Exhausted by the Downtown fine dining scene, Joe Zegarac found inspiration in an unlikely place: the kitchen of Parkview Nite Club, surrounded by house-smoked meats, roasted flat backs (Parkview's house roast beef) and market-fresh produce.
It was at a neighborhood establishment where he felt most at home, so transitioning to a take-out comfort food-style joint emerged as the concept behind Chow Chow Kitchen (14201 Madison Ave., 216-712-4126, facebook.com/chowchowkitchen). After countless 80-hour work weeks, and saving up every penny possible, Zegarac opened his dream spot a year ago.
"For awhile I was stuck on a deli," the owner recalls. But comfort food clouded his brain with fried chicken in the forefront. "Once I became educated on dishes such as shaved catfish and Appalachian soup beans, there was no turning back."
Zegarac looks back on some staples that gave this former dishwasher his start.
"I don't remember ever not eating pickles. When someone tells me they don't like pickles I think they're completely crazy. A strong memory involves being around 3 years old and my mother preparing me a turkey sandwich with grapes and a pickle every morning. To this day I would prefer that plate over almost anything offered. Those soggy pickle-soaked chips on the end of your plate that seem to be headed towards a bus tub can be pushed my way, please."
"I should actually hate vinegar. Growing up it was the house remedy for any cold, flu or sore throat. 'Gargle cider vinegar,' is a line I've heard more than 'behind' in any kitchen. The acidity and flavor vinegar provides to almost any dish is beautifully balancing and without it our mouths would be tart with the over-use of lemons and citrus. I have to thank my mom, grandma, and great uncle Frank for forcing a remedy, which would later become a go-to ingredient."
Ham & Bean Soup
"I've adapted a version to our winter menu which will make its way back around soon enough. Submerge a 15-pound fresh bone-in, skin-on ham in 5 to 6 gallons of water, simmering between 12 to 15 hours, or until the meat pulls like roasted turkey. Remove the ham to cool and then add fresh soaked pinto beans to the ham stock with a few bay leaves and cracked pepper. The beans soften after a few hours and the ham can be pulled and set back into the warm stock with a healthy amount of cumin and kosher salt to taste. This soup with a few slices of sourdough is one of my all time favorite dishes."
Fish & Chips
"The absolute best mix of fried foods to ever grace man. I love different versions, whether it be cod, haddock, catfish or Lake Erie perch. Fry it up with your best house chips or fries. Add a side of homemade tartar with a few fresh lemon wedges and you're good to go. Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s porter-battered cod along with PJ McIntyre's fried haddock rank high on the list."
Fresh Cut Fries
"I know this sounds simplistic and mundane, but correctly cooked fresh-cut fries with sea salt, malt vinegar and ketchup will get my mouth watering any time of the day. I remember standing by the stove, probably around 8 years old, pan-frying potatoes I roughly cut into strips. No knowledge of blanching at this point, so the potatoes took about 15 minutes to cook through. The end result was always satisfying. Being able to watch Unsolved Mystery marathons while pounding down some seasoned stovetop fries will always be a great memory of mine."