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Archive for the ‘Hot off the Grill’ Category

Sollys Grille Review, Milwaukee, WI

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Sollys Grille ReviewIf you tool around the Upper Midwest, you’ll undoubtedly run into a regional burger and custard chain named “Culvers.” Their motto is roughly “home of the butter burger.”

Believing that depends on who you ask. Culver’s version is to fry the burgers on a flattop and nestle it on a toasted, buttered, bun.

But on the East Coast of the state, in Milwaukee, one will come across Solly’s Grille, which opened in 1936 and purports to be the inventor of the actual “Butter Burger.” Or “Butterburger.”

What the term means at Solly’s is completely different than Culvers. At Solly’s, their patty also starts out on a flattop, and the buns are also toasted, but…wait for it……when the burger gets placed on bun, atop it comes an ice cream scoop size dollop of pure Wisconsin butter, which quickly melts, flavoring the patty, soaking the bun and pooling on the plate.

They say they use 150 pounds + of butter weekly, and I’ve no reason to doubt them.

There are different toppings on tap for burgers, various cheese, bacon, and such, but according to the server, there’s never been a pickle or mayo in house and there never will be.

The full menu includes breakfast.  (Yes, you can get a burger during breakfast hours).  Sides can be crinkle cut fries, rings, or potato pancakes. (After all, Wisconsin at its heart is very German).

The standard Butterburger is also topped with Solly’s own stewed onions.

There’s a guy in America named George Motz, who is considered by many, far and near, to be America’s Hamburger Expert.  Here’s a little video about Solly’s from one of his programs, and introducing the main man at Solly’s these days.  (George has a book and a documentary that share the title “Hamburger America.”

You’ll see a million “WOW” reviews of Solly’s online. And I always try to find something cool about every place, every experience, but you know what? This place was a lot better in my imagination that in reality. To me.

The factory produced, frozen patty is nothing special, and the onions were rather overpowering for me. Of course I loved the butter and how it flavored both the bun and meat, but the downside is as it pools on the plate, it soaks the bottom half of the bun and your sandwich can quickly become unmanageable.

Seating is limited to a long counter, and a very few tables, if that influences your decision. Service is hit and miss. And you can expect your multi-layered meal (burger, fries, shake) to not come out in any particular order or proximity to each other. You may have consumed your fries prior to even catching a glimpse of your burger.

The rings I liked. Crispy, a little beer in the batter I suspect, and the waitress “upsold me” on the dipping sauce, which was more than the usual restaurant fare. I’m gonna take a guess it is mayo and Tabasco. Not unpleasant. But I didn’t expect to be charged for it. Oh well.  Fries are top-notch as well.

This is a great place to hit for a nostalgic thing if you’re going to Milwaukee. Kind of like hitting the Billy Goat in Chicago. In either case, you’re not going because the food is gonna make you say “WOW OH MAN.”

But it’s fun nevertheless.  Two burgers, fries, rings, dipping sauce,  one soda, $21.

Sollys Grille Review

Butterburger with cheese

Sollys Grille Review

Perfect crinkle cut fries

Sollys Grille Review

Crispy flavorful rings

Solly's Grille Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Sollys Grille Review

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Bigfoot Inn Review, Harvard, IL

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BigFoot Inn ReviewThere’s a burg on the Wisconsin/Illinois border, on US 14, about halfway between Chicago and Janesville, WI (home of JerkInChief Paul Ryan), or halfway between Rockford, IL and Milwaukee.

Name of the town is Bigfoot. No relation to the legendary monster whom we never see, because Noah didn’t let him on the ark. Along with the dinosaurs.

Blink and you’ll miss Bigfoot. There’s a cemetery. A used car dealer. A closed manufacturing facility of some sort, and a “Welcome to Illinois” highway sign. The Bigfoot High School is in Walworth, WI, a few miles north.

Bigfoot is also home (since the mid 1940s) to the Bigfoot Inn, a survivor of a dying breed of restaurants in the Upper Midwest we call “Supper Clubs,” which wikipedia defines as “a dining establishment generally found in the Upper Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Iowa. These establishments typically are located on the edge of town in rural areas.”

Supper clubs became popular during the 1930s and 1940s, and generally feature “simple” menus with somewhat limited offerings featuring “American” cuisine. Menus include dishes such as prime rib, steaks, chicken, and fish. An all-you-can-eat Friday night fish fry is particularly common at Wisconsin supper clubs.

Full meals are quite inclusive, starting with a relish tray, cracker basket or rolls and butters, and entrees generally include soup, salad, starch and vegetable. Some establishments even include dessert.

The Bigfoot Inn is no exception to the aforementioned generalities, but their menu is quite extensive, features daily and nightly specials, and offers an AYCE champagne brunch on Sundays. The establishment is open seven days, has a large, full bar, and video gambling machines.

Spoiler alert. Was I ever impressed! Our server “the guy from Elkhorn,” was informed and attentive without being intrusive. He knew the menu and the area well. He boasted that everything was made from scratch, and after eating (btw, servings are HUGE), I had no reason to doubt his claim. I over ordered, because there were so many good things on the menu.

Started with appetizers of saganaki (flambed cheese, a Chicago thing) and perfect onion rings, large cut, nice breading, mildly seasoned, fried perfectly.

Along with the appetizers came complimentary crackers, rolls, butter, and cheese spread (another geographical thing). Soup? Yes please, and a tale from the server of when he met the actual “Soup Nazi.” Salad, with a wide choice of dressings, and then the entree; they come with vegetables and a choice of many different starches. With my Wienerschnitzel Holstein style, I went with steak fries. Couldn’t finish the steak or the even start on the fries, was too full with the prelims.

Also at the table, perfectly grilled, inch thick pork chops,  a huge spud with all the fixins’ brought without asking.

$70 for two dinners, two appetizers, an adult beverage, and worth every nickle. Actually, I think the place is under priced, but don’t tell them.

Will I return? You bet. The bottomless champagne brunch (Sundays only) is around $13! Egad!  The Washington Times did an interesting bit on Wisconsin supper clubs.  I was recently at another, “Donny’s Girl,” which apparently I didn’t write about.  It was out in the sticks, kinda hard to find, but worth the trek.

Menu

 

Big Foot Inn Review

Saganaki

Big Foot Inn Review

Perfect Rings

Big Foot Inn Review

Schnitzel

Big Foot Inn Review

Grilled chops

Big Foot Inn Review

Bigfoot, Wisconsin

Big Foot Inn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Bigfoot Inn Review

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Pasture Perfect Burger Review

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Pasture Perfect Burger ReviewI have to say from the outset, me and frozen burger patties don’t get along. I’ve tried a boatload of different brands. To me, they have a taste and texture in common that I personally don’t find appealing.

I think probably many of them are marketed to be tossed on your charcoal or gas grill, which considerably changes the experience –  but fried on the stovetop?  Nope.

So I was skeptical when I spotted “Pasture Perfect American Style Kobe Beef Burgers.” First off, of course you know I object to meat being marketed as “Kobe,” cause 99.99999999999999999999  % of the time it’s not. “Kobe Beef” is a product which comes from a specific breed of cow (Wagyu) and is raised in a specified manner in the area of Kobe, Japan.

Wagyu cattle have been imported to the US, New Zealand, and Australia and it’s the flesh of these animals you frequently see marketed as “Kobe.”  The giveaway? If the restaurant you’re at is offering a “Kobe” burger for $12 or $20, it’s not Kobe.  You can purchase ‘real’ Kobe online – but get a second mortgage first, here’s one source:  http://www.miyazakigyu.com/.

But on to Pasture Perfect. The package promises Wagyu cattle free range, open pasture, 100%  grass fedno antibiotics or added hormones. The cattle is raised in New Zealand, and processed in Los Angeles at a re-processor, First Class Foods, in Hawthorne, which has been around since 1962. (Factory pix below).

First Class processes beef, pork and other proteins into retail and food service portions. They also manufacture some heat and eat meals for food service.

Pasture Perfect is a brand name used by a Lake Tahoe, Nevada based company named Pilot Brands.

The package is one pound, and contains two 8 ounce patties.  No idea why they would market it like this instead of smaller portions. I thawed before frying in cast-iron, most directions I have seen call for you to prepare Kobe “low and slow,” but this isn’t ‘real’ Kobe, so I seared and then finished on medium.

I prepared it without and seasoning, and plated it without condiments or toppings. Took a bite. Wow. Tastes like a good steak. Steak texture too. No hint of “artificial smoke” flavoring, no painted on grill marks.  It’s good. But expensive. About the most you’d ever pay for a pound of ground beef.

How much would I be willing to pay, to eat them on a regular basis? I think no more than $6 a pound. And even that’s a stretch.

 

Pasture Perfect Burger Review

Pan fried, about 4 mins per side

 

Pasture Perfect Burger Review

First Class Foods, Hawthorne, CA

 

 

 

 

 

Pasture Perfect Burger Review

Pasture Perfect Burger Review

Pasture Perfect Burger Review

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Peps Drafthaus Frozen Pizza Review

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Peps Drafhaus Frozen Pizza ReviewI’m “frozen pizza rich”  in one sense; there’s a mega grocery near me that stocks more brands of frozen pizzas than I even knew existed.

It seems like there’s always something “new” in their freezers. (There are four, 30 foot long freezers of pies!). This week it is Pep’s Drafthaus.

Pep’s Drafthaus Pizza is from Hansen Foods of Green Bay, a 100+ year old company that started as a local dairy. Primarily in the  fundraising business, Hansen is a company you go to if your  school, church, scout troop wants to have a money-raising project, by selling nearly any kind of food: cheese, candy, meat snacks, and yes, frozen pizza.

Prices for products sold by fundraisers are considerably inflated over retail store prices, providing a great opportunity for your group to make some real cash.

I picked up the Taproom Double variety, which has two kinds of sausage and two kinds of pepperoni.

I’m loving the ingredient label, about has pure as it gets, like sausage being pork and spices, and actual mozzarella.

I don’t know how long Hansen has been in the retail pizza biz, this is the first I have seen the brand in a local store, and it was in  the medium range of spendy, $7.99.

400 at 18-20 minutes produced great results. The crust is a little thicker than my general preference – say it’s the equivalent of “hand tossed” at the national chains.

VERY GENEROUS  supply of nice hand-pulled sausage, flavorful pepperoni, and I think more cheese than I’ve ever experienced on a frozen pie. Akin to if you ordered “double cheese” from your local pizzeria, IMHO, and I appreciate it.  Has a nice “pull” to it.

Four times a year Hansen has a ‘factory direct’ sale where you can stock up on cases of these pies.  Schedule of dates and details here.  Or follow them on Facebook.  Pep’s easily moves into my top four for regular frozen pizza purchases.

Peps Drafhaus Frozen Pizza Review

Out of package, unbaked

Peps Drafhaus Frozen Pizza Review

400 degrees, 20 minutes

 

 

 

 

 

Peps Drafthaus Frozen Pizza Review

Peps Drafthaus Frozen Pizza Review

Peps Drafthaus Frozen Pizza Review

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Sugar Bowl Review, Des Plaines, IL

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Sugar Bowl Review Des PlainesThe 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 Des Plaines

Eggs & Ham, Sam I Am!!

Sugar Bowl Sweet Shop & Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

 

 

Sugar Bowl Review

Sugar Bowl Review

Sugar Bowl Review

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Lou Mitchells Review, on Route 66, Chicago

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Lou Mitchells Review

Exterior

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.

Lou Mitchells Review Route 66

Eggs Over with Bacon

Lou Mitchell's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Lou Mitchells Review

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PJs Moon Doggies Review Glenview IL

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PJ Moon Doggies ReviewI don’t think anybody knows exactly how many hot dog stands there are in Chicago. It’s a well known fact that there are more than the total McDonalds, Wendys and Burger Kings combined.

Estimates vary between 1500 -2000.

In Chicago, a “hot dog stand” can take many forms, from street cart to brick and mortar carryout only, to full service restaurants, with most  having remarkably similar menus, hot dogs, burgers, sausage, Italian beef sandwiches, and gyros, and a majority of those items coming from just a few local suppliers: hot dogs and beef from Vienna Beef, gyros from Kronos.  Buns from Turano or S Rosens.

OK, so all these places have virtually the same menu and many use the same suppliers – what sets one apart from another? Well, geography is obvious, but also (to me) cleanliness, method and care of preparation, and attention paid to other contributing factors, like condiment suppliers.

Like I was at one the other day who offered “char-broiled” burgers. Nothing could be farther/further/more distant from the truth. The burger seemed like had been simmered in grease. Truly awful. Two bites.

But today I’m writing about one of the more distinctive ones, PJ Moon Doggies in Glenview, IL.  In addition to the aforementioned menu items, Moon Doggies also has ribs and chicken. Decor is 50s diner with a fully-loaded replica Wurlitzer jukebox. Counter service and daily specials.

I had their burger and fries and it was excellent. This one was actually char-broiled, was a very flavorful meat patty, great bun and fabulous pickle (an important thing for me).  Hot, crispy fries. Here’s their full menu.

I find myself in that part of the city about twice a year for one thing or another.  I’d stop again, for sure. You should think about it too.

PJ Moon Doggies Review
PJ's Moon Doggies Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
PJs Moon Doggies Review

PJs Moon Doggies Review

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Schmeissers Sausage Review, Niles, IL

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Schmeissers Sausage ReviewOne of the thing that delights me about living in a larger city is having a wide variety of ethnic grocers, and Chicago has some great ones. We have Asian grocers, Indian, Eastern European, Greek, Polish, Italian, and I love them all.

Chicago is big on Polish restaurants and markets as the population of Poles here is nearly 200,000, and Polish is the 3rd most spoken language in the city.

There’s a particular stretch of one road, both in and out of the city, that has attracted a proliferation of Polish-centric businesses, and that’s Milwaukee Avenue.  Chicago often claims to be the largest Polish city outside of Poland, with the number of persons of Polish descent topping a million.

Along the ‘suburban’ stretch, mostly in Niles, IL, there are a multitude of markets and restaurants;  one restaurant I have enjoyed in the past up that way is the White Eagle. You can order meals family style, copious quantities, inexpensive and fun.

But this day, I was in search of sausage, and my first of several stops was at Schmeissers Sausage at 7649 N. Milwaukee Ave.  They take great pride in the number of products they make in house, and the quality and care with which they are made is readily apparent. There is also a small selection of grocery items, including other products made on site, like noodles and spaetzel.

Schmeissers Sausage Review

Packaged Meal

Schmeissers Sausage has a freezer full of heat and eat meals made on site, and they average about $5 a pound, which is very fair, in my opinion. I’m impressed they’d go to the effort for a seemingly small scale.

I picked up the sauerbraten (“sour roast”) along with a package of dried spaetzle (egg noodles).  Sauerbraten is really a national dish of Germany (which abuts Poland, or course), and is beef that is marinaded in a mixture of vinegar or wine, water, herbs, spices, and seasonings for a number of days prior to roasting. The recipes for the marinade and even the type of meat used can vary by region.

The roast is usually served with boiled potatoes, cabbage, or noodles.  The package is hard frozen and calls for 9 minutes or so in the microwave, but I generally pop these kind of things in the oven and do them low and slow.  Which is what I did here.  Noodles are boiled in salted water for about 20 minutes, depending on your preference of ‘doneness.’

The result of the marinade is a very flavorful and juicy roast, the process might have originally been developed to use less expensive (tougher) pieces of meat. Many cultures have similar preparations, albeit with different flavors.

End result. This was great. As good as I have had in any local German restaurant. I’d buy it again and try some of their other heat and eats. Later in the week I’ll write about some of the other stops this trip.

Schmeissers Sausage Review

Sauerbraten with spatzle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schmeissers Sausage Review

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Dodges Southern Style Chicken Review

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Dodges Southern Style Chicken

I’ve written a lot about what I (and apparently others) call “gas station chicken.”

Across the deep south, you’ll run into these fairly often. Some call them “fry delis,” and the independent ones often have a melange of offerings, fried chicken, tenders, egg rolls, corn dogs, catfish nuggets, potatoes.

There are franchised operations, like Chesters, and Krispy Krunchy.

I’ve done kind of an overview in the past, traveling across the south.

I’ve driven by another operation with multiple locations, Dodge’s Southern Style, but my attempt at research to find their origins or number of locations came up dry. (Other than they are old, and possibly based in Tupelo, MS). But I bumped into one recently in Dyersville, AR, near the Tennessee border. For many people, Dodge’s is a gas only operation, they pull in, fill up without every experiencing the wonderment which lies just inside the glass doors.

In a word, I like Dodge’s a LOT.  Their batter has more cornmeal than competitors, so it comes out crispier. They also feature “Jo Jo” potatoes, and while different places offer a product with the same name, most often they are deep fried potato wedges, quarters.  Why no one ever trademarked/patented it/them, I’ll never know. First time I ever recall seeing them was on a Shakey’s pizza buffet. Various places attribute the name originally to a joint in Waconia, MN, and the name spread across the Upper Midwest.  Who knew?

“Dinners” or “plates” also come with a dinner roll, which is fine, nothing to write home about. In any case, lacking a national director of Chesters, Krispy, and Dodge’s, and having to rely on highway information signs to locate them, usually, I know now I can be satisfied at any of these three operations!

Dodges published monthly specials on their spartan website.
Dodge's Chicken Store Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Dodge Southern Style Chicken Review

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Village Inn Review, Huntley, IL

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Village Inn ReviewWhat’s better than getting a restaurant meal with quality ingredients, cooked precisely to your order, at a great value?

Not much I can think of. I have found my new “home away from home” for breakfast out, the Village Inn Family Restaurant, in Huntley, IL, a distant Chicago exurb. “Chicago area diners” lean towards large portions, and the Village Inn is no exception.

Throwing three eggs on a plate, next to (at least) a half pound of potatoes, along with your choice of meat and toast (rye, for me, always),  their breakfast will satisfy any sized appetite.

Two things stuck out for me. First, I love ham. But I especially love GREAT ham.  And by “great,” I mean “real,” not Village Inn Reviewsome pressed, chopped, and formed, ham-like meat.  No, I crave real muscle meat, full of texture and flavor. Village Inn more than satisfies.

Second? I crave my ham to have a little “char” on it, adds to texture experience, and I like my breakfast potatoes extra crispy.

Scored on both accounts, in fact the waitress brought the eggs and toast first, said the ham would be up in a minute, she didn’t think the cook charred it enough.  And when she delivered? Spot on.

I like going to Huntley.  It’s a peaceful little town, away from the hubbub of the big city, but with all the requisite access to commerce and great little mom and pop places, like the Village Inn and Sal’s Pizza, down the street.  Oh, and the most excellent Diary Mart.  I also try to get out there to support local charity feeds, like the Boy Scout Pancake breakfast and such.

Village Inn? I shall return. Often.  My compliments to the kitchen.

 Breakfast menu.
Village Inn Family Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Village Inn Review

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