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Ann Extraordinary Brunch

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Hello and happy Fall to all (or Autumn for the international crowd)!  It has been way too long since my last post, about a month to be exact, and I’m planning on changing that fact right now.  If you’ve been wondering why the silence on the foodie front, it’s due to my path to speech pathology grad school.  However, that hasn’t extinguished my passion for tasty morsels and bring all the best recommendations to you, the readers.  Today’s post focuses on the Chicago diner cornerstone Ann Sather.

I’ve heard every opinion of these diners ranging from sheer ecstasy when talking about their famous cinnamon rolls to ambivalence to the opposite end of the spectrum with upturned noses looking for greener brunch pastures.  Instead of turning my interest away from this supposedly inferior diner to other, more modern establishments, it only intensified my curiosity when Janice, Michael, and I visited the Broadway cafe location, but there are other locations on the northside Chicago with one on Belmont and another on Granville.  Now, with a name for a restaurant like Ann Sather, you can safely bet that there is a story.  According to their website, Ann Sather was a real woman who bought the original restaurant over 70 years ago on Belmont from the previous Swedish owners of the property.  She was a stickler for quality, simple food made from scratch with a mix of American breakfast staples, Swedish classics, and a bit of Ann’s ingenuity. Ann eventually passed the baton in the mid 1990s to a southsider named Tom Tunney who actually is a Chicago alderman as well.  Even with the changing faces in charge, their decades of quality food and service shone through during our visit.   IMG_5754The Ann Sather cafe had plenty of personality on the inside with lots of Swedish inspired artwork which brightened up a rather gray and drizzly day.  I don’t know if it was my sweet tooth on a rampage or the warm orange/yellow motif, but I knew I needed to get some of their famous, daily handmade cinnamon rolls into my belly.IMG_5752  When they came out, they looked like the best $3.50 I spent.  When I sunk my teeth into one of these rolls, I was transported to culinary Valhalla on a boat of soft, cinnamon spiced dough covered in a rich, sugary sauce with a vanilla hint.IMG_5747  I wish I could have had an entire pan of them, but I knew I had to slow my roll (see what I did there) because I needed room for my actual breakfast entree.  Perusing the menu, I didn’t know where to begin.IMG_5746  Their wraps and omelets looked way to good to just pick one, but I couldn’t jump off that sugar train after taking down those cinnamon rolls like a great white shark to a seal.  Sadly, I don’t have a week on the Discovery Channel or the Food Channel devoted to me yet, so I got to keep practicing with more great eats like what I ordered next.  I finally settled on the daily special which was their cinnamon roll French toast ($7.50).  It was an interesting transformation of the dulcet treats I just devoured.  Instead of being doused with the sticky, soupy icing, a sprinkling of powdered sugar covered the plate and rolls like the semi-flurries that were fluttering past our window outside. IMG_5748 The fine white covering was punctuated with bright raspberries and blueberries and a tan layer of granola that blended into the rolls’ surface.  However, I didn’t know that the magic of the dish lie in wait for me because when I cut open the meal for my first bite,

Presto...

Presto…

I was greeted with a cream cheese filling.

change-o!

change-o!

It wrapped the plate together to perfection.  The French toast transformation of the cinnamon rolls replaced an overwhelming pool of pure sugar with more subtle, nuanced elements that complimented each other to make a Swedish-American original.  The berries, treading the fine line between sweet and tart, provided a contrast to the powdered sugar and sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, cream cheese filling.  I actually liked that the cream cheese centers were not too chunky or heavy but instead whipped to keep the rolls from turning into a culinary quagmire.  Plus, let’s not forget the granola, dude!  It was just enough to form a thin, rough coating to provide a satisfying and groovy crunch to the majority of the squishier ingredients, and the honey coating on each piece of the granola made me feel like these rolls and I were meant to bee.  I highly recommend this daily special if they have it available, and I have to note that my fellow diner’s choices were great as well.

In closing, I have to say that my visit to Ann Sather’s quashed all of the negative publicity with their food that is clearly made with plenty of care and quality ingredients along with a very affordable price tag in a brunch town where some prices are just plain criminal at times.  So, if you want to get a piece of Chicago’s breakfast history, roll on down to Ann Sather!
Ann Sather Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

An Elephant Never Forgets 100 Posts

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Hey y’all!  So this is another installment of Mastication Monologues from my recent vacation for the Korean Thanksgiving holiday.  Actually, now that I think about it, this is my 100th post!  I never thought I would keep up with my blog for this long, and I would be trying so many different types of food and sharing my findings with the world.  Thanks for all of your support!!  Yet I regret having not started it earlier to record some great restaurants I visited in Europe whose names escape me now.  Alas, the show must go on, and this will be epic!  So that brings me to today’s post where I traveled to the island of Macau.

Before I left, my friends told me to read up on the Vietnam visa on arrival program and to consider a work visit, I considered it for a long time before I decided to keep with my initial plans. I started my day again at a cha chaan teng where I had a Hong Kong breakfast of oats with milk and crispy buns with sweetened condensed milk.   If you don’t know what a cha chaan teng is, check out my last post.

Hong Kong's odd couple

Hong Kong’s odd couple

The oats were unfortunately more milk than oats, so I jazzed up the bland concoction with some sugar that was on the side.  As for my crispy buns with sweetened condensed milk, I should have just gotten two orders of these toasted nuggets of heaven.  Not only were they crunchy yet soft, but the salty butter mixed with the extremely sweet condensed milk definitely beat any doughnut I’ve probably ever had.  They were that good.  Once I downed that satisfying meal, I was ready to catch my boat to Macau.

I was originally drawn to Macau ever since my mom told me about her exhilarating ride on the hydrofoil, and how the island was a mix of both Portuguese and Chinese cultures.  So, I was determined to see this cosmopolitan island for myself while vacationing in Hong Kong.  Naturally, the food was another driving factor for me to go the extra mile and see the island.  I’ve always loved Portuguese and Brazilian culture whether that be Fado vs. a birimbao for a capoeira  roda or some Nando’s spicy piri piri chicken vs. some pao de queijo and brigadeiro.  One of the first noms that I sought out were the pasteis de nata or more commonly known as egg custard tarts.  I really wanted to try them in Macau because I had some in the Santa Maria de Belem neighborhood of Lisbon.

The original bakery.

The monastery next to the original bakery in Lisbon.

I bought them at the first bakery (Casa de Pasteis de Belem) that began mass producing these egg desserts in 1837 when the original producers, the Jeronimos monks, were driven out by the Liberal Revolution of the 1820s.

Ain't nothing like the real thing.

Ain’t nothing like the real thing.

They were amazing there with a little powdered sugar and cinnamon on top, so I was gunning to see if they were worth the boat ride.

I was a fatty even five years ago.

I was a fatty even five years ago.

In Macau, I ended up going to Margaret’s Cafe e Nata which is located at Gum Loi Building, Rua Alm Costa Cabral R/C Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, Macau.IMG_0777  I saw there was a line, and a woman was directing the traffic for what seemed to be a sandwich line and a pastry line.IMG_0776  She looked at me, and I asked for “pasteis de nata“.  She looked at me like I was an alien.  I said it again, and she said, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, egg tarts” and then led me to the line on the left.  I thought she was just an oddball who didn’t speak Portuguese, but I told the woman behind the register, “Quero seis pasteis de nata, por favor“.  She was less incredulous, but still had trouble understanding.  I held up six fingers, and she rung me up.  Then when she gave me change, she said “obrigado” which only men should say.  I guess Wikitravel really was right when it said people don’t really speak Portuguese in Macau even though everything is written in it…so strange.IMG_0779  Anyway, I quickly opened the box to find six golden mini-pies that would eventually fuel my intense day of hiking and sightseeing.IMG_0780  The first bite revealed a crispy top with a smooth, vanilla taste accompanied with a slightly gooey egg interior and an extremely flaky yet sweet pastry crust.  Overall, they were pretty good, but they were a bit too gelatinous for my liking.  The originals in Lisbon were better since the egg custard was a lot creamier and didn’t feel like you were eating a sweet omelet.  While walking to the Sao Paulo Cathedral, I also have to mention the free beef jerky samples I got in the street.

A real meat market

A real meat market

These stalls are mainly by the cathedral.  I tried the spicy and honey bbq flavors, and it’s different than jerky back in the States.  The Maccanese version was flavorful and surprisingly moist like it was just cut off the cured hog.

After running all over Macau and hiking up a mountain to see a temple, I decided I needed to go to Rua da Cunha on Cotai Island.  IMG_2475This street is known for its Portuguese bakeries and restaurants, so I decided to go to Restaurante Dumbo.IMG_0786  It’s very well furnished inside, and the prices are a bit more expensive compared to Hong Kong restaurants. IMG_0783 I ended up getting a quarter of gallina a la portuguesa which arrived in a small pot at my table. IMG_0784 It was delicious as the top was crusted over with cheese, and then beneath the surface lurked large chunks of chicken along with potatoes, black olives, and carrots.  It was a hearty dish that obviously came from humble origins with the ingredients. IMG_0785 I would highly recommend this place to anyone who wants to try Maccanese cooking.  Then I got serradura for dessert.  Serradura means “sawdust” in Portuguese, and it probably was pretty apt since the crushed cookies on top looked literally like it should be on a steakhouse floor.IMG_2478  However, the taste was phenomenal.  It was like a rich vanilla ice cream cup covered with cookie crumbs.  It was a good end to my visit to Macau.

IMG_0798

Hey girl, can I take you home?

At the end of the night back in Hong Kong, a couple of the guys and I went out in the Wanchai neighborhood and found Big Pizza located at 89 Lockhart road.  I ended up getting a piece since what goes better with beer than pizza?  I opted for the chicken tikka pizza, and it was a slice as big as my head for only 20 HK.  Needless to say, the pizza was just what the doctor ordered.  The chicken was tender and had the proper Indian spices while the crust was firm, slightly chewy, and baked to a golden-brown.  A great way to end a great night.

Next up, my last night in Hong Kong with sum dim sum action.

A Doughnut by Any Other Name Would Taste as Sweet

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Hello to all out there in the food world coming back again for another helping of culinary wisdom from Mastication Monologues.  This month’s adventure I will be explaining the fundamental deliciousness of a breakfast place by me with an odd name serving up breakfast standards with unique twists.  The establishment in question is called Juicy-O which can be found at various places around the country, but the location I went to is at 6300 Kingery Highway , Suite 418, Willowbrook, IL.  This restaurant has been around for a couple of years now in the strip mall by my house, but the two times I have been in there have been quite interesting.

To begin, why exactly is this restaurant named, “Juicy O”?  I soon found out when I walked into the door with their walls that are covered in small picture frames containing comical pictures about the importance of  enjoying a good breakfast in a society that seems to be even more fast paced with each passing year.  It also gave off a vibe of being more along the lines of an old-fashioned diner that prides itself in its freshly squeezed O.J. (that’s orange juice= the Juicy O in question), I’m not talking about the other type that tries to run away in a white Bronco haha).  I digress, here is an example of their homely wisdom about the universality of breakfast and the integration of various cuisines:

E Pluribus Unum tasty breakfast

As we were seated quite promptly, we received our menus that were quite profuse in terms of variety and the bright colors that inflamed the senses as soon as you looked at the front of it

The Book of Deliciousness

I was immediately surprised that they served bubble teas given that the only time that I have had them was when I was in a restaurant that specialized in Asian cuisine, but I guess they were reaching out to all possible markets when designing the menu.  They got the Latino market as I naturally gravitated towards the Southwestern favorites since I always do crave something spicy/something with tortillas to eat.  However, whilst I was attempting to make my choice there was something that made me bow down to the greatness of this place.  The waitress proceeded to place a bowl of small donut holes covered in cinnamon sugar in front of us…for free!

Donuts of the Gods…complete with divine cinnamon sugar

This definitely blew the standard basket of bread out of the water at any Greek run restaurant, and my giddiness was confirmed as I took one succulent bite of these expertly and lightly fried donut spheres of excellence.  Before I could realize it we had destroyed the entire donut population like settlers decimating the buffalo on the Western plains.  We should have paced ourselves because the second bowl wasn’t free, but it focused my mind again which eventually settled on chilaquiles, which is eggs with chicken, tortilla chips, and salsa all mixed in a bowl.  Initially I was worried about my choice given the fact that earlier in my life I ordered enchiladas in a similar place which lets just say did not end muy bien.  However, the dish was surprisingly tasty since the tortilla chips were not too soggy, the eggs were not runny at all, and the spicy salsa did not cover the flavor of the other elements of the dish but rather brought them out to their full potential.

My second, more recent, visit was pretty much the same deal with the donuts, but I decided to get something a bit more traditional with a twist since I thrive on finding new foods to try or variations of universal favorites.  Thus, the Elvis French Toast caught my eye (price: $9) due to the fact that it had French toast, bananas, and peanut butter (three of my favorite foods in the world since I eat pb and banana sandwiches everyday), so I thought it would be a match made in heaven.  I also tried their famous, freshly squeezed orange juice which was tasty and tangy, but definitely not worth the $5 price tag it supposedly demanded.   Eventually the moment of truth arrived when I’d be face to face with a Rock and Roll legend in French toast form, and my mom also ordered Bananas Foster French toast due to her obsession with New Orleans cuisine.

At first glance, my Elvis french toast looked like his ’68 return special when he was rejuvenated through the use of black leather and sweet sideburns kind of like this:

The Resemblance is Uncanny to…

The King of French Toast

Sadly, this dish was as bland as his characters in his many movies, and it just left me bloated/disappointed at the end of it all (R.I.P.).  The syrup did add a hint of flavor to the peanut butter, but overall it was too many neutral flavors cavorting in one dish which never really grabbed a hold of my palate and said, “I Want You, I Need You”.  Instead I was just left with Suspicious Minds…alright, pun fest over.  My mom’s choice, the Bananas Foster French toast, was the same pattern where the presentation overshadowed the quality:

A Taste of NOLA for Breakfast

I enjoyed the bananas more than with the French toast which was bland overall, but the fruit had a nice coating of a cinnamon sugar glaze which would satisfy anyone with even tiniest of a sweet tooth.

Overall, I would recommend Juicy O to anyone who wants to try some new variations on breakfast favorites, even if they aren’t that satisfying sometimes.  On a closing note, the establishment only stays open till 3 p.m., so if you’re uncertain about going, take the everlasting advice of a soulful Mississippi boy, “It’s Now or Never”.

Juicy-O on Urbanspoon

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