Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Best burger in a long time

(I think the last time I had a burger this good, was from the White Palace, downtown.)

I had my kids at the Science Center, for one last trip with me for their summer vacation and I decided to take them to lunch.  We drove down to the usual spot, which meant around the Wells Fargo buildings. There was a number of trucks there, but they were all ones I have been to, except this new one.  I saw a colorful looking food truck with a big burger painted on the side.  It was called the "Man that's good" truck.  Take a look at these guys as they have had this truck for less than 4 months!  And while the truck may not have as professional of a paint job as some of the others surrounding it, I would bet that the food on this truck, was phenomenally better than on the other ones.  There is some real love cooked with this food.

Here is the thing, burgers are their specialty and I ordered my youngest son the grilled cheese sandwich, which he ate half of on the walk from this food truck to our car parked about 50 meters away.  My other son had a cheeseburger which he inhaled when we had returned to my office and he had sat down to eat it.  I had ordered their big burger, which was a large burger with cheese, bacon and a homemade onion relish.  I asked for mine without cheese and they delivered this:

 Look at that above and tell me that your mouth is NOT beginning to water!  That looks absolutely delicious. They told me that while the fries were not homemade, the burgers were ground and seasoned and cooked by them.  That relish only exists on the big burger and it is so perfect with everything.  The buns, tasted as if they brushed them with butter and then after grilling them, sprinkled them with garlic powder.  They did that to the kids cheeseburger as well, which my son loved.  When I got to the office, I started to slice bits of this burger off and pass it around to people who just said "wow".  The burger is amazing.  An easy 4 out of 5, because not only was it really good, but it tasted different and so much better than the really good burgers I have seen before.

The thing is, if you see this truck, get the burgers!


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Worst restaurant in a while

There are good restaurants and bad restaurants.  The problem is that most of the time, the bad restaurants get by unnoticed.  Did you ever wonder how there can be so many bad restaurants on shows like Restaurant Impossible?  Last month, I went down to the Ozarks and while coming back from a day at Miner Mike's, my kids wanted something other than BBQ for lunch.  So, as we are nearing the intersection of 54, we came to a small strip mall with a nice looking place called Shell's Pasta Emporium.  We parked out front and went inside.

The first thing that could be noticed was the color.  The walls were painted this ugly dirty yellow color and there were stenciled phrases and sayings on the wall which had nothing to do with pasta or food.

"Laughter sparkles like sunshine." Really?  On one wall of the restaurant, there are at least 6 or 7 sayings which makes me think that someone just took every saying they could find in one of those inspirational books and re-wrote them on the wall.

The food is prepped behind a bar area and there is every possible kind of fake plant or flower in the area.  There are fake potted plants, fake flowers all over and even fake ivy stuck behind the bar, on the wall, near the ceiling.  You can also see the whole service area, where you can see two microwaves, a shelf where all of the soda syrup boxes are as well as the prepping area.  Note: I did not see any pasta machines, bowls or even flour, but we will get to that later.

 The place was very sparse and the only staff consisted of two people, presumably Shell and her son, a child less than 10 years old.  So, it was this child, who brought our table silverware, explained how the ordering went and then took our orders and delivered our drinks.  Shell, stayed behind the counter.  I should have looked around the restaurant first before ordering because there wasn't a single award on their pasta, they had one on 'best new pasta restaurant concept' and one for 'best traditional pizza', but none on the quality of their pasta. The way that you ordered, was by taking this slip of paper, filled with options on your meal, checking the boxes with your pencil, and then giving them to the child so he could give them to Shell.  So, one of the things we ordered was some pasta, since they are called "pasta emporium", I figured that I should try their pasta.

I marked the box for Bow Tie noodles, at $5.99 and then added a simple sauce of garlic and olive oil at no cost.  Then, I was really hungry and added some sliced, seasoned, spicy, baked chicken for an additional cost of $2.99.  So, we are looking at my meal alone, at costing $8.98; before taxes.  It doesn't sound like that much, for pasta, but what I received a few minutes later, was not worth more than $1.00.

This is what was delivered, to me about 5 minutes after I had ordered it.  I watched the woman behind the counter work, expecting to see a show of making fresh pasta.  I was expecting to see her mix flour and eggs together, make a dough, and start turning it through a pasta machine, rolling it thinner and thinner each time.  Then, finally taking that ribbon and slicing it into squares and bunching them at the center to create bows.  I wanted to see someone do this from scratch.  The problem is: at this place, even though it has the words "pasta emporium" in the name, they do not make their own pasta.  Now, I guess it was my fault, because while on their website (http://www.shellspastaemporium.net/) and menu, even though it says that they offer "Mouth watering Italian pastas" and they state that they offer "authentic homemade Italian food", they never actually state that the pastas are authentic or homemade.  So, I guess that is my fault for reading too much into this.

I would bet $100 that the pasta was from a box.  It had no taste of egg or flour, so I know it wasn't homemade.  It definitely wasn't authentic either.  We watched the woman make the chicken, which meant that we watched her take something from the freezer, place it on a dish and into the microwave for 2 minutes and then onto my pasta.  She delivered it to me like she was the proudest person ever for making some great pasta and chicken.  Really?  You thawed out pre-cooked and seasoned chicken and placed it over my store bought dried and boiled pasta and you call this a restaurant???

I thought this place was a joke, until you look at their Facebook page and it appears that this restaurant stays in business by cooking store bought and boxed pasta and then adding microwaved items to it, while charging a huge amount.  They even have a bunch of photos of them celebrating their grand opening.

I have tried to contact the restaurant and ask for clarification as to why they say they make homemade and authentic pasta and then it is neither homemade or authentic and I had no response.  Here is my thoughts:  If you want to eat there and help support a local restaurant owner with her restaurant, go ahead.  If you want to feel as though you get some sort of edible food for your money, I suggest finding something else to eat. Or you could also go to Paul's and get your own box of pasta and store bought frozen chicken.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Salad: A look at local examples and an entomology

I have been meaning to write about this, for a while, ever since I notice that in some restaurants, a salad can have up to 20 different components and in other restaurants a salad can be just one thing with dressing. Salads can differ greatly but usually have come to mean more than one item mixed with a dressing or sauce or topping of some sort.

The word 'salad', comes from an Old French word which may have been a derivative of an Old Latin word 'salar', which means 'to salt.'  The idea of a salad, back in Roman times, was any mix of vegetables which was seasoned with brine.  The word's first written origin was in 1390, in Old French.  In 1699, research was shown that the Romans and Greeks ate salads of mixed greens, topped with salty olive oil and vinegar dressings. So, the original salads, as a mixture of the leaves of plants, with a dressing, were composed of more than one type of green or leaf or stem. What is very important to note for my point: is that leafy green salads contain more than one kind of leafy green.  For example; an ice burg lettuce salad would not be a bowl of ice burg lettuce with a dressing, but a bowl of ice burg lettuce mixed with at least one other thing and a dressing.

So, we get to the "salad" that accompanied a bad dish, which I had Saturday night.

Now, as you can see, this is what they call a Frisee Salad.  The "salad" as they call it, had only one type of vegetable in it: Frisee.  It had a very light vinegar drizzled on it, without any oil or even salt.  Not only that, but this type of leafy green is a bit expensive compared to others like lettuce, spinach or even mesclun, so most restaurants don't place it solely on dishes.  So, what this restaurant did, was take only Frisee and a drizzle of vinegar, so even by the Old French or Roman use of the word or preparation of a salad, this bunch of Frisee on the plate does not count as a proper "salad".

Not to mention that overall the dish was boring, unseasoned and tasteless, which the bitter greens did very little to help liven.

Other restaurants, know how to make a salad, and do so even by adding one or two more things with a lettuce.

That is a good sized salad.

Take a look at your plate, the next time you order a salad and see what is delivered to you.  If it is a bowl or plate of one kind of lettuce with a drizzle or something, they are doing it to be cheap and don't wish to take the time to make a proper salad.

I also know that the term 'salad' can also mean any other mixture, as in a seafood salad or pasta salad, but again, those salads have more than one thing mixed together.  Otherwise, the next time you ate spaghetti with marinara sauce, you could call it a "salad".

Thursday, August 15, 2013

I never had it before

I know that many kids have had it before and it was even a secret ingredient on Chopped, but I bought some for the first time, earlier this week, from the St. Louis Science Center.

Now, it was strange and unusual and everyone there was surprised when I had told them that I never had Astronaut Ice Cream before.  Sure, it was almost as light as air, crumbled and disintegrated into dust upon human touch, but it tasted just like real mint and chocolate chip ice cream.  I have to say that I am not impressed.  I may even have to buy some online and experiment cooking with it.   

Monday, August 12, 2013

Back to Savannah Grille

Here is the thing with the Ozarks: there are a lot of restaurants.  However, the number of okay restaurants far outnumber the amount of really good restaurants.  And the number of expensive and really good restaurants outnumber the amount of affordable and really good restaurants.  So, while there are some other great places like Baxter's or Bentley's, they just seem to be the quality of foodie-ness that my wife and I look for in cities. We have never been to the Blue Heron, so I cannot comment on that.  However, online reviews and sources suggest that it is quite expensive and the food and service are just okay.  Anyway, fate happened that on a recent Friday night, my wife and I were found with babysitting and through the stormy and cool evening, we happened upon some great late-night reservations at Savannah Grille.

I know you are probably wondering if a restaurant which had garnered great reviews from me, the first time, can do it again.  And you CAN wonder that, but don't doubt that possibility, for this second time for dinner, the food was perfect.

So, it is a rainy and cool Friday night and my wife and I are there at 8:00 for dinner.  This is what we started with:

My wife ordered the beef and vegetable soup.

So, the soup of the day, was this super rich beef stock and some great vegetables in there with chunks of beef.  It was so good that it made me go home and make some beef stock of my own.  I'd say the soup was an easy 4 out of 5 stars.

Because my entree' came with a soup or salad and my wife ordered a soup, I decided to order a salad.  The picture above is the salad and it came with perhaps the largest croutons I have ever seen.  Bonus.  Still simple salad is good and tasty: 3 out of 5 stars.

As an appetizer, we got the fried green tomatoes and this is what they looked like:

These were crunchy, tasty and tender.  Perfectly sweet and tart at the same time.  A small pepper and onion relish and the topping tasted of seasoned panko crumbs.  The chef did a great job remaking this classic dish of fried green tomatoes.  These were great and worth ordering.  An easy 4 out of 5.

Now, my wife ordered the tuna tartare and this is it:  

It was delivered to us on a board and as you can see, there is a lot going on.  I am not a seafood or fish person and I have to say that even if I wanted to try it, my wife enjoyed it so much that I couldn't get a chance to try it.  It was gone in seconds.  I am sure that my wife would agree that a 4 out of 5 stars for that one would be enough.

Now, what I think is perhaps the best thing I have eaten there yet, is the rabbit.  I'll be honest, I'm not a huge fan of rabbit.  Wherever I have eaten it, it has been still a bit gamy and not very tender, like eating rubber that tastes like a wet and dirty dog smells.  I've passed it up whenever I can and wherever I am.  But, I trust the chef here and thought I would give it a try.  Now, what chef Robert says, is that they took some rabbit, then cleaned every morsel of meat off of it and made a sausage with some of it, wrapped it up with the rest of it and then some bacon and finished it off.  This is it: cooked and plated.  Now, along with these perfectly cooked carrots and everything worked so well that it was new, interesting, innovative and delicious: which are all the requirements for an easy 5 out of 5 stars.

We never really get dessert when we go out and that is mostly because we fill up on the other food.  So, we ordered both of the dessert options: some home made ice creams and then some chocolate cake with some champagne foam.  The chocolate cake and foam came out and chef Robert came to explain and dish the foam on top of the cake and pieces.

I have actually never tasted so many different tastes on one plate.  There was the strawberries, the banana pieces which were singed with a flame and had the sugar on them like a creme' brulee or Bananas Foster. Then there is the rich and gooey chocolate cake.  Nice and small pieces of mint leaves.  Then some caramel drizzled around.  The white blobs, are the champagne foam, which quickly melted into the cake.  This was a very good dessert.  I'd give a 4 out of 5 stars.

The other dessert was 3 flavors of ice cream.  Chef Robert told us that he has two ice cream machines, which means that he can create a lot of flavors, every day and experiment and have fun.  So, this night, we had the flavors of Bananas Foster, Strawberry Plum and Green Peppercorn.
So, the Bananas Foster ice cream tastes just like the dish, except cold.  The Strawberry Plum was delicious and perfectly balanced so you could taste both flavors, even at the same time.  The last one, the Green Peppercorn, was the strange one.  It was good, but just strange.  We never thought of having green peppercorns as a sweet flavor enhancer; but it worked.

So, for second visit at Savannah Grille, it was a perfect and romantic evening.  I really do suggest this place for anyone going to the Ozarks.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Super JJ's Fish and Chicken

This is a great spot in Bloomington, Illinois and a must for fans of fish and chicken and fried foods.  What you have here, summed up, is a great Southern style fried foods restaurant.

There isn't much of a website for this restaurant, but the food can speak for itself. You have a restaurant which looks like just a spot in a strip mall.  There isn't any decorations or pictures on the wall.  The tables are bare and the floor is too.  There are simple lights around the counter, and everything looks very simple.  So, you think, how good can this be...?

Then you look at the menu and order.  We ordered a bunch of fried catfish and chicken wings.  So, it couldn't be much, right?  I was expecting simple fried catfish and then little wings like you get at some chain restaurant.  This though, is what we had delivered to us, not counting sides.

So, what we have there, is one of the large roasting pans, filled with catfish and chicken wings.  Look at those huge pieces of catfish.  The pieces were coated in a simple cornmeal breading, they were lightly seasoned, tender, clean and tasted nothing like the catfish I have tried around St. Louis.  When a guy who doesn't really like seafood, eats fish at your establishment, then you have a great product.  I give the fish a 4 out of 5 stars.  Then you have the chicken wings, which is what is seen on the bottom of the pan.  These are the whole chicken wing so you have two pieces with meat, basically.  The meat is so juicy and tender that it will fall right off of the bone.  Everything there was perfect and this was just the simple one.

You want a deal?  Get their 100 wings.  Most places around St. Louis, will sell 100 wings and you will get one of the two pieces, wingette or drumette.  So, you end up paying for about 50 wing pieces and 50 little drumstick pieces.  Here is the thing with JJ's; the 100 wings are 100 of both.  So, comparatively, you get 200 wings for your buck.  What makes this even better still, is this is their prices for their buffalo wings.  So, let's say you have a party or you have some college buddies that want some food, why not get some huge amounts of buffalo wings for your buck?  College guys, if you do not know about this place, then you should by now.


1510 W Market St
BloomingtonIL 61701
(309) 820-7600

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

You know a restaurant is going down when....

They get a Video Gaming machine!!!!

There is this great bar near my home.  I have written about it previously and they have great service, they are good with kids (during the day hours), they have good prices, they even have the ladies who work there, dress up in random outfits and costumes as their uniforms.  Besides having some of the best wings in town, they are perhaps the most popular bar in town.  There is a new problem though.

Back in late 2009, Illinois passed a law, which would allow bars and coffee shops to run video gambling machines.  While this did happen years ago, just now the places in Illinois are starting to install them.

While I could see them as a great way to bring in some extra revenue, I also see them as a way to hurt your business.  The afore-mentioned bar that I liked so much, now has the video gambling machines.  This means that while before they allowed children in, before 7 or so when it becomes a 21+ bar, now children can not go any where near the machines.  Meaning; if it is a small bar, then children are not longer allowed.  Is it a big deal?  Well, I think that it used to be a family friendly bar and now it is only for adults and no one will take their family there anymore.  Is the loss of customers made up by the few bucks they make from the gaming commission?

It even bugs me that a local coffee shop has the video gaming machine in it.  So, not only do they a deli and pastries, but then they have the whole place closed to anyone under 18, because it is a very small place and they have the video gaming machines.  Is it really needed?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Firehouse Pizza and Pub

My wife had to travel a few hours away for work and as such, it was thought that it would be fun for the rest of us to go along.  So, while she was having meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, my two sons and I tried to enjoy ourselves in the area.  Wednesday, we checked out the local Zoo in Bloomington and then before checking out the Children's Discovery Museum, we decided to grab a bite to eat.  Located within a stone's throw of the museum, is a pizza place and pub.  I have to say, that this restaurant is likely the most children friendly restaurant I have ever been to.

Firehouse Pizza (http://www.firehousepizza911.com/) is a restaurant that serves pizza on a buffet as well as your table if you order it yourself.  What makes the pizzas special, is that they are each hand crafted and unique.  Everything there, from the bread sticks to the crust and sauce, are done there and you can taste it. There is no spongy, doughy, bland crust taste, but a tender and bread-like crust flavor. What was also really interesting, is that there were the normal flavors, like sausage, pepperoni and cheese, but there were more interesting flavors.  There was one that had BBQ sauce, cheese and jalapenos on top of it.  There was one that tasted like it had chicken, bacon and ranch sauce.  There was even one that just had slices of tomato and basil on the cheese.  Also, unlike other places that offer pizza on a buffet, everything was really good.

Nothing can keep kids more calm than having their own remote and television at the table that they can watch while they eat.

Each of these pizza pans, had two kinds of pizza on them.  As I said, none of the pizza tasted bad, all the flavor combinations were good and everything tasted fresh.  I have to give them a great 4 out of 5 for their restaurant and food and hope that if anyone is in the area, perhaps on the way to Chicago and looking to stop for a meal before hitting the big city, I suggest going to Firehouse.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Food adventures in Las Vegas

Las Vegas has its own fair share of strange and unusual foods.  There are so many cultures and groups in the Las Vegas area that you can find almost anything, to suit almost any taste.  While some places stick to staples like Honey Pig's Korean food or Hot n' Juicy's steamed and spicy foods, other places are going back with classic or traditional items and trying to see if something could be done differently.

What I have here, are two separate instances of something that is so familiar and so simple but then re-envisioned to be something new and exciting:

First off, located about 5-10 minutes away from the strip, is a small store, located in a strip mall.  The store is called Popped and it is in there that they make, serve and sell popcorn.  Now, there are many flavors like classic cheese or caramel but then there are new flavor combinations like Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel; frozen.  (Did I just say "frozen"?  Yes, frozen.)  While the popcorn is tasty, what they do at Popped, is make the popcorn and then bathe it and mix it into liquid nitrogen.

Now, what are the pros and pluses for mixing your popcorn into liquid nitrogen and then eating it?  Well, first off, when you eat it with your mouth open, you can see smoke or vapors come out of your mouth or nose. That seems to be the first thing and perhaps the coolest thing. The second thing is that when the hard, (and sometimes destined to be lodged into your gums or teeth), kernel gets frozen, and then you eat the popcorn, it isn't so hard anymore but disintegrates in your mouth.  Every piece that you pop in your mouth is cold, then tasty and then gone, as if the whole piece could melt away.  There are no little pieces of popcorn getting stuck: anywhere.  I have to say that while my kids were too busy pigging out and making them breathe out smoke like baby dragons, my wife and I were enjoying the easy to eat popcorn.

The next thing that I thought was revolutionized, was the food at the airport.  I think it was the LA airport, but as American Express members, we were allowed entrance into their special lounge.  Inside, we were looking for food and I was expecting the same dribble that you can find at other airport lounges.  I was surprised when I saw the following:

Okay, for those who don't watch food network shows, Scott Conant is the chef who always is on the panel on the show Chopped.  He is a famous restaurateur and has written several cook books.  So, not only does he do television shows, but he apparently makes food for the airport lounge.  What did the food look like?

So, what do we have here?  The braised beef was tender and juicy and flavorful.  The polenta was rich, creamy and buttery.  The gravy or sauce was flavorful and bold.  The cheese shavings were salty and sweet. The dish was small, tapas style, but for a buffet line, for anyone to eat, at the Euro-style lounge, this was a huge wake-up call.  Now, I admit that outside of the lounge there were the regular places that you could stop, pay $10 for a hamburger or $3 for an apple.  But the lounges used to only serve coffee and warmed nuts.  This is a huge upgrade and considering that this dish tasted as good as some famous restaurants I have eaten at, that is a huge plus.