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At the Market With My Dawgs

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Welcome one and all to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Winter has finally hit Chitown harder than a raging Ditka and has been making life miserable for most aside from snow plow drivers and snowblower vendors.  However, if you’re looking for a warm and inviting restaurant in Chicago that serves up Mexican food with a twist, check out Mercadito Counter.

Now, this post is super late since I went back in the late summer/fall, but I hope that not much has changed in this funky fresh eatery.  From the instant you walk in under the papel picado, you’re transported to a modern taqueria whose menu boasts everything from tacos to Mexican hot dogs (more to follow).IMG_4519IMG_4521  Speaking of the former Mexican staple, Mercadito Counter boasts a taco eating challenge where a diner has to eat 35 tacos in an hour.  If you gobble all of them up, you get free tacos for life but only on Tuesdays.  Naturally, there’s a catch!  After agonizing over the menu for a good ten minutes, I decided to get a steak taco, a pork taco, and The Mexican hot dog, and a Nutty Mexican milkshake.  Janice got an order of onion rings, a fundido hot dog, and a lobster dog.  While waiting for our grub to arrive, we got some of the locally made salsas that were in squeeze bottles behind where we ordered our food. IMG_4518 Eventually, it all came out and looked fantastic.  I started with my tacos.  While they were immaculately presented, their size left much to be desired based on their price (roughly 3 bucks a taco).  Ay Chihuahua! IMG_4522 Surprisingly, the steak taco was a lot more flavorful than the pork taco even though the latter had roasted pineapple chunks as a sweet caress to the ancho and guajillo slathered spicy pork.  I think I enjoyed it more because the meat itself wasn’t drowned out with lots of strong flavors, and the key lime marinade was a stroke of genius.  As for my Mexican hot dog, it was my best friend.IMG_4523  It consisted of a grilled, bacon-wrapped dog covered with pico de gallo, mayo, jalapeño relish, mustard, and ketchup.  It was an excellent example of literal Mexican American cooking where the zesty pico de gallo and jalapeño relish provided a Latino slant to the more classic flavors, and the bacon strip gave the char dog a satisfying, porky crunch with each bite.  Between bites of my food, I sampled Janice’s onion rings which were delicious since they were crunchy, large, and didn’t succumb to severe onion loss that I hate when eating the greasy bar food staples.IMG_4525  What is severe onion loss?  It’s the annoying phenomenon when biting into an onion ring only to have the entire veggie slip out leaving you behind with a crunchy shell.  First world problems, I know.  I did enjoy the chipotle dip that came on the side that gave this appetizer the south-of-the-border kick it needed.   We also used the homemade salsas on the complimentary tortilla chips that came with our hot dogs. IMG_4528 There were three different types:  the chipotle tomatillo, the habanero, and the arriera.  The chipotle tomatillo was more like a common green salsa that could be found in most Mexican restaurants where there was a lot of tomato flavor with sparks of garlic and cilantro.IMG_4527  My favorite was the arriera since it was surprisingly spicier than the habanero salsa.

Habanero salsa

Habanero salsa


Arriera salsa

Arriera salsa

Plus, it had epazote or wormseed in it which is a herb that can poisonous in large quantities, but in small portions it alleviates gas and discomfort during digestion.  So it was a win-win especially since we were eating Mexican food.  I also took a bite of Janice’s fundido dawg that was good but not great. IMG_4526 It was basically a Mexican twist on a chili dog with chorizo instead of ground beef on top.  I didn’t take a taste of her lobster dog, but she said it was delicious and decadence embodied. IMG_4533 Speaking of super scrumptious items on the menu, the Nutty Mexican milkshake I had was mind-blowing.IMG_4531  From the powdered cocoa powder on top along with a mix of nutmeg and cinnamon blended throughout the milk chocolate ice cream.  All of which left me filled up but not ready to explode like una bomba.IMG_4532

So if you want to check out Mercadito Counter, I’d recommend a visit, but I would get the hot dogs over the tacos since they aren’t as big of a rip off in terms of the price vs. size ratio.  Inflated prices aside, the fresh ingredients, service, and flavors made this taqueria tops for the area!

Mercadito Counter on Urbanspoon


Teach Me How to Dougie

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Sometimes there are restaurants that achieve legendary status in cities across the world due to the novelty, quality, and/or overall service they provide year after year.  Chicago is definitely one of the most cutting edge cities in the food world due to the high presence of top chefs like Rick Bayless, Homaro Cantu, and Grant Achatz who is best known for Alinea, voted the top restaurant in the world.  However, that doesn’t mean that we also have restaurants that serve simple dishes that reflect the different ethnic neighborhoods throughout Chicago like all different types of Mexican food, Italian beef sandwiches, and Chicago hot dogs.  The last dish has a special place in the heart of many Chicagoans since we have our own unique way of serving it, i.e. NO KETCHUP!!!  Hot Doug’s, on the other hand, takes hot dogs to another universe with funky toppings and a reputation without equal in the city.  It was an adventure from the first minute Janice and I got there.

First, there was my failure with parallel parking.  We arrived there in the morning, and there already was a line that was forming down the block.  I don’t work well with an audience when it comes to pulling off this essential city parking move, and of course, I crashed and burned in front of everyone (Later that day I did it in two moves with no audience).  So, Janice did it for me in order for me to secure a place in the ever-expanding line.  I came out of my car to boos while she emerged from my car to rapturous applause.  We were celebrities!  Thus began our two hour wait…IMG_3417

While waiting in line, I heard people saying they were from all over the USA and even overseas and made it a point to visit Hot Doug’s during their stay in Chicago including a lovely couple in front of us from Seattle.  Perhaps it was the mind-blowing eats or the sad fact that Hot Doug’s is closing on October 3rd.  Either way, all of us were itching to stuff our pie-holes with the legendary tube steaks.  When the doors finally opened, we moved into the shade and were greeted with the aroma of charred meats from within.

I knew I liked this place.

I knew I liked this place.

IMG_3414 IMG_3413  Our mouths were watering as we endured the agonizing wait, but once we set foot inside, it was a colorful monument to all things hot dog.IMG_3453 IMG_3419IMG_3420 Their menu was a veritable who’s who of encased meats ranging from a classic hot dog to spicy andouille to even veggie links.  IMG_3418I didn’t know where to start since I wanted to try every single one, but unfortunately, I didn’t feel like breaking the bank or the integrity of my stomach.IMG_3421  Janice and I finally reached the counter and were greeted by the owner Doug Sohn, a charismatic owner who was also a soccer fan which further made me love the place.

Just gabbin about futbol

Just gabbin about futbol

We were on the same page about everything about the beautiful game and this World Cup, and this agreement extended to our orders.  Janice got the bacon and cheddar smoked elk sausage with smokey bacon sauce and white cheddar cheese curds ($9.00) while I went for the Sonoran Dog ($6.00) and the Foie Gras Dog ($10.00).  Since it was Saturday, we indulged in an order of duck fat fries ($4.00) which are only available on Fridays and Saturdays.  Once finding a seat, we soaked in the atmosphere as we looked at the walls which were festooned with all things sausage including a hilarious, doctored history of the hot dog.IMG_3454 IMG_3423IMG_3424  Surprisingly, our food popped out in no time, and I didn’t know where to begin first.  After a bit of deliberation and slight awe, I decided to go big with eating the foie gras first.  Foie gras has a controversial history given that the preparation involves force feeding geese to the point that their livers are engorged with fat and take on a buttery consistency.  In Chicago, there had been a ban imposed on the serving of foie gras based on its supposed barbaric treatment of the geese, and even the famous Charlie Trotter spoke out against the cruelty involved in the gourmet treat.  However, the ban was eventually lifted in Chicago in 2008.  Controversy aside, I was planning on stuffing myself like a goose on this sumptuous creation.  It’d be inhumane to let it go to waste.IMG_3427First, there were the disks of foie gras that were piled atop the duck sausage that was infused with a sweet French Bordeaux wine.  If that wasn’t enough, said foie gras was sprinkled with grains of fleur de sel or hand harvested sea salt.  The kicker was the black truffle aioli that was slathered from end to end.  Then there was the first bite.  IMG_3455The duck sausage was full of fatty goodness, but the foie gras definitely overshadowed it in a wave of creamy yet mind-numbingly rich flavor that wasn’t as gamey as I was anticipating.  The black truffles had a bit of an aromatic, slightly earthy taste, but I could mostly taste the foie gras which took away from the creation overall.  First world problems.  I know.  Moving on from that heart attack inducing dog, I said “Hola!” to the Sonoran dog.  It was a dish reminiscent of Anthony Bourdain’s foray into the slighty obscene and subtly sexual world of Colombian foot long hot dogs.  The toppings were extraordinary to say the least.IMG_3430  First, there was the char-grilled, jalapeño Polish sausage covered with an adequate schmeer of jalapeño mayonnaise.  With that foundation, somehow Hot Doug managed to also jam in a couple pieces of jalapeño bacon, pinto beans, tomatoes, and onions.  I’ll start off with what I didn’t like about this choice.  The onions.IMG_3456  I would normally never bad mouth the stinky little guys, but there were way too many pieces of the white, breath-ruining confetti atop my hot dog.  Everytime I took a bite, it was like Times Square on New Years Day.  White confetti was falling all over my hands and table, but I wasn’t Dick Clark and the calendar said otherwise.  Moving beyond the onion barrage, I relished (pun intended) the contrast of flavors and textures.  While the pinto beans were smooth and mild but not extra mushy, the mayo, sausage, and bacon all brought an adequate level of heat that made me plow through the dog with gusto.  The bacon also was crispy to counteract all of the softer aforementioned elements.  I took a bite of Janice’s bacon and cheddar elk sausage hot dog, and I loved it the most.  One thing that really set it apart was the charred flavor along with the natural casing that literally made each bite pop.IMG_3428  Plus, I love my cheese, so the curds were like cherries on a meaty sundae.  I’d definitely recommend this option.  Finally, there were the duck fat fries. IMG_3429 I originally thought they were going to have something drizzled on them like a poutine of sorts, but it was simply a mini-mountain of fried that were prepared in duck fat instead of corn oil.  The change made a world of difference as these fries lived up to the Yelpers’ hype since they had an almost buttery aftertaste that wasn’t impeded by a layer of salt like normal French fries.  This interesting flavor profile allowed them to be enjoyed alone or with a dollop of ketchup.

Long story short, I’d highly recommend visiting this Chicago eatery before it closes its doors in October.  Bring a chair, food, water, and plenty of patience, but the payoff is worth it!

Some very happy eaters

Some very happy eaters

Hot Doug's on Urbanspoon

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

Ssam Bap A Lup Bop Wop Bam Boom

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  If you’re thoroughly confused about my title, it’s a reference to “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard and one of the many foods I tried over this past weekend in Gyeongju.  It was a great time where not only did I enrich myself in terms of friendships but also in food knowledge.  Gyeongju is located in the southern part of the Korean peninsula, and we were going there by bus to see the cherry blossoms.  Ergo, we stopped at Korean rest stops along the way to stretch and get the old bones moving again.

I soon realized that Korean rest stops are a lot more intense than rest stops in the US.  First, there are so many different types of shops in these places.  Not only are there vending machines with every type of item from coffee to sunglasses, but they even sell jewelry and CDs outside in hawker stalls.  However, I was not there to buy a techno remix of Gangnam Style nor get a brand new pair of knock off Oakleys.  I was more interested in perusing the wide variety of Korean fast food each shop was offering.  Naturally, there were a lot of fish products, but I saw something that perhaps was a bit of Konglish.  It was a food labelled, “Hot Dog Pizza”.  Now, coming from Chicago where we do both of those foods right, I was curious to see what the Koreans meant when they decided to put these two delicious items together.IMG_0036  Turns out, there was nothing even remotely resembling a hotdog or a pizza involved in the snack.  It was about a six-inch long tube of crunchy, fried, bread-crumb encrusted outside. IMG_0037 Then, I bit into a gooey center that did not contain a sausage of any kind.  Instead, I was met with a slightly more viscous sauce that I could only liken to a Chinese-American sweet and sour sauce.  It went well with the fried dough (as most fried things are inherently delicious) and left me satisfied.

After we got to Gyeongju, we biked around the city for a couple of hours which led to us working up quite an appetite.  So, we piled onto the bus for a ssam bap dinner.  We weren’t sure what exactly constituted this meal, but thanks to our rudimentary Korean skills we at least knew that it contained rice because of the word “bap”.  However, almost every Korean meal comes with rice, so it didn’t help us that much.  When we arrived and sat down, we were immediately face to face with the international food of mystery.IMG_1399  The ssam bap meal consisted of galbi and chicken mixed with various types of leafy green vegetables and grilled in a big metal bowl in the middle of our table.  Once it was fully cooked, we took the meat and rolled it up in the lettuce and pepper leaves that were provided to us on the side along with other types of banchan like the omnipresent kimchi, sour bean paste, pickled radishes, a green salad with sweet sesame dressing, and seaweed soup to name a few. IMG_1398 I should have had more rice, but I was still hungry after the meal.  However, it was more of a case of quality over quantity as the semi-spicy chili sauce the chicken was marinated in really brought some intense savory flavors rushing over my palate.  It was countered with the smooth, cool texture of the lettuce leaves.  While this dinner seemed par for the course in terms of Korean dinner, what I ate the next morning was anything but normal.

We rose early to a drizzly morning, but we still decided to see the grotto to see a giant carved Buddha statue.  As we were walking back from the amazing sanctuary, I saw people in my group were getting corn dogs and hot dogs.  I, being the natural weirdo that I am, saw beondegi in a pot next to the tube steaks everyone else was buying.  You might be wondering what beondegi is, and it is not for the squeamish.IMG_1450  It ‘s boiled silkworm pupae or little worm babies in layman’s terms.  I don’t know if I’m foolish, crazy, and/or brave, but it was an interesting experience.  They were a little bigger than kidney beans and possessed an amber hue.  I popped them into my mouth, and their exoskeletons were crunchy. IMG_1448 The insides were the tough part to stomach because texture-wise they were like smooth mashed potatoes, but the taste was somewhat overwhelming.  It tasted like hay smell mixed with manure mixed with a slight nutty undertone.  I’m glad I didn’t buy a whole cup of these little buggers, but it was worth the experience like the whole weekend making unforgettable memories.

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

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