Archive for the ‘Ham & Bacon’ Category
The Sugar Bowl has been an integral part of downtown Des Plaines since 1921. It has, over the years, been a sweet shop, candy store, ice cream parlor and restaurant. Today it’s heavily into the restaurant biz.
Have seen this place many times when I’ve been zipping by on the train and had a hankering to try it, which I did early one Sunday morning.I went for ham and eggs, and I’ve been on a winning streak with breakfast ham in restaurants lately, like the Village Family Restaurant in Huntley, IL.
I have a penchant for “REAL HAM,” full muscle meat that’s been cut from a butt or loin, not that pressed, chopped, and formed stuff that so many restaurants serve. Please dear god, no.
The kind of ham I prefer, at least in Chicago area restaurants is called (some variation of) “Ham off the bone.” And it’s damned near porcine heaven to me. Especially heavily aged and smoked, and NOT cured or coated with any kind of sugar or substitute.
So, if you haven’t guessed, I’m sweet on the Sugar Bowl for breakfast. Great food, great service, good prices. If you’re going to or thru Des Plaines, stop by. It’s also not far from the reconstructed first (Ray Kroc version) McDonalds, now a museum.
The Sugar Bowl serves breakfast and lunch menus, which you can peruse here.
Sugar Bowl Review
Sugar Bowl Review
Sugar Bowl Review
Main Street of America, the Mother Road, Will Rogers Highway, all names for US Route 66, established in 1926, and destined to become one of the most famous roads in America.
It ran from downtown Chicago to the Pacific Ocean, at Santa Monica (Los Angeles), California. Towns and cities grew up along side it, merchants prospered as America’s love of the automobile grew. It was a major route for families escaping the dust bowl in the 30s.
A TV show, which began in 1960, romanticized the road.
Lou Mitchells, open early, and serving breakfast and lunch menus seven days, there are certain things patrons of Lou’s have come to expect: being greeted at the door with a hot donut hole, being expediently served by a professional and happy staff, complimentary Milk Duds on the table, an orange slice and a single prune as an “amuse,” and an offer of free ice cream upon the completion of your meal.
Not to overlook the obvious, expect quality ingredients, meticulous preparation, and large servings of the menu items.I went with fried eggs and ham, 3 (4?) eggs served in a skillet along with home-cut hash browns, four strips of perfect bacon, and two thick pieces of toast. Like many Chicago diners, Lou’s has a giant dish of butter on the table, so feel free to overindulge. I did.
Whether you’re beginning or ending traversing the Mother Road for a vacation, or just passing thru Chicago on business or pleasure, be sure to include Lou Mitchell’s on your “must” list. Especially for those who pine for a time when things were “better” in America, Lou Mitchell’s will transport you there.
I admit I’ve become fussy about fast food (and C-store) breakfasts. Think I’ve covered them all, and some are pretty good, some are absolutely dreadful. Some could be made better with very little effort or expense.
I stopped in a Hardees/Carl’s Jr on a recent road trip, in search of a menu item I’ve had before, the “Monster Biscuit (review)” which is egg, cheese, bacon, sausage and ham together!
Hardee’s gets extra points off the top for making their biscuits fresh, in house daily. Not sure anywhere else does that. In any case, the Monster Biscuit was nowhere to be found, so I thought I would try the Ham Biscuit, figuring I’d be disappointed cause they would probably use the standard fast food “ham” (which isn’t, is it?).
Lo and behold, behold and lo, no the biscuit had REAL ham on it, much like one of my other favorites, the ham biscuit at Bojangles, a southern chain.
So, surprise! I’m ok with Chik Filet’s breakfast biscuits (also because they have tots), and Einstein’s (because they cook them to order). I found a bologna breakfast biscuit in a c-store in Tennessee last week. That was different.
I enjoy Sonic’s “Toaster” breakfast sandwiches (review), but I wish the toast was crisp instead of limp. Could be if they toasted it on the spot. Starbucks has a pretty good offering, which I will write about later this week. But it’s spendy.
Finally, something else I will cover this week, spoiler alert, Dunkin Donuts toasted breakfast sandwich. Just plain dreadful. If you go to the search bar above, and use gas station or c-store as a search term, you can discover other stops I’ve made along the breakfast highway!
Hardees Breakfast Biscuit Review
I saw the billboard on I-64 which promised “Amish cooking” and “everything made from scratch.” I don’t know what the first term is supposed to refer to, but I do understand the second, and the Schwartz’s fell flat on that account. I stopped for breakfast, and it may well have been made from “scratch” in the kitchens of Sysco. The ads also touted “family style serving.”
I admire anybody in the restaurant biz – it’s tough going. And this seems to be the perfect watering hole for the local rural community – meaning I am doubtful they get many tourists, it’s five miles off the interstate on a road to nowhere.
In retrospect, as I got further down (west) on I-64, there were quite a few billboards for “Amish” restaurants.
Here’s what I got out of the experience. I had stopped for breakfast, which they serve on weekends only. Apparently the balance of meal service, every day, is “cafeteria style,” which to me is not the same as “family style,” which I take to mean platters of food brought to the table for all to share, like I had in Wisconsin Dells at the Paul Bunyan Cook Shanty. (mmm, platters of breakfast pork meats!).
The breakfast menu was limited. Egg dishes, biscuits and gravy (which seemed to be a popular order), pancakes. I ordered the “breakfast casserole,” an unusual choice for me. Scrambled eggs, bread crumbs, bacon, sausage, cheese, with hash browns and toast.
There weren’t that many customers, and there was an abundance of server help, but the food was slow, and sorry, folks, but nothing special. Like I implied above, I really don’t think that much of it was “from scratch.” Servers (which may have been all family members) were not very knowledgeable about the dishes.
Anyway, it was OK. I can’t recommend it, really, but I can’t say “don’t go,” either.
They are customers of Sysco, that was evident from the condiments and other table products. And as I don’t care about healthy eating, I’d prefer butter on the table to “whipped topping.”
But maybe that’s what the Amish are known for. I strongly suspect the lunch and dinner offerings would be much better.
Schwartz Restaurant Menu
Schwartz Family Restaurant Review
I’ve written a lot about ‘gas station sandwiches,” a term I use to describe the cello wrapped sandwiches, fresh or heat and eat, one finds at c-stores, gas stations, and in vending machines.
The earliest ones I remember were from a Virginia company called “Stewart Sandwiches” who sold mostly to bars, concession stands, and schools and companies.
Their “heat and eat” versions used a patented device the company provided called an “In-Fra-Red” oven (pictured), which was kind of a predecessor of microwaves being widely used. The sandwiches were placed in the ovens, still in their cello, and they took 3-5 minutes to heat.
In addition to “subs” and burgers, their version of “chuck wagon” (breaded, fried hamburger) was very popular, as was their “pizza burger.” My college roommate and I used to buy quantities of these puppies and sell them in the dorm, til the school shut us down.
Stewart operated via a franchise model, with about a couple dozen distributors around the country that established their own customers/routes. At some point (which I can’t really seem to sort out through research), Stewart faded and some of their franchisees took up the mantel – the largest being the (now known as) “Deli Express” label, a suburban Minneapolis company, which cranks out a million sandwiches a week at their Minnesota factory.
Other than “Deli Express,” “Landshire,” and Ohio’s “AdvancePierre” (who recently acquired Landshire), the segment seems to be fairly regional, with a lot of smaller manufacturers like “Mom’s” in OK and Texas.
7-Eleven contracts some of their sandwiches out to a division of Lufthansa airlines.
Although many of these sandwiches are assembled by hand in the smaller companies, automation has created mass production efficiency as seen in this video.
In my opinion, for the most part, these sandwiches are largely “OK” but usually a little spendy. If you want something quick to go and relatively “fresh” they are a handy alternative to fast food. Some are considerably healthier than say, a Quarter Pounder and fries.
I’ve written a number of pieces lately on a gas station that recently moved into my neighborhood, a smallish chain in the Midwest called “Thorntons” and I’ve sampled a number of their heat and eat products, including a burger, Pizza, chicken sandwich, breakfast sandwich and tenders.
Today I tried their “fresh” sandwiches, an Italian Footlong sandwich (sic), at $4.99, on a long roll with ham, salami, pepperoni and provolone. It comes completely condiment free, but the gas station has an amply stocked condiment ‘bar.’ I’m ok with cello wrapped sandwiches being sold ‘naked,’ too often in these products if lettuce/tomato are included, they’ve seen better days, as of course the deli meats are full of preservatives and maintain their appearance much longer than the vegetables. As far as the spreadable condiments, every person has their individual tastes, some sandwiches come with packets of mustard/mayo included in the cello wrapping.
What did I think?
It’s ok, no better or worse than any other brand. The expiration date on this one is weeks in the future, but the bread is already pretty dry, and the only flavor that really ‘pops’ is the pepperoni, and that ingredient is the least in volume on the sandwich, with of course, the least expensive meat, the processed ham, being in attendance in the largest quantity.
I added mustard and dill pickles at home, but it didn’t really enhance or detract from the experience.
Since Thorntons has extensive roller grill offerings (hot dogs, sausages, those cylinder “Mexican” things, and a fresh condiment bar along side that, I probably would have been better off to open the sandwich at the gas station and load it up with junk there.
Live and learn.
Gas Station Sandwich Primer
Suzy Applebaum introduced me to the Green Mill; we were both employed at KSTP in Minneapolis- St. Paul, and I had asked her to go to lunch. She suggested the Green Mill. At the time, it was a small bar on Hamline Avenue in St. Paul that specialized in deep dish pizza. It had opened in the 30s as a soda fountain at the same location.
I had a monster crush on Suzy, who hailed from a local grocery store dynasty family; if I knew then I was going to spend the rest of my life obsessed with food, well, I might have wised up and pursued Suzy with vigor, but I knew I was outclassed from the get-go.
The legend of the local bar with great pizza grew, and today, there are 27 locations across the Midwest, serving a full menu in addition to their pizza.
There was one other significant event in my life that took place at a Green Mill, the rehearsal dinner for my wedding. It was at the Uptown location on South Hennepin in Minneapolis, and no, it wasn’t my selfish love of pizza that made that event happen there, but was rather my mother’s choice. My mother loved to go with me to places that were “on the wrong side of the tracks”, and it was “our thing” to explore someplace new every time she came to the Twin Cities when I was living there.
As with most successful pizzerias, Green Mill has launched a frozen pizza line, and they are being made and distributed by a Minnesota pizza manufacturer, Bernatellos. Minnesota somehow became the frozen pizza capital of the US, with a gaggle of brands being made across the state: Jeno’s, Totino’s, Roma, Red Baron, Freschetta, Tony’s, Giovannis, Kettle River….I’m sure I’m forgetting many, but you get the idea.
I purchased the “Thin and Crispy” style with three meats, sausage, pepperoni and bacon. It’s a 15 ounce affair and was priced at 2 / $11 or .73 per ounce, and that’s steep for a frozen pie.
The three pix below represent the box, note the “authentic restaurant-style flavors” (boy, that’s as vague as can be, isn’t it?); the unbaked pie is kind of a misrepresentation, I pushed all the included pepperoni to one side of the pie. The last picture represents the baked pie, 10 minutes at 425.
The picture of the cooked pizza kind of tells the whole story, when you note the “glistening” on the surface. This is a fairly greasy pizza, and the ‘cupping’ and slight char on the pepperoni indicates a high fat content (which would explain some of the oil). The pork sausage is realtively unseasoned. It’s a crispy crust, pleasant enough, nice herb treatment, including fennel. Tomato sauce on the sweet side.
The ingredients list doesn’t include a whole lot of preservatives, these are pretty pure ingredients. The flavor is simply not to my taste, but it might be perfect for you!
Frozen Pizza Review
These days, some universities have “Entrepreneurs in Residence”,whatever that means. This morning, like most mornings, the Hummingbird Grill has P.O.I.R. (police officers in residence).
Other denizens include a couple of street people, a girl just off the Greyhound, suitcase by her side, tattered romance paperback in her hand, trying to make herself as small as possible to avoid eye or any other contact with anybody or anything in the Hummingbird, and me, accompanied as usual, by the New York Times crossword puzzle, and two Uniball Deluxe Fine Tip pens.
I’ve become a regular, which I guess means only that the nite waitress,Rusty, has seen me often enough that she brings my coffee w/o asking, and knows enough to call me by my nickname, “Hon.” (How DID she know that?)
It was kinda dicey sliding in to the Hummingbird this morning. I had to dodge the city workers who were power washing the sidewalk in front of the cafe – and in their “spare time”, washing a car or two. They must not be well paid, for in addition to supplementing their income with car washing, they helped themselves to a bundle of newspapers when I slipped my 50 cents into the Times-Picayune machine. Maybe they sell the papers to co-workers. Maybe they just use them to dry the cars. Styx was playing on the Seeburg as Randy took my order. I usually go for the “Early Bird Special”, which is available 24 hours, so I’m not sure what the name means. It’s 3 eggs, choice of ham, bacon, sausage, and grits or potatoes, toast or biscuit. A bargain at 4.00. Coffee extra, no charge for water.
One of the regular “troublemakers” wandered in and sat at an unbussed table and started eating off the plates that had been left there. Randy has developed a sure-fire method (according to her) of dealing with these types of patrons, by proclaiming loudly “the person that was eating those pancakes has AIDS!” Seems to do the trick and helps clear the room without having to bother the P.O.I.R.
It appears to take five people to run the night shift at the Hummingbird. In addition to Rusty, there’s the cook, who does a marvelous job of juggling several cast iron pans on a 12”x12” gas grill. He never talks, you don’t talk to him. Even if you are sitting at the counter, Rusty takes your order and passes it on to him. Union rules, maybe lol? There’s a ‘mop boy’, a dishwasher in back, and a cashier. With your change, the cashier is fond of giving out financial advice. I think he’s going to be the subject of the next TV commercial for that E-stock broker that ran the ad about the two truck driver that owned an island. Heed the advice of the sign at the cashier: “No talking to invisible people.”
The low end of the menu is an order of grits for 1.35, Well, actually a side of gravy (brown) is only 1.05, but I haven’t seen anybody order that.The high end is an open-faced turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes, gravy, dinner salad and roll for 7.50. It’s available Sundays only. In between the high and low price range, you’ll find the usual greasy spoon fare, everything from fried egg sandwiches to 1/2 Fried Chicken dinner. Is that half-fried, or half a chicken?
Chile-cheese fries weigh in at 2.60 and off the Richter scale in fat and cholesterol. I can never figure out the difference between “chile” and “chili”, beyond knowing that in this case, they really mean “chili.”
Most big-city greasy spoons have a certain element of “charm.” The Hummingbird seems to have been absent from school the day they passedcharm out. But I like it. It’s a good place to listen to people’s stories in the middle of the night, or imagine you’re playing a role in that Paul Simon song “laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces….we said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy…” The sun started to peak through the smoke-stained window at the cafe as Carl Palmer and Steve Howe’s voices wafted from the jukebox their terrific harmonies in the 1982 hit “Heat of the Moment” from the group Asia. Not as interesting as the material from their days in ‘Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’ or ‘Yes’, respectively, but a nice ditty for a piece someone my age would label as “new music.”
Most days I miss the past. At places like the Hummingbird, I get to relive it every night. Catch the crew of the Hummingbird nightly at 804 St. Charles, 24/7. Catch Asia on tour this winter if you find yourselves in cities like Lorsch, Germany.
If I were Don Henley, I’d find something romantic to write about the Hummingbird, the way he did about the “Sunset Grill” in LA. But even the Sunset Grill is not what it was, in LA they tear down anything that is more than 20 years old, and the Sunset Grill today is a gleaming new white stucco building, instead of the dilapidated old shack with stools on the sidewalk with all its old charm.
The Hummingbird is just old. Charm costs extra these days. Sometimes for me, just ‘old’ is charm enough.
Hummingbird Grill New Orleans
I wrote a piece years back, after hitting a Waffle House shortly after 9/11. I recently dropped in on one on the Gulf Coast. BTW, I counted on a map, and there are about 30 in a 40 mile stretch along the coasts of MS and LA. Wow.
I sat at the counter, sipping my Joe, and indulged in some bacon and eggs, cooked as ordered, with a smattering of cheese on the hash browns.
If you haven’t been to a Waffle House, they are a chain across the South, with diminutive facilities, and a menu focused on breakfast, a few sandwiches, and a couple of entrees. If you’re so inclined, you can even get a T-bone there for around $10. Breakfasts run in the $3-$4 range. The chain is particularly proud of their hash browns, which you can ordered “smothered, covered, chunked, diced, peppered, capped, topped, or country.” The descriptions all refer to different add-on ingredients, and the taters are available in three different portion sizes. They have not come up with a word (unless there is a secret menu) which would refer to ordering the hash browns with all of those additions. They should.
My breakfast and coffee were just fine, they are big on consistency, and as such, a very dependable road stop. They have over 2000 locations in 25 states; they started in 1955 in Georgia.
The company hasn’t avoided controversy over the years, with a couple of religious and racial issues receiving some attention, but it seems behind them.
Find the one nearest you with their locator.
Waffle House Review
Always been curious about this place, which advertises heavily along the interstate. They also have another Missouri location and one in Foley, Alabama. They are known for “throwed rolls” – servers walk around the room with tins full of piping hot popovers, diners raise their hands, and a roll is pitched to them. (Note of caution, the servers are wearing GLOVES, cause the damned things are HOT).
This “country themed menu” restaurant also includes “pass arounds” with each meal; servers walk through the rooms with buckets/pans of fried okra, sorghum, black eyed peas, apple butter, fried potatos, and mac and tomatos. The night I was there, despite sitting right near the kitchen door, the “pass arounds” were seemingly in short supply. While the sorghum girl frequently passed, potato guy and okra person were nowhere to be seen for the entire meal.
Entrees (like catfish, fried chicken, meatloaf, pork chops and the like) come accompanied by your choice of two or three sides from an extensive list (beans, taters, slaw, cornbread, tater salad, greens, veggies and the like).
I went with chicken fried steak, which came with mashed potatoes, gravy, and I chose greens and white beans for my sides. Surprisingly, this is one of the better chicken fried steaks I have had, and if you are a regular reader, you know I have tried them in a lot of different places.
Food is delivered very quickly, seeming to indicate there is some pre-cooking done, as this is a massive place, but it didn’t seem to affect the quality or taste.
The only annoying thing (for me) is the constant honky tonk piano music.
The “$100 hamburger” is a concept, excuse, private pilots use for the equivalent of a leisurely Sunday drive; fuel up the private plane, fly someplace, eat a burger, dessert, or whatever. The $100 refers to the cost of operating the plane for that trip.
This weekend, I “discovered” a morning meal worthy of being called the “$100 Breakfast,” and whether you’re out for a Sunday drive or flight, Art & Alma’s Century Inn, in Burlington, IL, is worth your money, time and effort.
Burlington is roughly 50 miles west of Chicago’s loop, and 40 miles east of Rockford. (There are actually a half dozen airports within five miles, if you’re actually contemplating a flight, map below).
This breakfast may well deserve the ‘subtitle’ of “the $35 breakfast,” as that’s about what you would pay for it at any fine hotel. Start off your Sunday with one of the Inn’s 25 unique Bloody Mary recipes, before launching into perfectly cooked to order breakfasts, including a half dozen varieties of “Benedicts.”
I went with the “Country Boy,” which had diced sausage and bacon, a generous slab of ham, poached eggs with country gravy atop biscuits. My pal opted for the “Mein Schatzi,” bacon, swiss, poached eggs, hollandaise and sour cream resting on potato pancakes. There are ‘cakes, hash, french toast, and plenty of sides to choose from – later in the morning, they add sandwiches to the Sunday brunch menu.
The food was presently promptly, nice plating, cooked to perfection and the taste and flavors reflected quality ingredients. Two breakfasts, two coffees, less than $25. Pleasant, historical ambiance, and great service, as well.
No question, hands down, my best meal of 2015, at any price. Can’t wait to get back and try the dinner. Classic fish fry on Friday nights, and Prime Rib special, Wed, Fri, Saturday while it lasts.
Great job, Chef!