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Category Archives: Barbecue

Solid Like a Rock

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What says summer more than a barbecue?  Burgers, beers, and brats abound as Americans across the country congregate in their backyards around a sizzling grill as our ancestors have done since the beginning of time.  While we’ve gone beyond grunting at each other and digging into fresh hunks of mastodon, the love for grilled meats is still going on strong as I found out at Rocks in Lincoln Park.IMG_3503

The previous night we had spent a good time enjoying some bodacious burgers and brews at George Street Pub, so we ended up at Rock’s since they had some delicious brunch options.  It didn’t strike me as anything novel in terms of decor or concept upon walking into the establishment though.  A high end pub with wood and stone accents that focuses on beer and whiskey…yawn.IMG_3495 Since it was already noon, I was in the mood for something a bit more on the lunch end of things.  They had a fair bit of appetizers, sweet plates, sandwiches, and burgers (including a four pound burger challenge).  Plus, they had a litany of beers along with plenty of whiskeys; hence the name, Rocks, as in the ice cubes.  Continuing in the trend of the weekend, I looked over the burgers and tried to find something new and interesting.  Enter El Gordo or “The Fat” ($10).  I could then choose a side from a mini list of intriguing options, but I went with the Greek fries.

When the burger came out, I was taken aback with how it was presented with all of its toppings bared to the world like a sorority girl at Mardi Gras.IMG_3499  I could see the half pound beef patty topped with pepper jack, cheddar, and provolone, three strips of bacon, pieces of onion rings, deep fried pickles, and a coating of spicy 1,000 island dressing.  I was having the meat sweats just looking at this mountain of a meal, but I put the pretzel top bun on and got ready to rock.IMG_3501  The first bite was quite intense as I cut through the gooey layer of cheese, juicy meat, crispy bacon, and sour layers of fried vegetables.  I personally thought they were gilding the rose though with this burger. IMG_3502 While I’d recommend it to anyone, it seemed like a bit too much was going on in regard to the flavor profile.  The pickles overwhelmed a lot of the flavors including the supposedly spicy 1000 island sauce.  Thankfully, the pretzel bun managed to keep all of the contents between my fingers, and I’ve found the pretzel bun to be the sturdiest variety of bread utilized in burger construction.  Good old fashioned German food engineering at work. What I was more entertained with were the Greek fries.IMG_3498  While they were similar to some taters I’ve tasted in Oregon, they were a Hellenic treat complete with actual chunks of seasoned Feta cheese.  I’m loco about my queso, and these fries fit the bill.  The creamy and crumbly pieces of goat cheese were pungent and transported the oregano coated potatoes to a cut above the rest.

So if you’re looking for another bar that serves ridiculous burgers alongside brunch items with a touch of class, roll on over to Rocks!

fRocks Lincoln Park on Urbanspoon

Something Old, Something New, Something Fried, Something Brewed

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Ah what a summer this is turning out to be.  The weather is warming up, and the festival season is in full swing.  Not only that, but the World Cup has lit up Chicago like I’ve never seen before as futbol fever is sweeping over the city.  I’ve got a fever myself for not only the beautiful game but wonderful food.  Sorry, no cowbell here.  Today’s post on Mastication Monologues takes us to George Street Pub in Lakeview.

The exterior of the bar was quite average looking as it blended into the genteel surroundings common to the northside.  Upon stepping into the establishment, it was designed like any other sports bar sans memorabilia on the wall:  exposed brick, plenty of tvs showing World Cup matches and baseball games, leather booths, and dark wood furniture.  There is indoor and outdoor seating, and we opted for the latter option.  That proved to be our downfall as the temperature dropped it like it was hot as a chilly wind descended upon us on the exposed patio.  They had a few heat lamps but way too few to warm up such a large space.  Unless, it’s perfect weather out there, I’d recommend sitting inside.  Upon sitting down, we ordered some drinks, and I picked a Midas Touch Golden Elixir beer ($6).IMG_3484  I picked it since it was described as “spiced” on the menu which naturally piqued my interest as it was nestled among the porters, IPAs, and lagers.  After doing a bit of research, this “beer” is somewhat between wine and mead as it is derived from residue  found in clay vessels from 8th Century B.C. in the tomb of the legendary King Midas.  At the time I didn’t know this, but now I know that I sampled the beer of the king who turned everything he touched into gold made me feel like I was getting a bargain.  Once it came out, I was greatly intrigued to see what I actually looked like, and it was imbued with a rich, golden hue.

A drink fit for a king

A drink fit for a king

It wasn’t carbonated, and the taste was unlike anything I’ve ever had.  It had a sweet aroma due to the honey and a slightly herbal scent compliments of the extravagant saffron.  The beer was light and clean with dulcet tones of the muscat grapes that were tempered with the spices.  I’d highly recommend it, and the bartender there said it was his favorite beer out of the hundreds on the beer menu.  I now know why the Midas Touch was a hidden gem.  Since Janice and I were a pair of Hungry Hungry Hippos, we decided to get some of the chicken wings ($7) while waiting for her friends to finally arrive.  Diners have the option of mild, medium, or hot wings along with ranch and blue cheese for dipping.  We got mild ones with extra hot sauce and blue cheese on the side.  The different levels of spice depends only on how much of the sauce they put on the chicken pieces.  They came out, and they looked a bit underwhelming. IMG_3487 While we got plenty for the price, they were on the smaller end with semi-adequate amounts of meat on the bone.  I really liked the buffalo-style sauce on the skin that had a real hot punch that jived with the reinvented blue cheese sauce that had oregano and garlic in it.  Eventually, her friends arrived, and they picked the pesto bruschetta ($6.95).  When it came out, it would have made nonna say “Mama mia!”.  It was a much more simplified yet modified version on this Italian antipasto.  While the crispy bread was surprisingly warm and semi-soft, it was rubbed with a little bit of garlic and pesto.IMG_3489  The toppings were a departure from the typical minced tomato and basil mix, and instead it was like a caprese salad fusion complete with a slice of buffalo mozzarella and tomato.  It was a refreshing remix covered with a hefty helping of creamy and rich pesto.  I’d recommend this appetizer over the chicken wings.  When it came time to order, I got the George Street Pub burger ($10) along with a Smuttynose Robust Porter.  They both came out at the same time, and both complimented each other perfectly.  The Smuttynose doesn’t get it’s name from that creepy guy snooping around the dirty magazine section in the supermarket but rather the name of an island off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. IMG_3490 It was a smooth pour and taste with hints of chocolate and coffee that brought big flavors to match the gargantuan burger in front of me.

Excalibur got a new home

Excalibur got a new home

The George Street Pub burger was a half pound patty sandwiched between two pretzel bun halves and topped with a thick slab of smoked cheddar.IMG_3492IMG_3493  When I bit into the sandwich of kings, I was greeted with a patty bursting with flavor and bacon bits, caramelized onion, and chorizo within the bulging beef cocoon. IMG_3494 It was a ton of meat spiced up with the mish-mash of chorizo and the pungent onions.  By the time I finished the burger, I thought I wouldn’t be able to pass one waffle fry past my lips, but I was wrong.  These bad boys were delicious, but unfortunately I couldn’t enjoy all of them due to my struggling stomach.

Overall, George Street Pub is like many gastropubs that can be found around the Chicagoland area, but I’d recommend it if you’re just looking for a relaxed place to catch a game or stuff yourself silly with good food and great beers.

George Street Pub on Urbanspoon

Raising the Bar

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Bars are normally just known as watering holes for groups of friends on the town or creepers trying to cruise for some ladies (all dependent on what part of town you’re in, of course).  Their drink selections can range from the mundane to the most elaborate with the rise of microbreweries and the sudden rise of professional mixologists, a.k.a. hipster bartenders.  However, it’s not often that people associate fresh and/or gourmet food with bar food.  True, it may be delicious, deep fried, and coated/stuffed/infused with many different types of cheese but nothing for more elegant palates.  This was the case with Jimmy’s Grill in downtown Naperville.

Originally, Jimmy’s was your more typical waterhole that was the starting point of the night with a couple drinks before going to some of the more dance-centric establishments.  The food?  Just burgers, fries, nachos, and more fried foods up the wazoo.

Meh

Meh

These guilty pleasures were of average quality and served more as a lining for your stomach for the bender to come rather than a culinary experience.  However, I recently visited it for the first time since coming back from Korea.  Not only do they have a new logo and color scheme, but according to the menu, they have a new chef in the form of Travis Rodriguez and new management.  Looking over the menu, I could see that they really upheld their pledge to utilize, “house braised, grass fed meats, free range chicken, fresh seafood, and baked goods.”  I mean hummus?  tartare? asparagus?  Talk about the transformation of the ugly duckling.  After much deliberation, I decided to get the Cubano sandwich ($11) which came with a free side of vinegar chips, salad, or fries.  I went with the last option.  My dad got the Picasso burger with Swiss cheese on top ($11), and my mom got the pulled pork sandwich ($11).

After a good amount of time taking in the new environs and checking out their ginormous tvs on the patio, they brought out our meals.  My Cuban sandwich looked great and tasted even better. IMG_3375 Not only did it have the signature grill marks thanks to the panini-esque grill called the plancha, but I could see all of the key ingredients that have made the Cuban sandwich a Miami staple since the early 1960s when Cuban refugees fled Castro’s Commie paradise.  From the first bite, I was hooked.  The bread was light, crispy, and chewy and gave way to a one-two punch of juicy pork loin and a hefty layer of succulent ham slices. IMG_3376 Next came the melted Swiss cheese that gave the sandwich a slightly nutty yet mellow flavor that served as a contrast to the sour pickle slices and tart yellow mustard drizzled over all of the bread.  They didn’t spare any expense with any of the ingredients which led to a meal packed with plenty of sassy Latino flavor to the last cheesy bite.  The French fries were expertly fried and very lightly salted which scored major points with me.  Moving on from there, I luckily was able to steal a nibble from my mom’s barbecue pulled pork sandwich that came with a side of apple jicama slaw and onion rings.IMG_3369  The pork was messy yet heavenly with the sweet sauce that coated every strand, and the onion rings were perfect in terms of breading composition and onion stability within the crunchy shell. IMG_3371 I didn’t get to try my dad’s burger since I didn’t fancy a ruptured stomach, but he took it down like a champ. IMG_3373IMG_3372 Ergo, I’d only assume it was delicious.  I did try the vinegar potato chips on the side, and they were crispy yet oh so sour with plenty of white vinegar bite.

Overall, I’d highly recommend checking the newly improved Jimmy’s Grill.  Not only is the food delicious but also nutritious for a reasonable price.

Jimmy's Grill on Urbanspoon

I Like the Cut of Your Rib

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Man, what a summer.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better with the weather improving and the World Cup around the corner, I finally made it out to Chicago’s famous Ribfest.  While there is another similar festival out in Naperville, the Chicago one apparently is the best in the entire city for the summer.   That really means something since there are ten billion street fests in Chicago for every type of cuisine, ethnicity, and music genre.  Why so many?  Oh, let’s just say when the winter hits Chicago, you don’t want to be anywhere outside, especially this past winter.

Ribfest is typically a three day event complete with music, games, and oh yeah, the food, including an amateur rib eating contest!  Perhaps this video could give you a good idea of what it’s like to be there minus the crushing claustrophobia Janice and I experienced on the wonderful Sunday afternoon we spent there.  We could see rib vendors from all over the Chicagoland area and the USA.  After dodging millions of the food zombies slowly grazing and ripping apart various foodstuffs while shuffling slowly down Lincoln Ave., we ended up at the Mrs. Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro tent.  We had to try it since it has now won best ribs at the fest for the fifth year running.  We got a sampler, and it was absolutely finger-lickin’ good.IMG_3359  The whiskey laden sauce coated every inch of these fall-off-the-bone tender ribs.  The sauce was smoky yet quite sweet, but the only downside was that I felt that there could have been more meat on the bones for the price.

She doesn't mind.

She doesn’t mind.

After those tiny but tasty buggers, we moseyed on back to the Texas Thunder BBQ tent because you can’t mess with Texas!IMG_3363  Not only did we splurge for a rib sampler but also a side of the sweet cowboy cornbread.  I was much more satisfied with these bad boys since everything definitely was bigger in Texas.IMG_3362  These Flintstone-sized ribs were more my speed since they had plenty of meat along with a spicier sauce that had hints of cayenne pepper.  Not only that, but the cornbread was the best cornbread I’ve ever had.  Not only was it sweet, but it was moist and spongy which allowed them to soak up some of the bbq sauce to create a spicy and sweet treat.  It was a great day.IMG_3367

Ribbed For My Pleasure

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Burgers, barbecue, and beer.  What more could one ask for for dinner in the summer?  Perhaps a big pool or white sand beach and plenty of sunshine instead of the dreary weather I encountered upon meeting my friends out in Schaumburg at Westwood Tavern and Tap.Front-Doors

As my friend, Erin, who thoughtfully supplied me with an umbrella, and I quickly ran inside from the rain, we were greeted with a spacious and elegantly furnished sports bar.  From the stone finishing on the walls to the towering wall of illuminated liquors behind the bar, it was a welcoming place for sports fans trying to catch the next nail-biting Hawks game or a couple out for their first date.  We were a party of three and were seated in a booth that was a bit too wide for adequate conversation between three people.  So we all had to get a bit more intimate with each other in regard to proximity which might not be as easy with larger groups in the booths.  I started by looking over the drink menu, and it was like a yellow pages for Brewtown, USA.  While I was well acquainted with most of its residents, I noticed a new neighbor on the block.  So, I gave the Black Butte Porter ($5) a warm welcome.IMG_3264  The simple label belied its pleasant, rich, chocolate/coffee flavor contained within an enveloping shade of ebony.  As for the food, I could choose from a variety of items ranging from sushi, flatbreads, salads, signature entrees, and of course, burgers.  I had a hankering for a good burger, and who doesn’t when you’re hungry?  I settled on the Baby Back Burger ($12) along with a complimentary side of fries and smoked jalapeno mayo.  I’m sure you can reason what the “baby back” in my burger derives from.  If not, perhaps this catchy Chili’s jingle can explain it for you.  Before I get to describing my meal, I do have to point out that our waiter screwed up my friends’ orders.  Erin wanted sweet potato fries, but she got normal fries.  Carolyn didn’t even get her sushi either.  I don’t know if the server was having a bad day or if there was a mix up, but he made up for it with a heaping bowl of sweet potato fries and eventually brought Carolyn her sushi. Anyway, it’s true that they put bbq rib pieces on top of my burger along with cheddar cheese, chipotle mayo, and onion strings.IMG_3265IMG_3270  I couldn’t believe it when I was looking at it.  I placed all of it together in one sexy package and proceeded to take a bite.  It was like your typical barbecue, cheddar, bacon burger sans the pork belly, but the barbecue brought a smoky sweetness that jived with the crunchy onion strings.  Even with all of this going on inside the burger, the bun managed to hold together the party on my plate.  As for the fries, they were ok, and the jalapeno mayo could have been a bit more flavorful.IMG_3267  I could see that they were trying to bring a bit of the pepper infusion to an otherwise bland condiment, but it’s back to the drawing board for this one.

Overall, Westwood Tavern has plenty to offer for diverse tastes to a certain extent, but aside from that, it’s just another fancy sports bar and grill.

 

Westwood Tavern & Tap on Urbanspoon

Heavenly Wings

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Hello and welcome to another wonderful edition of Mastication Monologues!  After a very long weekend of wild adventures with Janice, I bring you another series of food reviews in Chicago.  Today’s post involves Crisp, a Korean fried chicken establishment that made me think of my time in the Land of the Morning Calm.

While Janice and I were trying to figure out where to grab lunch, we settled on Crisp since her friend gave it rave reviews.  I met him once, and he seemed like a trustworthy guy aside from his crazy moves he was busting out on the dance floor.  I heard that it was Korean fried chicken, and I realized that this was the second time I’d be getting fried chicken with Janice (the first was a sweet memory)  I crossed my fingers that it would be just as scrumptious.  My hopes were completely fulfilled and then some. IMG_3235 Upon walking in, we had to shimmy our way past the overflowing tables and dining counters that were filled to the gills just to put in our order.IMG_3227  While looking at the menu, I could see some of the Korean influences like the focus on fried chicken, bibimbap (or the more Americanized moniker “Buddha bowls”), and different types of kimchi or pickled vegetables.  However, they also have burritos, sandwiches, and sides.  Now, you might be wondering, ‘Fried chicken is pure Amurika.  What makes Korean fried chicken different from the Dirty South classic?’  Well, the contrast lies in the sauce they slather on the crunchy chicken pieces.  They have four different flavors you can slap on bone in/bone out wings and whole/half chickens.  I always love my chicken wings, so I went with the ten wing option.  The cashier chuckled, gave me a look, and asked me if it was my first time there.  I replied in the affirmative, and he said that I wouldn’t be able to finish ten wings since they’re huge.  So, I took his word for it and dropped down to five wings ($8.95), three Seoul Sassy sauce and two Crisp BBQ sauce.  I naturally had to try their kimchi, so I didn’t get the typical cabbage but rather the 총각 (chonggak, literally “bachelor” since it was considered a kimchi so simple even single men could make for themselves) radish kimchi ($3.95).  While waiting I saw a lot of different Korean drinks like Milkis stacked up above the bibimbap display or the Bacchus-D energy drink box on our table. IMG_3225 It’s a popular on-the-go beverage for the 빨리 빨리 (bbali bbali; fast fast) Korean lifestyle, and it tastes like drinking liquid Sweet Tarts.IMG_3229  They called my name, and I snapped out of my memories to pick up my grub.  I’m so glad the cashier was honest with me about the size of the wings because these were gargantuan compared to their Buffalo Wild Wing or Hooter counterparts.IMG_3231  I think Janice put it best that they chopped them off pterodactyls.  If that’s what they did, the prices certainly didn’t reflect the costly nature of the undertaking.

Slightly intimidated

Slightly intimidated

 It was a lot of food for a reasonable price.  I started with the Seoul Sassy sauce, and it definitely lived up to its name.  It was a sophisticated blend of garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and a bit of molasses for a flavor profile that left my mouth watering.  The chicken itself was great with plenty of white meat, and the skin was incredible.  It wasn’t greasy or soggy and was a perfect representative of the restaurant’s name.  As for the Crisp BBQ sauce, it reflected a meeting of East and West with the smokiness of a North Carolina pig roast, and the spice of Korean gochujang that let you know you were consuming something spicy but not in a mouth-numbing manner.  I couldn’t pick between the two sauces, but there was a game-changer that was on every table:  Allison’s atomic sauce.  Like the A-bomb, it blew me away. IMG_3233 It was a mild, chipotle ranch/mayo mixture that had a cooling effect on the wings yet provided a very subtle peppery zing with each bite.IMG_3234  By my third wing, I was slathering this weapon of mass consumption over every square inch of my chicken.  After finishing my five wings, I had two of Janice’s and still could have eaten more.  Alas, I just focused on my kimchi.IMG_3232  It was cubed and soaking in chili water, and it was just as good as back in Korea.  The radish cubes were crispy, slightly sour, and spicy.  I couldn’t even finish the tub because it was so much for so little money.  By the end, I was ready to literally roll out of there a happy diner.

So if you want to try a Korean twist on an American classic with American sized portions and reasonable prices, check out Crisp in Chicago.  빨리 빨리!!

Crisp on Urbanspoon

Bring Money to Get This Honey

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Hey, everyone!  Sorry for the wait, but I’ve been busy as of late with tutoring.  However, I hope you’re ready for a finger-lickin’ good blog post today on Mastication Monologues!  While I have my affinity for certain fried chicken chains over others, Honey Butter Fried Chicken in Chicago has quickly become one of the best places I’ve ever had the artery-clogging, guilty pleasure.IMG_3048

After a fun day out on the town with my friend Janice, we decided to try Honey Butter Fried Chicken for lunch dinner or as we called it, “linner”, or perhaps “dunch” would work just as well.  That portmanteau was born out of the fact we went to eat around 5 pm since we’re old people deep down inside.  I didn’t expect the restaurant to be as busy as it was at that time of day.IMG_3047  We went in line, and there was a sense of pressure as the line continued to form behind us.  As my pulse quickened and my eyes scanned over the fried chicken, sandwhich, and sides options, I eventually went for a four piece chicken platter ($15; too expensive) and a side of schmaltz smashed potatoes ($2.75).  We quickly jumped off to the side as the tide of customers ebbed forth, and we decided to sit out on the patio that is in the back of the restaurant.  However, Chicago that day decided to live up to its nickname the Windy City by greeting us with chilly blasts of wind that made us retreat into the main dining room (though the Windy City name doesn’t come from the weather phenomenon).  Once settled in a more comfortable eating environment, bar the proximity of the tables to each other which invades a bit of your privacy, our food was brought out to us.  It was smaller than I was anticipating for the price, but I was judging a crusty brown book by its cover.

So. much. fat.

So. much. fat.

I started with the corn muffins.  These little nuggets of sweet, fluffy goodness were appropriately stamped with honey bees and honeycombs.  My taste buds were abuzz after slathering the muffins with hefty helpings of the free honey butter on the side that were both creamy and not too sweet.  You only get one complimentary tub with your chicken platter, but they just decided to give me another one because they’re cool like that.  As for the chicken, while it doesn’t have the potent punch of Popeye’s spicy chicken strips, the breading was superb by being both bursting with flavor and not that greasy.  The meat was succulent, and the best part was that the breast pieces were completely boneless which gave me a lot more chicken than I was anticipating.  My duck fat mashed potatoes were excellent, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t like gravy on their mashed potatoes.  I think it was because the light, salty flavor of the duck fat in the gravy wasn’t as overpowering as a beef based sauce.  The actual taters were light and whipped.  I even had some room in my bulging tummy for a bit of Janice’s creamed corn that was wild.

Not your granddaddy's creamed corn

Not your granddaddy’s creamed corn

While the corn was run of the mill, it was kicked up a notch with Thai green curry.  What that meant for each forkful was that the buttery corn flavor brought a subtle citrus zest that really surprised me in a good way.  By the end of the meal, I was happier than a rooster in a hen house.

So if you’re looking for a new take on fried chicken that goes beyond the standard establishments and normal price range, check out Honey Butter Fried Chicken.

Honey Butter Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon

Poppin’ Molly, I’m Sweatin’! (Portland, Finale)

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Well, I’ve finally managed to come to the end of my sojourn through the wilds of Portland’s culinary scene, and this final post is a fitting finale to the adventure.  Fitting in the sense that I manage to go out in a blaze of glory instead of just fading away a la Kurt Cobain minus the whole dubious suicide and artistic angst.  Instead, I grapple with another spicy food challenge at local eatery Salvador Molly’s.  It’s a bit outside of the city center, and you have to take a bus out to the hill country to get there.  However, it’s a unique dining experience that you can’t get anywhere else in Portland.

Now, I’ve survived my fair share of uber-spicy food that would make any normal human’s taste buds melt immediately.  The medium of fiery madness has ranged from soup, chicken wings, and even a deep fried pork cutlet, but Salvador Molly’s Great Balls of Fire challenge managed to switch it up once more pushing me to my culinary, physical, and mental limit.  The exterior of the restaurant gives off a hippie/Caribbean vibe with its tropical plants and vibrant color schemes, and the interior is even more fascinating.IMG_3881IMG_3880  Buddhist prayer flags were streaming overhead while the walls were adorned with African folk art murals along with Mexican artisanal crafts. IMG_3882 Upon sitting down and scanning the menu, I could see that they had food from all corners of the globe including the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hawaii to name a few.  I was initially drawn to the Jamaican Roti wraps, but I decided to go for Pele’s Volcano sandwich ($9.50) since it had some interesting ingredients.  Along with this, I asked to get the Great Balls of Fire challenge (7 balls, $7.95).  The waitress was hesitant, and asked me if I wanted to just try one to make sure I knew I was getting into.  The only thing I knew was that they were made out of habenero peppers, and I could eat those no problem.  So once I agreed to it, she wrote it down on her paper pad like a death sentence for a doomed prisoner.  While I was waiting, I saw that on the wall next to my table there was a couple of pictures on the wall chronicling the brave souls who pitted their wits against the flame-infused orbs and survived.

The few, the proud, the spiceheads.

The few, the proud, the spiceheads.

In my mind, I could see my picture going up there as well by the end of my meal.  That’s half the battle with food challenges, envisioning yourself triumphing over the massive obstacle placed in front of you.  Eventually both came out, and the sandwich looked more intimidating than the food challenge.IMG_2693  I knew I was in real trouble when they made me sign the waver saying that I couldn’t sue them if needed a colostomy compliments of their tortuous habanero appetizer.IMG_2692  They also pointed out the warning sign next to my table that was in other parts of the restaurant as well.IMG_2691  Not too scary at all, but I had a plan.  I wouldn’t be rushing headfirst into the gates of hell without a trusty thick coating to my stomach which was what the Pele sandwich was for.  It different than what I was expecting because it was more like a toaster oven pizza than a traditional sandwich.   As for its name, Pele is the goddess of volcanoes in Hawaiian culture, and I was expecting real fireworks to be happening on my palate.  Instead, it was more like a poorly made sparkler in the middle of a rainstorm.  Lots of fizzle and no sizzle.  A majority of the mediocrity derived from the toasted but cold and soggy, compliments of the toppings, bread.  The pork was average, but the only redeeming factor was the tamarindo bbq sauce that was tangy and sweet with a slightly herbal aftertaste compliments of the tamarind infusion in the sauce.  I was more partial to the hurricane garlic fries that took my taste buds by storm with their crispy exteriors and garlicky interiors.

My eyes then turned to my rotund morsels that threatened my existence as onlookers at another table bade me good luck before I dug in.IMG_2694  They even took out their camera phones to take a few snapshots before I possibly spontaneously combusted mid-meal.IMG_2696  They then got their food but always kept one eye on me as I began the challenge.  I gnawed on the first one as I put my figurative toe in the lava pool to make sure it was just right.  Inside the first fritter, it seemed to be filled with pieces of habanero and cheesy batter, and the spice was coming in hot and heavy waves over my tongue.  It was manageable though as I quickly popped balls 2-6 into my mouth with gusto.  The other diners’ jaws fell on their tables as they couldn’t believe that I devoured the fireballs just as quickly as they came to my table.  However, I was starting to feel a rumbling in my tummy as my mouth was more or less numb, sweat covered my face, and my heart was racing.  The final morsel slid down my gullet while leaving deep, spicy, smarting claw marks on my palate. I mopped up the sweet mango salsa as I gallantly destroyed the Great Balls of Fire Challenge.  The waitress was impressed as she took my picture for the “Great Wall of Flame”, and I got to write a memorable quote on it for everyone to see when they walk into the restaurant. IMG_2699 Once the fanfare ended, I sat there digesting the weapon-grade fritters that were smoldering in my stomach.  I asked for a cup of milk to quell the firebomb that was spreading throughout my gastro-intestinal tract.  I left that restaurant to walk through a monsoon, but I was more troubled with the sensation that felt like someone was disemboweling me.  I could see why they made me sign the waiver because they could have been in real legal trouble with people with less fortitude than I.  I struggled with the pain these little hellions brought for the rest of the afternoon/evening, so I warn everyone that the Great Balls of Fire Challenge will burn you if you don’t have the stomach for it.

So if you want a slightly overpriced menu that really highlights the diversity of Portland’s population or try your hand at consuming edible fireballs, check out Salvador Molly’s!
Salvador Molly's on Urbanspoon

Last Action (Grill) Hero/Which Came First: Toast or the Egg?

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Hey everyone!  Welcome to the 120th installation of Mastication Monologues!  Not only is this post special just because I’ve reached another milestone in the “arduous” quest to be a great food blog writer, but it’s also an installment that chronicles my 26th birthday.  Naturally, I had to go big for my second birthday overseas, so I ended up at Action Grill in Hongdae.  Here is their business card with all of the information you need along with their Facebook page.  The directions are quite long and detailed, so I’m sure Google Maps will suffice.1425636_3030604761194_2036417494_n

It’s surprising that I even ended up here in the first place because I found it originally on accident like Christopher Colombus minus the biological warfare and genocide of the local population.  It was a lovely summer day with my friend who I went out with to get ice cream at Fell and Cole.  We then walked around Hongdae just for fun, and we stumbled upon the establishment that drew us in with the grills set up outside.  We took a look inside, and I knew that I absolutely had to eat at Action Grill one day.  What better day than my birthday?  So I set everything up with the owner, Kim, whose number is on the card.  He was very helpful and understanding, so I’d give the service an A+ just based on his accommodating nature.  Now you might be wondering what sets Action Grill apart from other restaurants and made me want to eat there above all other places?IMG_2647  Well, at Action Grill you camp indoors while you eat.  So basically everything from the seats to the grills, to the decor are straight out of a foray in the forest. IMG_2642IMG_2643 Their menu revolves around grill sets which range from 15,000 W to 40,000 W.  They also have a wide range of beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.  For our group of 12 people, we got three of the “Brother” sets which feeds four people, more or less.  It took about 15 minutes for them to prepare it, and then they brought it out to our tables in full Weber grills.  When they removed the tops, I was taken aback by how much delicious food was piled up in front of me.IMG_2644IMG_2645  On one grill we had slices of bacon, sausages, full shrimp, chicken, potato wedges, and veggies encased in a tin foil tent.  It was a fun group eating experience since you had fold out forks and filled up each others’ small camping bowls with the food.  As for the actual meal, all of the food was great.  I was especially partial to the bacon because there was a lot of fat on it which made it especially smooth and buttery tasting.  The chicken was good but oddly had an aftertaste of hot dogs.  I personally liked combining the onion and pepper veggie salad with the different meats to provide a crisp contrast to the savory elements that the meats brought.  As for the potato wedges, they were well made with crunchy exteriors along with firm, snow-white interiors.  It was an even more interesting dining experience since I was interviewed and filmed by Korean college students talking about how I much I enjoyed the restaurant.   Overall, I was quite satisfied with my meal at Action Grill and the unique camping experience was quite entertaining since they took away all of the annoying parts of camping like mosquitos and rabid raccoons.  However, my birthday food adventure didn’t just stop there.  I also tried some pizza beer with my friend, Bora.  Somehow Tom Seefurth managed to distill the essence of a classic Margherita pizza into a lager.  It wasn’t something that I would ask for again, but the experience was worth it.  It had a distinct oregano smell, but as for the taste, it was more peppery and cheesy.  This was an occasion where I think they over-elaborated on culinary fusion.  Nothing’s better than pizza and beer, but when they combined them, it left me feeling less than saucy.

Mama mia!  indeed

Mama mia! indeed

Much later in the night after a lot of dancing and the occasional imbibing of some adult beverages, my friends and I stopped for some Korean street food.  This time I tried a Korean winter specialty,  계란 빵 or egg bread.

Breakfast for a late night snack

Breakfast for a late night snack

It’s exactly what it sounds like.  Creative name, huh?  They look like small hors d’oeurves served up on a hot griddle, but they were just what I needed to brace myself against the chilly night.  The egg is served sunny side up on top of the bread, so watch out for some yolk splatter.  As for the bread, it was pleasantly crispy and completed this small, hearty breakfast tablet that I ate in the middle of the street.

Freezing but so worth it

Freezing but so worth it

A tasty end to my birthday even though half of it ended up on my face thanks to Bora trying to feed me it.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Kicking Ass and Eating Wings

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Hello everyone, and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  My latest food adventure took me to, surprise surprise, Itaewon.  My two friends, Youngmi and Bora, heard that I liked my really spicy food challenges.  So, they threw down the gastronomic gauntlet and lead me to J.R. Pub in Itaewon.  It’s easy to get there.  Go to the Itaewon metro stop and go out exit 4.  Make a u-turn to your left and follow the sidewalk.  You’ll see a Taco Bell on the other side of the street on your left.  Continue down the sidewalk until you get to a large alleyway and make a right.  You’ll see on your right hand side a sign for the Wolfhound Pub, and right next to it is J.R. Pub.  Here’s the address: 128-4 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul South Korea.

If you have read my blog before, you know that I am quite the daredevil when it comes to hellishly spicy dishes (see what I did there).  If not, check out some of my posts (Hell Hath, Cuckoo, Devil With Wings ).  Youngmi and Bora were very surprised that I was actually going to try it, and even advised me to bring milk and eat something beforehand.  Nothing like coating the stomach before ingesting hellfire!  Looking over the menu, they had most bar food standards like burgers, various barbecue meals like pulled pork sandwiches, wings, and pizza.  I ordered the spiciest wings the ladies were telling me about, the Kick Ass wings (8,000 W), and they got the pulled pork sandwich and some chicken fingers.  While we were waiting they told me about the last time they ate it, and they rushed to the bar to get milk after just one tiny bite.  Definitely instilled a lot of confidence in me.  Eventually they came out, and I could smell the evil that lurked under the lava-red surface of the chicken.IMG_1201  If you want to see me going to town on these bad boys, check out the link at the end of the post.

So young and innocent

So young and innocent

 When I took my first bite, I was greeted with a jalapeno level of spice with a familiar smoky background that quickly ratcheted up to a mini-inferno in my mouth.  It felt like the Drop-Dead Donkatsu challenge all over again, but I was determined to take them down.  I was extremely focused on withstanding the heat.  With each mouthful I could feel the beads of sweat starting to form on my apparently reddening face, and the hiccoughs were coming on strong.  I’ve found that’s my death rattle when it comes to my spice tolerance.  In the video you can see them starting around the third wing along with my stunning forehead vein making a grand entrance.  By the fourth one, it felt like I replaced my Mentos with blazing charcoal briquettes.  The fresh maker?  More like the pain train coming into dead taste buds station.  The ranch sauce that came with the wings was zesty and managed to take a bit of the edge off the heat.

..and my face is on fire

..and my face is on fire

 I rested for a bit while trying the ladies’ pulled pork sandwich, fries, and chicken fingers.  The sandwich was good from what I could tell using the last bits of my functioning tongue, and the chicken fingers had more of a panko breadcrumb covering that made for a nice change of pace in terms of texture.  Bora even got in on the action and wanted to redeem herself by eating one of the wings.IMG_1205  She performed admirably even though she still ran to the bar for some ice.  Eventually, I made my way to the top of Mount Doom and banished these wings to the pit of my stomach.

Fighting!

Fighting! The guy behind me can’t believe I finished it.

 Bora said that they weren’t as spicy as the first time they tried them, so maybe I’ll have to come back for round two.

Good times

Nice face, Youngmi!

 

Either way, I had a great time at J.R. Pub with even better company.  They have quality food for reasonable prices along with an amiable atmosphere and good service.  Now if you want to see my eternal struggle with the wings, check out this link.

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