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Eenie, Meenie, Minie...

With a menu boasting so many treats, decision-making can be difficult at Leibman's

"Will I like that stuff?" I asked the Ohioan. "I don't know. Are you a jerky sort of person?" she quipped back. My girlfriend collapsed in giggles. Okay, so I am a jerky sort of person, also in the sense that I make regular pilgrimages to La Grange to get my beef jerky fixes. Don't even talk to me about Slim Jims; I'm dead serious about the real Texas-style smoked stuff: dry, tough, leathery and riddled with black pepper. One bite of biltong, though, and I was transfixed. It's thick and moist and tender, more like dense medium-rare roast beef; for a jerky junkie like me, a religious experience.

"Oh, Texans think they know everything about beef jerky," Leibman told me with a merry laugh. "In South Africa, a man never goes to a sporting event or on a trip without his pocketknife and a stick of biltong." Call me a defector, but I may never go back to La Grange.

While I was still raving about the biltong, the counter lady slyly offered me another South African treat, a dried sausage called boerewors, or farmer's sausage ($16.99). This had a loose, crackly sort of skin, the meat inside fibrous and exotically scented with roasted coriander and cloves. "I really shouldn't tell you what's in it," the woman said warningly. I stopped chewing. "It's made of kangaroos and ostriches," she chortled.

Deli reconnaisance: You can learn a lot by sitting near the counter at Leibman's.
Amy Spangler
Deli reconnaisance: You can learn a lot by sitting near the counter at Leibman's.

"Oh, my goodness, did she really tell you that?" Leibman asked me later, half amused and half horrified. "Did she really? Those girls are terrible teases, aren't they? No, of course it's not made of kangaroos and ostriches. What on earth would the USDA say about that? Why, it's made of beef, of course."

I judged the time right to confess to Leibman that I still haven't managed to try her other signature dish, the English bread pudding ($2.50). "Oh, but you must!" she exclaimed. "It's like a thick flan, served cold. It's incomparable; everyone says so." But it was way too late this trip. I'd already eaten a chocolate almond treasure ($1.25), a wrinkly phyllo pastry tube of baklavalike sweetness drizzled with chocolate, and a carmelita ($1.25), which is a blond chocolate-chip brownie iced with thick, chewy caramel and chopped pecans. Oh, okay, I also ate a seven-layer Hello Dolly ($1.25) and a bite of lemon cheesecake ($1.25), another blond bombshell brownie, with a tart lemon filling. I guess I'll save the bread pudding for my next journey outside the LoopŠ the moment I run out of biltong.

Leibman's Wine & Fine Foods, 14010-A Memorial Drive, (281)493-3663.

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