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Bearing the Grunt of Good Food

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Welcome to the 220th post on Mastication Monologues!  It has been quite a trip, but what better way to celebrate another small milestone than going to the first ever Lettuce Entertain You restaurant:  R.J. Grunts.  It still is as funky as it was back in the 1970s, and the food is as unpretentious as their self-deprecating menu humor.

This food adventure was prefaced by an enchanting time at the zoo with my girlfriend Janice at the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Adult Night.  After enjoying seeing the animals chilling at night in their habitats sans shrieking urchins scurrying about, we stumbled upon the mythical establishment.  IMG_4093We walked in on a Saturday night, and it was packed.  However, we were able to get a table for two right away.  We walked past happy, chatting diners along with an epic salad bar that seemed to have every condiment under the sun along with some interesting sides like various neon colored Jellos. IMG_4107 When we sat down, I surveyed the walls that were coated with pictures of random people who I never really found out who they were.  However, the menu was a work of art, and it was gigantic as shown by my semi-hidden boo. IMG_4094

Hide and Seek at our own table

Hide and Seek at our own table

Not only was it hulking in terms of size, but also food and drink options.  One of the most interesting items on the menu was the temperature soup.  What it consists of is the soup of the day that costs the same temperature based on what it says on the lakeside thermometer, i.e. if it’s 32 degrees, you pay $0.32 for your soup.  It can be added to your entree with the following three conditions:  1.  The salad bar doesn’t come with it, 2.  They won’t pay you if it’s -0 F, and 3.  It’s only valid with purchase of an entree.  While it was intriguing, I was much hungrier and looking for something more substantial.  Thus, I came to the burger part of the menu.  After looking it over, I decided to get the Yowza Burger (a common phrase used as an exclamation of excitement during the 70s like in Happy Days) for $12.95 and a hand-dipped creamy caramel shake ($6).  Janice got the Grunt Burger ($11.95) but no shake.  They came out after a bit, and they didn’t look spectacular.IMG_4111  However, I made the mistake of judging a burger by its bun. It was stacked with enough spicy things to make someone yell its name, but with someone who has dead tastebuds after years of heat challenges, it wouldn’t trouble many chiliheads.IMG_4112  Normal people, maybe.  I really liked the pepper jack, spicy ketchup, and peppercorns that were coating the burger.  It was different kinds of spice that activated different parts of the palate along with the crunch from the smoked bacon and occasional peppercorn lodged in the juicy patty.  I personally preferred my girlfriend’s Grunt burger because there were a ton of fried onion strings and crumbly/melted blue cheese chunks on the Angus patty.  IMG_4125Two great, strong flavors and differing textures that would make me happy but sorely needing a breath mint by the end of the meal.  Then there were the fries that were more like potato chips but not really.  I really enjoyed them since they were unique, exquisitely fried, and were just the right amount of crispy leaning more toward the softer end of things.  The piece de resistance was the  milkshake I had there.IMG_4105  I’ve had my fair share of ice cream treats, both good and disgusting, but this was one of my top three milk shakes I’ve ever tried.  The butterfat of the ice cream mixing with the rich milk and sweet caramel created a cool ambrosia that washed over my palate with wave upon wave of dulcet notes that made me happy until there was none left.  I had no shame when taking it down in public like a sweet fiend.  It was a creative, classic all American meal for a fun date night.

Short hair, don't care

Short hair, don’t care

So if you’re looking for a restaurant with plenty of history, character, innovative dishes, and moderate prices, look no further than the blast from the past, R.J. Grunts.  Dy-no-mite!!

R.J. Grunts on Urbanspoon

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Throwback Post: Île Flottante in Paris

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Bonjour a tout le monde!  Today’s Mastication Monologues post is the penultimate installation in my throwback Europe series.  It has spanned the Old World from Romania to Scotland and even Slovakia.  Today we are continuing our march westward to France.

I have visited Paris twice along with Marseilles once, but I’m just going to be focusing on the former since it was where I tried a unique dessert that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world.  Paris truly is one of the most beautiful cities that I have visited throughout my travels.  I was amazed to finally be face to face with so many iconic landmarks that I only saw on posters and postcards. HPIM1920 Climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower was an epic trek that was helped at the end with a little elevator ride.HPIM1911  From the top, I could absorb the broad boulevards and mid-18th century buildings that made up a majority of the city center.HPIM1912  Once safely back on the ground, I also visited the signature Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe that were stately yet highly congested with traffic.DSCN0652  The famed, ultra-sexy Moulin Rouge was also highly congested with foot traffic as well-monied patrons lined up to see the cabaret shows advertised outside.HPIM1812  One of my favorite Paris memories was actually outside of the city of Paris in the form of the Palace of Versailles. HPIM2248 This was hands down one of the most impressive man-made structures I’ve ever laid my eyes upon.HPIM2295  No wonder this life of luxury and Marie Antoinette’s contempt for the common man enraged and caused the French people to rise up in arms against the aristocracy.  Still, it was amazing to walk the same halls that Louis XVI did before being captured and beheaded in the capital.  All of this sightseeing made me hungry, and what better place to find something to snack on than Paris?  From their crepe stands to their pastisseries (pastry shops), one could eat something delicious and different for everyday of the year.  The perfect storm for me to indulge my sweet tooth.  Enter the île flottante.  I had it in a restaurant, and this dessert meaning “floating island” in French lived up to its name.  First, there was a crème anglaise or “English creme” that served as the vanilla flavored base to the dish.  It consisted of egg whites, sugar, and milk, and was a watery custard that was sweet but not overwhelmingly so.HPIM1801  It was also served cold. Then there was the island in the middle of my vanilla flavored sea.  It was a perfect example of how French are able to combine both artistry and innovation through the culinary arts.  The egg whites were whipped with sugar into a fluffy meringue island that was substantial enough to be almost like a large, slightly melted marshmallow yet light enough to bob in the vanilla sea.  It was all jazzed up with a light drizzling of caramel sauce.  I’ve heard that this old-school French dessert is disappearing quickly, so set sail for Paris and find your own hidden island.

Bongo A-Go-Go

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Happy 4th of July, ‘Murika!  What is more American than a new Mastication Monologues post about stuffing my face with delicious food that comes in gargantuan portions that would feed a family for a week?  Nothing…well, except maybe this .  Today’s restaurant review takes me to Andersonville in Chicago to the famed Bongo Room.

I had heard through the grapevine that this establishment knew how to sling some delicious brunch items to fill some growling, hungry and possibly hungover bellies.  I knew I had to check it out since I also caught wind of their portion sizes being insanely large.  I went there on a weekday morning, and I found it quite easy to park in their minuscule parking lot on the side along with procuring a table upon walking in.  However, they don’t take reservations, and if you go on a weekend, you will have to brave the hungry hordes that I often see milling about outside their doors.IMG_3644  Anyway, I was just there by myself, so I decided to sit at the bar since I didn’t want to take up one of the larger tables that were perfectly spaced and designed for the dining room.IMG_3651  The bartender gave me the main menu along with a list of specials.  It wasn’t as extensive as a Greek diner or other chain breakfast places I’ve been to, but they did have plenty of creative entries like a similar Andersonville diner, M. Henry.  I looked over the omelets, French toasts, and pancakes they had to offer, but it was like trying to pick your favorite child.  So, I asked the bartender what she would recommend, and she picked what I was leaning towards initially:  white chocolate and caramel pretzel pancakes ($10.50).

After a bit of waiting, they finally came out.  I honestly didn’t know how they managed to fit in the pretzels in this plate that looked almost like a canvas that should be hanging in the MOMA. IMG_3647 I almost felt bad that I would have to sully the milky white and golden lattice pattern that covered these monstrous cakes, but I sallied forth to my delectable date with destiny.  From the first forkful I was hooked.  The actual pancakes were light and fluffy, and the white chocolate sauce that covered them wasn’t thick like frosting but rather an extremely thin syrup made thicker with the presence of divine caramel.  This sauce was the key to the success of these pancakes while at M. Henry I was very disappointed in their bliss cakes.  M.  Henry went the healthy route with berry juice, but the problem was that they used way too much of it.  The sauce itself was too watery which the cakes absorbed too quickly, and in turn, left me with a plate of soggy flapjacks.  The Bongo Room, on the other hand, did coat their pancakes with a lot of sauce like M. Henry but with just enough to coat every inch of them and no more.  I didn’t interrupt another pancake pool party for breakfast.  Plus, the sauce was thicker which meant that it infiltrated the pores of the pancakes much slower than the thin berry juices.  Take notes, M. Henry.  You have good ideas and ingredients for bread-based recipes, but you need to tweak them to make them truly great.  Anyway, there is also the pretzel element of this dish that I found quite novel.  As I cut through my meal, I would occasionally be greeted with actual pieces of pretzels, salt and all, between the sweet folds.IMG_3649  I inquired with the bartender how they integrated these pretzel fragments into the meal, and she said that they are sprinkled in as the cakes are on the griddle.IMG_3650  Much to my surprise, they were not soggy at all and provided a great crunch to offset the more delicate pancakes.  The saltiness of the pretzels were a double edged sword since it was a masterstroke to combine it with the sweet white chocolate and caramel, but at times towards the end of the meal, the salt seemed to be a bit too much for my palate to handle.  Either way, this snowy white chocolate dish left me in a winter wonderland in the middle of summer.  I ate all of it so fast that the bartender asked if I wanted to lick the plate, but I wanted to preserve a bit of self respect after the dust settled from my feeding frenzy.

I was greatly satisfied by The Bongo Room.  From service, environment, price, portion size, and overall quality, they got it all.  Even though their menu isn’t encyclopedic in comparison to other nearby establishments, The Bongo Room makes up for it with fewer dishes done so well that they make everyone want to come back for more.  Just don’t cut in front of me while we stand in line, and I’ll see you there.

The Bongo Room on Urbanspoon

It’s Nuts How Sweet Life Can Be

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This is the end…my only friend…the end.  The Doors’ words could not be more applicable to this post as it is the final chapter in the Florida food saga on Mastication Monologues.  I’ll be finishing with a sweet flourish in the form of Kilwin’s Chocolates and Ice Cream in Delray Beach, Florida.

My parents and I had taken many constitutionals up and down Delray Beach’s ever popular Atlantic Avenue, but Kilwin’s always seemed to be doing a booming business no matter what time of the day.  In fact, I could liken it almost to a Willy Wonka-esque level of excitement as lines perpetually streamed out the door.IMG_2987  I had never heard of this company before, but I vowed to see what all of the hubbub was.IMG_2986  I wasn’t that hungry after a very messy lunch, so it was a perfect time to check out the mysterious candy and ice cream shop.  As we moved through the clumps of old timers and kids wacked out on sugar, we finally stepped foot in this hallowed institution of addictive foodstuffs. IMG_2976 Everywhere we turned there were decadent delights in every shade of caramel yellow, coco-butter brown, and devilishly dark chocolate.  Kilwin’s provides the public with handmade caramel-coated apples and a few varieties of popcorn. IMG_2975 IMG_2973 I personally came for some of the brown stuff, ze chocolate.  While I was tempted to sample their ice cream, none of the flavors really grabbed me by the taste buds.IMG_2978  What was on display in the cases as we filed past the line for the ice cream left me slipping on my own slobber.  I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.  IMG_2985 IMG_2984 IMG_2983 IMG_2981 IMG_2980 IMG_2979 IMG_2977After looking about, the pecan turtle krispie was my date for the night ($5.50). IMG_2982 She was all gussied up with pecans, dark chocolate drizzles, and a caramel dress over a Rice Krispie body that just wouldn’t quit.  After I paid for it, we sat down on a bench outside to soak up the atmosphere our home away from home for a week had to offer.  As I took a longing glance towards my companion in my hand, I knew that we were meant to be when I subsequently took that first bite. IMG_2988IMG_2994 While you would think that a dessert item like this would be diabetes-inducingly sweet, it was quite balanced.IMG_2995  The crunchy pecans provided a buttery richness to the bittersweet dark chocolate and sticky caramel.  People were watching with a mix of curiosity and possible disgust as I shoveled this over-the-top snack into my food hole.  No regrets whatsoever.  It was a delicious end to a wonderful vacation.

So if you’re looking for a sweet local piece of Delray Beach, Florida that will stick in your mind and possibly your teeth forever, roll on down to Kilwin’s Chocolates and Ice Cream.

Kilwins Chocolates & Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Just What the Doc Ordered

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Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  If this is your first time coming to my food blog, you are in for a treat today, and if it isn’t, then you will know I will be bringing you a fair and accurate assessment of a local eatery.  Today is part three in my Florida travel chronicle which will entail the popular, but controversial, Doc’s All American located at 10 N Swinton AveDelray Beach 33444, Florida.IMG_3942

I woke up to another lovely day as the Sunshine State was living up to its name.  The main plan was to meet up with some family friends and see Lion Country Safari.  After seeing plenty of African and Asian creatures sunning themselves in the southern heat and finally feeding a giraffe, we decided to grab lunch at Doc’s All American. IMG_3944 It’s a relatively simple establishment that is created to evoke a simpler time in America’s history when gas was reasonably priced, cars were still made out of metal, and childhood obesity was virtually unheard of.  Although the prices weren’t that low, they focused mainly on American favorites like hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, and shakes.  I got a foot long hot dog,  a side of onion rings, and a salted caramel shake.  Now, if you remember from the first paragraph, I mentioned that there is a bit of controversy surrounding Doc’s.  I did some research of what other diners thought of the restaurant, and they mentioned terrible service, low quality food, and a backward’s cash only policy.  While I did find the cash-only policy to be a bit of a relic in a now credit driven society, they did have an ATM on the premises to help patrons.  As for the other aspects people have complained about, I did not experience either aside from a possibly slow delivery of my family’s beverages.  There was only outdoor seating on the wrap-around patio which made me wonder what they did during Florida’s seemingly daily rainstorms?IMG_2855  Anyway, my hotdog and onion rings came out with my salted caramel shake soon thereafter, and it all looked great.

No Viagara needed.

No Viagra needed.

The only downside was having to apply my own mustard and relish to the tube steak that seemed like it would fit in more in one of Ron Jeremy’s flicks.  After a minute or two, I gave it a proper Chicago treatment with a spritz of mustard, a coating of relish, and a couple sprigs of white onion.IMG_2858  No ketchup for me since I’m not a heathen.  From the first bite to the last, I was pleased with the charred dog that was different from the boiled links I’m used to back in Chicago.  As for the onion rings, they were expertly made complete with a light and smooth exterior that was crunchy and sans bread crumbs that other onion ring recipes utilize.  I also liked that the onions were securely fastened within their golden shelters, and only slipped out on occasion as I munched through each one.  The salted caramel shake was average as they mainly added a hint of caramel flavoring to a vanilla shake, but the salt element was certainly unique as I found they filled the bottom of the cup with peanuts.  Definitely never had a shake as nuts as this one.

I don’t know if lunchtime is the ideal time to go to Doc’s, but I would recommend it as we did not experience any of the terrible happenings that people have described on the various online review sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon, etc.  While I’m sure one could find cheaper hot dogs and burgers elsewhere,  I’d still recommend trying Doc’s All American.  It is an experience to try a local institution that has been open and serving the same quality fare since 1951.IMG_2860
Doc's All American Classic Burgers & Shakes on Urbanspoon

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