Archive for the ‘Sausage’ Category
Checking out another Chicago area frozen pizza, Doreen’s started as a small pizzeria on the South side of Chicago; several locations later and a new state of the art plant in Calumet City, the pies are now distributed across Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and are also available at the plant store.
Boasting “pizzeria taste” from a home-baked pie, Doreen’s plops a solid half pound of cheese on every pizza; quality Italian sausage is fresh, and not those pre-cooked food service crumbles. Like so many Upper Midwest pizza success stories, Doreen’s frozen biz began with the company selling pies to local bars.
Instructions call for center shelf, 450, 14-17 minutes, with a three minute rest before slicing (good advice for any frozen pie). The crust is a good bakery style, a little thicker than ‘traditional Chicago thin crust’, the sauce is mild, the cheese is ample and has nice pull. I liked the pepperoni because it has a nice little bit of kick. The hand pulled sausage could be a little bigger for my taste, and while it is clearly pure pork, it’s mildness will have some wishing for a touch of fennel and/or garlic.
It’s a little higher priced than comparable products, but the hand-made quality makes it a strong value.
doreens pizza review
If you’ve walked around Manhattan, you’ve surely seen a pizzeria with some variation of the word “Ray’s” on the sign. The first Ray’s Pizza opened in Greenwich Village in the 50s, the owner eventually opened a second location which he later sold. The new owner retained the name, and subsequent sales and openings have created dozens of variations on the name across the city: Ray’s, Original Ray’s, Original Ray’s Too, Ray’s Original, and so on. There’s even a pizzeria called “Not Ray’s.” Most of the stores are not affiliated with each other in any way.
Similar is the case with a group of unaffiliated restaurants in the Chicago area called “Luke’s.” Luke’s is a purveyor of typical Chicago fare like hot dogs, sausages, and Italian Beef sandwiches.
As with many local iconic foods around the world, many claim to be the originator of the Italian Beef, but the claims are not verifiable. They are thought to have popped up in the 30s and 40s in homes of Italian immigrants; workers at the Chicago stockyards would bring home tough cuts of meat, slow roast them and then slow simmer them for hours in a beef broth heavy with garlic and herbs. The beef was then sliced very thin to feed as many people as possible, particularly at large family events. The sandwich is usually served on a long sturdy Italian-style roll, and the seasoned beef, dripping wet from the broth is tonged out onto the bun. Some people prefer to let the juices run off the meat prior to putting it in the bread, some prefer extra juice, and there’s an enthusiastic crowd for ordering the sandwich “wet”, in which after the meat is placed on the bun, the entire sandwich is dipped in the au jus, making a soaking wet mess of deliciousness on the plate. De rigueur condiments included a combination of pickled, diced vegetables called giardiniera ; some people prefer their beef adorned with sweet or hot sport peppers.
Which brings us to the tale of the original Luke’s, not affillated at all with any place named Ray’s. Frank Del Principe, Jr. (Luke) opened his first restaurant in the Chicago area in 1965, using the beef recipe his mother developed in the 1940s. Luke prospered an opened more restaurants, all serving the same Chicago fare. Eventually, like most Midwesterners Frank yearned for a warmer clime, and relocated to Tuscon. He sold the Chicago restaurants to family members and employees, and opened “Little Luke’s” in Arizona. So today there are Luke’s around Chicagoland, similar logos, menus, but not affiliated. Some relatives of the Del Principes have also opened beef restaurants under different names.
I love Italian Beef sandwiches, and since I live by the credo of “excess is not enough”, I order the combo, which includes a spicy grilled Italian sausage plopped in the middle of the gravy-laden beef.
Winging my way to O’Hare last night to evacuate to my own warmer climes, I zipped past a Luke’s and stopped in for a light repast. Daring to be boldly different, I went to the Italian meatball sandwich, with a side of fries. It was over the top in ample. I was only able to eat about a third of the sandwich before putting the rest of it away to take out later and annoy somebody on the plane. The shoestring fries were hot, crispy, and nicely seasoned. A bite of a burger proved that to be a winner too, a nice sized hand-formed patty cooked on a charco-grill. Not sure the guy at the next table appreciated my helping myself to taste his burger, but hey, that’s how I roll.
That was my recent experience at a Luke’s. Since they are all independently owned, your results may vary. Below is a pic of the meatball sub, and a fake Italian Beef I had in Portland, OR a couple years ago.
Italian beef sandwich
With a name that is synonymous with Chicago’s “Little Italy” neighborhood, the seven location Taylor Street Pizza in Chicago’s NW suburbs has a rep to live up to.
Primarily a delivery and carry-out operation (with dine in available at the Elgin location), Taylor Street offers thin, double dough, and deep dish pies, as well as standard Chicago fare like calzones, Italian beef, hot dogs, ribs, fried chicken, and a host of appetizers/sides.
I was motivated to try it today as I had a $10 coupon from Restaurant.com, and I’m usually ready to try a new pie purveyor, especially when I am passing through Chicago, a city that has so many great pizza places.
My usual order is a thin crust, Italian sausage, green olive, and extra cheese, which was the choice today, as well. A 16″ pie with the three toppings came to $12.30 after the coupon. Spoiler alert: Taylor Street carries Pepsi products.
It took less than 25 minutes to be ready, and came out of the oven piping hot just as I arrived. Aesthetically, it was a work of art. Taste wise, for my pizza palate, it was perfect. Flavorful sausage, mild sauce, a sprinkling of herbs (such a small thing always makes a pizza special to me). The crust was crispy on the outside, and chewy as you worked your way in, as it should be. Excellent “pull” on the cheese, and best of all, cheese, toppings, sauce all adhered to the crust nicely.
Taylor Street will be one of my “go-to” places when I’m in Chicagoland, for sure.
Taylor Street Pizza Review
From the oven of a small town pie shop in Mystic, Connecticut, comes this frozen version which their publicity states is made from the same ingredients and in the same manner as the restaurant pizzas. Many people became aware of this pizzeria from the Julia Roberts vehicle, “Mystic Pizza.”
The pies have been available in the Northeast for some time, and are now working their way across the country, making it as far as Minnesota (Whole Foods) and Wisconsin (Woodmans). Locator here.
I picked up the Italian Sausage variety, 22 oz for about seven bucks. 15-20 minutes at 400 are the baking specs. Mine came out at 16 minutes.
I am a bit conflicted as to how to describe this pizza, other than to say it’s “ok.” When I took it out of the box, frozen, it had a definite pizzeria aroma to it, but unfortunately, that didn’t come through after baking.
The crust is good, doughy, thicker than I like but enjoyable. The illustration on the box shows a smidgen more cheese than the actual product. The sauce is very mild, as is the Italian sausage, which surprised me. It’s a pure pork product, with seasonings and spices added, but it could actually pass for a beef sausage, almost. Needs more fennel and garlic.
Would I buy it again? If it was on sale, probably. I remain convinced the frozen pie that I have had that most closely resembles one that comes out of the oven in a shop, is Chicago’s Vito and Nicks II.
Postscript: I started ‘picking’ at the pie in the end, and when I peeled the toppings (cheese, herbs, and sausage) off the crust, and consumed it that way, I quite liked it. So if they came out with an ultra thin/crispy crust, I would probably be a regular.
Mystic Pizza Frozen Review
One of the brands from Minnesota pizza manufacturer Bernatellos, the Bellatoria Ultra Thin Sausage Italia promises ”Italian sausage is piled on top of Mozzarella, Asiago, and Parmesan cheese with a rich Italian sauce on a crispy Ultra Thin Crust.” A friend of mine had tried this and described the sauce has being “slightly off.” That wasn’t my experience, but nor did I find it to be a “rich Italian sauce,” but rather plain. I also couldn’t distinguish between the Italian sausage and the regular sausage, and the chunks were smaller than I prefer.
The crust lives up to its billing, and is thin, crispy and falls into the ‘cracker-like’ category, a favorite with most Minnesotans.
I’d buy it again, if it were on sale.
Bellatoria Ultra Thin Pizza Review
A derivative of a Polish word, “kielbasa” refers in certain parts of Europe as a particular type of sausage, while in the U.S., it has come to be indicative of what most Americans refer to as “Polish Sausage,” a pork and garlic concoction generally in a natural casing.
Johnsonville’s version is pure pork, with flavorings, and the label attests to no fillers(1). The casing is collagen; collagen casings are often used in mass-production for consistency and ease in manufacturing. Collagen casings, made from the collagen and bones of beef or hogs, are considerably less expensive in the manufacturing process, as well.
The product comes six to a 14 oz package, and is manufactured at Johnsonville’s plant (USDA est. 34224) in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
As with most products in this segment, the sausages are fully cooked right out of the package, and consumers merely need heat them to their preferred level of ’doneness’. I pan fry to put a little char on them, as for me, that gives them a texture more closely resembling a natural casing.
This is a very mild sausage, with flavor more reminiscent of hot dogs, than any sausage served in Poland or in Polish owned emporiums in America.
The mild flavor and fine grind are not strikes against Johnsonville’s product, but more indicative of a sausage that will be widely accepted by most of the population.
Served on a egg roll with yellow mustard and sauerkraut.
Pork, water, salt and less than 2% of
the following: corn syrup, potassium lactate,
dextrose, spices, monosodium glutamate,
paprika, natural flavors, sodium diacetate,
dehydrated garlic, sodium erythorbate,
sodium nitrite, collagen casing.
Johnsonville Polish Kielbasa Review
I love cocktail sausages; not if they are swimming in barbecue sausage in a chafing dish mind you, but as a breakfast meat, or an anytime, low carb snack. Most brands are generally smoked, so if you’re inclined, you could eat them right out of the package. For me, I prefer them a little crispy, a little char, fried up in a cast iron skillet. “Overcooking” this treat for me makes them have a sensation (to me) of having a natural casing, gives them a little “snap.”
I’m choosy about my brands and their composition, preferring all beef, and usually latching on to Hillshire Farms (Sara Lee). Lately, tho, the texture of them seems to have changed a bit, at least to me, and I have been looking for an alternative selection.
I might have found a successor. The discount grocer Aldi uses a number of co-packers around the country to manufacture products to their specifications; in the sausage realm, Aldi’s brand is Parkview. Their cocktail sausages are made by a small company in Nebraska, an old family concern named Wimmer’s, which distributes several different brands of smoked sausages and meats in the Upper Midwest. Wimmer’s was purchased a couple of years ago by a larger Midwestern family concern from Illinois called “Land O’ Frost.
The USDA plant number that cranks out these little gems is Est. 5600, in West Point, Nebraska, a burg of 3500 about 40 miles NW of Omaha. They have about 130 employees, so they are an important part of the community.
The Parkview cocktail sausages vary in composition from my usual preferences, in that they are made up of pork, beef, with some poultry. Usually that third ingredient would be a deal killer for me, but in this case, I believe it provides a smoother texture. I like the flavor and texture both of these sausages. Not to mention since they are an Aldi product, they are value-priced. If you’re shopping at a major chain for brand name cocktail sausages, like all meat and especially pork products, the prices of sausages and bacon have skyrocketed lately, and you can count on Aldi to come in at a good 25-33% less than the national brands.
Good deal. Good food.
Parkview Cocktail Sausages Review
First opened in Greenville, SC, Hardee’s is a ‘semi-national’ chain, mostly in the Eastern United States, and part of CKE (Carl Karcher Enterprises) which operates Carl’s Jr. in the Western US; the two share some menu items.
Hardee’s places a big emphasis on their breakfast menu, and offers a wider variety of choices than most competitors. Additionally, they push a “prepared fresh” method with their items. They prepare their biscuits in-house, from scratch daily, and
On a whim, I picked up their “Monster Biscuit”, which is a pile of bacon, sausage, shaved ham, and cheese. It surprised me on every level, and is surely one of the best fast-food breakfast offerings in the land. My only preference for “improvement” would be that Hardee’s also has a ‘country ham’ biscuit, and I think I’d prefer that ham on the Monster. Nevertheless, this is a good product, and as the advertising says, prepared fresh. Grab a couple today. Locator.
Hardee’s Monster Biscuit Review
I’ve written often in the past about the plethora of frozen pizza brands manufactured in Minnesota and Wisconsin. There’s Totinos, Jenos, and Red Baron, Tony’s, Freschetta, Roma, Bellatoria, Brew Pub, Orv’s, Palermo’s, and many others that have reached national and super-regional distribution status. In addition to these, there are a host of smaller manufacturers which only distribute “close to home”. One such company is Kettle River Pizza, in tiny Askov, Minnesota, which puts out their pies to restaurants, bars, groceries and c-stores in parts of Minnesota.
Started in 1986, and purchased by new owners in 2002, who upgraded facilities and capacity, Kettle River make over a dozen different varieties of frozen pies, in 7″, 9″, and 12″ sizes.
I ran into one in a C store the other day, and it was the 4 Meat style (beef, sausage, c-bacon and pepperoni), at 22 ounces for $8.50. That’s a hefty price for frozen pizza, but I chalked it up to C-store pricing, it’s probably a couple bucks less in the grocery, which would make it market competitive in the premium frozen pizza segment.
Instructions call for 10-15 minutes at 375, and the label cautions best results are achieved with a 30 minute thaw prior to baking. Don’t think I have seen that instruction on a frozen pizza before, but I complied.
Minnesotans love their thin crusts, and Kettle River falls in the “not thick, not thin but in-between” category, is crispy around the edges and chewy as you work inward. It almost reminded me (in a good way) of matzoh dough, for the way it puffed up in places during baking. Kettle River has a cheese blend, of some whites, and some yellows. At least some of the topping meats were Hormel product, as their logo adorns the label.
The sauce is mild, and I am fond of the sausage, which is good-sized and flavorful. If you’re a frequent reader, you know I often take exception to frozen pies that have those tiny sausage crumbles, just a personal preference. Toppings on Kettle River are on the generous side.
But what really makes the pie is the quality and quantity of cheese, which melts and bubbles well, and covers the circle edge to edge well. It’s a good product, and the owners should be proud of their efforts.
In my off-line life, I have some knowledge of food industry mergers, and while I have never seen a smaller company gobbled up because of their recipe or quality, but rather for market share or distribution area, if the big guys ever started going out shopping for quality recipes and processes, Kettle River would surely be a target. If their products were distributed in my area, I’d be a frequent customer. Here’s a product locator, to help you find them near you.
Kettle River Pizza Review
When I was younger, I used to make my restaurant selection by noting whether or not five words emblazoned their front door: “Most major credit cards accepted.” These days my criteria tends more to noting their longevity in business, and I am especially happy to sample most restaurants that have been around fifty years or more. If their cuisine is focused on some old world cultural favorites, all the better. Like Kramarczuk’s in Minneapolis, Huber’s in Portland, and more recently the White Eagle in Niles, IL, today’s outing to the Czech Plaza, in Berwyn, IL met all of the criteria.
“Serving the best Bohemian” food for nearly fifty years, I doubt the family owned restaurant has changed their menu or decor must over that period. Simple, traditional dishes, value priced, is what rules the day, and I couldn’t find anything on the menu that wasn’t a price replica of any plate I’ve previously had in the Czech Republic region of Europe.
The restaurant offers a multi-course meal at a very low price, making it an outstanding value. I went with the “Farmer’s Market Plate”, which is a four meat sampler: sausage, meatloaf, smoked butt, and roasted pork. It’s not like I had a chance to polish them all off while at the table, as the lead-up dishes were ample and filling. After you are seated, your are presented with a basket of mild rye and gobs of butter. Your choice of beverages can come from a full bar, including legendary Czech beers like Budvar, the original “Budweiser”.
If you’ve ordered a meal, after the bread basket comes soup (I had the goulash, a rich beef and potato-based spicy puree), followed by your entree, which is accompanied by at least two sides, like sauerkraut, sweet and sour cabbage, boiled or mashed potatoes, or light as a feather dumplings, and a huge bowl of brown gravy. Not had enough? An included choice of desserts includes regional specialties, like kolaches or streudel, both of which were excellent.
The meats on my plate were lightly seasoned, heavily smoked. The meatloaf was dense and flavorful, as was the sausage, happily clad in its natural casing. The smoked butt was melt in your mouth tender. I loved the dumplings, a recipe not often authentically recreated in the US, in my experience.
Service was great, with a wait staff imported from Europe.
I love “discovering” places like this. You should, too. As the “Americanization” of international cuisine continues to evolve where entire generations think Olive Garden is Italian, and P.F. Chang’s is Chinese, well, places like Czech Plaza remind us of our grandma’s Sunday feasts.
The restaurant has a party room that can seat up to 100, and has a banquet menu with prices that are hard to beat.
“Czech out” their menu in our menu section.