Friday, July 3, 2015

Wisconsin Eats

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- Five More Wisconsin Style Eats

I apologize but there are no grilling and or Smokin' recipes this year. I recently moved and am still getting my yard sorted out. So instead I thought I'd share five more Wisconsin style eats figuring many a Chicagoan are in Wisconsin for the holiday. No one does Wisconsin stops better than me.
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Juice's Ghost Town Tavern

Grafton, WI

This 100+ year old tavern has gone through a few names and its current one comes from the fact this town was once a thriving place. Its where the first paved road in Wisconsin (from Ulao to Grafton) was built in 1849 and also where the man who shot & killed President James A. Garfield in July 1881 was from. The killers boyhood home still stands today.

Old Fashioned

"During the late 1800′s and early 1900′s a Tavern, Dance Hall, Grain Mill and Elevator, and a Railroad Station were built along side the Chicago & Northwestern railroad tracks" When coal replaced wood the town started dying down, though not during prohibition when this building the tavern sits in was rocking, eventually it became a ghost town. Cool vibe inside these days. I tried their popular "Prime Bites" aka deep fried pieces of prime rib. Pure Wisconsin.

Prime Rib Bites
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Brat Shack

Lomira, WI

I found this literal shack when pulling off of Interstate 41 to get some gas. It sits right near the Exxon station in the tiny town of Lomira. I'm not sure the brats were anything more than grocery store bought but the fact they're grilling them in a little shack on the side of the road made for a great snack. I forget what it was for but profits were going to a cause so I was happy to help.

Grilled brats from the Brat Shack
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Hamburger Haus

Campbellsport, WI

I found myself in the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive area of Southeast Wisconsin last summer and rode by a cute little seasonal operation sitting alongside a riverstream right on the route. How do I not stop? With the handful of other great walk-up burger shacks previously featured I was excited to see how this place stacked up against the rest. We're not far from Sheboygan County so it was no surprise to see their style of burger on offer. I don't think the grill was a real charcoal apparatus but the patties were freshly supplied from a butcher as mentioned on the front of the hut. I went with a double cheeseburger everything. That means Wisconsin cheddar, sliced raw onion, pickles and in Hamburger Haus' case a horseradish mustard that worked wonderfully. Add in the toasted Sheboygan hard roll with a smear of melted butter and we got a real deal Wisconsin style hamburger. If you're out camping or biking in this beautiful area than this spot is your fuel stop.

Double Cheddar Burger
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Village Inn

New Holstein, WI

Also in the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive area is this popular pizza parlor specializing in a monster restaurant steak sandwich. The restaurant steak is a popular regional eat of Sheboygan county and the areas around it. In these parts a steak sandwich is more like a burger but not quite one thus almost a hybrid of the two. Popular in meat markets around town they're really good used for the likes of Swiss and Salisbury steak and can also make a great sandwich. Village Inn serves theirs with a similar meat to bun ratio as an Iowa breaded pork tenderloin. Also standard for a Sheboygan style steak sandwich is the hard roll boasting the same name, toasted with butter and also the fact it's grilled over charcoal. I'm not sure if they were using real charcoal here but this was a satisfying sandwich that had good taste to go with the substance. Another nice fuel stop in the area.

Restaurant Steak Sandwich
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Fitz's on the Lake 

Lodi, WI

Here's a stop that was grabbed from deep down in my food folder. I believe I stopped into Fitz's last summer but it might've been the summer before. Either way this old school bar and restaurant is still the same. Its the spot to go to for some food and drink during the summer months as it sits on a lake about an hour Northwest of Madison. 

Outdoor Dining 

Having stopped in on a Friday you know what that means in Wisconsin. It was Fish Fry day and they were offering up a nice selection of lake caught species. I would roll with the lesser seen blue gills and be very happy with my plate. Lightly dusted, well fried filets to go with beer and sun. That's a winner in my book. Happy Fourth of July to all. Don't go blowing your fingers off.

Bluegill Fish Fry
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Juice's Ghost Town
990 Ulao Rd.
Grafton, Wisconsin 53024
(262) 376-9003

Brat Shack
Exit for Lomira, WI on 41 North
Go towards Exxon station.

Hamburger Haus
N3059 Wisconsin 67
Campbellsport, WI 53010
(920) 533-5046

Village Inn
1706 Wisconsin Ave
New Holstein, WI 53061
(920) 898-4045

Fitz's on the Lake
W11602 Co Rd V
Lodi, WI 53555
(608) 592-3302

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mondo Meatball

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

Sticking on the topic of trends in food we take a visit to a new Wicker Park restaurant that specializes in meatballs. Mondo Meatball is at least the third meatball place I know to have opened in the past year. It's a casual eatery with sitdown service and even a bar to get comfortable at.

Newly Opened in Wicker Park

Speaking of trends, it seems like everyone wants to be the next Chipotle. While Mondo isn't exactly the same in terms of setup, the menu is setup in a similar way to where you pick from a certain category. It starts with the meatballs. Mondo offers six different varieties which include a traditional beef  recipe as well as a chicken, pork, turkey, vegetarian and even a flavor of the day. Once you pick your preferred filling you choose what type of sauce you want them in. Options for those are a classic marinara, a summertime blend, pesto and a handful of international options such as teriyaki sauce and chimichurri. But we're not done yet! Next up is what you want to enjoy your meatballs with. You can have them in a sandwich, regular sized or slider size. You can have them on top of your choice of pasta or even Polenta or mashed potatoes. I tried the classic meatballs with classic sauce in a bowl with polenta. I was very pleased with the product. Tender and flavorful meatballs were nowhere near dry and the creamy polenta paired perfectly. This is your spot when feeling too lazy make your own. Hell they're probably better than your version. See ya next time.

Classic Meatballs over Polenta

Mondo Meatball
1467 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 278-5959
Website

Click to add a blog post for Mondo Meatball on Zomato 

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Boiler Shrimp & Crawfish

-Grubbing in Chicago (land)
New to the 'Scene'

The early running favorite for biggest Chicago food trend in 2015 is Cajun food. There's been a handful of restaurants with a New Orleans and or Cajun connection to have opened of late. There's even a genre within the trend in Cajun Seafood spots. The Angry Crab opened this past Spring to lines of people and they're still lining up for it. Out in Skokie a place called 'The Boiler' has recently opened and they too have been packed. I decided to check them out.

Newly Opened Cajun Seafood Spot in Skokie 

Our visit would happen just a few days after they opened, yet the place was already packed. Its tucked away in a strip mall and they don't open until 4p and at this point I imagine they have lines waiting to be seated when the door opens. The setup was a bit odd as they have two cash registers right there when you walk in but you wait to order with a waitress and then pay her when you're done. It made the situation longer than it had to be. If people paid upon walking in and then sat down with a number I don't see why it wouldn't speed up the process. But they're learning.

Menu / Boiled Crawfish

I'll be honest. These places are all pretty much the same to me. I've been to popular ones in New Orleans and now I've tried a few in Chicago. Biggest difference in them all is whats available with the boiled seafood. Here they have a few sides including the standards of sausage, mushrooms, corn. A side of rice was dry. They supply a bunch of limes and salt to make a sauce with to dip your seafood into but I thought it was just fine with the sauce they tossed the seafood in. In this case we tried the combo that included all three flavors. It was good. But the problem was the crawfish were cooked too long. The crab legs were just fine and certainly hit the spot. I'll be back for them.

Crab Legs

The Boiler Shrimp & Crawfish
3445 Dempster St
Skokie, IL 60076
(847) 779-3150
Website

Monday, June 22, 2015

Eating BIG in Nashville Pt. 2

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- More Southern Eats and Drink in the Music City

Took a ride down to Nashville this past Memorial Day weekend and had a good time. This was my second trip and I will admit that the atmospheres of each trip were very different, the first one being a bachelor party and this most recent one being a trip with the lady. Still the same as far as activities go but aside from a quick stroll down Broadway one afternoon and then a quick drink at a live music venue the next night, we stayed away from the drunken festivities. Nashville is the the bachelorette capitol of the country or at least it seems that way once you get there. There's also tons of construction going on in the building of apartments and hotels. Some people compare it to Austin but other than the live music and fast urban development similarities I never really felt it. I want to go back to Austin but I don't need to go back to Nashville. Unfortunately we didn't get in until Friday afternoon and because Monday was Memorial Day, Arnold's was closed when we pulled up. Major buzzkill yo. I was looking forward to a return visit but it just wasn't meant to be. Check Part One HERE.

What happens in Nashvegas, stays in Nashvegas
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Hattie B's Hot Chicken

First stop was going to have to be the hugely popular Hattie B's. I've heard about it on here and elsewhere and she was told by a work colleague that it was a must and we're both fans of fried chicken so we rolled over upon arrival. Line was out the door but it was a Friday and seeing as how there was only a few people outside we figured this might be the shortest it got that weekend.
Speaking for me and me only, the best hot chicken I've had remains that from Rocky's. Hattie's was a bit of letdown. The wait wasn't worth it and the service came with I don't give a sh!t attitude. By no means was the final product bad but it just didn't have that oomph that places like Rocky's and some other spots I tried this trip did. If this was my first introduction into hot chicken I might be a little bit more enthusiastic about it but I just didn't think it was all that it's been cracked up to be. Definitely social media driven. Good but not great and the sides were the same way. Still, don't stay away, decide for yourself, maybe it was an off day.

Hot Chicken at Hattie B's
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400 Degrees Hot Chicken

Getting right into the question most readers are asking "what was better than Hattie B's" we head over to a random food court that houses a few generic chain restaurants like Quizno's and J. Gumbo's. So looking in from the outside it doesn't seem like there's a damn thing worth your time until you step inside and spy a stand sporting Hot Chicken on it's menu. I heard good things about 400 Degrees and it's owner and neither disappointed. Owner Aqui Hines works most of the magic with the help of another employee in their small space with just two fryers so make sure to order ahead if you're in a hurry. If not you can enjoy the company of Nashville's Hot Chicken Queen.

The Frying Station

As followers of his thread know, when it comes to hot chicken mild is hot and hot is hell. I like heat but I don't want it to hurt anymore than a few seconds afterward nor to takeover the entire flavor profile of a dish. This versions spicing was perfect. The heat may have lasted 10-15 seconds but much like Rocky's I found the flavors to be finger licking good. They do a double spicing technique that includes both the seasoning of the bird before frying and the dipping of it into hot sauce once it comes out of the fryer. The sauce glues itself to the crust and forms magic. The reason I know I liked this one the most was because I wanted it again the next day but unfortunately they're closed on Sunday's.

Hot Chicken (200 Degrees)
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Pepperfire Hot Chicken

This little walk-up shack with a few tables is another locals favorite I wanted to check out. Known for their hot chicken and a signature dish called the 'Royale with Cheese' which is deep fried grilled cheese topped with three hot chicken tenders. I was tempted by the sandwich but a bird with bones will always win out. And win it did. Another excellent option with heavy hits of cumin coming after the heat. I thought it was good enough for second place on this trip.

Hot Chicken at Pepperfire
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Helen's Hot Chicken

Last place finisher of the four was this spot hiding in a strip mall located in a residential area away from the other spots. I guess they have or had a foodstand because I originally went to the address for that location but the lot was empty. The inside of the restaurant would be empty when I stopped in though they were just closing as I was the last customer of the day. The wings were just ok, a little bit greasy and not as crispy as they could have been. They were touting this homemade drink mixing mango juice with sweet tea and it was pretty damn good but must of been filled with sugar.

Hot Chicken and a bottle of Hella Mango from Helen's
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Saint Anejo

We took a walk around an area with lots of buildings going up and came across a stretch where there were quite a few new school bars and restaurants. The outdoor patio and bar at Saint Anejo were packed so we stopped in for a drink which also turned into a bite to eat. I couldn't resist the hot chicken tacos which made for great fusion food. The warm fluffy tortillas were made on site and the crispy hot chicken inside of them was cooked just right. I also enjoyed my Mezcal Old Fashioned and the friendly service of a nice lady from the Quad Cities region.

Hot Chicken Tacos
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Acme Feed & Seed

Good food options on Broadway aren't all that abundant but theres a new place at the end of it called Acme Feed & Seed and they've got some love for bringing the street some food you don't have to be hammered to enjoy. The guy behind it is a well known restauranteur in the area and is making his mark with this spacy three story restaurant with a huge music stage on the first floor and a large deck on top. The hot chicken sandwich was excellent. Butter toasted white bread paired with a crispy and tender hot chicken breast and plenty of pickles. If you have to eat on Broadway street and don't want a fried bologna sandwich I'd head here. It's not life changing but it is comforting.

Hot Chicken Sandwich
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Image Image
Party Fowl - We stopped in here for a drink and I had already put down a couple orders of hot chicken so I just didn't have it in me to try theirs but a snack of boudin balls were good. Drinks sounded just ok but most places were that way so I stuck with beer half the time. I'm becoming a cocktail snob. Haha.
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City House

This relatively new Germantown restaurant provided our best overall experience as far as everything goes. Drinks, food, and the service, were all wonderful. We sat at one of the bars and chatted it up with one of the guys behind it. This was a late nite stop for some cocktails that turned into a pizza eating session as well. The Belly Ham pizza was one of the best wood fired pies I've ate. They even cut it in squares, not that it needed to be. I'd for sure go back here if I ever make it back into town.

Belly Ham Pizza with an Egg added on
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Hermitage Cafe

This diner is an institution that's been feeding Nashville's late night hunger going on 25 years. Its just off Broadway and very popular with the late night crowd as they open for breakfast and lunch on normal diner hours than close and reopen again at 10pm. Foodwise its about what you'd expect. Good greasy stuff to soak up the booze. The burger was fine but the fried bologna sandwich was better.

Cheeseburger and Fried Bologna Sandwich
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Pinewood Social

I liked the looks of this place and really liked what I saw on their site so it was in the books. We stopped in Sunday morning during brunch hours but they have this weird thing where theres a different menu for the outside area. So we just sat at the main bar. The place is located in what seems to be an old warehouse district so the size of the space is huge. They got a coffee shop, a bar, a bowling alley, tons of tables as well as lounge areas and the aforementioned outdoor patios. Both the food and drinks did not disappoint. I really liked the breakfast tacos made with bacon and green chile stew with pork and thought the drinks were good enough to go back to if they were in Chicago, a city loaded with worthy options. The service and overall attitude of the bartenders was also excellent.

 
Breakfast Tacos
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Epice

Taking a quick break from Southern Eats we went to this popular bistro sporting a modern Lebanese menu. Located in a very nice part of the city it's lined up with all sorts of other little bars, restaurants and boutique shops. The lunch menu sported a variety of sandwiches and we tried the 'Samak' which was a fresh grilled fish filet and also the 'Makanik' which was made with spiced ground sirloin sausage mixed with a pomegranate molasses. I'm usually not a big fan of most fruit mixed meat but this was an addictive sandwich. The fish was also pleasant and both came with a side of salad and cilantro roasted potatoes. Good spot.

Samak Sandwich

Makanik Sandwich
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Nashville Farmers Market - I must say the Farmers Market was below average at best, they just switched to growers only but the best thing going was the peaches from the popular Georgia Peach Truck. Maybe it's all downhill when you're a frequent summertime shopper at the Dane County Farmers Market because I've been to the supposedly good ones in farm friendly cities like Austin, Asheville, San Francisco and none have matched Madison.
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I should mention a few things about the drinks, it's one of the main reasons people visit the town. If you want more than a Budweiser in a plastic cup you don't have to look to far. The best Happy Hour as far as beer goes can be found at The Sutler Saloon. It's everyday and drafts are just $2.50 and they have all the good local micro-brewed stuff for you to choose from. They got cocktails too. I liked the beers I was trying around town from Jackalope Brewing enough to visit the brewery for a cold one, it's right next door to Party Fowl. Nice 1-2 punch.

Jackalope Brewing Company

This time around I much preferred the drinks at Patterson House to Holland House, the former being one of the better bars in the country. We also went to the popular cocktail bar called Bar No. 308 and enjoyed it although it was packed and the bartenders were stressed because of it. Embers Ski Lodge was recently opened and it's supposed to be a Northwest style cocktail bar that focuses on Asian eats. We didn't eat but the cocktails on the patio were pretty good but nothing to get extremely excited about. Then again we all have the type of drinks we like so it's best to see for yourself.

Embers Ski Lodge
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Thunderbird

I stopped into Craft Brewed Bottle Shop and Tasting Room to buy some six packs to take home and came across this food truck slanging smoked chicken wings outside. It was a welcome break from the hot chicken. Perfect with an ice cold beer.

Smoked Wings
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Dino's Bar

Dino's touts itself as "Nashville's Oldest Dive Bar" and I can verify the dive bar part. Located next door to Bar No. 308 I was intrigued by the sign and then when I saw the interior and the flattop grill sitting right there I knew where I was eating before we headed back to the hotel. They're loved for their cheap ice cold beer, delicious burgers and also some live music. It's a dump in every sense of the definition but the hipsters made those cool so it's all good in the hood. That said the hipsters know a good burger because this one was every bit as good as any I've had of late. It was simple, but it was fresh beef cooked until just juicy and it hit really the spot right then and there.

Cheeseburger
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Biscuit Love

We wanted to stop into here on Sunday but the line was too long to wait it out. Expect one should you go because we went back Monday before leaving town and there was still a line. However there is a first come first serve policy at the bar and we went on in and waited for all of 1 minute before two seats became available. I'd be doing the guy behind the bar from Alabama a favor by not calling him out. Apparently he thought it was still 1942 or something and while not saying anything directly he made it clear he didn't want us there. Nice as could be to the everyone else sitting there but nothing except one word here or there to us. However the rest of the house was pleasant and he was tipped accordingly. It took quite a bit of restraint to keep my mouth shut.

Bonuts Deep Fried Biscuit Dough filled with Blueberry Compote

The bonuts were good but I wasn't ecstatic over them, then again I'm not a big morning sweets guy. But I thought they'd be both a little hotter and also softer. I got the Biscuits with Country Ham and Sausage Gravy and it was satisfying although I'm not sure I'd say the same if I waited an hour for it.

Biscuits with Country Ham and Sausage Gravy
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Husk

Had to do a dinner at Husk as thats the spot she wanted to try, and I certainly wasn't opposed. Good thing because otherwise I would've missed out on an excellent meal and maybe my two favorite bites of this trip, along with the hot chicken from 400 Degrees anyway. The patio was an option and it was beautiful outside so we rolled with that. The cocktails here were almost as good as the food, as was the service.I;d heard mixed reviews before going in, but we were off to a good start.

Country Ham Sliders

I don't have to say anything about the sliders featuring Cheerwine Glazed Belly Ham, Pickled Onion, Cucumber, Smoked Duke's Mayo, and a House Fried Rind on a Homemade Parker House Roll except that you cant get much more Southern than that. I've never been to Charleston but the shrimp and grits here were so good we had to order another round, fitting since Husk has a location there. The waiter explained the grits are made by some local guy and they're the best in the business. When mixed with mushrooms, a runny egg and whatever other magic they put into this dish it was an item that just might make into my 'best of' list at years end. See ya next time.

Shrimp and Grits
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Hattie B's Hot Chicken
112 19th Ave S
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 678-4794

400 Degrees Hot Chicken
319 Peabody St
Nashville, TN 37210
(615) 244-4467

Pepperfire Hot Chicken
2821 Gallatin Pike
Nashville, TN 37216
(615) 582-4824

Helen's Hot Chicken
1222 Rosa L Parks Blvd
Nashville, TN 37208
(615) 484-7460

Saint Anejo
1120 McGavock St
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 736-5301

Acme Feed & Seed
101 Broadway
Nashville, TN 37201
(615) 915-0888

Party Fowl
719 8th Ave S
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 624-8255

City House
1222 4th Ave N
Nashville, TN 37210
(615) 736-5838

Hermitage Cafe
71 Hermitage Ave
Nashville, TN 37210
(615) 254-8871

Pinewood Social
33 Peabody St
Nashville, TN 37210
(615) 751-8111

Epice
2902 12th Ave S
Nashville, TN 37204
(615) 720-6765

Nashville Farmers Market
900 Rosa L Parks Blvd
Nashville, TN 37208
(615) 880-2001

Jackalope Brewing Company
701 8th Ave S
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 873-4313

Embers Ski Lodge
2410 12th Ave S
Nashville, TN 37204
(615) 866-5652

Thunderbird
2502 Franklin Pike
Nashville, TN 37204
(615) 601-2750

Dino's Bar
411 Gallatin Ave
Nashville, TN 37206
(615) 226-3566

Biscuit Love
316 11th Ave S
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 490-9584

Husk
37 Rutledge St
Nashville, TN 37210
(615) 256-6565

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