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You Can Bring a Horse to Water, But He’d Prefer a Burger (Au Cheval)

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I never thought that I would be back this soon, this deep into the jungle that is graduate school at Northwestern University, but here I am!  Back for a limited time on Mastication Monologues, but hopefully I will be able to write more once this mad quarter is finished.  This year has been flying by, and I have visited and eaten at tons of great locations across Chicagoland.  However, today’s review involves a restaurant/diner known best for its hotly-touted cheeseburger.  In a foodie city like Chicago where we love our meat based dishes, especially hamburgers, the previous sentence will elicit a different response almost every time you ask someone from Chicago depending on where they are living in the city.  We even have the Billy Goat Diner made famous by Saturday Night Live and a curse featuring a certain Northside team that is currently trying to break the same curse and win the World Series.  Go Cubbies!  Yet, Au Cheval is one of the most highly regarded establishments across the city when it comes to the signature American dish of cheeseburger and fries. (Quick note:  Two other great restaurants, Cochon Volant and Small Cheval, have similar burgers minus the typical long lines)

Located on Randolph Street in the West Loop/Fulton Meat Packing District a.k.a. Google Headquarters new backyard, it is the flagship on a block of heavy culinary hitters including Stephanie Izzard’s so-famous-you-need-reservations-six-months-ahead-of-time Girl and the Goat  (highly recommend this restaurant too).  Au Cheval is relatively new in a city of numerous old establishments that have withstood the test of time, and based on our experience, there exists the distinct possibility that this burger joint might become part of the city’s fabric if it hasn’t already.  Janice and I met up with our friends Katelin and Dan for lunch.  They have metered street parking that we took advantage of, or you can reach it by taking the L (subway for you non-Chicagoans).  It is a very popular eatery if you couldn’t tell based on my description before, and they do not take reservations.  Because of this fact, it is often subject to mob scenes of people lining up outside during peak lunch and dinner hours to sample their offerings.  Luckily, we managed to beat the lunch rush and were immediately seated in their slightly dim, modern diner. img_9045 As I surveyed the tiny interior, I wasn’t blow away by my surroundings, but I’m a gourmand, not an interior designer.  img_9024Dan and I started the meal off with their Mad Town Nut Brown that was dark, had 7 different malts, and had nice hazelnut notes. img_9026 Au Cheval also offers a wide variety of mixed drinks, shots, and non-alcoholic beverages.  Food-wise, I could describe them as a very upscale diner that managed to find a twist on simple creations like bologna sandwiches or scrambled eggs served with fois gras. img_9025 Breakfast offerings aside, Janice and I were there for the burger that has been proclaimed by the Food Network, Forbes, etc. as “The Best Burger in America” for multiple years. They had a single ($10.95) or double patty ($12.95) option for an upcharge as well as the egg and bacon.  We followed Dan’s advice for choosing the double patty with egg and bacon.  He followed suit, and Katelin ordered the raw vegetable salad with apple and blue cheese ($10.95).  Surprisingly, before you could say “Da’ Bears”, our burgers were in front of us in their full glistening glory as well as a side of fries. img_9036

Our taste buds are ready

Our taste buds are ready

First, let’s discuss the much talked about burger.img_9032  Now, I am not typically a fan of the egg-on-burger trend that has been sweeping America, but visually this fried egg seemed like a work of pure art with its off-center sun in the sumptuous solar system of flavors in front of me.  Plus, if an egg is on top of a burger, it is described as being “on horseback” hence the name of the restaurant being “Au Cheval”.  Then there was the slabs of pure pork that were stacked like massive redwood planks over two serious beef patties donning flowing robes of American cheese.  The Eastern European side of me also appreciated the dill pickle spear on the side to cut through the grease.  Once I stacked it all together, it was a soaked monument to gastronomic greatness.  img_9040I hefted this sandwich to my maw and was immediately drawn into the aromas of beef and sweet pork belly like bees to honey.  I was smitten at first chomp.  The beef was grilled to medium rare perfection while the cheese was omnipresent yet not overwhelming.  I was partial to the pork belly that shone through and enhanced the flavor profile with a maple syrupy sweetness that your run-of-the-mill, crispy, thin bacon could not accomplish in a million dinner parties.  The only downsides to this burger were the aforementioned egg which kind of made the brioche bun hard but not impossible to grip, and the bottom part of the bun which left my burger hanging by my fingertips  at the end of this white-knuckle ride of a meal.  The fries on the side were just as great as the burger with a palatable amount of salt and just the right amount of fry to their golden hued exteriors.img_9027  Katelin said her salad was delectable too even though it wasn’t served between two pieces of bread or hiding beneath a sea of gooey cheese.img_9029  A good option if you want to balance your cholesterol out after downing one of Au Cheval’s incredibly rich burgers.

We left the restaurant to a sunny afternoon with bellies full and greatly satisfied.  I could now see what the hubbub was all about when we would go by the establishment and see people jostling for position in line.  Great restaurant owners know great ingredients which in turn lead to great burgers.  This chain of events was displayed during our visit to Au Cheval, and I would highly recommend it for anyone looking to try a burger worthy of having the word “greatest” in its title.  You might disagree with me about it being the be-all, end-all of burgerdom, but it is a high quality burger for a very reasonable price even with a bit of a wait.  So, if you don’t know where to go for lunch or have time to wait during dinner, gallop over to Au Cheval!
Au Cheval Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

Spice That’s Twice As Nice

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Hello everyone to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be highlighting an expat haven in Itaewon where one can  find Western quality breakfasts, burgers, and wings when they grow weary of the kimchi and non-existent Korean breakfast food.  I’m talking about Richard Copycat’s All American diner located at 56-13 Itaewon-dong Yongsan-gu Seoul South Korea.

Now, I do enjoy Korean food and trying new things, but it never hurts to go back to food that is familiar to you.  That what I was looking for when I walked into the diner, and I found it and then some.  They have a pretty extensive menu that is filled with familiar breakfast staples like French toast, omelets, and skillets.  Even though they boasted about the quality of their breakfast options in the menu, I was feeling like trying a burger since it was closer to lunch time.  I ended up choosing was the wasabi burger.  It had cheddar and pepper jack cheese, jalapenos, and a wasabi infused mayo.  Yeah, you read that right, Japanese horseradish and mayo together in one potentially overwhelming combination.IMG_1305

When it came out, I was bracing myself for Western portions, but it was Korean sized which kind of wasn’t worth the 14,000 won.  Plus, as most people have already commented before on the internet, the service at this restaurant is very slow.  If you ask them for a refill or for free pickles, they either take twice as long as they should or forget in regard to drink refills.  Qualms aside, it was a pretty funky burger in a good way.  The bun was buttery and held the sandwich together quite well even with the copious amounts of wasabi mayo applied to the bottom bun.  The beef patty was thick and succulent, but the cheddar cheese was pedestrian even though it was so unnaturally orange that it almost looked like I was eating a sunny-side up egg.  However, I greatly enjoyed the spicy elements of this burger.  The jalapenos were pickled like back home, and the wasabi mayo became more and more intense as I proceeded to munch on the burger.  It wasn’t too overpowering like eating a whole mini portion of the Japanese horseradish, but I did have that burning sensation behind my nose that could send any possible congestion packing.  The fries that came with it were average, but I preferred them since they were somewhat underdone and not very salted.  So overall, I would recommend this burger if you’re into trying spicy things and like wasabi.  They do manage to take very potent flavors and pack it into an easy to swallow package.  So if you’re in Itaewon and want a little taste of home while still maintaining a foot in the Far East, try the wasabi burger at the All American Diner.

I Found My Thrill…

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Hello to everyone out there in the blogosphere to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  For those first viewing this site, I review restaurants in Chicago/the Chicagoland area/anywhere I’ve traveled.  Today will be a short but savory post.  Most people say that eating a hearty breakfast is the cornerstone to a productive day, but I’ve found that most people are too busy (or can’t schedule their time properly) in the morning to even grab a bite to eat.  However, if you do have more than five minutes to rush out the door, I would like to tell you about a great breakfast restaurant for any type of eater.  It is called Blueberry Hill located at 7340 Illinois 83 Darien, IL.

I have been to this establishment many times after hearing my mom rave about the variety of items they offer, and the high quality of said items.  I’m pleased to let you know that her claims were not some sort of culinary El Dorado or Utopia.  One of the only downsides about this restaurant is that it gets very crowded in the morning on weekends, and it stays open only until three p.m.  So bring your appetites and patience when dining here because you might have to battle the hordes for a table.  Thankfully, when I most recently ate there, it was crowded per usual, but we managed to get a table in fifteen minutes thanks to their efficient wait staff.  As I looked over the menu, I was sucked into their lunch options, but I decided to get a breakfast item since it is their signature meal.  Finally I saw something that caught my eye:  an avocado, bacon, and tomato omelet.  I also chose the complementary side of Greek toast instead of the side of pancakes.  A quick aside, for those not from Chicago/Chicagoland, Greek toast is basically thicker slices of toast that have sesame seeds on the crust.  Apparently it’s called Texas Toast in other parts of the country according to my friends.

Big portion, even bigger flavor

Big portion, even bigger flavor

When it finally came out, I was confronted with an omelet that most likely was made with an ostrich egg in terms of the overall size of it.  The first bite was nice and fluffy with tiny pieces of crunchy, but not burnt, smoked hickory bacon and large chunks of creamy avocado.  Unfortunately, the tomatoes were not as plentiful as the aforementioned two items, but they were still quite fresh when I stumbled upon them in the yellow fields of the omelet.  I kicked it up a notch with a couple soupçons of Louisiana Hot Sauce to give my meal a bit of that south-of-the-border/Mason Dixon line taste.  The Greek toast was perfectly toasted with a golden brown hue and a thick coating of sesame seeds on the crust.  There were even small slices of fresh cantaloupe and an orange slice on the side to provide some sort of healthy twist to this extremely unhealthy meal.  I ate both, but the orange slice had a prodigious amount of seeds in it.  So chomp away at your own peril.  If there was any part of the meal that really did not impress me was the steaming potatoes that were the side to the omelet.  They were essentially chopped potatoes that were steamed and therefore devoid of any real flavor.  However, most people would be stuffed after eating that gigantic omelet, so perhaps they don’t put as much effort into improving the potatoes.  Either way, I was very satisfied with the meal.

So if you want to give breakfast and your stomach the respect they deserve, roll out of bed and down to Blueberry Hill to find your gastronomic thrill!

Blueberry Hill Pancake House on Urbanspoon

Blueberry Hill Pancake House on Foodio54

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