Dinos Pizza and Italian Restaurant Chicago Review

Dinos Pizza and Italian Restaurant Chicago Review

The Norwood neighborhood of Chicago, just off I-90 about 12 miles west of the Loop, has become a Little Italy of sorts; I’ve counted around two dozen Italian-centric restaurants, delis, bakeries, markets. Once every couple months I make a run down there and hit two or three of my favorite establishments.

Last Saturday was no exception,  I hit Sicilia Bakery for a New Orleans style muffuletta sandwich, some fresh bread and imported cheese,   over to Rex Italian Foods, for sausage, meatballs, more cheese, before ending up at Dino’s Pizza and Italian Restaurant.  Dino’s has a very extensive menu featuring all of your Italian favorites appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, and entrees.  I’ve only had the pizza and not been back since the “before times.”

So I was delighted to stop in and grab a 16″ thin crust sausage, green olives, and double cheese thin crust pizza, square cut, which we call “tavern style” in Chicago and it’s far more popular than deep dish.  About the latter?  Some people call that “tourist pizza.”  Maybe so.

For my money (and I’m the only vote that matters here) nobody makes a finer tavern style pie in Chicago than Dino’s. Crispy crust on the outside, chewy as you move inland.  Their hand-pulled sausage is just superb in taste, texture, and size.  Sauce is flavorful but not overpowering. Cheese is the perfect amount and melt-factor.

If I’m on my own, it’ll take me 2-3 days to work through a 16″ pie.  In my “salad days” (what?) I could have polished one-off in a single sitting.

The restaurant has a few large seating areas, offers party / event catering and delivery.  Six days a week there are specials, listed here, ncluding some AYCE deals.

I’d sure like to hit some of those, but they’d rue the day I sat down for any of them!

Dino’s is just five miles east of O’Hare if you’re stuck with a long layover or are on your way downtown.

In the meantime, here’s your “objet d’ drool.”

Dinos Pizza and Italian Restaurant Chicago Review

Dino's Italian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dinos Pizza and Italian Restaurant Chicago Review

Dinos Pizza and Italian Restaurant Chicago Review

Golden Dome Cafe Review – Fairfield, Iowa

Golden Dome Cafe Review

 

Back in the “before times” I was making one of my annual treks through Iowa, and the route took me thru Fairfield, population 10,000 and home to Maharishi International University (MIU),  is a private university in Fairfield, Iowa. It was founded in 1973 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and features a “consciousness-based education” system that includes the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique.

The “University” was founded in 1973 when the group purchased the bankrupt Parsons College. The University’s influence on the town has grown and added to its population and economy.

As a lark, I decided to eat at one of their two cafes open to the public. The “Golden Dome” referred to is in relation to one of two huge twin structures dedicated to group meditation.

The cafe was on the second floor of a small organic-centered market; most everything I saw on the shelves were the normal organic/vegetarian brands you see in groceries, but at a higher price (captive audience).

I was there at lunchtime, and the cafe had a very small cafeteria-style offerings, point and it will be put on your plate. Prices are by weight of your plate.  Makes accounting simple, I guess.

It appeared most of the help were students.  It appeared most of the help did not welcome strangers. There was a pitcher of cool water and paper cups, with a sign indicating said water was for diners only.  Reflecting on my visit, there were a lot of signs around the campus.  A lot of rules.

I had $9.00 worth” of food, nothing to write home about. Vegetarian lasagna was OK.

Asked if I could peek inside the Dome and was med by a resounding “NO!” and a security guard led me away from the entrance.

Fairfield, itself, is cute, a typical small town in Iowa, with stores and (a disproportionate number of ethnic) eateries surrounding a town square.

So I enjoyed the town, but not the people or cafe at the University.  Bland and overpriced. (Cafe food, can’t say about the people).

They had hopes of building a housing subdivision with all the amenities.  It’s just outside of town. There were less than half dozen homes completed.

Golden Dome Market and Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Golden Dome Cafe Review

Golden Dome Cafe Review

 

Sluggers Pizza Review Silvis Illinois

Sluggers Pizza Review Silvis Illinois

 

Sluggers Pizza Review Silvis Illinois

Sluggers Pizza Review Silvis Illinois My heart is aching for mom and pop businesses during the 2020 pandemic. Most operate on very thin margins in ordinary circumstances, but do survive only on take out? Tough sledding.

You probably haven’t heard of “Quad Cities Style” pizza, but it’s just as unique as “New York” or “Chicago Deep Dish” as far as having its own unique niche in the pizza hierarchy.

Here the distinguishing features of “Quad Cities Style:”  Dough may have malt incorporated in it.  The sauce is usually spicier than most preparations.  Toppings all reside underneath generous, quality cheese, and finally, the pizza is cut in long strips rather than squares or slices.

The crust usually borders on “thinner,” but Slugger’s more resembles what most would refer to as “hand-tossed.” Puffy and chewy on the exterior, crispy as you work your way inland.  I’m usually in the camp of “cracker-thin,” but I genuinely enjoyed this, tho it was rather filling. He does hand toss, watched him, unusual (and welcomed!) in the day of dough shelters and pre-made crusts!

Slugger’s take an unusual approach to sausage, but many will prefer it.  They use a crumbled pork product, only very gently seasoned. There’s an absence of what is usually found in pizza sausage, namely garlic, fennel, and so on.  I didn’t miss them.

Sauce leans towards sweet, but still a bit of kick.  Black pepper?

Excellent cheese. Great flavor, great texture, great pull.

I have heard talk that there is an above-average lunch buffet but did not verify that tidbit.  Daily specials though.

Full menu.

The place is very clean.

Two sizes only, 12″ and 16″.  The latter with two toppings ran around $24, slightly less than the average in the Upper Midwest at present.

Yes, I’ll go again when I am in the area!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slugger's Pizza Incorporated Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Sluggers Pizza Review Silvis Illinois

Sluggers Pizza Review Silvis Illnois

 

Frankes Cafeteria Review Little Rock

Frankes Cafeteria Review Little Rock

Frankes Cafeteria Review  – Little Rock, Arkansas

Touted as Little Rock’s oldest operating restaurant, Frankes is cafeteria-style American and Southern classics, with a set number of entrees available each day as well as different specials each day of the week.  Grab a tray and walk through the cafeteria line where the servers will hand you the dishes you point at or call out, starting with an abundance of old-fashioned salads, like “Ambrosia,” then sides, entrees, breads, desserts, and beverages.

Pricing is by item, tho you can elect to have a flat price for your entree depending on whether you opt for one or two sides.

I opted for the catfish meal, which isn’t on the heating table but cooked to order.  Comes with crinkle-cut fries and one side, I chose the collard greens. The fish was excellent, crispy, piping hot, lightly seasons.  Fries were as you would suspect.  Greens were also superb, cooked right, highly seasoned. There were two fruit salad choices, I chose the wrong one (I was looking for sweeter).  I also chose a soft roll and had chocolate cream pie for dessert (not pictured).

Lunch was around $10.

Two locations in Little Rock.  Here’s the full menu, including the rotating daily specials. (Subject to change, imagine).

 

 

 
Franke's Cafeterias Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
 

Franke's Cafeterias Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Frankes Cafeteria Review – Little Rock, Arkansas

Frankes Cafeteria Review – Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Choice Hotels Review

Choice Hotels Review

 

Choice Hotels Review

For most of my career, I traveled the world, mostly staying in the finest hotels an area had to offer. Many 5 stars, some purporting to be 7 stars. Of course, there were some that claimed “5 star” and that simply meant there was a door with a lock on it, or glass in the window.

Domestically, both with planes and hotels, I fall into a pattern where I’m terribly loyal to one company or another, for an extended period of time, then something happens, and I’m off to another company.

With national chains in the US, consistency can sometimes be uneven, since the hotels are owned by franchisees.  Of course, they are supposed to maintain the standards set forth in their agreement, but it doesn’t always happen.

I have found that isn’t the case with the dozen brands owned by Choice Hotels.  I have found the inns of the chain to be very consistent, even tho the different brands are geared to different price points, to cover the entire spectrum of travelers.

In the past week, I’ve stayed in a “Sleep Inn,” “Comfort Inn and Suites,” and “EconoLodge.”

My experience in each of them was excellent. Friendly, personable staff, clean rooms, tastefully decorated with the latest amenities – all included a large screen TV, microwave, mini-fridge, complimentary coffee maker, iron and board, hairdryer.

All included complimentary hot breakfasts, at the “higher end” of the range of this offering in all hotels.  Included are: hot eggs, breakfast meats, biscuits and gravy,   hot and cold cereal, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, made to order waffles and syrup, sweet pastries, slices of bread, bagels, muffins, fresh fruit, several juices, coffee, tea, cocoa, milk. “Extras” include cream cheese, peanut butter, fruit spreads, honey, hot sauces, salt and pepper.

I imagine this can vary by location.  I  know I was in an EconoLodge this summer in a small town in Iowa, and the hot breakfast was mostly prepared in-house from scratch.  That was wonderful.

Some hotels have indoor pools, some outdoor, some don’t have them.  Everyone I have been in had excellent free wi-fi throughout the building.

Their loyalty program “Choice Privileges” is good, with lots of partners and it’s easier to earn free nights than with most programs I’ve been a member of.  Choice Hotels is also now in the vacation rental business if that’s your preference for stays away from home.

The company began as a non-profit referral group for seven Florida hotels in 1939. Today, the complete list of Choice’s brands includes the following brands, in 41 countries, with 560,000 + rooms:

  • Ascend Hotel Collection
  • Cambria Hotels
  • Comfort
  • Sleep Inn
  • Quality Inn
  • Clarion
  • MainStay Suites
  • WoodSpring Suites
  • Suburban Extended Stay Hotel
  • Econo Lodge
  • Rodeway Inn
  • Vacation Rentals by Choice Hotels

I recommend them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choice Hotels Review

Choice Hotels Review

 

Ox Yoke Inn Review – Amana, Iowa

Ox Yoke Inn Review Amana Iowa

Ox Yoke Inn Review – Amana, Iowa

The Amana Colonies are seven villages on 26,000 acres (11,000 ha) located in Iowa County in east-central Iowa, United States: Amana (or Main Amana), East Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, South Amana, West Amana, and Homestead. The villages were built and settled by German Pietists, who were persecuted in their homeland by the German state government and the Lutheran Church.

For nearly one hundred years, the Colonies were completely self-sufficient. When they decided to start selling their home-made goods to the outside world, they formed the Amana Society, which included the Amana Corporation (the appliance company).

Today, the colonies are largely a tourist destination, which shops selling home-made goods like quilts, and furnitures, as well as locally produced foods. There are a number of restaurants, including the Ox Yoke Inn.  Opened in 1940, the restaurant features old world and traditional recipes, and side dishes that are served “family style.” Service includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a Sunday brunch buffet.

It’s big on the tour bus circuit and has several large rooms to accomodate groups.

This is one of those places that is probably resting on their laurels from decades ago.  While the food and service is fine, I have big doubts about the number of things prepared on site.

I order the wienerschnitzel, as I always do when it’s available, and it was topped (upcharge) with cheese and ham.  It was perfectly fine, as I said earlier.  It came with a couple of sides, mash/gravy, and green beans, both of which were perfectly forgettable.  Doubtful on whether the gravy was made in house, ditto on the dinner roll.

The prices are what one would expect at a tourist destination.   They also have a variety of pies to go, around $14 per.

Stop for the novelty.

Full menu.

 

Ox Yoke Inn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Ox Yoke Inn Review Amana Iowa serving old world and traditional favorites since 1940

Ox Yoke Inn Review Amana Iowa serving old world and traditional favorites since 1940

 

Bluff Lake Catfish Farm Review – Maquoketa, IA

Bluff Lake Catfish Farm Restaurant Review

Bluff Lake Catfish Farm Review

You must do this once, at least. An actual catfish farm that has a restaurant open only Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, each night offering a full menu as well as one or two AYCE specials. I went on a Friday night, specifically for the AYCE catfish, your choice, whole or fillets. Served ‘family style” your entree is accompanied by a sweet and tangy creamy slaw, and waffle fries. Full bar, and drinks are pretty cheap.

Here’s the kicker. Be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. We arrived at 5pm figuring we’d slide right in, but we waited a full two hours to be seated.

Once we were, and ordered, dinner comes fast as long as you order the specials. I can’t speak to the speed of the other menu items. The night I was there people were ordering the catfish or a Flintstones-sized slab of beef.

While you’re waiting, if the weather is pleasant, there are plenty of natural features to see outside, some ponds, a waterfall, plenty of wild fowl.

Use your GPS to get there. I mean it. Otherwise you’ll end up like me driving down the road and saying repeatedly “this can’t be right!”

Full menu

Bluff Lake Catfish Farm Review

Perfect Onion Rings

Bluff Lake Catfish Farm Review

Bluff Lake Catfish Farm Review Bluff Lake Catfish Farm Review

Fat Baby and Alises Carryout Review Biloxi Mississippi

Fat Baby and Alises Review Biloxi

Fat Baby and Alises Carryout Review Biloxi Mississippi

I write a lot about gas station food because I eat a lot of gas station food.  I’m not talking about a bag of Lay’s and a Slim Jim or six, I’m talking about gas stations that offer hot lunch, either ala carte to take out or the sit down variety.  Fat Baby and Alises offers both, open early til late for carry out or dine in with a hot bar lunch buffet from 11-2.

Different specials daily, but the focus is on local cuisine, seafood, po-boys and the like.  The hot bar buffet is chock-a-block full of regional side dishes like fried okra, greens, greet beans, sweet potato casserole and such.

I ate there a couple times during a week long stop. I had the shrimp po-boy, excellent fry, great seasoning, good bread.  They serve theirs “dressed and pressed” and the ‘pressed’ part is a local thing, unheard of in New Orleans, basically a panini-like squeeze. Doesn’t detract.  “Dressed” is as everywhere – tomato, mayo, lettuce.

I also had the “Royal Reds” – steamed shrimp, these are coldwater, deep water shrimp from 30 miles or so off shore, they are larger than most and so flavorful, people often say “they taste like lobster” and putting aside the melted butter, they really do.  About $10 a half pound, includes two sides.

I opted to get my sides from the hot bar and went with green beans and greens.  Both the best I have ever had.  Anywhere. Period. Full stop. So much flavor.  Not pictured – side of crinkle cut fries with brown gravy. O.M.G.

Drink was unsweetened bottomless tea, they also have soft drinks, coffee, and as a C-store, naturally every single beverage that comes in a bottle or can.

Place your order at the kitchen counter, they give you a slip, gather up anything else you want in the store, pay, take your receipt back to the kitchen counter and they’ll deliver your food to your table or your hands if you’re going home, back to the office, or hotel.

Great food.  Really great food.  Fair pricing. Really nice people. Wish them all the success. Wish you’d stop in if you’re in the area.

Fat Baby and Alise’s is located inside the Marathon Gas station at 1757 Popps Ferry Road, which is handy if you’re at the beach of popping off I-10. Here’s their full regular menu.  Lots and lots of parking.

 

Fat Baby and Alises Carryout Review Biloxi Mississippi

Fat Baby and Alises Carryout Review Biloxi Mississippi

Chis Chinese Express Restaurant Review Little Rock Arkansas

Chis Chinese Express Restaurant Review Little Rock Arkansas Saturday Morning Dim Sum

While they have several locations in Little Rock, its the Chenal Parkway location that serves dim sum, at least on the Saturday morning we stopped by. Chis Chinese Express Restaurant Review Little Rock ArkansasCould happen at other locations or on other days, I didn’t inquire. I’ll leave that to you.

I lived and worked in China for a number of years, so I’m snotty about Americanized Chinese ‘cuisine.’ So I’ve never been in a Panda Express or a P.F. Changs. Let me know if my life is somehow missing some bliss because of that.

So I was skeptical about the offer of a dim sum brunch in Little Rock. I asked all the relevant questions of my dine-mate. “Does it come in little baskets?” “Are there ladies pushing carts around?” “Do they have chicken feet?”

Affirmative to all.

The menu and server explanations were Americanized for sure, but the food was very authentic and very good. Lots of steamed dumplings, Chinese vegetables and the like. Overserved.

The restaurant is very tastefully decorated in subtle tones – surprising for a strip mall location next to Dominos (which was a comfort in case the food was really bad, I could have them run a pizza over) (Yes, I agree, Dominos is awful).

The entire facility, including the restrooms and what I could see of the open kitchen, was immaculate. There are tables that can be pushed together in alcoves to fit modest sized groups. The regular Chinese menu is available concurrent with the dim sum.

Pricing is fair. Recommended.

Chi's Chinese Express Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chis Chinese Express Restaurant Review Little Rock Arkansas Saturday morning dim sum
Chis Chinese Express Restaurant Review Little Rock Arkansas Saturday morning dim sum

Mehfil Indo-Mughlai Pak Cuisine Restaurant Review Little Rock Arkansas

Mehfil Indian Review Little Rock

 

Mehfil Indo-Mughlai Pak Cuisine Restaurant Review Little Rock Arkansas

Do you remember the very first moment you ever tasted a certain food?

The first time I ever had Indian food was in a seedy, dark, 2nd floor eatery in Wanchai, a neighborhood of Hong Kong, seated across from a stunningly beautiful Chinese woman named Vida. We were co-workers and when she found I had never had Indian food, she was determined to give me an education.

And did she. My recollection is she ordered most of the menu and we plowed through it with abandon, washing down servings with Kingfisher beer.  I loved every bite. Every new flavor, every nuance.

Later in my tenure in Hong Kong, I moved out to a small island an hour ferry ride from the city, and we had our very own, very small Indian restaurant, sat about eight,  and it was my habit to spend most Saturday afternoons there – when I wasn’t traveling Asia for work.

So in Little Rock, Mehfil Indo-Mughlai Pak Cuisine is the place.  “Mehfil” means “an evening of courtly entertainment or concert of Hindustani classical music and dance, performed for a small audience in an intimate setting.”

No such entertainment at this elegantly appointed restaurant, and we went for a highly recommended buffet, which as luck would have it, wasn’t being offered that night.

No matter, we ordered old favorites from the very complete menu.

We started with complimentary poppadum (flat, dried wafers of spicy lentil flour, deep fried), moved into naan, both garlic and cheese, with bowls full or raita (yogurt with cucumber and cilantro) for mopping.  A gaggle of chicken dishes came next,  saag,  tikka, and tikka marsala.  All poultry cooked in the tandoori clay oven, giving it that nice charred texture and smoky flavor.

No room for dessert, in fact we took a lot of food home.

The restaurant wasn’t very busy for a Friday nite (perhaps because they cancelled the buffet?) so service was attentive and pleasant.  The gent was kind to explain dishes or ingredients we had questions about.

They did not have Kingfisher beer (sad face) – he said it was “no more” and I thought he meant out of business, but more likely he meant at the restaurant.  They also did not have Tiger Beer, another beer frequently served with Indian in SE Asia.

So it was Stella for me, wine for the rest of the table.

I’d like to go back for the buffet.  They’d regret letting me in.

Mehfil Indo-Mughlai Pak Cuisine Restaurant Review Little Rock Arkansas

Mehfil Indo-Mughlai Pak Cuisine Restaurant Review Little Rock Arkansas

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