a mushroom omelet, a portobello and Swiss cheese brat, a burger with mushroom gravy, and what may be in the running for snack of the year: a beer-battered, deep-fried five-mushroom medley.
But there’s one thing on the menu that shows that the folks at River Valley understand Chicago better than your average carpetbagging cheesehead: they serve a mother-in-law. You remember the mother-in-law, don’t you? The south side’s iconic chili-smothered tamale on a hot dog bun, potentially of southern origin?
River Valley’s mushroom MIL is an impressive sight to behold. It’s two deep-fried house-made tamales—mushroom and kale stuffed on my visit—set upon two slices of the house mushroom baguette, topped with the house portobello chili, onions, and the 5-cheese Garlic Spread. On their own, all of these are tasty. The chili is chunky and packs some heat. The baguette is chewy and dense, and the deep-fried tamales are crispy and light. Unfortunately, the bisected baguette can’t hold the package together like a good old hot dog bun could—and it certainly couldn’t handle a more appropriately generous application of chili. Sadly, the mushroom mother-in-law is something less than the sum of its pretty admirable parts. But this development bodes well for the profile of the humble south-side snack. If just one more bar or restaurant puts an upscale mother-in-law on the menu it’s a trend.
UPDATE: According to Dr. Peter Engler, the Father of Mother-In-Law Studies, RVFT has replaced the baguette with a soft bun to much improved effect.
- Mike Sula
- River Valley Farmer’s Table
River Valley Farmer’s Table, 1816-1820 W. Wilson, 872-208-3267