Monday, July 31, 2017

Four More Wisconsin Burgers

-Got beef?
The Burgers of Wisconsin


Where end July where we ended June. In the great burger state of Wisconsin. Here's a quartet from a trip up the lake last summer. Those paying heavy attention to the style of burger found up and down Lake Michigan (starting in Sheboygan and extending to the WI/MI border) will recognize that style within these next four stops. All of them using fresh patty's of locally butchered beef and char grilling their product before placing it on well buttered hard roll. I'm not sure this regional style has a name so I guess we will call them Sheboygan style burgers. Here's four more in order, from Chicago.
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Manitowoc, WI

Our first stop was a place long on my list. I know Late's has been mentioned as being as good as if not better than Bud Willman's (also in Manitowoc). So this had me interested. I cant find an exact date on Late's but I did find mentions going back to the 60's. As you can see it's pretty dilapidated and the inside is no different. Aside from the burgers the curds are also known to be wonderful. Good? Sure.  Most fresh fried cheese curds are.

Cheese Curds from Late's

The burger however was pretty uninspiring for this style. It was smaller than most and because of that it's basically a requirement to get a double in order to balance the meat to bun ratio. I feel like Late's has seen better days.

Cheeseburger from Late's 
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Moving North the next stop was the best stop of those featured in this post.Here we have a classic Wisconsin tavern that's pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Doesn't matter where you are in Wisconsin there's always a bar nearby. And also good burgers.

Denmark, WI

Basil's II
has been established since 1984 however the bar burned down in 1993 so they had to do a full rebuild. The original owners sold the business to their sons. The sons last name is Kroll so you have to believe that there's some connection to Kroll's in Green Bay. Especially when you see how they do the burgers which is over a live grill just like Kroll's.

Cheeseburger from Basil's II

I didn't get a chance to ask where Basil's gets their buns from but these were as crunchy as the Cuban bread down in Miami. They worked perfectly on this double which was full of fresh juicy char grilled beef and oozing with cheese. Most other buns would've succumbed to the sloppiness.

The insides

Basil's also does a brat burger and they do so in the traditional Sheboygan way. These are made with a brat patty instead of a split sausage link. So it looks like a burger but taste like a brat. Another fine example of this regional style. Standard toppings include mustard, onion, pickles, butter, and ketchup should you need it. No thanks for me.

Brat Burger from Basil's II
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The next stop takes us outside of Green Bay for a popular place for Packers fans to talk about last weeks game. It's also popular with outdoors men in the area for hunting, fishing, snowmobiling etc.

De Pere, WI

As you can see from the sign the chili is popular at Drift Inn. It's been served the same way since 1978 though the bar itself goes back to the 50's. Of course I had to try a bowl and unless you want to expose yourself as not local you need to order it with everything which means spaghetti on the bottom. Even though I wouldn't serve it like this at home I for one am not offended by spaghetti in chili and can happily enjoy a Midwest blend now and then. I liked this bowl.

House Chili from Drift Inn

Aside from the house chili it's also the burgers that keep customers coming back. Fresh patty's of locally butchered beef are delivered fresh daily. They go over a charcoal grill and if you order the namesake burger you get both a beef patty and a brat patty. A Wisconsin style combo so to say.

The Drift Inn Burger

These too are popular in and around this area as there's been previous places mentioned that also serve them. I like these bad boys but prefer one or the other or better yet one of each served separately. Good food and a fun atmosphere make this a place I'd get back to next time I'm around.

The insides
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Final stop of this round-up takes us to a gas station in Green Bay.

Green Bay, WI

Hill Top Cafe is a pretty nonchalant type place sitting to the side in a BP. I was surprised by how many locals were dining in. Must be a popular place with them. Easy to understand why when your burger comes out. Nothing about this was a standout but everything in it from fresh beef to the locally made bun was above average. In terms of size it was one of the bigger ones as far as circumference goes. Much better than most gas station options when it comes to burgers. Pretty much what you'd expect from a place in a great burger state.

Cheeseburger from Hill Top Cafe
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Late's
1924 S 9th St
Manitowoc, WI 54220
(920) 682-1539

Basil's II
5595 S County Highway P
Denmark, WI 54208
(920) 863-8454

Drift Inn
1535 South Ashland Ave
De Pere, WI 54115
(920) 336-5929

Hilltop Cafe
2278 Bay Settlement Rd
Green Bay, WI 54311
(920) 884-0858

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Jollibee

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Fast Food via The Philippines

Honestly I wasn't even sure if I was going to share today's post. Usually when I've eaten something underwhelming I leave it at that and move on to the next spot. But since Jollibee is a well known chain making a big splash in the States these days I will share my feelings on it and it's chicken.

Filipino Chain Favorite located in Seafood City on Elston 

When the first Illinois location of Jollibee opened in Skokie it came with constant lines and a couple refrigerated semi trucks parked on-site to hold all the food they were going through. Not one to enjoy a wait in a long line I never did get over to Skokie to try Jollibee. But then they opened inside Seafood City, the Filipino grocery chain with a store on Elston, and my time to try them came. I have plans to post about Seafood City and it's many dining selections another time as today I wanted to go in on Jollibee. Let me start by saying I just dont get it. So Anthony Bourdain gave it an endorsement? So what. He's not going to tell the people taking him there that its bad. The only thing I'll say is I totally understand a love for childhood flavors and I get that many Filipino people grew up on this.

Fried Chicken at Jollibee

I thought I would really like this place. I mean I've had nothing but good experiences with Filipino food. I enjoy eating Hawaiian which Jollibee definitely gears towards with it's rice and gravy dishes. But for some reason this fried chicken tasted like it came from a suburban grocery store. An offering consisting of hamburger patties, fried onions, and eggs was the same. It might as well have been from the Mariano's prepared foods section. It was tasteless. I had plans to try the famous spaghetti with hot dogs but I've heard the sauce is super sweet and I hate super sweet marinara so I'm in no rush to get back. I will say I like the pineapple juice and mango pies and will stop back for those.

Loco Moco like dish at Jollibee

Jollibee
5033 N Elston Ave
Chicago, IL 60630
(773) 295-1658

Monday, July 24, 2017

Frank and The Cubans

-In Chicago: Every Dog Has it's Day

You pretty much need to have eaten at Frank and The Cubans to know about it. That or you need to have been driving down Western and were able to quickly spot the Vienna Beef signing announcing it's presence at the corner of 16th and Western. It's a permanent food cart sitting in a parking lot.

Newly Opened at 16th and Western

First off, I love the name. This is a classic Chicago style hot dog stand. In fact the owner grew up selling hot dogs out of a cart in a city park. Even though it's just a stand the menu has more than just hot dogs. A closer look reveals where the Cuban part in the stands name comes from. It's first listed.

The Menu (click pics to enhance) 

More on that in a minute. First off we try a hot dog. First thing I noticed is they mention the fact they serve a natural casing wiener. Next thing I notice is they store them in a ceramic holder which is what all the old pros do. Then and there I new these guys knew what was up. You can get a Chicago dog with a side of free standard frozen fries for just $4 and that includes tax. It's a perfectly made hot dog.

Chicago Dog at Frank and the Cubans

Then there's the Cuban. As regular readers know I take these very seriously. Most Cuban's outside of Florida (Tampa and Miami) are garbage for a variety of reasons. However as I've written about before you can achieve a classic Cuban sandwich at home if you're willing to hunt down the proper ingredients. I'm happy to report they take the necessary steps here to do so. Chicago style French bread works really well and they use that while making the pork on site. All of this perfectness can be wiped out if you don't properly balance the sandwich which is not a problem here. Each sandwich comes with an order of fresh fried plantain chips which are delicious. I've ate many Cubans across the city but none were made with as much care. My new go-to spot when I'm in the mood for one.

Cuban Sandwich at Frank and The Cubans

Frank and The Cubans
2444 W 16th St
Chicago, IL 60608                              
(312) 818-2415

Friday, July 21, 2017

HaiSous

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

The recent story of what happened at the long gone Embeya is a frustrating one. Without getting to much into it the city lost an acclaimed restaurant while the people that put their heart and soul into it lost not just their restaurant but also some money. No one knows where the investors who fleeced the chef and his wife went but I know where said chef and his wife went. To Pilsen, to open a Vietnamese restaurant. Huh? It is what it is and by that I mean is it's one of the city's best new restaurants.

Newly opened in Pilsen

We recently got to enjoy a meal at HaiSous before a concert at Thalia Hall. Wow. It was the highlight of a night that included a great show following the meal but it was the food that I was thinking about the next day. Chef Thai Dang and his wife Danielle seem to have put their past in the past and are looking ahead to a bright future. The food and flavors of Vietnam are hot right now and people like me are booking trips to go there and experience them. In the meantime HaiSous is here to give you the flavors of one of the worlds great cuisines at the corner of 18th and Carpenter and it's delicious.

Goi Vit (Shredded Duck Salad) 

I'd never known of Goi Vit until I read about it on the menu from here but now I cant wait to seek it out when in Vietnam. I just hope it's half as good as this which I'm sure it will be. Made with shredded duck, green cabbage, banana blossom, scallion oil, and vinegar it was one of the best things I've ate of late. Moving onto a bowl of claypot mussels swimming in a coconut broth filled with toasted coconut and lemongrass was also exquisite. I found myself slurping the bowl clean.

So Nao Nuoc Dua (Mussels Cooked in Claypot)

Let me tell you about the fried rice dish that reads so simply. Simple is sometimes better. Or in the case of HaiSous' fried rice it's way better. One of the most satisfying fried rice dishes that I can remember. Nothing sexy about it just white rice fried in scallion oil to a perfect consistency. So good.

Com Chien Gion (House Fried Rice)

Last but least is the pork belly dish. The picture below doesn't quite show the sauce you're to use to dip the pork belly in but it was as addictive as it gets. The pork belly itself was cooked to a melt in your mouth consistency and the little pieces of tamarind paste were just great when spread on. After eating these four things I know there's other terrific items to choose from but I could go back and order the same things and I'd be happy to do so. Each dish a hit. Count me among it's earliest fans.

Thit Ba Chi Nuong (Pork Belly with Tamarind Glaze)

HaiSous
1800 S Carpenter St
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 702-1303
Website

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mizrahi on Clark

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to Lakeview

Mizrahi is a spot that's long been on my radar. However due to it's location in Highland Park, and weird hours, I'd never made it over there. Mizrahi is popular amongst Northshore residents for their famous falafel that even city folk say is great. A successful decade in Highland Park recently made way for a second location in Lakeview. Which was all I needed to finally give it a try.

From Highland Park to Lakeview

If you've been to any of the popular falafel and shawarma shops across the city than you know the drill with Mizrahi. They offer sandwiches and plates and in the case of the food from here everything is Kosher. The shawarma is a mix of lamb and turkey but they pre-slice it which is a no-go for me. That said it's their falafel I wanted to try so I went ahead and got a plate. Not cheap but you do get 8 balls of freshly fried falafel with your choice of rice or potato and sides such as Israeli salad and hummus. This place isn't cheap but you do get a bunch of bang for your buck. I have no idea if these are the best falafel in the city though they are really good. The thick cut fries were a nice surprise and the colorful salads were fresh and delicious. They should fit in nicely in Lakeview amongst their former Northshore neighbors.

Falafel Plate with Fries 

Mizrahi on Clark
3037 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 525-8777
Website

Monday, July 17, 2017

La Palapa

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

If you've driven by today's stop you will certainly remember doing so. Unless seeing a big ass shark looking over some palapas is something that doesn't catch your eye. La Palapa is the type of spot that can transform you to another place. Dine in on a a busy weekend and the BYOB will take you straight to whatever Mexico beach destination it was you last vacationed at. It's name coming from the dozen plus Palapas (an open-sided dwelling with a thatched roof made of dried palm leaves).

Locals Favorite in McKinley Park

While La Palapa is big it's only so in the summertime. The actual restaurant is small with maybe four tables. It's outdoor dining and byob policy paired with plates of spicy shrimp is what makes it a big hit. I'll be honest and admit that Chicago's marisco places aren't going to compare to any of the spots in cities on the water but when it comes to the food at most of them there's pretty much one thing you're there for and that's langoustines bathing in butter. Me being the major taco aficionado I am I once decided to try the fish tacos and was reminded of what I said the sentence before this.

Fish Taco

There is one other thing that's worth ordering when stopping by for the langoustines and that's the Shrimp Zarandeado. Pescado Zarandeado is a popular grilled fish in the Nayarit region of Mexico and La Palapa makes a version with shrimps. This dish is all about the sauce which mixes a deep red chile sauce with lots of butter both before and post cooking of the shrimps. The sauce is the star. I like to mix the Zarandeado sauce with that of the popular langoustines. The latter of which can be hit or miss as far as seafood quality. I've had big meaty shrimps that tasted great but there's also been a time or two the shrimps were smaller and the meat was a tad tougher. Still at this pricepoint with that sauce it's not something that bothers me much. The atmosphere (and sauce) are why you're here.

Shrimp Zarandeado (top) House Special Langoustines (bottom)

La Palapa
2000 W 34th St
Chicago, IL 60608
(773) 376-9620

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Gage

-Grubbing in Chicago
Where the Tourists Eat

We've reached the dog days of summer. Apologies on my inactivity of late but it's been a very busy month. We just finished up Taste of Chicago and a few weeks before it started we had to go to the annual vendors meeting downtown. It's a three hour meeting with a lunch break in the middle and we ended up down the block at The Gage on Michigan avenue. With now being prime tourist time this place has been extra busy. Not the type of spot I seek out but when in Rome.

Tourists Favorite on Michigan Avenue

Popular for fish n' chips as well as other "upscale" bar food the Gage gets a nice mix of tourists and also a few locals from the likes of Randolph and such. I knew going in that the Gage draws as much people for it's views (Millennium Park is across the street) as it does the food but some do say the food is really good too. So we started out with a Caesar Salad. It was done right as far as ingredients but it still felt like something was missing. Maybe it was just the fact in the end all it is is lettuce.

Caesar Salad at The Gage

Moving along to the turkey club it was the type of sandwich that can hit the spot. Nice thick toasted bread and thinly sliced deli meat paired with fresh lettuce, tomato, and onion. But not triple deckered. Nothing groundbreaking but something that can be enjoyed on a nice summer day like today.

Turkey Club

Then there's the fish n' chips that the city's popular instagram accounts like to take fancy pictures of. These are why I wasn't opposed to dining here as I was finally going to be able to see for myself if they were legit or just hyped by a group of people who only eats free food from trendy spots thus dont really have a broad range of places they've tried. As expected these influencers need to expand their boundaries. What I got might have looked good but it tasted average at best. The fish was lukewarm and it tasted like nothing. The fries were bordering on cold and they were standard frozen fries. In the end the best thing about this meal was the view from outside. Sometimes you pay for that.

Fish n' Chips at The Gage

The Gage
24 S Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 372-4243
Website

Monday, July 10, 2017

Hanbun

-Grubbing in Chicago (land)
Five Star Food Court Food 

I'm not exactly breaking any news with today's post but rather adding to Hanbun's praise. I'm going to assume most people who read this know what Hanbun is by now. But for those that don't it's one of the best restaurants to open up last year (2016) and it just so happens to be located in a dimly lit food court out in the middle of Westmont. Nonetheless it's become so popular during it's year + tenure that recent word on the street has them looking for a larger place to play. They would be Chef Dave Park and his partner / fiancee Jennifer Tran. Owners of Chicagoland's best Korean restaurant.

Locals Favorite in Westmont

I don't know why it's hard for some to believe there's good food in the suburbs but Westmont was already a dining destination for noodles at Katy's. Now it has one of the best 1-2 punches in all of Chicagoland. Chef Park was born in Korea and moved to the States at the age of 8. After a failed stint at Alinea (he didn't think he was worthy enough) Chef Park moved back home only to move back to Chicagoland and give the whole cooking thing another go. Lucky us because after a few stints in prominent kitchens he decided to go out on his own and open Hanbun. I'm no Korean food expert but I do find myself enjoying it more and more and Hanbun is reason number one. It's so good.

Korean Pork Bun - coffee scented pork. ssam jang. steamed buns. white kimchi. scallions.

Bao buns are pretty much available everywhere these days. People like Eddie Huang have made a fortune off of them. Your neighborhood isn't hip unless it has a local bao shop. Well I guess Westmont is pretty hip these days. This is the best bao I ever had. Quite frankly I never loved a bao until I recently tried this one. The coffee rubbed pork belly was cooked to perfection and the crunchy cabbage was perfectly placed. The vegetable pancake is also a stellar representation of it's kind.

Vegetable Pancake - medley of vegetables. tangy soy dipping sauce.

Moving right along the bulgogi was the most tender representation of this dish I've ever come across. You can really tell that the people behind the food have been trained on a culinary level as each dish is pretty much flawless. Make it a point to get out here for lunch if you haven't already.

Bulgogi - Marinated tender beef. crisp apple & arugula salad. soy sesame vinaigrette. served with barley rice.

My favorite dish of my only trip thus far is this hybrid Korean-Chinese dish which I have no idea how to say. According to google it translates to "noodles with black sauce" and when put like that it's much better than it sounds. One of the best dishes I've ate of late and I cant wait to go back for more. The recent James Beard award Chef park was nominated for was well deserved. I cant remember being this happy with a complete meal whether it was fine dining or from a food court in the burbs.

Jjajjangmyun -  korean-chinese style noodles. black bean sauce. pork belly. nuoc mam cucumber. chives.

Hanbun
665 Pasquinelli Dr #108
Westmont, IL 60559
(630) 948-3383
Website

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