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Posts Tagged ‘Fast Casual’

Panera Breakfast Sandwich Review


20150817_090218Panera was founded in St. Louis, MO, where it operated (and still does in that area) at St. Louis Bread Company. The 1800 store chain is now owned by Au Bon Pain, which no longer operates Au Bon Pain (I liked those, for sure).

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a Panera before, thought I’ve had some of their sandwiches brought to me, and beyond the bread, they weren’t very impressive (not high quality ingredients or quantities of same).

Today I was looking for a new quick breakfast option, and did happen into Panera, where I ordered an Asiago Bacon Egg Cheese “pannini-ized” bagel sandwich, and a large coffee, which set me back the devilish amount of $6.66. No kidding.

The sandwich was prepared while I waited (except I don’t think the eggs were), it was hot, filling, and tasty.  Except for the cost, I might be a regular breakfast customer when I am out and about.

I found the store layout a mite confusing, there were four registers and two pick-up stations, I got sent from one to another, although there is no signage, some must be dedicated to one use or another;  they give you one of those vibrating hockey pucks to tell you when your order is ready.

Find one near you. Menu.

Panera Sandwich Review



Panera Sandwich Review


Panera Breakfast Sandwich Review


Pie Five Pizza Review


Pie-FiveArguably at the top of growth chain for the fast casual dining segment, the relatively new “made on demand” concept  pizza places appeal to customers on three points:  value pricing, quality ingredients, and fast service.

There are quite a few entrants into the category already, including Blaze, MOD, and Pie Five, which was started and isowned by the same group that owns the successful chain, Pizza Inn (I like their buffets).  I think that gives them a leg up on the competition.

It works kind of like Chipotle or Subway, you walk through a line, pick one of the specialty pies, or design your own, choosing your crust (including a gluten free option), sauce, cheese, and toppings, all for one price.  The pie is popped into a scorching hot oven and one in just a few minutes, as opposed to the quarter hour a conventional pizza deck or conveyor oven take to go through the same process.

I tried out two today, at a pre opening fete.  The “Athenian” comes with a thin crust, olive oil, herbs, chicken, garlic, olives, onion, peppers, feta, mozzarella/provolone blend, fresh basil, and sun dried tomato puree.

The “High Five” is their version of an all meat pie, on a pan crust, with marinara, pepperoni, Italian sausage, bacon, ham, and a cheddar, mozz, provolone blend.

The “assembly line” is fast and furious, as is the oven time.  At the end, they will ask you “for here or to go” and whether you want additional Parmesan or pepper flakes; if you’re eating in, those add-ons are also on the table.  Pie Five has the ‘magic’ coke dispensers, when you can crank out one or a combo of a hundred beverages, and also three kinds of ice tea, as well as some bottled drinks.

The 9 ” pizzas were excellent, I preferred the thin crust, bubbly and charred, to the pan personally. High quality and kudos for the processed pork toppings.

You can find Pie Five locations here, and take a gander at the menu  (also below)to see what’s in store for you. (pizza, salads, desserts).  The company has about fifty units open, and are aiming for five hundred, coast to coast.  Wanna own one? Inquire.

Pie Five people?  Great job.  Great pizza.

Pie Five Review

Makin’ Pies!

Pie Five Review

High Five Pie

Pie Five Review



Pie Five Pizza Review


Algonquin, IL – Algonquin Mexican Restaurant Review


Back in Chicagoland for the last time this year, had a craving for Mexican food since Mrs. Burgerdogboy has been on a cooking strike lately and she makes some fine Mexican platos.

I was out in the NW burbs, some areas of which are increasingly populated with people of various Latin heritages, and mercados and taquerias are popping up like pop-ups.

Not wanting to cause confusion among any potential customers, one entrepreneur labeled his restaurant as plain as plain could be: “Algonquin Mexican Restaurant.” (AMR)

With tables that will accommodate thirty and a counter with room for eight more, the AMR serves breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday with hours from 10A – 8 PM. They were doing a brisk take-out business, but I was in the mood to be waited on, so I took a seat a booth looking out at the Algonquin intersection at the corners of “Road Construction” and “Needs Road Construction.” The gajillion dollar downtown bypass appears that it will take another generation of work before it is actually finished, and from where I sit, will do little do alleviate the REAL area traffic problems, which are East – West, while the bypass is north-south. DOH!

The menu is straight forward and straight Mexican. Order ala carte or a plate which includes beans and rice.  (Me and the Mrs were forever spoiled by the refried beans in Aberdeen, WA one day).   Turns out tho that these were pretty tasty.  I wish I had ordered an additional side of them. (The ones in Aberdeen were so tasty we ate two orders at the table and got an order to go).

Polished off the complimentary chips and pico, and then  I ordered three tacos, chorizo, shredded beef, and ground beef.  Chicken, steak, pork, and pork skin were other options.  No tongue here.  I thoroughly enjoyed the tacos, even tho I had them with the gringo flour tortilla.  They come loaded with lettuce, tomato, and sour cream. A second “filling” option is straight chopped onion and cilantro.  Should have tried that.

In order of favorites – chorizo one, then shredded beef, and lastly ground beef.  The accompanying rice was nothing to write home (or here about) so i won’t.  I rarely eat rice as a side anymore. Can’t say why and sure you don’t care.

Circumstances were such that I spent a fair amount of time in Mexico this year, and of course few places North of the border can match local street food in Juarez or TJ,  just like after living in China I was spoiled to consuming  that type of food in the US.

But in any case, if you happen to be driving around the NW burbs, or live in Algonquin, Dundee, Lake in the Hills or Crystal Lake, the Algonquin Mexican Restaurant is worth a stop with freshly prepared food at great prices.   I’ve posted there menu over in our menu section, check it out.

Algonquin Mexican Restaurant Review



Algonquin Mexican Restaurant Review

3 Taco Plate


Algonquin Mexican Restaurant Review





Algonquin Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Algonquin Mexican Restaurant Review


Dennys Review


Once a year, I stop in at Denny’s to see how things are going; I’ve undoubtedly had at least two of the worst meals I’ve ever paid for at Denny’s, but I keep rooting for them for a couple reasons, one is that most of them are franchisees, and I try and cheer on entrepreneurs of all ilks, and secondly because a friend of mine just bought 75 of them, and he’s a lot smarter than me, so I figure he must see an upside.

At least two of the bad experiences I have had at Denny’s I have been accompanied by Mrs. Burgerdogboy, and this week I returned to the spot where we shared one of our very first meals eever.

The last time I was at this location the experience was tainted in a good way by thinking I was in love, so the restaurant experience didn’t matter; I was also hobbling around Portland with crutches and a cast, courtesy of Hurricane Katrina.

This time I was not so handicapped, in either regard.

I’m pleased that a lot of things have changed, the restaurant was cleaner, the service affable, and I ordered a cheeseburger and fries, thinking a straight-forward entree would be a good test of the menu and kitchen.

The burger menu has been greatly enhanced, with a host of specialty burgers as well as a “build your own” menu with a substantial number of toppings, including picking your patty and bun:

 Beef Patty, Grilled Seasoned Chicken Breast, Turkey Patty, Veggie Patty. Find Your Base: Sesame Seed Bun, Cheddar Bun, Whole Wheat Bun, Grilled Potato Bread. Say Cheese: American, Swiss , Cheddar, Pepper Jack. Choose Your Toppings: Grilled Onions, Spinach, Lettuce, Tomato, Red Onions, Pickles, Mayo, Chipotle Sauce, Bourbon Sauce, BBQ Sauce, Ranch, Jalapeños, Pico de Gallo. Premium Toppings (requires additional cost): Sautéed Mushrooms, Hash Browns, Bacon, Onion Tanglers™, Fried Egg, Chili, Fresh Avocado,  Jalapeño Bottle Caps.

It’s a list comparable to any of the current niche burger joints, and a worthy one.  Sandwiches and entrees are accompanied by a choice of sides, including Denny’s “odd” new fries, which they proclaim to be “Waffle cut,”  which I think actually means “waffle extruded,”  a fry made from a potato slurry mixture and forced out of a mold frying to freezing and frying.  But they were better than most extruded fries I have consumed.  Other side choices include hash browns, seasonal fruit or dippable vegetables.

The patty was clearly hand-formed and had a great beef taste.  A third pound, at least.  My one beef about the beef at Denny’s?  You have two choices of “doneness,” according to the server, medium well and well. Period.

Those two levels of cooking are not anywhere near my personal preference, but I have to say, it was OK.  Medium well didn’t mean completely dried out as it does at most restaurants.

Denny’s menu is full of ‘doneness’ cautionary statements, including about eggs.   They’ve added a couple of ‘premium’ steaks to the menu, not sure if they can only be cooked to the same levels as the burgers or not.

In any case, my conclusion is that Denny’s new burger menu is comparable to any fast casual competitor, and is every bit as good as Fuddrucker’s or Red Robin.

Full menu and restaurant locator online.

Denny's Review

Burger & Fries


Denny's on Urbanspoon

Dennys Review


Global Fast Casual Chain – Chili’s


The first Chili’s opened in Dallas, TX in 1975, and after a short run and a sale to Norman Brinker, a former executive of the restaurant division of Pillsbury, who used it as the foundation to build a global restaurant company.  There are 1400 Chili’s worldwide, and while most are in North America, there are locations in 33 other countries. The current list doesn’t include France, but I’d swear I was at the grand opening of one on the Champs Elysees some years ago. Maybe not.

This isn’t really a fair “review” as I didn’t actually visit Chili’s.  The last time I was in one was in suburban New Orleans, a couple months after Katrina. It was one of the few things open in that area, and one of the closest restaurants to my house.

Chili’s says they sell “American food with a Tex-Mex influence.”

Well not today.  I had three of their Big Mouth (r) Bites, mini cheeseburgers off their appetizer menu. For this menu item, you can choose three of a number of different items, these burgers, boneless wings, egg rolls, potato skins, some other items. According to their online ordering menu, these  three items will set you back $11.79, and they are accompanied by dipping sauces. Really?  Twelve bucks for three sliders?  Yikes.

The burgers are probably 2.5 – 3 ounces, hand-formed patties, on appropriately sized sesame topped grilled buns, with a smattering of onion.

The occasion for me having these babies was as a courtesy from a pharma rep. Pharma reps do business these days by bribing medical offices with food, or at least that’s the way it seems to me.

Another digression. I don’t like food reheated in the microwave, with very few exceptions.  If you’re keeping track, or are going to entertain me sometimes, reheated lasagna would be ok, meat sauce, chili I guess.  But I find microwave reheated fowl foul.  Just FYI.

Anyway, I had to reheat these burgers, which presented the same type of problem that heating frozen White Castles does, even tho these weren’t frozen.  The trouble with both is, if you put all the components in the microwave at the same time, you can end up with either an unheated meat patty or a very overheated bun.

My solution.  Patties only on a paper plate for 30 seconds, then I tossed the buns in for another 20 seconds.  It worked out.

I adorned the mini burgs to my taste, crappy yellow mustard and cheap dill pickle chips, and they were pretty good.

If some other pharma rep wants to drop some by, I wouldn’t protest. Too much.

The love of my life, the one that got away, worked for Brinkers once upon a time.  That didn’t affect this review.

Chili's Grill & Bar on Urbanspoon

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