Picture this. It’s 1990. An 11-year old kid visits his big brother in Chicago. The culinary world is his oyster and the little brother only wants fast food. But the shot-calling adult insists upon no fast food. Instead, the little brother’s going to eat Mexican food at a sit-down restaurant. Not cafeteria tacos from which he only eats the beef, but legit Mexican cuisine
Against logic and reason, the little brother is terrified. What will he eat? What if he doesn’t like it? Where are the burgers? That night turned out OK. I know from experience. Big brother Tony still lives in Chicago and, as always, knows the best eating spots there. I have him to thank for helping me discover food colors beyond beige, white and a very infrequent green, and I’m certain it was with him that I first tried Thai food.
Thai has since become a staple, and I’ve found none finer here than Basil Thai and its offshoot location, Thai Essence. Both locations offer fresh, flavorful food and fast service; our house is at the edge of Thai Essence’s 15-minute delivery limit, and our order arrived piping hot 35 minutes after it was placed.
A favorite appetizer are the spring rolls, lightly crisped concoctions of cabbage, celery, carrots and crystal noodles with a sweet-and-sour sauce. We also sampled the Tod Mun Gai — chicken and shrimp mixed with red chili and limes with a crossover consistency of meatball and fritter. Its punch is complemented by a cool, crisp cucumber salad and slightly sweet crushed peanuts.
The Tom Kha Gai is a delightful hot and sour soup with a coconut base that’s never overwhelming, with the chicken, onions and mushrooms offering a delicious counterbalance.
Sweetened with tamarind, Thai Essence’s sauce on its Pad Thai entree of rice noodles with egg, bean sprouts, scallions and ground peanuts is exquisite. Ditto for the zing of Thai Essence’s peanut sauce, which you can drizzle to your liking on the broccoli, carrots, baby corn, cabbage and mushrooms of the Pra Ram. Last, but certainly not least, the Pad Kee Mow is a peppery noodle dish with a big spice profile that’s cooked in rather than sauced.
Eleven-year-old me would wince at all of this. Thank goodness for adult me and, moreover, for the chefs at Thai Essence and Basil Thai.
Again: As you have means and inclination, please continue supporting local restaurants during this time. The food and fellowship they provide for our communities will be crucial to the full resumption of social activity. Whether through patronage now or gift certificates to use later, you can help such restaurants endure.
Rob Ford is Tipmont and Wintek's communication director, a role he's held since 2015.
Rob has a bachelor's and a master's in Communication from Purdue University. He lives in West Lafayette with his wife and three children and has a life-sized Yoda statue in his office. Away from the office, you’ll find Rob working on his golf swing, jump shot, or hope for a Purdue basketball national title – all futile endeavors.