Hidden gem dishes up Mexican delights

July 10, 2009 The Back of the Yards and Canaryville neighborhoods are probably best known as the source of Upton Sinclair's novel "The Jungle" more than a hundred years ago. In terms of restaurants, the area is littered with taquerias and rib joints, and now, an ambitious Mexican restaurant hoping to attract South Siders with its homemade dishes and BYOB policy.

Eusebio Garcia has had a rough year. His divorce was both personal and professional, he had to sell his stake in a Pilsen restaurant a few months ago. But like a phoenix, he has resurfaced at Amelia's Grill, hidden away in the Canaryville neighborhood, just a few blocks from the old Union Stockyards on the South Side. His approach is old-school, whether he's assembling vibrant ceviche with shrimp, octopus and fresh lime juice, plating it with a fresh oyster and topping it with herb and chile oils or just steaming his corn-rich tamales, topped with rich crema and some queso fresco.

"We make the real mole, we make tamales, which called tamal de elote, we make a fresh corn tamal. Which is sweet corn, fresh. We make homemade tortillas," said Garcia.

His quesadillas are a world away from their Tex-Mex cousins on the South Side: huitlacoche - a type of mushroom that grows on corn - is inky black and added to fresh tortillas, along with epazote, a Mexican herb. Shredded cheese is piled on, and the quesadilla is heated in a skillet until it melts. It's topped with some homemade salsa, a black bean-corn relish and some vinagrette-laced greens.

Entrees are all in the mold of what you'd find at higher-end Mexican destinations: plump shrimp is cooked with a homemade green mole.. plated along with soft, fried plantains and rice, while his perfectly-cooked pork tenderloin is grilled with a tamarind-chipotle glaze, sliced and served over purslane and roasted quince; he crowns it with lightly-fried onion rings.

Desserts are simple, yet sweet. One recent example is blueberry bread pudding with caramel ice cream. It's BYOB for the foreseeable future, and Garcia says he's definitely going to keep pushing the envelope with his dishes.

"It's something really interesting that people ask you, 'what is huitlacoche?' and I like to do some different things for the customers to ask the waiters," Garcia said.

Another big plus about the restaurant is the free parking on the street.

Amelia's Grill
4559 S. Halsted St.

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