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Where’s the Kimchi?

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Hello once again to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today’s review is about my brief encounter with one of the most American/global restaurants in the world in South Korea.  I’m talking about the golden arches, the clown, or the corporation everyone loves to hate:  McDonalds.

These cops aren't clowning around

These cops aren’t clowning around

We had  just visited the oldest Buddhist village in Korea, so naturally we topped off our field trip with a visit to one of the most controversial American exports.  Politics and dietary qualms aside, I always am interested in trying what each country has to offer on the menu.  Even though I was disappointed that they didn’t offer kimchi or rice for sides instead of fries, I decided to get a bulgogi (marinated Korean beef) burger and a choco-berry McFlurry for dessert (courtesy of my friend, Lauren.  What a sweetheart).mcdonalds-korea-bulgogi-burger  The bulgogi burger was quite interesting since it managed to capture the essence of the marinade used on the traditional Korean beef dish while supplementing it with a bed of lettuce and mayonnaise.  It was a smooth and sweet barbecue rush to the tastebuds while the mayo gave it a nice tangy aftertaste.IMG_1195  As for the choco-berry McFlurry, it tasted like a chocolate and raspberry milkshake.  Even though I’m not the biggest fan of fruit and chocolate, it was acceptable.  All in all, McDonalds in Korea was ok but not as crazy as I thought it was going to be.  However, they do deliver here which is very different from the States.

Annyeong Haseyo, deliciousness!

Annyeong Haseyo, deliciousness!

A Curse of Deliciousness

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Hello to everyone to another edition of Mastication Monologues!!  Today I will be talking about a Chicago institution that was immortalized in a Saturday Night Live skit with John Belushi:  The Billy Goat Tavern and Grill located at 430 N. Michigan Ave at Lower Level, Chicago, IL.  Chicago__Billy_Goat_Tavern_1b

Upon walking into the restaurant, I was greeted with a sign that said, “Welcome to the Billy Goat Tavern.  Enter at your own risk”.  Lovely.  However, it’s just another part of the overall ambiance of the place that started all the way back in 1934 with the original owner, William “Billy Goat” Sianis.  He was a diligent business owner and placed a curse on the Chicago Cubs that has to this day prevented them from winning a World Series.  Upon closer inspection of the decor, you can see rows upon rows of pictures of Chicago history and a veritable who’s who of famous people from all over the world.  However, let’s get back to the food.  Upon approaching the lunch counter, I was expecting to go through the Saturday Night Live dialogue of, “Cheeborger Cheeborger!  You want fries?  No fries, chips!  You want Pepsi?  No Pepsi, Coke!”.  Instead, I was confronted with a very mild mannered worker who went about his business while I ordered a double cheeseburger and a Sprite and no chips.  I’m quite sure if Mr. Belushi was behind the counter, he would have jumped over the counter like the madman that he was and scold me for my unorthodox choices.

"ONLY CHEEBORGERS!!"

“ONLY CHEEBORGERS!!”

Once they grilled up my burger on a classic greasy spoon type of griddle, it was served to me on a simple sheet of wax paper.  Even though it was spartan in presentation, I kind of liked it since it brought me back to a simpler time.  I then made my way over to the condiment station where they have bottles of ketchup and mustard, diced and slices of white onions, sweet relish, and slices of dill pickles.  I decided to pile it high with a handful of dill pickle slices and a thick slice of onion topped with a moderate amount of ketchup and mustard.

Bulls, Bears, Burgers...Ditka

Bulls, Bears, Burgers…Ditka

The first bite I took was fantastic.  The kaiser roll was thick and fresh, and the beef was succulent with slightly greasy undertones.  As for the pickles, they were just the right amount of sour, and the onion slice provided a nice change of texture.  Plus, it wasn’t very overpowering in terms of taste which made me think that it was probably a Bermuda onion.  Each slice of American cheese was perfectly melted to hold the juicy patties together to form one delicious hamburger.  The only downside was of my own creation because the ketchup and mustard made the onion slippery which in turn made the top bun slide everywhere.  It was a rookie mistake by yours truly, but it did not take away from my experience.

So if you’re looking for a good, old-fashioned diner in Chicago to get a solid cheeborger, check out Billy Goat Tavern.  As they say at the restaurant, “Butt in anytime!”

 

Billy Goat Tavern on Urbanspoon

World Famous Billy Goat's Tavern & Grill on Foodio54

Another Grand Canyon

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Hello everyone and welcome to the 45th edition of Mastication Monologues!  Hooray for me and my wandering tastebuds!  Today I will be reviewing a relatively new restaurant that I didn’t even know existed until I was given a free burger coupon for them from my dad.  It’s called Canyons Burger Company and is located at 243 W 63rd St Westmont, IL.

Since I never really heard of this restaurant, I was walking into it without any sort of preconceived notions about their menu.  However, I was surprised at the variety of burgers and other items they served like salads and chicken tenders.  I decided to get the Blue Bayou burger since I seem to be in a Cajun state of mind as of late (see my previous post for Heaven on Seven) and a side of regular fries.  They also offered onion rings and sweet potato fries, but I didn’t feel like being that big of a fatty after coming from the gym.  Another great option that I liked was that they provided me a wide range of sauces and topping to choose from for free.  Therefore, in addition to the blue cheese and Cajun seasonings, I got ketchup, mustard, chipotle mayo, lettuce,  tomato, red onion, pickles, and sliced jalapenos piled on the burger.  Once my order was entered, they gave me a number, and eventually they brought it to my table.  It did take an unusually long time to cook my food since I was the only person in the place, but I’ll wait for food if it’s high quality.IMG_1097

Eventually my food was delivered, and upon first glance it looked quite delicious.  Once I finished taking my pictures like a weirdo, I realized that there were no blue cheese crumbles as advertised on the menu.  Instead there was a some sort of blue cheese spread coating the burger. Plus, the Cajun spices were not on the meat but rather on the cheese.  Even though it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, I got to work on the burger.  The first bite was delicious and flavorful with each element having its own voice amid a very busy flavor profile.  The vegetables were fresh and crispy, and the beef was expertly grilled to a nice brown hue while still maintaining a good amount of juice for flavor.  I really enjoyed the jalapenos because they were fresh and not pickled.  All of which provided a crispy texture change and a spicy bite that hooked up well with the chipotle mayonnaise.  The mystery blue cheese spread worked well with its powerful flavor made spicier with the Cajun seasoning.  Even though it seemed like a real cheeseburger in paradise sans the terrible Jimmy Buffett singing, I didn’t enjoy the fact that the bottom bun seemed to disappear quicker than the top one.  This became a serious problem towards the end of the burger when the chipotle mayo threatened the integrity of my burger through its own slippery yet savory self.  Thankfully I possessed the dexterity to keep the burger intact, but I wish the bread they used was a bit more substantial.  Taste-wise, it was ideal with a slightly buttery taste to bring out the richness of the beef but not overwhelming the other ingredients.   As for the fries, it was a substantial amount for the price I paid, but it was not a case of quantity over quality.  In my case, I prefer my fries to be on the softer side, so these golden-brown sticks were modicums of delectability.  Plus, they were not overly salted/seasoned which drives me crazy sometimes like with the oft-praised Five Guys Cajun Fries that are seasoned into oblivion.  By the time I finished the fries, I was thoroughly satisfied with the meal.

So if you’re looking for a burger place beyond the clown, the king, and that red-headed girl, try Canyons Burger Company!

Canyons Burger Company on Urbanspoon

Champpion of Burgers? Not Quite

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Hello to everyone out there in the blogosphere to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I am going to be talking about a restaurant that I had been to before, but I never really tried their take on a classic type of burger.  The restaurant I’m referring to is Champps Americana Restaurant located at 2301 Fountain Square Drive Lombard, IL.

The establishment is a typical American sports bar, but I did see an item on their menu that played to one of my culinary weaknesses:  spicy food.  Now I have proclaimed my spice tolerance in previous blog posts, so I won’t go into much detail about my Man versus Food-esque type adventures.  However, I did see the Firehouse Burger which was calling to me like a spicy south of the border senora.  Vale, vengo ahorita, mi amor!  I got it well-done (I know many meat-lovers will call me a savage for “burning” my meat), and it looked delicious when it was presented to me.  According to the menu, I was face to face with probably a half-pound mound of beef festooned with red and yellow bell peppers, green chiles, poblano peppers, onions, Chipotle Tabasco, Cajun seasoning, pepperjack cheese, and fresh jalapeno peppers.  These various ingredients separated this burger in my mind from other typical spicy burgers I’ve tried in the past.

Disregard the sweet potato fries and put in delicious waffle fries

Disregard the sweet potato fries and insert delicious waffle fries

Plus, it was accompanied with a mini-molehill of waffle fries.  When I started on the burger, I had to slice it in half because I put everything on it, and I can’t unhinge my jaw like a python swallowing a baby hippo.  Upon first bite, I realized that I was in for a messy time because they seemed to have doused the bun with Tabasco which in turn led the bun to become quite soggy.  Naturally, my originally firm grasp of the burger deteriorated into a melange of cheese and peppers.  Thankfully the extra gooey and tasty pepper jack managed to hold it all together like some type of magical dairy rubber cement.  So this detracted from the meal’s greatness, and the mild bell and poblano peppers really didn’t do much for the burger.  Sure, they added vibrant colors to the general beige background of a hamburger, but they were mushed into the background.  However, the jalapenos were game-changers because not only did their vibrant verdant hue brighten up the plate, but their crisp texture and loud flavor allowed the true spice of the burger shine above the general muck of mild peppers.  Once I finally demolished my main entree, I began chipping away at the waffle fries which were not quite golden brown but were still crunchy on the outside and fluffy white on the inside with minimal salt=perfect fries.

No CTA pass necessary for this deliciousness

No CTA pass necessary for this deliciousness

Afterward, I found out that they had a drink special (I don’t know if it’s everyday or not) where I could get a pint of certain beers for only $2.50!  That is quite good for the Chicago suburbs for those of you who are unaware.  I decided to pick a pint of Goose Island’s Green Line.  It’s a pale ale that has a golden hue, and I could smell a slight citrusy aroma wafting toward me during every sip.  There was a clear bitter, hoppy bite to the brew, but it was not overwhelming like other IPAs.  If you’re looking for stronger tasting beers, this would be the equivalent of sticking your toe in the swimming pool to see if you’re ready to do a cannonball into the wonderful world of beer tasting.

So if you’re looking for some interesting burgers or great drink deals, head on down to Champps!  It’s not quite the m.v.p. of sports bars, but I think if they work on the fundamentals they could be in the pantheon of greats.

Champps Americana on Urbanspoon

Come On Baby Light My Fire

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Hello to everyone out there again in the blogosphere to another installment of Mastication Monologues!  I will attempt to keep this post short and sweet since I am fighting off the effects of a food coma from a delicious grad school graduation dinner.  I ended up going to Wildfire located at 232 Oakbrook Center Oak Brook, IL 60523.

Wildfire is a Lettuce Entertain You establishment and has created a reputation as one of Chicago’s/Chicagoland’s premier American eateries.  When walking into this restaurant, it has the ambiance of a bygone era where you would expect to see the Rat Pack at the bar and the maitre d’ to offer the female patrons a cigarette to calm their nerves and keep a slim figure (For those non-smokers, thankfully the smooth, bold flavor infused part of that aforementioned bygone era is gone).  Anyway, we sat down at a booth that had a perfect view of the dining room, and we were immediately welcomed by our waitress with a complementary plate of breads.  One mini-loaf was an airy, buttery poppy-seed and onion concoction that was delectable, and the other, more globular loaf was a dark pumpernickel with both light and dark raisins.  Personally, I preferred the onion bread to the pumpernickel, but the latter tasted more like a dessert type of bread due to the presence of fruit and nuts in the bread.  Either way you cut it, they both were the best thing since sliced bread.IMG_1057

As for my main course, I went with the Eight Hour Barbecue Platter.  It was the Dinner Special for Wednesday nights, and I feel like the name comes from the amount of time it should take a normal person to finish all of the food.  However, I usually am hungrier than the average bear, so I naturally destroyed my meal in no time.IMG_1060 Now I know that the picture does not do the meal justice since it isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing plate, but it truly was a meal of kings.  I started off with the pulled pork (right hand side, in front of the corn muffin) that literally melted in my mouth with a smoky, southern twang aftertaste.  After I finished that mini-mound of pork paradise, I moved on to the sliced brisket (left side of plate) which still possessed a similar savory personality but was a bit on the dry side.  The baby back ribs were a mere afterthought at this point, but the meat was perfectly seasoned and fell of the bone which made eating them a breeze.  I’m not the biggest fan of beans in general, and the beans they served me were no exception to my dislike.  They weren’t terrible since they were simmering in the same barbecue sauce they used for the different meats, but they really did not bring anything different to the meal aside from a change in texture.  Nevertheless, I was glad that I left the cornbread muffin for last because it was a sweet, bright yellow beacon of fluffy goodness shining through the shadows of the barbecue smoke.  For dessert, we ended up getting an apple crumble which made my inhibitions crumble as I proceeded to tear down its caramel coated ice cream dome and combine it with its graham cracker and apple pie filling like some sort of confectionery hungry Godzilla.  If you love apple pie or apple/cinnamon anything, I highly recommend this dessert, but remember to save some room for this monster.IMG_1061

So if you’re looking for a classy restaurant for a power lunch, a special dinner, or just a great place to catch up with friends and colleagues, check out Wildfire!

Wildfire Oak Brook on Urbanspoon

Wildfire on Foodio54

Not the Wurst Joint I’ve Been To

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Hello to everyone out there in the blogosphere!  Welcome to another classic restaurant review on Mastication Monologues.  Yesterday, I visited  a restaurant in Chicago that is an institution and a symbol of German-American pride in the city.  It is called The Berghoff Restaurant and is located at 17 West Adams Street  Chicago, IL 60603.

In the current landscape of restaurants in America, it seems that there is a huge demand for food that is cutting edge in terms of taste, preparation, and presentation.  Unfortunately, it has come at the expense of the classic ethnic establishments that serve old-world comfort food that may not win any beauty contests, but like Shallow Hal, diners (hopefully) realize that the beauty of these dishes lies within their heartiness, fresh ingredients, and simplicity.  The Berghoff has been in operation since 1898, and as soon as you walk through their stained glass doors you can just feel the history emanating from their rich Mahogany walls.  This connection to the past and traditions is reflected in their menu as it contains many German food staples, and there are other options for those who are not looking to get their Wienerschnitzel on (burgers, sandwiches, salads, and even Tandoori chicken).  I, however, decided to say guten tag to their slow braised drunken ox joints, and I plumped for their Oktoberfest beer to drink since it was on special.  While we were waiting, they provided us with a free bread basket that was great since it contained fresh artisan white bread, rye bread, and a baked flat-bread that had cheese baked into it.  Based off of taste, it probably was Parmesan.

Hello Liebchen

When my ox joints came out, it was tastefully displaced like a mighty meat monarch who sported a crown of sautéed julienned onions and was surrounded by his pumpkin gnocchi minions who were kowtowing to their ruler.  I didn’t waste time tucking into the ox joint, and it was an interesting experience.  First, there was a good amount of fat on one side of the meat which I didn’t mind, but it was quite hard to hold the bone in one place while trying to take the meat off.  Thankfully, the meat was tender and literally falling off the bone which made my job a lot easier.  The meat was covered in a Berghoff bourbon sauce that was like some sort of magical ambrosia that made the beef even more succulent with each bite.  However, after working like an archeologist on the joint, I found out that I was eating meat off of a vertebrae, not a joint.  I don’t know if this is a ploy to give you less meat, but it left me disappointed since a majority of my meal was bone.  Underneath the hockey puck of meat there was a delicate blanket of sautéed Swiss chard that provided a rich, spinachy bite to the savory beef.  The gnocchi were the most interesting part since they were lightly fried, firm, and had a slight pumpkin aftertaste.  Now, I know during Fall people go pumpkin-flavored product crazy, but I definitely don’t fall into that category.  Regardless of my leanings, the fact that the dumplings didn’t overwhelm me with pumpkintastic flavors left me a happy diner.  My Oktoberfest beer was definitely not for the weak stomached since it is similar to the Marzenstyle beers that they serve at the world-famous harvest festival in Germany.  Its reddish-brown hue contained a moderate bitterness that was then followed by a hop aftertaste that left me blown away at its boldness.

Ein Bier mit Attitude

So if you’re looking for eine kleine piece of Deutchland in Chicago, head down to the Berghoff Restaurant.

Berghoff on Urbanspoon

Berghoff on Foodio54

Every Dog Will Have Its Day

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Hello to everyone out there in the blogosphere!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues.  Today I will be telling you about a small establishment called Huey’s Hotdogs located at 1507 W Balmoral Ave (between Clark St & Ashland Ave) Chicago, IL 60640  in the Edgewater/Andersonville neighborhood.  NOTE:  Even though some websites say that they only take cash, they DO take credit cards now.

This food adventure was born out of my fellow classmate’s desire to try a classic Chicago hotdog, but there was a certain caveat that drove us to this specific place:  she’s a vegetarian.  Ergo, we decided to give Huey’s a try due to its large selection of vegan friendly dishes like hot dogs, burgers, chili, and salads.  I, however, was looking for something beyond the typical Chicago hotdog, brat, Italian beef, or cheeseburger.  Instead, I was drawn to a strange option under the Sausages header on the chalkboard menu:  Turducken.  No, it is not some sort of mystical animal that comes from the dense jungles of Grant Park, but rather a Frankenstein-esque creation of Thanksgiving proportions.  What it consists of is taking a chicken stuffed with spice rub, stuff it into a duck with more stuffing, and then put it all into a turkey with, you guessed it, more stuffing.  All of the birds are de-boned, and in the end you enjoy a three-layered meat monstrosity.  Given all of this information, you can now see why I was curious to see how they could synthesize this hybrid meat into sausage form.

All dressed up and definitely has a place to go: my stomach.

When they brought it out to me, I was somewhat underwhelmed by what I was faced with in my plastic basket.  It was served on a typical white bread, poppy-seed covered bun, and the tawny white sausage itself seemed to be grilled along with being cut in half/scored on top.  The actual taste of the meat was very rich with some fatty undertones from the duck and backed up with the heartiness of the turkey, but was somewhat difficult to taste due to the cranberry and horseradish sauce that came on it.  As strange it may seem, this thick scarlet comforter did not taste as terrible as one would may think.  Unfortunately, I thought that it sullied the sausage because the cranberry element completely smothered any horseradish flavors and also almost comprehensively drowned out the Turducken.  However, I was pretty impressed that the bun was not soggy with how much of this cranberry jam they put on the top of it, but it was thick enough to stay on the sausage for a surprisingly clean dinner.  As for the fries that came with the sausage, I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious they were.  They were a medium to dark golden brown and on the softer side with a fluffy white inside, but they had a rich aftertaste that made it seem like they were fried in a different sort of oil.  I actually enjoyed them more than the sausage which was somewhat sad.

As a whole, Huey’s really is like any other basic Chicago hot dog stand aside from their vegan menu.  So unless you’re a vegetarian, you can get basically the same food elsewhere like at Gold Coast Dogs or Wiener Circle without having to go so far north.

Huey's Hot Dogs & More 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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