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My Neighbor Tokoro

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Hello…helllooo..helloooooo….Is anyone still left out there that reads this blog?  It seriously has been way too long since I have posted any new content on Mastication Monologues, but such is the life of someone working on a 2nd Bachelor’s degree.  Thankfully, the light at the end of the tunnel is near, and I am looking forward to some mental rest and relaxation.  Thankfully, I won’t slack too much though because I have plenty of great reviews and food adventures to bring to you.  Today’s review involves Tokoro Sushi in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

My fiancee, then girlfriend, suggested we try the new eatery when it opened last year, and we have been back since.  However, our first visit wasn’t the most enjoyable compared to the second time.  There is mainly street parking and there are plenty of public transportation options for those of you rocking Ventra cards on the bus or L.  The interior of Tokoro looks like any other sushi restaurant complete with bamboo prints and assorted Japanese tchotchkes.  Fitting given the name of the restaurant in Japanese literally means “place”, i.e. this could be the interior of any of the other million, lower/middle rung Chicago sushi restaurants.  They have a BYOB policy and a free corkage service which helps if you care for a glass of chardonnay to go with your unagi.  Upon sitting down, we looked over their extensive sushi menu and saw most of the the typical Japanese restaurant offerings from lunch specials, soups, gyoza dumplings, sushi rolls, sashimi, and even hibachi offerings for diners searching for something a bit more substantial.  Janice and I preferred to try the figurative treasure chest of sushi that lay before  us in the menu, so we got the “all you can eat” sushi option for 20 bucks.  Some people always wonder or straight up deny that the all you can eat option is a waste of money, but when you think about it, there is some method to the madness.  Based on current trends of fishing, human consumption, and sushi demand from around the world, the price of fish, especially the fatty toro tuna, is only going to sky rocket.   Therefore, placing a cap on your wallet but not on your stomach makes perfect sense to me especially if you were as hungry as we were.  Then again, who knows if most sushi restaurants actually use the fish advertised on the menu.  The results are often times surprising.  Either way, that didn’t stop us from enjoying some good, not great sushi.  Thankfully, we got a complimentary bowl of miso soup which I think should come free with each meal in Japanese restaurants because it is such a simple but satisfying soup to make.  IMG_6101This traditional Japanese soup consists of a kelp/fish based broth and a soy based paste called, you guessed it, miso.  I have never seen it anywhere, but there are also red and mixed color miso pastes used in miso soup.  However, I greatly enjoy the white miso which is typically used in American Japanese restaurants because it is salty, savory, and has a taste that envelopes your entire body with a warmth that is enhanced with the soft cubes of tofu and slightly crunchy scallion strands.  Definitely great for the cold Chicago winters.  Once we drained our bowls, it was time to dive into our sushi.  Side note:  the service was absolutely terrible the first time around in terms of waiting for food, but thankfully they have improved their turnaround time from ordering to bringing out your order.  Our first platter consisted of the crazy tuna roll, spicy tuna roll, and mountain roll.IMG_6102

The crazy tuna roll, the one closest to the wasabi in the picture above, consisted of the rice rolled around a tuna and pepper mix and topped with slices of tuna and a sriracha chili sauce. IMG_6103 I didn’t find it to be too spicy, but it went down just fine.  The mountain roll was next which left the biggest impression on me for this round. IMG_6104 The inside was a cool cucumber and creamy avocado duo, but the real fire came from the spicy crab and spicy mayo on top that was festooned with a sprinkling of crunchy tempura crumbs.  I liked it the most out of the three selections due to the contrast between the relatively understated interior and the more eye-catching exterior.  Kind of a case of sushi superficiality, but this is a roll whose cover really makes the book a must read.  The same could not be said about the spicy tuna roll which was like the crazy tuna roll minus the “crazy” part. IMG_6105 I’m a big spicy food eater, and I didn’t think it lived up to its fiery moniker.  So it was not a big draw for me.  It was just a transition to the next sushi round we ordered.  We amped it up with a volcano roll, a kiss on fire roll, another mountain roll, and got some actual sushi on the side with a tomago, shrimp, and a piece of yellowtail.IMG_6106  I’ve already spoken about the mountain roll, but the volcano roll and kiss on fire roll were bolder than the first round participants.  The kiss on fire roll (between the raw fish and fried roll) did actually bring some spice since below the tuna there was a raw jalapeno pepper resting in wait for our unsuspecting taste buds.  I always like being kept off kilter sometimes during my dining experience, and I would recommend this roll for those who do like a bit of spice with their rolls.  Then there was the volcano roll.  Frying actual sushi is a crime against humanity, yet with rolls it kind of works.  The light, rice flour based batter goes well with the delicately constructed rolls, especially one that was bulging with spicy tuna, crab, avocado, cream cheese, and eel sauce and spicy mayo streaks across the sliced roll.  I think this was more of a luxury roll than a spice-centric entree due to the amount of ingredients that went into it.  I’d still recommend it though if you’re looking for a bit more heft to your typical sushi roll.  I did not have the tomago (egg) sushi, the shrimp, or the yellowfin, but Janice said they were all competently made but not mind-blowingly fresh/delicious.IMG_6107

So, if you’re looking for a solid, middle of the road sushi restaurant on the far northside of Chicago, roll on over to Sushi Tokoro!

Sushi Tokoro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

To Live and Pie in Wicker Park

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Welcome one and all to another great blog post from Mastication Monologues!  Things have been picking up as of late since it’s the holiday season.  In between studying and braving the Walking Dead-esque crowds at the mall, I managed to squeeze in a trip to a Chicago bakery that was truly memorable in terms of its concept and approach to classic desserts.  If you’re a sweets lover, strap yourself in for a wild ride!  If not, prepare to be amazed!

The adventure all started back when I received an email from A Baker’s Tale saying that they were huge fans of my blog at the bakery, and they wanted to invite me to an exclusive event for local bloggers.  Naturally, I said yes, and informed Janice that we had some serious business to take care of.  Baked goods business.  I looked it up, and I saw it was located in the Bucktown/Wicker Park area which has been recently gentrified.  What this means is that you can’t walk more than five feet without running into an ironic mustache or fixie bike.  However, the exterior of A Baker’s Tale exuded neither a hint of pretentiousness nor any sort of kitchyness. IMG_7877 Walking in, we were immediately greeted by the employees and eventually the owner, Christine, who’s in the middle of the pic below. IMG_7923 I didn’t know where to look first in this coffee shop+bakery+fun house.  Once more bloggers and vloggers and what have you arrived, Christine explained that she loves literature and baking which in turn translated to the Alice in Wonderland and other literature inspired establishment that surrounded us.  Since I am also a fellow librophile, I couldn’t get enough of the homages to many classic works.IMG_7882 IMG_7884From the classic book prints,IMG_7917 the talking doorknob statue,IMG_7921 whimsical cakes,IMG_7889IMG_7887 IMG_7886IMG_7890 hedgemazed trip to the bathroom,IMG_7929 and the breathtaking tree overshadowing our tasting tables with leaves made of pages from Alice in Wonderland, IMG_7888IMG_7933there was no detail left on the sideline as we quickly made our way over to the tasting table. IMG_7878 I was late, so late, for a very important date…with some bakery!  IMG_7926IMG_7918IMG_7880Surprisingly, there was no door mouse, march hare, or Mad Hatter when we sat down.  As more bloggers began to stream in and take their seats around the table, I was half driven to yell, “Change places!” to get in the spirit of Mr. Carrol’s work, but I decided to focus more on the diverse spread of pastries in front of us like a very late high tea.  IMG_7879We started with a plate of a mini cherry pie, a passion fruit raspberry cheesecake, and a s’more bar.IMG_7924  While none of them made me shrink or grown into a giant like Alice when speaking with the doorknob, they were big on flavor.  First, there was the mini cherry pie that was a version of their normal sized pie.  It was topped with hearts as an homage to the Queen, but I felt like a king with this royally decadent dessert.  The crust was buttery and mixed with the sweet and tart filling to perfection.  I then had the passion fruit raspberry cheesecake.  It was filled with a burst of tropical flavor that was like a mix between an orange, mango, and lime that kind of gave the whipped cheesecake a slight key lime pie vibe on the aftertaste. However, if you’re not into tart flavors, it might be a bit overwhelming for you like it was for my gf, Janice.  As good as these first two desserts were, they were beneath the third option:  the s’mores bar.  These desserts date as far back as the 1930s from a Girl Scout campfire cooking manual, or so the legend goes.  However, A Baker’s Tale version of it presented it in the least messy way possible.  One of my personal pet-peeves with traditional s’mores is how the crunchy graham crackers explode with every bite and can’t keep the blazing hot marshmallow inside to save its own inanimate life.  I quickly learned upon the first bite that these bakers really can work magic.

Step 1: Take a bite

Step 1: Take a bite

Step 2: Enlightenment

Step 2: Enlightenment

Step 3: Devour

Step 3: Devour

The graham cracker base was soft yet substantial and topped with a house-made marshmallow fluff that sported a rich, chocolate accent that tied it all together to perfection.  Plate two wasn’t as over the top in terms of bombastic flavors, but it was a solid entry to the tasting event.  IMG_7907The chocolate chunk and peanut butter cookies (both also were available in gluten free versions at the tasting as well) were good but not great probably because they weren’t the most decadent options.  Case in point, they were overshadowed by the toffee chocolate cheesecake that was presented in a Reese’s peanut butter cup form.  From the Oreo cookie crumb crust to the creamy filling that had ample pieces of chocolate coated toffee and a thin layer of gooey caramel on top, this dessert checked all the boxes for me.  Moving from there, the next plate was the belle of the dessert ball.  It consisted of three, vibrant, expertly-crafted macarons sporting three very different flavors:  pistachio (green), raspberry (red), and elderberry (blue). IMG_7932According to the almighty Wikipedia/internet, macarons originated in Venetian monasteries in the 9th Century A.D. but were brought to France when Catherine Medici, an Italian noblewoman, married King Henry II of France.   Their popularity began to rise during the French Revolution when two nuns in the city of Nancy made the cookies to pay for their rent; however, the original version of these desserts were basically a cookie.  The modern version of the macaron with two cookies and a filled center came about in the 1830s in Paris where it was known as the Gerbet, named after the supposed inventor, or the macaron parisien.  They were then brought over the USA and sometimes confused with the coconut-based macaroon.  Actually, the word “macaroon” is just the English translation for the French “macaron“.  Whatever it’s called, these little morsels went down too easily.  My personal favorite was the pistachio because it was sweet but not too sweet whereas the elderberry one was a bit too saccharine for my palate (surprising, I know).  The outer cookies had that thin, crisp shell that gave way to feathery interiors that led to the thin but incredibly rich layer of flavored cream. IMG_7916 Ils sont tres delicieux!  Finally, there was the somewhat sweet and savory plate.  Whereas the other plates contained straight up desserts, the scone platter mixed it up in terms of flavors and textures.  Scones have an interesting history to say the least.  Their name has many different origins including the Middle Dutch schoonbrood or “pure bread”, the Scots Gaelic’s sgonn or “large mouthful”, or perhaps after the Scottish town of Scone.  They were not as cutesy at they look today because before baking powder, a scone was a large, flat, unleavened oat cake made on a griddle.  Thankfully, A Baker’s Tale did not harken back to the scone’s roots.IMG_7931 The two on display were the vanilla scone and the jalapeno white cheddar scone.  I thought I would prefer the former over the latter, but in reality, it was the opposite.  Yes, both were denser and somewhere between moist and arid that scones should be compared to the aforementioned cookies and cakes, but somehow the savory option won me over.  I personally think it was because it was such a sharp contrast to the mountains of sweet stuff I hoovered up over the course of the tasting, but I was partial to the clear pepper notes that came out in every bite that resulted in me showering the floor with crumbs.  Don’t hate me because I’m so debonair.IMG_7908  I highly recommend the jalapeno scones if you don’t have much of an affinity for all things sugary sweet.

As the night went on and my sugar levels reached their optimum level of satisfaction, we called it quits.  We departed A Baker’s Tale with a warm farewell from the owners and thoughts of the wonderful experience we had the priviledge of enjoying.  I highly recommend a visit to this very welcoming bakery that boasts desserts that are as satisfying as a finishing a great read where all of the ends are tied up and the villains receive their just desserts.  Lucky them!IMG_7937
A Baker's Tale Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Woosah at Yeowoosai

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Fried chicken.  Is there any other food that is more quintessentially ‘Murikan?  Actually, I’ll have to stop you right there.  Fried chicken actually has its roots in Scotland where they coated their chicken and made it so much tastier than the boiled and baked versions of the poultry dish down south in England.  They carry on the tradition even today of consuming everything fried including Mars bars and cookies.  There is also evidence that West African cuisine utilized fried chicken for ceremonial meals.  Ergo, when both European immigrants from Scotland and African slaves arrived in the American South, the culinary traditions of both groups became woven into the fabric of the multi-colored patchwork that is our country’s food history.  However, what many people wouldn’t associate with fried chicken is Korea.  In fact, during my time in the Land of the Morning Calm, I sampled some of their fried delights that were an extra-greazy reminder of home in an otherwise kimchi-laden environment.  However, Yeowoosai in Chicago’s Koreatown manages to combine both American and Korean cuisine with a sports bar atmosphere that conveniently has a noraebang (or karaoke) attached.

It’s located in a small strip mall, but little did I know that my tastebuds and my world were about to be rocked into submission.IMG_4333  It was quite empty when we went, but I’m sure it gets quite bumping on the weekend.  IMG_4334We didn’t look at the menu since Janice ordered for me since she gets the same thing every time she goes there:  the 닭디겜 (daktigem or popcorn chicken).  We also got  김치볶음밥 (kimchi bokkeumbap or kimchi fried rice).  However, they do offer plenty of Korean classics like 비빔밥 (bibimbap or a rice bowl with meat and veggies), 김치찌개 (kimchi jjigae or kimchi soup), and  갈비 and 불고기 (galbi or grilled ribs and bulgogi or marinated beef).  The entire time we were waiting, Janice was building up this food, but I didn’t believe how good it really was going to be.  It’s not like I haven’t seen popcorn chicken or fried rice before.  How severely mistaken I was.  First the popcorn chicken came out.  It was literally the size of a wash basin and my potential food baby was lying in it.  It was served with a side of “yellow sauce” and a pickled jalapeno and radish mix.  IMG_4339This was hands-down the best popcorn chicken I’ve ever tried in my life.  From the smooth, buttery, yet light breading to the juicy all white meat nuggets that were quickly filling my stomach, I couldn’t get enough.  Then when I dipped them into the yellow sauce which I figured must be some type of mayonnaise and horseradish concoction with a hint of pepper, a dash of crack, and a soupçon of meth mixed in (seriously though, no drugs were involved in the making of this delicious meal), it finally happened.  I was and still am addicted to Yeowoosai’s popcorn chicken and yellow sauce complete with meat sweats and shakes.  As for the jalapeno and radish salad, I thought it was a refreshing, cool, tangy, and slightly spicy way to cleanse your palate between mouthfuls of chicken.  Then there was the kimchi fried rice.  We just got the original with Spam and eggs.  Why put Spam in a meal when you have a choice not to?  Why not use beef, chicken, or pork?  Well, Spam in Korean cuisine is actually a carry over from the Korean War period where food was scarce, but the American military ate Spam.  So, that’s what the local populace scavenged from the GI army bases to make meals.  While South Korea has made great advances since then, Spam still is seen as a luxury gift.  This often bewilders Americans and other Westerners when Korean shoppers are clamoring to buy Spam giftsets for loved ones at Christmas and Chuseok or Thanksgiving Day.   The American armed forces has also made Spam popular in other places like the Philippines and Hawaii.  Hooray for spreading terrible quasi-meat around the world!  Anyway, the fried rice.  IMG_4340Once again, portion-wise it was gigantic like the popcorn chicken and for a great price.  It was also a quality choice.IMG_4341  Compared to the kimchi fried rice back in the Motherland, it was even better.  It was rich, spicy, but not too spicy.  The pieces of kimchi thrown in provided a texture contrast that popped up now and then between spoonfuls.  I was having multiple moments of being overwhelmed by the large amount of mind-blowingly amazing food in front of me, but eventually my wild ride came to an end as I threw in the towel..er napkin and woosahed .

Long story short, go to Yeowoosai if you want to try a Korean sports bar with plenty of dishes your average ajumma (Korean old woman) would recognize.  Plus, these huge and reasonably priced portions of food will leave both your wallet and stomach stuffed.  Not a bad deal at all.

Yeowoosai 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

Ribbed For My Pleasure

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Burgers, barbecue, and beer.  What more could one ask for for dinner in the summer?  Perhaps a big pool or white sand beach and plenty of sunshine instead of the dreary weather I encountered upon meeting my friends out in Schaumburg at Westwood Tavern and Tap.Front-Doors

As my friend, Erin, who thoughtfully supplied me with an umbrella, and I quickly ran inside from the rain, we were greeted with a spacious and elegantly furnished sports bar.  From the stone finishing on the walls to the towering wall of illuminated liquors behind the bar, it was a welcoming place for sports fans trying to catch the next nail-biting Hawks game or a couple out for their first date.  We were a party of three and were seated in a booth that was a bit too wide for adequate conversation between three people.  So we all had to get a bit more intimate with each other in regard to proximity which might not be as easy with larger groups in the booths.  I started by looking over the drink menu, and it was like a yellow pages for Brewtown, USA.  While I was well acquainted with most of its residents, I noticed a new neighbor on the block.  So, I gave the Black Butte Porter ($5) a warm welcome.IMG_3264  The simple label belied its pleasant, rich, chocolate/coffee flavor contained within an enveloping shade of ebony.  As for the food, I could choose from a variety of items ranging from sushi, flatbreads, salads, signature entrees, and of course, burgers.  I had a hankering for a good burger, and who doesn’t when you’re hungry?  I settled on the Baby Back Burger ($12) along with a complimentary side of fries and smoked jalapeno mayo.  I’m sure you can reason what the “baby back” in my burger derives from.  If not, perhaps this catchy Chili’s jingle can explain it for you.  Before I get to describing my meal, I do have to point out that our waiter screwed up my friends’ orders.  Erin wanted sweet potato fries, but she got normal fries.  Carolyn didn’t even get her sushi either.  I don’t know if the server was having a bad day or if there was a mix up, but he made up for it with a heaping bowl of sweet potato fries and eventually brought Carolyn her sushi. Anyway, it’s true that they put bbq rib pieces on top of my burger along with cheddar cheese, chipotle mayo, and onion strings.IMG_3265IMG_3270  I couldn’t believe it when I was looking at it.  I placed all of it together in one sexy package and proceeded to take a bite.  It was like your typical barbecue, cheddar, bacon burger sans the pork belly, but the barbecue brought a smoky sweetness that jived with the crunchy onion strings.  Even with all of this going on inside the burger, the bun managed to hold together the party on my plate.  As for the fries, they were ok, and the jalapeno mayo could have been a bit more flavorful.IMG_3267  I could see that they were trying to bring a bit of the pepper infusion to an otherwise bland condiment, but it’s back to the drawing board for this one.

Overall, Westwood Tavern has plenty to offer for diverse tastes to a certain extent, but aside from that, it’s just another fancy sports bar and grill.

 

Westwood Tavern & Tap 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.

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