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Cafe Iberico Deli: The Reign of Spain

By Lisa Shames in Food on Mar 28, 2007 3:39PM

2007_03_iberico1.jpgWhen Jose Lagoa couldn’t find the necessary ingredients for his restaurant Café Iberico, instead of getting mad he got smart and started bringing back products from his many trips to his native Spain. Word got out quickly among other Chicago restaurants — and not only those serving Spanish food — and Lagoa found himself in the importing business as well. And that’s good news for us regular folk, too. Local Spaniards have known for some time that Iberico not only dishes up some authentic tasty tapas — we’re big fans of pulpo a la plancha (grilled octopus), salpicon de mariscos (seafood salad), and croquettes de pollo (chicken and ham puffs) — but also is a great place to pick up hard-to-find Spanish ingredients as well.

From the outside, you’d have no idea that inside this 15-year-old eatery lies a small deli/market. Heck, even from the inside, it’s not so obvious either. Walk through the bar, veer to your left, and once inside the main dining room, walk up the short flight of stairs to your right. Whew! If you’re thirsty, you can always grab a glass of sangria (one of the advantages of shopping in a restaurant). There among the 10 or so tables you’ll find shelves stocked with olives, olive oil, pimenton (smoked paprika), vinegars, white asparagus, canned seafood and pickled garlic (don’t be afraid; it’s not called ajos suaves — that’s "mild garlic" to us gringos — for nothing). Looking for a pan to cook paella? Iberico stocks a variety of sizes, with prices starting at $7. If you’re lucky, you might find some cazuelas, those brown ceramic cooking vessels that are great for cooking gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) and queso de cabra (baked goat cheese with fresh tomato sauce). Being a lazy cook, we like that they go straight from the stove or oven to the table — don’t forget the potholder, though — and clean up easily.

Don’t forget to check out the items in the refrigerated cases, too, including cured meats, cheeses and prepared items (an even lazier cook’s best friends). The jamon Serrano (cured pork) is best sliced super thin and served simply on a piece of bread or on its own (go ahead, use your fingers, that’s how the Spaniards eat it). The sausages from Dona Juana, a California manufacturer, and Palacios, a Spanish producer, range in size from those about the size of a thumb to those as big as — hey, minds out of the gutter, please! — a small baguette. We recommend the butifarra, Catalonian-style sausage, but haven’t quite acquired the taste necessary to appreciate morcilla, blood sausage (Spaniards swear it’s a delicacy; we just think it’s icky). If you’re headed off to a pot-luck, do like we do and order a whole tortilla Espanola ($12.50), the potato-and-egg dish that lies somewhere between a quiche and a frittata. Go ahead and put it on your own plate. We won’t tell.

Café Iberico is located at 739 N. La Salle Dr.; 312-573-1510.