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It’s Greek to Me

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Everyone needs a no-frills diner.  A place where you can go to get food that may not be the best for you or might not look the prettiest, but you know it will always make you feel good.  This type of culinary sanctuary is as varied as an individual’s palate, mood, and perhaps even time of day.  Let’s be real, late night eats are never the healthiest in the world, but there’s nothing like being a little naughty when the sun goes down. 1433858760_70ec314f6f2232ce557694c962a36572 This is where Margie’s Restaurant comes in.

It was a cold and dark night like any old Midwestern winter night, and Janice was craving a milkshake and some fries.  Instead of just going to the local McDonald’s, I suggested we try a local favorite that I’ve always seen but never visited.  Margie’s is not much from the outside or inside. IMG_5671IMG_5674 It’s just a local fast food joint that serves really basic food for reasonably prices in large portions like your standard hamburgers and hotdogs or Chicago classics like homemade Italian beef sandwiches. IMG_5673 While I do love all of those, I had a particularly greasy favorite in mind when I went to order.  The gyro (plural: gyros) has become a staple of American fast food cuisine compliments of Greek immigrants who brought it here and made it popular in their diners across the nation.  It probably became popular with Americans due to the fact that you can eat it on the go even though I wouldn’t recommend it since they can be pretty jam packed with ingredients.  The name is also a point of contention as you might hear “jai-ro”, “jeer-oh”, or “yee-ro”, but the closest pronunciation is the last one. IMG_5675 The word “gyro” comes from the word for “turn” which replaced the Turkish term “doner” which means the same thing.  The turn part comes from the fact that the gyro meat is roasted vertically and sliced off in thin strips with a long knife or shaver.  This technique was invented in the 19th Century in Turkey, but the Greeks will tell you otherwise.  Your typical gyro consists of a pita flatbread that is filled with spiced lamb, tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce.  However, there are alternatives out there; the most common variant I’ve seen is with chicken instead of lamb.  I always keep it traditional because I love the spice and flavor of lamb that the Eastern Mediterranean nations do so well.  Margie’s had a gyro special where I could get a plate of the Greek classic with a side of fries for 5 bucks.  Naturally, I jumped at the chance.  The service was brisk given I went on a random weeknight, and it was freezing outside.  The food came out quickly and wrapped up very nicely.  When I got home, Janice definitely enjoyed her meal, and when I opened up my bag, I didn’t know where to start.  IMG_5676A huge pita was lain over a facefull of fries, tomatoes, and onions along with two tubs of tzatziki sauce.  Basically, I had to be the mad scientist to put this monstrosity together, and luckily I had the skill and mettle to do just that.  Once I combined everything like a boss, I got down to the business.  IMG_5678The typical problem that I mentioned before is that the meat is oftentimes quite greasy, so you run the risk of having your clothes ruined by the gyro’s juices hopping a ride on your pants and or shirt.  Margie’s gyro, on the other hand, was not greasy at all, and the pita held up quite well to my ravenous choppers tearing through my meal.  The tomatoes were fresh and onions plentiful, and the tzatziki was cool and tangy like any good yogurt based sauce should be with hints of cucumbers.  As for the French fries, they were of the crinkle cut variety, and they were fried to perfection.  I wasn’t able to finish the golden stack of potato sticks due to the filling nature of the gyro, but I highly recommend this special or any of the other specials.  You’ll get your money’s worth, that is for certain.

So if you’re ever out in the western Chicagoland suburbs and need to get a ton of food for not a ton of money, check out Margie’s Restaurant!
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Cinfully Delicious

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A common phrase in English is “the breakfast of champions” which is often used to describe a specific foodstuff or collection of drink and food that will transform someone into a winner.  However, a tougher title to achieve is “champion of breakfasts”, especially in a big and competitive market like Chicago.  Now, I’ve had my fair share of flapjacks, scramblers, and skillets, and it’s really just the tip of the bacon-wrapped iceburg.  Not all diners are created equal though.  Kanela is one of those special franchises that has slowly, but surely, taken over the Chicago breakfast scene.

κανέλα” or Kanela means “cinnamon” in Greek, and this Greek American establishment of the same name is a temple to this once rare ingredient.  I love my spices and seasoning, but I think that cinnamon is my favorite.  Whether it’s in rolls, doughnuts, or French toast, I can’t get enough of the powdery and savory spice.  So, when I heard that we would be paying a visit to it for a morning meal, I was over the moon.  It had a modest exterior that belied its popularity as people were milling outside waiting for a table. IMG_4818 Thankfully, there is free parking nearby and on the street if you’re looking to take a large group to enjoy all of the great breakfast options we soon thereafter started sampling.  The place was absolutely poppin’ on a Sunday morning, go figure, but we got a table for two in no time. IMG_4817 We started the meal off with drinks.  Janice got a Bloody Mary that was extra spicy and made with Absolut Peppar vodka to give it that peppy kick to wake you up and/or chase the mad dog of a hangover from last night away.  IMG_4802As for me, I went the healthier route with the PB & J smoothie ($6) which consisted of peanut butter, blueberry, strawberry, and organic agave nectar which is a slightly healthier alternative to regular sugar but much better than artificial sweeteners.IMG_4805  Fun fact:  the agave is the same plant that tequila is derived from as well, but don’t expect any sort of alcoholic punch with this natural sugar substitute. Surprisingly, this large glass of cooling ambrosia isn’t as sweet as you would imagine. IMG_4803 It managed to capture the soul of the elementary lunch school staple with a splash of peanut butter mixing with the sweet fruits and syrup but in a much more understated manner.   Once we had our beverages in hand, we started the food fest by sharing an order of monkey bread ($4).  It came out and looked simply sinfully delicious.IMG_4808  I often wondered why people call it “monkey bread” since it doesn’t look like something a monkey would eat or shaped like some sort of simian.  After a bit of research, the origin of the sweet treat’s name is shrouded in mystery, but one theory postulates that its cracked and bumpy surface bears a certain resemblance to the bark of the monkey puzzle tree that grows in South America.  With one bite of this appetizer, we went ape.  Each piece we pulled apart from the bread was more flavorful than the one that preceded it.  The cinnamon dusted on top combined with the honey drizzled on top made it taste like a mixture between a dulce de leche roll I had in Costa Rica and a classic cinnamon roll.IMG_4807  Plus, it was slightly warm that pushed this dessert to the next level.  For our entrees, Janice got the duck confit hash ($12) while I ordered the spicy feta omelet ($11).  First, I have to mention that if you are any type of Greek restaurant or even just a restaurant owned by a Greek, you will get giant portions for your money.  Kanela holds to this axiom.  The duck confit hash looked mouth-wateringly good especially with the orange truffle vinaigrette that really piqued my interest and taste buds. IMG_4809IMG_4813 Thankfully the duck wasn’t too greasy either which can often be a pitfall when ordering the fowl for a meal.  As for my spicy feta omelet, I really loved the fresno pepper garnish that served as a flashpoint of the meal. IMG_4814 Its bright red skin immediately drew my attention at the newborn baby-sized omelet that was lying in front of me.  IMG_4815The ends weren’t that packed with any sort of filling, just fluffy eggs.  However, I soon got to the business end of things as I was greeted with a thick pocket of tyrokafteri cheese, red onion, and tomatoes. IMG_4816 My advice for anyone wanting to get this is that it’s not terribly spicy, and make sure that you love feta cheese because there’s half of Greece’s supply in just this one omelet.  So if you aren’t as big of a cheesehead as me, then consider yourself warned.  It’s not for the faint hearted.  The onions made a minimal impression on my palate, and the tomatoes were negligible.  The potatoes on the side were not too greasy or too dry, and they worked well when mixed with the omelets or just on their own.

By the end of meal, we were stuffed and satisfied with our trip to Kanela.  For the price, portion sizes, and overall quality of ingredients, Kanela can’t be touched.
Kanela Breakfast Club on Urbanspoon

The Cradle of Deliciocracy

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Tikanis, people?  That’s “what’s up?” in Greek which is the language spoken at today’s reviewed eatery in, you guessed it if you’ve been reading my latest entries, Delray Beach, Florida.  If you haven’t been reading through, some highlights include me taking down a giant chicken sandwich, eating a breakfast jammed in a burger, and a sexually titled sushi platter.  So, after having Italian the previous day, I wanted to continue the Mediterranean theme with a proper Greek dinner or maybe I just had a hankering for some good Feta cheese.

After a bit of sleuthing through the online food directories, I found Zorba’s Taverna that had a lot of great reviews where people raved about the tasty eats at reasonable prices.  Perfect.  It didn’t look like much from the outside as it was located in a strip mall, and coming from Chicago, I’m normally used to them looking like the white-washed buildings in Santorini.IMG_2957  The sign on the door, on the other hand, already provided me with a taste of the Greek hospitality to come (thankfully sans broken plates). IMG_2956 The place was moderately busy, but the seats quickly were occupied as we managed to beat the crowd rushing the doors trying to get out of the rain.  Our waiter slowly sauntered over, and he seemed slightly off for some reason I couldn’t put my finger on.  Nevertheless, he was amiable.  Inside, Zorba’s Taverna was the Greek diner I was expecting complete with a classic Hellenic blue and white motif everywhere along with a fitting tribute to the Anthony Quinn film that serves as inspiration for the restaurant’s name.IMG_2951 IMG_2950 IMG_2949  After looking over the menu that had all of the classic Greek dishes that they’ve served since antiquity like spanokopita, souvlaki, and baklava along with a couple newer Greek innovations like saganaki that was reinvented right in Greektown in my hometown of Chicago.  My mom got an order of the saganaki ($8.95) for us to share to start off.  For those who have never had the pleasure of trying saganaki, the name describes how the cheese, in this case vlahotyri, is melted in a frying pan since saganaki is the diminutive of sagani or a “frying pan with two handles”.  The cheese is then eaten with a spritz of lemon and maybe a sprinkling of pepper.  Once Greek immigrants came to America, they served this gooey cheese dish to diners, but as I mentioned before, the Greeks in Chicago added a bit more showmanship to this humble dish.  What can add panache to any sort of performance art like preparing and serving food?  Fire!  If you visit most Greek restaurants in the Chicagoland area, you can experience something like this.  Strangely, in Florida they didn’t set the cheese ablaze but rather placed it on our table with a whimper along with a free plate of pita triangles and hummus.  The saganaki sans flames was still delicious with a salty and citrusy flair to each forkful.  As for the hummus and pita,  I don’t know if they do this for every patron or if we were the 100th customers, but it was a great perk to our visit. IMG_2947 The pita was warm and fresh, and the hummus was creamy and evenly spiced with a liberal splash of olive oil.IMG_2948  We then ordered our food where my dad got the tzatziki platter ($4.95), my mom got chicken souvlaki platter ($12.95), and I got a side of dolmathakia ($7.95) and the roasted Greek chicken ($14.95).  Eventually, our food came out, and it all looked great.  My dad’s tzatziki or cucumber sauce was thicker than I was used to compared to back home in Chicago but didn’t affect the overall quality.  My mom informed me the chicken souvlaki or shish kabob was very dry.  On my plates, on the other hand, I found nothing but mouth-watering choices. IMG_2953 The dolmathakia consisted of cooked grape leaves that encased fluffy grains of rice with spices and just the right amount of dill that was further enhanced by the translucent dill broth that these mini-grape loves were stewing in.IMG_2954  I got a free Greek salad on the side which was verdant and scrumptious along with the creamy pieces of Feta that scratched my itch for cheese like the big rat I am.IMG_2952  As for my chicken, although it couldn’t hold an oil lamp to some of my Greek friends’ mommas’ cooking, it was alright for Delray Beach.  The chicken was so well prepared that it literally fell apart as soon as I touched it with my fork. IMG_2955 From the oregano coated skin to the juicy white meat interior, I was in a state of apotheosis as a foodie during this meal.  Unfortunately, then it went downhill from the average green beans to the less than noteworthy potatoes on the side that were quite bland and hard.  The tumble from the top of the Mount Olympus of food ended with a definite thud.

So if you’re looking for mostly lip-smackingly good Greek food that’ll make you shout Opa! down in Delray Beach, boogie on down to Zorba’s Taverna.

Zorba's Taverna on Urbanspoon

A Real Brew-Ha-Ha (Portland, Part 6)

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Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today is the penultimate installation of my Portland, Oregon adventures, and this post will finally touch on the craft brewing scene that Portland has to offer.

I met some new friends during one of the educational sessions on motivation in the classroom, and they seemed quite interested in inviting me out to dinner with them.  So after I had to do some schmoozing with some State Department representatives, I was on my way to Bridgeport Brewery located at 1313 NW Marshall Street Portland, OR 97209.  It was a bit of a pain for me to get there by the streetcar system, but it seemed to be no problem for the girls by car.  The exterior of the restaurant looked more like a Victorian factory where I half expected to find rows of women churning out textiles while small urchins scampered about fixing broken down weaving machines. IMG_2677 Thankfully, the interior is much classier than a sweatshop, and the service is quite cordial. IMG_2678 After roughly a 20 minutes wait, we were escorted to our table.  We started with some drinks which naturally were beers.  I first went for a pint of limited edition Old Knucklehead ($7) brewed at Bridgeport.IMG_2680  It’s a barley wine ale which is very aggressive in flavor initially but has a soft finish of oak, cherry, and a bit of vanilla.  I also tried their very rare cherry chocolate stout ($8) that also is brewed at the restaurant that lived up to it’s name.  Think Guinness mixed with a very hearty black forest cake.  Foodwise, they have all the basic gastropub foods like burgers, sandwiches, soups, and salads, but I wanted to try something different (go figure).  I looked down their “favorites” section of the menu, and I cast my bet with the chicken souvlaki ($10).  I know I could probably get much better back home in Chicago, but I decided to see the xeni (non-Greek people) take on this Mediterranean classic.  It came out with my beer, and it looked a lot better than the pasta and burgers people got. IMG_2679 The Greek dish was a solid meal.  The pita was warm and fluffy, and the tomatoes and lettuce were fresh.  The chicken pieces were succulent and not rubbery, a common pitfall for any chicken dish.  I personally think it could have used more tzatziki sauce and feta cheese, but it didn’t make that much of a difference.  The souvlaki also came with a side of vegetable couscous salad which was competently made but didn’t make me shout “Opa!”.

Overall, in regard to Bridgeport Brewery, I would follow the advice of my friend who is a native to Portland and was at dinner with us, “Come for the beer, stay for more beer.  Food is secondary or maybe tertiary in Portland gastropubs”.  Well put, sir.
Bridgeport Brewpub & Bakery on Urbanspoon

This Mary’s No Virgin

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Hello to all far and wide to another edition of Mastication Monologues.  Today I am going to tell you all about an interesting hamburger place I went to in Andersonville that has a lot of a personality.  It’s called Hamburger Mary’s, and it’s located at 5400 North Clark Street  Chicago, IL 60640.  It’s a pretty modern part of town, and there is plenty of street parking which means that this eatery is quite easy to reach.

It all seems so quaint and Swedish

Now I already mentioned that this place has a lot of personality, but what exactly could that mean?  Well,  what I’m referring to is the fact that this place has a constant subtle nudge at sex at every turn.  First, my then girlfriend at the time mentioned that they had cabaret and drag queen shows there every so often, so I was a bit wary about what I was getting myself into.  However, when I arrived, it didn’t seem too offbeat from the outside.  On the inside, it’s very kitschy in its choice of decor that ranges from their abnormally busty statue of their mascot, Mary, 1950s Americana items, and even the occasional rainbow flag to represent the large LGBT community on the north side of Chicago.  Plus, there are various sexual puns throughout the actual menu like loaded ta-tas (tater tots with cheese), Chik’n Wangs (chicken wings in a southern accent), and the guacamole BJ (Bacon and Jack cheeseburger).  Sexuality aside, I’m here to judge the food.

I went to this establishment two different times and got two different types of burgers.  In general, I was impressed with how many different options you could have in terms of bun (gluten-free, brioche, wheat, or lettuce cups), meat (anything from blackbean patties to Wagyu beef), and sides.  The first time I went there, I got the lamb gyro burger with a side of the tasty seasoned ta-tas.  It was going to be interesting to see how they were going to transform one of my favorite Greek/drunk foods of all time into burger form, and I was pleasantly surprised.  It was served as a lamb patty with onions, tomatoes, pita chips, and a typical Tzatziki sauce.  The lamb was cooked just the way I liked it, and the vegetables were very fresh.  As for the pita chips, they added a much welcomed texture change with their crunch enhanced by the (cool as a) cucumber sauce.  With the seasoned ta-tas, they were basically tater tots that were seasoned with Hamburger Mary’s special blend of spices.  Personally, these tater tots were pretty good but nothing mind-blowing.  Overall, I’d give round one to the Gyro Burger since it’s Zeus sized flavor made the side look like a mere mortal.

The second time around, I decided to go with the Fiesta Burger which consisted of a beef patty stuffed with chorizo and spices, topped with pepper jack cheese, pico de gallo, chipotle ranch, and tortilla strips.  I’d normally be happy with the stuffed beef patty alone, but this sandwich was a fiesta sin igual.  The spices brought out the hotter bits of the cheese which normally didn’t happen with other similar Southwest burgers at other restaurants.  These spicier tones and the flaming hot patty were then cooled by the homemade pico de gallo that was quite flavorful and chipotle filled.  This is where I think the chipotle ranch wasn’t really that necessary.  If one has chipotle already in their pico de gallo, then I think it’s kind of a waste to use it on the same burger.  Given this opinion, I believe that the chipotle ranch did not make any sort of impact on my palate.  The tortilla strips were in the same league as the pita chips on the gyro burger since they offset all of the chewier portions of the burger with a much-needed firmness like a strong shot of tequila reposado.  As for my side, I got the bacon-potato salad which I was a bit wary about, but I think my love for all things bacon must have subconsciously influenced me when I was ordering.  I should have listened to my head instead of my pork loving heart because I can only eat potato salad in small portions before it loses its appeal.   However, I was pleasantly surprised since this side was one of the better potato salads I’ve had because it was creamy, had generous pieces of bacon lurking under its white mounds, and the potatoes were slightly firm but at the same time quite tender.  Unfortunately, I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach because I was stuffed after finishing this side and the burger all in one sitting.  Oh bacon, you greasy temptress!   At the end of the meal, they gave us the check in a high heel which was an interesting touch, but just made me think that only in this place would this seem normal.

Overall, Hamburger Mary’s is a good burger place to go for a good time, but the only downside is that I think it’s slightly overpriced for the food.  I think it’s just a way to counter the cost of offering so many different products for different types of eaters.  Nevertheless, spend an afternoon with Mary and see that this girl next door is more than just a pretty face.

I guess Mary thinks everything bigger is better

Hamburger Mary's on Urbanspoon

Hamburger Mary's on Foodio54

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