Friday, September 19, 2014

Hot Pan Noodles & Dumplings

-Grubbing in Chicago  (land)
Suburban Strip Mall Finds

"Nice call, this is the type of spot that makes all that seeking of the good ones worth it." is what I said to Grubseeker when I reported back on this gem he led me too. The couple behind this mom and spot operation are a wonderful tandem as he works the front of the house and she cooks up a storm right there in the open air kitchen. If you take a seat at one of a few stools at the bar you can see the entire show.

Fabulous Find out in Joliet

When it comes to strip mall dining with the option of both beer and video gaming, it doesn't get any better. Trust me. I've been in and out of countless spots. Folks that have had the good fortune of dining at Katy's in Westmont would be comfortable here as it's somewhat similar although they have a much smaller menu. Handmade noodles and dumplings still being the focus. The gaming station is 21 and up as are the bar but kids are welcome at the tables. I took a seat at the bar and placed an order for some pan fried pork dumplings and an order of dan dan noodles. She made a mental note and went to work.

View at the bar

Pork Dumplings

Order up after about 15 minutes of watching these beauties up above being made. I've long been a big fan of pot stickers and these were made to my exact specifications when it comes to describing good ones. Well browned with a thin wrapping and almost crispy exterior with exploding bursts of flavors inside. Then there's the noodles.

Dan Dan Noodles

I wont pretend to know a whole lot about the dish. I've had it at places recommended on LTH ala Katy's. I thought this was as good if not better but I haven't had the dan dan from Katy's in a while. Was it an authentic bowl? I dont know what constitutes that but the handmade noodles were on point as were the perfectly cut pieces of meat inside. The broth was extra oily in a good way and full of spice. There weren't many bites where some of the grease didn't drip off a noodle and end up on my chin but that was ok as this was a hearty bowl of soup. Good enough to have people in Chinatown getting on a bus to go eat and play games? I don't know but if I was ever in the area passing thru or in extended stay down there I'd be running here upon my release. Keep it in mind for trips down I-55. 

Damn Damn Good Noodles

Hot Pan Noodles & Dumplings
2302 Essington Rd
Joliet, IL 60435
(815) 254-6088

Hot Pan Noodles & Dumplings on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Taco Nano

- On the Road w/ The Chicago Taco Tour

Taco Nano out in the Northern Suburbs would probably be more well known if they were in the city. That said all those who live or work out that way know about the place so it seems to be doing just fine. Everyone loves tacos in today's age. I went here a while back after first hearing about it over on Facebook when the hungry hound posted some nonsense on there. I was intrigued enough to take the drive from the city one gloomy weekend afternoon.

 Popular Taco Stop in Northfield

It's a casual sitdown spot that has a liquor license so you can drink margaritas or beer with your food if you choose. I went thru each taco option that intrigued me enough to try and came away with mixed reactions. The guacamole was pretty damn good and well balanced as far as spice. However the chips were hardly freshly fried. I didn't see much to make me think they weren't from a bag.

Inside

Similar problems with the tacos as far as overall balance. I tried the grilled skirt steak, al pastor, blackened tilapia, fried shrimp, duck confit and grilled chicken offerings. Winner was easily the crispy camarones. Those were worthy of the $4 pricetag (some are $3, some $4). Perfectly crisp and lightly battered, the fresh flavor of the shrimp weren't lost amongst too many toppings.

Fried Shrimp Taco

Tacos are served on homemade tortillas but my biggest gripe of the visit was the fact they were served semi cold and obviously made ahead of time and stored in a container somewhere. I also had to ask for salsa, not a big deal but it was needed on the al pastor which came from a spit but was a bit dry, that said it had potential to be one of the best in Chicagoland. I love the fried jalapeno on top.

Taco al Pastor

Similar problems with the grilled skirt steak ($4) which was also served lukewarm yet had the doings to be really good with the nice slices of avocado they include. The grilled chicken was literally a chunk. But it was grilled to remain juicy and came with a poblano rojas and grilled onions. Pretty good actually. The grilled fish was somewhat bland  though I will say they prepped it perfectly. I didn't much care for the duck confit ($4) which may have been due to the fact I just didn't like the flavor profile of it, others may. You'll have to decide for yourself.

Carne Asada Taco

Chicken Poblano Taco

 Blackened Tilapia Taco

Duck Confit Taco

For better or worse I'll always love cafeteria style tacos, hell I still make them, albeit with much better ingredients. The Old El Paso was the last taco I tried and indeed it was one I quite enjoyed. This is their rendition of the gringo style tacos many considered the norm a couple decades back. You know the drill. Seasoned ground beef with lettuce, tomato, sour cream and cheese on a flour tortilla. I can make these just as good if not better but for $3 these are a good way to scratch the itch for them if you still get it like I do now and then. All in all I'll be back when in the area. My spot of residence isn't that close but if it were I'd stop in now and again. It's a nice addition to this neck of the woods.

The Old El Paso

Taco Nano
1743 Orchard Ln
Northfield, IL 60093
(847) 386-7159
Website

Taco Nano! on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 15, 2014

Crazy Bird

-Grubbing in Chicago  
New to the 'Scene'

I'd gotten recent word over at LTHforum that an old favorite of the board was back at it. Larry Tucker who owned previous BBQ spots in Chicago before disappearing for a while recently got back into the food game. He's jumping into the fried chicken craze with his newest venture located South on California on the city's West Side.

The newly opened Crazy Bird

I stopped in here for lunch this past weekend and was greeted by Larry and his lovely wife who helps run the show. While the inside is pretty minimum they've given it a little bit of life with a nice yellow paint job and a table with a few stools to sit down and eat in front looking out the windows. Despite the bullet-proof glass both husband and wife popped out from behind to have a chat and then hand me my food. Before my chicken was ready Larry asked me to try what's going to be his newest menu item. The Crazy Bird fries are fresh cut spuds that get topped with a white cheddar and chicken gravy as well as bits of real bacon, green onions and truffle oil. House BBQ sauce comes on the side. This is truly an excellent order of fries.

a peak inside + Crazy Bird Fries

As you may have peeped in the picture of the outside they have a unique to Chicago aquarium style smoker and on the weekends they're serving rib tips and jerk chicken. As mentioned the star of the show is the fried chicken which get this, wont set you back an hours worth of wages like so many of the recent trendier spots to open shop. How is it? Pretty good. The pieces are smaller but I actually prefer this, I hate bigger than norm pieces that get too rubbery upon cooking. Its fried to order and comes out with a crisp coating that sticks to the meat upon first bite. Overall this was a nice style of fried. The sides are all homemade in small batches and I could taste that in the sweet potatoes and also the white rice with white gravy which is the same stuff used on the fries. Since I visited on a weekend day I got to try a combo with 1/4 chicken and an 8 oz rib tips that came with bread and fresh cut fries ($8.95). The tips were pretty darn good though some pieces much better than others. It takes a little bit of time to get used to a new rig so I don't have a problem with that happening. Overall I was impressed. Nice to see Larry back at it.

Combo Chicken and Rib Tips

Crazy Bird
1138 S. California
Chicago, IL 60613
(773) 801-0451

Monday, September 8, 2014

Eating BIG in Asheville

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
 
- The South's Hip Food and Brew Capitol 

I'd been hearing good things about the food and drink scene in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina to the point it made me want to check it out soon. That opportunity came when we had a five day time-frame to take a trip. Asheville ended up being our last second decision and we were on the road early afternoon as it would be a 10 hour drive from Chicago. An overnight stay in Lexington Kentucky got us to just about the halfway point so we'd end up rolling into town early Thursday afternoon.
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Downtown Asheville

First thing we did was take a ride into the downtown area for a chance to stroll around and see what was going on. It's a very vibrant community with all sorts of people. Art plays a big part in it as does both food and beer. As mentioned Asheville is a trendy spot for both these days so we did our best to get as big of a glimpse into them as we could. The downtown area isn't big but there's plenty of eating options, many of them with real international flair, and also a few micro breweries amongst them.

Some sights from downtown
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Limones Restaurant 

California-Mexican Cuisine

I admit I was a little skeptical when I first saw the menu for this place. Though the blood orange margaritas pictured on the website most definitely caught my eye and we were figuring out where we wanted to eat when we walked right by just as they were opening. We decided to stop in for a refreshment and a snack as it was getting hot and we were hungry. While the prices aren't cheap, the lobster nachos that locals praised were actually a steal in my eyes. I was expecting there too be a few pieces of lobster meat or even some sort of sauce made with the shell which there was, but there were also quite a few chunks. Lobster Nachos sound so 90's but this version will always be good no matter what decade it is. The drinks were winners too.

Lobster Nachos
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Tupelo Honey Cafe

One of the more popular places in town is this Southern inspired "freestyle" food stop. They have eight locations in North Carolina and Tennessee though this downtown Asheville one didn't feel like a chain. There was pretty much always a wait as they have brunch, lunch and entree portions to the menu as well as local beers and house cocktails. We ate quite a few rounds of both biscuits and grits on this trip and both were said to be really good here. The homemade biscuit with blueberry jam was about as good as gratis gets but unfortunately the grits were the low-point of the rounds we tried. More than a few clumpy spots didn't allow us to enjoy what could have been a great dish as the combination of goat cheese grits with shrimp and a red pepper sauce was very promising, the flavor profile was there but the grits were not.

Excellent Biscuit w/ Blueberry Jam + House Shrimp and Grits
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Chai Pani

I found this place recommended in a local publications food coverage and the sound of an India driven bar with snacks and cocktails inspired me to stop in. Good idea as I drank the best cocktail of the trip sitting at the bar while enjoying the most addictive prepared okra recipe I have come across. All they did was split the okra down the middle and season them with Indian spices before a quick trip to the deep fryer. Bar food perfection. I don't remember the name of the drink I got but they use quite a few spirits from India as well as common flavors from there when making them. The result was a very refreshing cocktail with flavors that were new to me.

Fried Okra for the Gods
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Curate 

Spanish Tapas Downtown

It's always hard picking a favorite meal of any trip where were eating BIG but no doubt next time life takes me thru Asheville I'll be back here upon my return. I'll be honest, I've never had great Spanish food in the States. It's never been something I sought out but after an amazing two week stay there this past May I've been jonesing for more. I'd read how the husband and wife team that run this place met in Barcelona while she was working the kitchen of El Bulli and it immediately was placed in my mental "must visit" list. The menu resembles that of an authentic Barcelona eatery and while visiting Barcelona I had an amazing lamb skewer that I'd wanted more of ever since I ate it. The skewer at Curate sounded similar so I started with that.

Lamb Skewers with Moorish Spices and Homemade Pickles

Fantastic. Pretty much as good as I remember the one at Lolita Taperia to be. The winner for me and maybe my favorite bite of the entire trip was this Iberico pork steak which I think might of been the tenderloin but whatever it was it wasn't bland. So much flavor coming from the perfectly cooked meat I had to contain myself from ordering another round.

Grilled 100% Iberico Pork "Skirt Steak" with Rosemary and thyme

Pork Sausage with Fried White Beans and Aioli
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Wicked Weed Brewing

I stopped into a few breweries in the downtown area and this one ended up being my favorite for both beer and atmosphere. They have a huge patio as well as a really nice interior and were pouring some super solid brews. I noticed a trend in cucumber beers going on down there and Wicked Weeds version really hit the spot on a hot humid day.

Part of Asheville's Thriving Beer Scene
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Manute Bol Mural in the River Arts District
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White Duck Taco Shop

As you may know I've been on a quite a taco binge since getting my latest blog launched. Tacos are the passion of many right now and they don't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. I like to check out the spots best tacos wherever I'm visiting and White Duck Taco Shop in the Arts District was said to be that. Lots of mentions for their Bangkok Shrimp taco which was fried shrimp with some Asian spiced glaze and curried cucumbers on top. I wasn't really feeling this. The shrimp were better solo so I ate them and left the rest. Some places try too hard coming with crazy taco concoctions when they should just be focused on doing the ones that work the right way.

Bangkok Shrimp Taco
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12 Bones Smokehouse

Media Renowned BBQ Spot in the Arts District 

I like to browse best of lists when they're released but do so purely for entertainment sake. Nine times out of ten the author hasn't been to 9 out of 10 of them. They're made based off online reviews, social media presence, popularity as opposed to an actual taste trial of them all. But I digress. 12 bones is a nationally renowned smokehouse that has a line at almost all times. It's been put on many of these best of lists so I was somewhat weary going in but excited at the same time since I can get my own idea of a place being worth the stop or not. In short 12 Bones most certainly was however I wouldn't rank it amongst the best I've been to. Everything was above average and their famous Fried Green Tomato BLT was one of the best sandwiches I'll eat all year but once you've traveled thru Texas it's hard to top some of those spots.

Fried Green Tomato BLT with Candied Bacon

I don't want to make this review sound like this place was anything short of fantastic I just feel the need to point out how high the bar is set for our one of country's most seeked out national cuisines. The sides with the sandwich were both very good. I liked the collard greens and loved the grits which were the best we ate on this trip that included tasting them from a handful of spots. I loved the fact they offered "little tastes" of each meat at a very reasonable price allowing me the chance to sample some of their above average pulled pork. We got there soon after they opened so there were only 10-15 people ahead of us, the pulled pork seemed to be freshly pulled. They're doing 100% wood smoked meats and you can taste it in the pork.

Taste of Pulled Pork 

The baby back ribs are what many believe to be 12 Bones strong point and I had my eyes on them from the get-go. I'm a fan of both spares and baby backs and believe there's a time and a place for both. 12 Bones gives you the option for how you want your ribs with a daily changing selection of how they're made. I'm a simplicity person with my ribs so instead of the fruit glazed options or the sauce driven ones I chose to go with six bones of the brown sugar rubbed ribs. They were a little past done but I still ate every bite. I'd be happy to have 12 Bones as an eating option.

6 bones of Brown Sugar Rubbed Baby Backs

Nice pink coloring in the meat from the smoke
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Happy Jacks Biscuits-n-Gravy

I found this spot while trying to find a Walgreens one day and it seems to be somewhat of a hidden gem, it could also be new as there wasn't much about them online but the biscuits and gravy I took to go from here were the truth. Large fluffy biscuits paired with a 22 oz plastic cups worth if real real sausage gravy with the perfect consistency you can only find south of the Mason Dixon line. One of the better breakfasts I can remember having for under five bucks.

Biscuit and Gravy
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Black Mountain, North Carolina

I sometimes like to check out the towns around wherever I'm visiting and did so on this trip. Original reason for visiting Black Mountain which is only about a 10 minute ride from Asheville was due to it being the home of the Pisgah Brewery. The guys there brew one of the best pale ales in the game and I was drinking it on the cheap all trip. Aside from the brewery the town also has a large collection of independently owned business and restaurants which makes for a nice stroll thru on a nice day.

 Home to one of America's best Microbrewery's 
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Blue Ridge Parkway

One of the more appealing activities of Asheville to me was the Blue Ridge Parkway. This 469 mile scenic drive takes you thru the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. We wouldn't be doing the entire thing but I did a little bit of research and found a restaurant doing farm to table food in the small town of Spruce Point. While it's only a 30 minute drive should you take the regular highway, taking the Parkway there takes about two hours. These are some windy roads which in many cases you need to travel slow along as fog and visibility can sometimes become a problem. We hopped onto the trail in Asheville and rode North to Spruce Pine. One of the most scenic rides in the states we saw a black bear and and uncountable number of spectacular views. Hopefully some of these pics will justify taking the ride. You can make it as short or long as you want.

Riding the Blue Ridge Parkway
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Spruce Pine, North Carolina

Cool little town with some antique shops and the aforementioned restaurant we would be visiting for an early dinner. The people behind it have also opened a cocktail bar just up the hill called Spoon. We stopped into there for a drink before walking down to the restaurant to eat.

Some sights from town
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Knife and Fork 

Farm to table dining in the mountainside

I read about this place online in a article about where to eat when driving along the Parkway. It piqued my interest so we called up to see if they could seat us. Earlier the better is what we were told as they fill up every night on the weekends when its nice out. They were indeed full halfway thru our meal. The starters of slow cooked greasy beans with pork and also sauteed mushrooms and green onions with San Tumas on toast were exceptional. The beans maybe the best version of them I've ever indulged in. I love slow cooked green beans.

Starters at Knife and Fork

Entree was easy choice for me as I had to have some trout while in-state. They were preparing theirs grilled with roasted peppers, tomatoes, leeks, basil and fumet. Pretty simple and thats all that was needed. Fresh grown produce paired with the locally raised trout was what farm to table is all about.

Grilled North Carolina Trout
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WNC Farmers Market

On the outskirts of town is the Western North Carolina Farmers Market which is open seven days a week year-round. There's some enclosed buildings where many of the vendors setup then there's some stalls outside where many of the peach and melon vendors setup shop. It was hard to gauge what type of product was being sold. Figuring out whether or not the product was grown by the sellers or purchased by them from others wasn't easy. I actually found the jarred and canned goods for sale to be more appealing and left with a big jar of Tennessee chow-chow relish as well as a couple fruit ciders and some stone ground grits.

Walking Around

I spied this lady selling hot dogs as I walked back to the car and with my luck they were indeed North Carolina Slaw Dogs. In these parts they put chili, cole-slaw, mustard and onions on their wieners and I had wanted to try one from a place like this. Not as bad as it may sound I've already had West Virginia Slaw Dog from a place that will make them here in Chicago and enjoyed those so I was expecting the same from these. Nice snack to start the day. I'm on vacation ok.

North Carolina Slaw Dog
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Biscuit Head

Popular breakfast and Lunch stop in West Asheville

Part of the Menu and Biscuit Spreads 

Lots of biscuit options around town and I'd read up on this being one of the more popular spots to consume them. They're doing biscuit sandwiches of all sorts here. Toppings range from common breakfast offerings like bacon and country ham to both fried green tomatoes and chicken breast. As the name suggests they're not small and in some cases can feed two. We tried the ham with a fried green tomato, cheese eggs and a side of red eye gravy. You need to use both hands to eat these massive things which are heavier than most biscuits which is necessary in holding it all together. The side of red eye gravy was mouth watering good. The free jams they make for you to spread on your sandwiches made so much of an impression I took a bottled peach ginger jam as well as a banana buffalo sauce home with me. The place was packed for a reason I guess.

Country Ham Biscuit
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King Daddy's Chicken & Waffles 

On our first night in town we were scrambling to find a spot open past 10p until I took a look at my list and saw that this semi new spot specializing in a popular dish was still open. King Daddy's is from the people behind the popular Asheville restaurant Early Girl eatery, we didn't get a chance to go there but were happy we stopped here. They offer a few styles of both the fried chicken and the waffle as well as cocktails, sides and other soul food favorites. The rice with lamb gravy really hit the spot. We went with the cast iron skillet fried chicken option on top of a waffle cooked with pork cracklins in the batter. Fanflippingtastic.

Pan Fried Chicken & Waffles
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Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack

Surprise find here. Not the restaurant itself which I had wanted to check out but the idea that went into my head that the fried chicken they're making here might be the best I've ever had. I like to check out all the old school well known spots as well as the old school not so known places and the best do tend to come from them. So I wasn't expecting this not so old Nashville Style Hot Chicken stop in NC to be so sensational but the fact we returned for a second visit tells me it was. Granted we only ate wings but they were expertly fried with the perfect amount of spicy rub applied. Sides were above average too though I thought the mac and cheese was too cheesy but enjoyed the green beans and pimento cheese grits. Banana bread pudding was love. They stay true to the Nashville Hot Chicken style of hot meaning HOT. So eater beware. Don't order them extra hot unless you want to burn bad the next morning. The Mildium spice was just right.

Wings and Brew in West Asheville
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The Admiral

I held off eating here as I wasn't that hungry when we stopped in but we did enjoy the ambiance of the small space inside paired with a couple really well balanced cocktails. The food was making me regret I didn't want to eat so I hope to get in there next time I stop thru which I plan to do. Cool town.

Acclaimed Dining in West Asheville
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Limones Restaurant
13 Eagle St
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 252-2327

Tupelo Honey Cafe
12 College St
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 255-4863

Chai Pani
22 Battery Park Ave
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 254-4003

Curate 
11 Biltmore Ave
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 239-2946

Wicked Weed Brewing
91 Biltmore Ave
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 575-9599

White Duck Taco Shop
1 Roberts St #101
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 258-1660

12 Bones Smokehouse
5 Riverside Dr
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 253-4499

Happy Jacks Biscuits-n-Gravy
84 Mineral Springs Road
Asheville, NC 28805

Knife & Fork
61 Locust St
Spruce Pine, NC 28777
(828) 765-1511

WNC Farmers Market
570 Brevard Rd
Asheville, NC 28806
(828) 253-1691

Biscuit Head
733 Haywood Rd
Asheville, NC 28806
(828) 333-5145

King Daddy’s Chicken & Waffles
444 Haywood Rd
Asheville, NC 28806
(828) 785-1690

Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack
1455 Patton Ave
Asheville, NC 28806
(828) 575-2260

The Admiral
400 Haywood Rd
Asheville, NC 28806
(828) 252-2541

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