Monday, May 22, 2017

Wisconsin Bar Food

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
-Bar Food in Wisco

It's been a little while since I put up a compilation on Wisconsin. The Cheese & Dairy State has had many of it's favorite places featured here on the site. Today we showcase five more. The Theme? Bar Food. Bars are synonymous with the state and the food served inside of them is good more times than not. But why? My guess would be a few things starting with competition. There's literally a bar at every corner turned in Wisconsin. Residents have lots of choices so you better lure them in with something other than booze seeing as all of them have that. My other guess would be people in the state know how to eat well and that transfers over to their local watering holes. Lets roll.
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Cozy Inn

Oak Creek, WI

Half way between Racine and Milwaukee is this cute little watering hole. Like the rest of the sp;ots featured in this post it's a prototypical Wisconsin tavern. We visited a few years back for on the day of a Packers playoff game. This meant they were doing their typical Sunday spread. Free with drinks.

Wisconsin Style Buffet 

They had stuff such as baked ribs, beer cheese soup, and a SE Wisconsin Sunday tradition of hot ham and rolls. For whatever reason Sunday's in Wisconsin are reserved for hot ham and rolls which can be found all over from the bars to the delis. The idea is you take home a bag of rolls and a pound or two of chopped ham to stuff the rolls with. Cozy Inn is the first bar I've seen hot ham and rolls. Theirs were quite delicious and even better when paired with a High Life and a Packers playoff loss.

Hot Ham and Rolls at Cozy Inn
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Hiawatha Bar & Grill

Sturtevant, WI

Also located in SE Wisconsin is this biker favorite. It's a pretty big space inside so they like to stop by when rolling deep and maybe indulge in a cold beer and or a burger. We would do just that some time last year (minus the bikes). I was pleasantly surprised by how good the patty melt here was. Maybe the best made version I've ever ate in a restaurant. I probably shouldn't have been that surprised as the three things that make a great Patty Melt 1) Fresh Ground Beef - 2) Fresh Baked Rye -3) Well Melted Cheese can all be easily secured in the State. Those that regularly read the site know how big the burger culture is in WI so again I shouldn't have been surprised how good it was.

Patty Melt
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Tippy Canoe Bar & Grill

Ocasca, WI

Trump might not like it but Taco Night is becoming as synonymous with Wisconsin taverns as the Fish Fry already is. I'd guess to say that one out of every three bars in state now does some form of taco night. None of them more popular than this tavern outside of Green Bay. Located in a tiny unincorporated community the population drastically increases on Tuesdays when deep fried tacos are served. One of the owners grew up in a Mexican restaurant in Nebraska and learned to make the tacos from her mom. When those dots are connected you start to realize Nebraska has it's own style of tacos and somehow they ended up here in Wisconsin. What makes them this style is the deep fried shell that's double in size of a normal tortilla. They're filled with ground beef or chicken and while most people can only eat one there's some big boys in Wisconsin that can eat up to five. Be prepared to wait if the weather is nice as they go thru close to 500 each Tuesday. I liked them.

Deep Fried Taco from Tippy Canoe
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Cabbage Heads Tavern 

Franksville, WI

You know what else Wisconsin does really well? The Reuben Sandwich. I've visited countless bars that were making corned beef in-house and serving it on locally baked rye bread for a more than reasonable price. Cabbage Heads Tavern in Racine County is one of those spots. We stopped in for a bite to eat and the Reuben came rec'd. I could taste why. It might not have been stacked but it was made with really tender not too thinly sliced corned beef and again the rye bread from a local baker was on point. Cabbage Heads takes it a step further with their fantastic house-made chips. 

Reuben Sandwich at Cabbage Heads Tavern
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Chissy's Pub & Grill

Waldo, WI

Where's Waldo? Up by Sheboygan. When I saw a place claiming world famous old fashioneds I had no choice buy to try one. The Old Fashioned is Wisconsin's favorite beverage that's not beer. Here they make them with brandy. In fact I read somewhere that Sconnies drink more brandy than the other 49 states combined. Chissy's is a locals favorite for one and they were pretty dang good. I cant drink more than two of these as they're so sweet my stomach starts to hurt after one. But when in Wisconsin. That's it for this round-up but plenty more from here to come. See ya next time.

Brandy Old Fashioned at Chissy's Pub
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Cozy Inn
9509 S Chicago Rd
Oak Creek, WI 53154
(414) 762-9933

Hiawatha Bar and Grill
9809 Durand Ave
Sturtevant, WI 53177
(262) 886-4855

Cabbage Heads Tavern
3311 Co Hwy H
Franksville, WI 53126

Tippy Canoe Bar & Grill
Country Road C
Casco, WI 54205

Chissy's Pub and Grill
501 N Mill St
Waldo, WI 53093
(920) 528-8656

Friday, May 19, 2017

Curious 'A Chefs Playgound'

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

I've yet to hear much chitter chatter about a former Tru Chefs newest venture. So allow me to start some. Curious 'A Chefs Playground' is Chef Laurel Khan's new restaurant in Ukrainian Village. Chef Khan worked with Rick Tramonto at Tru before going off to Washington. She's since returned to open Curious which sits on Chicago avenue just West of Damen. We recently enjoyed a relaxing meal here. 

Newly Opened in Ukrainian Village

The menu features a rotating collection of chef favorites. Rather than being limited to one country or one cuisine you may see something with Italian roots one night and then taste something with Indian spices your next visit in. This doesn't mean a never ending menu of unlimited options but rather an ever changing menu that sometimes isn't complete until the morning of service. The chef cooks dishes that comfort her and the hope is they will do the same for the customer. This customer (me) was very happy with what we ate on our visit. Which was basically everything as the entire family was dining in as we celebrated Mothers Day. First up was a house baked bread with giardiniera baked in. Served with a well whipped butter this was an addictive piece of bread. In fact the next day I toyed with idea of walking in and ordering some for carry out to eat alongside some pasta I made.

 Giardiniera Bread and Fresh Made Butter 

Continuing along with the appetizers we also got a couple plates of fried green tomatoes. These had a light breading that stuck really well but I slightly prefer the cornmeal crusted variety. Still for city slicker standards these were better than most North of the Mason Dixon. Crisp and nowhere close to mushy they came with a bit of red pepper sauce on the side and that tasted great spread on the tomato.

Fried Green Tomatoes

A big bowl of clams with chunks of fish swimming in a tomato based sauce was another winner from the kitchen. The sauce was very well balanced and all of the seafood in the bowl was cooked to perfection. We ordered another round of bread and used it to mop up the addictive sauce.

Seafood in Tomato Stew

Onto the entrees where a few different plates were on offer that evening. Fresh Scallops with a really fresh mango sauce was ordered by a few people at the table. Admittedly scallops aren't something I care to order in a restaurant. Especially when there's much more interesting stuff on offer. Nonetheless the trend of well cooked seafood continued with this dish that came served with a curried rice and roasted cauliflower dish. I thought both of them were really well made.

Scallops with Mango Glaze 

Parmesan dusted whitefish was fried in a pan and had me thinking of taking a trip up to Minnesota this summer. It came served with a dill tartar sauce that was much better than the typical stuff.

Parmesan Dusted Whitefish 

Chicken Ravioli with Pesto Ricotta Cheese, Thyme Cream Sauce, and Veggies tasted just like that but ate like Biscuits and Gravy. I say this because the dish was served deconstructed so to say. So it wasn't ravioli but rather a big bowl of noodles with charred zucchini and strips of tender chicken swimming in a decadent bath of cream. Thinking back there were no misses on the night.

Deconstructed Chicken Ravioli in Cream Sauce

While everything we ate up until now was good I thought I ended up ordering one of the better things I've ate of late. I decided to try the Brazilian Shepherds Pie made with minced steak and chorizo that came with a cornbread crusted top. Loved the idea of corn bread being the crust and the meat mixture was really comforting which is pretty much the first word that comes to mind when thinking about this meal. Most entree plates are around $18-$21 and with it being BYOB (for now) this makes for a pretty affordable place to go for a nice dinner out. Check it out should you get the chance.

Brazilian Shepard's Pie

Curious ' A Chefs Playground'
2020 W. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 360-7534

Monday, May 15, 2017

Go-Go's

-Grubbing in Chicago
Local Eats

With Joe Boston's calling it quits it's time to introduce Go-Go's. Located just a stones throw from Joe Boston's it sits in a space that was empty for a few years before Go-Go's took over. They spruced the property up and now it feels like it's been in the neighborhood for a while. Go-Go's is a prototypical Chicago style fast food stand which means stuff like burgers, hot dogs, gyros, etc are served here.

Newly Opened in Humboldt Park 

The menu has all the classics and then a few things you won't find everywhere. There's a little section titled panini's and it includes an Italian pressed sandwich as well as a Cuban amonsgt others. Being a big of the Cuban sandwich I wanted to check theirs out. Upon unwrapping my order I felt like I found an unknown. This was a stellar Cuban, for outside of Florida standards. Aside from the fact they make their own roasted pork in-house they also seem to know the importance of balance in a Cubano. Unlike many other options found around town this didn't have an insane amount of ham and thus it didn't taste like a straight ham sandwich, it tasted like a well made Cuban. You can see the fries in the pic below and those are a thinner cut fresh fried variety using olive oil to cook them in.

Cuban Panini 

Another not often seen menu item is the Pizza Burger. You see these alot up in the Kenosha/Racine area but rarely do you find them in the city. I admit I'm not big on these but for whatever reason I developed a taste for one after seeing it on the menu. For those who have never come across a pizza burger it's just a hamburger with marinara and some melted mozzarella. Honestly I always feel like pizza burgers are missing something and usually that's a slice of pepperoni or some giardinera but this was still tasty in that meatball sandwich sort of way. Fries are included with all orders.

Pizza Burger 

Then there's the beef. I was quite surprised to see they make their own version. This is a rarity these days. Too many companies have made it easy to buy beef in a bag and simply drop it and a gravy packet into a bowl. My thoughts on that? Hell no. I'm not ordering an Italian Beef unless I see it's homemade. So how does this compare to say Joe Boston's and others? Favorably. Not going to say it's better but as the score suggests it's an above average Italian Beef that's worth ordering if you're near and have the taste for a beef with hot. It's best quality is the sheer size of the thing. You get alot of food with your order. It's a mild tasting gravy with the hot peppers being crunchy. Good for Go-Go's.

Beef with Hot 

Rating Scale 5/5

beef: 4
bread: 4
gravy: 4
hot peppers: 4


Score: 16/20

Go-Go's
2858 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 661-1313

Friday, May 12, 2017

El Taco Azteca

- On the Road with The Chicago Taco Tour

I haven't the slightest idea what took me so long in between visits to El Taco Azteca. Usually when I try a place and love it I get back soon thereafter for more. But for whatever reason it took me a good three months or so in between visits to Pilsen's newest taco focused shop. It comes to us from a cook who came up at Antique Taco before deciding to open his own place. I had wondered before when chef driven tacos would finally hit Pilsen and was very intrigued when I learned of El Taco Azteca opening. Would the longtime locals support a place like this? Only time would tell.

Newly Opened Taco Stop in Pilsen

I'm happy report that as of last night they seem to be doing alright. I stopped in around 7pm and there were four tables of couples dining and a few others dining solo. It's positive news as this is a part of Pilsen that hasn't seen many new school places open up. I was told most of the people in the area eat at home during the weekday and do stuff like pizza when eating out. The owner being Mexican has to be a positive as this isn't some white guy from Massachusetts trying to push tacos on people with roots in Mexico. But more important than any of that if the fact the food is really good. You can tell there's care involved with each dish ate and that's nothing you want to push out. 

Chips and Guacamole at El Taco Azteca

You need look no further for the care than with the complimentary chips and salsa. El Taco Azteca supplies you with fresh tortilla chips mixed in with both plantain and yucca chips. You can enjoy these with the complimentary side of smokey red salsa or for just $3 you can choose from a trio of fresh made guacamole. The Ranchero version seen above is made with pork skin, Panela cheese and smoked guajillo chile salsa. It has to be one of the city's best bites in the $3.00 category. Another great way to start is with the cochinita pibil flautas ($6). I thought these were near perfect and some of the best flautas I've ever tried. The fact they were freshly fried was evident in the wonderful crunch while the pibil pork makes for a much more exciting filling than standard shredded chicken.

Cochinita Pibil Flautas at El Taco Azteca 

As the name of the place suggests tacos are what they specialize in here. I've read that the tortas are also good and if the salads are similar in prep to those at Antique Taco I don't doubt they're also great. But the tacos are what you're here for. You'll notice a familiarity to Antique Taco with some of them such as the fish. Why not stay close to form when those offered at Antique are some of the best fish tacos in the city? We can now add El Taco Azteca to the list of best fish tacos in Chicago. But they make their own identity too. The Taco Arabe is made in the style of those from the Puebla region in Mexico where Arab's settled. Well marinated strips of tender pork are placed in a house made flour tortilla. It's another contender for best taco in Pilsen and judging by the consistency here I'm guessing that can be said for every taco on offer at El Taco Azteca. Welcome to my rotation.

Fish Taco (L) Taco Arabe (R) at El Taco Azteca

El Taco Azteca
2151 W Cermak Rd
Chicago, IL 60608
(773) 247-1103

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Chopo Chicken

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

I admit that going into Lincoln Park's newest fast casual concept I was weary. While I was happy to see a new Peruvian option in town I was reluctant to give it much credence. It looked and felt like every other fast casual restaurant to open over the last couple years. Nonetheless it's nice to see Peruvian make it's way into the yuppie's palate as it hasn't quite caught on in Chicago the way it has other cities. Don't get me wrong there's been Peruvian spots opening semi regularly but none like this dedicated to chicken. Peruvian Polleria's are big in spots like Montreal and DC but not so much here.

Newly Opened in Lincoln Park 

Upon entry you're greeted by the now standard neon lettering using a hashtag followed by some random saying. Not exactly original and neither is the ordering process. You choose your bird (1/4 dark or white) or your bowl which comes with steak or chicken or veggies etc. I opted for the 1/4 bird which comes with your choice of rice (white, brown, green) and beans (black, white) as well as your choice of salad and also a dipping sauce (hot, medium, mild). I thought the $12 pricetag was a bit hefty but it's a decent amount of food. The fact they roast the birds over real charcoal was all I needed to see to give this place my full fledged attention. You could taste the charcoal flavor in the meat and the green dipping sauce was fragrant and perfectly spicy. Much better than I anticipated. I'd go back.

Peruvian Chicken Plate at Chopo Chicken 

Chopo Chicken
2460 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 666-5925
Website 

Monday, May 8, 2017

DMen Tap

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

Let's face it, Chicago's food truck scene is weak. This is thanks to some absolutely stupid people that somehow got themselves elected to office. Our political system in Chicago is crap so it's no surprise that they're handling of food trucks is the same. You have to overcome alot of odds just to be a successful food truck, let alone a food truck turned brick and mortar. But that's just what the folks behind DMen Tap did. Ask them and they might say they we're forced to open a B&M for the simple fact that it's near impossible to run a food truck in this town. Either way we all win with this one.

Newly Opened in Avondale 

Sitting on what's a rather desolate stretch of Belmont just off Elston is the location of Avondale's newest bar. It's not far from Kuma's so it's no surprise to see the bar has the same style as far as food and beer. The difference being DMen Tap doesn't do burgers. They do European style Middle Eastern food specifically Doner Kebab. I'd featured the truck before and my only problem with it is the fact lines caused the product to be rushed. The food wasn't as good as it could be due to rushing.

Beer (top) and Food (bottom) Menu

Now that DMen Tap is the hub for the DMen food it's a much better match. The food is served separately at a window in the back of the bar. A quick glance inside the kitchen reveals a big spit of chicken shawarma spinning away while getting the necessary time to crisp up perfectly. The menu remains pretty much the same with that chicken available in a bowl over fries and or in a wrap which is made one of two ways. I opted for the flatbread pita and found the sandwich to be fantastic. Whatever it was missing when served off a truck was no longer hiding as this was full of flavor. Well charred pieces of chicken are topped with fresh tomatoes (in winter!) as well as sliced red onions, lettuce and a very tangy sauce using harissa as it's base. This is an excellent sandwich aside a beer.

Chicken Doner Flatbread Sandwich

As good as the chicken sandwich was it's taken a backseat to my new favorite sausage dish in town. I recently tried the Currywurst on offer here for the first time and fell in love with it as a dish. Currywurst is to Germany as the Chicago dog is to Chicago. You can find this snack just about anywhere in Germany's big cities ala Berlin. Its usually made with a veal and pork blend and is always sliced into pieces that can be easily ate. It's then layered on a bed of fries and sprinkled with curry powder. A tomato based dipping sauce comes served on the side. I have no other Currywurst to compare this to but it's immediately shot into my regular dining rotation. Might go get some tonight.

German Style Currywurst

DMen Tap
2849 W Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 961-8757
Website

Monday, May 1, 2017

Gringo Tacos in Illinois

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
-(Mostly) Crispy Fried Tacos in Illinois

With Cinco de Mayo approaching today's post seems perfectly placed. When it comes to guilty pleasures of the food variety there's one for me that is not only a guilty pleasure but also a passion. I'm talking about Gringo style tacos. When it comes to the gringo style taco there's really only one thing that makes a taco that. The fact it's enjoyed by a mostly gringo fanbase. Gringo Tacos can be the standard ground beef spiced with McCormick Taco Mix and topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, sour cream, cheese or they can be real deal tacos dorados from the local neighborhood tavern. In fact tacos have long been a staple of many bars and restaurants throughout the Midwest. In my search I've found countless places that have been making gringo style tacos for decades serving generations of fans. Sometimes the tacos are a standard menu option and other times they're on special once a week. One day I just may release a book or something on the old school Gringo-Mex food of the Midwest. But today we focus on five spots in the Land of Lincoln that are known for their gringo tacos.

Random Art on a Deserted Quad Cities Bar
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Roy's Taco House

Milan, IL

These old school gringo-mex spots are a dying breed and unfortunately I just learned that our first stop has closed after a four decade run. I visited this place maybe two years ago and loved it for the looks and feel. It felt like a place that hadn't changed one bit despite the fact we as Americans have come to learn what real Mexican food is. Roy's was stuck in a time warp and I loved it for that. Their tacos came offered three ways - soft, medium, hard. Medium being a lightly fried shell that was more chewy than crunchy. The loyals of Roy's said it was the secret spices they used in the ground beef which me to me tasted like the stuff you can get at Aldi. So it tasted like a gringo taco is supposed to taste. Roy's also offers Sancho's which I've seen on menus around Central Illinois. They're basically burritos stuffed with ground beef and cheese and then rolled. There may or may not have been beans.

Medium Fried Taco (back) Sancho (front)
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Manny's Pizza Too

Fulton, IL

Manny's Pizza has a few locations scattered about Central Illinois. One day a couple years back we stopped at Manny's Too in Fulton, IL right along the Mississippi River. Manny's got it's start in 1973 but it's not their pizza that people long for. It's their signature deep fried tacos. They're made the right way which means the meat is fried inside the tortilla with toothpicks holding them together. There's not much better when it comes to a beer snack than a deep fried taco and the patron's of Manny's can attest to that. These near perfect gringo tacos draw patrons from all walks of life.

Deep Fried Tacos from Manny's Pizza 
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Olde Thyme Inn

Sandwich, IL

I attended taco night (Wednesdays) at Old Thyme in by chance. I was in the area on work and wanted to eat somewhere before heading back into the city. I searched around and read that taco night here was the real deal. So of course I checked it out. They serve their tacos on soft shell burrito tortillas making them huge with the prospect of finishing two not likely. I think one thing that makes taco night at local taverns so abundant is the fact it's an easy make and sale. Most of the time the bartender will just scoop the beef out of a slow cooker and put it into a tortilla with toppings which is what happened at Olde Thyme. They were served to us within two minutes of ordering. Not bad.

Taco Night (Wednesday) at Olde Thyme Inn
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Ernie & Annie's

Granite City, IL

Ernie & Annie's is without a doubt one of the most blue collar bars I've ever sipped beer in. Located down near the MO border it's just steps away from a full fledged manufacturing plant. This was an interesting visit with the regulars walking in after work. Aside from ice cold bottles of Budweiser those regulars also love the tacos. These we're probably the most gringo of tacos I've ever ate. To my recollection they were nothing more than fried tacos with beans and a slice of melted American cheese topped with lettuce. In all honesty they were kind of a letdown as I had high hopes for the place but the bar itself was worth the visit. It was truly a part of America that time has passed by.

Fried Tacos at Ernie & Annie's
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Los Tres Amigos

Wood River, IL

Here's another Southern Illinois spot famous for it's fried tacos. Started by a Mexican immigrant who adjusted to the flavors of his new neighbors this place now has multiple locations down state. More than four decades later their fried tacos are famous in these parts. Deep fried tacos are big down in this area and they're often found at fairs and festivals which is where they started selling these some fifty years ago (1966). The famous tacos are offered two ways one with flour the other with corn (Baby Morales). What makes them slightly unique is the use of Parmesan cheese on top of shredded cheddar. Next time I'm down this way I plan on stopping back for a few more. See ya'll next time.

The Famous Joe Morales Tacos
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Roy's Taco House
121 4th St W
Milan, IL 61264
(309) 716-3066

Manny's Too
305 11th Ave
Fulton, IL 61252
(815) 589-2520

Olde Thyme Inn
109 S Main St
Sandwich, IL 60548
(815) 786-9700

Ernie & Annie's
935 Niedringhaus Ave
Granite City, IL 62040
(618) 877-5071

Los Tres Amigos
1822 Vaughn Rd
Wood River, IL 62095
618) 259-9730

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