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Crack Barrel Review, Nationwide Chain

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Cracker Barrel ReviewI was reading about this couple the other day, 80 years old, who have visited every Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in the country, except one. Interesting goal.

According to Wikipedia, there are 640 outlets. The company started in 1969 with the first store located in Lebanon, TN.

The accent is on “country home cooking” and there is also a small attached general store, which sells retro home decor and food products.

They pride themselves on a number of their offerings being prepared in-house, all day long, like biscuits, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

Here’s the bottom line. I probably haven’t been in one of these in ten years. I think the prices have come down, making it a better value, but I think the quality has declined, as well.  I had chicken fried steak and eggs, and the steak tasted like it could have been from any food service supplier. I know it’s hard to get consistency, but I do like a good CFS prepared in house.

So, “it is what it is,” and I’ll see you again in ten years.

Crack Barrel Review

Chicken fried steak and eggs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full menu. Locations.
Cracker Barrel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Crack Barrel Review
Crack Barrel Review

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Kegels Inn Review – Milwaukee, WI

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MEXICO TRAVEL WARNING: The U.S. State Department is warning tourists going to Mexico about reports of tainted or substandard alcohol causing drinkers to become sick or pass out. Details: http://abc13.co/2v0CCKwIf you’re an occasional reader, you know that I’ve been disappointed in the past when I’ve gone to an establishment that’s had the title of “City’s favorite for XXX decades.”

Lots of those types rest on their laurels, or the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th generation think they “know better.” But I’ve been on a roll to NOT have that happen lately, and certainly Kegel’s Inn, Milwaukee’s oldest and premier restaurant celebrating Bavarian cuisine exceeded my expectations on every level.

We hit the door at dinner time on a Saturday nite, and the restaurant was busy, but we didn’t have to wait long. One gets the feeling that there are an awful lot of regulars (“…a place where everybody knows your name….”), but you’re only a stranger once.

The eatery is decorated like a fairly traditional German beer hall, with rough dark brown accent timbers and colorful murals.

The menu offers a strong list of appetizers, including traditional sausages, pork shank rolls, and onion rings.  There are daily soup choices, that always include chicken dumpling, French onion and one other. During my visit, the soup of the day was house-made mushroom, and it was superb, large chunks of hand cut ‘shrooms in a creamy preparation.  (Dinners include soup, salad, and bread).

The entrees run the gamut of German specialties including rouladen, goulash, sauerbraten,  hasenpfeffer and of course, wienerschnitzel. American Kegelsdishes, regional favorites, like walleyed pike, steak, fried shrimp, steaks, liver and chicken.

I opted for the schnitzel, which was superb, equal to any I’ve had in Europe, and my co-diner went with the hasenpfeffer (rabbit stew) and raved that it was “just like mom’s.”

A full range of both domestic and imported beers is available, as is a full bar.

I over ordered on the food. Took some home to enjoy the next day.

Excellent service, even at the busiest times.

Oktoberfest comes early at Kegels,  so check their calendar in early August for the exact dates.

Full dinner menu.  Friday fish fry menu.

Kegels Inn Review Milwaukee

Schnitzel Holstein Style

Kegel's Inn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kegels Inn Review
Kegels Inn Review

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Old Warsaw Buffet Review, Chicago, IL

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Old Warsaw Buffet Review

Old Warsaw Buffet Review

Chicago’s rich melting pot of immigrants makes for some really good eats, often time at a real value as well.

There are many, many Polish restaurants like the White Eagle, where food is served family style.  Check out Czech grub at the Czech Plaza. Whatever you like, whatever you’re curious about – Ukrainian, any kind of Chinese, Eastern European, Malay, Italian – you’re apt to find it in Chicago. Restaurants and grocers.

I was dropping off a friend at O’Hare, and we had time to kill, we stopped at Old Warsaw, a legendary Polish buffet. The spread was magnificent, and included hot and cold entrees, borscht, many salads, and desserts.  Sausages, blintzs, potato pancakes, rustic bread.

All in, around $12 per person and of course it’s all you can eat.  The restaurant has group space and has special menus on holidays at different pricing. Full bar. Distinctly Eastern European decor, which is a fun ambiance as well.

I was in Poland as it was just emerging from its decades of darkness.  This was much better food. LOL

On Harlem, just south of the Kennedy.

Old Warsaw Buffet Review

Plate #1 of many!

Old Warsaw Buffet Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Old Warsaw Buffet Review

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Hodaks Restaurant and Bar Review, St. Louis, MO

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Hodaks Restaurant and Bar ReviewGeez, I can count on about three fingers the times I have not been disappointed when I’ve tried a restaurant that is a perennial favorite in a given city. If it’s won “the best of” multiple times, for some reason, it won’t strike me the same way.

Much to my delight, Hodaks does not fall into that black hole, despite being voted “St. Louis Best Fried Chicken 25 Years in a Row.” I agree.

I was out looking for restaurants on the “Mother Road,” or at least the remnants of same, Route 66, the old main highway that ran from Chicago to St. Louis. In my neck of the woods, I’d had the pleasure of dining at several establishments on the Route, including Lou Mitchells, in downtown Chicago at the beginning of 66 (exceeded expectations), Del Rhea’s Chicken Basket, (meh, thanks for playing), Cozy Dog and Charlie Parkers, Springfield, IL, the Country Cup, a couple places in El Reno, OK, birthplace of the Onion Burger, the Galaxy Diner in Flagstaff…..and others.

Ordinarily, fried chicken isn’t something I’d go out of my way for, tho I am fond of quality preparations. It wouldn’t be in my top 10 of things to order at a restaurant.

But here we are/were,  and it’s on Route 66, been around forever, so why not.  And besides, I needed a “good” St. Louis experience to make up for my last time there, trapped by a master con woman for three days initially, then sucker punched into spending 7 years together.

Hodaks was busy, it was Saturday lunch time, holiday weekend, but not so busy we couldn’t be seated straight away. I understand there are times when there is a substantial wait for a table.

Started with the traditional St. Louis appetizer, fried ravioli, deep-fried pasta pockets stuffed with meat and accompanied by a marinara dipping sauce.  My initial thought of just having a couple bites vanished….and did the entire plateful.  Oops.

Onto fried chicken, my choice, a pounded breast, with mashed, gravy, beans, slaw. Superb.  I mean it, superb in every aspect.

Would I go again?  You wouldn’t be able to stop me if I was passing through town. St Louis in the future will be forever two things to me, Hodak’s Chicken and Imo’s Pizza.

Hodaks Restaurant and Bar Review

Fried Ravioli

Hodaks Restaurant and Bar Review

Chicken fried chicken

Hodaks full menu.  They welcome your bulk order for events or catering, too.

Hodak's Restaurant and Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Hodaks Restaurant and Bar Review

Hodaks Restaurant and Bar Review

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Fricks Ham Review, Missouri Processor

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Fricks Ham ReviewI love ham, and I’ve been fortunate to run into some great ones lately. Most recently the notable one was local, from All Grass Farms.

But I screwed up this week, didn’t do my research, and tho I was going to be close to a Missouri processor named Frick’s Meats, whose product I have enjoyed before, I completely spaced on it, missed an opportunity, other than to pick up a ham steak in a nearby grocer.

I had the ham once before, as a sliced half-ham product, and I liked that. I also had a Fricks product in Aldi’s braunschweiger.

Now I want more, and regularly.

The ham steak is a half inch thick, and charred up nicely in a cast iron skillet.  It’s smokey and salty with texture you’d expect from quality pork, and the flavors that remind you of a lengthy cure.

I’d buy it again, don’t usually see it in my local stores, but I’ll look again. If you can’t find Fricks in your store, they do sell a few products online.

Fricks Ham Review

Out of the package

Fricks Ham Review

5 mins each side

Fricks Ham Review

Washington, MO Factory

 

 

 

 

 

Fricks Ham Review

Fricks Ham Review

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Butcher on the Block Review – East Dundee, IL

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Butcher on the Block ReviewOpen since 2000, Butcher on the Block is a butcher and deli on West Algonquin Road in Lake in the Hills, IL.

This review isn’t about that operation tho, but rather their new food outlet at 112 Railroad Street in East Dundee, IL.

They’ve taken over the food concession offered by the city, and are housed in a restored caboose, off the street.

They offer a full menu of “Chicago-fare,”  burgers, hot dogs, Italian beef, with an emphasis on quality ingredients from local sources.

I went for the 1/3 pound burger (which is two patties) topped with smoked Gouda, plus lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. They offer a “signature sauce,” but I passed on that.

A combo, including a drink and fries or tots went for $8.95. Burger alone is $5.95. The menu touts the burgers as “grass fed sirloin,” and I have no reason to doubt the claim. It was a good burger.

I shall return.

Butcher on the Block Review

Cheeseburger and tots

Butcher on the Block Review
Butcher on the Block Review
Butcher on the Block Review

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Meijers Frozen Pizza Review – Grocery Store Brand

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Meijers Frozen Pizza ReviewMeijers is a regional hypermarket chain, with over 200 locations in the Upper Midwest, with the majority in Michigan. They claim to have invented the “supercenter” concept in 1962 (groceries and merch in one store).

For me, the stores are a little too big to navigate for a standard grocery run, but once and awhile I like to poke my head in and see if they have any new products other stores don’t, and occasionally, they do

I picked up their store label thin crust frozen pizza, “Sicilian Style” the other day, with a three cheese blend, and Italian sausage, salami, and capicola ham for toppings. This one weighs less than a pound and ran in the mid-range for frozen pizzas, at $5 +.

If you’re an occasional reader of this site, you know that I work hard to find something redeeming to say in every piece. I look for the good
at least.

Well, I’m gonna disappoint you this time. This pizza is awful, and a terrible value at the price. Skimpy on flavorless toppings, a crust that doesn’t crisp up, not enough cheese. This pie belongs in the value priced category, like Totino’s or Jack’s. Needs to be like 5/$10.

At least in my part of the Midwest, these pies are made for Meijer by Palermo, a Milwaukee brand, with plants in both Wisconsin and Chicago (pictured).

That makes sense, because the bottom end of the Palermo brand is pretty dreadful as well, but they do have some premium brands like “Screamin’ Sicilian” and “P’Mos” which are quite good. They also make “Urban Pie” and “Sasquatch.” I’ve reviewed about every line of Palermo’s here, skip to them by using the search box above.

Would I buy this again? Nope. I had three pieces and then did something I never, ever, do. Toss the rest.

This might be exactly what you’re looking for in a frozen pizza, it’s just not to my personal taste.

Meijers Frozen Pizza Review

Out of the packaging

Meijers Frozen Pizza Review

12 min – 450

Meijers Frozen Pizza Review

Palermo Chicago Factory

 

 

 

 

Meijers Frozen Pizza Review

Meijers Frozen Pizza Review

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Blue Gillys Review – Edgerton, WI

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Blue Gillys ReviewMy dad loved eating fish. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, couldn’t get enough. I brought him over to visit when I was working in Hong Kong and he was in seafood heaven. Geez, I craved a burger during that trip.

He wasn’t much of a sportsman himself, but his colleagues and employees made sure he was kept well supplied, dropping off quantities of trout, sunfish, crappies, pike and bluegills when they had good days.

Don’t think its genetic, but I’m a fish eater too, not anywhere compared to him. And here in the upper midwest, you’re likely to run into one restaurant or 200 that features a “fish fry” every Friday nite, offering you a choice of cod, walleye, perch, or shrimp, often on an AYCE basis.

I was surprised and delighted to run into a place called “Blue Gilly’s” in rural Wisconsin yesterday, a breakfast/lunch restaurant that prominently features bluegills on the menu.

I can’t imagine where they source them, I’d been under the impression for several years that “panfish” – the group of freshwater swimmers that bluegills fall into, were incapable of being farmed. So if they’re wild, they are most likely coming from pristine lakes in Northern Canada or Alaska.

So I had bluegills and eggs for breakfast. The fish is fried with a very, very light breading, and I’m no expert, but I’m gonna guess that they use rice flour for the breading. It has its own unique texture and taste, and of course, is gluten free.

The fish was delightful, and the standard serving (1/2 pound) was more than I could finish at a serving.

The restaurant is open seven days from 6:30 – 2:00PM, and features a full breakfast and lunch menu. Lotsa pancakes on hand, as well.

It’s much bigger inside than it appears outside, so even if the  parking lot would make you think its really crowded, there are probably
tables available.

If you’re traveling I-90 thru Wisconsin, the restaurant is just off exit 163, about an hour north of the Illinois border. Worth a stop.

 

Blue Gillys Review

Bluegills and eggs breakfast

Blue Gillys Review

A nice side dish in the Midwest –  LOL

Blue Gilly's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Blue Gillys Review

Blue Gillys Review

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All Grass Farms Review – Supplier of Sustainable Proteins

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All Grass Farms ReviewIf you’re even an occasional reader, you know how much I like great ham. Fresh from the farm type ham. Ham that tastes like a hog.

I’ve driven around the country in search of great suppliers, so I was delighted to be driving down a back road just outside of Chicago the other day, and spotting a hand painted sign with the inquiry “Got Pork?”

“Why no, I don’t,”  sez I to myself, so I turned in the driveway.

All Grass Farms is a small producer in Dundee, Illinois, who can take care of your beef, pork, poultry, eggs and raw milk needs 7 days a week, from a little shop they have on site.

These are grass fed animals, hormone free, and you’ll note the difference in taste and texture.  I picked up a slab ‘o ham, and it was spendy, but worth it. The carmelization you see is causing not by burning it (tho I like charred ham) but by the fact brown sugar is used in the cure. It’s also nicely smoked.

The muscle texture is superb, it hasn’t been pulverized to death by tenderizers or “brine injections.” I loathe meat like that. I’ll but this again, and may even venture into a quantity of pork. I’m certainly going to get some raw milk in the future, which you can’t find in main line grocers, but if you do have some you can make great cheese and butter at home, lickety-split. Or lemony snicket.

You can order online, but they don’t ship, you’ll still have to pick up. They’re open daily from 10-6. If you’re looking for something specific, you might want to inquire prior (847-852-7081) to making the trek – they do run out of popular items on occasion.  They can also set you up with bulk packages – say if you wanted half a hog or cow.

The meat is processed about 60 miles west by Eickman’s Processing Company, Seward, IL.  They also have a small retail shop on site, which is open until 5:30 Mon – Fri, and noon on Saturday.

It’s nice to know where your food comes from, especially these days when Washington is proposing eliminating many of the safe regs and inspections we’ve relied on in the past.

All Grass Farms Review

All Grass Farms Review

Store at the farm

All Grass Farms Review

Eickman’s Processing Co  – Storefront

All Grass Farms Review

Eickman’s Processing Co – Aerial

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jersey Mikes Subs Review – Nationwide Chain

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Jersey Mikes Sub ReviewSo I saw this “pseudo-documentary” the other night, and one segment was on the founding of Jersey Mike’s Subs.

After reading a bit on Wikipedia, one or the other took a little poetic license. No matter. The shop started in Point Pleasant, NJ, a seaside down equidistant between Manhattan and Philly.

After 3 owners, long time employee Peter Cancro, around 18 purchased the shop in 1975, with financial assistance from a high school mate and a local banker/football coach (yeah, I don’t get that either).

They began franchising in 1987 and today there are over 1000 locations. Their “hook” is sub sandwiches made to order, slicing the meats and cheeses as needed.

They’ll ask your choice of bread (white, wheat, herb) and size (small, medium, and gigantic), and you can order by number from their menu, their recipes of hot or cold combinations, about a dozen of each, or of course, design your own.

They’ll ask you if you want it “Mike’s Way”, which involves sliced onions, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, oregano, salt (spices) and “The Juice” – a mixture of red wine vinegar and olive oil.

They don’t seem to have as many toppings as competitors, tho it was my first visit and maybe they just don’t have them on display.

I went with a #13 “The Original Italian” – Provolone, Ham, Prosciuttini, Cappacuolo, Salami and Pepperoni. I didn’t request cheese, should have.  The meat is ok, nothing distinguishable.

I elected for the white loaf, and it’s good bread, better than competitors.

I don’t get the point of “slicing as needed.” It’s just ordinary deli meat, and this just adds an employee to the payroll. When I say “ordinary deli meat” I am talking about the formed, seasoned ‘loafs’ we’re used to seeing in deli counters. Slicing on site does enable Jersey Mikes to have the meat be paper thin – nearly translucent, and that means profit, I imagine.

Don’t know how (most) deli meat is made? Here’s a video (Dietz & Watson, pretty high quality).

Having not been in before, I ordered the large. Shouldn’t have – it’ll end up being 2-3 meals for me. It also game with a large price tag, $15. If I added extra meat and cheese, it’d top $17. That’s a helluva lot for a sandwich that is not coming out of the Carnegie Deli.

Overall verdict? Better than the competitors, with the exception of our local guy, who actually roast meats on site. The standard add-ons of chips and cookies available. Order your “sandwich” as a wrap or salad if you like that kind of thing.

Caution tho, as with any vegetable laden sandwich, if you’re not going to consume immediately, the bread is going to get soggy over a fairly short period of time.

If you’re saving it for later, consider disassembling, at least the tomato, lettuce. Really. Postscript:  I forgot to say, the employees at this location were VERY happy and courteous.  The only other chain I have experienced this level of “hospitable” employees is Chick-Fil-A.  So whomever is motivating franchisee employees, good job!

Jersey Mikes Sub Review

Jersey Mikes Sub Review

Jersey Mikes Subs Review

Jersey Mikes Subs Review

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