Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Panes Bread Cafe

-The Sammy's of Chi

I guess this is the week of trying places I've long driven by (see previous post). Panes Bread Cafe has been a Lakeview fixture since 1994. However it's not a place I tried until 2016. I'd always wondered about the place as it gets great online reviews. However I was never compelled enough to stop until I saw one if it's sandwiches listed as one of the city's best on one of the social media sites that like lists.

Locals Favorite in Lakeview

Panes feels like a place born in the 90's. It's got a somewhat Parisian feel to it as well with it's decorations and also the menu. Aside from the sandwiches they also do salads and baked goods. I tried a sample of a peanut butter brownie and it was almost good enough to order one however I rarely order dessert. I also rarely order salads but one day I wanted one and didn't want to go far thus their tortilla chicken salad seemed to be in order. It's just lettuce with grilled chicken paired with crispy tortilla strips, some veggies, and cheese served with honey mustard on the side. Well made.

Tortilla Salad

Now back to that sandwich. I saw some list and of course had been to and tried most every sandwich on said list with the exception of one. The Oaxacan Pork Sandwich from Panes was new to me. Some searching online revealed it has it's fans and I wanted to see if I could become one. Well I probably wont be a die hard like others but I thought it was a decent enough sandwich. I also thought something was missing but couldn't quite pinpoint what that was. Strips of pork and onion were marinated in a red chile sauce and the bread held it all together but maybe some pickled red onions or something would've given it more depth. Either way I found Panes to be a nice neighborhood place.

Oaxacan Pork Sandwich 

Panes
3002 N Sheffield Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 665-0972

Monday, March 20, 2017

J's Corner Hot Dogs

-In Chicago: Every Dog Has it's Day

With Elston being one of those streets that can get you somewhere faster than others I've found myself up and down it over the years. Many times during those drives I would ride by a cool looking hot dog stand that goes by J's. Many times I just ended up driving by until that one time I decided I needed to finally stop in and document the place for my ongoing online tour. So here we are.

Longtime Locals Favorite in Irving Park 

Much to my surprise upon stopping in I learned that J's is one of a handful of Asian owned hot dog stands still going strong. Over the years I've come to realize that Chicago has this cool little food thing going where quite a few of it's old school hot dog stands are not just Asian owned but also feature Asian food items on their menus. I'm not sure if the old Asian guy who owns the place is J himself but I do plan on digging into this story for another food site sometime soon. So do stay tuned. In the meantime lets try a hot dog. Nothing particularly noteworthy about this wiener except for the fact it's well made and at $3 still a bargain, even in today times. Free fries with all sandwiches.

Chicago Dog at J's

As mentioned these Asian owned (I believe most of them are Korean) hot dog stands usually have a few items you wouldn't find at an Anglo owned joint. Here they have an egg roll which is probably bought frozen and also a Bulgogi sandwich. The latter of which is fantastic in that Chicago fast food sort of way. It's chopped up bulgogi meat which for those not in the know is thinly sliced Korean style beef that's usually marinated in a tangy sauce. The sign here says it's made with Garlic, MSG, Green Onion, Black Pepper, and Sesame Oil. The beef goes into a Turano roll that's spread with mayo and lettuce and tomato are thrown on top. It's a simple sandwich but it's a crave-worthy one. I've found myself pulling over to grab one (just $5.99 w/ fries) when riding by. A semi unknown gem.

Bulgogi Sandwich at J's Corner Hot Dogs

J's Corner Hot Dogs
3845 N Elston Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 539-6003

Friday, March 17, 2017

Tomczack's Tap

-Grubbing in Chicago(land)
Dupage County Favorites

Today's post is a place I'd always considered stopping into should I ever be near it on a Friday. Tomczack's Tap is an old school bar that would fit just perfectly somewhere in Wisconsin. Located way West on Irving Park it's a place that's popular year round and extremely popular around now.

Locals Favorite in Wood Dale, IL

I was recently in the area on what was a Friday. This was my shot to see what was up. I wandered in around 4p and about halfway thru the place went from basically empty to almost fully packed. Why is that you ask? Friday Fish Fry. During lent nonetheless. The bar consists of two areas (three if you include the gaming area). I chose to sit at a table rather than the bar as the lighting is better. Haha.

a peek inside 

Tomczack's menu features a what's what of bar food. Though I imagine most of it goes from freezer to fryer so I didn't have much interest in anything other than the fish fry that people pack the place for. Offered on Friday's only your choice of fish consists of Cod, Perch (ocean), and Catfish. Not my ideal choices, for this part of the country anyway, but at $7.00 plate (few extra bucks for AYCE) I wasn't worried. The fry came out pretty quickly and it was what it was. Which is to say a tasty couple pieces of fried fish. Standard crinkle cut fries were enhanced by dipping them in the tartar sauce, yeah I do that, but the sauce itself was average at best. Considering the price this was a pretty good plate of food. Not something I'd go out of the way for but if in the area on a Friday why not. It did the trick.

Friday Fish Fry at Tomczack's Tap

Tomczack's Tap
265 E Irving Park Rd
Wood Dale, IL 60191
(630) 595-0479

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Raising Cane's

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Southern Fast Food in the SW Suburbs

As many of you know I love my regional eats. The stuff you cant find everywhere. And while I may not love corporate American fast food I do like to try the spots that arent found everywhere. So to my surprise while driving down Harlem just yesterday I spied a Raising Cane's. What's that some of you might ask? It's a regional fast food chain which just recently moved into the Chicagoland market. They were found in Baton Rouge, LA in 1996 and have over 300 locations today. Most in the South.

Southern Fast Food joint now in Chicago's South Suburbs

The suburb of Riverside received the first Chicagoland location (Oak Lawn also has one) and from the looks of traffic they're doing pretty well. I was familiar with Cane's before this as it's my wife's favorite place for a quick bite when she's back home in Dallas. That said I never joined her for chicken fingers which is what Cane's is all about. The menu is small with the tenders being joined by crinkle cut fries, cole slaw, and Texas Toast. That's about it. Aside from the fact their signature chicken fingers are made on site (and not pre-breaded in a factory etc) people also go crazy for their signature sauce. My thoughts? Not bad for fast food. Certainly not something you'll list on your end of the year 'Best Of...' list but not bad at all for fast food. The sauce is said to be a combo of mayo, ketchup and seasonings and I agree it works well with the tenders and fries. Will I be back? Depends on whether or not I see it in an airport while hungry. It's fast food and it did what it was supposed to.

 Chicken Tenders and Cane's Sauce at Raising Cane's

Raising Cane's
2514 Harlem Ave
Riverside, IL 60546
(708) 442-3433
Website

Monday, March 13, 2017

Tropicuba

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Homestyle Cuban in Logan Square

It's a wonderful thing to live in a city where there will always be spots you haven't tried. Chicago has too many restaurants for anyone to ever be able to say they've been to them all. So while I'd driven by Tropicuba on countless occasions I never stopped in until another Logan Square steak sandwich purveyor (Cafeteria Marianao) closed. With the closing of my go-to spot for a great Latin American Steak sandwich I finally decided to give Tropicuba a try. With that I turned a bad into a good.

 Locals Favorite in Logan Square

As the name implies Tropicuba is a Cuban restaurant. In Florida this would mean they probably make a pretty respectable Cuban sandwich. However in Chicago, where we dont quite have the Cuban bread that you'll find in Florida, we tend to visit Cuban joints for the steak sandwich. Tropicuba proudly calls themselves "The Home of the Steak Sandwich" and it's something I always wondered about. So my first trip in was a no-brainer as far as what to order. I got their signature steak sandwich and will happily say it's every bit as good as the version at Marianao was. What I like about this sandwich was the fact they weren't in a rush to get them out and thus the bread crisped real nice. The red onions have a nice mojo garlic kick to them and the steak wasn't chewy at all. This is a good one.

 Famous Steak Sandwich

On my first trip in a couple other menu items caught my eye and I've since returned for them. On my second visit I decided to try their Cuban Burrito. Made with the same steak (although it's chopped up) and also black beans and rice this was a satisfying lunch. It's a carb bomb but it's made with care.

Cuban Steak Burrito 

Perhaps the most interesting section on the menu is the sign advertising Chino Cubano fried rice. This would be Cuban-Chinese food. The Chinese have settled pretty much everywhere on the globe and when they do so a new cuisine is born mixing Chinese with whatever is local. At Tropicuba their fried rice is made with wok fried yellow rice as well as red peppers, the aforementioned marinated red onions, and plantains. You pick the meat. I thought the pork fried rice pictured below was worth a return. I plan on making it part of my day sometime in the near future as Tropicuba has a new regular. Nice people and good food. It's a shame it took me so long to stop in but better late than never.

Pork Fried Rice

Tropicuba
3000 W Lyndale St
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 252-0230
Website

Friday, March 10, 2017

Three Western Pennsylvania Favorites

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- Old School Eats in Western PA

A couple summers back we took a little roadtrip to Pittsburgh where we ate well. Our eating however was not limited to just the Steel City as we made some stops along the way. Today's post focuses on three old school spots in Western Pennsylvania. The type of places I love to stop into and eat like a local. After reading through this you can check out my Western Pennsylvania Hot Dog Tour.
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Mister B's

 New Castle, PA

New Castle is a town that's most certainly seen better days. Nonetheless it's also a town that seems to have some classic establishments that are still up and running. One of the locally loved eats of New Castle is a dish called "Lamb on the Rod" referring to lamb kebobs. There seems to be  quite a few old school spots serving this dish in town. Mister B's was most intriguing to me as it's basically a liquor store with a really good looking food menu. It's not just the aforementioned lamb but there's also fresh fried lake smelts and even the burgers and homemade gyros were tempting. Though I wanted to try the locally loved lamb and did so by getting a 7x7 which is slang for a seven piece meal. It's also offered as 21x21 but this was one of many stops. It's lean lamb cooked nicely and served with yogurt sauce and banana peppers. Not bad but not something I found myself craving.

Lamb on a Rod at Mister B's
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Muse Italian Club

Cecil, PA

Acting out on a tip from a buddy at the gym we decided to take a little Friday late afternoon drive for a Western Pennsylvania fish fry favorite. Each Friday this social club in the town of Cecil hosts a fish fry. Fish Sandwiches are a favorite in these parts. It's somewhat odd since there is no ocean nearby but like many of the other towns along the Ohio River they have a strong tradition of eating fish sandwiches on Friday's. It's busiest during lent but popular year-round. So I was told this place produces one of the finest fish sandwiches in the area. So we wanted to see what was up.

a peek inside

From an article on the wall - "The women of the club have been serving the sandwiches for decades, getting paid in tips. Four or five of them get together each Thursday to prepare roughly 400 pounds of fillets, 600 pounds during Lent. In a process that takes as long as five hours, the women hand wash each piece of fish and pick out the bones. They take pride that the fillets are "clean."

 Tempting...

As seen above the menu also sported spaghetti and tripe but it was a Friday and we were there for the fish sandwich which would end up being pretty good. Maybe not the most remarkable fish sandwich one can have but certainly a good bar bite. I felt like I was somewhere in the Midwest. One day places like this will be nothing but memories. So it's nice to be able to say I once ate there.

Friday Fish Sandwich
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Bert's Wooden Indian

Beaver, PA

Acting off on a hot tip from legendary Roadfooder aka BuffetBuster aka @jcstrutz we pulled in here for lunch on the way back to Chicago. I had seen a social media post of his praising the ham sandwiches from this longtime institution. We walked in and were immediately brought back to another time. It felt like I was somewhere in the Dells. They dont make them like this anymore.

a peek inside 

We sat at the bar and enjoyed some cold brews as well as the sandwich that Cliff had praised. This guy knows good roadfood as much as anyone myself included, so it was no surprise to find this sandwich was every bit as good as described. The sandwiches are listed under the section titled specialties and this was a special sandwich in that great old school sort of way. Perfect bar food.

Hot Ham Sandwich at Bert's Wooden Indian
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Mister B's
2034 E Washington St
New Castle, PA 16101
(724) 654-4144

Muse Italian Club
283 Muse-Bishop Rd
Canonsburg, PA 15317
(724) 745-7280

Bert's Wooden Indian
308 Leopard Ln
Beaver, PA 15009
(724) 774-7992

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Bree Thai

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Southside Thai

Bree Thai probably isn't making anyone in the knows list for best Thai restaurant in Chicago. Located on the Southside near the intersection of Archer and Central it's one of those spots that caters to a mostly non-Thai crowd. This means lots of American-Thai suspects (ex. Pad Thai) on the menu. Nonetheless it's neighbors like it and you cant knock them for that when the other options are pretty much the same three things (Chicago Fast Food, Pizza, Tacos). Sometimes a change of pace is nice even if that change if pace isn't the most "authentic" of flavors. As if most customers know those.

Locals Favorite out by Midway 

The reason I know about this place is simple. I like browsing menus in search of something unique. Be it at a Mexican restaurant, a Thai joint, or even an American diner, I like to find items on offer you can't get elsewhere. It so happens that Bree Thai has an item like this on their menu. Labeled "Thai Southern Fried Rice" this dish has actually been pretty crave-worthy since I first tried it. It's made with stir fried rice mixed with egg, carrots, green peas, and raisins. The fried rice comes topped with deep fried crispy chicken which is what makes the plate worth it. The chicken is fried as crisp as any piece I've come across and makes for what are basically the best chicken nuggets I've come across. A typical sweet and sour type dipping sauce and some fried rice round it all out. A dish that anyone of any age can enjoy. Authentic? Doubtful. Delicious? Without a doubt.

Southern Thai Fried Rice 

Bree Thai
5306 S Central Ave
Chicago, IL 60638
(773) 767-3200

Monday, March 6, 2017

Yakitori Boogytori

-Grubbing in Chicago (land)
Japanese Bar Food

Today's stop has been on my list since before it opened. When I heard last year that the people behind Wasabi (a Chicago ramen favorite) were opening a Yakitori bar I was stoked. Japanese food is one of my big obsessions and while Chicagoland has some decent Japanese eating options there's plenty of room to grow. Yakitori is the Japanese way of grilling skewered meats. It's most popular as chicken where every piece of the bird is used but can also be used with pork, beef, vegetables, and more. Not to many's surprise Yakitori Boogytori would eventually open inside a strip mall in Arlington Heights which is where you'll find most Japanese stuff in Chicagoland. It's our little Osaka.

Japanese Yakitori in Arlington Heights

I had wanted to visit forever but time was never on my side. Since they dont open until 5p it was hard to find myself out there at that time. This was until recently when I was coming home from Wisconsin and the timing was just right to where there would be no traffic.  So eventually it happened and I was sort of surprised to walk in one weekend night and be one of only a few people dining in. Maybe they do better business on weekdays when Japanese businessmen are in the area? Hopefully because my first experience here was pretty much what I was hoping for. I thought the Yakitori compared favorably to other spots across the country that I've tried. Though I'm hardly an expert.

 Yuzu Cabbage

A complimentary starter of cabbage with some sort of yuzu type sauce poured over it was perfect. It's a great example of why I love Japanese food and it's ability to get great flavors out of the simplest of dishes. The menu is basically a check off list of all the different pieces of Yakitori on offer. You just put how many of each one you want and they go to work on the grill. Speaking of which yakitori is grilled over Japanese Binchotan coals which burn longer, and cleaner, than regular coal thus it's preferred by many chefs. I started with a piece of ribeye beef before getting into the good stuff.

 Ribeye

The steak was great. Grilled perfectly it leaked all sorts of steak juice onto the plate which was the sign of not being too dry. Often the case for an amateur place. Then when they got to the exotic chicken pieces I chose I knew these guys were serious about their craft. One by one they started to come out and one by one I put them down with a a big smile on my face. This is peak grilled meats.

 Chicken Ventricle (Top) Silverskin (Bottom)

I forget exactly which pieces I chose but the key is to order the stuff you rarely see. Pass on the thigh meat and go straight to the ventricle, skin, tail, and so on. That's what I always do and never is it not the right move. They cook each piece to where it's crispy on the outside but the texture on the inside remains in place. It might be a bit different at first as far as that texture goes but once you taste each piece you'll wonder why anyone would consider throwing the random parts out. Stupid Americans.

 Chicken Skin Close Up

My favorite piece of chicken yakitori is the tail meat. If you see this get it. Problem is they don't always have everything as there's only so many pieces of each. I guess the place being mostly empty worked to my benefit because they had all the good stuff on my visits. The tail is crispy and full of flavor. It's not as exotic tasting (or as chewy) as say the ventricle so even a non adventurous eater should enjoy that part. It's a good way to get familiar with the amazing taste of yakitori. I'm glad this place is here and hope it's around for a while. Or even better I hope they expand into the city.

Chicken Tail

Yakitori Boogytori is a full fledged bar and restaurant. Parking is easy and if you time your ride you can zip there and back without much traffic. Personally I think it's worth the ride and a good way to enjoy a Weekend night when you dont want to deal with the scene. The people are nice and the grilled meats are great. I wish yakitori would trend up the way ramen recently did. Fingers crossed for that. Speaking of which they recently added ramen to the menu. Probably bc people asked.

The Team at Yakitori Boogytori 

Yakitori Boogytori
932 W Algonquin Rd
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
(847) 262-5914
Website

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