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Catching Some Delicious Zzzs

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Welcome one and all to another molto bene Mastication Monologues!  Today’s entry deals with a food that has recently been linked to the epidemic of childhood obesity:  pizza.  Sadly, kids may love this cheesy treat, but it doesn’t love them back.  Still, who can honestly admit that they don’t enjoy a fresh slice right out of the oven with your favorite toppings from your favorite spot without any of the fuss of shopping, cooking, and then cleaning dishes?  This wonderful feeling of culinary satisfaction can be found at a local pizza spot by me called Zazzo’s Pizza in Darien, IL.

While I have had my fair share of different types of pizza from different parts of the globe, Zazzo’s is one of the front runners for a great thin crust pie.  I had never really paid it much mind as I went about my business to the the various stores in the area, but one day my parents had a coupon for it.  Thus the legend was born in my knowledge of all things food.  So, I decided to bring my girlfriend to the local eatery for dinner.  I was surprised to find that this pizzeria bought out the empty storefront next to it to build a new bar and dining room which essentially gave them ten times the capacity for revenue.  They’ve come a long way from the three tables along the front windows.  The new digs had a basic sports bar vibe, so no need for any sort of fancy attire.  IMG_4888The menu had the same no-frills approach as they focused on bar food and Italian cuisine. IMG_4887 We started the meal by sharing an order of spinach artichoke dip ($9.95).  This was a great appetizer since it came with both hot, crust Italian bread along with warm pita bread triangles. IMG_4889 The dip was also warm with a nice sprinkling of fresh Parmesan cheese that gave the artichoke chunks a slightly salty and nutty aftertaste. IMG_4891 We then went for the 14″ Veggie Special thin crust pizza ($21.10).  Now, it serves three, but when I’m hungry, I can really throw down, especially when it comes to Zazzo’s.  When it came out, it was just as good as I remembered it.  IMG_4892It was large and in charge with an enticing smell that immediately tells you that you’re in for a treat.  The Veggie Special consisted of an adequate amount of mozzarella combined with mushroom, green pepper, onion, and fresh tomatoes. IMG_4896 Each ingredient was as plentiful and fresh as the next.  As for the sauce, it was just the right amount where the crust wasn’t dry, but it also wasn’t gushing out with each bite like you’re doing your best Jaws impression (the killer shark, not the killer giant from the James Bond series).  IMG_4895Then there was the crust.  I believe that this foundation of the pizza can either make or break the dish, and in Zazzo’s case I love their thin crust.  It’s not super NYC thin but not deep dish thick.  It has a light powdering of flour on the edges, and it has an almost airy like texture with a crunch that doesn’t hold back.  All of these elements make it one of the hidden gems of the pizza world in the Chicagoland area.

So if you are looking for a great pizza place in the western Chicago suburbs and don’t want to visit one of the big pizza chains like Giordanos or Uno’s, check out the pizzeria with a lot of pizzazz:  Zazzo’s Pizza!

Zazzo's Pizza on Urbanspoon

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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

Is That Falafel In Your Pocket, or Are You Just Hungry?

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Disclaimer:  Watch out how you pay here.  They stole my credit card number, so caveat emptor!

Hello to everyone out there in the blogosphere!  Welcome to another entry to Mastication Monologues.  A bit of time has passed since my last post, but I guess that’s what happens when grad school rears its ugly head.  Anyway, today I’m going to be reviewing a new place that I have never been to before, but I was very happy after eating there.  It is called Falafill and is located at 72 E Adams St Chicago, IL 60604.  It would make a great pit stop before or after visiting the world-famous Art Institute which is less than five minutes away.

They do have an ingenious logo

Now, I’ve had my fair share of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food with gyros, baklava, doner kebab, and dolma etc. all over the US/Europe, so I was wondering how good this place could be when my friend described it as a place where you create and garnish your own falafel.  All I kept on thinking of was some sort of Middle Eastern Fuddruckers, but I highly doubted they would have one pound falafels for me to tackle in a demonstration of my gastronomic might.  So I decided to visit to see what all of the hubbub was, and I was immediately greeted with free samples outside of the door.  I took the traditional falafel sample which was coated in a typical yogurt based cucumber sauce.  The falafel itself was quite crisp and flavorful with a crumbly, chickpea-based interior that was packed with spice and herbs.  However, I ended up getting the curry falafel which was made of lentils instead of the traditional chickpea falafel I sampled at the door.  When they brought it out to me at the same counter I ordered it at, I was surprised at how large they were as they lay there in the gaping maw of the pita bread that looked more substantial than a traditional unleavened pocket.  With our falafel bread mini-baskets in hand, we got down to business at the “mezza bar” that contained literally a bevy of sauces (babaganouge, hummus, jalapeno and cilantro, harissa, tzatziki, garlic), tabbouleh, and plenty of pickled vegetables like beets and peppers among many other garnishes.

So many dressings and so little time

I was like a kid in a candy store with all of these fresh and powerful flavors, but I festooned my falafel with a helping of babaganouge, hummus, tabbouleh, jalapeno and cilantro sauce, and harissa sauce.  When picking a seat, I noticed something that I didn’t really care for:  communal seating.  At this location, they only had seats along the wall where you face a wall/window or one large table where you sit cheek to jowl with your fellow diners.  I just didn’t like it since it seemed like an invasion of privacy sometimes with conversations, but I guess it wouldn’t matter if you were just there for a quick bite to eat.  Anyway, back to the food.  After semi-attempting to figure out how to lift the pita out of its box without having its contents cascade down the front of my shirt, I just gave up and used a fork.

An example of their falafel with pickled beets, giardiniera, and tabbouleh.

This kind of made me sad and wished that they embraced more of a gyro type of pita that provides more of a wrap/taco kind of sandwich instead of this Muppet-mouthed piece of pocket bread.  Nevertheless, once I took a bite of what was lurking inside the bread, I was thoroughly satisfied.  Below the perfectly fried crust, the curry falafels had the sultry taste of yellow curry.  This boldness was mitigated by the cool hummus, babaganouge, and the freshly made tabbouleh.  However, the harissa sauce and the jalapeno and cilantro managed to jazz up the falafels chilling at the bottom of the bread pocket with a lively and savory kick of spicy flavor.  Plus, once I finished a couple of the top falafels, I was able to lift the bread and eat it like an actual sandwich.  I do have to say that their artisanal baked bread was delicious, fresh, and did not buckle under the stress of the contents of the sandwich.  So, perhaps next time I will order their bowl option to see if that works a bit better in terms of the logistics of eating it.

So if you’re tired of the hamburgers, hot dogs, Italian beefs, and Mexican dishes that are standard Chicago fare, try a new take on Mediterranean food by getting your fill of falafels at Falafill!

Falafill on Urbanspoon

Falafill on Foodio54

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