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Archive for the ‘Hot off the Grill’ Category

La Pizza Via Review – Fox River Grove, IL

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La Pizza Via Review

La Pizza Via Review

Where else can you go that offers nearly every regional type of pizza from across the country??? La Pizza Via has NY/New Haven thin crust, Pan pizza with a thicker crust, baked in a square.

Of course Chicago’s favorite, cracker thin, cut in squares (many people call it “tavern style).” And what I went for, “Detroit style” which is a square pie, a focaccia like crust, caramelized edges, thick but very airy, cheese and toppings over that, then a few ladles of tomato sauce across the top.

I find fault with none of it. It’s a hearty, thick tomato sauce from one of the country’s premier suppliers to pizzerias. Hand pulled chunks of Italian sausage, flavorful, great texture.

Really nice pepperoni, no cupping or charring, and a great cheese blend. (If you want to win me over forever, add thick sliced “Sicilian” (marinated, herbed) green olives!

The shop has an order at the counter arrangement, but an attached dining room. Pastas, calzones, stuffed breads, sandwiches and snacks fill out the menu. Daily specials. Daily slices.

It’s gonna cost you less than Chicago’s regional chains, by 15-20% in my experience.

The Detroit takes about 15 minutes in the oven.  They are open seven days and deliver using some of the third party services.

If you’re from Detroit, this will more than satisfy your cravings, and you won’t have to go home and suffer through your relatives company just to get a slice.

Great product. Nice people. I hope they have great success  Full menu.

La Pizza Via Review

Detroit Style Sausage and Pepperoni

La Pizza Via Review

Properly caramelized crust

 

 

 

La Pizza Via Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
La Pizza Via Review

La Pizza Via Review

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Twisted Burger Review – Barrington, IL

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Twisted Burger Review

With a few locations around the Northwestern suburbs of Chicago, Twisted Burger is a growing chain with designs on serving the quality fast food audience.  Just five years old, they have been getting rave reviews with each new location they open.

The menu has a lot of customized burger choices, as well as chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, (well, it IS Chicago), Italian beef, appetizers, wraps and salads.

I went with the “Captain America” – beef patty (you can substitute veggie or turkey) topped with  cheddar cheese, bacon, apple BBQ sauce, lettuce, tomato and a giant onion ring. I had them hold the sauce.  Patty was flavorful and lean, toppings were crisp and fresh.  Bakery style roll, soft to chew, but firm enough for the toppings.

Also ordered the small size fries – garlic and parmesan style, which were really excellent. I wasn’t looking at the menu carefully enough, so I didn’t see a quantity option was “Side.”  Would have been better for one person, the “small” will keep the table happy.

There have been more than a few restaurants in this location over the 30+ years I’ve been coming around this town.  Most recent was a Mexican eatery. Before that, another casual burger place, which then moved across the street and has now moved to the adjacent suburb. Reviewed that one before.

I’m sure I’ll be back to “Twisted” to try some other items on the menu.  And more fries with that, please.

Twisted Burger Review

Captain America Burger

 

Twisted Burger Review

Garlic Parmesan Fries

 

Twisted Burger Review

Exterior

Twisted Burger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Twisted Burger Review

Twisted Burger Review

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Chums Shrimp Shack Review – East Dundee, IL

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Chums Shrimp Shack Review(This will be the longest intro to a review that you’ve ever encountered!) When I was a sprout growing up on the shores of the Big Kitch-Gumee (Lake Superior), once per year, in late Spring, when the rivers feeding the lakes reached a certain temperature, the waters would be chock-a-block full of a small silvery fish called “Smelt.” The head upriver to spawn.

In the extreme, Smelt will grow to be about 7 inches long and weigh a few ounces. In nature, Smelt are food fish for salmon and lake trout.

The run would last a few days or a week, and one could count on the media for an announcement of “they’re running!”

Men would pile into cars and pickups, boys would hop on their bikes, and all would head to the rivers, with the official tool of the trade, a long handled dip net and containers to place their bounty.

In those days, one could literally dip a net in the water and lift it out teeming with hundreds of fish. Some people would fill actual garbage cans to take home.

While the rivers were shoulder to shoulder with people clad in waders, the shores were dotted with fires – as one didn’t know how long the run would last (it could stop as quickly as it began), hard core enthusiasts would stay out all night. The fish were so thick in the river, playful dogs would jump in and grab them with their teeth. Can’t really say whether they ate them or not, don’t remember that.

Concurrent with the effort, numerous charities would set up massive tents around town, and host “Smelt fries” where you could buy a heaping plate full of the fried beauties for not very much money. Due to their diminutive size, Smelts are fried and consumed whole, heads, guts, and all.

The less adventurous consumer might prefer to take their repast at a local bar, where most likely the fish had the heads removed before frying.

So to recap, in my hometown, you can be served fried smelt once a year. Not so in Chicago, where it’s on the menu year round at most Greek restaurants, as well as any of the dozens of places that specialize in fried shrimp.

Chums Shrimp Shack in new on the scene in East Dundee, IL. They offer fried shrimp, clams, oysters, smelt, cod, tenders as well as daily specials like a walleye sandwich, or catfish strips. Also in their regular offerings are wraps and po-boys.

As I am writing this, they’ve been open about a week, and are in a location that previously served an outstanding burger. Bomba’s Grill. I wrote about it. Sad that it’s gone, but Chums more than makes up for it.

I ordered the Smelt, in case you hadn’t figured out where this piece was going. The seafood offerings come in ½ pound or full pound servings. Some competitors offer ¼ pound servings as well.

The fishies were delicious. A light breading with a mild seasoning (lemon pepper?), very crispy, bite sized pieces. Childhood memories flood back.

Think I’ll be a regular. I didn’t try their fries or slaw today, but I will. Maybe I’ll even be able to talk them into offering onion rings.  Full menu below or online.

Chums Shrimp Shack Review

Smelt on the hoof

Chums Shrimp Shack Review

1/2 pound fried smelt basket

 

Chums Shrimp Shack Review

Menu – click to enlarge

Chums Shrimp Shack Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Chums Shrimp Shack Review

Chums Shrimp Shack Review

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Sams Diner Review – Waterford, WI

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Sam’s Diner Review – Waterford, WI

Sam's Diner Review – Waterford, WIThere are a few times in my life when I’ve had a plate put in front of me at a restaurant and I’ve sighed and said “this is art.”

When/where this has happened, it’s never been dependent on the price or the number of stars, or some fancy name chef.

It’s about quality ingredients, meticulously prepared, properly plated, and probably a little love thrown in.

Such was the case at Sam’s Diner, a small eatery out in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin. It so exceeded my expectations on every level. It’d decorated with rustic Americana, about a dozen tables and booths.

I ordered the ham steak and eggs and was presented with a thick slab of quality ham prepared just the way I requested. I opted for “American fries” for the potato, thinly sliced crispy rounds, and marble rye toast.

Everything was superb including service and follow up, including getting chatted up by the manager and the chef.

It was about a 40 minute drive for me. Well worth it. I’ll hit it again and explore more of the menu.

You can find the full menu on Zomato. It’s pretty ambitious for a small joint.

Thirty miles Southwest of Milwaukee, eighty miles NNW of Chicago (map below). Opens early, seven days.

Sam's Diner Review – Waterford, WI

Ham steak and eggs, American fries

Sam's Diner Review – Waterford, WI

Sam's Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sams Diner Review – Waterford, WI
Sams Diner Review – Waterford, WI

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Caradaro Club Pizza Review – Milwaukee WI

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Caradaro Club Pizza Review Arguably Milwaukee’s oldest pizzeria, the Caradaro Club was started in the mid 40s, as the popularity of pizza grew in the US due to returning European theater GI’s, who had experienced in while serving.

Starting with a fully-proofed, very thin crust made with low gluten flour, the Caradaro is all about “tavern style” pizza, cracker thin crust, cut in small squares. Toppings are from quality suppliers and are amply distributed edge to edge on the pie. Fabulous cheese. Sauce leaning towards “sweet” as pure tomato products should.

I went for the “Works” a common configuration in Milwaukee, sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and black olives. Ask for the “Kitchen Sink” if you want the “Works” plus anchovies.

The reputation of 75 years in business holds up. So often I go into a new city and hit the “area’s favorite” to find it’s a place resting on its laurels from decades ago. Not so with the Caradaro Club.

The proprietor “Wally” is affable and a story teller. You can take a minute to “meet him” in this video from a pizza trade magazine, starting at around the 2:20 market.

Here’s the menu, which is very pizza specific and brief. Caradaro stands by its pizza with three generations of pride, and has never felt the need to clutter up the offerings with the standard fare at big chains – wings, pasta bowls, and the like.

There are two locations, the original spot is open for take-out and delivery only, with the newer edition boasting ample seating – enough for large groups.

I get to Milwaukee every couple months. The Caradaro will be a regular stop from now on.

Caradaro Club Pizza Review

18 incher, “The Works”

 

Caradaro Club Pizza Review

Caradaro Club Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Caradaro Club Pizza Review
Caradaro Club Pizza Review

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Buona Beef Meatballs Review – In Chicago Area Grocers

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Buona Beef Meatballs Review

Buona Beef Meatballs Review

Store Packaging

Buona Beef is a local Chicago restaurant chain, started about thirty years ago. They have been on an expansion tear recently, and it seems like they are popping up on a regular basis. As well, they have a few of their products in the grocery stores now. The chain specializes in “Chicago foods,” Italian beef sandwiches, hot dogs, pizza, subs. I’ve previously written about having the beef sandwich in one of their restaurants, as well as having the same product from the grocer. Quality stuff.

They own their own manufacturing facility, where they not only make their products, but also do private label business. Not sure if that’s for restaurants or groceries.

I spotted their meatballs in sauce, recently, and picked up a package to take home. It was around $7. The packages are hard frozen, so it’s best (IMHO) to let them thaw completely in the refrigerator before heating (they are pre-cooked).

The package weight is two pounds, and contains eight fairly good sized meatballs and the marinara sauce. I did not weight the individual balls. There own description of the product is: Authentic hand-rolled meatballs, seasoned with garlic, parsley, and Italian spices in a rich Marinara.

The ingredients listed on the package are thus: Marinara with Meatballs (Marinara Sauce {Fresh Vine-Ripened California Tomatoes, Sugar, Sea Salt, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sunflower Oil, Modified Food Starch, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Spices, Natural Flavor, Naturally Derived Citric Acid], Meatballs [Beef, Pork, Water, Romano Cheese (Cultured Cow’s Milk, Enzymes, Salt), Textured Soy Flour, Bread Crumbs (Bleached Wheat Flour, Salt, Dextrose, Yeast), Seasoning (Salt, Dried Garlic, Spice, Dried Parsley, Brown Sugar, Cottonseed Oil, Disodium Inosinate and Disodium Guanylate, Citric Acid, BHA, BHT), Ricotta Cheese (Whey, Milk, Cream, Vinegar, Salt, Stabilizers), Caramel Color]).

I was quite happy with the meatballs, they have the density, texture that I like, and great flavor. The sauce is good, but leans towards a little too much “sweet” for my personal taste, for red gravy I’m more in the heavy garlic/fennel camp.

My only real “beef” is I yearn for — say — a 24 pack of balls with no sauce. I’d be a regular.  More than regular.  I see their fresh (not frozen) Italian sausage in stores, as well. Haven’t tried it, but will. I go through a lot of Italian sausage in my kitchen, both link and bulk ground.

If you can’t find their products in your grocer, some of them are available for shipping on their website.

Buona Beef Meatballs Review

Company marketing photo

 

Buona Beef Meatballs Review

Thawed product at my house! 

 

Buona Beef Meatballs Review

Size

 

Buona Beef Meatballs Review

Cross section

Buona Beef Meatballs Review
Buona Beef Meatballs Review
Buona Beef Restaurant Review
Buona Beef Italian Beef Review

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The Norwegian Restaurant Review – Rockford, IL

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The Norwegian Restaurant Review

The Norwegian Restaurant ReviewI grew up in a medium sized city (250,000) that was pretty ethnically diverse at the time. At least “Euro-diverse” largely because the first generation of settlers hadn’t died off yet.

Judging from the telephone book, there were a lot of Norwegians, Finns, and Swedes. Finns seemed to be the most notable, there were food and clothing stores that identified with that market.

As an “unwoke” child growing up in the 50s and 60s, I was acutely aware of people of these origins, and that at least one segment was subject to constant ridicule with “Fin-lander jokes.” “How many Finns does it take…” and so on.

Are Finns on the “bottom of the Scandinavian ladder?” Beats me, and I’ve traveled that part of the world.

Other ethnic groups? I’d hear adults (not in my family, tho) talk about the number of Jewish people in the city (650, one synagogue they said), and the single black family who moved into our part of the city (and was treated horribly) after retiring from the local airbase.

I didn’t personally know any Norwegians until college, when I went to a kind of Norse-centric institute of higher learning. I learned how to drink beer with one Norwegian guy. I had drunken clumsy sex with one Norwegian woman. (Consensual! Ask her!) Damn she was lovely. Is to this day.

So I find myself in Rockford, IL last week, also a place with a Scandinavian or ten, I thought I’d opt for a new restaurant called “The Norwegian.”

They offered a refreshing selection of breakfast dishes with top quality ingredients. (Menu below – click on to enlarge).

I went with the “Croque Madame” (French) curiously not a Norwegian dish at all, but nicely done with house-baked, coarse toasted bread, some variety of quality, thin-sliced ham (Danish?), melted Jarlsberg cheese (that’s Norwegian), a generous dollop of Bechamel sauce (also French) and a soft boiled egg perched atop the sandwich. (No idea on the ethnic origin of soft boiled eggs…..Chinese?)

There was a fistful of some unidentifiable (by me) greens along side.  The plate was delicious. As was their espresso.

All attended to by the most joyful server I think I have ever encountered, despite having been in restaurants of all price ranges in 65 countries. According to the receipt, her name is apparently “Weekend B.”

Although the joint seemed to have plenty of help, kinda seemed to me like she was a bit overworked, she was handling the full bar, both diners and drinkers. With aplomb. And a million dollar smile.

Open for breakfast and lunch, Tues-Sun, and apparently, unless I’m reading it wrong, Thursday afternoon happy hour.  Cozy atmosphere. Apparently live music at times.

You should check it out if you’re in Rockford. It was jammed on a Saturday morning, but table turnover was pretty fast. Two entrees, three drinks, around $34.  Parking in rear. Front facing signage is pretty minimal, so keep your eyes peeled.

The Norwegian Restaurant Review

“Croque Madame”

 

The Norwegian Restaurant Review

The Norwegian Restaurant Review

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

The Norwegian Restaurant Review

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Casey’s General Stores Sandwich Review – Midwest C Store Chain

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Casey's General Stores Sandwich ReviewCasey’s General Stores, Inc., is a chain of convenience stores/petro stations in the Midwestern United States, primarily within the states of Iowa, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, South Dakota,North Dakota,Kansas,Oklahoma,Nebraska,Ohio,Minnesota,Michigan,Tennessee,Kentucky, and Wisconsin. The company is headquartered outside of Des Moines.

With over 2,000 locations now, Casey’s started in 1959 in a rented gas station in Des Moines.

What’s unique about Casey’s is an in-house “deli” which offers cooked to order pizzas, sandwiches, breadsticks, wings, burgers and other sandwiches.

In my experience, and I’ve been in a LOT of Casey’s, you’d be hard pressed to find one that isn’t nearly antiseptically clean, and that includes the over-sized restrooms.

Food wise, while I can attest the pizzas are made to order, and subs as well, I’m not sure about the burgers and other hot sandwiches, they may be “heat and eat” from some secret Casey’s distribution center rather than scratch made in house.

I like the pizza. It’s a little “doughy” but the copious amount of cheese more than makes up for it. They sell it by the slice most hours of the day, a variety of toppings. They also have a breakfast pizza early in the day.

But today I grabbed their pre-made “Italian Sub,” out of the cooler, and I found the quality of the bread, meat and cheese to be superior to any of the sub chains and a better value as well.

I’d buy it again. Choose your own condiments from the massive selection on the counter.

Find out if you’re lucky enough to have a Casey’s near you with their locator: https://www.caseys.com/locations.

Casey’s General Stores Sandwich Review

Casey’s General Stores Sandwich Review

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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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Jubelts Restaurant Review Route 66 – Litchfield, IL

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Jubelts Restaurant Review

Pony “Horseshoe” Plate

Dating from 1922, Jubelts is arguably the oldest surviving restaurant on the original US Route 66 segment in Illinois.  It’s about halfway between Chicago and St. Louis.

Functionally a full bakery with attached restaurant, the eatery is open to serve delights from all three meal dayparts.

It was late when I rolled in, and I was really looking for a motel to crash in, but when the lightbulb went off that this place was what I remembered it to be, I had to try it.

Although faced with a very lengthy menu,  as well as a full page of specials, when I’m in central Illinois, there’s really no choice for me but to get a “Horseshoe” – a plate unique to the area that many say originated in the Springfield area.

A “shoe” is two pieces of toast, with your choice of protein on top (burger, ham, pork, bacon, chicken) topped with fries, and then cheese sauce or sausage gravy. Throw in a couple of fried eggs in the middle there, if you’re inclined.

The “pony shoe” is a downsized version, and that was just fine for me; i chose another regional speciality, the fried pork tenderloin as my protein.  A tenderloin in these parts (and Indiana, and Iowa) is a lean piece of pork hammered very think, battered, deep fried, usually served between a terribly inadequately-sized bun.

In this case, it was in the middle of my pony.  Opted for cheese sauce, probably gravy would have been better.

Nevertheless, if you’re getting your kicks on Route 66, plan your day’s drive to hit Jubelt’s. Good grub.  Jubelts Restaurant Review Route 66

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jubelt's Bakery & Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jubelts Restaurant Review
Jubelts Restaurant Review

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