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Archive for the ‘Hot off the Grill’ Category

KFC Georgia and Nashville Chicken Review – Nationwide

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KFC Georgia Gold and Nashville Hot ReviewI’ve always been impressed at the vertical/horizontal menu expansions at Yum Brands restaurants (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC). Yum (formerly Trincon) was born in 1997 as a spin-off from Pepsi, who previously operated these businesses as the Pepsi fast food division.

They’ve flirted with expansion, acquiring and spinning Long John Silvers / A&W, and with start-ups (Super Chix, designed to compete with Chik-Fil-A) (since spun to founder).

But in the end, they are focusing on their core brands and international expansion. (KFC is in 125 countries, Pizza Hut in 100).

My reference in the opening sentence was particularly unique originally to Taco Bell. They take the same basic 6-8 ingredients, present it in different “shapes,” invent a “Mexican-ized” name for it, and push it thru the sales chain. I used to joke that I thought you should be able to order by shape at Taco Bell. “I’ll have the tube,” or “octagon,” or whatever.

Pizza Hut started to catch on with different types of crusts (thickness, flavored-sprayed, stuffed).

But KFC, for the most part, has either not gotten the corporate memo on the concept, or ignored it. Their in-house innovation has largely been limited to “Original,” and “Extra Crispy” but adding tenders, nuggets and sandwiches, but that’s about it.

But now KFC  may have discovered the key to the concept by adding ‘flavored’ chicken, like their current offerings of “Georgia Gold” (a honey-mustard flavored bird) or “Nashville Hot” (a hot sauce/peppery exterior).

I have no direct, inside knowledge, but it appears to me, having ordered both, that the flavorings are added post cooking, sprayed or tossed. I came to this conclusion by observing the pools of flavoring sauce in the bottoms of my serving containers. (I suspect also that’s not standard protocol – see pic below).

The “Georgia Gold” is meant to be KFC’s interpretation of the primary BBQ flavor of the SE United States, which heavily employs a mustard based sauce for BBQing, in lieu of the “red sauce” found in many parts of the US. The “honey” part is KFC’s addition.

The “Nashville Hot” is the company’s interpretation of a dish created in the Tennessee city, and anecdotally dates back to the 1930s, but generally its current popularity is attributed to a local business, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, which put the dish on the menu as early as the 1940’s. The Nashville version involves marinating the chicken first, then once cooked (fried or roasted), the pieces are bathed in a paste heavily laden with cayenne.

Pieces of the bird are served on white bread with dill pickle slices on the side. KFC passed on this part, giving you a choice of their usual sides and tossing in a biscuit. Three tenders, a side, a biscuit, a little north of five bucks.

I enjoyed them both, in the tenders version. The Georgia Gold was a tad to sweet for my taste, and therefore the mustard part isn’t all that evident. I would have preferred the reverse.

The Nashville is “hot” probably one of the hottest fast food offerings, and I’m generally a wimp about heat, but this didn’t bother me. Since both dishes rely on human interaction at the finishing stage, I can see where one limitation might be that some pieces would get either too little or too much of the flavoring (thus the pool of hot sauce in my tray).

But the brilliance of this is allowing KFC to run with the multiple offerings like Taco Bell employs, variations on same ingredients. I can see where KFC might try LTOs with varying flavors (BBQ, ranch, dill, whatever), or at least doing it with an eye (taste bud) towards regional tastes (A “California” style, for example). Siracha and Chipotle can’t be far behind.

I don’t know how long Georgia and Nashville are going to be around, but since they share a label on the packaging, they are likely to both vanish at the same time.

I’d buy them both again, but favor the Nashville. Flavorings are available on full sized chicken pieces, tenders or littles (sandwiches).

As evidence of the company’s international dependency for growth, there are over 5,000 KFC outlets in China, and about 2,000 Pizza Huts. I personally witnessed the openings of both chains there, and the immediate success they had with Chinese consumers.

KFC Georgia Gold and Nashville Hot Review

KFC Georgia Gold and Nashville Hot Review

Top – Gold, Bottom – Nashville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KFC Georgia and Nashville Chicken Review

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Tommys Red Hots Review – Suburban Chicago

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Tommys Red Hots ReviewTommys started in 1980 and has expanded to six stores in the Northern and Northwestern Suburbs of Chicago.  They offer a very lengthy, typical “Chicago menu,” with hot dogs, burgers, Italian beef, fried food and pizza.

I’ve driven by a couple of Tommy’s many times, have never stopped by, because frankly, the exteriors look a little dated, and I was afraid that would be matched inside, both in the decor and kitchen.  And near one of the ones that is close to me, there is a shiny new Chicago type hot dog place, replete with neon, gleaming chrome and so on. Here’s my lesson.  I’ve been in that place, and it was shiny inside, as well, but the food was awful. I mean dreadful.

So I thought I would swing into a Tommys last week, and I was the first customer of the day. Not in the mood for dogs or burgers, I decided to get their “Humungous” Italian Sub, with vinaigrette, salami, mortadella, ham, provolone, and all the trimmings.  Also opted for a side of fries (one size only).

And you know what? It was great. They were great. Both the sandwich and the fries. The sandwich is far and away multiple times better and fresher than any of the chains, great bread, quality meats.  Hot, fresh fries, lightly salted, in size between shoe strings and steak fries, I don’t know what that size is called, but I liked them. A lot. And BTW, the inside was immaculate.

They have a HUGE menu (below). I’ll be back to try a lot more of their offerings.  Locations.

vinaigrette, salami, mortadella, ham, provolone, and all the trimmings

Tommys Red Hots Review

Tommys Red Hots Review

Tommys Red Hots Review

Tommys Red Hots Review

 

Tommys Red Hots Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tommys Red Hots Review

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Giordanos Pizza Review, St. Charles, IL

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<div style="position:relative;height:0;padding-bottom:56.25%"><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K-cTzg8DcrY?ecver=2" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" style="position:absolute;width:100%;height:100%;left:0" allowfullscreen></iframe></div>Brothers Efren and Joseph Boglio were born in a small town near Turin, Italy.

The brothers first immigrated to Argentina and subsequently  to the US. Upon arriving in America, Efren began working at a pizzeria in Chicago, but he was not satisfied with the pizzas he tasted and decided to open his own restaurant, Roma.

When Joseph came to Chicago, Efren has stated they decided to open a restaurant using their old family recipes and after experimenting over several months developed the stuffed pizza, finding Giordano’s in 1974.

A couple owners and one bankruptcy later, Giordanos is prospering and on a tear to expand nationwide, and have opened restaurantsGiordanos Pizza Review outside of the Chicago area.

Their specialty is “stuffed pizza” which is a form of deep dish, but unlike most of the chains “deep dish” that focus on way too much dough,  the emphasis here is on quantity of ingredients and the sauce is always on top.

We were at the St. Charles, IL location and served by Ilona. She did a great job, maintained her humor, despite (it seemed to me) having too many tables she was responsible for.

We ordered the large stuffed, sausage only, and it was superb.

The pizzas REALLY DO look like the ones in the TV commercials.  One large pie (served four and their were leftovers, 1 beer, 3 soft drinks, tip,  around
$42.

Locations.  Menu.

Giordano's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Giordanos Pizza Review
Giordanos Pizza Review

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Billy Goat Frozen Burger Review – from Devanco Foods

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Billy Goat Frozen Burger ReviewThe restaurant part of the legend of the Billy Goat Tavern began on Chicago’s South Side in 1934. Greek immigrant William Sianas paid $205 for the Lincoln Tavern.

In 1964, Sianas moved the bar to its current subterranean location, and it’s here, underneath Chicago’s Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue, that the modern part of the legend originated.

The bar was located midway between the Chicago Tribune Tower and the rival Chicago Sun Times building; it became a popular hangout of reporters trying to steal each others scoops (or brag about their own).

1978,the 3rd season of Saturday Night Live, and cast members John Belushi, Dan Akroyd and Bill Murray did a sketch about the fictional “Olympia Cafe” which paid homage to the proprietor and staff of the Billy Goat. At the Olympia there was no food choice other than cheeseburgers and chips, no drinks but Pepsi, and the refrains uttered comedically by Belushi (with a “Greek accent”) were actually heard frequently at the Billy Goat.

Fast forward today the Billy Goat has multiple locations, but the ambiance of the original remains intact. As you walk down the stairs from Michigan Avenue, you might think you’re walking into the river or some dark hell, but at the bottom the welcome neon of the Billy Goat beckons you in.

They have apparently made a licensing deal with Devanco, a Chicago foods company that started in 1993 and was purchased and amped up in 2004. Previously, they sold mostly supplies to Greek restaurants, like gyro meat, pitas, and sauces.Billy Goat Frozen Burger Review

They’ve expanded to the retail arena, and in addition to  Greek offerings like a home Gyro Kit, they manufacture and distribute foods for Mike Ditka’s brand. Their (his) version of Italian beef is superb.

This week (4/24/17) Devanco started selling 2 pound boxes of 100% ground beef patties with Billy Goat’s name on them; there are two versions, 5 patties to a pound, or 3 patties to a pound. The two pound boxes check out at over $12, and that’s a lot.

The patties are made in Devanco’s suburban Chicago plant (pictured below).

I’ve tried quite a few ‘heat and eat’ burgers, and not really been happy with them, and especially those that are restaurant branded like Trader Joe’s, Pasture Perfect Kobe, Fatburger or Steak N Shake.There are both raw products (like Billy Goat’s) and there are some fully cooked patties available as well, like Ball Park brand‘s version. I’ve also tried maybe dozens of microwave, c-store, vending machine burgers, you can find those on the site by searching for “gas station food” or “heat and eat.”

The cooking instructions for the Billy Goat are no different than most frozen patties, skillet, medium heat, 3-4 minutes one side (until the juices start to ooze through), flip, couple more minutes.

I was eager to taste these since they have zero additives.  As in NONE. Some brands of  frozen patties include beef broth, cow heart(!!) and liquid smoke. Here I’m getting cow only.  So what’s the verdict?

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. I am not going to, under any circumstances I can think of, pay  $12 for frozen burger patties. No matter if they were the best burger you ever had, that’s a good 30-40% above their largest competitors.

Second bit of ‘bad news.’ The patties are packaged in 5 packs inside the box. Which means I have to separate, put in a different bag or container and refreeze any that I don’t use at the time. Luckily, the patties are separated by what the industry calls “patty paper,” which makes them easy to separate.

So I removed one and semi-followed the instructions. With a frozen patty at medium heat, I flipped after 3 minutes and went 2 more. I tasted the plain patty first before dressing it and putting it on a Martin’s Potato Roll (not what the Billy Goat uses, tho). Dressed with a half sour dill, raw onion and yellow mustard.

Flavor was very beefy, which is good, seems most frozen patties have some sort of strange “undercurrent” of taste, at least to me, and this one doesn’t. I’m also happy with the texture, which closely resembles the grind you’d find in grocery ground beef.  Some competitors reduce their “beef” and other ingredients to a slurry before sending them to the patty forming machine.

In other words, I’m happy with the product, and it does justice to the burger served in the restaurant. I think they’d be great on a charcoal grill.

I’ll be interested to see how this product does.  You have to be a certain age to get the whole SNL connection, and outside of Chicago, it’s not that the Billy Goat is a global iconic brand name.

I said this post was about one part of the Billy Goat legend. There’s a whole other story there. Think Chicago Cubs.  Here’s the dope if you’re interested.

 

Billy Goat Frozen Burger Review

Frozen Patties

Billy Goat Frozen Burger Review

3 minutes at medium, flipped

Billy Goat Frozen Burger Review

All dressed up, ready to go!

Billy Goat Frozen Burger Review

Box instructions on constructing your burger

Billy Goat Frozen Burgers Review

Devanco’s suburban Chicago plant

Billy Goat Frozen Burger Review

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Anns Bakery & Deli Review, Ukrainian Village, Chicago

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 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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Napoli Pizza Review, Woodstock, IL

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Napoli Pizza Review WoodstockI love being surprised (in a good way).

I also love having an experience exceed my expectations. Both were the case at Napoli Pizza, in the distant Chicago burg of Woodstock.

You may not recognize the name of the town, but you would if you were dropped into the town square – it’s where most of the exteriors of the movie “Groundhog Day” were filmed. There’s even a commerative “Ned Ryerson” plague on the sidewalk.

So I saw Napoli by accident some time ago, and it looked old timey. Not much about it online, other than their facebook page, which says they have been family owned for 26 years. Carry out, delivery or dine in, pizza, pasta, apps, sandwiches. Open 7 days from 11AM.

I ordered a thin crust house special (sausage, pepperoni, green and black olives, onions, mushrooms, and green pepper).

I can vouch that the dough is blended in-house, because I spied a hunk of it bigger than me, being worked in the kitchen. Their “thin” isn’t as thin as some other Chicago area pizzerias, more like the thickness of what the chains referred to as “hand-tossed.” Regardless, it was very flaky at the exterior and nice and chewy as you worked your way in from the win.

Toppings were plentiful, and I mean PLENTIFUL. I was surprised when I was first handed the box, this sucker was HEAVY. Excellent hand pulled chunks of flavorful Italian sausage. The sauce is slightly sweet, but in the way it’s supposed to be, from tomatoes. Hearty. And massive amounts of cheese, I’m sure the quantity would qualify as “double cheese” at most places. Really, really nice.

I wished I lived closer, Napoli would be my go-to place. Luckily, every few months I’m up that way. I’ll be back. I so admire mom and pop sized operators. It’s gotta be tough every day to compete against the major chain pricing gimmicks, and of course the breaks chains get on purchasing monster quantities of ingredients.

Thanks for a great pie!  Menu below.

Napoli Pizza Review Woodstock

House Special

Napoli Pizza Review Woodstock
Napoli Pizza Place Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Napoli Pizza Review

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Fatsos Last Stand Review – Chicago, IL

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Fatsos Last Stand Review Fatsos Last Stand, in Chicago west of the Loop, is retro and haute cuisine at the same time. Conceived as a neighborhood hot dog stand, the original owner committed to delivering the best of class food possible.

And he achieved it, with damned tasty burgers, Chicago style hot dogs, and fried shrimp (another Chicago staple).

I went with the “single Fatso with cheese” and my friend had a Chicago style dog; both were cooked on a grill that imparted a nice char flavor and texture, which will improve any food.

Fresh cut fries were the order of the day, only because I didn’t notice that they had cheese tots on the menu. DAMMIT.  (Scroll down for menu).

A lot of people compare this burger to In N Out, but I personally feel Fatso’s is a much better burger.  Shakes are also on offer.

Exceptional food all around, fun experience. Take the kids.

Fatso’s is in an area of town called “Ukrainian Village,” so there is a plethora of Russia restaurants, groceries and cathedrals.  It makes for an interesting urban adventure, walking around, checking out the shops until your appetite (or the charcoal grill aroma) pulls you in to Fatsos. (Easily accessible by mass transit, Damen or Division stops on the CTA Blue Line).

Fatsos Last Stand Review

Single Fatso, Chicago Dog, Fries

Fatsos Last Stand Review

Chicagoans eschew ketchup, so it’s a rarity to see

Fatsos Last Stand Review

Fatsos Menu

Fatsos Last Stand Review

Fatsos Menu

Fatso's Last Stand Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Fatsos Last Stand Review

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Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage Review

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Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage ReviewThese poor little sausages start off with a couple strikes against them – I pretty much don’t like brown and serve type breakfast sausages. Including fast food kinds.  But I thought I would give these two national brand names a shot when I saw them at the Dollar Tree.

Jimmy Dean is an established sausage maker, started by the late music/film personality of the same name. The company grew bigly and was acquired by Sara Lee (now Hillshire Farms, now Tyson).

The package (for a buck) comes with six links, you’ll find them in the frozen food coolers, if your Dollar Tree has them.

Ingredients are pork and mechanically separated turkey (another kiss of death for me, anything that has mechanically separated poultry as an ingredient).

I popped these into a skillet with my other test subjects, Banquet brand Original Breakfast Sausage Patties, and cooked them awhile. This type of Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage Reviewproduct IS pre-cooked in the package, so there are microwave instructions as well, for a quick heat and eat.

Banquet is part of the multinational food conglomerate ConAgra.  The company dates back more than 60 years, having started by introducing frozen meat pot pies.

What did I think? Flavor is OK, but one of the things I don’t like about these types of products is the texture. Not enough resistance in a bite, like ‘real’ sausage.

Result, I wouldn’t be likely to buy it again, unless I had company that requested it.

The Jimmy Dean sausages were/are made by Peacock Foods, in Itasca, IL, a distant superb of Chicago. The Banquet ones are a product of Abbyland Foods in Wisconsin. Abbyland makes products for a number of brands and retailers. They are a popular source for the discount grocer Aldi.

Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage Review

Banquet Patties, Jimmy Dean Links

 

Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage Review

Abbyland Foods

 

Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage Review

Peacock Foods

 

 

 

Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage Review

Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage Review

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Hooters Wing Breading Review – Grocery Item

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Hooters Wing Breading ReviewI read labels meticulously in grocery stores.  Not out of some health concern, real or imagined, just curiousity.

I occasionally DO NOT read them when I grab something by impulse on the way out the door, and such was the case with Hooters Wing Breading “We Fix the Mix So You Don’t Have To!” I should have taken the time.

This stuff checked out at about 50 cents an ounce. Ingredients? Flour, salt, natural flavor and all those things you can never Hooters Wing Breading Reviewpronounce and have no idea what they are.

Result? A big fat zero. This product will add nothing to your “fry – day,” as it doesn’t have any distinguishable flavor.

A similar product, Zatarain’s Seasoned Fish Fry, has nearly the same  ingredients, but actually does have a flavor it imparts to your fry session. I do buy that, and it’s even more economical –  a mere 11 cents an ounce.

Same result, less grief, less of investment?  Buy flour – at about 3 cents an ounce. Add whatever you want, prefer, garlic or onion powder, salt and/or pepper, and I always throw in paprika which helps with browning. Feel like you want to spend more?

Buy a premium flour like King Arthur. There, do you feel better now?

The grocery stores are chock-a-block full of restaurant branded items these days; I’ve yet to find many that do justice to the product from the restaurant they represent.  And I’ve tried a lot of them! Leave a note if you’ve been impressed with one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hooters Wing Breading Review

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Carys Family Restaurant Review – Cary, IL

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Carys Family Restaurant Review“No, we’re out,” said Adele firmly. I protested, and she replied “we had five servings left and I sold them all this morning. Won’t be more until the delivery truck comes.”

“I’ll wait.”

OK, I didn’t say that, and noticing the disappointment on my face that I wasn’t going to get to have Chicken Fried Steak for breakfast, she recommended the ham, without even knowing that’s my go-to 2nd choice.

“It’s off the bone.”

I drooled. “OK, ham and eggs, two over easy, hash browns real crispy, rye toast. Some char on the ham, please.”

“Done,” sez she.

I was at  Cary’s Family Restaurant on US Highway 14, 48.7 miles from Willis (nee Sears) Tower in downtown Chicago. Cary is one of dozens of burgs lining Highway 14, one of the original US highways. Depending on what direction you’re heading, it either starts in Chicago and ends at the eastern entrance to Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, or the reverse.

There are a buckets of restaurants along that highway, and it’s on my bucket list to hit all of them. In this neck of the woods, I’ve hit the Sugar Bowl in Des Plaines, the Big Foot Inn (in Big Foot), Mr. Beefy and Kojak’s (both Fox River Grove), to name a few, with obviously, many, many more to go!

Adele returned to the table bearing my plates, and it looked perfect, the kitchen had even cooked the ham the way I asked for it (I like a little char on ham, adds to the texture), and the rye toast was oversized. Eggs over easy, and I was ready to go. Lots of Chicago area restaurants have a bowl of butter pats on the table, and Cary’s Family is no exception, so I set about the task of buttering the rye toast before cutting the pieces in half and slamming a half into the egg yolk.

Growing up in my house, the act was called “mopping” and was strictly forbidden. No naturally, as an ‘adult’ the activity amplified to tease my mother while she did a slow burn on the other side of the kitchen.

Back to the task at ham (sic). The meat was delicious. Geez I love real ham. Not that chopped, pressed and formed stuff, but real muscle meat, the longer it has been cured, the better. I’ve driven the back roads of Virginia and Kentucky looking for exceptional ham. I’ve been to the Ham Museum in Madrid (seriously) (Spain, not Missouri).

Anyway, breakfast was good, Adele was a delight, I won’t bear a grudge that they were out of Chicken Fried Steak, and will give them another chance or six.

It’s a pleasure to run into servers who seem genuinely happy to be doing their job well. Remember to appreciate them.

Cary's Family Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Carys Family Restaurant Review

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