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Temenaks in Tenerife (Day 1: Noche de San Juan, Sunset Cruise)

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Welcome back once again to another entry of Mastication Monologues!  I may or may not have more free time to write on this blog now that I have officially graduated from my speech pathology program, but my wife and I actually just came back from a magical honeymoon in the mysterious land of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.  When we eventually settled on the location, I was very excited because I wanted to go somewhere in Spain, but a location I had never been before so my wife and I could explore together.

The Canary Islands are a series of volcanic islands that are off the west coast of Morocco that truly are a hidden gem and basically Hawaii for Europeans who are searching for fun in the sun, i.e. English, German, and Russian tourists mostly.  However, when we told people stateside where we were going, we were greeted with typically an uncertain, “Oh cool.  That’s awesome.” followed by, “So where are they exactly?”  However, they wished us well and to have plenty of fun which we obviously did.  Funny enough though, the islands are not named after the chirpy birds that were used in mine shafts rather the birds were named after the islands.  Numerous theories about the islands’ name abound.  One involves the Romans calling the islands Canariae Insulae or “Island of Dogs” due to the presence of the dogs the indigenous Guanche tribes bred, worshipped as gods throughout the island, and even mummified them to be buried with their owners.  When the Spanish arrived in the 1490s, they described the same large, powerful dogs killing wolves that were attacking their livestock, and today this ancient breed is known as the Prensa Canario as shown below.  Another theory is that the Romans named the islands after the large amount of seals or “sea dogs” they saw on the shores.  Instead of starting our travels in the Eternal City like the ancient travelers, we left Chicago on an overnight flight.  We decided to start our honeymoon off right with a light dinner at Hub 51 at O’Hare airport.  We had been to Hub 51 in Chicago before with friends (delicious food), so we knew they wouldn’t disappoint us.  We got a delicious, not too dry Giuliana prosecco in addition to sharing guacamole and chips.  The chips were on the thin, cantina-style side which sometimes was a drawback if we wanted to really pile on the rich but not too spicy guacamole.  We also wanted to try their Brussels sprout salad, but we had a stroke of luck when they said they were out of the Brussels sprout salad.  We switched it up and ordered the Sonoma salad instead which was delectable from the mixed greens to the fresh slices of grapefruit that offset the sweeter vinaigrette and candied walnuts.  With our bellies full and ready to depart the Windy City, we eventually arrived in London-town  and had a layover in “beautiful” Gatwick airport.  During our time there, we decided to grab some food before our next leg to the islands. We ended up at Garfunkle’s which seemed like England’s take on a Chili’s with general burgers as well as more traditional British fare in the form of fish and chips and a chicken pie which we ordered.  While the fish and chips weren’t as authentic as getting it from a chippy or a fish and chip shop for those who don’t speak British English, the breading was light and crispy with plenty of delicious cod beneath.  Their chips were a bit stale which I didn’t care for, and their mushy peas were a bit too mint heavy.  Janice’s chicken pie was more satisfying with layers of creamy mashed potatoes, seasoned chunks of chicken, a hearty cream sauce, and a side of carrots and broccolini.  After our bite to eat, we grabbed brews to watch the Belgium v.s. Tunisia.  Funny enough, the beers my wife got were from Portland, Maine that her and her friends get when they’re in Connecticut.  It was a quite hoppy IPA, but thankfully it was something light before the second leg of our trip that finally brought us to Tenerife.

Flying into Tenerife, it looked like a more desert-covered version of what I would expect Hawaii to be.  The most breathtaking portion of the island was seeing the looming Mount Teide above the clouds.  It is a still active volcano that the native Guanche people called Echeyde.  They viewed the peak as a portal to hell and the home of a powerful demon, Guayota, who was imprisoned there as punishment for kidnapping the god of sun and light, Magec.  The subsequent eruptions of the volcano, the most recent in 1909, were seen as Guayota attempting to escape.  We were swiftly shuttled from the southern airport on the island of Tenerife to our hotel in Los Alcantilados Los Gigantes.  However, it wasn’t just any special night, it was La Noche de San Juan or Saint John’s night which was adopted by the Catholic Spanish from the pagan Guanche people who originally celebrated the date to ring in the summer solstice.  We could see the traditional giant bonfires dotting the countryside as the local Canarios were burning old belongings to signify a new start to the year.  When we finally arrived to our hotel, we were exhausted yet at the same time exhilarated and ready to find a beach party to experience a unique cultural celebration.  Our first meal wasn’t quite a leap into the unknown at the restaurant across the street from our hotel with a Margarita Italian-style, thin crust pizza with mugs of typical, thin, Spanish lager native to the Canary Islands called Dorada.  Once we were fueled up, we began our hunt for the beach party for San Juan.  We received conflicting information from the waitress and the front desk worker, but they both said that there was a giant wooden sardine to be burned.  We had to be there simply for the randomness.  It soon began a wild goose chase of people telling us to just find the beach in addition to randomly attempting to find the party with a German family.  Suddenly, the skies in front of us lit up with glittering explosions, and Janice and I immediately ran toward them, leaving the Germans in our wake.  We finally found the hidden route to the beach party and were faced with only the finest Euro-techno beatz Tenerife had to offer. I asked the bartender about the burning sardine, and it already happened two hours ago on the beach!  Still, the thrill of the hunt was entertaining, and we enjoyed the ambiance.  After a cold Dorada looking out over the revelers on the black sand beach and the pile of ashes from the wooden sardine in the background, we decided to call it a night.

Our first morning in Tenerife was breathtaking as we enjoyed the iconic cliffs or alcantilados right outside our window.  We then went downstairs to experience the interesting buffet that our hotel had to offer.  It was very European with plenty of cereals, cold cuts, and a bread wall.  You heard me right.  It was literally a wall of fresh bread that you could slice your own piece of baguette, boule, or rye.  I swear I saw Janice kneeling in front of it praising the carb gods, but maybe it was just my jet lag.  I helped myself to a variety of fresh fruits like the Canarian banana that is smaller than the ones found stateside, but are much sweeter and probably the best I’ve ever had.  They also had churros and melted chocolate (not pictured here) which constitute a typical Spanish breakfast.  There was also a sopressata spread that was salty and spicy in all the right ways.  At midday, we decided to watch the England vs Panama game at one of the many local British bars. The food was nothing to brag about compared to what was to come, but I tried a corned beef and Branston pickle sandwich, something I never tried before. While in America, we think of salty, crunchy pickled cucumbers, Branston pickle is an English made spread that consisted of chunks of pickled carrots, onions, and turnips in a sweet, slightly spicy brown sauce.  Apparently it’s very popular in English pubs on cheese sandwiches.  It was okay on a very simple sandwich, but it did not set my palate alight compared to other meals we would have this trip.  After enjoying the 5-0 thrashing of Panama and plenty of airhorn blasts from the barkeeps, we had a date with a private sunset cruise from Puerto Colon.

It was a glorious day, as are most days in the Canaries, and we set sail out on the Atlantic Ocean with Captain Marco and Captain Jan Jan. 

Captain Jan Jan showing us around

We were treated to delicious Spanish cava or champagne and (in counterclockwise order below) a mix of Spanish cheeses, mild and spicy Spanish chorizo, and melt-in-your mouth jamon iberico (Iberian ham).Between the appetizers and the main course, we were treated to something unbelievable:  30-35 pilot whales swimming around our boat.  Captain Marco said he never saw anything like it before because these whales are naturally shy around humans and boats.

Part of a family pod with a little baby whale in the middle

Eventually, all that excitement made us hungry, and we had a mouth-watering mixed paella that contained fresh mussels, tiny clams, plentiful rings of calamari, and juicy pieces of sausage and chicken.  It was followed up by a decadent chocolate torte and an apple tart that were too good for words.  As came into port, we were brought to a lookout point to watch the sunset.  A beautiful end to a beautiful day.

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Ann Extraordinary Brunch

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Hello and happy Fall to all (or Autumn for the international crowd)!  It has been way too long since my last post, about a month to be exact, and I’m planning on changing that fact right now.  If you’ve been wondering why the silence on the foodie front, it’s due to my path to speech pathology grad school.  However, that hasn’t extinguished my passion for tasty morsels and bring all the best recommendations to you, the readers.  Today’s post focuses on the Chicago diner cornerstone Ann Sather.

I’ve heard every opinion of these diners ranging from sheer ecstasy when talking about their famous cinnamon rolls to ambivalence to the opposite end of the spectrum with upturned noses looking for greener brunch pastures.  Instead of turning my interest away from this supposedly inferior diner to other, more modern establishments, it only intensified my curiosity when Janice, Michael, and I visited the Broadway cafe location, but there are other locations on the northside Chicago with one on Belmont and another on Granville.  Now, with a name for a restaurant like Ann Sather, you can safely bet that there is a story.  According to their website, Ann Sather was a real woman who bought the original restaurant over 70 years ago on Belmont from the previous Swedish owners of the property.  She was a stickler for quality, simple food made from scratch with a mix of American breakfast staples, Swedish classics, and a bit of Ann’s ingenuity. Ann eventually passed the baton in the mid 1990s to a southsider named Tom Tunney who actually is a Chicago alderman as well.  Even with the changing faces in charge, their decades of quality food and service shone through during our visit.   IMG_5754The Ann Sather cafe had plenty of personality on the inside with lots of Swedish inspired artwork which brightened up a rather gray and drizzly day.  I don’t know if it was my sweet tooth on a rampage or the warm orange/yellow motif, but I knew I needed to get some of their famous, daily handmade cinnamon rolls into my belly.IMG_5752  When they came out, they looked like the best $3.50 I spent.  When I sunk my teeth into one of these rolls, I was transported to culinary Valhalla on a boat of soft, cinnamon spiced dough covered in a rich, sugary sauce with a vanilla hint.IMG_5747  I wish I could have had an entire pan of them, but I knew I had to slow my roll (see what I did there) because I needed room for my actual breakfast entree.  Perusing the menu, I didn’t know where to begin.IMG_5746  Their wraps and omelets looked way to good to just pick one, but I couldn’t jump off that sugar train after taking down those cinnamon rolls like a great white shark to a seal.  Sadly, I don’t have a week on the Discovery Channel or the Food Channel devoted to me yet, so I got to keep practicing with more great eats like what I ordered next.  I finally settled on the daily special which was their cinnamon roll French toast ($7.50).  It was an interesting transformation of the dulcet treats I just devoured.  Instead of being doused with the sticky, soupy icing, a sprinkling of powdered sugar covered the plate and rolls like the semi-flurries that were fluttering past our window outside. IMG_5748 The fine white covering was punctuated with bright raspberries and blueberries and a tan layer of granola that blended into the rolls’ surface.  However, I didn’t know that the magic of the dish lie in wait for me because when I cut open the meal for my first bite,

Presto...

Presto…

I was greeted with a cream cheese filling.

change-o!

change-o!

It wrapped the plate together to perfection.  The French toast transformation of the cinnamon rolls replaced an overwhelming pool of pure sugar with more subtle, nuanced elements that complimented each other to make a Swedish-American original.  The berries, treading the fine line between sweet and tart, provided a contrast to the powdered sugar and sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, cream cheese filling.  I actually liked that the cream cheese centers were not too chunky or heavy but instead whipped to keep the rolls from turning into a culinary quagmire.  Plus, let’s not forget the granola, dude!  It was just enough to form a thin, rough coating to provide a satisfying and groovy crunch to the majority of the squishier ingredients, and the honey coating on each piece of the granola made me feel like these rolls and I were meant to bee.  I highly recommend this daily special if they have it available, and I have to note that my fellow diner’s choices were great as well.

In closing, I have to say that my visit to Ann Sather’s quashed all of the negative publicity with their food that is clearly made with plenty of care and quality ingredients along with a very affordable price tag in a brunch town where some prices are just plain criminal at times.  So, if you want to get a piece of Chicago’s breakfast history, roll on down to Ann Sather!
Ann Sather Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Peckish and Picking a Perfect Pepper

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Welcome one and all to another Mastication Monologues!  If you didn’t read my last post, it dealt with a super spicy ghost pepper salsa that has taken my tastebuds by firestorm.  It seems like spicy food has been popping up all over the American fast food scene as of late.  I’d like to bring you one of the most intriguing entries into this fiercely competitive arena from American fast food chain Wendy’s.

This hamburger chain is the third largest fast food chain in the world behind the two biggies McDonald’s and Burger King.

Wendy's new "Image Activation" restaurants feature bold, "ultra-modern" designs that greatly enhance the customer experience, including lounge seating with fireplaces, flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi and digital menuboards.(PRNewsFoto/The Wendy's Company)

Wendy’s new “Image Activation” restaurants feature bold, “ultra-modern” designs that greatly enhance the customer experience, including lounge seating with fireplaces, flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi and digital menuboards.(PRNewsFoto/The Wendy’s Company)

What sets this restaurant apart from the rest are its sandwiches.  While it does have your typical hamburgers and cheeseburgers, the patties are square, not round.  Plus, they don’t really have a “signature” sandwich compared to the more popular Big Mac or Whopper from the two aforementioned larger franchises.  Personally, I’m a big fan of Wendy’s given their commitment to providing a cleaner and tastier product everytime, and they seem to have more variety on their menu compared to McDonald’s or Burger King.  All of which brings me to the two latest Wendy’s menu items that really made me stand up and take notice of their ever-shifting menu choices.  First there was the jalapeño fresco spicy chicken sandwich.  While it was a bit on the pricey end for a fast food sandwich ($5, if I remember correctly), the quality definitely came through for a one off experience.  It’s a pretty substantial sandwich for the price as well.  I noticed the bun looked a bit different from the typical white bread buns that typically accompany their burgers and sandwiches.  Instead, it had more of an artisanal look to it as a sort of whole wheat roll.IMG_6512  I always appreciate good bread, so we were starting off on the right foot.  Then I took a big bite, and it was quality through and through.IMG_6515  The thick, juicy, all-white meat chicken cutlet was crispy and the batter was dusted with a chili powder to start off the spice party.  Then then chipotle mayo, raw onions, and verdant jalapeno pepper had my tastebuds in a very happy place.  If you like hearty sandwiches with plenty of fiery heart, this is the one for you.  This was just the slightly spicy prologue to the main objective of my Wendy’s trip:  the ghost pepper fries.  As I mentioned before, my previous post dealt with the new trend that is the ghost pepper, and it seems that Wendy’s has jumped on that wave.  Was my experience a hang ten or a complete wipe-out?  Eh, kind of in the middle.  When I opened them up, it looked like a simple mound of cheese fries with a generous helping of raw jalapenos. IMG_6516 At the outset, it was bland with the nacho cheese thoroughly covering the fries, but it became slightly spicier as I got into the heart of the dish.  At the very most, I might have had a little hint of flame here and there, but it was a low and slow burn.  Once you try a ghost pepper, you won’t forget it, and these fries weren’t anything close to a ghost pepper level of spice.  My lips weren’t super red.  My mouth wasn’t watering and in pain.  I also wasn’t in absolute fear of touching my face and having my own pepper spray party.  Long story short, if you are a real pepperhead, then the ghost pepper fries will not pique your interest or palate.  If you can’t deal with spicy food, then this will probably be spicy for you.

So, the next time you’re at Wendy’s and if you’re lucky enough before they remove these experimental items from the menu, I’d recommend the fresco chicken sandwich over the ghost pepper sandwich.  You get more bite for your buck!
Click to add a blog post for Wendy's on Zomato

Death Metal Delight

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Art can be manifested in various mediums.  While paintings and sculptures can be found all over the world from the beginning of humanity, music has a special place in the collective soul of mankind.  It can reflect a gamut of emotions, cultures, and innovations in technology (or hatred of said technology).  An eatery in Chicago called Kuma’s Corner  (Kuma means “bear” in Japanese) manages to fuse metal music culture with a menu focused exclusively on creatively named and constructed burgers.  What could be better than that?

Now, I’m not a huge fan of death metal or really heavy rock music outside of listening to it on my workout mix, so I was curious to see why so many people kept on raving about their burgers even though they seemed like the last people to be headbanging or howling along with the gutteral lead singers.  The exterior looked pleasant enough, but as soon as I walked in, I was greeted with a wall of people and fierce chords being pumped out of the speakers overhead.IMG_3730  I was surprised though since I heard from friends that the music was turned up to 11, but I didn’t find that to be the case.IMG_3718IMG_3719  Since I was dining alone, I was immediately seated at the bar, but I’d recommend bracing yourself for a wait if you’re going there around lunchtime.  The bartender along with every other employee there was friendly and covered in tattoos.  Not only did the artwork decorate my server’s arms, but I even found her probable inspiration all over the bathroom walls as every square inch was covered with tattoo samples.IMG_3728IMG_3729  After sitting down and pouring over the burger options, I noticed that they had very creative names paying tribute to different rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Megadeath, Slayer, and Plague Bringer to name a few.  Not only were the names intimidating, so were the options since they all looked so delicious.  After bringing it down to two choices in my head, the Plague Bringer and the Goatsnake, I asked my bartender which she’d recommend out of all of them.  Surprisingly, she said those two were her favorite.  She then gave me time to think about it, and even said she’d surprise me if I couldn’t make up my mind.  After some deliberation, I told her I’d take the Goatsnake ($10) along with a complimentary side of handcut fries, but I could have also picked chips or a salad instead of the fries.  If you’re not feeling like a burger, they do have appetizers, salads, and sandwiches.  After waiting for some time and slobbering on myself while checking out other peoples’ burgers, my burger was placed in front of me.  I didn’t know where to start. IMG_3721 It was overflowing my plate, and the guy next to me even asked me what I got since it looked so much more intense compared to his burger.  Jackpot!  This creation named after the doom metal group from California caught my eye because of its creative ingredients.IMG_3722  While there was a pile of fried red onion strings on top, I’ve had that on other burgers I’ve destroyed at other restaurants.  The holy trinity of ingredients that piqued my interest was the herbed goat cheese, poblano and corn relish, and Cholula lemon vinaigrette.  I could see the first two elements, and the third one could only be experienced.  I put my top bun on and was ready to rock my socks off. IMG_3724 Wow!  From the first bite, I knew I was dealing with a unique burger.    The patty was hearty and juicy but was borderline greasy.  It didn’t take away from the bold flavors that were more radical than a face-melting guitar solo.  The goat cheese was plentiful and provided a strong flavor background for the rest of the star ingredients like Lars Ulrich’s drumming for Metallica.  As for the corn and poblano pepper relish, it supplied a counterbalance of texture and a hint of spice that I enjoyed.  Finally, there was the most outrageous yet memorable part of the burger which was the Cholula lemon vinaigrette.  With every bite, my palate was awash with a spicy citrus punch that went especially well with the goat cheese that almost made it seem like they did an homage to Chicago’s saganaki legacy unintentionally.  Once I demolished my main dish, I turned my attention to the fries.  They were on the less crispy side which I perfer and weren’t too salty.  I wasn’t sure, but I believe the ketchup had a bit of spice in it.  Either way, these fries couldn’t measure up to the burger magnum opus I experienced moments before.  The bartender finally saw the feeding frenzy was over, and offered me a round of applause with how thoroughly I cleaned my plate.  I applaud you too, Kuma’s Corner, for your passion for creating insanely delicious burgers.

So if you’re tired of the same old burger joints that use the same old ingredients in the same old bar and grill environment, bear crawl on over to Kuma’s Corner and party on!

Kuma's Corner on Urbanspoon

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

Baby Got Burger

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Chicago is a tapestry of many different people from various walks of life and nationalities.  However, this doesn’t mean that everyone lives in perfect harmony.  The city is broken down into small neighborhoods that could be defined through race and/or socio-economic class.  All of this manifests itself in the form of being the most racially segregated city in the USA.  Thus, if someone tells you if they’re from one of the “sides” of the city, you can almost always determine what race and/or tax bracket they fall into.  Disclaimer:  the following are stereotypes associated with residents of different parts of the city, but some aspects are rooted in truth.  Northside residents are normally more educated, affluent, and white (of Central or Northern European descent).  Westsiders and Southsiders are a bit more variable in their education and economic class, but one can find more black, Latino, Southern and Eastern European enclaves in these parts of the city.  Along with that, there is a certain feel that the Southside is more blue collar and Ditka-obsessed in comparison to the genteel and hipster Northside.  It’s especially evident in the crosstown baseball rivalry with the Northside Cubs and Southside White Sox.  Therefore, I’d like to bring a bit of my old neighborhood on the Southside that is an institution.  I’m talking about Nicky’s Hot Dogs in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood located at 6142 S Archer AveChicago IL 60638.

Ever since I could remember, my family and I would visit this family-run hot dog stand to get a ton of delicious food for reasonable great prices.  I was recently in the ‘hood and decided to pay the old boy a visit.IMG_3383  I got there around lunchtime, and as I expected, the minuscule parking lot was packed to the hilt.  I parked on the adjacent block since I was getting my food to go.  As soon as I stepped in, the place hadn’t changed in ages. IMG_3384 They still have the same swivel seats along the lunch counter and plastic signs for menus.  Nicky’s is a symbol of the no-frills, hardworking, homely spirit of the Southside in both decor and menu.  It ranges from burgers to Polish sausages to hot dogs as you can see in the following picture.  IMG_3386I wanted to get two of the best items on the menu:  the Big Baby double cheeseburger ($2.90) and a hot dog ($2.25 with free fries).  However, I’d definitely recommend their gyros as well.  The cashier joked about Brazil winning the opening game of the World Cup against Croatia (he was Croatian) and possible riots after a Brazil loss.  I assured him they didn’t have to worry; people were rioting before the first ball was kicked.  After placing my order and waiting with a diverse clientele of Polish and Mexican construction workers, bankers, and families, my food finally came out.  It was encased in a simple brown paper bag, and I could already see the grease stains coming through from the mountain of fries they give you.IMG_3387  If you are worried about portion sizes, put them to the side when hitting up this Chicago eatery.  Their fries are a bit on the salty side, but that doesn’t take away from their overall quality.IMG_3389  Then there is the Big Baby.IMG_3391  It’s a double cheeseburger that grabs you at the first bite with it’s grilled, juicy patties, melted slices of American cheese, pickles, ketchup, and caramelized onions. IMG_3392IMG_3393 While it wouldn’t be considered “big” according to ‘Murikan standards where a big burger could feed a family of three for four days, it’s a titan in terms of flavor.  As for the hot dog, they are of a boiled variety and then topped with almost all of the standard Chicago toppings:  onions, mustard, relish, and pickled sport peppers. IMG_3395 No ketchup here, and you will be chewed out (pun intended) if you ask for it.  While it lacks the tomato slices I enjoy, I love the beef mixing with the sweet relish, tart mustard, and pungent diced white onion atop the bun like confetti.  By the end of the meal, I finished strutting down memory lane with a full stomach and a “see you soon” in my mind.

So if you want to venture beyond the cutting-edge eateries and more expensive restaurants on the Northside and want to sample a tried and true establishment that serves basic yet delicious and cost-effective food options, come on down to Nicky’s Hot Dogs.

Nicky's Hot Dogs 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

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