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Archive for the ‘Hamburgers’ Category

Kiefs Reef Review – McHenry, IL

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Kiefs Reef ReviewThere are lots of bars and eateries along the Fox River in Northern Illinois. If you’re a boater, you can navigate the river up to the “Chain of Lakes” where you’ll find even more choices. At nearly each one, there are docks to tie up your craft if you feel like having lunch, dinner, or a few bumps.

In the winter, apparently, they also serve as way stations for snowmobilers going up and down the frozen river.

Such was the case yesterday at Kief’s Reef, and also it happened to be a “wake/memorial” for a local denizen who had recently passed, and was apparently quite a popular person judging from the size of the crowd. It was elbow to elbow.

I might have chosen someplace different had I known about that, but once inside, I was committed, and I had looked at the menu earlier in the day, and had a hankering for their offer of a “School of Lake Perch” platter, served with fries, tots or chips, and a dollop of cole slaw.

Kief’s Reef, I understand, is very popular for their version of the Friday nite fish fry, a big thing in these parts. They also serve up a respectable pizza, a lot of wings, and prime rib on Saturdays.

The perch was everything I was expecting and more. Three large fillets, batter fried, crispy on the outside, tender, steaming fish inside. Tots were deep fried to perfection, as they should be. Ultra-creamy cole slaw had a little twist to it, as their recipe includes ultra fine diced onion. Nice change.

The burger was mammoth, hand pattied, and covered with blue cheese morsels, not some of the icky salad dressing so many people use. The blackened seasoning was just the right amount and there was more than ample bacon. The bun was bakery soft but sturdy enough to hold up as many toppings as you could choose to garnish your meat.

Video gaming, of course, too.

I’ll go back in the summer, sit on the outdoor patio/deck, watch the boats putt by on the lazy river, maybe have a beer, and admire the sunbathers.

Full menu.  Best server ever?  Kelly!

Kiefs Reef Review

Black and Blue and Bacon Burger

 

Kiefs Reef Review

“A School of Lake Perch” Plate

 

Kief's Reef Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs Review – Lily Lake, IL

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Pete's Famous Hot DogsLiterally in the middle of nowhere (no offense, Lily Lake, but you’re a highway intersection) – Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs may not actually be famous, but they deserve to be.

Open seven days from 7AM thru the dinner hour, this small eatery is manned by “Pete” and his daughter? Companion? Wife?

Pete is affable and the other is terribly competent cooking food to order as expeditiously as possible in terribly small confines.

And altho it will take a few minutes to get your food, (Pete tells you when he rings you up – “cheeseburger? Six minutes.” Or whatever) It’s well worth the wait. The food is fresh, hot and delicious.

Hand pattied burger, quality beef, and fresh cut fries. Too cold to eat outside the day I was there, but I could see lingering at the outdoor table on a hot summer day.

Pete’s is located at the intersections of Illinois highways 64 and 47, a few miles East of Sycamore, a few miles West of St. Charles, and a few miles North if I-88 (Reagan Memorial Tollway – the Chicago – Kansas City Expressway that stops a mere 370 miles short of Kansas City). (Oh well, maybe completing it will be part of Infrastructure Weed #4 coming up soon, probably).

Breakfast, burgers, dogs, pork chops, chicken and a few specialty entrees. Worth the drive.

Pete's Famous Hot Dogs Review

Cheeseburger and fresh cut fries

 

Petes Famous Hot Dogs Review

Breakfast menu

 

Petes Famous Hot Dogs Review

Lunch and dinner menu –  click to enlarge

Pete's Famous Hot Dogs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Dog Haus Review – Nationwide Chain (Rockford, IL location)

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The growing Dog Haus chain from the Los Angeles area says their fame and success is due to their signature dogs, sausages, and burgers. They’re served on grilled King’s Hawaiian Rolls, and a variety of craft beers are offered as well. First one opened in 2010.

My take: interesting concept, terrible execution. I visited the outlet in Rockford, IL, which is on the far eastern border of the city, off a frontage road. Open for lunch and dinner, I hit it a few minutes before noon on a weekday and was the only customer. You order at the counter (bar) and are giving a table topper number.

The menu has quite a few “specialty combinations” of toppings for their dogs and burgers. One example is the “Pineapple Express” a hot dog with bacon wrapped dog, bouillonnaise, sweet ginger glaze, pineapple, scallions, pickled jalapeños, crispy onions. There are some that are far more “complex” in their toppings. Of course you may order with your own preferences as well, but I personally think this “specialty” ones are far too sophisticated for the fast food/fast casual hot dog or burger eater.

As I was more or less “sampling” I went with a burger slider (angus beef, mayo, white american cheese, caramelized onions, but I skipped the onions) and a corn dog slider (all beef mini dog dipped in our haus made root beer batter ). A corn dog is something I’d never order anywhere, but I thought “root beer batter” sounded interesting. Turns out, only the kitchen knows it’s “root beer batter,” it’s not distinquishable as a unique taste. The corn batter is very corn ‘mealy.’

I don’t like King’s Hawaiian, either, offer an alternative. King’s are “sweet” and you’re putting that was savory innards on the sandwiches.

The burger was ordinary as well.

Final food “beef” – fries are extruded, also not a personal preference, but I know many people enjoy that style.

Despite being the only customer when I ordered, it took 20+ minutes to get the food.

Looking at the location, some are in secondary markets (like Rockford) so I assume they are franchisees, and undoubtedly some will not last.

They also have a fried chicken breast sandwich, and the line of “Impossible Foods” non meat burgers and sausage. (If you haven’t tried these, and you’re a bonafide ‘meat-a-vore’ – don’t bother, they are dreadful).

Dog Haus Review

Cross section slider corn dog and burger

Dog Haus Biergarten Rockford Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Dog Haus Review

Dog Haus Review

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Chilis Grill & Bar Review, Markham St, Little Rock, AR

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Chilis Grill & Bar ReviewI rarely visit establishments in this segment – fast casual chains.  Just not my thing. However, I’ll go, if I’m invited and somebody is insistent.

In this case, when I asked the inviter why she chose this restaurant, she said “for the irony.”  I get it.  You probably don’t.

Anyway, this is a “new” location for Chili’s, in that they moved a bit west from a location they had occupied for decades. So in that regard, it isn’t “brand new,” personnel should be used to the menu, systems, customer service and such.

It’s too loud. If one of the restaurants goals is to get people to linger at the bar, they ain’t gonna, if they can’t carry on a conversation. It’s quite an extensive menu, offering appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers, entrees and some Tex-Mex.  I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest these types of restaurants, with this many items offered, aren’t cooking from scratch in-house.  Lots of ‘heat and eat’ going on, especially in the entree department.

There were three of us, we skipped the appetizers, tried some of their fancy pants cocktails (meh), and ordered.  One sandwich, one spicy burger, and my entree choice.

Fifteen minutes and a “manager” shows up and tells me they are out of my entree, but will get some in the following morning.  I offer to wait, but she doesn’t get it.  I’m forced to make a decision for a substitute within seconds.  I screw up and order a burger. (Incidentally, this is one of those places that doesn’t trust your judgment to order a burger at the doneness level you prefer).

Few minutes go by, the rest of the tables food arrives.  Not mine.  Tick tock tick tock.  Fifteen minutes.  Just a burger and fries, nothing special except the cost – 2-3x fast food. Fries have seasoned salt on them, which I don’t care for generally.  Cheese and bun were both cold. Not “not warmed,” but cold.  With the order confusion, I think they should have knocked something off the check. Nope.

They’ve joined the technology age in they have the tablets at the table where you can order, pay, or play games (for a fee).  The tablet completely freaked out trying to pay the bill. Saw this same unit (“Ziosk”) at another chain recently, also not working.

Despite this automation upgrade, four different servers called at our table, not out of a quest for excellent service, but rather out of confusion.

The entire experience reminded me of why I don’t like fast casual.  Also a segment which millenials are abandoning in droves, I’ve read. Expect some to fold.

Chilis Grill & Bar Review

 

 

 

Chili's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chilis Grill & Bar Review
Chilis Grill & Bar Review

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Petes Famous Hot Dogs Review, Sycamore-Maple Park, IL

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Petes Famous Hot Dogs ReviewI love “mom and pop” places that have survived and thrived over the years.

You’ll find a lot of these on the old, original highways of the US, like Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles, or US 61 which follows the Mississippi from New Orleans to near the Canadian border.

I’ve written a lot about these kind of places. I’ll almost always stop.

Just off the Lincoln Highway,  one of America’s earliest transcontinental routes, in Western Illinois, you’ll find Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs, an old-timey roadside stand, order at the counter, take it to go or eat at one of the dozen tables inside or outside.  I’ve driven by a dozen or more times, but it was never convenient to stop.  This trip, I made it a point to be there at meal time, and am glad I did.

There is an extensive menu of hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches and sides, with some creative combinations that change from time to time.  Example? “Salami Cajun Burger.”  Sounds intriguing, I didn’t ask, I’ll try it next time, no doubt.

No, I went with a standard cheeseburger, Pete’s even asks you how you want it done, and based on your reply, tells you how long prep will take.

Petes Famous Hot Dogs Review

Famous your food amped up?

Medium? Four minutes.  It’s a hand-formed patty done on a flattop and is / was delicious. Juicy meat, crispy on the edges.

They do an “over the top” job on fresh cut fries.  Some of the best you’ll find.  They also offer “family sized” packs of food to go. Probably to your advantage to call ahead on those if you need them at a specific time.

Pete’s is 58 miles west of Chicago’s loop, just off I-88.  Exit number 113, and meander up (North) on Illinois 47 for a few miles to the junction of 47 and Illinois 64.   It’s less than 30 miles from my house.  I’ll do it again, hell yes.   Menus below. They make some of their own condiments and they are offered for sale.

Open 7AM – 5PM daily, breakfast til 10:30.  The restaurant is CASH ONLY.

Follow Pete’s on Facebook.

 

Petes Famous Hot Dogs Review

Cheeseburger and fries

Petes Famous Hot Dogs Review

Burger close up

 

Petes Famous Hot Dogs Review

Click to enlarge

 

Petes Famous Hot Dogs Review

Breakfast

Pete's Hotdogs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Petes Famous Hot Dogs Review, Sycamore-Maple Park, IL

Petes Famous Hot Dogs Review, Sycamore-Maple Park, IL

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Polar Freeze Review, Walnut Ridge, Arkansas

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Polar Freeze ReviewContinuing my northbound trek through Arkansas recently, I came upon Walnut Ridge, which doesn’t seem to have any Walnuts OR Ridges.

However, I did find out that the Beatles landed at the airport for a minute in 1964, and there’s  a plaque commemorating that event.  It’s also on the Amtrak route from Chicago to Dallas.  That’s about it.

It also has the Polar Freeze, a local family owned fast food drive-in, which seems to specialize in pit BBQ as well as burgers and the usual drive-in fare.

I was in the mood for a quick burger and tots, and it seemed like the Freeze could fit the bill.  They weren’t very busy, and they had lots of employees (all family?) scurrying about pretending to be busy.

The customer ahead of me was grumbling that they “lost his order” – but finally he was handed a bag, jumped in his car and took off.

My order just took a few minutes.  They handed me a number that they would call when it was ready.

It was ready, and I too, jumped in the car and headed east, towards I-55 and the Mississippi River.

The tots were perfect and they included a solitary salt packet along with a handful of ketchup packs.

My first bite into the burger took me by a little bit of surprise. I might have gotten the other guy’s lost order, or else they dress their burgers around here in a unique way.  My burger was topped with a flavored mayo (tho I can’t tell you what the flavor was) and dill pickle chips.  Period. Not disagreeable, but not my choice.

The hand-pattied burger was ultra local beef (you can tell) which was a pleasant surprise.

I should have ordered more, should have tried the BBQ.  Shudda, wudda, cudda.

There’s a note on the street sign that asks “Have you thanked the man upstairs today?”  But as you can see from my pic, there is no upstairs at the Polar Freeze.  So.

Polar Freeze Review

My number

Polar Freeze Review

 

Polar Freeze Review

 
Polar Freeze Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Polar Freeze Review

Polar Freeze Review

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Wahlburgers At Home Review – Ground Beef at the Grocery

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Wahlburgers At Home ReviewSo the Wahlberg family from Boston, ex con, one celebrity, one half celebrity, one fry cook, one overbearing parent.

Start a burger restaurant, sign lots of expansion deals – “coming soon” is their most famous location. Wahlburgers they call it.

They’ve made a big deal with the Iowa-base grocery chain of Hy-Vee, which is attempting to set the pace in the new genre of “groceraunt.” Yeah, we’ll see.

They expanded to grocer counters as a premium brand of patties or bulk, at my store in the range of $8 a pound.

Blend of chuck, brisket and short rib. Blends are the new “thing” in burgers. New as far as the mass market, not new to high end suppliers to restaurants.  I pan fried a patty, and found it had more than adequate beef  flavor, but is a very fine grind (not my preference). Curiously, there was  nearly 1/2 c grease left in skillet from 1 lb burgers. But the patties crumbled. So lean to begin with or all the fat cooked out?  I can’t anwer that.

(Note broken patty on bun pic) Be a disaster on an outdoor grill, me thinks. Odd labeling on package: “Color is not a good indication of
freshness.” (Tested without condiments or seasoning). Worth $8 a pound? Nope.

According to the USDA plant number on the package, the Wahlbergs have contracted with AVA Pork of New York, to make and package the product.  AVA has been supplying institutional users since 1985, primarily in pork.

Want to visit one of their restaurants? Locations.

I tried one of the competitors recently, Schweid & Son, which I wrote about here. So the Wahlbergs aren’t going to be on my shopping list regularly, but I do wish them success.

If money was no object, I’d put Creekstone Farms as my favorite ground beef supplier, found in a lot of fast casual restaurants, like The Company Burger in New Orleans.  Pat LaFrieda, who sells to Shake Shack, would be number two, and these Schweid fellas come in third.

 

 

 

 

Wahlburgers At Home Review

Wahlburgers At Home Review

 

 

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Schweid & Sons Burger Patties Review

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Schweid & Sons Burger Patties ReviewDifferent blends of beef for burgers have been the rage for awhile.

The method not only provides distinctive flavor and texture, but also gives processors a premium product.

Until recently, you only ran into these in restaurants, unless you have an able butcher who was willing to do it for you in-house.

Schweid & Sons is a large purveyor of quality ground beef, with a meat business heritage that dates back more than 120 years. Starting in New York’s Lower East Side, eventually, succeeding generations of family members chose to focus only on ground beef, and moved to a modern federally inspected factor in New Jersey (pic below),, just five miles from midtown Manhattan.

The company has grown exponentially with the rise in burgers as a steady part of American diets.  They furnished the Five Guys chain with meat when they had just a few stores, and still do today. The serve a host of other regional chains as well as the East Coast locations of Fatburger.

Schweid has expanded to the retail market and placed their attractively packaged products in grocery stores across the country.  They have a number of different blends.

(Sidebar – I crave finding a burger in a restaurant where the meat patty stands on its own as exceptional – thinking I could do that at home has been only a dream).

I opted for their C.A.B Blend – Chuck and brisket, tho the packaging does not say what percentage. They start with Certified Angus Beef, a designation and label you’re probably used to seeing in your deli or meat counter.

The package (fresh, not frozen, tho I can’t say whether or not they were frozen in transit), contains four patties of 5.3 ounces each.  Which at my store, works out to just north of $6 per pound.

I cooked mine on the grill with a quick sear on each side then low and slow to very rare. Condiment free, I nestled the patties onto a kaiser.  You can see the thickness of the raw patty in my hand below, compared to the cooked on – very little shrinkage.

FOR MY MONEY, this is an exceptional burger. The texture is exactly my preference, and the patty tastes like beef, which you may think is a strange thing to say, but I’m a stickler for believing meat should taste like the actual animal. These are just great. Cliche, I know, but they really do taste like quality chopped steak.

There’s a whole host of frozen patties in the grocery freezers these days, some are pre-cooked, some not, some are no name, some are emblazoned with the name of known fast food restaurants.  I’ve tried most all of them and always been disappointed.  Here’s some of them.

I hope this experiment in wide spread distribution works for Schweid and Sons. I’d also be thrilled if they had some bulk one pound packages to use the product in recipe.

Here’s where you can find these fine, fine burgers near you.

Schweid & Sons Burger Patties Review

Packaging

Schweid & Sons Burger Patties Review

Patty thickness

Schweid & Sons Burger Patties Review

On the grill – rare

Schweid & Sons Burger Patties Review

Processing plant

 

 

 

 

Schweid & Sons Burger Patties Review

Schweid & Sons Burger Patties Review

 

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The Cottage Review – Crystal Lake, IL

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The Cottage ReviewThe Cottage is one of those places most people would describe as a “neighborhood bar” and it fills that role nicely, perched on the edge of downtown Crystal Lake, Illinois, within walking distance of a number of residential neighborhoods.

Although a “bar,” it serves as a full restaurant as well, with a very lengthy menu and nightly specials. The specials are value priced.

What brought me in is the fact that any night of the week in this area, you can find a hamburger special, and it’s Wednesdays at the Cottage. Burger and a side, $5.  You pay a little bit more for add-ons like bacon and fancy cheeses, but it’s still a deal.

The sandwich is advertised as a half-pound, hand-pattied, char-grilled burger, and it lives up to the promo.  It’s very flavorful meat, on a bakery roll that is soft enough to be enjoyable but substantial enough to hold any toppings you desire.  Unusual for me, I ate the burger absolutely plain, I enjoyed the beef and bun so much.

I upgraded to rings for the side, and they don’t do justice as a side equal to the entree. They are a beer battered ring, which I doubt are made in-house. With so many interesting food items on the menu, the Cottage could easily do better on the rings.

Complimentary peanuts in the shell (yes, toss ’em on the floor) and tasty popcorn for every table.  Don’t see peanuts much anymore, of course. I was personally delighted.

Large outdoor seating area can be covered during inclement weather.  The Cottage is also known for having some large music events on-site, generally with rather proficient tribute bans.  Check their site for dates.

Server Ravan was spectacular.

The Cottage Review

Burger and rings

The Cottage Review

You’ll love their free nuts

 

 

 

 

 

 Full menu online. Catering menu too.
The Cottage Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
The Cottage Review

The Cottage Review

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Impossible Burger Review

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Impossible Burger ReviewSo there’s this Stanford professor, Patrick Brown, B.S., M.D., PHD, who decides in 2009 to take an 18-month sabbatical in 2009 to study “eliminating industrial animal agriculture” (fancy words that basically mean big time animal raising for food).

He is of the school that believes the industry is doing major damage to the planet. He hosts a few seminars on his findings, the world kind of doesn’t take notice, but convinced he’s onto something with the idea of replacing animal protein with that derived from plants, he starts “Impossible Foods” in 2011 at the age of 57, apparently aiming to be the Colonel Sanders of the industry segment.

Armed with $400 million in venture capital (seriously!) he sets out to create first of all, a “burger” that duplicates the appearance, texture, and taste of a ground beef hamburger, but using entirely plant-based components.

A restaurant or two pick it up and the product meets with moderate success, initially. Here’s what struck me about its “overnight success.”  These guys found the best PR/Marketing company in the world, apparently, cause try as you might, it’s pretty damned difficult to find a BAD review of the burger.  “Tastes just like hamburger.” “It even bleeds.” Blah blah blah.  They launched a campaign equal to the one some years back for the much ado about nothing “Umami Burger.”

Full-scale production, widespread distribution, buckets of venture money, it looks like the Impossible Burger is here to stay.  So far the pitch has been you’re gonna help save the planet, rather than get healthier.  Maybe that message is somewhere and I just haven’t seen it.

The company had a victory this week in having the product certified as Kosher.  Also this week at the National Restaurant Show, they debuted a line of breakfast sausages.

They chose White Castle as the outlet for one of their first mass production deals. Curious since it’s not a national chain, isn’t really known for launching new products, and already has their own vegetarian patty on the menu, which I tried a couple years ago.

The White Castle product is “slider size” and is marketed as being topped with smokey cheddar cheese, pickles and onions. For some reason, at my White Castle, they didn’t think I deserved the topping or were hell-bent on saving a nickel that day, so mine was plain. Actually, that’s alright, it gives one a better sense of the product on a stand-alone basis. (Adding junk on top of a burger can make just about any meat patty ‘better.’ just look at the success of In N Out).

My take?  I don’t think it’s a mass market product.  Not that many people are willing to change their habits (obviously) to save the planet.  It probably appeals to devout vegetarians who think they miss the taste of beef or just want some variety (a complaint I hear a lot from vegetarians), but I don’t think it is going to get that many beef-a-holics to change their eating habits.

It looks like ground beef. It has an aroma and taste that will REMIND you of ground beef. (To me it tastes like inexpensive ground beef blend, a fatty 77/23 or so).  The texture they are going to have to work on, as well as a binder. Fat holds ground beef together, and the Impossible Burger crumbles, at least in the White Castle version.

I wish them success.  Great to see an old geezer (as I am) like Brown do a big-time start-up, and get that kind of financing, especially since it’s an industry he doesn’t have experience in.

I don’t know whether they are selling the product in bulk yet, like at groceries. Someone told me it’s at Whole Foods, but I haven’t verified it.  It is in a lot of restaurants tho, and the company provides a locator so you can track down an Impossible Burger near you.  I’m sure chefs are being creative with ingredients and presentation.

Impossible Burger Review

Two Impossible Burger Sliders Dissected.

 

 

 

 

 

Impossible Burger Review
Impossible Burger Review

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