Archive for the ‘Hot off the Grill’ Category
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.
PJs Moon Doggies Review
One 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 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
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.
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 Southern Style Chicken Review
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 some 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.
Village Inn Review
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
Caveat one: this is a New Orleans AREA restaurant, not in the city, it’s about a 30 minute drive north on I-55. It sits perched on the edge of Lake Maurepas, which in turn empties into Lake Ponchartrain. There’s a nice outdoor deck when the weather is nice, which it usually is.
Middendorfs, like a lot of area restaurants, serves tons of local seafood, prepared in all manners and styles, but deep fried is the New Orleans way; you can get giant combo platters of shrimp, oysters, fish, and crab. But most people go for a dish unique to the restaurant, deep fried catfish filets, but they’re cut lengthwise into paper thin slivers. Unique. Crispy. Tasty. Dinners come with fries, slaw and hush puppies. Never had any use for the latter, personally.
You can get a piece of beef or chicken if you insist, and there is an adequate ankle biter menu. You can get raw or BBQ oysters or delicious gumbos as a side or starter.
I only get here once every few years, and I hope they keep on and on. It’s my place for ‘cat’ in the New Orleans area. (Oh and they also serve them whole, bone-in, if you like it that way). I like to bring out of town company here. If I haven’t taken you, it’s because I hate you.
Vietnamese cuisine is all the rage, isn’t it? Where else can you spend $25- $40 for a bowl of soup? Spoiler alert, if you want authentic Vietnamese in New Orleans, ask for directions out to the cluster of Vietnamese shops and restaurants in New Orleans east.
Vietnamese settled along the Gulf Coast and are busy in the shrimp industry, so there’s been a mini-explosion of Vietnamese “style” restaurants. I’ve had a couple of good experiences, at Mo Pho, which is Vietnamese/Creole fusion, interesting, tasty. And at Namese, in mid city. I’ve also driven down to the docks where the shrimp boats come in and purchased right off the boats. That’s fun and cheap!
Anyway, Magasin is on Magazine Street in New Orleans, a hub of shops and restaurants catering to the aspiring affluent. Just as sushi places come up with a unique “roll” of their own concoction, Vietnamese restaurants increasingly have added a special Bahn Mi (sub sandwich) and recipe Pho (soup) to their menus. These can be nit and miss.
At the Magasin Cafe, the special sandwich is called the “Deli Special.” Usually these sandwiches, undoubtedly developed during the French occupation have one or two kinds of meat, cucumber, pickled vegetables, cilantro, occasionally jalapenos, and occasionally some type of dressing.
I asked the waiter what was on the “Deli Special” and altho we were both speaking the same language, I couldn’t make heads nor tails of what he was trying to say. I think we settled it on being two kinds of pork, but then he said “chicken pork.” Chicken and pork, I asked? No, you know, “chickenpork.” Well, I do not know, or did not, I ordered it, and it’s not to my taste. Whatever “chickenpork” is, it is surely the Americanized version of Vietnamese pressed, chopped, and form lunch meat.
Ick. Companion diners loved their pho, but to my observation, the plates were not adorned with as many things to add to the broth as I have seen at other restaurants.
It was near 6 on a weekend. It was pretty busy. There are shops to poke in after and some pretty fair coffee, across the street and to the west.
But for a couple years I’ve been infatuated with “sourthern style” fried chicken, and did a fast food comparison tour across the south for chicken tenders, and I’ve written a number of pieces on gas station chicken.
Which I like. ALOT.
Miss Dots has a rep, very basic menu, of fried chicken, whole, pieces, or bits. I went for bits. They call them “bites.” “Plates” were $9 and up and came with a side and a roll. I went with the “bites” and mac/cheese.
The place was immaculate, sparkling clean. Employees were newish and not very knowledgeable about the product or even the POS system. Orders were taken, food was prepared, brought to the table. Pretty fast, actually, surprised me.
It’s a lighter breading, not much cornmeal, not seasoned, or lightly seasoned. The chicken was juicy and piping hot in its little breading overcoat. The mac/cheese was lifeless, dry, no particular flavor, could just as easily have been from a box. The same verdict for the roll. Nothing special. Sysco or a local grocer.
So yeah, it’s good, but for me, not worth an extra drive or the price. I was also under the impression this was a really old establishment (not sure why I thought that), but it’s not, it’s nearly a start-up. Additional location in Birmingham.
Miss Dots Chicken Review
There’s the undisputed champion of fast food “roast beef” places, Arbys, which has more than 3300 units. There have been some ‘also rans’along the way, the Roy Rogers chain (once over 300 units) tried to be a national contender. Hardees, with over 3000 units, has always featured a similar product on their menu systemwide after acquiring both the Roy Rogers and Rax Roast Beef chains.
And there have been local/regional chains as well, which have somehow managed to survive, despite being outspent in marketing and dwarfed in the number of locations.
I recall visiting a Lion’s Choice, in St. Louis, (25 outlets), and this gem I visited to day, “Beef-A- Roo” in Rockford, IL. “BAR” has 7 locations and has been around since 1967, and while their initial focus was on roast beef, they now have a full menu, offering burgers, dogs, salads, wraps, soups and other sandwiches.
Like Arby’s “roast beef,” the meat at Beef-A-Roo appears to come from an emulsification process, that is, beef, a solution, seasonings, perhaps other ingredients are made into a slurry, packed into a mold, and pre-cooked. The meat has the same texture and color as Arbys, and or course, neither resemble pure “muscle meat” as one would find at a quality deli or prepare at home.
Regardless, it remains popular, and even tho Arbys has a good presence in Rockford, locals love their Beef-A-Roo, and I have to say my perception
of the roast beef sandwich was despite the similarity, I prefered this. To me, it was more flavorful than the competitions, and as I am a nut for any kind of bread, I have to mention that hands-down, Beef-A-Roo may well have one of the best buns in the industry. It’s terrific, soft yet firm, a slight buttery taste, and toasted.
I also tried the olive burger, a popular item in the Chicago area (i have reviewed others), tho different variations can be found. BAR’s closely resembles that one you will find on
most menus, with sliced green olives and melted white cheese. They added a sauce, and I really couldn’t tell what it was, resembling a mayo, and it’s not named on their website menu. The burger patty has come from the type of automation that makes it appear as if it was hand-formed (meaning not a perfectly round, “hockey puck” type patty like most fast foods) and like the roast beef, it was more flavorful than most of its competitors.
Read a bunch of BAR’s reviews and you’ll see people crow about the fries, and they are good, as good, or better, as the golden arches, which many people hold as the fast food gold standard. They are thin and crispy shoestrings, nicely salted, piping hot.
Other people think BAR is spendy, but I disagreed, came away with two large sandwiches, fries and a drink for under $10.
I wish they’d expand, at least regionally. In the meantime, you’ll have to go to Rockford, IL and try their food at one of seven locations.
I have seen the same name on other restaurants in the Midwest, no idea whether they were once affiliated, are franchises or operated by other members of the founding family.
I’ve previously opined about the original Sal’s Pizza location, an unassuming walk-in/delivery (only) storefront on the backside of a strip mall in Algonquin, IL.
If you read that piece, you’ll remember I found no fault with their pizza, in fact, for my personal tastes, I found it to be superb.
This review is about Sal’s Pizza newer location in Huntley, IL, which has a full menu, seating, full-service bar as well as video gaming area.
I had been in this joint under its previous ownership, and I really can’t even remember the name or how I felt about the product. But it’s of no consequence now that Sal’s has landed here. It’s the same great menu as Sal’s in Algonquin, with pizza, sandwiches, dinner entrees, including pasta and chicken.
I gotta say again, I love Sal’s Pizza. I’ve tried so many different places in the NW burbs, and disappointment after disappointment, I’m back to Sal’s. And while carryout and delivery is fine, it’s nice to take a little drive to Huntley and have a relaxing dine-in experience with the same great product.
Sal’s thin crust is flaky around the rim, and chewy as you work your way in, just the way it should be. Sauce is flavorful, on the thicker side, yet not overpowering. I love their sausage, don’t know where they get it, but it’s large ‘hand-pulled’ chunks of flavorful, seasoned pork, not those pre-cooked nuggets so many chains used.
Finally, their cheese blend is applied in very liberal quantities, has great flavor, melt-quality, and pull. You’re going to experience that ultimate pizza cheese experience where you lift a slice and see those delicious stretches of cheese. To me, that’s living. Especially when you do that and the toppings don’t end up falling into the pan. It’s very important that each slice of pizza remains intact until it gets to your mouth, I say.
Pies are cut into square slices, common in Chicago and the Upper Midwest, and sometimes referred to as a “tavern cut.” Again, that’s one of my ideals for pizza perfection.
At the table, we also had the fried chicken and an order of onion rings. No complaints there. The coating on the chicken is crispy and flavorful. The rings are thin cut with a little cornmeal in the batter.
Service was attentive. Didn’t catch the waitresses name, she had a bit of (my thought) accent from somewhere in the British isles. In any case, she was attentive without being overbearing.
Good show, Sal’s. Of course, we’ll be back. Sal’s also offers great value catering for your family, company, or school event.