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Aiming to Cheese

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“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.”

– George Miller

While many different countries have certain culinary stereotypes that may or may not be true like the British being terrible cooks (try a pasty and get back to me) or Indians only serving spicy food, one interesting cultural interaction in the kitchen is between Italian and Italian American cooking.  While both emphasize fresh ingredients that often times circle around staples like olive oil, tomatoes, and a feisty nonna (grandmother) who’ll put you in your place if you mess around in the kitchen, there is a clear difference in presentation and dishes that exist in the USA that would never happen in Italy.

Made in America

Made in America

 Italians have always enjoyed big meals, and when large waves of Italian immigrants initially came to America, they couldn’t really afford much food or had to stretch their resources to make do.  Thus, one icon of Italian American food culture in Chicago was born, the Italian beef sandwich.  However, as time went on, the concept of abbondanza or “abundance” came to the fore as more and more Italian immigrants and their children were able to integrate into American society and earn a decent wage.  With extra money, came extra ingredients to classic Italian plates to show to the world that these often times poor Southern Italians had finally made it in America, i.e. more cheese, sauce, and meat.  Their legacy survives today from coast to coast especially in Chicago  and New York City.  I do love my Italian food, aside from pasta (yes, I know I’m a weirdo), and Papa Joe’s in Orland Park is a good family restaurant serving down-home Italian cooking.

Upon walking into the establishment, we were greeted by the strains of Old Blue Eyes and Deano.  We went there for my cousin’s graduation party (congrats, Jen!), and there seemed to be an initial confusion with the reservation.  It was a mere hiccough as we were quickly suited at the far end of the lower section by the wrap-around bar.  I wouldn’t recommend sitting there since the some of the air vents on the ground might make it harder to roll your chair back when getting up and down from your table.  Floor plans aside, the wait staff was competent and started us off with baskets of fresh bread.IMG_3343  These piping hot bread orbs were wrapped up in cloth, and were pre-sliced which I enjoyed.  The crust was a bit thick for my liking, but it had a nice crunch and an almost pretzel-esque flavor.  My favorite part was the warm, white interior that was ideal for mopping up the olive oil and Parmesan cheese dust on my plate.  Using butter on such a loaf wouldn’t be too Italian of me now.  After that, we had a few salads places along our table including a typical mixed green salad, a pasta salad, and then a cucumber salad I was especially fond of.  IMG_3345It was soaked in a vinaigrette that also had flecks of pungent goat cheese to counter the tangy and smooth cukes.  The tomato pieces also added a bit of color to the mainly green plate.  Once we moved beyond these antipasti, we ordered our main dishes.  The menu was long and filled with Italian favorites like a plethora of pastas, meat dishes, chicken dishes, paninis, pizzas, fish dishes, and appetizers.  I went for the chicken parmigiana ($14.95) since it was another dish I missed from home while I was in Korea.  We also got a free cup of soup on the side, and that day’s choices were either cream of chicken or minestrone.  I plumped for the former.

The soup came out first, and it was delicious.IMG_3344  I liked to dip the bread in it since it softened up the thick crust.  There were large nuggets of chicken in the creamy, pastel yellow broth along with a few slices of celery and carrots.  After quickly downing that small but rich appetizer, my selection finally was placed in front of me.  A chicken parmigiana consists of breaded and fried chicken cutlets that are then covered in marinara sauce and a hefty layer of mozzarella cheese. IMG_3346 Papa Joe’s also offered veal and eggplant parmigiana.  My poultry version was great.  The tomato sauce was savory and buoyed the gooey cheese that topped the crispy and juicy chicken breasts.IMG_3348  It was all white meat that left me extremely full after just one piece.  My meal also came along with a side of pasta, but I managed to swap it for mixed cooked vegetables that were sauteed and delectable.

So if you’re looking for a cozy and authentic Italian restaurant in the south suburbs of Chicago, pay a visit to Papa Joe’s.

Papa Joes Pizza on Urbanspoon

Burgerville: A Wonderful Place to Meat (Portland, Part 2)

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Yo! So this is part two of my Portland travel journal where I’m chronicling my food adventures throughout the City of Roses.  Day one started off with a delicious breakfast, and today I’ll be presenting my wonderful lunch at Burgerville, a regional burger chain that started in Washington state and moved further south to Oregon.  What sets this company apart is their unique organic menu choices, commitment to improving the local communities where their restaurants are located, and even allowing bikes in their drive-thru lanes.  Talk about being progressive!IMG_2567

However, when I walked in, it was actually furnished like many other burger chains like Steak and Shake with the throwback 1950s decor complete with the signature jukebox and shiny, colorful vinyl seats.IMG_2570  The menu seemed to focus mainly on a variety of burgers living up to their namesake, but they also had a wide selection of chicken sandwiches, salads, vegetarian options, and desserts.  Not only that, but they had seasonal items for sides and offered jars of their signature sauces to take home with you.  After looking through their menu, I decided to go off the beaten culinary path and try one of their vegetarian options:  the spicy Anasazi bean burger. The Anasazi part of the name comes from the Native American tribe that lived in the Four Corners area (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico), and the beans they once farmed are offered by this small scale bean hawker.  Frankly, I was merely won over by the fact that it had some sort of spicy element in the title.  Plus, I’m trying to watch what I eat, so I appreciated the option to purchase something that’s a bit more heart healthy.  Not only did I get the meatless option, but I got the seasonal side which was a basket of rosemary shoestring potatoes and a side of Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese dipping sauce, another local Oregonian product.  When it came out, I couldn’t believe that I could order a vegetarian burger in a mainly meat burger chain restaurant and have it look this appetizing. IMG_2568 I was especially blown away simply at how verdant and fresh the lettuce looked on the burger.  Upon the first bite, I was amazed at how savory the burger tasted.  Thankfully it didn’t taste like I was eating a big pile of beans but rather a pseudo-beef patty.  The pepper jack cheese gave the meal some extra zing, and the chipotle mayo kicked up another notch that would make Emeril blush.

BAAAAAMMMMM!

BAAAAAMMMMM!

As for the French fries, I didn’t care for the size of them since I prefer my fries to be a bit bigger like crinkle fries, steak fries, or waffle fries.  Then again, size may not matter rather the motion in the ocean.  Flavorwise, it was like the perfect storm.  They were fried to the apex of flavor along with a liberal coating of rosemary seasoning and garlic olive oil.  The seasoning was borderline too saline for my palate, but I was greatly satiated by the end of the meal.

If you’re ever in the Pacific Northwest, I highly recommend you try out a Burgerville location for their fresh, organic dishes and general variety of menu items.  Burgerville, it’s a community that believes in food for thought.
Burgerville on Urbanspoon

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