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Archive for the ‘Hot off the Grill’ Category

Hodaks Restaurant and Bar Review, St. Louis, MO

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Hodaks Restaurant and Bar ReviewGeez, I can count on about three fingers the times I have not been disappointed when I’ve tried a restaurant that is a perennial favorite in a given city. If it’s won “the best of” multiple times, for some reason, it won’t strike me the same way.

Much to my delight, Hodaks does not fall into that black hole, despite being voted “St. Louis Best Fried Chicken 25 Years in a Row.” I agree.

I was out looking for restaurants on the “Mother Road,” or at least the remnants of same, Route 66, the old main highway that ran from Chicago to St. Louis. In my neck of the woods, I’d had the pleasure of dining at several establishments on the Route, including Lou Mitchells, in downtown Chicago at the beginning of 66 (exceeded expectations), Del Rhea’s Chicken Basket, (meh, thanks for playing), Cozy Dog and Charlie Parkers, Springfield, IL, the Country Cup, a couple places in El Reno, OK, birthplace of the Onion Burger, the Galaxy Diner in Flagstaff…..and others.

Ordinarily, fried chicken isn’t something I’d go out of my way for, tho I am fond of quality preparations. It wouldn’t be in my top 10 of things to order at a restaurant.

But here we are/were,  and it’s on Route 66, been around forever, so why not.  And besides, I needed a “good” St. Louis experience to make up for my last time there, trapped by a master con woman for three days initially, then sucker punched into spending 7 years together.

Hodaks was busy, it was Saturday lunch time, holiday weekend, but not so busy we couldn’t be seated straight away. I understand there are times when there is a substantial wait for a table.

Started with the traditional St. Louis appetizer, fried ravioli, deep-fried pasta pockets stuffed with meat and accompanied by a marinara dipping sauce.  My initial thought of just having a couple bites vanished….and did the entire plateful.  Oops.

Onto fried chicken, my choice, a pounded breast, with mashed, gravy, beans, slaw. Superb.  I mean it, superb in every aspect.

Would I go again?  You wouldn’t be able to stop me if I was passing through town. St Louis in the future will be forever two things to me, Hodak’s Chicken and Imo’s Pizza.

Hodaks Restaurant and Bar Review

Fried Ravioli

Hodaks Restaurant and Bar Review

Chicken fried chicken

Hodaks full menu.  They welcome your bulk order for events or catering, too.

Hodak's Restaurant and Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Hodaks Restaurant and Bar Review

Hodaks Restaurant and Bar Review

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Fricks Ham Review, Missouri Processor

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Fricks Ham ReviewI love ham, and I’ve been fortunate to run into some great ones lately. Most recently the notable one was local, from All Grass Farms.

But I screwed up this week, didn’t do my research, and tho I was going to be close to a Missouri processor named Frick’s Meats, whose product I have enjoyed before, I completely spaced on it, missed an opportunity, other than to pick up a ham steak in a nearby grocer.

I had the ham once before, as a sliced half-ham product, and I liked that. I also had a Fricks product in Aldi’s braunschweiger.

Now I want more, and regularly.

The ham steak is a half inch thick, and charred up nicely in a cast iron skillet.  It’s smokey and salty with texture you’d expect from quality pork, and the flavors that remind you of a lengthy cure.

I’d buy it again, don’t usually see it in my local stores, but I’ll look again. If you can’t find Fricks in your store, they do sell a few products online.

Fricks Ham Review

Out of the package

Fricks Ham Review

5 mins each side

Fricks Ham Review

Washington, MO Factory

 

 

 

 

 

Fricks Ham Review

Fricks Ham Review

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Butcher on the Block Review – East Dundee, IL

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Butcher on the Block ReviewOpen since 2000, Butcher on the Block is a butcher and deli on West Algonquin Road in Lake in the Hills, IL.

This review isn’t about that operation tho, but rather their new food outlet at 112 Railroad Street in East Dundee, IL.

They’ve taken over the food concession offered by the city, and are housed in a restored caboose, off the street.

They offer a full menu of “Chicago-fare,”  burgers, hot dogs, Italian beef, with an emphasis on quality ingredients from local sources.

I went for the 1/3 pound burger (which is two patties) topped with smoked Gouda, plus lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. They offer a “signature sauce,” but I passed on that.

A combo, including a drink and fries or tots went for $8.95. Burger alone is $5.95. The menu touts the burgers as “grass fed sirloin,” and I have no reason to doubt the claim. It was a good burger.

I shall return.

Butcher on the Block Review

Cheeseburger and tots

Butcher on the Block Review
Butcher on the Block Review
Butcher on the Block Review

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Meijers Frozen Pizza Review – Grocery Store Brand

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Meijers Frozen Pizza ReviewMeijers is a regional hypermarket chain, with over 200 locations in the Upper Midwest, with the majority in Michigan. They claim to have invented the “supercenter” concept in 1962 (groceries and merch in one store).

For me, the stores are a little too big to navigate for a standard grocery run, but once and awhile I like to poke my head in and see if they have any new products other stores don’t, and occasionally, they do

I picked up their store label thin crust frozen pizza, “Sicilian Style” the other day, with a three cheese blend, and Italian sausage, salami, and capicola ham for toppings. This one weighs less than a pound and ran in the mid-range for frozen pizzas, at $5 +.

If you’re an occasional reader of this site, you know that I work hard to find something redeeming to say in every piece. I look for the good
at least.

Well, I’m gonna disappoint you this time. This pizza is awful, and a terrible value at the price. Skimpy on flavorless toppings, a crust that doesn’t crisp up, not enough cheese. This pie belongs in the value priced category, like Totino’s or Jack’s. Needs to be like 5/$10.

At least in my part of the Midwest, these pies are made for Meijer by Palermo, a Milwaukee brand, with plants in both Wisconsin and Chicago (pictured).

That makes sense, because the bottom end of the Palermo brand is pretty dreadful as well, but they do have some premium brands like “Screamin’ Sicilian” and “P’Mos” which are quite good. They also make “Urban Pie” and “Sasquatch.” I’ve reviewed about every line of Palermo’s here, skip to them by using the search box above.

Would I buy this again? Nope. I had three pieces and then did something I never, ever, do. Toss the rest.

This might be exactly what you’re looking for in a frozen pizza, it’s just not to my personal taste.

Meijers Frozen Pizza Review

Out of the packaging

Meijers Frozen Pizza Review

12 min – 450

Meijers Frozen Pizza Review

Palermo Chicago Factory

 

 

 

 

Meijers Frozen Pizza Review

Meijers Frozen Pizza Review

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Blue Gillys Review – Edgerton, WI

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Blue Gillys ReviewMy dad loved eating fish. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, couldn’t get enough. I brought him over to visit when I was working in Hong Kong and he was in seafood heaven. Geez, I craved a burger during that trip.

He wasn’t much of a sportsman himself, but his colleagues and employees made sure he was kept well supplied, dropping off quantities of trout, sunfish, crappies, pike and bluegills when they had good days.

Don’t think its genetic, but I’m a fish eater too, not anywhere compared to him. And here in the upper midwest, you’re likely to run into one restaurant or 200 that features a “fish fry” every Friday nite, offering you a choice of cod, walleye, perch, or shrimp, often on an AYCE basis.

I was surprised and delighted to run into a place called “Blue Gilly’s” in rural Wisconsin yesterday, a breakfast/lunch restaurant that prominently features bluegills on the menu.

I can’t imagine where they source them, I’d been under the impression for several years that “panfish” – the group of freshwater swimmers that bluegills fall into, were incapable of being farmed. So if they’re wild, they are most likely coming from pristine lakes in Northern Canada or Alaska.

So I had bluegills and eggs for breakfast. The fish is fried with a very, very light breading, and I’m no expert, but I’m gonna guess that they use rice flour for the breading. It has its own unique texture and taste, and of course, is gluten free.

The fish was delightful, and the standard serving (1/2 pound) was more than I could finish at a serving.

The restaurant is open seven days from 6:30 – 2:00PM, and features a full breakfast and lunch menu. Lotsa pancakes on hand, as well.

It’s much bigger inside than it appears outside, so even if the  parking lot would make you think its really crowded, there are probably
tables available.

If you’re traveling I-90 thru Wisconsin, the restaurant is just off exit 163, about an hour north of the Illinois border. Worth a stop.

 

Blue Gillys Review

Bluegills and eggs breakfast

Blue Gillys Review

A nice side dish in the Midwest –  LOL

Blue Gilly's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Blue Gillys Review

Blue Gillys Review

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All Grass Farms Review – Supplier of Sustainable Proteins

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All Grass Farms ReviewIf you’re even an occasional reader, you know how much I like great ham. Fresh from the farm type ham. Ham that tastes like a hog.

I’ve driven around the country in search of great suppliers, so I was delighted to be driving down a back road just outside of Chicago the other day, and spotting a hand painted sign with the inquiry “Got Pork?”

“Why no, I don’t,”  sez I to myself, so I turned in the driveway.

All Grass Farms is a small producer in Dundee, Illinois, who can take care of your beef, pork, poultry, eggs and raw milk needs 7 days a week, from a little shop they have on site.

These are grass fed animals, hormone free, and you’ll note the difference in taste and texture.  I picked up a slab ‘o ham, and it was spendy, but worth it. The carmelization you see is causing not by burning it (tho I like charred ham) but by the fact brown sugar is used in the cure. It’s also nicely smoked.

The muscle texture is superb, it hasn’t been pulverized to death by tenderizers or “brine injections.” I loathe meat like that. I’ll but this again, and may even venture into a quantity of pork. I’m certainly going to get some raw milk in the future, which you can’t find in main line grocers, but if you do have some you can make great cheese and butter at home, lickety-split. Or lemony snicket.

You can order online, but they don’t ship, you’ll still have to pick up. They’re open daily from 10-6. If you’re looking for something specific, you might want to inquire prior (847-852-7081) to making the trek – they do run out of popular items on occasion.  They can also set you up with bulk packages – say if you wanted half a hog or cow.

The meat is processed about 60 miles west by Eickman’s Processing Company, Seward, IL.  They also have a small retail shop on site, which is open until 5:30 Mon – Fri, and noon on Saturday.

It’s nice to know where your food comes from, especially these days when Washington is proposing eliminating many of the safe regs and inspections we’ve relied on in the past.

All Grass Farms Review

All Grass Farms Review

Store at the farm

All Grass Farms Review

Eickman’s Processing Co  – Storefront

All Grass Farms Review

Eickman’s Processing Co – Aerial

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jersey Mikes Subs Review – Nationwide Chain

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Jersey Mikes Sub ReviewSo I saw this “pseudo-documentary” the other night, and one segment was on the founding of Jersey Mike’s Subs.

After reading a bit on Wikipedia, one or the other took a little poetic license. No matter. The shop started in Point Pleasant, NJ, a seaside down equidistant between Manhattan and Philly.

After 3 owners, long time employee Peter Cancro, around 18 purchased the shop in 1975, with financial assistance from a high school mate and a local banker/football coach (yeah, I don’t get that either).

They began franchising in 1987 and today there are over 1000 locations. Their “hook” is sub sandwiches made to order, slicing the meats and cheeses as needed.

They’ll ask your choice of bread (white, wheat, herb) and size (small, medium, and gigantic), and you can order by number from their menu, their recipes of hot or cold combinations, about a dozen of each, or of course, design your own.

They’ll ask you if you want it “Mike’s Way”, which involves sliced onions, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, oregano, salt (spices) and “The Juice” – a mixture of red wine vinegar and olive oil.

They don’t seem to have as many toppings as competitors, tho it was my first visit and maybe they just don’t have them on display.

I went with a #13 “The Original Italian” – Provolone, Ham, Prosciuttini, Cappacuolo, Salami and Pepperoni. I didn’t request cheese, should have.  The meat is ok, nothing distinguishable.

I elected for the white loaf, and it’s good bread, better than competitors.

I don’t get the point of “slicing as needed.” It’s just ordinary deli meat, and this just adds an employee to the payroll. When I say “ordinary deli meat” I am talking about the formed, seasoned ‘loafs’ we’re used to seeing in deli counters. Slicing on site does enable Jersey Mikes to have the meat be paper thin – nearly translucent, and that means profit, I imagine.

Don’t know how (most) deli meat is made? Here’s a video (Dietz & Watson, pretty high quality).

Having not been in before, I ordered the large. Shouldn’t have – it’ll end up being 2-3 meals for me. It also game with a large price tag, $15. If I added extra meat and cheese, it’d top $17. That’s a helluva lot for a sandwich that is not coming out of the Carnegie Deli.

Overall verdict? Better than the competitors, with the exception of our local guy, who actually roast meats on site. The standard add-ons of chips and cookies available. Order your “sandwich” as a wrap or salad if you like that kind of thing.

Caution tho, as with any vegetable laden sandwich, if you’re not going to consume immediately, the bread is going to get soggy over a fairly short period of time.

If you’re saving it for later, consider disassembling, at least the tomato, lettuce. Really. Postscript:  I forgot to say, the employees at this location were VERY happy and courteous.  The only other chain I have experienced this level of “hospitable” employees is Chick-Fil-A.  So whomever is motivating franchisee employees, good job!

Jersey Mikes Sub Review

Jersey Mikes Sub Review

Jersey Mikes Subs Review

Jersey Mikes Subs Review

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Als Char-House Review, LaGrange, IL

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Als Char-House ReviewYou might wonder how a conventional old-timey steak house could survive on a several block stretch of hipster/millenial targeted restaurants.  But Al’s Char-House, in downtown LaGrange, IL, not only survives, but thrives, by following the basic rules for success in the hospitality segment:

1) quality food, 2) good value, 3) consistent service.

For decades, I’ve had this bucket list of old-timey Chicago places I have wanted to get to – like Sinatra’s favorite Italian hangout, Capone’s secret HQ in the back of a suburban restaurant, a diner at the beginning of Route 66 — and so on.

Al’s Char-House ended up on the list recently, someone’s suggestion, and while it’s an inconvenient jaunt for me, personally, I’m glad I made the trip, and you should give it your consideration.

They’re ‘famous’ for all things steak and related, and have some monsters, including a 56 ouncer. If you’re ever asking “where’s the beef?” take comfort in knowing it’s in Al’s aging room.

While others in the party ordered steaks, naturally I went for a burger, because that’s my job here.  Basic burgers, amply sized, are char-grilled and topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onion. I added blue cheese, and the restaurant was extremely generous with it as a topping. It was cooked as ordered, and on a soft, but firm bakery bun that would have been capable of holding any toppings I desired.

Natural cut fries were my side choice, and they were good +.  We started with their version of an onion ‘flower,’ and I’m pretty sure it’s the best version of that I’ve tried.

Al’s entire menu, including beef, chicken, seafood, sandwiches, salads,  ribs and more is online, here’s a link to the beef offerings.  They have a kid’s menu, and tots will enjoy the ‘cowboy theme.’  Als Char-House caters, and has private function rooms, as well.

Als Char-House Review

Als Char-House Review
Al's Char-house Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Als Char-House Review

Als Char-House Review

 

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Happ Inn Bar and Grill Review, Northfield, IL

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Happ Inn Bar and Grill ReviewThe dictionary defines “hospitality” as “generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests.” Restaurants are certainly part of the hospitality segment of business, yet many fail to remember putting the word into practice.

Not so at the Happ Inn, a casual but remarkable eatery in the northern Chicago suburb of Northfield, IL. From the moment of our arrival, being seated by the hostess, and waited on by Ossie, we felt like GUESTS, not customers, and that’s one of the keys to a successful restaurant operation.

The bar and grill is in the final days of an interior renovation project, and they’ve created a warm and relaxing  atmosphere, based on a soft palette of colors and subdued lighting. It’s inviting, comfortable,  quiet enough to conduct business, woo a first date, or celebrate a special occasion. You’ll want to linger.

The lengthy menu includes cuisine influenced by  a number of cultures with a range of choices in the starters, sharables, soups, salads, entrees, sandwiches and burgers, and some decadent desserts.

The dinner menu expands on the numerous choices available for lunch, and there are additional brunch offerings on Saturdays and Sundays. Each day of the week features special ‘off the menu’ food and drink offerings.

Happ Inn Bar and Grill Review

Shrimp Ceviche

We started with the Ceviche, chock-a-block full of good-sized and flavorful shrimp, I was pleased they employed the traditional recipe with a tomato broth, avocado and pico de gallo accompanied by fresh, warm tortilla chips.

The Chicken Cobb Salad was an overly-generous serving, with two kinds of greens, chicken, bacon, egg, tomatoes, avocado and Thousand Island dressing – the Cobb is on the restaurant’s specialty menu, and it deserves a place there.

Being as it is National Burger month, Chef has concocted a special burger for each week of the month. I opted for the Sunrise Burger, which was topped with cheddar, bacon, a sunny side up egg with a splash of Tabasco. Hot, crispy, gently seasoned shoestring fries come as the side.

If you’re a regular reader, you know when it comes to burgers, it’s my habit to dissemble them to eat in pieces, and more particularly, to be able to taste the beef patty separately, since it’s the essence of the sandwich.

Happ Inn Bar and Grill Review

Chicken Cobb

I wasn’t disappointed. The 1/2 pound USDA prime patty had great flavor and texture.

The brioche bun was bakery soft but substantial enough to support any topping choices you might want to personally add.

The sunnyside egg was cooked perfectly, and the splash of Tabasco was an interesting choice by the chef. Great bacon, too, smoky and thick sliced.  Quality ingredients are evident in every dish.

I’m not usually a dessert orderer, but Ossie the server painted a very compelling picture of the choices, and I succumbed, ordering the “Happ-y Bites,” a generous sampling of three different desserts including carrot cake, New York style cheesecake, and a double chocolate brownie. Each ‘bite’ was accompanied by its own delicious sauce swirl.  They were all great, but the brownie was my favorite.

Finally, while most restaurants don’t boast about their coffee, the Happ Inn sure can. I’m a big, big coffee drinker, and my post meal coffee was the best restaurant cup I’ve had in years. Seriously.

The Happ Inn is located just off the Edens at the Willow Road exit, and opens seven days at 11A.

I’ve run a lot of companies during my career, and I believe a company can have a soul, a spirit, a tone that starts with the CEO or GM and it’s contagious. Whereever you find a great staff, you’ll find a great GM, and the Happ Inn is no exception, with TJ Bachmeyer at the helm.

The restaurant has  private party rooms, and does catering on and off site. Contact jdandrea@thehappinn.com for catering or event inquiries.

The different menus are online. Hit this place. You’ll become a regular.  I know I’ll be back!

Happ Inn Bar and Grill Review

Sunrise Burger w/ fries

 

Happ Inn Bar and Grill Review

Happ-y Bites Dessert

 
The Happ Inn Bar & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Happ Inn Bar and Grill Review

Happ Inn Bar and Grill Review

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Taqueria Las Cumbres Review, Crystal Lake, IL

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Taqueria Las Cumbres ReviewI rarely go out for Mexican food in the US for the same reason I rarely seek out Chinese cuisine.

Pretty sure I’ll be disappointed by either, as having lived and traveled so extensively, just have become a fan of the “Americanized” version of these two foods.

But once and awhile, you run into a mom and pop, hole in the wall, mini-eatery where you can enjoy the most authentic dishes (as well as the aforementioned Americanized ones), and Taqueria Las Cumbres in Crystal Lake, is one such experience.

This is a very small restaurant (in terms of seating) but also seems to do a very brisk take-out business.  It’s parked next to a Mexican style bakery on one of the main streets of downtown Crystal Lake, IL, a fairly white distant suburb of Chicago. Latino population has been growing over the last decade, and is currently estimated at about 12 % so there’s a market for “authentic.”

I was really happy with my meal, even tho is was a gringo-centric burrito. It was/they are huge tho, and I could only finish half of it at the restaurant.

I also enjoyed Mexican style corn-on-the cob, which is lathered with a mayo-cheese-chili pepper mix.

Complimentary chips and salsa for starters, and I’m confident both are made in house.

Tasty. Great value. Authentic dishes.  Taqueria Las Cumbres

The menu is reproduced below, and is also online.

Taqueria Las Cumbres Review

Taqueria Las Cumbres Review

Taqueria Las Cumbres Review

Taqueria Las Cumbres Review

Taqueria Las Cumbres Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Taqueria Las Cumbres Review

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