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swedish meatballs

EuroAmerican Swedish Yum Yum: Ann Sather's

I’m currently sitting slightly hunched (very unyogic in posture), fat and full from what was another comforting breakfast on a windy morning here in Chicago. As I walk the city blocks full of autumn leaves, now donning sweaters and my precursor to winter layers, the sting of this city’s wind at my face, I’m reminded time and time again why I chose to live here, the food. Sure, our architecture rivals other famous city’s, and those with shoe and handbag fetishes are sure to be satisfied here, but I awake feeling grateful knowing there is a warm, satisfying meal under ten dollars within blocks from my stoop. On this crisp fall morning, I sauntered a mere 5 blocks for some sticky buns and then some, at Ann Sather’s. Boasting 4 locations around the city, including their largest one on Belmont, also specializing in catering, Ann Sather’s has become a staple in warm, hearty foods, generous portions for a tremendous value. Claiming Sweden as its roots, each location provides a homey atmosphere and soulful fare. It’s delicious all year round, but given Chicago’s propensity for frigid, I am most drawn to Ann’s on those cold, dreary days. Eating here is an emotional equivalent of drinking hot cocoa next to a fire or eating s’mores while camping, comfort and nourishment.

I grew up eating my Grandma’s Swedish meatballs, just one of many meals venturing off from her Italian roots or her African upbringing. She married an Irish/Scottish/American man, so being the true culinary artist she is, she began exploring other continental cuisine in her own kitchen while continuing to perfect what she knew best. Swedish meatballs, corned beef and hash, or Swiss steak were always welcomed treats, special occasions, and they perpetuated a truth already engrained in our hearts and minds, the way to anyone’s heart and happiness, is of course, through our stomachs. And so whenever I feel adventurous I try a meal my Grandma had already perfected. It’s actually easier for me to throw down things like bone barrow and horse panini because my grandmother didn’t ruin me by perfecting it beyond comprehension. This is why I almost never order lasagna (a dish well conquered by my Momma), a long list of Italian and other ethnic dishes, and many American greats as well. My point is I suppose those standards are difficult to meet or beat, and so if I reluctantly try a childhood favorite and I love it, you can be sure to trust it’s damn good.

It was with that trepidation that I tried Ann Sather’s Swedish meatballs during my first visit. I hadn’t had my family’s in a while and it was one of those days where meat and potatoes seemed like the only remedy for my hunger, emotional and biological. I was so beyond pleasantly surprised, not that I should be, it’s a successful Swedish restaurant in Chicago, but I’ve been let down before, so to taste the familiar flavors and textures and feel simultaneously soothed by what I hoped it would taste like and also blown away by the excellence in execution sent me into one of my favorite states, food bliss.

Lunch and dinner are fantastic here, full of hungry man meals sure to satiate any craving and bust the buttons right off your pants. I’m going out on the limb and claiming breakfast to be my favorite meal at Ann’s. They provide 8-10 savory and sweet specials daily, including a mind-blowing mascarpone cinnamon roll french toast, let that one sink in for a beat...mmm, yes. They’ve perfected a slew of breakfast favorites with Swedish spins and nuances, burritos, omelets, benedicts; but their version of biscuits and gravy takes the fricken cake. It’s the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of stuffing into my all too active mouth. It’s a happy marriage of an eggs benedict and a traditional biscuits n sausage gravy, consisting of a flaky homemade biscuit, a delicious sausage patty, an expertly cooked poached egg, topped with the house sausage gravy. Most meals come with two sides and average around $10 bucks. Each entrée is so generously portioned and appeasing that it’s easy to share with a willing partner. You will not leave hungry or dissatisfied.

What has driven their success and brought foodies back for more is their famous sticky buns. I love a good homemade cinnamon roll, a lot. I even enjoy slathering that fake sugary strangeness on those rolls from the grocery store. The buns at Ann’s taste like love. Sounds like something a 600 pound sincere food addict says, food is love. But what I mean is I can see, smell, feel and taste the love that went into it. They’re special, unique, not a confusing mess, but a superbly accomplished process I couldn’t even begin to understand. They taste simple and delicious but so down-home, right out of the kitchen of my North Carolina family’s or some of my favorite pastry places in Northern Europe. I’d be happy to die drowning, stuffed like sausage, in a bathtub full of Ann Sather’s buns.

On this occasion we took visiting relatives and friends to the tiny spot on Southport Avenue, at the end of a long line of ritzy boutiques I could care less to afford, kids clothing, pet grooming, bar after bar, until a home away from home emerges just before the el station. I pride myself on providing worthwhile suggestions for restaurants or bringing the experience to you myself. I want to share what I love with those who appreciate and resonate with my enthusiasm. That’s all. To physically sit and enjoy, then see the look on others’ faces, the pleasure, the joy, the relief, is unmatched. The least I can do is encourage my fellow readers, however many that may be, to share whatever makes you feel this way, food, art, love, and hope you’ve benefited from mine in some way.

Spread the ecstasy. Explore your palate. Share with deserving people. Enjoy.