Many originally settled in an area of the West Loop, and took up jobs operating food carts, until they saved or pooled their dough to open small cafes in the area now known as “Greektown.”
Around about 1971, the “Greek Islands” opened their Greektown location, and many credit the restaurant with introducing Saganaki (which at the time, my toddler called “cheese on fire”) and gyros to American diners.
The immense popularity of the Greek Islands (they import many of their ingredients from Greece) led them to open a second location, in the Western Suburb of Lombard, IL.
We hit it up the other night, were very well fed, very well taken care of by the waitstaff, and it was a great value – four dinners with many appetizers and drinks for less than two C notes.
The restaurant has a lengthy appetizers menu, so I went all tapas for my dinner, and ordered a number of small plates (NOT TO SHARE, JUST FOR ME! LOL).
They were all great. House made hummus, saganaki, the Greek pork sausage Loukaniko (which is made with a hint of citrus peel) and a plate of feta and olives. Accompanied by house baked fresh bread and/or pita. Swell. Other entrees at the table included the whole sea bass imported from Greece (server filets at the table), and the Mahi Mahi kabob. Both were superb. Sides that come with the entrees could be improved a bit. The menu also gives you the option of “building your own combo” with two or more mains, which is nice.
Hillshire comes out with a version of “lunchables” for adult palates, and they are high quality and valued priced. I found them at Target at 2 / $5. The one(s) I picked up included dry salami, smoked gouda, and toast rounds. I was happy with all of it.
The “real” lunchables, the meat and cheese is such crap. Ick.
So I recommend these, and they are packed with protein, if you’re concerned about your daily intake.
These are packed for Hillshire by Sugar Creek Packing, in Washington Court House, Ohio.
Hillshire Small Plates Snack Review
My best bud in college was from Rockford, Illinois, and we’d go down there on occasion; I returned with him a little later in life for his first (of 4) wedding, and when he relocated from Rockford to San Jose. He invited several of us to help with that move, unfortunately, he bought several cases of beer PRIOR to us helping, so you know how that went. Then he and I headed across country in his 240-Z testing its upper limits of MPH, and that tale has a number of anecdotes that don’t belong on a G-Rated website.
Back then, Rockford was really a blue collar, manufacturing town, producing heavy machinery, furniture, and even bombs for awhile. These days the largest cmployers are hospitals and government, tho twenty miles east, in Belvidere, IL there has been a huge Chrysler plant for a number of decades. Currently they are puking out some Jeep models.
During our visits, we used to hit a favorite dive bar of his, and I went in search of it during a recent drive through town. It’s still there, but no longer qualifies as a ‘dive,’ the menu is all chi-chi now and they even take reservations.
So I zipped around in search of a new dive bar, and found one on the south side of the city, “Opsahl’s Tavern.” It’s on the southern edge of the city, just a bit off US 20. I think it fits all the requisite definitions for a dive bar, no fancy interior, a crowd of regulars early in the morning, in a constant state of remodeling, bits and pieces to be installed sitting around.
But they have a very pretty menu (below) and are “famous for their burgers and pizza.” So I ordered a pizza. My usual, sausage, green olives, double cheese, thin crust. Double cheese was a mistake as they are very generous with the cheese in the first place. This is a pie with a lot of sauce, and it’s flavorful. Sausage chunks were a nice size, and the sliced olives were the “Sicilian style” (marinated and herb-y) that pizzeria supply houses sell, and I like a lot.
My pic of the pie is not as pretty as it was in real life — as I had a pizza catastrophe going out to the car – I dropped the box. Which tended to shift some of the toppings – drastically. I didn’t actually cry, but I could have. Anyway, it’s a great pizza. The local radio station apparently did a review, he wasn’t as enthused as I was, course I’m the expert, aren’t I? Check out Opsahl’s if you get to Rockford. Two locations now.
Opsahls Pizza Review
Don’t bother trying to find anything out about this product online, I spent a bunch of time doing that and came up pretty short. I can’t even tell you exactly where I purchased it, other than a suburban Chicago grocery. So a lot of this should be prefaced with “apparently.”
This product is made in Harvard, IL, it seems by Jones Packing Company, which started in 1952. Harvard is the most distant NW suburb reached by commuter rail in the Chicago area. A pic of (apparently) Jones is below.
According to the USDA establishment number of the package, the product is actually produced at Roma Packing, Inc., in Chicago. (pic below).
This is a pure pork sausage, described on the package as “hot.” It comes in a clear vacuum pack, and contains the same types of herbs and spices one would find in traditional “hot” Italian sausage, i.e. fennel.
I split the package in two, and fried half of it until it was crumbles, and used it to top a home made pizza last night. The balance was made into patties for breakfast this morning.
In both cases, the product pleased me very much. It’s a very fine grind, so it is easily chewable. (Some pork sausages seem “tough”). The flavor is outstanding, and there is a little bit of heat, as advertised.
I’ll buy it again if I can find it. One story I read referred to Jones Packing having their own retail store, which I’ll go check out.
Gramma Pearls Sausage Review
Couple weeks ago, I wrote about my visit to the Bulgarian grocery in Chicago. One of the items I picked up was “Sujuk” sausage, which wikipedia defines as “a Sujuk is a dry, spicy sausage which is eaten from the Balkans to the Middle East and Central Asia.”
It has slightly different spellings by country. This is a pork, beef, seasoning link in a natural casing, sold raw. The label suggests it’s perfect for the grill or breakfast.
I really enjoyed it. It’s full of flavor which resembles the source muscle, with a firm and chewy texture. Much like the Spanish dry chorizo, but without the heat. The density makes me think it might not be so manageable on a bun, but it was sure delicious pan-fried and sliced.
Sujuk Sausage Review
This isn’t the sort of place I’d usually stop or write about. First because I’m the last person you’d ever expect to find in a campground, and secondly because in advance of eating there, pretty sure I’d expect to be disappointed. Boy, was I wrong in thinking that here!
Plymouth Rock Campground is a sizable campground for RVs, trailers, and tent campers, with hundreds of spots for rent – you can get maximum facilities or minimum.
There are clean public bathrooms, showers, three swimming pools, a very well stocked store, and planned activities. It also happens to be across the highway from RoadAmerica, a professional race track that stages Indy, Nascar and other races. This is a monster facility that can accommodate up to 150,000 spectators. I didn’t attend.
Near the swimming pool in the NE corner of the campground, is the restaurant, which serves from breakfast until 9PM, a typical “snack bar” menu, but very long on choices. (Menu follows below).
You’ve probably been to a hundred to these types of places, whether at your local golf course, high school game, street fair, and they are all pretty much the same, pre-made, frozen items reheated on the spot. Even the burgers on Amtrak are like that (and very expensive).
Not so with the Plymouth Rock folks. I could tell looking over the ordering window that they had a full kitchen and were actually cooking to order. A flattop grill next to a fryer for burgers, fries, rings, tenders, fish sandwiches and the like. A Baker’s Pride counter top pizza oven. Bakers Pride ovens are standard gear for most of the pizzerias in America. Broaster Chicken oven. Equipment like that, you know these people are serious.
I ordered a bacon cheeseburger and a side of fries, expecting to receive what I described above. Wrong. The burger was hot, freshly made, topped with hand-cut veggies I requested, on a substantial bakery roll – stiff enough to hold a burger, but soft to bite into. Likewise, the fries were hot, crisp, and lightly salted. REAL POTATOES. It’s a pet peeve of mine these days to order fries and get those ones made by extruded presses, they basically take a mashed potato slurry and shove it through a fry shaped mold. Yecchh. No flavor, wrong texture. But not these.
I had to say something, so I finished eating (hey, priorities!) and went back to the counter and said “That was really great, it really exceeded my expectations.”
They thanked me. Nice young couple. How many people thank a cook at a place like this. (I do, a lot, if I’m impressed). Running a restaurant is hard, thankless work.
I was also very surprised at the value pricing. This kind of situation, only outlet for hundreds and hundreds of people, captive audience, usually prices the menu by the “flinch method.”
Not these nice folks. They could easily get another half buck to a buck for any item on the menu and I’m sure no one would bat an eye.
This is a seasonal operation as is the campground. Not sure of precise dates, but sometime from April to October. They mentioned they owned another restaurant, but I didn’t think to get the details.
Click the menus for larger views.
Plymouth Rock Campground Restaurant Review
Hit another ethno-centric market this weekend; Malincho promises a full selection of Bulgarian meats, cheese, canned and boxed groceries.
They didn’t disappoint, although the store was considerably smaller than I imagined it would be, having based my impression via their online presence.
They have a good selection, but if you don’t speak or read Bulgarian, be sure to take along the Google translate app. While most imported groceries I see have a ‘stick on label’ with English ingredients and nutrition, most items here didn’t.
The freezers are full of specialty meat products, primarily made by Tandem, a Bulgarian company that purchased a small processor in Schaumburg, IL (pictured below) to make and distribute Bulgarian specialty meats. There are a lot of great dried salamis and related products that I was happy to pick up. Also grabbed some imported cheeses, fruit juice, and olive pate.
I’d hit it again. It’s got a small sign in a strip mall off Mannheim, so keep your eyes peeled to the right if traveling north!
Open daily at 1475 Lee St, Des Plaines, IL 60018, and some items are available to purchase online. Prices in the store seem very reasonable.
Malincho Euro Market & Deli Review
Some weeks ago, I wrote about an Italian deli I stumbled on in suburban Chicago. Nottoli’s has a great selection of house-made sausages, pastas and an ample selection of imported Italian canned and box goods.
This week I hit Felicia’s, an Italian-centric meat market and deli in Schaumburg.
Felicia’s is smaller in size than Nottoli’s, but there’s no shortage of quality goodies.
The store has two narrow aisles as you walk in, on the right are freezer cases of pre-made frozen meals for two, as well as home-made soups. Lining the other side of the right hand aisle are canned tomatoes, sauces, and pasta.
As you round the bend at the back of the store, you’ll come to the deli case, well-staffed and able to take care of a crush of customers simultaneously. In addition to house-made meats, like Italian sausage, franks, and meatballs, they also carry Boar’s Head brand deli meats, a wide assortment of cheese and house-made salads, like buffalo/tomato and cold pastas.
I scored some hot Italian rope sausage and meatballs. The sausage is very flavorful and has a little heat. The meatballs are dense (the way I like them, not all crumbly) and only lightly seasoned. When I make them at home, I’ve been accused of using too much fennel. But hey, I’m at the stove, not you!
Felicia’s will make you sandwiches to go, on demand, and also do catering. Both menus are shown below.
Nice people, knowledgeable, helpful, quality goods. I like. Most everything I purchased I thought was a good value.
Felicia’s opens daily at 8AM, til 6PM Monday – Friday, 5 PM Satuday, and 2 PM Sunday. Map follows at the bottom of the post.
Felicias Meat Market and Deli Review
I have so much admiration for people who start a restaurant with just a concept in mind and build a business from the ground up. It’s a really tough, competitive segment – the best statistics available recently show 60% of new restaurants fail within the first three years. Any start-up is tough, I know, because I’ve been involved in dozens.
I have ten times the admiration for people who start a restaurant as an independent operation in a segment that is rapidly growing and has some tough competitors already in place.
Undaunted by that notion, the brothers Kwok created “Olive Theory Pizzeria” in the Chicago western suburb of Downers Grove. They had done their research, dined at a number of the established concept outlets and contemplated and investigated acquiring one of the franchise operations instead of going it alone.
In the end, they believed the restrictions of the franchisors would inhibit the Kwoks creating their vision of the restaurant – one where they could offer the highest quality ingredients, as well as menu items that wouldn’t be permitted under any of the franchise operating guidelines.
All that is fortunate for Chicago area diners in search of high quality “made on demand” wood fired pizza.
They call it “Olive Theory” as a reference to a tale from Greek mythology, wherein the olive tree, a most bountiful gift, was created in a contest to please the King. It’s the Kwok’s goal to offer bounty to the community, while maintaining an operation based on sustainability.
It’s quick and easy to order – grab a menu card (pictured below) at the counter and describe the pie you want or order one of the house specials. For a (low) flat price, you can have as many toppings as you like atop a cracker thin crust, cooked to order in minutes. One thing that differentiates Olive Theory from similar operations is the restaurants commitment to “fresh- prepared in store,” and the highest quality ingredients they can source locally. Outlets of chain operations aren’t allowed the flexibility to chase either of those ideals.
The dough for the crust is made in-house daily, allowed to rest and raise as proper dough requires. The classic tomato sauce is made from what many chefs consider the finest tomatoes in the world, San Marzanos from a particular region of Italy. If you’re in the mood for something other than red sauce, you have six other choices to contemplate. There are five cheeses available, a host of meat and vegetable toppings, as well as “finishing touches” like garlic or truffle oil.
Looking for something a little different, try Olive Theory’s version of a calzone, the “Pie-Sandwich,” your choice of pizza ingredients in a folded over version of their dough, and baked til golden brown. Salads and a daily soup are also on the menu.
The Kwok brothers had invited our party of four in for a tasting, and we had a diverse selection at the table, including the house special pies of “Buddha’s Karma,” “Titan’s Unleashed,” and “Goldbergs Big Five;” each of these pies have a special combination of ingredients that are nearly musical in the way they come together. Truly. I’m a fan of Italian sausage and pepperoni in nearly any form, but Olive Theory’s are spectacular to me.
In addition to being a great place to grab a quick lunch or dinner, dining there or taking it home, it occurred to me that it’s a wonderful destination for families – the pricing is such that it provides a wonderful family outing at a really great value, and the kids will love the “build your own” concept, knowing they aren’t going to have to eat around whatever ingredients dad usually insists on.
Families concerned about the quality of what they eat and where it comes from can also take comfort in the offerings. I feel the ambience/atmosphere is also conducive to families and groups, with large tables, good lighting, and soft background music.
Olive Theory has a selection of beer, soft drinks, and iced tea to go with your meal, as well as some really great dessert offerings, including fresh baked cookies, hot from the oven.
I asked when and where location # 2 will show up, and they just smiled. They did say “no” to locating it my garage, even tho I thought that would be an outstanding site. You need to go to Olive Theory!
They are located in Downers Grove in a small strip mall on the north side of Butterfield Road, at 1400A, just east of I-355, and are open from 11AM -10PM every day. If you’re nearby and want to pick up, you can even order online. Phone is 630-519-5152. Catering services available. Click on menus to enlarge!
Olive Theory Pizzeria Review
When I was growing up, it was etched in stone that the family had a big Saturday breakfast together; often my dad cooked the elaborate set-up, which might have been steak and eggs, pancakes or waffles, fruit turnovers, sausage or bacon.
It got so that friends of me and my siblings wanted to do sleepovers on Friday nites just for the morning repast. Kids were placed in charge of beating batter, folding and stuffing turnovers, and most certainly, setting, clearing and washing.
I carried this on, when I had families. It was flexible tho, depending on people’s schedules, and would be either Saturday or Sunday. It is reportedly a fond memory of my daughters.
Even now, on my own, I continue the practice, but again, it’s not locked into a day.
Today I went with trying to perfect my chicken fried steak recipe, along with eggs and a home version of poutine.
For the steak, I used the flour/eggdip/crumb method, fried until the edges start to look a bit crispy – doesn’t take long!
My crumb mixture today was a combo of panko and crushed pretzels. I’ve tried all sorts of other combos – potato chips, saltines, corn chips. Most are probably too salty for most people.
For today’s poutine, I went with tator tots, brown gravy and feta. It was over the top satisfactory.
A couple poached eggs, and an everthing bagel. Ok, the bagel was a goof-up, cause I baked bread yesterday which I intended to use, and forgot I had put it in the icebox.
It was a good breakfast, large enough for two diners. Tried to share with the cat, but he would have nothing to do with it.
Chicken Fried Steak Recipe