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Archive for the ‘Traveling’ Category

New Mexico – Green Chili Cheeseburgers Review

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New Mexico’s ubiquitous burger is the Green Chili Cheese variety. It’s everywhere, as green chilis are a mainstay of New Mexico’s agricultural crop.

Extending past burgers, you can find green chilis on just about every type of food you can imagine.

Blake’s Lotaburger is a New Mexican burger chain, which, like the green chili, appears all over the state, and claims to be famous near and wide for the green chili cheeseburger. We stopped at location in Deming, just off 1-10, a relatively spanking new location. Blake’s has 70 some other locations across the state, and started in 1952.

We arrived just before closing (9P!) and were one of only two customers. Ordered the green chili cheeseburger and a side of chili fries. Blake’s cooks to order, and even at this time of night, with a few customers, it took “awhile” to receive our food. Was the wait worth it? Definitely yes. The first thing you will notice about a Lotaburger is the soft, oversized bun. Secondly, Lotaburger puts its chili and cheese on top of the patty, and the vegetable condiments, neath the meat. So your first bites tastes senses are bun, chili, cheese, meat.

Just like I said the other day that an avocado burger wouldn’t be my first choice, neither would a green chili, but I get the attraction of this flavor now. Like the avocado a couple days before, the green chilis add a smoothie creaminess to a burger, packed with flavor, but without pepper “heat.” Blake’s does an admiral job. The chili cheese fries were tasty enough, but could have been served anywhere. Maybe green chili fries should be on offer?

Green Chili Cheeseburgers Review Lottaburger

Blake’s Chili Cheeseburger

Pulling into Roswell, later the next afternoon, hoping to be abducted by aliens hiding amongst the local populace, or at least trying to find some place that served an “Alien Burger”, I came up bupkis, and pulled into the Cowboy Cafe, an interesting looking place that served “homestyle cookin’.”

The weathered sign on the building and a full parking lot showed lots of promise. Entering a crowded room, I noticed quickly there were no seats, sans a table for 8 in the back. I sat on a chair by the register, and three different employees greeted me and asked if I wanted a tea while I was waiting.

And elderly couple walked in, and the manager asked if they would mind sitting at a “community table”. They said no, but that I was in line ahead of them. So after a moment’s discussion between all parties, I joined the community table as well.

Would have been nice if we were eventually joined by locals there, but such was not to be the case. I would have like to have asked a few questions to some extra-terrestrials. The elderly couple didn’t count, they were just out doing an annual RV pilgrimage. Like many couples together for a long time, they had developed a certain communicative/non-communicative posture, both with themselves and those around them. All I could glean was they were from Colorado, had a son in Portland, like birds, and like the nature hikes in this area. He ordered a tuna sandwich on white toast (“it has too much mayo and the toast is too dark!”), she a chicken breast something with a side of chopped green chili peppers (fifty cents) (“the chilis don’t have much flavor, they must be canned!”). (Did I say they were from Colorado, cause they sounded Long Island).

I went with the green chili cheeseburger of course, but while waiting, noted the special of the day was catfish and hush puppies, darn! But I would be in catfish country soon enough.

The burger was good, and definitely home-style, but lacked the mess o vegetables that Blake’s had, which ordinarily wouldn’t be a problem, but I could immediately see what they added to the experience.

This is a great place, the typical “blue plate” lunch establishment, it would be fun to explore the menu further, with an alien in tow.

Cowboy Cafe Roswell Cheeseburger

Cowboy Cafe Roswell (I added the pickles)

Since Blake’s are everywhere in NM, I have only included a map to the Cowboy Cafe.


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Blake's Lotaburger on Urbanspoon

Cowboy Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

Green Chili Cheeseburgers Review

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Luscos Review, Greenwood, MS

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Luscos ReviewFor me, “discovering” someplace “new” is a kick. Even if the entire rest of the world knows about it. I get suggestions on places to stop from friends, acquaintances, strangers, locals and world travelers alike – look at tourism materials, websites, stop and ask people on the street.

But the thing that jazzes me the most is finding someplace that nobody mentions, and discovering a restaurant or experience that everybody SHOULD mention, because it is just so unique and delightful, you want to share it with the whole world, but at the same time, hope that nobody ever discovers it, because you want it to remain exactly the way it is, forever.

I found one of those places in Greenwood, Mississippi, but the more I talked about it after the visit, the more I have found out I may well be the only person that did NOT know about it. In the oft chance you haven’t had the pleasure, I am here today to tell you all about Lusco’s, a very unique dining experience in Mississippi Delta Country.

Walking through the front door of Lusco’s is to experience the cliché “like walking back in time,” but that’s the only way it can be described. A small grocery at this location since 1933, my first thought was “this ain’t the place, this IS a grocery,” with a small counter and shelves behind the counter stocked with bodega-like provisions. But an amiable hostess led us through a curtain at the back of the store and through a series of old hallways covered with an original stamped tin ceiling, back to a partitioned area of small wooden partitioned private rooms, with curtains offering privacy from the world and the rest of the restaurant. Surely nothing has changed within these walls in the past 70 years – not the paint, not the light fixtures, not the wall decorations – not even the small electric buzzer one can use to summon the staff when you are ready to order or need another cocktail.

Founders Charles and Marie Lusco and their three daughters added the partitioned booths to their grocery to serve customers who largely came for Papa Lusco’s homemade brew. The advent of World War 2, the opening of several military bases in the area, and a train station directly across the street that disgorged hundreds of traveling GI’s, and Lusco’s reputation grew as soldiers returned home and mentioned this unique establishment. It’s reputation continued to grow with the flux of travelers and locals alike during the years of prosperity after the war, when cotton was king in the Delta, and planters and local businessmen entertained their guests at Lusco’s.

Presently being operated by the 4th generation of family members, very little has changed at Lusco’s.

We started with an off the menu appetizer, baked oysters wrapped in bacon, large juicy pearls of Gulf oysters served on the half-shell, followed by a half-order of Lusco’s Onion Rings which was too large to finish. Other favorite starters include seafood cocktails or broiled shrimp in Lusco’s special hot sauce.

The dozen or so salads, ranging from $3.50 to $8.95 have a decidedly Mediterranean bent – often adorned with anchovies, capers, and olives, with the top of the line offering including fresh lump crabmeat, bell pepper, celery, tomato and egg tossed in a special dressing. Add-ons are available for the salad – extra heaping portions of shrimp, crabmeat, lives, capers, or feta.

Entrees are “plain and simple:” steaks, seafood and chicken. Steaks are sold at market price because they are cut in-house, so one can request a variety of sizes to fit one’s appetite on the day in question. I opted for an 8 oz filet, which I ordered “bleu,” and it was prepared perfectly. At “market

Luscos Review

          Private dining areas

price,” it came in at $25.00.

Entrees include a small salad, and choice of starch. Beef can be cut to serve two as well, a nice touch; a single porterhouse can weigh in as much as 28 ounces, if you’ve a mind to ingest all of that.

Fish offerings include fresh cat, snapper and pompano filets (it’s nice to see pompano on a menu these days), broiled only, specify having it served “wet or dry” (with or without Lusco’s fish sauce, a garlic-butter-seafood stock based accompaniment. Add their unique crabmeat topping for $4.25 more.

A variety of broiled shrimp and crabmeat offerings round out the mains, with a broiled or fried half chicken also available. One additional choice, handmade rigatoni with homemade red sauce completes the offerings, and is also the least expensive item on the menu at $8.25.

In addition to baked potatoes, rice, and fries, sides include two additional gravies: a plain mushroom, or a mushroom and garlic, for those who like that addition to beef dishes. I didn’t have room for dessert (I seem to never get to it), but Lusco’s offers some refreshing choices, including flan and a crème de menthe parfait, as well as the usual regional specialties.

Service is what you want it to be at Lusco’s, with the “buzzer/waiter” option. Ring and they come. Don’t ring, and they won’t bother you. You’re behind a curtain in a private booth, free to enjoy your meal and your company.

Lusco’s offers only soft drinks and beer for beverage choices. Set-ups and ice area available if you BYOB, which is encouraged. Corkage fee is:

$1.00!

How great is that?

Open nightly, Lusco’s is “off the beaten path” at 722 Carrollton Avenue, in the “old downtown” of Greenwood. Call them at 601-453-5365 to check on hours before heading up. Greenwood is approximately 4.5 hours up I-55, and a half hour west of the Interstate on US 82 West.

 

 

 

Luscos Review

 

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Charlies Steak House Review, New Orleans

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(This is from my archives, the restaurant has changed hands and done some remodeling; I haven’t visited since that happened)

Charlies Steak House Review New OrleansIn a city known for great seafood, and as I have written before, I’m delighted there are so many great steakhouses here. Especially ones that have endured w/o change over the years. For the past 70 years, Charlie’s has been selling the “sizzle” right along side the best of them, but doing it with considerable panache despite being a “bare-bones” operation. (No pun intended).

Charlie’s doesn’t take reservations, and doesn’t bother to print menus. With less than a handful of choices to make, your waiter will run through the choices aloud, standing next to your table: “small, medium, or large T-Bone, or 9 oz filet; au gratin or fried potatoes; iceberg wedge salad with dressing.”

That’s it.

Except of course, he’ll ask you if you want onion rings for an appetizer, which, of course, you should say “yes” to. Charlie’s rings are the think and crispy kind, and one order is probably enough for two couples to share. There were two of us at dinner last night, and we hardly made a dent in the pile, despite ravenous appetites and the taste treat in front of us. (Note, Charlie’s is one of the few places that makes their rings with a seasoned flour especially FOR the onions – it’s not a seafood batter, and contains no corn meal).

Dinner moves along at a pretty fair pace – when you’ve been preparing these few items for this many decades, you get your systems down to a science.

We started with the iceberg wedges, both opting for Charlie’s very thick and creamy blue cheese dressing – at least 6-8 ounces on a 1/3 head of lettuce with a few tomato wedges. The dressing might just be the best in town. I just said creamy, tho, didn’t I, and creamy is not the correct description. It’s packed full of chunks of blue cheese crumbles, full of flavor and bite.

The steaks came just as we were finishing the salads (well, we didn’t finish, they were too big), and were cooked and served precisely as ordered. Diners are lectured by their waiters not to touch the plates (the bubbling sizzle is even audible), but a disbeliever at the table next to us didn’t pay attention to the instructions, and spent the rest of his dining experience with one hand stuck in a glass of ice water.

We chose their famous au gratin potatoes as a side, and it was overkill — soaking in sharp cheddar, which had a nice cap of broiled, black cheese covering it, we barely managed a couple of spoonfuls each. Nor did either of us manage to finish the filets. Desire is one thing, capacity is another.

As always, we skipped desert – which traditionally at Charlie’s is a heaping bowl of local favorite Angelo Brocato’s spumoni; but we did have coffee, which we weren’t charged for.

The waiter, as is the custom there, I am sure, asked if we wanted to take any of the leftovers home, and I said no, but being the “funny guy” that I am, I reached for the Worcestershire and said “But I am taking this.”

The waiter replied “hold on a second,” turned around, and placed an unopened bottle in front of me, and said “at least take a new one.”

We were in/out, and fully sated in less than 90 minutes. Charlie’s attracts a very mixed crowd of blue-hairs from the neighborhood, students, and people that are just plain lost and stumble in.

When you walk in, you think you might be in the wrong place, as you see a small bar on your left, the kitchen in front of you, and no tables in site. But you’ll quickly be shown a table, and the rest of the evening’s enjoyment is left to you.

The restaurant is short on ambience, but big on quality and flavor, and, after all, isn’t that what we are paying for?

Charlie’s is off Napoleon, right behind Pascal’s Manale… Lunch Tue-Fri, dinner, Tue-Sat. 4510 Dryades Street. 504-895-9705. No reservations. Casual. Off street parking available.

Charlies Steak House Review

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Big Als BBQ Review, Big Spring, TX

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Al & Son BBQ ReviewRolling down I-20 Eastbound the other day, I happened into BIG Spring, Texas, on or about lunch time.  (In all candor, it’s always mealtime for me).

Heading down Gregg Street from the Interstate, I perused my BIG choices – Burger KING, home of the WHOPPER, BIG John’s Feed Lot, GREAT Wall, and then I spotted it – BIG Al’s and Son Bar-B-Q.  

I was greeted by an amiable server, and told the “rules” for dining at BIG Al’s. Proceed to the counter/serving station, choose the lunch plate or the BIG platter, and depending on whether you choose the lunch plate or BIG platter, you have a choice of two or four meats, or any combination thereof.  Pulled pork, my personal favorite, is seldom on the menu in Texas Q restaurants, so the choices were sausage, brisket, chicken,ribs, and/or “bodacious” ham.  I eschewed the ribs and chicken and loaded up on the other three.  At $8.95 for the BIG platter, I got to choose three vegetables (green beans, collard greens and corn on the cob won out), received a thick slab of Texas toast (BIG), ample amounts of butter, a choice of peach, apple, or cherry cobbler, and a BIG drink.  Dave Thomas wudda been proud.

My amiable server continued to provide me with BIG service throughout the meal, refilling my iced tea without being asked, and continually reminding me to save room for a BIG serving of home-made ice cream, which they whip up every morning.  He also extolled the virtues of other things on offer, whAl & Son BBQ Reviewich he encouraged me to try next time.  Among which was a BIG serving of Steak Fingers, which, according to my server, were MUCH better than Dairy Queen’s!

The brisket, sausage and ham were superb.  That dry-rub slow smoking process that Texas Q is famous for.  While most Texas Q’s don’t offer sauce (and the meat doesn’t need it), BIG Al’s had a choice of several one could use as accompaniments.  I passed on them.  I like to taste the BIG flavor of the meat.

As my eyes started to glaze over, and the ice cream was starting to melt, I put a BIG bill on the table and motioned for the server to come over.

He said, “What, you want some change?”  And I said, “No, that’s for you.”  His reply was “I don’t need that much!”

I said, “You may not need it, you may not want it, but you did earn it, BIG time.”

BIG Al’s is open for lunch and dinner most days, if you find yourself in BIG Spring.  1810 South Gregg Street,  (915) 267-8921.If you find yourself there without a car, and call the restaurant, BIG Al’s will send somebody to pick you up, so you can enjoy the BIG platter, and BIG Texas hospitality.

Update: Big Al’s is formally  known as Al & Son’s BBQ

Big Als BBQ Review

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The One in Which I Bitch About “Resort Fees”

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Harrahs Gulf Coast ReviewIt was bound to happen, hotels had to find ways to nickle and dime you like when the airlines added baggage charges (which brings in millions and millions). Today’s gripe is about Harrah’s, which is owned by private equity groups, and naturally they are going to squeeze every single dollar out of the company that they can. That’s what private equity does – customers, suppliers, employees don’t matter – putting bucks in the group’s personal wallets is the number one priority.

So I checked in to Harrah’s on the Gulf Coast, and the room was quite reasonable, but there was an $11 per day “resort fee.”  I thought this might be optional but was informed otherwise.

Here’s what you got for your fee:

  1. Access to the swimming pool (it rained cats and dogs my entire stay)
  2. “Free” wifi in the room, which was as speedy as dial up, course you could upgrade for a fee
  3. Access to the workout room.  Yeah, right, I’m getting my exercise pulling slot levers.

In other words, I got precisely zip for my “resort fee.”  And one elevator out of four working.  And advertised 24 hour facilities that closed before midnight.

Come on folks, wouldn’t you rather I donate that $11 to the casino?  Isn’t that what you want me there for?

Knock it off.

 

 

 

Harrahs Gulf Coast Review

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Econo Lodge Review – Marion, IL

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Econo Lodge is one of the brands owned by Choice Hotels International of Maryland.  Starting with a few motels 75  years ago, through creation and acquisition of brands, Choice now has Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality Inn, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Cambria Hotel & Suites, Mainstay Suites, Suburban Extended Stay,  Rodeway Inn, and the Ascend Hotel Collection.  There are nearly 7,000 locations worldwide.

The Econo Lodge competes at the budget end of the accommodation segment, and most Choice locations are operated by franchisees.  At the end of 2015, there was 940 Econo Lodges with 56,000 rooms, according to the company’s website.

At the FranchiseMall.com, it states one needs $2 mil to open an Econo Lodge, with a $25,000 franchise fee and 8% annual royalties.

Owning a franchised motel requires some trust on both sides. The franchisor hopes the franchisee will keep the motel in accordance with their operating contract and up to date, and the motel operator hopes they get the correct support from the parent company.  I don’t know for sure, but one would assume the franchisor sends people around to check franchised operations every once and awhile.

All that to say, I can’t imagine that this motel lives up to the contract.  Although inexpensive, the rooms are dirty, there is updating needed throughout the motel, and the exterior entrances (and there are a number of them) are unlocked 24 hours.

On the plus side, they have the standard free breakfast offerings, and that room/operation seemed pretty clean. Waffles, breads, fruits, cereal, coffee, cocoa, oatmeal, and so on.

This motel is off the north frontage road of Highway 13, just off I-57. If you’re driving around in the dark, in a strange city or pouring rain, good luck locating it, as it is behind the auto parts store pictured below.  The motel in the foreground (right) is an “America’s Best Value” Inn, and those can be inconsistent too, from superb to disgusting.

If you’re blowing through Marion, and just a place to run in, sleep, shower and get out, Econo Lodge might be ideal for you. If you’re traveling with the family or staying an  extended length of time, probably not.

This location is also handy if you’re visiting the Marion Federal Prison, just a few miles south of town.  Marion was originally constructed as as maximum security prison to replace Alcatraz, but has since been downgraded to a medium security facility.  Past guests include John Gotti, Pete Rose, the bomber of the WTC the first time,  Other international and domestic terrorists are also housed there.

Econ o Lodge Review Marion IL

Econo Lodge Review Marion IL

                                Marion Federal Prison

 

 

 

 

 

Econo Lodge Review

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Extended Stay America Review – Metairie, LA

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Extended Stay ReviewI’ve racked up a ton of nights at Extended Stay over the years;  I like them simply because I like having a full kitchen in the room – when I am traveling for an extended period, I’ll eat healthier if every meal isn’t in a restaurant or delivered.

The kitchens come fully equipped – flatware, glasses, plates, coffee maker, toaster, with one small change in policy recently. The whole package used to be in the room upon arrival, but now you have to request it from the front desk.  Not really an inconvenience, they will deliver it to you right away.  The kitchens include a full size refrigerator, 2 burner stove and microwave – what else do you need?

Your room has an ironing board and iron, and there is a pay laundromat in-house. Free parking.  Most of these I have been in have been immaculate and well kept up.  This one was no exception.

Some motels have pools, all offer a complimentary light breakfast – very light, less than you are probably used to these days.

For my money, for 3 – 30 nights, Extended Stay is the cat’s meow.  Kudos to the employee who hails from Thibodeaux.  You’re the best, and thanks for making my stay perfect.

Locator:

 

 

 

Extended Stay America Review

 

 

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