Sicilia Italian Bakery Chicago Review

Sicilia Italian Bakery Chicago Review

In this neighborhood that I have written about before, with great businesses like The Original Nottoli & Son, Italian-centric merchants flourish.

One is the Sicilia Bakery, which sells all kinds of delicious goodies as you’ve never imagined, creative takes on the traditional Italian cannoli, plus cookies, Italian ices, coffee, a multitude of breads, and sandwiches. My friend went for the sweet treats, I went because they sell my favorite sandwich in the whole world, the traditional muffaletta New Orleans style.

Perched on about a nine-inch round loaf of bread, several types of Italian cold cuts meat cheese and a blanket of “olive salad” finely diced olives and pickled vegetables. The proper sandwich is then doused with olive oil, and one is advised to let it sit for about ten minutes to let the oil soak into the bread.

And oh yeah, slices of pizza, which I actually FORGOT to try!

I’ve written a lot about the muffaletta from different joints around the country. I encourage you to read every single one of the reviews!

Sicilia’s muffaletta was great, best I have had outside of New Orleans, only  one small gripe, their olive salad should be a bit saltier and less vinegar-y.

What little I got to taste of the cannoli were truly superb.  I risked losing a finger or two if I went in to aggressively.  The local program “Chicago’s Best” however, took a better look at them.

Check out the short video.

Sicilia Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sicilia Italian Bakery Chicago Review
Sicilia Italian Bakery Chicago Review

Bonci Pizza Review New Orleans LA

Bonci Pizza Review New Orleans LA

Bonci Pizza Review New Orleans LA

Bonci Pizza Review New Orleans LAGabriele Bonci. He’s from Rome. Has a popular pizza place there. Set his sights on the US market, and curiously, the place he chose to debut his concept was Chicago, arguably a population that has very strong opinions about their pizza. He opened one, then another. Added New Orleans. Next up, I think I heard is Miami.

His concept is a “reinvention” of the pizza.  He’s focused on local ingredients and at any one time during the day has 12-15 different pizzas in the showcase.

You point, they point back as a way of inquiring how large of a slice you want of these rectangular pies in the display.  Give a nod, they nod, they weigh it (his pies are sold by the pound),  pay (strictly a non-cash operation, btw), they finish your selection in the oven for a few, reslice into bite-size morsels, call your name.

You fetch. You eat.

The Details

The crust is “thick” by American standards, but light and airy, resembling focaccia. The tomato sauce is pure, and the cheese is ample.  I tried two different kinds (pictured) a meatball, and onion and provolone. The latter was the better of the two.  There weren’t a whole lot of meat selections when I was in the New Orleans store.  I was opening for some spicy salami, or perhaps prosciutto, and the like.

But meatball was it, and the topping was actually bits of meatball as if they had chopped a ball into pieces or actually made them mini-ball size. The flavor was fine, but I’m of the school that cooks meatballs directly in the sauce, leaving a soft, crumbly texture.  Bonci appears to be from the meatball school of cooking separately,  baked in the oven until the outside is crispy/crunchy.  Not my thing.

Onion/provolone was boldly flavorful.  Though I missed a helping of processed pork products as we American pie eaters are used to expecting, it was quite good.

Another downside (for me)?  Kinda spendy.  As pictured,  $14 worth of pizza.

BTW, don’t be surprised to see fruit as a topping.  Beyond pineapple. Which doesn’t belong on pizza in any case.  Nor does chicken.

I spend a lot of time in Chicago and had always meant to get into his first U.S. outlet, but it’s an inconvenient location for me.  So it was just a coincidence that my introduction to Bonci (bon-chee) happened in New Orleans.

I didn’t find it exceptional enough to merit a return, especially because I have so many favorites in Chicago.  But you should try it. Especially as traveling to Italy seems to be out of the picture for the time being.

Oh yeah, if $110 + for a pizza doesn’t seem unreasonable to you,  they ship.

Locations and timesPhoto gallery.

 

Bonci Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Bonci Pizza Review New Orleans LA

Please-U Restaurant Review New Orleans

Please-U Restaurant Review New Orleans

Please-U Restaurant Review New Orleans

Please-U Restaurant Review New OrleansPlease-U Restaurant Review. “Since 1946.” Doesn’t that tell you all you need to know about the Please-U Restaurant, on St. Charles Avenue close into downtown?  Open from 6A – 6PM, this old-timey diner serves all the American favorites as well as traditional New Orleans sandwiches and hot plate meals.

I wandered in early a couple of days last week, first for a customized breakfast po-boy with egg, cheese, bacon, ham, sausage, mayo, butter, lettuce and tomato, and another day for a muffaletta (they make their own olive salad!) after a muff disappointment the previous day somewhere else.

First time I got take-out, order was prepared fresh, hot, to my specs.  Second time it was a bifurcated experience, half in, half out, after a couple of eye-opening crack-o-dawn coffees.

But both were excellent, and I’m a sandwich kind of guy.  Bread was fresh, innards were ample, including the meats and cheeses. The server lady was right to crow about the house-made olive salad, it was excellent, and trust me, there are some bad versions in the city,  like long on cauliflower and short on olives!  Hey, it’s not called “cauliflower and carrot salad” is it?   You can learn more about this tasty treat here.  I make my own at home rather often.

 

Sandwich photo is mine, storefront pic is from their website.

 

 

 

Menu.

Please-U Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Please-U Restaurant Review New Orleans

The Norwegian Restaurant Review – Rockford, IL

The Norwegian Restaurant Review

The Norwegian Restaurant ReviewI grew up in a medium sized city (250,000) that was pretty ethnically diverse at the time. At least “Euro-diverse” largely because the first generation of settlers hadn’t died off yet.

Judging from the telephone book, there were a lot of Norwegians, Finns, and Swedes. Finns seemed to be the most notable, there were food and clothing stores that identified with that market.

As an “unwoke” child growing up in the 50s and 60s, I was acutely aware of people of these origins, and that at least one segment was subject to constant ridicule with “Fin-lander jokes.” “How many Finns does it take…” and so on.

Are Finns on the “bottom of the Scandinavian ladder?” Beats me, and I’ve traveled that part of the world.

Other ethnic groups? I’d hear adults (not in my family, tho) talk about the number of Jewish people in the city (650, one synagogue they said), and the single black family who moved into our part of the city (and was treated horribly) after retiring from the local airbase.

I didn’t personally know any Norwegians until college, when I went to a kind of Norse-centric institute of higher learning. I learned how to drink beer with one Norwegian guy. I had drunken clumsy sex with one Norwegian woman. (Consensual! Ask her!) Damn she was lovely. Is to this day.

So I find myself in Rockford, IL last week, also a place with a Scandinavian or ten, I thought I’d opt for a new restaurant called “The Norwegian.”

They offered a refreshing selection of breakfast dishes with top quality ingredients. (Menu below – click on to enlarge).

I went with the “Croque Madame” (French) curiously not a Norwegian dish at all, but nicely done with house-baked, coarse toasted bread, some variety of quality, thin-sliced ham (Danish?), melted Jarlsberg cheese (that’s Norwegian), a generous dollop of Bechamel sauce (also French) and a soft boiled egg perched atop the sandwich. (No idea on the ethnic origin of soft boiled eggs…..Chinese?)

There was a fistful of some unidentifiable (by me) greens along side.  The plate was delicious. As was their espresso.

All attended to by the most joyful server I think I have ever encountered, despite having been in restaurants of all price ranges in 65 countries. According to the receipt, her name is apparently “Weekend B.”

Although the joint seemed to have plenty of help, kinda seemed to me like she was a bit overworked, she was handling the full bar, both diners and drinkers. With aplomb. And a million dollar smile.

Open for breakfast and lunch, Tues-Sun, and apparently, unless I’m reading it wrong, Thursday afternoon happy hour.  Cozy atmosphere. Apparently live music at times.

You should check it out if you’re in Rockford. It was jammed on a Saturday morning, but table turnover was pretty fast. Two entrees, three drinks, around $34.  Parking in rear. Front facing signage is pretty minimal, so keep your eyes peeled.

The Norwegian Restaurant Review

“Croque Madame”

 

The Norwegian Restaurant Review

The Norwegian Restaurant Review

The Norwegian Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
The Norwegian Restaurant Review

The Norwegian Restaurant Review

Hazels Diner and Bakery Review, Hebron, IL

Hazels Diner and Bakery ReviewLong ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was convinced I had stumbled upon the best breakfast potatoes in the country.

OK, it wasn’t a galaxy, it was a breakfast horseshoe in Springfield, and after breakfast at Hazel’s Diner and Bakery, Springfield has been relegated to second place.

Located in the quiet ville of Hebron, IL, on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place more committed to scratch cooking. All baked goods, breads jams, spreads, donuts, cakes, pastries come from the kitchen.

The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch daily, except Monday.  In addition to the home-made quality of the food, expect massive servings.  Hazels Diner and Bakery ReviewThough technically it was lunchtime, I ordered breakfast – simple, ham and eggs, potatoes, rye toast.

Everything was prepared precisely as ordered and meticulously plated.

The thick-sliced house-baked rye is amazing.  Excellent quality ham off the bone, salty and smoky with a very firm bite.  I’m a ham snob and this is an excellent choice.  Breakfast potatoes, rough cut, roasted, lightly seasoned, are over the top. You may opt for a shredded version as well.

My companion ordered a variation of eggs benedict, poached eggs, strip bacon, artichokes and spinach atop a house-baked English muffin and bathed in silky, creamy Hollandaise in ample quantities. ( “Excuse me, could you bring a tumbler of that and then look away while I chug it?”).

The restaurant is pleasantly decorated with Americana, and service is very small-town friendly.  Unisex bathroom is immaculate.

Baked goods are available for purchase, including breads, donuts, muffins and other pastries.  There are a few tables outside and they beckon passersby to grab a donut and coffee and watch small town America go by on a lazy summer morning.

The restaurant/town is a mere ten minutes south if you’re staying in the Lake Geneva resort area in Wisconsin.  Ask for Amy, server extraordinaire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hazels Diner and Bakery Review

Hazels Diner and Bakery Review

Iras Bagels Review – Lake in the Hills, IL

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

Detroit Kabob House Review – Niles, IL

Detroit Kabob House ReviewI was feeling a might peckish, so I was walking through the streets of East Jerusalem one day, the restaurant in my “fabulous” hotel was closed for some reason.

I was in search of street food when I came across a cart selling what appeared to be, tubes of foil.  I inquired, ?? ??? ????? ??? ?????? ? . To which the affable vendor replied: ??????? ???????!

OK, neither of us spoke Arabic, I mean at that point in time.  He told me they were “Turkish Pizzas” and he unrolled the foil to reveal a six inch or so  round disk, covered from stem to stern with some meaty goodness.  I took two. Delicious. I’ve since had them in Amsterdam and Portland, Oregon, and on occasion, look for them wherever I happen to be.

This day I was on Milwaukee Avenue in Niles, Il, a NW suburb of Chicago. This stretch of Milwaukee is an “ethnic” grocer wonderland, not sure how it ended up this way, but there are serious Polish butchers, Asian Hypermarts, Iranian and Turkish eateries and food shops, a Greek or two, some Mexican for good measure.  I love going over there and hate it.  I never have a big enough budget (tho most everything is dirt cheap, or enough coolers if I have a drive in front of me.

I digress.  I had made my way through an Iranian food shop (oh my, what a selection of olives, and I had gone there specifically in search of the “Turkish Pizza.”  I was thinking frozen product, which I have also seen before, but he had some delivered fresh from some other local guy. They suggested if I wanted to eat one on the spot, to stop in next door at the Detroit Kabob House.

I know, I know, you’re thinking “what does ‘Detroit’ have to do with kabobs?  Well, if you don’t know, the Detroit metropolitan area has the single largest concentration of Arab residents in the US. Around 300,000. (And ooh baby, there are some good eats over there, too!).

Anyhow, I wandered into “Detroit” which is a combination of masterful baked goods as well as a cafe. (Menu below). Picked up some sweets, but also a few of the pizzas, some with meat (beef and spices he said) and some just herbs.  He popped them into the pizza oven for a quick jolt, and onto the counter on a paper plate.

Delish.  BTW?  I put “Turkish” in quotes because apparently the item is called by different names depending on where you’re standing at the time. That’s all.

I love the looks of the menu and will go back just for meal.

Meat pie pictured below.  Detroit is open 11-9 Monday thru Saturday and until 8PM Sunday.

Detroit Kabob House Review

“Turkish” Pizza

Detroit Kabob House Review

Menu 1, Click to Enlarge

Detroit Kabob House Review

Menu 2, Click to Enlarge

Detroit Kabob House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Detroit Kabob House Review
Detroit Kabob House Review

Jersey Mikes Subs Review – Nationwide Chain

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

Marie Callenders Biscuit Mix Review

Spoiler alert. I could give a shit about biscuits. One of my biggest fears is seeing them included with a menu item and the words “no substitutions” appear right beside that notation.

I’d rather have toast. Under any circumstances.

But you know, people come to be fed a lot around here and on occasion, they cry out for biscuits. I think I’ve made them once from scratch and they were a marked improvement over any package mixes I have tried.

Which brings me to today’s breakfast: Marie Callender’s Cheese Biscuit Mix along side “Sav-A-Lot” brand Sausage Gravy. I have no idea who either of these items found their way into my pantry. As I said, I wouldn’t normally purchase biscuit mix, and there isn’t a Sav-A-Lot anywhere near me.

Dollar store mystery, perhaps.

I’ve been in a Marie Callender’s once, and it was somewhere in Oregon, I was on a long drive and had to pee. Big endorsement, eh? I bought a pie tho, seems like it was close to some holiday and seems the chain was taking full advantage, cause as I recall, that pie was north of $25.

I got this at a dollar store or Big Lots, in either case it was a buck. Checked Amazon out of curiosity and they list the same package from $3.75 to $6.25. Wow.

Direction are to add ½ stick melted butter and a 1/3 cup of water, mix, and drop into FIVE pieces on a cookie sheet. FIVE? Who sells anything that makes a quantity of FIVE?

Baked them for the suggested time. Open oven, they are not “golden brown” after the suggested time, so I kept adding two minute periods. Quite a few of them.

Since I’ve never had these at the restaurant, I don’t know how the home version compares. Since I’ve already told you biscuits mean nothing to me, I’d put these at about #300 on my list. Pick them up and they crumble in your hand. I suppose some people like biscuits like that. Some people like them flaky. Some people prefer hockey puck style.

I guess they’d be OK to pour gravy over, which was originally my intent. The “cheese” flavor is barely noticeable. The predominant taste is flour, IMO.

No, I won’t buy them again. Can’t really suggest you buy them.

They’re made by ConAgra in Trenton, Missouri in a factory (pictured below) slated for closing this year. ConAgra is big in the fast growing heat and eat complete meal segment, as well as licensing restaurant brands. After a zillion years being headquartered in Omaha, ConAgra packed up their execs and moved HQ to Chicago this year. BTW? Trenton claims to be the world’s largest manufacturer of vienna sausages. In case you were wondering what 20170514_052037town deserved that title.

I had a mind to make biscuits and gravy. Canned gravy from Sav-A-Lot, have no idea how that got in the pantry, there isn’t a store anywhere near me. It actually looked pretty good, as did the ingredients. Lots of sausage.

But the biscuits put me off the project.

No, I won’t buy them again. Can’t really suggest you buy them.

Biscuit Ingredients: Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Niacin, Iron, Thiamin, Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Cheddar Cheese Bits [Corn Syrup, Flour (Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Corn Cereal, Cheese Powder (Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes), Cream, Sodium Phosphate, Salt, Contains Less Than 2% Annatto (Color). Lactic Acid, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Cottonseed And/Or Soybean), Natural And Artificial Flavor, Salt, Turmeric And Annatto Extracts], Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate), Sea Salt, Natural Flavor.

Marie Callenders Biscuit Mix Review

Pre baking

Marie Callenders Biscuit Mix Review

After baking

Marie Callenders Biscuit Mix Review

ConAgra Plant, Trenton MO

 

 

Marie Callenders Biscuit Mix Review

Marie Callenders Biscuit Mix Review

Anns Bakery & Deli Review, Ukrainian Village, Chicago

 Anns Bakery & Deli ReviewThe first time I was in Russia it was before “the change.” It was not unusual to see dozens or hundreds of people in line at food stores, even though they knew that probably there would be no inventory.

Outside of each subway station there were long lines of people selling ‘silly’ things: one shoe, two inches of vodka in a bottle, a couple of pencils.

People were hungry and would overlook conventional norms for food safety and ingredients.

And such was the feeling I got at Ann’s Bakery and Deli in Ukraine Village in Chicago.If you don’t speak Russian, I wouldn’t recommend stopping in, you’ll be treated like a 2nd class citizen by both the help and the other customers. The Russian shoppers are just plain rude, the help, not only rude, but unhelpful to non-Russian speakers.

Why I felt the resemblance between the bakery goods and pre-change Russia? A lot of the food on the shelves is past the expiration date, but it doesn’t stop the locals from grabbing it up like the just got the deal of the century on caviar.

Bakery goods are mismarked for prices and the shelf order is nothing short of chaos – with different goods all mixed up so you wouldn’t be able to tell the price in any case.

As many other customers have opined, I got home to find 1) not only were many of the baked goods stale (odd, as it was the day before Easter and one would expect a bakery to be chock-a-block full of fresh goods), and 2) the hustle of the cash register and treatment by both customers and help alike, made me miss the fact I was drastically overcharged for some items.

If you regularly read my reviews, you know that I endeavor to find something redeeming out of every visit. Not so here.

Pass on Ann’s Bakery, even for the curiousity factor. But I don’t want to discourage anybody from visiting Ukrainian Village; the cathedrals are magnificent and there are authentic Russian restaurants and culture to absorb. As well as a place distinctly NOT Russian, Fatso’s Last Stand, a superb example of a Chicago hot dog stand.

Ann's Bakery & Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Anns Bakery & Deli Review

Anns Bakery & Deli Review

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