Belly Shack [Closed]

Restaurants, Fusion Logan Square
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 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
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Photograph: Martha Williams

Belly Shack

 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
2/6
Photograph: Martha Williams

Belly Shack

 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
3/6
Photograph: Martha Williams

Belly Shack

 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
4/6
Photograph: Martha Williams

Belly Shack

 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
5/6
Photograph: Martha Williams

Belly Shack

 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
6/6
Photograph: Martha Williams

Belly Shack

Bill Kim’s Belly Shack is supposed to be one with the streets, an entity that seamlessly blends the gritty El tracks above it with the Asian-Latino blend of street food inside. But if this place is urban, then Joe Lieberman’s a Democrat. The graffiti on the walls appears stenciled on as carefully as the walltalkers at the MCA, and all the “industrial” details gleam with polish, stripped of their grime. This is urban as a Disney boardroom might define it—a hazy, cartoonish view of what something edgy should look like. And that thin skin of cool is hardly enough to hide the joint’s corporate intentions—there are just as many Belly Shack T-shirts for sale here as there are sandwiches.

The disappointing—or, I should say, the most disappointing—part of all this is that, depending on what you order, that T-shirt may be the most joy-inducing purchase you make. With a menu this small and controlled, and a chef this talented and accomplished, the margin of error should be slim. And yet there are pitfalls everywhere: An Asian meatball sandwich boasts dry meatballs coupled with a harmless but awkward tangle of bland rice noodles. A plate of kogi lacks the soy-garlic punch of any Korean barbecue you can get on Lincoln Avenue. And the tostones, though drizzled with a piquant chimichurri, turned heavy and greasy within minutes of sitting at the table.

It’s not all this bad. The sides—sweet, aromatic roasted squash; brussels sprouts tossed with crumbly bits of savory chorizo—fared better than any other portion of the menu. But for me, these glimmers of inspired cooking fade when compared to innocuous mains like the adamantly gluten-free Boricua. That sandwich slips an underseasoned slab of tofu between two hot disks of plantain that crumbled and split as I tried to eat it. When I finally got a taste of the thing, I found the marriage of funky Chinese black beans and this Puerto Rican–ish sandwich to be somewhat hostile. It almost tasted like a divorce.

But I don’t blame the fusion concept for anything. When he gets it right, Kim proves that there is no combination too unusual for success. The blackened tilapia sandwich (pictured) with curry tartar sauce has a nice punch to it and doesn’t seem at all incongruous with the Middle Eastern bread it is plated on. And in his wondrous somen noodle salad, Kim takes cool noodles and pairs them with plump shrimp, a lively tomatillo sauce and—in his most genius move—tortilla chips, the pure corn flavor of which pushes the dish to a territory I’d never been in (but would gladly return to).

And when I’m there, I’ll order some soft serve, offered in heaping portions in slick, stainless-steel bowls and topped with Mindy Segal’s brownies, blondies and bacon-chocolate-chip cookies. The ice cream is rich yet still reminiscent of Dairy Queen—a good memory to evoke, if you spent your summers there as I did—and the toppings are, as always with Segal, incomparable. Separately they’re no big deal, but together there’s something addictive going on. It’s the historically harmonious pairing of ice cream and brownies, sure. But it’s also the high-low spirit of pairing fine-dining desserts with lowly soft serve. At a place where high/low seems to be the point, it’s good to end on a note that’s finally struck right.

By: David Tamarkin

Posted:

Venue name: Belly Shack [Closed]
Contact:
Address: 1912 N Western Ave
Chicago
60647
Cross street: between Cortland and Homer Sts
Opening hours: Tues-Thurs, Sun 11:30am-9pm; Fri, Sat 11:30am-10pm
Transport: El stop: Blue to Western. Bus: 49, 56, 73.
Price: Average main course: $10
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Chef Bill Kim, the creative genius behind Belly Shack, offers up a refined play on street food to all of his customers who pop by the casual eatery. Tucked away underneath the Blue Line Western stop, Belly Shack fuses Korean food with the flavors of Latin America. Kim attributes this to his wife, who is from Puerto Rico. 


Kim said he wanted to take some of his favorite cheap dishes and prepare them with the technique and finesse of a fine dining kitchen. Cue Belly Shack. 


"You really get umami in every bite," Kim said when describing Belly Shack's menu. He and his team are reinventing what it means to be a fast casual restaurant, and the proof is in the food. One example: Something as seemingly simple as their curry mayo, takes 24 hours to make. And you can tell when you taste it. 


The menu is essentially divided into two categories: handhelds and fork & spoon, with sides and desserts also available. Kim's reference to "umami" is referring to what the Japanese call the "fifth taste," or savoriness, and it truly comes through in every mouthful. 


Speaking of mouthfuls, it's difficult to find an item on the menu that isn't tasty. If you're looking for an item that really highlights the marriage of the two cultures, try the Boricua. The Boricua is inspired by the traditional Puerto Rican sandwich, the Jibarito, which is a sandwich made with smashed, fried plantains instead of bread, and stuffed with thinly sliced steak, cheese and garlicky mayo. The Boricua is the same; however, in place of the steak is your choice of either Korean BBQ beef or marinated tofu. 


The best item on the menu, though? The Belly Dog. In all honesty, it's the best hot dog I've ever had, and that's a bold statement. This all-beef hot dog is topped with egg noodles and pickled green papaya, and is served with togarashi fries. The flavors in this dog are outstanding. It's savory. It's salty. There's acidity from the pickled papaya. There's crunch from the egg noodles. Just do yourself a favor and order it. 


Bonus: Belly Dog delivers! And it's actually almost as good as it is dining in. So if you're feeling lazy, or if Chicago's weather is acting up - which we know happens all too often - then jump online and place an order!