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The DMK: The Most Flavorful Border in the World

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Burgers, burgers, and more burgers.  What is more Amurikan than a hamburger?  It is one of our quintessential exports among many other items across the globe, and I don’t blame other countries for imitating our homegrown culinary creation.  One of the reasons why I think that hamburgers are so popular is that they are simple.  A slab of meat (or vegetable matter for you vegans or Hindus out there) between two pieces of bread?  It’s the biggest thing since mankind figured out how to slice said bread.  While many would consider something simple to not be worthy of their time, herein lies the genius of the hamburger.  The basic makeup of the hamburger allows plenty of artistic licence for cooks around the world to leave their culinary fingerprints on this common menu item.  While I’ve had burgers in the Memphis, Seoul, and Pyongyang (or at least what I thought was a hamburger) to name a few locations, DMK Burger Bar in Chicago made one of the best ones I’ve had in my life.

I had tried to go to DMK for dinner before, but there was a two hour wait.  So I went there during the lunch hour with Janice, and it was easy enough to get a table.dmk-burger-bar  She had been there before, but I was curious to see what made this burger joint so popular.  Their menu had your basic burgers and sides like fries, but they went above and beyond the standard fare like sliders, bison burgers, and fried okra.  I eventually settled on the number 6 burger ($9), and we split an order of the small cheddar fries ($4).

Our food came out, and I needed a towel with how much I was slobbering.  First, there were the cheddar fries.  IMG_3256While the cheese wasn’t oozing down every nook and cranny of the fry pile, I think it helped the dish since it didn’t cause the fries to become a soggy mess.  The potato sticks were nicely fried with a pinch of salt which harmonized with the silky smooth cheese and sprigs of flavorful onions.  A prelude to the glory I subsequently experienced in the form of my burger. IMG_3258  I didn’t know whether to cross myself, grab a napkin, or bow down to the masterpiece of beef, bread, and Mexican flair sitting across from me.  After admiring my meal, I slid the buns together, I could see a bunch of guacamole peaking out from the bread.  It coated my mouth from bite one, and it was full of the zesty, cilantro tinged flavor I know and love.  The beef patty was thick, juicy, and flavorful with seasonings which were further magnified by the spicy pepper jack, piquant Mexican chorizo sausage, and creamy yet intriguing chipotle mayo.  However, the best part, I thought, was the bun.  I don’t know what it was about it, but it was semi-crunchy, fluffy, and substantial.  All qualities I dream for in a hamburger bun.  I also tried part of Janice’s veggie burger that had a fried, vegetable-based patty that had a spicy kick compliments of the red peppers.  For a meat lover, I still enjoyed this greener alternative.  If you thought my meal was done there, think again, n00bz!  I pushed DMK to the limit by getting one of their signature milkshakes ($5).  I couldn’t say no to the peanut butter flavor while Janice got chocolate.  Both of them were enticing from their chocolate swirls to the thick ice cream that filled the ice cold glasses.IMG_3260  My peanut butter shake was filled with plenty of nutty goodness, and upon tasting Janice’s shake, I felt like Augustus Gloop attempting to swim in Willy Wonka’s chocolate river.  An even better innovation was when we combined our shakes to make our own frozen Reeses peanut butter cups.  It was an all-American meal that red, white, and blue us away.

So if you want some innovative burgers and even better shakes at good prices, hit up DMK Burger Bar!

DMK Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

In the Garden of Eatin’

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What’s beef? Beef is when you make your enemies start your Jeep
Beef is when you roll no less than thirty deep
Beef is when I see you guaranteed to be a ICU, check it”
-Notorious B.I.G.

While my gangster friend, Biggie, had other ideas about what “beef” meant to him in a serious context, today’s Mastication Monologues post is much more lighthearted.  While I could be considered a culinary hitman who is hired for his discerning palate and ruthless ability to deal with difficult dining experiences, I was working pro-buona at this latest establishment, Buona Beef that is.

While Philly has their cheesesteak and NYC has their monstrous pastrami sammiches, Chicago’s sandwich is one that was born out of poverty.  When Italian immigrants used to work in the Union stockyards of Chicago, they would bring home the lower quality, tougher pieces of meat.  So what would be the easiest way to stretch these meager resources for a meal?  Easy.  First, they wet roasted it in a beef broth seasoned with garlic, oregano, and other spices.  Then, they’d slice the meat extra thin to feed the most amount of mouths with the least waste possible.  These paper-thin pieces of meat were thrown back into the broth to soak up all of the flavor from the roasting period for maximum deliciousness.  From there, the Italian immigrants put the beef on Italian bread loaves, and thus the Chicago Italian beef sandwich was born.  While the times and customers have changed, the cooking process has stayed the same.  Enter Buona Beef.  This franchise started back in 1981 by the Buonavolanto family who brought Neopolitan family recipes to the mainland and brought them to the American public.  Buona Beefs can be found all throughout the Chicagoland area but nowhere else in America.  I went with my parents to the location in Darien, IL, and it was a pleasant dining experience. darien The service was quick, and the prices are reasonable.  The menu ranges from pizza, salads, pasta, and of course, da beef sandwiches!  I got the regular 7″ sandwich ($5.50), but they also have piccolo (small) and maggiore (large) sizes.  While most sandwich restaurants ask if you want everything on it, ordering an Italian beef sandwich could almost sound like a script Ron Jeremy could read.  One can be asked if they want it juicy/dipped (dipped in the beef broth), dry (sans broth), hot (with hot giardiniera on top), or sweet (with sweet peppers on top).  While my mom went for the more subdued sweet, dipped sandwich, I kicked it up a notch by getting a hot dip.  This is definitely where I parked my car. While Buona Beef offers various desserts like cannoli, brownies, gelato, and lemon knots, I knew I had to try their new maple bacon shake ($3.25) which apparently diners have been scared to try.  Since I was the first to do so, the manager was overjoyed that I ordered it.  With our orders in, we took our number, and waited for them to bring us our food.

After a brief wait, our sandwiches came out along with the shakes.  I hadn’t had one of these bad boys since coming back to America, and when I laid my eyes on it, I could remember why I missed this small, meat-laden piece of home.  While I prefer the spicy over the mild, my mom’s sandwich still looked pretty good. I think they could have given her more of the roasted, sweet peppers though. IMG_3205 As for my sandwich, it was a thing of absolute beauty.  The bread was fresh yet glistening slightly with the juice of its beefy bathtub in the back.  Plus, the vegetables, or giardiniera (jar-din-air, Chicago pronunciation), looked fantastic.  Giardiniera means comes from the word in Italian for “garden” but actually means “pickled vegetables”.  That’s why the version in Italy is called “sotto aceti” or “under vinegar”.  However, there are slightly different takes on giardiniera depending on where you are.  The West Coast version is closer to its Italian roots with just using vinegar, but here in Chicago we use olive oil.  I’ve asked friends from across the US if they’ve heard of giardiniera, but it seems to be chiefly a Chicago thang.  Typically, one can find a cornucopia of vegetables in the mild or spicy oil such as carrots, celery, olives, pimentos, cauliflower, and bell peppers.  Everyone has their own favorite blend and brand like Greco’s for me.IMG_3216  Even though they’re soaking in oil, the vegetables still maintain their crispy texture.  compliments of the pickling process.  After appreciating the beefy Botticelli in front of me,  I finally took the first bite.IMG_3211  Not only is the Italian beef sandwich unique in terms of ingredients and being a culinary representative of Chicago, but one must eat it in a certain way known as “the stance”.  I’ll let the owner of  Al’s beef, the mothership of Italian beef sandwiches in Chicago since 1938 in Little Italy, and Adam Richman explain it.  Much like Mr. Richman, I was overwhelmed by the soft, juicy bread that encased the delicate pieces of garlic and oregano-laced beef.  The giardiniera provided a much needed crunch and spice to offset the soggy sandwich.  Naturally, my basket by the end of the meal looked like a sloppy slip-n’-slide, but it hit the spot.  As for my shake, it was thick and topped with a few morsels of bacon. IMG_3208IMG_3209 Upon sipping the ivory-hued beverage, I was immediately greeted with a wave of excruciatingly sweet maple flavor that dominated the shake for the most part until I reached the latter half.IMG_3213Once I finally dove deep enough, I could find and sample the crispy creatures hiding beneath the whipped cream.  The smoky and salty flavor of the bacon combined well with the sweetness of the maple riffs, but it proved to be a bit overwhelming as I sampled the dregs.  By the end, I feel like I drank a bottle of sugar syrup which didn’t settle well with me.  I think if  Buona Beef lightened up on the syrup and evenly distributed the bacon in a smaller portion size, they’d have a real hit on their hands.

So if you want to try a unique piece of Chicago’s culinary history without having to make the trek downtown to Little Italy, try Buona Beef!

Buona Beef 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

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