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Iras Bagels Review – Lake in the Hills, IL

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Iras Bagels ReviewLiving in the suburbs most anywhere, your choice for bagels is pretty much limited to one of the chains (which are all commonly owned now), the grocery store “bakery,” or grocery store frozen.

I think the first one I ever had was at a small deli across the street from my apartment in Minneapolis. I was hooked.  It was 1975.  Back then, other than at a deli, your choice was limited to frozen. Period.

Go to New York or someone that follows a traditional NY recipe (see video) and you’ll be spoiled forever.  No more chain or frozen bagels, uh huh, no way, never.

 

Well, I got lucky recently, with the opening of “Ira’s Bagels” in Lake in the Hills, IL, a NW Chicago suburb near me. I’m addicted.  Like I needed something else in the category?  I’ve been three times in two days!  In addition to their bagels being absolutely DELICIOUS, they are less expensive than the chain.

They also have sandwiches featuring (the very famous) Manny’s Deli corned beef and pastrami from the iconic downtown Chicago restaurant of the same name.  So no more hour commutes to dig into that, too!

My life is blessed.  Thank you Ira.  Live long and prosper.  Menu.  (Close up pic is mine – 3 “everything” bagels; store picture is from the company’s website).

Iras Bagels Review

 

 

 

 

 

Iras Bagels Review

Iras Bagels Review

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JRs Chicken Review – Kankakee and Bourbonnais, IL

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JRs Chicken Review 61 miles south of Chicago’s loop, off Interstate 57, one will wander into the pleasant town of Kankakee, population around 30,000.

Following a treaty signed by the US and Potawatami Indians in 1833, the town incorporated in 1854.  The adjacent town of Bourbonnais has a pop of around 18,000.

The cities were founded at the junction of two major Indian trading trails and the navigable Kankakee River. Today general manufacturing and food processing are the driving economic forces.

Don’t recall that I’ve ever been through here before, but found myself in town to observe the Chicago Bears training camp; they’ve called Bourbonnais “training camp home” since 2002.

Needing nourishment I sought local opinion on where the old-timers go, and was pointed to JR’s Chicken, with locations in both cities. I opted for the Kankakee stop, for no particularly reason.

The street portion of the building houses a take-out counter which appears to do a brisk business. The back portion is a full bar, dining room and video poker cubby.

Chicken in their name and chicken is their game. They also have a modest daily buffet with two or three entrees (including chicken of course) and an equal number of side dishes.  An amply stocked salad bar is also present.

I passed on the buffet, unusual for me, and it did look appealing.  But I’ve been on a catfish jag lately, and JR’s was willing to accomodate. (They had it on the menu).

It was divine.  Two crispy breaded fillets, I chose slaw and fries for a salad.  Minor objection from me to the fries, which were extruded potato product, not my favorite, but were made passable in this case with a longer fry time.  I suspect.

The fish breading as lightly seasoned and tasty.  Slaw is good, finely diced cabbage with a dressing that is both sweet and sour at the same time.  Same description for the tartar sauce (except no cabbage, obviously).

Travel companion did go for the specialty of fried chicken, which really is outstanding, crispy fry breading hiding very moist chicken. Sides were loaded baker and fried okra.

Dinner plates come with a soft roll and dairy spread.   Service was over the top.  Mid Saturday afternoon, maybe a third full.

Kankakee was memorialized in the Steve Goodman ditty “The City of the New Orleans” – the Amtrak daily ride between Chicago and the Gulf Coast.  Here’s Arlo Guthrie’s version.

 

 

 

JRs Chicken Review

Catfish and fries JRs Chicken

 

JRs Chicken Review

JRs Chicken Dinner Plate with fried okra and baker

Jrs Chicken Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
JRs Chicken Review

JRs Chicken Review

 

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Panamei Seafood Review – in Grocery Stores Nationwide

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Panamei Seafood ReviewPanamei is one of the brands available from Quirch Foods, an importer, exporter, distributor of quality products to groceries and industrial accounts.

They trace their roots back to the early 20th century in Cuba, then after 59, immigrated to Puerto Rico, set up there, and finally to establish a base in the Miami area, where they are today.

The work the entire gamut of food – beef, pork, poultry and seafood – fresh and frozen.

I was attracted to their frozen seafood because of specials one of my local grocers was running, several weeks in a row.  I hadn’t noticed the product line in the past.

First item up was one pound frozen blocks of lobster meat.  Their lobster comes from Central America. The package ingredients say: lobster. Period. You should slow defrost it in the frig for 24-36 hours. It is raw. I chose to steam it, then gave the meat a quick char under the broiler.  Mind you, this isn’t one or two small tails, this is loose meat, from tails and claws.  Good for sandwiches, salads, bisque, bouillabaise, and casseroles.

The reason I broke the speed limit to get to the store the day I noticed the product in the circular, is because it was marked at $7.  A pound. Lobster meat.

And it was delicious.  Yes, there are a few packs in the freezer.  This time around it evolved into tasty lobster rolls, split buttered, toasted bun, slight memo and finely diced celery bits in the salad.

Following week it was shrimp.  Good size (13-15), great value at $6 a pound.  Sourced from Southeast Asia, package ingredients, shrimp, salt, water.  The flesh was very flavorful and firm.  It was great on skewers on the grill. I’m damned picky about my shrimp, having lived in New Orleans for years. This meets the grade. Yes, I stocked up on this, also.

Check the products out if you run across them. Don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Panamei Seafood Review

 

 

Store locator.

Panamei Seafood Review

Panamei Seafood Review

 

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Wahlburgers At Home Review – Ground Beef at the Grocery

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Wahlburgers At Home ReviewSo the Wahlberg family from Boston, ex con, one celebrity, one half celebrity, one fry cook, one overbearing parent.

Start a burger restaurant, sign lots of expansion deals – “coming soon” is their most famous location. Wahlburgers they call it.

They’ve made a big deal with the Iowa-base grocery chain of Hy-Vee, which is attempting to set the pace in the new genre of “groceraunt.” Yeah, we’ll see.

They expanded to grocer counters as a premium brand of patties or bulk, at my store in the range of $8 a pound.

Blend of chuck, brisket and short rib. Blends are the new “thing” in burgers. New as far as the mass market, not new to high end suppliers to restaurants.  I pan fried a patty, and found it had more than adequate beef  flavor, but is a very fine grind (not my preference). Curiously, there was  nearly 1/2 c grease left in skillet from 1 lb burgers. But the patties crumbled. So lean to begin with or all the fat cooked out?  I can’t anwer that.

(Note broken patty on bun pic) Be a disaster on an outdoor grill, me thinks. Odd labeling on package: “Color is not a good indication of
freshness.” (Tested without condiments or seasoning). Worth $8 a pound? Nope.

According to the USDA plant number on the package, the Wahlbergs have contracted with AVA Pork of New York, to make and package the product.  AVA has been supplying institutional users since 1985, primarily in pork.

Want to visit one of their restaurants? Locations.

I tried one of the competitors recently, Schweid & Son, which I wrote about here. So the Wahlbergs aren’t going to be on my shopping list regularly, but I do wish them success.

If money was no object, I’d put Creekstone Farms as my favorite ground beef supplier, found in a lot of fast casual restaurants, like The Company Burger in New Orleans.  Pat LaFrieda, who sells to Shake Shack, would be number two, and these Schweid fellas come in third.

 

 

 

 

Wahlburgers At Home Review

Wahlburgers At Home Review

 

 

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El Sombrero Review – Fox River Grove, IL

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El Sombrero ReviewIf you like Americanized Mexican food, you’ll love El Sombrero. All the traditional favorites, ala carte or as a dinner, nicely plated, and fairly priced. Complimentary chips and salsa to start, of course.

If, on the other hand, you’re picky about eating “authentic” when it comes to ethnic restaurants, you might want to try elsewhere.

There’s a full bar, and seating inside and on a pleasant deck outside.  Sports on TVs, of course. Carry outs welcome.

Here’s the full menu and some coupons.  The restaurant is located right across NW Highway from the FRG Metra Station.

Hours:

Mon – Thur 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Fri & Sat 9:30 am – 10:00 pm
Sun 9:30 am – 9:00 pm

El Sombrero Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
El Sombrero Review
El Sombrero Review

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Schweid & Sons Burger Patties Review

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Schweid & Sons Burger Patties ReviewDifferent blends of beef for burgers have been the rage for awhile.

The method not only provides distinctive flavor and texture, but also gives processors a premium product.

Until recently, you only ran into these in restaurants, unless you have an able butcher who was willing to do it for you in-house.

Schweid & Sons is a large purveyor of quality ground beef, with a meat business heritage that dates back more than 120 years. Starting in New York’s Lower East Side, eventually, succeeding generations of family members chose to focus only on ground beef, and moved to a modern federally inspected factor in New Jersey (pic below),, just five miles from midtown Manhattan.

The company has grown exponentially with the rise in burgers as a steady part of American diets.  They furnished the Five Guys chain with meat when they had just a few stores, and still do today. The serve a host of other regional chains as well as the East Coast locations of Fatburger.

Schweid has expanded to the retail market and placed their attractively packaged products in grocery stores across the country.  They have a number of different blends.

(Sidebar – I crave finding a burger in a restaurant where the meat patty stands on its own as exceptional – thinking I could do that at home has been only a dream).

I opted for their C.A.B Blend – Chuck and brisket, tho the packaging does not say what percentage. They start with Certified Angus Beef, a designation and label you’re probably used to seeing in your deli or meat counter.

The package (fresh, not frozen, tho I can’t say whether or not they were frozen in transit), contains four patties of 5.3 ounces each.  Which at my store, works out to just north of $6 per pound.

I cooked mine on the grill with a quick sear on each side then low and slow to very rare. Condiment free, I nestled the patties onto a kaiser.  You can see the thickness of the raw patty in my hand below, compared to the cooked on – very little shrinkage.

FOR MY MONEY, this is an exceptional burger. The texture is exactly my preference, and the patty tastes like beef, which you may think is a strange thing to say, but I’m a stickler for believing meat should taste like the actual animal. These are just great. Cliche, I know, but they really do taste like quality chopped steak.

There’s a whole host of frozen patties in the grocery freezers these days, some are pre-cooked, some not, some are no name, some are emblazoned with the name of known fast food restaurants.  I’ve tried most all of them and always been disappointed.  Here’s some of them.

I hope this experiment in wide spread distribution works for Schweid and Sons. I’d also be thrilled if they had some bulk one pound packages to use the product in recipe.

Here’s where you can find these fine, fine burgers near you.

Schweid & Sons Burger Patties Review

Packaging

Schweid & Sons Burger Patties Review

Patty thickness

Schweid & Sons Burger Patties Review

On the grill – rare

Schweid & Sons Burger Patties Review

Processing plant

 

 

 

 

Schweid & Sons Burger Patties Review

Schweid & Sons Burger Patties Review

 

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Boston Fish Market Review – Des Plaines, IL

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Boston Fish Market ReviewA Greek fisherman, the proprietor eventually made his way to the US, working in Greek restaurants, rising to head chef, but all the while aspiring to open his own fish market.

Eventually, it happened, and Boston Fish Market  grew and grew until it became the Midwest’s largest processor of salmon and whitefish, running through 300,000 pounds a week for their wholesale customers.

As a “market” open to the public, they have fish and seafood from around the world which they will happily sell you, provide you with cooking instructions and helpful hints for accompaniments and serving suggestions.  Even exotics.

BUT…..they are also a restaurant, serving just about anything you can think of that swims. Here’s the full menu.

Walk in the front door, and you’ll see the display case of fish and seafood for sale in front of you.  At the left end of the counter sits the cashier, order taker.  He’ll hand you a menu, you’ll make your selection (including drinks), and pay. He’ll provide you with a number table topper so the servers can deliver right to your table.

I had recently been on a tour of the Southeast which had left my affection for grouper unrequited. I kept running into restaurants who had run out. No such problem here in Des Plaines (the birthplace of Ray Kroc’s McDonalds empire, as well).

I had  a delightful plate of crispy, lightly fried grouper, on a toasted French roll, with fries and slaw.  My tablemate went for grilled salmon. Both selections were superb. They have their own secret tartar sauce recipe, it has a little kick and is really nice.

A peek at a custom feast!

 

Boston Fish is five miles north of O’Hare airport, just off Mannheim Road, the main surface street outside of the airport.  It’s 20 miles from Chicago’s loop. Market and restaurant are open Monday through Saturday, 1030A-8P.  Servings portions are AMPLE!

They are opening a second suburban location in the near future.  Go. Eat. Or take home and cook. Superb.

Boston Fish Market Review

Fried grouper sandwich

 

Boston Fish Market Review

Grilled wild caught salmon

Boston Fish Market Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Boston Fish Market Review

Boston Fish Market Review

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Outsiders Pizza Review – Nationwide Frozen Food Product

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Outsiders Pizza ReviewDo you remember when craft beer started to take off, to the surprise of the giant brewers?

So what did they do, they created spin-off “mini-companies” with new brews, and marketing them as such.  So we didn’t know that Miller (or whomever) was behind “Bob’s Garage Brew – the beer made with sink water from Bob’s house.”  Well, you get the idea.

So I stumble on this new frozen pie from “Outsider’s Pizza Company” someone I’ve never heard of, and according to the box, they are based in somewhere, Ohio.  “Interesting” I said to no one.

They had two pies in the frozen aisle, “Detroit style” and “Milwaukee style.”  I like Detroit style pizza, and to my knowledge, nobody in the segment is doing a frozen one.  None of the Detroit chains have expanded nationwide (like Buddy’s).  Little Caesars deep dish is a mass appeal version of the product, but not very true to the original.

A Detroit style pizza is rectangular, a thick crust which resembles focaccia bread, chewy, but extra crispy around the edges. This effect can come from one of two methods, running the cheese out to, past the edge of the pie and it drips down during baking making a caramelized edge. Or some places simply brush the crust with butter before baking.   Cheese.  Some apply a modest amount of sauce before baking, other insist on drizzling sauce after baking, not covering the entire surface, tho. Toppings are conventional.

IN ANY CASE, (geez, get to it, would you!!!??!)  the Outsider’s Pizza Company is like the giant beer companies microbrews – it’s actually part of the Nestle pizza line (which they acquired from Kraft) and includes DiGiornos, California Pizza Kitchen, Jacks, and Tombstone.

I’m gonna say Nestle’s frozen Detroit style pizza is a fairly good effort. Whoever comes into the market next will improve on the concept, undoubtedly.

The crust is ok, bread-like, and the edges have a modest caramelization, not complete.  I don’t care for the sauce which tastes, to me, awfully industrial, mass production. Cheese was adequate and the topping (salami) was flavorful.

Lo and behold, behold and low upon further examination, the pies are made in the same factory as DiGiornos, which isn’t even a Nestle factory, but a contract manufacturer down the street from me in Chicago.  Nation Pizza.

Here I wanted to actually be made by some “outsiders” so I could applaud their industry as a start-up.  Damn.

Outsiders Pizza Review

Baked pie, 27 minutes at 400.

Outsiders Pizza Review

Semi caramelized crust, note crust thickness

 

 

 

 

Outsiders  Pizza Review

Outsiders  Pizza Review

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Hometown Sausage Kitchen Gyro Sausage Review

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Hometown Sausage Kitchen Gyro Sausage ReviewThe ‘gyro’ is a Greek inspired sandwich, with meat (generally beef and lamb) cooked on a vertical roaster, placed in a pita, dressed with tomato, cucumber, and tatziki sauce.

Some purveyors add lettuce and onion. The word “gyro” is from the Greek word for “circle” or “turn.”

The meat is generally seasoned with salt, hot and sweet paprika, white  and black pepper, dried parsley, garlic powder, and oregano.

First developed by the Turks in the 19th century, and called “Doner Kabab” it took until 1971 for the entree to be popular in the US (primarily Chicago and New York) and til the mid 70s before a select group of companies entered large scale production.

Today, nearly any diner or local fast food place in Chicago will offer you a gyro sandwich or plate (no bread). But as much as Chicago is also a “sausage town” I’ve always been curious as to why someone hasn’t taken gyro seasoned meat and placed it in a natural casing to eat on a hot dog bun.

Inquiries to the largest gyro meat suppliers in Chicago have gone unanswered.

So I’m on one of my wandering trips last week, Southern Wisconsin, pull into the burg of East Troy and discover small processor Hometown Sausage Kitchen.

And darn if they don’t make them (gyro sausages). They run about a quarter pound each, at $9.00 a pound.

Ingredients are ground lamb and pork, water, salt, garlic, spices, red wine veingar powder, lemon juice powder, citric acid in a natural hog casing

I brought some home, par-boiled them, and finished them off on a flat top before slapping them into a substantial Turano roll with the aforementioned condiments.

Hog heaven, so to speak.

The sausage makers have perfectly captured the flavor of gyro meat. The grind is fine and the casing just sturdy enough.  These would be a great addition to any cookout.  This weekend, I will try some as a breakfast sausage, fried and cut on a bias.

Chicago sausage manufacturers are missing a bet not getting into this segment.

Hometown Sausage Kitchen is located just outside of East Troy, WI. Exit off I-43, take a right at the end of the ramp, then a left onto County Road L, and it’s about a mile ahead of you on the left. (picture below). They have a lot of spectacular, high quality processed pork products, and while they are primarily a wholesale operation, they do have retail on site, open Tue thru Sat at 9AM.  They also appear at farmer’s markets in the Chicago area.

Hometown Sausage Kitchen Gyro Sausage Review

Packaging

Hometown Sausage Kitchen Gyro Sausage Review

Two beauties ready for the flat top

 

Hometown Sausage Kitchen Gyro Sausage Review

Not as pretty as I imagined, but unbelievably delicious

building

Processing plant and retail outlet.

 

 

 

 

Hometown Sausage Kitchen Gyro Sausage Review

Hometown Sausage Kitchen Gyro Sausage Review

 

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Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage Review – Milwaukee, WI

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Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage ReviewToday I used some of their fresh Italian sausages for a home-made pizza. I only picked up two, of the “hot” not “sweet” variety, and they run about four ounces apiece at about a buck twenty per.

I have this quirk which there is no rhyme nor reason for. When I’m making a sausage pizza, I don’t buy bulk sausage, but links, strip off the casings and use hand-pulled pieces for my topping.

You don’t have to pre-cook it, but you can if you like. It cooks just fine on top of the pie in the regular baking cycle.

So I made my dough, laid on the sauce, some finely diced garlic and sliced cheeses (provolone and mozz – slices melt nicer than shreds, in my opinion).

Then I symmetrically laid out bits of sausage, a sprinkle of Italian herbs, and my personal “go-to” topping, diced green olives with pimentos.

Using fresh dough, it bakes up nicely at 500 for 10-12 minutes.

Glorioso’s hot sausage is a bit hot, it turns out. Most of the time when I select that type of sausage, “hot” means lots of fennel and Italian herbs. But this wasn’t objectional at all, had great flavor, proper about of fat and great texture.

I only bought two as I said.  I should have bought a couple dozen.

Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage Review

Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage Review

Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage Review

 

Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage Review

Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage Review

Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage Review

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