Archive for the ‘Pizza’ Category
Classically trained chefs open burger restaurants. As sign of the times, one suspects, and capitalizing on an “American craze” the past few years. I don’t know what started the current infatuation with burgers, tho I thought personally it was a reflection of the economic downturn – people still wanted to go out for beef, but steaks had become a little dear on menus.
In any regard, chef Crisitano Bassani, of the classic Italian Bapi Restaurant in suburban Chicago, got bit by the burger bug and opened “Big Chef” in Schaumburg. It’s kind of tough to spot, set back in a strip mall, but if you’re heading east on Alqonquin and you hit Meachem, you’ve just missed it.
I was on my way somewhere else and the sign caught the corner of my eye, I made a quick uey into the parking lot and walked in. Mid afternoon, Sunday, and the (perhaps) 60 seat eatery had one other table of four occupied, and a table of about ten young men who were just finishing up.
Unlike most new fangled burger restaurants these days, Big Chef has table service and linens. A server brought a large bottle of water, a tall glass of ice, and the menu (how did they know about me and the water thing?).
The menu offers a number of interesting combination burgers (around $12 with one side), brick oven pizzas, and huge salads. There is a full bar, with about ten stools in front of it, and an open kitchen design with a bar and stools facing it, as well.
Every day there is a special deal for extended hours, whereas any burger, salad, or pizza is $8.99.
I went with the bacon burger, which comes with lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, and a well-melted spicy cheddar (don’t you hate it when there’s a slice of cold, unmelted cheese slapped on a burger – I sure do!). You have choice of buns from white, pretzel, onion, or wheat. Patties are a half pound of fresh ground hormone free angus. Side choices are fries, sweet potato fries, house made chips, rings, mashed or slaw.
The meat came as ordered (medium rare) accompanied by massive onion rings, with a light “panko-like/herb) coating, very crispy. I opted for the pretzel roll, which is almost always my favorite, but the results can be good or bad, depending on the recipe. Some pretzel roll doughs are laden with molasses, and it’s too sweet a bun for a savory burger, in my opinion.
The patty itself was very flavorful, and the vegetables fresh and crisp. I didn’t feel the need to salt either the meat or rings, which is unusual for me.
I recommend your try Big Chef. Desserts and ice cream concoctions also available. Full menu.
We’ve previously taken a look at the burgers at the Spot Bar inside Incline Station in Duluth. The sports bar/bowling complex offers indoor recreatin as well as typical pub fare.
A group pizza party sampled a buffet of pizzas, with nice stretchy cheese, flavorful pepperoni and sauce. The crusts seem to have the texture of pre-mades, but were enjoyed overall by all in attendance.
Incline Station Review
Jimano’s is a mini-chain based out of suburban Chicago; they started in 1997, have about a dozen locations and have started franchising. Their first Denver, CO location was named the best pizza in the city by a local television station after only four months of operation. They have the requisite Chicago accompaniments on the menu, including Italian beef and other sandwiches, hot appetizers, salads, ribs, and pasta. They offer both dine in and delivery, catering, and most locations offer online ordering. They have their own app to facility your order.
They state that they have a commitment to using the highest quality ingredients. They offer a daily special which is quite economical – for instance on Monday you can get a 16″ pie with up to five toppings for $16.99, and that can result in a savings of 25% or more.
I took advantage of the Monday special, stopped in a store, ordered, and waited 10 minutes or so for the pie to be done. The store employs a ‘carousel’ type oven, which I had heard of, but not seen. With multiple decks revolving like a ferris wheel, running off gas or electricity, carousels let you pack a whole lot of baking capacity into a small footprint.
Jimano’s thin crust pie was great. The cracker thin crust has a hint of cornmeal, the pork sausage was very flavorful, the sauce was not overpowering, and the cheese in a unique blend. A heavy dose of herbs finishes off the pie.
If I lived in the Chicago area, Jimano’s would be one of my regular go-to pizzas, for sure. Locator. Menu below (click on for larger image).
Lou Malnati, and his father Rudy, managed Pizzeria Uno, one of the first outlets for “Chicago Deep Dish” pizza. Although Uno (now Uno Chicago Grill) claims to have invented the pie, local food historians give the credit to Rudy.
Lou and his wife Jean opened the first Lou Malnati’s in 1971, in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood. The rest is history, and the company now boasts 40 shops in the Chicago area and ships frozen pizzas nationwide.
The main difference between “Chicago deep dish” and similar pies in other parts of the country, is that in Chicago, the tomato sauce goes on top; many restaurants that offer a deep dish sausage pack the bottom of the crust with a blanket of cheese, then the sausage (or whatever you choose) and then the sauce.
I reviewed Gino’s frozen a couple years ago, and another Chicago deep dish, Edwardos, so a follow up with Malnati’s seems like a good idea. Baking instructions call for 425 and 35-40 minutes for the sausage pie. There’s a slight variance in the directions than you (we) are probably use to: “remove pizza from pan, wipe off any condensation that has formed, lightly oil pan (I used spray) and return pie to pan prior to placing in oven.”
After 40 minutes, I took this beauty out. In appearance, it closely resembles its restaurant cousin. It’s about 1 1/2″ deep, 9″ across, and weighs 24 ounces. I paid $12.99, ( @ .54 ounce) which is probably more that you will see it most groceries, I was in an “up market” store. At a Malnati’s restaurant, the same pie will set you back about the same amount. A large sausage goes for $20.25 at the time of this posting.
I’m really pleased with the end result; this is one of the more flavorful frozen pizzas I have encountered. Many people don’t understand that a “Chicago deep dish” is a THIN crust pizza, and is deep due to the ingredients. The crust was appropriately crispy, the cheese has really nice “pull,” the pie is wall to wall with the sausage, and the (chunky) tomato ‘sauce’ just pops with flavor.
When you look at the ingredient list, there aren’t any of those words you can’t pronounce or have no idea what they are. Example, the sausage is pork, salt, and spices. I’d do it again.
According to the packaging, these pies are made at USDA factory number 18498, at 3054 S. Kildare Ave., Chicago, which is apparently owned and operated by Home Run Inn pizza for their frozen pie operation. (factory pics below) HRI makes one of my favorite frozen thin crust pizzas.
If you’re rolling into Chicagoland, and want to hit a Malnati’s restaurant, you’ll find them here (note, some locations are carryout/delivery only).
Lou Malnatis Frozen Pizza Review
Yet another Upper Midwest frozen “tavern pizza,” Halftime was launched out of a popular rural bar an hour NW of Chicago. If you’re a regular reader here, you know how much I admire small business owners, and guys like this, trying to enter a very crowded field, with (presumably) a marketing budget that can’t possibly compete in the space, well you have to give them an “E” for effort, and wish them the best of luck.
The package boasts include “made by hand” and “The Official Pizza of Brookfield Zoo.” (If you’ve never been to Brookfield, it’s worth a trip). Ingredients are pretty straightforward, except there’s that dreaded corn syrup derivative, which I hate seeing in any product.
Instructions call for middle shelf, 450, 12-15 minutes. On a cookie sheet if you prefer a softer crust.
I checked at the 12 minute mark, and opted for another minute. On the plus side, I liked the larger chunks of hand-pulled Italian sausage, and the very thin crust is cracker crunchy. The sausage could use more flavor (for my taste, only), and the sauce is very strongly flavored. Cheese is adequate, but more would be nice.
The pies sell for $12 + at the bar, have a suggested retail price of $10 at the grocer, I paid $7.99 on sale. At a $10 price point, these guys are competing in the upper range of frozen pizzas, and they are in for a tough fight. As a smaller manufacturer, lacking the economies of scale, purchasing, and automation, their price probably reflects the minimum number to make a profit.
But for me, the taste, texture and ingredients are more reminiscent of a pie in the ‘value range’ of frozen pizzas, competing with brands like Tony’s, Tombstone and the like, but of course, those brands pricing is considerably less.
The pies are made in McHenry, IL at USDA est 51161, located at 4025 W. Main Street, and pictured below, if Google maps is accurate. Locator.
Halftime Pizza Review
I think I have only been to two “traditional Italian” restaurants in my life, where I either went “wow” or returned multiple times; one was in London, the other Hong Kong. I stopped in an Olive Garden thirty some years ago shortly after they started, haven’t been back. I imagine their food would be a lot like Rigazzi’s.
I shouldn’t have been surprised at my reaction to the restaurant, I lived in St. Louis for a year and have been back several times, and with the exception of one very memorable evening decades ago, I’ve never had a good time in St. Louis, no matter the reason for being there or the person I had in tow. I also can’t think of a time I’ve enjoyed a meal in any city where the locals insisted a joint was a “don’t miss.” A lot of time I believe those endorsements come from a reputation earned years ago, but get passed down due more to tradition, than anything else. Whatever.
Rigazzi’s is the oldest restaurant (60 some years) on “the Hill,” which is the “Italian neighborhood” of St. Louis.
It was a Wednesday night, and we were seated promptly. I had perused the menu online, in advance, so I had an idea of what I wanted. The problem wouldn’t be finding something I would enjoy, but narrowing down my choice, as the menu was long and seemingly held lots of promise.
When you’re seated, you’re presented with a half loaf of bread, a cracker basket, and butter packets. Drink orders are taken and rather promptly filled. Service is friendly.
I started with the antipasto plate, described as “for two,” with a combination of Italian meats, vegetables, olives, some oddly misplaced triangle wedges of American cheese slices, and a dollop of blue cheese. It was a lot of food, and a really great value for the price. I’d go with it again, and be even more enthusiastic if they offered a choice of platters, like all meat, or just meat and cheese, and so on.
I knew I wanted my plate to be loaded with meat for the entree, so I ordered meat filled ravioli, in meat sauce, with a meatball, and with a side of Italian sausage.
There is crumbled, unidentifiable meat in the sauce and the ravioli (pic below); the pasta was cooked far past the point of oblivion (which seems to be a common complaint in many online reviews), meaning attempting to pick it up with a fork made the pasta pillows disintegrate; it’s a dish you end up scooping instead of stabbing.
The sauce was thick with not much unique flavor. The meatball was in the “it’s OK” category, and the sausage was a finely ground, fairly unseasoned Italian – I prefer mine “hot” as they are labeled from manufacturers, which doesn’t usually refer to a ‘heat from seasonings’ designation, but usually from a dose of fennel and Italian herbs. I use a lot of fennel in my Italian dishes at home.
I didn’t get a pizza, which I had fully intended on trying.
Would I go again? Doubtful, but I think the food and service are just right for the palates and temperaments of most American diners. It’d also be a good place for groups, as I imagine one could “under-order” (say, 2 entrees for every three people) and leave happy.
The restaurant’s prices are fairly modest. They have that going for them.
On second thought, I might return for meals of bread, sauce, and sausage/meatballs, skipping the pasta. I’d be OK with that. But it wasn’t an experience like I had in London or Hong Kong!
I first became acquainted with Dominos when I lived in my first apartment in Minneapolis. Near the U of M, “Cedar Square West,” was a HUD experiment of a “city within a city” and the exteriors were represented to be the domicile of Mary Tyler Moore on the television program that bore her name.
Dominos was the only joint that delivered to the complex, where safety could be dicey at times. I can still picture the long-haired, bespectacled delivery kid, who regularly bathed in patchouli.
That was about forty years ago. When they started delivering to me, they were, in fact Dominos, but a lawsuit by the makers of Dominos Sugar forced them to change their name for a few years, and I recall it as “Pizza Park.” Same colors, logo, but packaging and signs changed. Ultimately, the court said the pizza guys could keep their name, and now they are the second largest pizza chain in the US, and the largest in the world, with about 10,000 stores, corporate and franchisee owned. They bring in nearly $2 billion in revenue annually. India is the largest Dominos market outside of the U.S.
They specialize in ‘value priced’ product, and in addition to pizza, have ‘pasta bowls,’ sub sandwiches, chicken thingies, and pizza bread. Taking a cue from the Taco Bell philosophy, Dominos is able to take the same core ingredients, deliver them in different shapes, and with different names.
They frequently run pricing specials, and are generally acknowledged to be the technology leader as far as ordering apps, both online and with mobile. Their “pizza tracker” shows the progress of your order, from received, to prep, baking, and delivery.
One of their long time promotions was the pizza would be delivered in “30 minutes or it is free,” but ultimately, this proved to present some danger to drivers and pedestrians alike, so it was dropped.
At present, they have a deal where you can get two or more menu items at $5.99 each. They add a delivery charge, cautioning buyers this does NOT go to the delivery man, implying you should tack on some more dough for the pizza schlepper.
Since they now offer sandwiches, pasta, and chicken, they have dropped the word “pizza” from their name, and they are now simply “Dominos.”
I haven’t had their product for years, so in the interest of keeping you, dear readers, informed, I ordered a pair of the $5.99’s, one with “hand-tossed” crust, and one with “crispy thin” crust. Both were topped by two different processed pork products.
According to said “Pizza Tracker,” I placed my order at 11:01 AM and “Patrick” left the store with my pies at 11:17 AM.
He arrived at 11:45.
A few years ago, Dominos touted that they were completely re-inventing their pizzas, which did have a reputation for not being all that tasty. There were a lot of jokes about not being able to tell the difference in taste and texture between the pie and the box, and so on. So the company said a change was needed.
Today’s product is the result of those changes.
I have to tell you, both pies were pretty awful. Similar in taste to low end frozen pies, like Totinos, or Tonys. The hand-tossed one had two types of Italian sausage, chunk and sliced, and the thin crust was pepperoni and salami. Except they forgot the salami. Sausage pie was cut in sliced, pepperoni in squares.
While I am usually a fiend for thin crust over any other kind, I actually preferred the hand-tossed today.
But neither have any distinctive flavor, in their toppings, sauce or cheese. At the low end of the price point schedule, i actually preferred the bacon wrapped deep dish from Little Caesar’s recently.
If you’re drunk, don’t care, are cheap, have to feed somebody else’s kids, or are hosting relatives or people you don’t like, it may well be Dominos is your best choice.
Morning after, cold pizza test: Hand tossed, sausage pie is slightly better, thin crust, pepperoni, slightly worse.
“Grease is the word, is the word….” Sometimes, this is exactly the type of pie you crave. Chewy thin crust that’s getting a good dosing of fat/oil from the toppings, easily foldable, value priced, and most of all, because they are the only ones that deliver to your neighborhood.
In what used to be a crappy pizza town, now there is a gaggle of excellent choices. I ordered online and the pie was delivered in less than 45 minutes, all the way uptown from the CBD, and the box contained two shaker packets of cheese and a ramekin of ranch. WTH?
The pie was satisfactory in every realm (for me, at the time) and would be a great conclusion to a New Orleans night resulting in an abundance of alcohol consumption.
Here’s a pic of the pie as delivered, and the resulting empty box.
I’m pretty sure I used to go get pizza at this location years ago, but I think (don’t quote me) it was called Warehouse Pizza at the time. Or maybe not.
Magazine Pizza, I am betting, is a great choice for hotel delivery in the Quarter / CBD.
Magazine Pizza Review
It’s one of those places that people would describe as “it’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from there.” Grand Marais, Minnesota, on Lake Superior almost at the Canadian border, an early French fur trading post, the translation of the town’s name is “Great Marsh.” The town is accessed via US Highway 61 (yes, the Bob Dylan one), and is approximately three hours north of Duluth and forty minutes south of the Canadian border. It’s an ideal jumping off spot to explore the magnificent Boundary Waters Canoe Area, national park.
It was 1981 when two brothers opened what we’d now call a “pop up” – a snack shop for the local Grand Marais summer celebration. It went so well, they reopened the next year and stayed open, expanding their menu to include pizza.
“Sven & Ole” are fictional characters in Scandinavian lore, and the frequent target of self-effacing jokes, much like “Boudreaux and Thibodeaux” are in the Louisiana area. Ole & Lena gags are another variation of the northern-European humor. (example: “Ole and Sven are at a funeral. Suddenly it occurs to Ole that he doesn’t remember the name of the dearly departed. Ole turns to Sven and asks: “Sven, could you remind me again who died?” Sven thinks for a moment and says, “I’m not sure,” Sven points at the casket, “…but I think it was de guy in de box.”)
Sven & Ole’s pizza has taken on a somewhat legendary status in Northern Minnesota, and has launched a campaign to be provided in regional bars and groceries. Like so many national brands that started in Minnesota and Wisconsin, using bars as outlets is a great way to build name recognition.
One of the few outlets our reporters have found so bar is a Superior, Wisconsin, gentlemen’s club, Centerfolds Cabaret (opens daily at 5 PM) on the main drag of Tower Avenue. Centerfolds bakes up frozen versions of Sven & Ole’s, and Kawika and the Minnesota burger posse were quite impressed with the pie. They liked the crispy crust, high quality pepperoni and sausage and ample cheese. Centerfold’s offers a number of condiments table side if you want to amp up your pie. Hot sauces are not advisable for application to other pies found in the club, tho.
If you live in Northern Minnesota or Wisconsin, you might start seeing Sven & Ole’s frozen pizza in your grocery. Ask for it by name(s).
Need another reason to visit Grand Marais besides pizza? (I don’t, but you might). Head up for the annual Fisherman’s Picnic at the end of July when the town really goes “wild.” You’ll also have the change to partake in the local favorite, deep fried herring on a bun! Herring used to be a major cash crop from Lake Superior – but not so much these days. Or try some smoked Lake Trout from the Dockside Fish Market(summer and fall only).
Superior, Wisconsin, appears just far enough away from Madison that it remains out of the clutches of Wisconsin’s nuttier than a fruitcake governor Scott Walker.