Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat Review – A WalMart Product

Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat ReviewI write a lot about ham, it seems.  Because I love it.

I love premium hams and have driven background all over the country in search of small processors, and been very successful in Virginia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, and Missouri. I have quite a few reviews of very expensive ham, as well as very cheap “ham.”

Today we’re talking about the latter, Great Value (WalMart brand) Smoked Ham lunchmeat.  I’ve always called this type of meat “pressed, chopped, and formed,” but that’s really the wrong order. Earlier advertisements for this segment label it “chopped pressed and cooked” and that’s more apt, isn’t it?

Bits of pork, seasonings, a saline solution and artificial smoke are combined to make a “loaf” which is thin sliced and packaged.

This product is made for WalMart by an old Chicago area meat processor, Carl Buddig. I have pix of their factory below, and also of their own packaging for similar product, which you will surely recognize. Incidentally, Buddig makes some of the best hot dogs on the planet, in natural casings, the brand is “Old Wisconsin,” which are a pork and beef blend.  Buddig is privately held, and still run by the founder’s family members.

Bottom line, this type of “ham” really has no taste or texture to me. I’ve always thought the only differences in the contents of the Buddig packages below was color. I had a lot of that stuff for school lunches a million years ago. Take a bite, no clue what is was. Lift the bread? Brown, roast beef, pink, ham, white, turkey.

Here’s the thing. The Great Value is $2.50 for 9 ounces. That’s anywhere from $2-$4 less than big brand names for the same amount, and basically the same product, unless you’re getting into the high-end, slice at the deli counter kinda thing. And there aren’t many of those that are worth the additional cost. IMHO.

Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat Review

Smoked ham slices

Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat Review

Buddig Brand Packaging

Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat Review

Old Time Buddig Package

Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat Review

Buddig Factory, 25 miles south of downtown Chicago



Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat Review

Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat Review

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Buona Beef Grocery ReviewI’ve written a lot about Chicago’s Italian Beef sandwich. The easiest way to explain it to those not familiar is to say it’s a highly seasoned French Dip, but the “Dip” part is not on the side but involves dunking the entire sandwich in au jus (only if desired).  You can read my explanation of the origin if you like.

There are myriad restaurants that sell these marvels, many supplied by Chicago’s Vienna Beef Company, some shops that make their own. Used to be another big supplier, Scala, but I don’t see their product anymore, so don’t know if they are around or not. Devanco is another one, each of these probably does private label as well, and there are undoubtedly a number I don’t know about.

Many of these companies package for retail sale, you can find them at Chicago area grocery stores. I’ve tried and written about a lot of them, including Vienna and Mike Ditka’s for instance.

Enter Buona Beef, a mini-chain of Chicagoland restaurants specializing in Chicago foods – Beef, hot dogs, burgers, pizza.  I visited one for the first time a few weeks ago, and it’s quality, good food, efficient (counter) service.  They are supplied by a commissary/factory that they own, and they are also in the private label business, but lately, I’m seeing product in the stores under their own label. Italian Beef, Meatballs, and a couple other things in their line.

The product comes frozen solid in different weights. It is priced competitively, (but I think they are all too high, actually, I’d buy more if it cost less). I can tell you from experience (and the instructions on the package)  THAW FIRST. On an analog basis!  (Meaning in the frig overnight or on the counter for a few hours – not in the microwave!).  Then eat on a very gentle basis in a saucepan, select your bun/rol (in Chicago, Turano’s seems to be the preference).

Tong the meat into the bun if you want it “dry,”  add some jus to the bun if you want it “wet” or dunk the entire bun in jus for “wet.” Chicagoans often have the sandwich dressed with “giardiniera” a mixture of finely diced pickled vegetables, which can be hot or mild.  Melted mozzarella on top? That’s called a “cheezy beef.”  Wanna feel like a real insider?  Ask for a “Combo” which is an Italian Beef sandwich with an Italian sausage nestled in the beef (pictured).

Buona’s grocery product is good, very flavorful, nice slices of pure muscle beef, not a chopped, pressed, formed product like some companies. The ingredients list (pictured below) is straightforward and free of additives.  Up to this point in my life, as far as grocery store Italian Beef goes, Ditka’s was my favorite.  But now it’s a tie. So I’ll buy by price from here on out.

Haven’t tried Buona’s meatballs, will get around to that soon, I hope.  Buona does ship product, if you have a craving.

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Buona Ingredient List

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Into the pan, prior to heating

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Italian Beef “Combo” “Dry”



Buona Beef Grocery Review

Buona Beef Grocery Review


Lunch Mate Cooked Ham Review – An Aldi Branded Product

Lunch Mate Cooked Ham ReviewI have reviewed quite a few products found at Aldi, a global grocery retailer that focuses on value-priced items.

They are able to achieve lower costs by largely staying away from big brand names, and instead, creating their own brands and contracting the manufacture and packaging of them to quality co-packers and producers.

This product is typically used for sandwiches and similar purposes and is thin-sliced in equally sized rectangles. It achieves this quality being sliced off a “loaf” of ham, which is created from mechanically separated pork parts, water and spices. An image of the ingredients appears below.

For this time, Aldi has turned to the ham manufacturing expertise of Plumrose, USA, a division of Europe’s largest pork processor, Denmark’s Danish Crown Company. In the U.S., both for it’s own label and other outlets, Plumrose produces bacon, ham, deli counter and canned meat items.

Last year, Plumrose USA was purchased by Brazilian food giant, JBS, the largest meat processor in the world, with 150 plants and 200,000 employees.  JBS owns several brands you are familiar with, including Swift & Company, which in turn has a couple dozen pork and beef brands,  and Pilgrim’s Pride Chickens. These hams are made at the Plumrose plant in Booneville, MS, 100 miles southeast of Memphis, TN.

Back to the subject.  This type of ham is created on a basis similar as to seen in this video:  trimmed pork is marinated, further chopped, pressed in to a shape for market, and then smoked.

The result is a flavorful ham product, and Aldi’s is as good as any lunch meat style ham, and of course, priced much less than big brands.  Structural integrity of texture is important to me, that it closely resembles the mastication experience of whole muscle meat, and this comes close enough.


Lunch Mate Cooked Ham Review


Lunch Mate Cooked Ham Review


Lunch Mate Cooked Ham Review

Plumrose Mississippi Plant

Buena Vista Restaurant Review – Algonquin, IL

Buena Vista Restaurant Review I rarely go out for Mexican food; exception would be if I’m deep in an area of a big city with a heavy Mexican population. Traveling the world, you get spoiled on “authentic” cuisine and disappointed about the Americanized version of same. At least I do.  Same after I lived in China.  Never been in a P.F. Changs, Chipotle, or Panda Express.

All that being said, I am a gracious sorta fella. so I will go out with a friend who is dead set on a certain location. In this instance, a tiny little restaurant on an out of the way street in Algonquin, IL, a NW suburb of Chicago. The Buena Vista (good view, I imagine because it faces the local river), has a rather lenghty menu (below) for a smallish place and nightly food or drink specials, some that are quite enticing (they advertise them in their store window. Or I suppose you could call).

So we went, ate very inexpensively, enjoyed it immensely. One of my personal criteria for Americanized Mexican restaurants is the refried beans. Cooked from scratch or from a can? These definitely pass the test. I could make a meal out of beans alone.

I had a two soft taco plate, with beef. The usual other taco and burriot innars are available, as are the more traditional ones you rarely see in the Americanized places (like tongue).

It’s good. And I appreciate how hard of work it is to own/run a small independent restaurant. So if you’re in the mood, check them out.  In the summer, get it to go and sit at the riverside benches across the street and ogle the beautiful people floating by.

Buena Vista Restaurant Review

Soft taco plate

Buena Vista Restaurant Review

Click to enlarge


Buena Vista Restaurant Review

Click to enlarge


Buena Vista Restaurant & Taqueria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Buena Vista Restaurant Review
Buena Vista Restaurant Review

Buona Beef Restaurants Review – Chicago area

Buona Beef Restaurants ReviewAbout thirty years ago, Chicagoan Joe Buonavolanto Senior had a notion to open a restaurant serving Chicago specialties – Italian beef and sausages, hot dogs, ribs, sandwiches and pizza.

He took a 2nd mortgage out on his house to finance it, and did some of the initial construction with his own hands.

Today, the third generation is overseeing a company with nearly 20 Buona Beef restaurants, several full-service restaurants, two catering facilities, and a custom food manufacturer,  Authentic Brands, which makes a line of products that includes Italian beef and sausages for their own restaurants and private label, meatballs, sauces and other products.

Italian beef is a Chicago thing, lots of stories on the origin, but the main one seems to be families made the dish for weddings and reunions, it was a way of extending a little food for a large crowd.  A beef roast is marinated, slow cooked, and then simmered in its own sauce, thinly sliced and put on an Italian roll. Hot or sweet peppers are added as a personal preference.

Old hands know to order their Italian beef dry, wet or dipped, which are references to how wet you want the bun to end up from the beef’s gravy.  You can order your beef as one of three different sizes (5,7, or 10 inch) – call for a “combo” and they’ll nestle a hot Italian sausage right there on a bed of beef.  Getting fancy?  Have some mozz melted on top. In a no bread mood? Order it by the bowl, instead of as a sandwich. It’s allowed!

So wandering into one of their Buona’s newer locations, in Algonquin, IL, I ambled up to the counter and ordered my beef wet, with a side of house-made parmesan chips. The beef was ultra flavorful and tender, the chips ultra flavorful and crispy. Dinner hour on a weeknight and the joint was jammed as was the drive-through.

I have no idea how many places there are in Chicago that serve Italian beef – a thousand or more? Each claiming theirs is the best recipe. Count Buona’s claim as deserved.  I’ll be back.

Buona is set up to do party, office, or family catering and you can even place your catering orders online.  Find the nearest location of a restaurant, groceries where the products is available or order online at the restaurant’s website.

Buona Beef Restaurants Review

Italian Beef w/ Cheese

Buona Beef Restaurants Review

House-made Parmesan chips

Buona Beef Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Buona Beef Restaurants Review

Buona Beef Restaurants Review

Mardi Gras 2018 New Orleans in Poem

Mardi Gras 2018 New Orleans in Poem

(From my archives)

Mardi Gras 2018 New Orleans in Poem

I had never been to a Mardi Gras celebration until I moved to New Orleans. What I learned living there, is that  for the locals, it’s a great opportunity for family activities, far away from the tourism debauchery in the Quarter.  I was  ‘inspired’ one year to write this Mardi Gras poem, which will resonate with locals more than tourists.  You still have nearly two weeks of Carnival season left for this year. Eat a muffaletta.   If you can’t make it, put it on your bucket list!  In the meantime, many of the biggest parades will be streamed on NOLA’s WDSU TV.
The Night Before Mardi Gras

Twas the night before Mardi Gras, and all through the burb,
Denizens were in place to see the parades, even lining the curb;

The beads were hung from the floats with care,
In anticipation of the throngs that would soon be there;

The children were nestled all snug in the car,
Dreaming of doubloons tossed from afar;

Mamma in her toga, and me in my mask,
I was all tuckered out from my bead buying task.

When out in the street there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my perch to see what was the matter.

Away to the neutral ground I flew like flash,
Tripped over the Landreau sign and fell face down in the trash.

The sun was just rising on the St. Charles line
Giving the impression parade day would be fine.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But the homeowner in his robe, his shouting so crass,
Saying, ”Hey, you buddy, get the hell off my grass!

A curmudgeonly old man, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment he was a tourist, he acted like such a dick,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called me some name;
It was obvious to me, he didn’t understand the game.

I looked around before leaving, to see what was the matter
But no I hadn’t forgotten anything, Not even my ladder.

I gathered my things, and got ready to view
The amazing display that would be put on by the Krewe.

I was ready as ready, me, Mr. Jimmy Crackcorn
I even had fresh double A’s, to use in my bullhorn.

I had borrowed a kid from some neighbor named Jim
So I could point to the toddler and say, “Hey the throws are for him!”

We worked all night on the “We’re from…” signs
Many places listed, the more exotic the better

After seeing all those, will they guess we’re from Kenner?
Continuing my mental tick list of things, forgetting the old coot,

Yep, I had my umbrella and shrimp nets, to help catch the loot.

I was stuffed with King cake, the tasty treats screamed “eat us”

I’d eat a lot more, if the toy didn’t look like a fetus.
The middles are not plain, but now stuffed with a filling
Since McKensies went bankrupt, small bakers make a killing.

I heard the music, the parade was near
When what to my wondering eyes should appear

Floats so lovely, adorned in things so bold
And trimmed of course in green, purple, and gold.

“I can’t get enough!” I thought, so I recounted them all
“Now, Zulu! now, Rex! Now, Endymion and Proteus!
To the end of St. Charles! to the top of Canal!

Then fade away! fade away! fade away all!”

“Damn I’m thirsty,” I thought, as I took a swig of my booze
“I hope I don’t have to pee before I see all of the Krewes!”

And then he appeared, the King of the Day,
He laughed and he chortled, and got ready to play.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
Reached in his sack, then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, skyward went the throws!

The beads, candy and toys all flew like rain,

Me and ma were so drunk, we was feelin’ no pain.

The kids were getting trampled, ordinarily a horror
But not today cause someone nearby was surely a lawyer!
The crowds were noisy, their hearts were a thumpin’,
As they cried in unison, “Hey Mister, throw me sumpin!”


Mardi Gras 2018 New Orleans in Poem

Mardi Gras 2018 New Orleans in Poem

Navigating the Iowa Tenderloin Trail

Navigating the Iowa Tenderloin TrailThe “pork tenderloin” is a sandwich unique to Iowa……and also Indiana.  Go figure.  You take a boneless pork chop, hammer it thin-like with a mallet, dip it in batter, serve it on a hamburger bun one-tenth the size of the meat.

Restaurants vary the batter recipes and seasonings. The “trick” seems to be to get it thin enough to suit the gimmick, but still have it retain juicy pork goodness.

The Iowa Pork Council publishes a list annually of the 10 or so “best” in the state, and if you want to hit them all, they make a map of the “Tenderloin Trail.

I set out with the best of intentions, to hit at least half of the establishments, at least those in the Eastern half of Iowa, but I got distracted by other things and only hit two.

T.C.’s Point After, in historical DeWitt, IA (on the Lincoln Highway) is one of the legends, for flavor, not for girth. Walked in at noon on a weekend and there were only a couple other customers, even tho this is one of the few full-service bar/eateries in this burg. And the loin? It was delicious.

I was delighted that it was my first stop, but disappointed too, as the rest of the trip would be measured against this sandwich. Sadly, after 40 years of operation, I heard this week (2/1/18) that TC’s just closed. Hopefully someone will buy and reopen it. I would go back.

My second stop was the legendary Hamburg Inn 2, Iowa City, which is NOT on the tenderloin list. I went to please an old Iowa alum, as most students have passed thru this eatery since it opened in 1948. Sadly, the original location, near campus, was closed for remodeling, so I was forced to check out the new location on the east side of town, which is a small cafe attached to a gas station/c-store. Still a student hangout tho.

If you come for a “legendary” burger, be prepared to lay out some cash, as a plain burger will cost you over $10, and a hot dog over $6!  Kinda spendy for students, but then when I was in college a picture of beer was $2.50 and a pizza was $4. So there you go.  Even tho the Hamburg Inn is not on the tenderloin list, I went for one anyway, with eggs, as it was breakfast time.

It was a disappointment, cause I’d bet money it wasn’t made in-house, but came prepared from a supplier somewhere. I was able to ascertain that their regular pork chops come from Ruizicki’s Meats, a small processor up the road in Solon, IA.  Of course, I had to run up there and check out their stuff, and yes, I dropped some dough.

It was at this point I got distracted from the tenderloin trail, and a lightbulb went off (“hey, why not check out small town meat processors in search of excellent sausage)?”

So I did.  I hit Washington, Kalona, Wellman and Riverside. In a store in store in Kalona, which had general merch but also a lot of locally produced food stuffs, including a bit in a freezer, I inquired after the legendary “Kalona Whole Hog Sausage” which I had the pleasure of consuming some years early on an Iowa hog far. The proprietor’s eyes glazed over, he knew what I was talking about, and told me that every year the local fire department put on a sausage feed which featured this legendary tubular nutritional delivery vehicle, but no, he didn’t carry it, nor did he know where to get it

Like in most small towns in America, he did want to be helpful and suggested I talk to the fire chief, as he was in charge of the annual fete. I was told he would be in the hardware story kitty-corner. So I ambled across the street.

The fire chief was out doing what fire chiefs to, but the clerk steered me to the source, Bud’s Custom Meats, in the next town of Riverside, IA. Apparently Bud’s is known far and wide for their beef jerky, but they have freezers full of every kind of pork cut a hog eater like me would desire. If you don’t know, Riverside, IA is famous because in the future, it will be the birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise. No, not kidding. They celebrate it, too.

I loaded up on sausages, some ham, and “Iowa Chops,” two inch thick bone-in pork chops. If you’ve never had them…well….bucket list, really.

It was at that point I had to go north, I was due in New Glarus, WI, “The Switzerland of America,” one of my favorite places.

I’d like to complete the Tenderloin Trail, all in one shot. Maybe someday.  Resources, you know.

I goofed around with making tenderloins at home this week, admittedly using a couple of “cheats.”  You can read about that adventure by scrolling down or jump!.

Navigating the Iowa Tenderloin Trail

Navigating the Iowa Tenderloin Trail

TCs Tenderloin


Navigating the Iowa Tenderloin Trail

Hamburg Inn Tenderloin Breakfast

Pork Tenderloin Recipe

Pork “tenderloins” are an Iowa thing.  And Indiana thing.  We’ll leave it at that.  It’s a boneless pork chop, hammered with a mallet to make it larger Pork Tenderloin Recipeand thinner, dipped in batter and deep-fried, served on a hamburger bun about 1/10th the size of the ‘loin. You might also call it wienerschnitzel, of a sort. Or how about “chicken fried pork?”

So I had been out driving around Iowa and Indiana in search of great tenderloin, and it’s so important to the state, that the Iowa Pork Council has come up with the “Tenderloin Trail” so you can hit a dozen of the best the state has to offer.

I have written up the Iowa one as of yet, they were all pretty good. Soon.  In Indiana, I stopped at (and have reviewed) the Oasis Diner, and Ray’s Drive In.  They were both superb.

What sets one ‘loin apart from another is getting it thin enough, but still retaining the juiciness of the pork.  The batter. The seasoning. Length of time in the hot oil bath. These are all important.

When I set out to try it at home, I had some cheats, some shortcuts.  First off, I didn’t purchase pork chops, I bought pork “cube steaks” which were half the price of chops this week and would work just as well.

I purchased two different dry fry mixes, both Louisiana products,  Zatarain’s Seasoned Fish Fry (which I use a lot) and Louisiana Fish Fry Products Chicken Fry.

The latter suggests you mix a bit of it with 1/2 cup of water, dip your meat, and then completely cover it with more mix before frying.  I also improvised a bit with the Zat’s, in that I dunked, then dipped in egg wash, and dunked again. This would give the breading a little more depth, thickness.

Then into oil.  How long? Til they’re done!  LOL  (Not long).

On the surface, they appeared about the same when done. I plated them with some sausage gravy and a piece of Texas toast.

I liked the Zatarain’s better, simply because I’m a long time consumer and I like the pre-seasoning in it. Not a fair comparison, but it also had a bulkier breading because of the egg dip.

But I’d buy both again. There must be dozens of these kind of mixes in the grocery. You can also order both brands (and others) online from Cajun Grocer, a Louisiana company I have purchased seafood and other goodies many times.

Zatarain’s was a family owned business for decades, now it’s owned by seasoning giant McCormick and Schmidt (New Orleans area plant (pictured below) . Louisiana Fish Fry is still family owned, based in Baton Rouge. (pictured below)


Louisiana Fish Fry

Louisiana Fish Fry Baton Rouge

New Orleans area Zatarains plant

Pork Tenderloin Recipe

Pork Tenderloin Recipe

Berghoff Restaurant and Bar Review, Chicago, IL

Berghoff Restaurant Review Chicago
Berghoff Restaurant and Bar Review


1870 was the year Herman Berghoff immigrated from German. He worked on plantations and at other jobs before opening his own brewery in Indiana. When the World’s Fair in Chicago came along in 1893, Berghoff set up a booth to sell his beer to fair patrons.

He met with such success, he figured he better have an outlet in Chicago, and thus the Berghoff opened in 1898.

1870, when Herman Berghoff immigrated from Germany to America. After stints working on cotton and sugar cane plantations—and even time spent performing at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show—Herman opened his own brewery in Indiana.

When the World’s Fair came to Chicago in 1893, Herman Berghoff set up a stand in the Midway Plaisance and sold his beers to people entering and exiting the fair. His success at the fair prompted him to consider a more permanent place to sell his beer in Chicago. Thus, The Berghoff opened doors in 1898.

He survived prohibition by expanding the food offerings beyond sandwiches, and brewing and selling sodas and near beer. To this day, the Berghoff brews some of the finest root beer you’ll find anywhere.

The restaurant holds Chicago liquor license #1. Today, there is the full service restaurant, a bar with small bites, and a fast service cafe opening M-F lunch. One of the quirks of the Berghoff is it was strictly “men only” until 1969, when Gloria Steinham and some women friends walked in and demanded to be served at the bar.

That was that.

Renowned for authentic German cuisine, the menu also offers some American favorites, and most everything served is crafted in-house, including some of the best rye bread you’ll ever experience.

I went for the fresh cut, lean corned beef sandwich, which came with chips and a pickle. And of course, a root beer.

If you’re in downtown Chicago, be sure to make this one of your stops.

Regular Menu
Cafe Menu
Bar Menu 

Berghoff Restaurant and Bar Review

Corned beef on house-baked rye


Berghoff Restaurant and Bar Review

House-made chips


Berghoff Restaurant and Bar Review

Back in the day menu

The Berghoff Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Berghoff Restaurant and Bar Review

Berghoff Restaurant and Bar Review

Winstons Irish Bacon Review

Winstons Irish Bacon ReviewWhen you request bacon in the US, you know what you are going to get. Smoked/cured thin slices of pork belly, with streaks of fat parallel to streaks of delicious meat.

Unless you request “Canadian Bacon” which is neither Canadian nor bacon, but very lean sliced pork loin,  cured and smoked. Outside of the US, “American style” bacon is often referred to as “streaky bacon.”

Not so in other parts of the world, where you can be faced with a number of choices.  In the UK and other remnants of the Empire, where you will most often be served what is referred to in the US and Canada as “back bacon,” thin slices of smoked (or not) pork cut from both the loin and a small bit from the belly.  It is cut from the same part of the hog as pork chops.

Order a “full breakfast” in England, and it will come with a couple slices of back bacon, sausage, eggs, baked beans, mushrooms, and toast. Maybe a grilled tomato. Depends on what part of the country you are in.

All this to say, in my recent visit to the mecca of foodie groceries, Jungle Jims, there are many choices of bacon to put in your cart, including a number of selections not made from pork. (My father was a habitual beef bacon consumer. It’s very lean, pretty chewy, but very tasty).

I picked up a pack of “Winston’s Irish Bacon,” which, to my surprise, is made here in Chicago. I’ve never seen it before, but apparently, Winston’s is a fairly old company specializing in Irish foods, they are wholesale processors, but also have a couple of markets and a restaurant.

Anyhow, Winstons bacon is delish.  I’m eager to track down some of their sausages and whatever else they got. Their factory/store is on the far south side of Chicago, but probably worth a drive. I’m a sucker for new sausage suppliers!

In the end, quality bacon at my house nearly always leads to a gooey fried egg sammich. Today was no exception!

Winstons Irish Bacon Review

In the pan, fried for 2 minutes a side


Winstons Irish Bacon Review

My fried egg sammich


Winstons Irish Bacon Review

Chicago factory and retail outlet


Winstons Irish Bacon Review

Winstons Irish Bacon Review

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