Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Meatloaf Bakery

(Photos: My daughter [meat]loafing; the meaty counter, Cynthia in back to right; a tantalizing display)

by Zinta Aistars

My recent Mother’s Day weekend-long extravaganza, courtesy of my incomparable daughter, was so packed with adventure and silky ease from brim to rim that I could hardly contain it all in one blog (see previous post). Our Saturday evening dinner in Lincoln Park deserves a return visit—if only because I left the leftovers, meant for my own mama, in my daughter’s refrigerator. My girl is working through those treats now, and perhaps that is just how it was meant to be. Who says a mama cannot give a tribute back to her offspring? She is deserving.

So is the mother of all meaty cupcakes in Lincoln Park, Chicago. Blondie and I met Cynthia while chowing down and licking saucy fingertips, perched at our little orange table at the front of The Meatloaf Bakery on 2464 North Clark Street. I have no patience for long lines, and when we looked about for a quick dinner, most places came with a wait. The Meatloaf Bakery, lone light spilling out on the city sidewalk, beckoned. A few blocks from my daughter’s apartment, we had strolled by it several times already, and the unusual display each time caught my attention. Meatloaf? In the form of cupcakes?

I’ll admit, my first impression was a little … um, no. The gear in the mind is set to sweet at mention of “cupcake.” But once I gave myself a moment to contemplate … the comfort food that is meatloaf, the icing that is mashed potato, the decoration that is perhaps a bright orange coin of carrot or a swirl of green zucchini … well, it grew on me. Or in me. That rumble of the tummy asking for a taste.

Cynthia was bustling in the kitchen of The Meatloaf Bakery when my daughter and I walked in. The young man at the counter immediately jumped to attention to serve us. The display case was filled with colorful meat cupcakes and tiny loaves, even a cake and rows of miniature … puff pastries? That looked like doll-size hamburgers. How cute! I started to warm to the task of choosing our treats.

The Mother Loaf is a mix of beef, pork and veal with onions and seasonings, we were told. The topping is mashed and buttery Yukon potatoes. The Herby Turkey Loaf is, you guessed it, ground turkey with garlic, red pepper and herbs, dusted with aged parmesan-reggiano cheese. This cupcake comes with a side of cranberry sauce. A cupcake made of ground chicken with a topping of crumbled blue cheese and wing sauce is called A Wing and a Prayer. Other cupcakes are made of wild Alaskan salmon with zest of lemon and dill; Italian sausage with beef, or pork mixed with chorizo; a bacon-cheddary burger loaf with pickles atop; even a vegetarian mix out of brown rice and lentils topped with curls of colorful pepper and veggies.

My girl and I chose two to share: El Loafo Del Fuego, which is the cupcake created out of ground pork and chorizo, touch of sherry, topped with garlic spuds and served with a sherry-mushroom sauce; Loaf-a-Roma, a beef and Italian sausage mix with mozzarella, topped with a swirl of angel hair pasta and served with marinara sauce; and a gooey cheese macaroni side dish to share.


No, seriously. Yum!

Cynthia wandered over to check on our satisfaction level, and we just had to ask about the birth of this slightly if deliciously eccentric idea.

“Brings back memories of Mom’s cooking, doesn’t it?” she smiled. Dark hair pulled back in a tousled ponytail, she looked to have been cooking much of the day, with that pink flush of busy chef to her cheeks. She’d been in the corporate world for so long, she said, that came the day of wondering … surely there is something better and more sensible than this? Experimenting with recipes over three years, she had finally opened the door to her little bakery, and her audience, if perhaps initially skeptical, seemed to be passing the yummy word.

Wiping our chins with napkin tips, we watched several more hungry Chicagoans walk in. Others, by the manner in which they ordered, had obviously become regulars, knowing exactly what they wanted without hesitation. The best ideas often seem to be those that give you pause, make you wonder, but then culminate with heel of palm soundly to forehead: “Now, why didn’t I think of that??”

The next motion would then be a satisfied rubbing of the full tummy. No better Mother’s Day dinner than meatloaf, whatever its shape, that someone else makes.

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