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Anns Bakery & Deli Review, Ukrainian Village, Chicago

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 Anns Bakery & Deli ReviewThe first time I was in Russia it was before “the change.” It was not unusual to see dozens or hundreds of people in line at food stores, even though they knew that probably there would be no inventory.

Outside of each subway station there were long lines of people selling ‘silly’ things: one shoe, two inches of vodka in a bottle, a couple of pencils.

People were hungry and would overlook conventional norms for food safety and ingredients.

And such was the feeling I got at Ann’s Bakery and Deli in Ukraine Village in Chicago.If you don’t speak Russian, I wouldn’t recommend stopping in, you’ll be treated like a 2nd class citizen by both the help and the other customers. The Russian shoppers are just plain rude, the help, not only rude, but unhelpful to non-Russian speakers.

Why I felt the resemblance between the bakery goods and pre-change Russia? A lot of the food on the shelves is past the expiration date, but it doesn’t stop the locals from grabbing it up like the just got the deal of the century on caviar.

Bakery goods are mismarked for prices and the shelf order is nothing short of chaos – with different goods all mixed up so you wouldn’t be able to tell the price in any case.

As many other customers have opined, I got home to find 1) not only were many of the baked goods stale (odd, as it was the day before Easter and one would expect a bakery to be chock-a-block full of fresh goods), and 2) the hustle of the cash register and treatment by both customers and help alike, made me miss the fact I was drastically overcharged for some items.

If you regularly read my reviews, you know that I endeavor to find something redeeming out of every visit. Not so here.

Pass on Ann’s Bakery, even for the curiousity factor. But I don’t want to discourage anybody from visiting Ukrainian Village; the cathedrals are magnificent and there are authentic Russian restaurants and culture to absorb. As well as a place distinctly NOT Russian, Fatso’s Last Stand, a superb example of a Chicago hot dog stand.

Ann's Bakery & Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Anns Bakery & Deli Review

Anns Bakery & Deli Review

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Napoli Pizza Review, Woodstock, IL

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Napoli Pizza Review WoodstockI love being surprised (in a good way).

I also love having an experience exceed my expectations. Both were the case at Napoli Pizza, in the distant Chicago burg of Woodstock.

You may not recognize the name of the town, but you would if you were dropped into the town square – it’s where most of the exteriors of the movie “Groundhog Day” were filmed. There’s even a commerative “Ned Ryerson” plague on the sidewalk.

So I saw Napoli by accident some time ago, and it looked old timey. Not much about it online, other than their facebook page, which says they have been family owned for 26 years. Carry out, delivery or dine in, pizza, pasta, apps, sandwiches. Open 7 days from 11AM.

I ordered a thin crust house special (sausage, pepperoni, green and black olives, onions, mushrooms, and green pepper).

I can vouch that the dough is blended in-house, because I spied a hunk of it bigger than me, being worked in the kitchen. Their “thin” isn’t as thin as some other Chicago area pizzerias, more like the thickness of what the chains referred to as “hand-tossed.” Regardless, it was very flaky at the exterior and nice and chewy as you worked your way in from the win.

Toppings were plentiful, and I mean PLENTIFUL. I was surprised when I was first handed the box, this sucker was HEAVY. Excellent hand pulled chunks of flavorful Italian sausage. The sauce is slightly sweet, but in the way it’s supposed to be, from tomatoes. Hearty. And massive amounts of cheese, I’m sure the quantity would qualify as “double cheese” at most places. Really, really nice.

I wished I lived closer, Napoli would be my go-to place. Luckily, every few months I’m up that way. I’ll be back. I so admire mom and pop sized operators. It’s gotta be tough every day to compete against the major chain pricing gimmicks, and of course the breaks chains get on purchasing monster quantities of ingredients.

Thanks for a great pie!  Menu below.

Napoli Pizza Review Woodstock

House Special

Napoli Pizza Review Woodstock
Napoli Pizza Place Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Napoli Pizza Review

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Fatsos Last Stand Review – Chicago, IL

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Fatsos Last Stand Review Fatsos Last Stand, in Chicago west of the Loop, is retro and haute cuisine at the same time. Conceived as a neighborhood hot dog stand, the original owner committed to delivering the best of class food possible.

And he achieved it, with damned tasty burgers, Chicago style hot dogs, and fried shrimp (another Chicago staple).

I went with the “single Fatso with cheese” and my friend had a Chicago style dog; both were cooked on a grill that imparted a nice char flavor and texture, which will improve any food.

Fresh cut fries were the order of the day, only because I didn’t notice that they had cheese tots on the menu. DAMMIT.  (Scroll down for menu).

A lot of people compare this burger to In N Out, but I personally feel Fatso’s is a much better burger.  Shakes are also on offer.

Exceptional food all around, fun experience. Take the kids.

Fatso’s is in an area of town called “Ukrainian Village,” so there is a plethora of Russia restaurants, groceries and cathedrals.  It makes for an interesting urban adventure, walking around, checking out the shops until your appetite (or the charcoal grill aroma) pulls you in to Fatsos. (Easily accessible by mass transit, Damen or Division stops on the CTA Blue Line).

Fatsos Last Stand Review

Single Fatso, Chicago Dog, Fries

Fatsos Last Stand Review

Chicagoans eschew ketchup, so it’s a rarity to see

Fatsos Last Stand Review

Fatsos Menu

Fatsos Last Stand Review

Fatsos Menu

Fatso's Last Stand Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Fatsos Last Stand Review

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Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage Review

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Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage ReviewThese poor little sausages start off with a couple strikes against them – I pretty much don’t like brown and serve type breakfast sausages. Including fast food kinds.  But I thought I would give these two national brand names a shot when I saw them at the Dollar Tree.

Jimmy Dean is an established sausage maker, started by the late music/film personality of the same name. The company grew bigly and was acquired by Sara Lee (now Hillshire Farms, now Tyson).

The package (for a buck) comes with six links, you’ll find them in the frozen food coolers, if your Dollar Tree has them.

Ingredients are pork and mechanically separated turkey (another kiss of death for me, anything that has mechanically separated poultry as an ingredient).

I popped these into a skillet with my other test subjects, Banquet brand Original Breakfast Sausage Patties, and cooked them awhile. This type of Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage Reviewproduct IS pre-cooked in the package, so there are microwave instructions as well, for a quick heat and eat.

Banquet is part of the multinational food conglomerate ConAgra.  The company dates back more than 60 years, having started by introducing frozen meat pot pies.

What did I think? Flavor is OK, but one of the things I don’t like about these types of products is the texture. Not enough resistance in a bite, like ‘real’ sausage.

Result, I wouldn’t be likely to buy it again, unless I had company that requested it.

The Jimmy Dean sausages were/are made by Peacock Foods, in Itasca, IL, a distant superb of Chicago. The Banquet ones are a product of Abbyland Foods in Wisconsin. Abbyland makes products for a number of brands and retailers. They are a popular source for the discount grocer Aldi.

Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage Review

Banquet Patties, Jimmy Dean Links

 

Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage Review

Abbyland Foods

 

Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage Review

Peacock Foods

 

 

 

Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage Review

Dollar Tree Breakfast Sausage Review

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Hooters Wing Breading Review – Grocery Item

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Hooters Wing Breading ReviewI read labels meticulously in grocery stores.  Not out of some health concern, real or imagined, just curiousity.

I occasionally DO NOT read them when I grab something by impulse on the way out the door, and such was the case with Hooters Wing Breading “We Fix the Mix So You Don’t Have To!” I should have taken the time.

This stuff checked out at about 50 cents an ounce. Ingredients? Flour, salt, natural flavor and all those things you can never Hooters Wing Breading Reviewpronounce and have no idea what they are.

Result? A big fat zero. This product will add nothing to your “fry – day,” as it doesn’t have any distinguishable flavor.

A similar product, Zatarain’s Seasoned Fish Fry, has nearly the same  ingredients, but actually does have a flavor it imparts to your fry session. I do buy that, and it’s even more economical –  a mere 11 cents an ounce.

Same result, less grief, less of investment?  Buy flour – at about 3 cents an ounce. Add whatever you want, prefer, garlic or onion powder, salt and/or pepper, and I always throw in paprika which helps with browning. Feel like you want to spend more?

Buy a premium flour like King Arthur. There, do you feel better now?

The grocery stores are chock-a-block full of restaurant branded items these days; I’ve yet to find many that do justice to the product from the restaurant they represent.  And I’ve tried a lot of them! Leave a note if you’ve been impressed with one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hooters Wing Breading Review

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Carys Family Restaurant Review – Cary, IL

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Carys Family Restaurant Review“No, we’re out,” said Adele firmly. I protested, and she replied “we had five servings left and I sold them all this morning. Won’t be more until the delivery truck comes.”

“I’ll wait.”

OK, I didn’t say that, and noticing the disappointment on my face that I wasn’t going to get to have Chicken Fried Steak for breakfast, she recommended the ham, without even knowing that’s my go-to 2nd choice.

“It’s off the bone.”

I drooled. “OK, ham and eggs, two over easy, hash browns real crispy, rye toast. Some char on the ham, please.”

“Done,” sez she.

I was at  Cary’s Family Restaurant on US Highway 14, 48.7 miles from Willis (nee Sears) Tower in downtown Chicago. Cary is one of dozens of burgs lining Highway 14, one of the original US highways. Depending on what direction you’re heading, it either starts in Chicago and ends at the eastern entrance to Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, or the reverse.

There are a buckets of restaurants along that highway, and it’s on my bucket list to hit all of them. In this neck of the woods, I’ve hit the Sugar Bowl in Des Plaines, the Big Foot Inn (in Big Foot), Mr. Beefy and Kojak’s (both Fox River Grove), to name a few, with obviously, many, many more to go!

Adele returned to the table bearing my plates, and it looked perfect, the kitchen had even cooked the ham the way I asked for it (I like a little char on ham, adds to the texture), and the rye toast was oversized. Eggs over easy, and I was ready to go. Lots of Chicago area restaurants have a bowl of butter pats on the table, and Cary’s Family is no exception, so I set about the task of buttering the rye toast before cutting the pieces in half and slamming a half into the egg yolk.

Growing up in my house, the act was called “mopping” and was strictly forbidden. No naturally, as an ‘adult’ the activity amplified to tease my mother while she did a slow burn on the other side of the kitchen.

Back to the task at ham (sic). The meat was delicious. Geez I love real ham. Not that chopped, pressed and formed stuff, but real muscle meat, the longer it has been cured, the better. I’ve driven the back roads of Virginia and Kentucky looking for exceptional ham. I’ve been to the Ham Museum in Madrid (seriously) (Spain, not Missouri).

Anyway, breakfast was good, Adele was a delight, I won’t bear a grudge that they were out of Chicken Fried Steak, and will give them another chance or six.

It’s a pleasure to run into servers who seem genuinely happy to be doing their job well. Remember to appreciate them.

Cary's Family Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Carys Family Restaurant Review

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Tenutas Deli Review, Kenosha, WI

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Tenutas Deli ReviewI’ve been in a lot of great Italian “delis” all over the world. Two of my favorites (until this week) are Martinotti’s in Portland, OR, and Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica, CA.

Both superb in their own right. I’ve hit a couple smaller ones in Chicago that are also enjoyable.

This weekend I ran across the best of the best, in my opinion, in Kenosha, WI of all places.

Tenuta’s has been operating since 1950, and have aisle after aisle of imported grocery goods, as well as locally packaged ‘fixins’ like many different kinds of pastas, herbs, spices and such.

In their deli counters, they have prepared Italian dishes you can purchase by the pound, as well as in-house made sandwiches and delicious items like meatballs. Fresh take n bake pizzas, too!

Not incidentally, they have one of the largest selections of craft beers I have ever seen anywhere. Rows of shelves and coolers that run the whole length of the store.

It was hard not to spend my kid’s inheritance there in one day, but I did manage to score some goodies.

Having lived in New Orleans, and always eager to eat the local NOLA sandwich the “muffaletta,” I was pleased to see Tenuta’s had their own version, and at about half the price you’d pay in New Orleans.

Their “small” will feed 2-3 people and comes in at a very reasonable $6.99. It IS their own version tho, if you’re used to have the New Orleans ones, which have a layer of “olive salad,” you won’t find that here. Instead they have opted for adding pickled green pepper pieces, and lettuce, neither of which you’ll find in the NOLA versions.

I also bought a container of meatballs, the ingredients listed include: beef, pork, breadcrumbs, textured vegetable protein, ricotta, romano, soy, flour, salt, garlic, spices, parsley, brown sugar and flavoring.I have to say, they are quite flavorful and the texture is to my liking. (I hate “mushy” meatballs). They come in different quantity packs, I got the ‘small’ which is 15 balls for around $7.

I don’t know what they include in their ingredients under “spices,” my personal preference, and how I make them at home, is to include a bunch of dried fennel seeds. It’s a strong flavor, and many people don’t care for it. Tenuta’s meatballs are perfect for the average consumer tho, nothing at all objectionable!

The store is open 7 days, and also does catering. It’s truly a wonderland.  I shall return. You should visit too.

Tenutas Deli Review

House made meatballs

Tenutas Deli Review

Meatball cross section

Tenutas Deli Review

“Muffaletta” Sandwich

Tenuta's Delicatessen & Liquor Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Tenutas Deli Review

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Milwaukee Burger Company Review – Kenosha, WI location

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Milwaukee Burger Company ReviewI don’t read reviews before I go to a restaurant. I know, that’s odd for someone who regularly writes them, but I want my experience to be my own, not influenced by someone else’s observations.

And so many are bogus, anyway, aren’t they? I wonder what kind of person it takes to completely trash a restaurant based on some (usually imagined) slight, like “My water had ice cubes in it?” “We were VERY nice to the waitress but it didn’t help.” “I didn’t want onions on it, even tho the menu said that, and I didn’t tell you otherwise.”

I can imagine these people as children: “Wah, you didn’t cut the crusts of my sammich!” “What do you mean you washed my favorite shirt?” Whatever.

None of them have the slightest clue about how difficult it is to start and run an independent restaurant, and then add 4-5 more of the same concept over a few years. Somebody’s blood, sweat, tears, money, debt, and 100 hour weeks. Nor do the whiners have any concept of what it’s like to be a server, one of the least appreciated jobs around, where no matter how big of a jerk your customer is, you’re expected to be ultra sweet and polite to every one. I couldn’t do it. Either. For sure.

So as for me, I look for the redeeming things in every restaurant experience, because I take into account the points I listed above. I have ‘elastic boundaries.’ And I like to be surprised to the point where the reality of a meal experience far exceeds my expectations.

And after that long line of B.S. above, we come to the heart of the matter, my experience at Milwaukee Burger Company (MBC), at their Kenosha location.

This indy has five locations in SE Wisconsin. And during my visit, they exceeded every one of my expectations.

MBC has taken local ingredients to create American cuisine that just rocks. While there are some creative takes on the menu, the chef didn’t feel the urge to go crazy by reinventing American classics.

This is a burger shop. And craft beer. And they excel at both.

So here’s the deal: server – John. Knowledgeable. Friendly. Interested in our experience. Conscientious checking back.

Hamburger. I had the Cheese Curd cheeseburger, which had two giant curds atop the patty (see pic below). If you’re not from or been thru Wisconsin, cheese curds are a pretty standard offering but most of them are pretty awful, reminiscent of those fried cheese sticks in bars.

Curds are not supposed to be like that, and these certainly aren’t. MBC starts with a sizable cube of (choice of) fresh cheese, and douses it with their own unique breading formula before frying it just to the point of the breading being crisp and the cheese starting to melt. Perfect. These should be the standard by which all other curds are judged. I’m not joking, pal.

Onion rings for an appetizer. I’ve had the pleasure (privilege?) of dining in 65 countries, and o-rings are one of my go-to foods to try every where. Spoiler alert? Without a doubt, no questions asked, no contest, MBC makes the best rings I have had anywhere on the planet.

They start with large slices of sweet onion, again into their special batter which somehow ends up being crispy and fluffy at the same time without being overbearing. I like a lighter breading on my rings, not those kind that are more like a string of onion inside a donut. Two of us couldn’t finish an order. A very generous serving, and a good value.

Finally, the burger. I dissemble them, that’s my thing. I want to see how I like each part of a burger before seeing how I like the entire experience. And of course, the beef patty has to be the star of the show, and at MBC it surely it. Great beef flavor, a light seasoning, nice texture. A very pleasurable experience.

The menu offers a variety of ‘pre-designed’ choices for burgers, or the build your own option, with lots of choices for cheese, toppings, and condiments.

The burger comes nestled on a bakery soft, brushed with butter bun, which is sturdy enough to hold whatever you choose to top your burger with. And as I am sure you are aware, flimsy buns can be a problem at many places.

I upgraded my side to get the poutine, which, if you’re not familiar, is the national snack dish of Canada, available everywhere you go up North. It’s fries (here, superb fresh cut), brown gravy, and cheese curds (not fried), and MBC’s “interpretation” is great. Too many chefs today think this is one of those things they can ‘gussy up’ with weird ingredients.  Loved this one.

All in all? I’m enthused enough that I will drive the hour that it takes me to get to one of their locations to try many more things on the menu. To me, it is that good. Congrats, people!!!  Oh, and I’m not a craft beer drinker, but if you are, you’ll be more than happy with the selections available.

Was there anything I didn’t like? Sure, but that’s just me. Most people will find the wall to wall TV’s with sports enjoyable. Whenever I’m in a joint like that, I always wish they could have one TV on

CNN or something. But you (I) don’t have to watch, either.  Afterthought:  MBC thoughtfully provides take home boxes constructed out of paper products, instead of plastic or foam. Appreciated on so many levels!

Milwaukee Burger Company Review

Fantastic Onion Rings

 

Milwaukee Burger Company Review

Cheese curd burger and poutine

Milwaukee Burger Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Milwaukee Burger Company Review

Milwaukee Burger Company Review

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Brazil Express Grill Review, Schaumburg, IL

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Brazil Express Grill ReviewBrazil Express Grill is a locally owned churrascaria (Brazilian style steak house). What’s a Brazilian style steak house?

Traditionally, servers come to your table with a variety of grilled meats on a skewer, and after ascertaining your interest, slice you off a piece.

Most often the meats are quality  cuts of beef, pork, chicken, and sausage.

And this can go on for as long until you want, or until you  fall into a “meat coma” with a smile on your face.

This whole meat fest takes place after trips (as many as you like) to an upmarket salad bar, with a variety of salads, including build your own components, as well as cheese, deli meats, soups and more.

The star of the show, meat wise, is a favorite cut of Brazilians, but rarely touted in the US – a cut of sirloin called Picanha.

Other cuts include filet mignon, bacon wrapped chicken, Portuguese sausage (a personal favorite).

You may have heard about other restaurants like this, there are a couple of small chains in the US, but even as a stand-alone mom and pop
operation, Brazil Express puts the big guys to shame, for a couple of reasons: 1) my experience at the bigger places has been that it
was difficult to get your meat selections prepared to your preferred ‘doneness’ level.

Not so at Brazil Express, they explicity ask you what your preference is when seated, and the meat skewers that are presented to you by servers are done to your preference. 2) As much as I like being served food the way I prefer it, I also prefer a great value, and a guest check at Brazil Express is going to clock in at a good 33 – 40% less than the chains, depending upon the time of day and day of the week. SWEET.

Should you have a hankering for Brazil style roasted meats, but no time to dawdle, Brazil Express has a very reasonable “per pound” take out price.

The restaurant is located in a strip mall on Roselle Road in Schaumburg, near a Jewel/Osco, south of Schaumburg Road, and just north of Wise
Road, about a half mile north of IL Rte 390 Tollway.

If the idea of perfectly prepared quality beef in endless quantities appeals to you, be sure to check out Brazil Expres Grill in suburban Chicago.  You’ll never go wrong supporting a locally owned and operated business.  (These are not my photos, but from the restaurant’s website, an unusual move for me, but I was too busy EATING!)

Hours and Prices

Menu

Brazil Express Grill Review

Server with skewer of deliciousness!

 

Brazil Express Grill Review

A bountiful salad bar awaits!

Brazil Express Churrasco Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Brazil Express Grill Review

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Two of My Favorite Tuna Recipes

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Favorite Tuna RecipesMy late mother made tuna a regular part of our family’s meal rotation. One was an entree, what we call in Minnesota a “hotdish.”

Her recipe called for two cans of tuna, drained, stirred into a  can of cream of mushroom soup simmering in a sauce pan.

It was plated by ladling it piping hot over crunchy “Chinese noodles.”

We affectionally called the dish (polite version) “tuna stuff.”

Tuna melts entered the scene as we got older, and she followed a pretty standard recipe. As we children got older, we all adapted our own variations to our individual tastes.

My long term tuna melt recipe is to take two cans of solid  white in water, drain, break up with a fork in a mixing bowl. Add in 1 T of mayo, and 1 of yellow mustard.

My mom would add in diced dill pickles or celery for crunch. I’ve elevated it to used diced quality Kalamata olives. On white toast,  covered with your favorite cheese, under the broiler til the cheese is bubbling. I like mine when the cheese takes on a  little burn!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite Tuna Recipes

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