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Catching Some Delicious Zzzs

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Welcome one and all to another molto bene Mastication Monologues!  Today’s entry deals with a food that has recently been linked to the epidemic of childhood obesity:  pizza.  Sadly, kids may love this cheesy treat, but it doesn’t love them back.  Still, who can honestly admit that they don’t enjoy a fresh slice right out of the oven with your favorite toppings from your favorite spot without any of the fuss of shopping, cooking, and then cleaning dishes?  This wonderful feeling of culinary satisfaction can be found at a local pizza spot by me called Zazzo’s Pizza in Darien, IL.

While I have had my fair share of different types of pizza from different parts of the globe, Zazzo’s is one of the front runners for a great thin crust pie.  I had never really paid it much mind as I went about my business to the the various stores in the area, but one day my parents had a coupon for it.  Thus the legend was born in my knowledge of all things food.  So, I decided to bring my girlfriend to the local eatery for dinner.  I was surprised to find that this pizzeria bought out the empty storefront next to it to build a new bar and dining room which essentially gave them ten times the capacity for revenue.  They’ve come a long way from the three tables along the front windows.  The new digs had a basic sports bar vibe, so no need for any sort of fancy attire.  IMG_4888The menu had the same no-frills approach as they focused on bar food and Italian cuisine. IMG_4887 We started the meal by sharing an order of spinach artichoke dip ($9.95).  This was a great appetizer since it came with both hot, crust Italian bread along with warm pita bread triangles. IMG_4889 The dip was also warm with a nice sprinkling of fresh Parmesan cheese that gave the artichoke chunks a slightly salty and nutty aftertaste. IMG_4891 We then went for the 14″ Veggie Special thin crust pizza ($21.10).  Now, it serves three, but when I’m hungry, I can really throw down, especially when it comes to Zazzo’s.  When it came out, it was just as good as I remembered it.  IMG_4892It was large and in charge with an enticing smell that immediately tells you that you’re in for a treat.  The Veggie Special consisted of an adequate amount of mozzarella combined with mushroom, green pepper, onion, and fresh tomatoes. IMG_4896 Each ingredient was as plentiful and fresh as the next.  As for the sauce, it was just the right amount where the crust wasn’t dry, but it also wasn’t gushing out with each bite like you’re doing your best Jaws impression (the killer shark, not the killer giant from the James Bond series).  IMG_4895Then there was the crust.  I believe that this foundation of the pizza can either make or break the dish, and in Zazzo’s case I love their thin crust.  It’s not super NYC thin but not deep dish thick.  It has a light powdering of flour on the edges, and it has an almost airy like texture with a crunch that doesn’t hold back.  All of these elements make it one of the hidden gems of the pizza world in the Chicagoland area.

So if you are looking for a great pizza place in the western Chicago suburbs and don’t want to visit one of the big pizza chains like Giordanos or Uno’s, check out the pizzeria with a lot of pizzazz:  Zazzo’s Pizza!

Zazzo's Pizza on Urbanspoon

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Dude…Mellow Out…Try This ‘Shroom

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After a week of fun in sun in Florida, I’m finally back in Chicago to wait and see if I finally get a job that would really be great for my career as a language instructor.  However, in the meantime I would like to present you with a bunch of posts relating my crazy food adventures in the Sunshine State.  Today’s entry involves a popular destination in Delray Beach, FL that is as delicious as it is funky in nature, Mellow Mushroom.IMG_2778

I had originally read about it on Wikitravel as having very creative pizza creations, so that naturally whetted my appetite for adventure.  We visited the fungus-inspired eatery on our first day in Florida, and the weather was beautiful.  They don’t have a lot of parking aside from their crackerbox-sized lot behind their establishment, but luckily street parking is plentiful out front.IMG_2779  They have both indoor and outdoor seating, but we opted for the latter in order to enjoy the sublime sun and breeze.IMG_2792  As we were led through the restaurant, it had a very laid back vibe to it with lots of psychedelic artwork along with some very well known pop culture references I enjoyed.IMG_2791 IMG_2793IMG_2788  The artwork and name of the restaurant made me wonder if they had a secret menu of “special” munchies based on the surroundings along with a sign that said, “Hippies use the side entrance”.  Far out, man…would be a good way to describe their menu in regard to their prices.  It’s not the cheapest pizzeria you could visit, but they certainly do have creatively named and designed pies (From 10 inches to 16 inches; gluten free dough is available as well) as I mentioned earlier along with sandwiches, salads, calzones, and appetizers.  I started off with a brew that I picked solely based on the name:  Monk In the Trunk ($7).

Daaammnnnn shorty!

Daaammnnnn shorty!

Like its title, this ale had plenty of aftertaste flavor as spicy and malty sweet flavors had a twerk-fest on my palate much to my elation.IMG_2785  As for pizza, I had the option of creating my own, but I instead wanted to see what the cooks in the back could whip up to satisfy my soul.  There were plenty choices that looked scrumptious, and eventually I settled on the 14″ Thai Dye pizza ($20).  When it came out, I immediately felt the good vibes with how fresh it looked.IMG_2789  It wasn’t as hefty as Chicago pan pizza but not as floppy as NYC’s slices. IMG_2790 I loved the fresh cucumber slices and fresh basil on top since they were drizzled with a sweet chili sauce that left me with a smoldering kiss with each bite.  Taken as a whole, the staff managed to combine a Thai chicken curry dish with a traditional pizza in perfect harmony.  The chicken was groovy and not rubbery, and the curry spices jazzed up the cheese every so often.  Eventually, I reached the crust which was chewy with a slight crunchy crust on the outside.  The most peculiar part of the crust was that it had ever so subtle cinnamon notes that I noticed through the garlic butter that was brushed on before going into the oven.  I almost finished the entire meal, but I was all carbed out by the end and could go no further.

My date home.

My date home.

So if you’re looking for quality, creative, and crazy pizzas at slighty expensive prices, rock out at Mellow Mushroom.
Mellow Mushroom on Urbanspoon

Hauntingly Delicious (Portland, Part 3)

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Boo!  Scared ya, didn’t I?  Today’s Mastication Monologues entry will be dealing with another Portland institution that I visited during my brief yet enjoyable stay there.  After a long day of learning about how to be a better teacher and help my students speak the Englishes more good, I knew I had to get out and see some of the city.  After looking over Wikitravel, I decided to get one of my favorite foods, pizza, at Old Town Pizza.  There are two different locations, one in the northwest part of the city and the other, the brewery, on the east side of the river.  However, reading further I found out the northwest location on Davis is supposedly haunted and a “must-do” for anyone who comes to Portland.  Ghosts and rave reviews?  I’m sold!

The actual story of the ghost revolves involves sex, slavery, and mystery.  Back in the late 1800s, some of the local timber barons built the Merchant Hotel where Old Town Pizza now stands.  Along with offering guests rooms and beds, the hotel also had the option for customers of the male persuasion to buy hookers to help them “enjoy” said rooms and beds.  One girl, Nina, was sold into this prostitution ring against her will.  Thankfully, a local missionary group was attempting to shut the hotel/bordello down, and Nina became an informant for them.  Unfortunately, she suffered a terrible fate for her attempt to shut down the house of ill repute as her corpse was found at the bottom of an elevator shaft which is now a booth in the restaurant.  Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see the ghost of this departed dearie…

Anyway, I managed to find the restaurant quite easily after a quick stroll through Portland’s underwhelming Chinatown. IMG_2594 I knew it was going to be a quirky place when it said on the door that they only were closed on Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. IMG_2602 I don’t know if that’s a joke or not, but I did enjoy the randomness.  Upon walking into the dark interior, it added to the ambiance of it being a haunted former hotel.  The staff was the Portland I was expecting complete with tattoos, ironic facial hair, and plenty of piercings, but that didn’t take away from their service.  They supplied me with a menu, and then I had to order at a booth that was attached to the kitchen.  Note:  the entrance was the former lobby of the Merchant Hotel, and the ordering booth was the reception desk.

Ordering booth

Ordering booth

I put in my order of a small original house pizza which contained signature pepperoni, salami, mushrooms, olives, bell peppers and topped with house made sausage. .  10 inches for $14.50 is a little expensive for my taste, but then again I was on vacation in a haunted restaurant.  They gave me a playing card with the two of diamonds on it as their way of keeping the orders straight, and it’s the only place in the world I’ve seen them do that.  I then moved on to the bar next to the ordering booth where my hipster bartender hooked me up with an Old Joe Chocolate Dark Ale that was brewed at the Old Town Brewery.IMG_2595  Once the pint glass of dark ambrosia was in my mitt, I had the task of finding my own seating.  To my dismay, my original seat I scoped out was already taken.  So after wandering through the packed restaurant I found an empty seat that would accommodate me and make Harry Potter feel at home since it was under the staircase going up to the second floor.  It was a lot more comfortable than it sounds since I had plenty of room for my head, and I would describe it more as a cozy experience.

Nina's corpse was found along the back wall of this room where I ate.

Nina’s corpse was found along the back wall of this room where I ate.

After about half an hour, my hand tossed pizza finally came out.  It looked wonderfully flush with toppings, but I had a hard time trying to find the cheese under them.IMG_2596  It was piping hot, so I sipped on my Old Joe while it cooled off.  I really liked the ale because it was a full bodied libation  that had whispers of chocolate/coffee in every drop.  Eventually my pie cooled off enough for me to actually touch it, but I found the bottom crust to be quite floppy which I really didn’t like since the toppings were cascading down my fingers as I attempted to transfer a slice to my smaller plate.IMG_2598  I was eating it with a fork and a knife for the wrong reason.  The only type of pizza I should be eating with a knife and a fork is deep dish because it’s piled so high with toppings, not thin crust because it doesn’t even have the constitution for basic ingredients.  Structural problems aside, I found the flavors and ingredients to be delightful.  The peppers stood out for me as they weren’t soggy and baked to have a crisp, clean snap that jived with the savory and spicy pepperoni.  It didn’t seem like they focused a lot on the cheese since it was buried under waves of ruby red marinara sauce that was slightly sweet but not overwhelmingly so.  Then at the end of each piece, there was a substantial crust that was on the chewier side and had a strange but pleasing cinnamon undertone.  By the time I finished the last piece, I was stuffed with some hauntingly good pizza.

I don’t think it can measure up to New York or Chicago pizza, but Old Town Pizza is a slightly pricy but quality dining experience with plenty of ambiance that won’t scare you away.
Old Town Pizza on Urbanspoon

A Nest Above the Rest

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What’s up, food lovers around the world?!  Another day, another post of delicious food.  Today I’ll be talking about Crow’s Nest which is a pizza joint located in the foreigner district of Seoul a.k.a. Itaewon.  It’s located at Yongsan-gu, Itaewon 1(il)-dong, 112-2, Seoul, and you first come out of Itaewon Station Exit #2. Turn at 1st left and turn at 1st right. It will be on your left side.  I had been invited out by my friend Stephanie to hear about all of my wonderful adventures in Taiwan and Hong Kong.  Naturally, I didn’t say no to trying a new pizza place since it’s one of my favorite foods.

When we got there, it was located on a new fashionable street off the main drag, but it’s located on the second floor.  I had reinjured my knee that day, so the stairs were a bit brutal.  No entrances for the handicapped in Korea for the most part.  When we eventually got to the the door, we were greeted with a large dining room and an open kitchen that was bustling with activity.  It was kind of neat with how you could see some employees throwing the pizza dough to the perfect size or laying out all the ingredients on top for each handmade pizza.  It was an honest display of craftsmanship.IMG_0991  We proceeded to the patio outside that was thankfully sheltered from the rain we just missed.  We ended up going for the half and half pizza (24,000 for 14 in. or 30,000 for 20 in.).  Some blogs say that you can do any of the pizza options, but our waitress emphatically told us you could only chose the following:  Italian sausage, margherita, pepperoni, Hawaiian.  Steph wanted the Hawaiian pizza which I think is an abomination, so I went with the Italian sausage on my half which I also appreciated that it had a mild or spicy option.  We got the 14 inch pizza which was more than enough when it came out to our table. IMG_0990 They also provided us with Parmesan cheese and spicy olive oil when we asked for it.  I didn’t try the Hawaiian side of the pizza, but mine was great especially with the powdered cheese and oil.  The crust was somewhat between the paper thin New York slice and the heartier Chicago “thin” crust pizza, but it was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  As for the ingredients on top, thankfully the sauce wasn’t Koreanized with the odd sweet tang, and the cheese was plentiful.  The spicy Italian sausage wasn’t quite as spicy as back home in Chicago, but it partnered the oregano and onions perfectly with its ever so wonderful greasy goodness.  We polished off the pie eventually but didn’t feel stuffed which is a testament to the light crust that didn’t crumble under the pressure of being faced with two hungry diners.

So if you want to check out a legit pizza parlor in Seoul and don’t feel like going to Monster Pizza in Hongdae, check out Crow’s Nest in Itaewon.

Bacon, Potatoes, and Pinapples Oh My!

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Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of Mastication Monologues!  So I’ve officially been in Korea for one month, and it seems like it has flown by even though every day felt like it was moving as slow as molasses.  When it comes to culinary adventures, however, it has been quite a whirlwind tour.  I’ve had a plethora of Korean specialties and so many different types of rice cake that they could probably fill a phone book.  However, today I will be relating my experience of trying Korean pizza for a second time.  In comparison to the first time trying Korea pizza from Pizza Maru in my previous post, “A Slice of the East”, the pizza from Pizza Etang was delicious yet peculiar in wonderful way.IMG_0002

First, there were the circumstances in which I consumed said meal.  I had just finished a day of teaching 5th grade, and everything went quite well aside from witnessing some intimidating Korean teacher discipline after the bell rang in one class.  After eating a large Korean lunch of random rice dishes and a soy sesame sauce that was way too salty for its own good, a delivery man came into our teacher room in with a bottle of Coke.  I went back to work in my cubicle thinking nothing of it, but next thing I know, I’m being invited over for a group meal of pizza and Coke with my co-teachers.  Turns out my 5th grade teacher ordered it to celebrate my first month in Korea and because she was angry at students (I think that was lost in translation haha).  Anyway, the first pizza I tried was the potato and bacon pie.  It was very decadent since it combined fatty meat, starches, and a ranch sauce.  The bacon was on the chewier side and had little to no seasoning (neither smoking nor encrustments).  Crunchy bacon lovers look elsewhere if you’re getting this pizza.  It was like having a loaded baked potato sans sour cream on a pizza because there wasn’t the traditional layer of tomato sauce underneath the cheese.  I’ll comment on the crust at the end since it’s unlike anything I’ve ever had.IMG_0003

The second pizza consisted of the same crust and was sporting not just cheese but zucchini, sausage, and pineapple.  The cheese and lack of sauce was similar to the previous pie, but the other toppings were surprisingly tasty together.  Now I, along with one of my heroes, Anthony Bourdain, think that Hawaiian pizza is one of the worst creations in the world.  I mean, who puts ham and pineapple on a pizza?  Blasphemy, I say, but with this Pizza Etang pinapple pizza, it somehow changed my mind in regard to pineapple’s status in the hierarchy of pizza toppings.  I think that it helped that the sausage crumbles it was paired with had slight bacon and herbal tones to lessen the saccharine overtones of the pineapple pieces.  The zucchini also managed to contribute a complimentary, earthy springboard from which the previously mentioned flavors could fully express themselves on my palate.  As the first pizza had a drizzling of ranch dressing in a spiral pattern, this pineapple pizza had barbecue sauce.  This savory element with the pork sausage and pineapple made it taste like I was at some sort of Hawaiian luau.  Take notes American pizza chains!  Now to the oddest part of the pizza:  the crust.

Coming from Chicago, I’ve seen my fair share of pizza crusts from the worst frozen cardboard disks to deep dish wonders of flour and buttery perfection.  Now that I’m in Korea, some of the creations I have tried have been complete game-changers.  Pizza Maru promoted their healthy dough that contained green rice and black Korean rice, but Pizza Etang went in their own direction with the actual construction of the crust that seemed to be flour based (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was rice-based, though).  Right after the cheese/toppings ended on the slice, I entered an area that was somewhat amorphous with the actual crust handle of the slice.  It was dusted with minuscule, toasted potato shavings and beneath it was an extremely thin layer of Korean sweet potato baked into the crust.  I had to closely inspect a slice to see what was causing the crust to taste so scrumptious, and when I found the lurking tubers, it made sense why the crusts provided the perfect semi-sweet flourish to each slice.

So if you’re looking to try some pizza with a unique crust and fresh toppings in Incheon and probably Seoul, try Pizza Etang!

A Slice of the East

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Hello everyone out there on the interwebz.  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues where I have been, as of late, exploring all the new foodstuffs that South Korea has to offer.  Today I will be talking about a Far Eastern twist on a Western favorite:  pizza.  As with many things in the world, pizza has an unusual history in the sense that most people associate the main staple of college students with one country (Italy) when it actually came from a different one (China).  Many historical scholars argue that Marco Polo allegedly brought it back from China and introduced it to the Italian peninsula which eventually led to the modern pie being invented in Napoli.  Where I come from, Chicago, we have a special affinity for this Italian/Chinese treat which has led us to bump heads with New Yorkers over who has better pizza.  Therefore, when I stepped into Pizza Maru in my neighborhood of Seo-gu, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of toppings.  I was greeted by different Korean combinations like sweet potatoes and bacon or thin cream shrimp pizza.  I went for the latter since it just seemed like a bizzare description, but I was pleasantly surprised.IMG_1277  It was made with very thin and crispy crust that supposedly has 12 types of grains, black rice, and green tea.  The toppings consisted of grape tomatoes, black olives, shrimp, cheese, oregano, and an alfredo-esque sauce.  However, it was different from a typical pizza because it didn’t have tomato sauce but rather some sort of clear sauce that really didn’t taste like anything.  It brought down the very flavorful pizza because it made the slices semi-soggy which is not a good attribute to have if your end pieces are nice and crispy.  Overall, it was an okay pizza, but I don’t really see it giving European/American pizza a run for its money anytime soon.  At least the presentation was a lot nicer than back at home.IMG_1276

Apart of Something Delicious

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Hello to everyone out there in the blogosphere!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues where I review various restaurants, and let everyone know whether or not it’s worth it to spend your money at said establishments.  Today, I will be talking about a pizzeria in Chicago that I never even heard of until my friend said she had a Groupon, and my stomach was telling me, “Hey ya mook, fill me up with something!”  So, we decided to go to Apart Pizza located at  5624 North Broadway, Chicago, IL.

Humble digs, delicious pies

Humble digs, delicious pies

Now in Chicago, how pizza is made is a point of personal preference and pride when talking to outsiders.  Obviously, we have our arguments with New Yorkers about who has better pizza, and the best thing that Los Angeles has to offer in the pizza world is California Pizza Kitchen…no comment.  However, for the uninitiated to the NY vs. Chicago pizza polemic, it basically boils down to this:  crust.  Classic New York pizza is cut in slices and is paper-thin while Chicago has thicker, crunchier crust and can be cut in slices or squares (a.k.a. “Party Cut” if you really want to sound like a local).  However, Chicago also has its signature deep dish pizza which is like a thick pie of sauce and cheese, and it will fill you up after two slices.  Anyway, I’m a firm believer in the overall superiority of Chicago pizza to New York pizza simply based off of the variety we have, but I guess it’s like comparing apples and oranges.  I’ll let you be the judge.

Moving on from culinary debates, we walked into their very unassuming storefront to find a tiny dining room with only three tables in it.  If you are planning on coming there with a large group, I would recommend taking advantage of their free delivery services.  I ordered the Pollo Tuscano pizza, and my friend ordered the Queen Margherita.  I was surprised when it came out because it turns out that it was New York style with very thin, floppy slices, but I still greatly enjoyed my pizza. It was festooned with chicken, mushrooms, onions, roasted red peppers, and small cubes of Feta cheese.  Once I let the blazing pie cool off, I proceeded to chow down on its golden crust that was lightly dusted with flour.  The cheese to sauce ratio was pretty evenly proportion and taste-wise and allowed for the sweet peppers to do a lively tarantella with the bold tasting onions and  fresh Feta cheese.  As for the chicken, it was a bit on the dry side, so I think it could have been better if they perhaps used shredded chicken instead of the cubes.  Plus, the mushrooms were pretty much a non-factor, so I don’t know why they even put them on the pizza.   My friend’s Queen Margherita was a classic pie with fresh tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and basil leaves.  It was very thin, light, and fresh like the queen this type of pizza was named after, and it’s always a solid choice for those vegetarians out there.

Che Bella!

Che Bella!

So if you’re looking for a slice of Big Apple pizza while visiting the Windy City or are tired of the gut busting proportions of a Giordanos deep dish pizza, try out Apart Pizza!  It truly is a star on Broadway.

Apart Pizza on Urbanspoon

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