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Throwback Post: Rooster Comb Fake Out and Goulash in Hungary

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What better place for I, a traveling gourmand, to travel to than Hungary.  Not only is the name fitting for my perpetual state of being, but this land of the Mighty Magyars and a tongue twisting language proved to be quite interesting when Kevin and I explored Budapest during Spring Break in 2009.  2819_1239033173024_5272662_n2819_1239032813015_5002839_n 2819_1239032012995_3465861_nIt was one of a couple stops during our trek throughout Eastern Europe, but it started off with a bang  the first night Kevin and I went out for dinner at For Sale Pub and Restaurant.

While the outside seemed relatively normal, that concept was quickly thrown out the window as soon as we waltzed in. tumblr_lm3gccir8A1qcdq9m The inside seemed like a peasant’s house complete with hay on the floor and a rustic wooden interior.  We scaled the staircase to find a room whose walls seemed to be decorated by Office Max with all of the random pieces of white paper.  imageUpon closer inspection, each leaf had a message on it.  They ranged from the basic salutation to fellow diners to letters to loved ones to random curse words in various languages.  Oh freedom of speech!  We got menus and a free basket of peanuts from our waiter while Tupac’s “California Love” bumped over the speakers.  Thankfully the For Sale doesn’t put on any airs since we could throw the peanut shells on the floor.  Looking over the menu, they served numerous types of Hungarian specialties including the signature goulash along with some other more mysterious selections that caught my eye like the gipsy roast.  I asked our waiter what exactly the roast consisted of, and he just said “meat”…goody.

When it came out, along with our goulash, it looked not too bad.  I didn’t take a picture of it, but I found an adequate representative of it online. 8120147582_1fd8ed6fe7_z It seemed like a few slices of steak that were rubbed with some salt, pepper, and garlic.  The meat itself was quite succulent and juicy.  These wandering social outcasts do know good food.  As for the potatoes, they were just boiled.  However, the parsley gave them an herbal scent that enticed my nose and palate.  The final piece of the plate I couldn’t really tell what it was.  I asked our friendly waiter what exactly it was, and he said, “Rooster” while pointing to his head.  I took it to meant that it was a fried rooster comb, a.k.a. the red junk on top of the rooster’s head.  It was crispy yet slightly chewy with a definite bacon flavor.  After doing a bit of research, turns out our English impaired waiter took me for a ride.  After doing a bit of research and seeing this gipsy roast preparation video, I discovered what I ate was actually bacon, not rooster a rooster comb.  What he meant to say was it was bacon cut in rooster comb style.  The goulash, however, was the highlight of the meal.  103317937_goulash_271334cApparently, the name goulash comes from the Hungarian for “gulyás” or “herd of cattle” since the Hungarian plain was a huge cattle raising area.  Therefore, the herdsmen would always have some cattle to slaughter along the way in order to make their goulash.  The For Sale Pub’s soup was filled with plenty of slightly spicy and hellishly red paprika which originally came from the Turks who invaded Buda in 1529.  As for the contents, it was simple yet hearty fare with bobbing beef chunks, potatoes, onions, and peppers.

While I was crestfallen to find out that I didn’t unknowingly eat a bizarre food, the national dish of Hungary, goulash, definitely made up for it.  It was one of many memorable moments as I traveled through Budapest with Kevin and his girlfriend.  If you can’t find anything else to eat, Budapest has plenty of delicious, handmade pretzels in their public parks and blood orange, or as they put it “Spanish flavor”, flavored Fanta. 2819_1239033413030_6268170_n 2819_1239032333003_7335081_n I guarantee satisfaction!

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Something Old, Something New, Something Fried, Something Brewed

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Ah what a summer this is turning out to be.  The weather is warming up, and the festival season is in full swing.  Not only that, but the World Cup has lit up Chicago like I’ve never seen before as futbol fever is sweeping over the city.  I’ve got a fever myself for not only the beautiful game but wonderful food.  Sorry, no cowbell here.  Today’s post on Mastication Monologues takes us to George Street Pub in Lakeview.

The exterior of the bar was quite average looking as it blended into the genteel surroundings common to the northside.  Upon stepping into the establishment, it was designed like any other sports bar sans memorabilia on the wall:  exposed brick, plenty of tvs showing World Cup matches and baseball games, leather booths, and dark wood furniture.  There is indoor and outdoor seating, and we opted for the latter option.  That proved to be our downfall as the temperature dropped it like it was hot as a chilly wind descended upon us on the exposed patio.  They had a few heat lamps but way too few to warm up such a large space.  Unless, it’s perfect weather out there, I’d recommend sitting inside.  Upon sitting down, we ordered some drinks, and I picked a Midas Touch Golden Elixir beer ($6).IMG_3484  I picked it since it was described as “spiced” on the menu which naturally piqued my interest as it was nestled among the porters, IPAs, and lagers.  After doing a bit of research, this “beer” is somewhat between wine and mead as it is derived from residue  found in clay vessels from 8th Century B.C. in the tomb of the legendary King Midas.  At the time I didn’t know this, but now I know that I sampled the beer of the king who turned everything he touched into gold made me feel like I was getting a bargain.  Once it came out, I was greatly intrigued to see what I actually looked like, and it was imbued with a rich, golden hue.

A drink fit for a king

A drink fit for a king

It wasn’t carbonated, and the taste was unlike anything I’ve ever had.  It had a sweet aroma due to the honey and a slightly herbal scent compliments of the extravagant saffron.  The beer was light and clean with dulcet tones of the muscat grapes that were tempered with the spices.  I’d highly recommend it, and the bartender there said it was his favorite beer out of the hundreds on the beer menu.  I now know why the Midas Touch was a hidden gem.  Since Janice and I were a pair of Hungry Hungry Hippos, we decided to get some of the chicken wings ($7) while waiting for her friends to finally arrive.  Diners have the option of mild, medium, or hot wings along with ranch and blue cheese for dipping.  We got mild ones with extra hot sauce and blue cheese on the side.  The different levels of spice depends only on how much of the sauce they put on the chicken pieces.  They came out, and they looked a bit underwhelming. IMG_3487 While we got plenty for the price, they were on the smaller end with semi-adequate amounts of meat on the bone.  I really liked the buffalo-style sauce on the skin that had a real hot punch that jived with the reinvented blue cheese sauce that had oregano and garlic in it.  Eventually, her friends arrived, and they picked the pesto bruschetta ($6.95).  When it came out, it would have made nonna say “Mama mia!”.  It was a much more simplified yet modified version on this Italian antipasto.  While the crispy bread was surprisingly warm and semi-soft, it was rubbed with a little bit of garlic and pesto.IMG_3489  The toppings were a departure from the typical minced tomato and basil mix, and instead it was like a caprese salad fusion complete with a slice of buffalo mozzarella and tomato.  It was a refreshing remix covered with a hefty helping of creamy and rich pesto.  I’d recommend this appetizer over the chicken wings.  When it came time to order, I got the George Street Pub burger ($10) along with a Smuttynose Robust Porter.  They both came out at the same time, and both complimented each other perfectly.  The Smuttynose doesn’t get it’s name from that creepy guy snooping around the dirty magazine section in the supermarket but rather the name of an island off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. IMG_3490 It was a smooth pour and taste with hints of chocolate and coffee that brought big flavors to match the gargantuan burger in front of me.

Excalibur got a new home

Excalibur got a new home

The George Street Pub burger was a half pound patty sandwiched between two pretzel bun halves and topped with a thick slab of smoked cheddar.IMG_3492IMG_3493  When I bit into the sandwich of kings, I was greeted with a patty bursting with flavor and bacon bits, caramelized onion, and chorizo within the bulging beef cocoon. IMG_3494 It was a ton of meat spiced up with the mish-mash of chorizo and the pungent onions.  By the time I finished the burger, I thought I wouldn’t be able to pass one waffle fry past my lips, but I was wrong.  These bad boys were delicious, but unfortunately I couldn’t enjoy all of them due to my struggling stomach.

Overall, George Street Pub is like many gastropubs that can be found around the Chicagoland area, but I’d recommend it if you’re just looking for a relaxed place to catch a game or stuff yourself silly with good food and great beers.

George Street Pub on Urbanspoon

All About My Cheddar

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Top o’ the morning to ye and welcome to Mastication Monologues!  Today’s post involves an Irish pub with plenty of class and delicious food.  I’m talking about Lady Gregory’s located on the north side of Chicago.  The name references a female Victorian Irish playwright who penned “Playboy of the Western World”, a play made infamous due to its scandalous reference to underpants.  Ohhhhh my! She faced plenty of resistance and even death threats from audiences until Teddy Roosevelt saw the play and praised it.  Looks like the king of “Bully!” stopped the bullies, and Lady Gregory’s menu contains the same sassyness the original Lady Gregory possessed.  It ranges from flatbreads, salads, soups, burgers, and big plates.  Plus, they have plenty of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to wet your whistle.IMG_3254

As for the layout of the restaurant, it has both indoor and outdoor seating.  Janice and I chose to sit inside, so we were ushered past the impressive wrap-around bar to the area known as “the library”.IMG_3253  Why?  Simple.  It’s an actual library that has walls stocked with reading material to go along with your eats and a few board games as well if you’re not entertained with simple conversation.IMG_3252  After looking over the menu, I went for the ultimate grilled cheese ($10) and a side of champ ($3.50).  My meal eventually came out, and it looked great.  When they say the grilled cheese is “ultimate”, they mean that every element of the sandwich is coated, stuffed, and/or infused with cheese.  *Cue Homer moment*.  It was unlike any other grilled cheese moment I’ve had in other parts of Chicago or in my life.  First, the bread was a Parmesan encrusted sourdough that had plenty of crunch, cheesy flavor, and consistency to support the flavor bomb that was ticking between the slices. IMG_3247 When I bit through the beautiful bread, I was greeted by an avalanche of lava hot cheeses:  Gruyere, Irish white cheddar, mozzarella, and brie to be exact.  While these smooth and flavorful cheeses were cascading down my palate, I also managed to catch some of the mashed tomatoes in the waves of dairy along with some delightfully smoky yet sweet, candied bacon pieces. IMG_3251  I’d highly recommend this delightfully rich in flavor but not in price plate.  The free pickle on the side only “sweetened” the deal with its sour, dill crunch.  As for the champ, it’s an Irish take on mashed potatoes.  Called brúitín in Gaelic or “poundies”, this side takes basic mashed potatoes and combines them with butter, green onions, and milk.IMG_3250  A simple food that packs plenty of complex sensations into a humble bowl.  While the potatoes were extremely creamy, the rich butter contrasted with the semi-strong green onions that introduced a bit of attitude like a champion side dish should have.

So if you want to have some great versions of simple meals that won’t cost you a pot o’ gold, check out Lady Gregory’s!

Lady Gregory's on Urbanspoon

Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker

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To those who actually got the Willy Wonka reference in my title, bravi, for I was figuratively transported to a restaurant that was a veritable horn o’ plenty of delicious food and exquisite beers.  I received my golden ticket to this factory of culinary wonders, Owen and Engine which is located at 2700 N Western Ave Chicago, IL, from my friends Eileen and Justine.  They were playing it up for a long time about how wonderful the dishes are, so we decided to take a journey there in order for me to see if this truly was the Shangri-La of sustenance they were making it out to be.

At first, Owen and Engine did not grab my attention immediately as the façade of the building was a simple one, but upon entering it seemed like any pub I’ve been to in London or in the UK in general, classy and understated.  However, I was generally worried due to the Hipster-ish attire of the hostess/waiters/bartenders (i.e. vintage flannels, Ray-Ban wayfarers, and ironic facial hair), but once I was seated my fears were allayed due to the genuine passion our waiter had for their beers.  Once he was done rattling off 25 different beers of the day, he thankfully explained the menu due to the fact that there were certain items that I never even heard of but of course was going to try.

For starters, I went with the Old Rasputin Imperial Stout which definitely did not taste as nefarious as its namesake nor gave me free reign over the Russian Empire while wooing the czarina (unfortunately).  However, it definitely gained a special place in my heart due to its deep black coloring that belied its heavy dark chocolate and bitter aftertaste.

Привет Rasputin!

As for my meal, I plumped for the pork rillette (for those who don’t  of what this is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rillettes)

Bonjour ma rillette!

that was served with whole wheat flatbreads seasoned with sea salt and the beef carpaccio which was garnished with rocket and olive oil.  As for the other lovely ladies at my table, Eileen went with the gnocchi (a gutsy move for ordering Italian food at an English pub), and Justine decided on a safer but equally tasty steak sandwich.  Plus, they ordered a tub of squeak (or mashed potatoes for those on the westside of the Atlantic) for everyone to share.

The thumbs up for gnocchi with the squeak on the side

When my food came out, I initially thought that I had received the short end of the stick since my orders seemed to be lacking the body and presentation of the ladies’ dishes.  I started my meal with the beef carpaccio.  It was absolutely delectable as the lightly seasoned, juicy beef was sliced paper-thin, almost to the point of falling apart on my fork.  The rocket and olive oil provided a fresh herbal aftertaste to the savory meat.  On the whole, it was a lot more filling than I expected.

Up Close and Carpaccio

As for my pork rillette, I was definitely surprised to see the overall presentation since I was expecting more pork than flatbread.  I can only liken the actual rillette to a thick, coarse butter that tasted like pork chops, and the sweet pickles provided a sugary contrast to the salty flatbread/pork.  This dish, however, was not my favorite as the flatbreads quickly became a thorn in my side due to the fact that they were VERY liberally coated with raw sea salt.  Before long, my tongue felt like it was turning into beef jerky, so I would advise those who don’t enjoy really salty food to avoid the rillette flatbreads.  After tasting these two debutants, I managed to get a sample of the gnocchi that really blew me away at how molto bene it really was.  The dumplings were lightly buttered with oregano garnishes, and it was ramped up to the next echelon with the use of smoked bacon chunks to give them a meaty body to round out the flavor (definitely not the soggy tater tots I was expecting them to pass off as authentic gnocchi).  As for Justine’s steak sandwich, it was quite hearty with a refined flavor due to the balance of beef with the zesty horseradish mayo.

Justine's AZN pose with STEAK!

The high quality meat possessed a smidgen of fat to make the sandwich sizzle with flavor.  As always, I saved the best for last:  the squeak.  It seemed like just a simple bowl of mashed potatoes with chives on the top, but as soon as I took a bite…I was in ecstasy.  Need I say more? (just for posterity’s sake, the potatoes were churned to perfection with bacon, cheese, and a certain je ne sais quoi.  Definitely the dark horse of the dinner that outshone the other dishes).

The end of the meal was quite enjoyable since we somehow managed to get a free dessert just because Justine is such a baller and knows everyone there.  It ended up being this chocolate beer based mousse souffle which had a triangle of chocolate rice crispies driven into its center like some sort of beautiful sail on a catamaran of sugary paradise.  Plus, the souffle was flanked by two espresso syrup flourishes on the plate which gave the cake underneath the mousse more of a tiramisu consistency/flavor.  I don’t know if they offer this dessert on the usual menu, but the chocolate beer combined exquisitely with the moist, coffee laden cake underneath to leave my palate in some sort of Frapuccino-esque heaven (don’t sue me, Starbucks, por favor).

Deliciousness Incarnate

Once we paid our bill, we bellied up to the bar to delve further into this veritable beer treasure trove.  Our bartender was named Charlie (who bore an eerie resemblance to a grown up Charlie Bucket from Willy Wonka which made me believe he somehow inherited this amazing restaurant from an eccentric Gene Wilder-type beer wizard after going on a tour which included feeling the furry wallpaper-walk upstairs and you’ll see what I mean), but I digress and then some.  However, he was very knowledgeable being a certified cicerone (the beer version of a sommelier).  I was taken aback when he asked me what I liked in a beer, and like a trained Spider monkey, scurried about and brought out two bottles that I would proceed to drink that night solely chosen off my criteria of a full-bodied, bitter, dark ale.  My first brew was Ola Dubh which hails from mighty Scotland.

Where Ya Hail From Laddy?

The name, funny as it may look, actually means “Black Oil”, and it certainly lived up to its moniker as it looked like I was literally drinking crude oil.  Even though it seemed to be terrible based on looks alone, the taste was quite robust and bitter which was further enhanced by placing a candle underneath it to warm it in order to further open up the hops which normally leads to a better aftertaste.  My second choice was a Nut Brown ale which was not as strong as the first since it didn’t look like something I’d drill from the ground in Venezuela, but it was a very warm beer that had chestnut undertones and a slight bitter aftertaste.

I'm Just a Squirrel Looking for a Nut

As for the nightcap, I tried the Hoss beer which was a pale ale that was the complete opposite of how I started since it was a light translucent yellow with a taste of grass and a hint of lemon that gave the beverage a light and clean finish.

In the long and stout of it all (beer pun intended), Owen and Engine definitely got me revved up to return as soon as possible due to its intimate atmosphere, great food choices made with only the finest ingredients, friendly/knowledgable staff, and the astronomically long list of artisanal beers from all over the world.

Owen and Engine on Urbanspoon

Owen and Engine on Foodio54

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