Monday, September 29, 2014

Umami Burger

-Grubbing in Chicago  
New to the 'Scene'

Unless you've been spending your online time in a food desert somewhere you probably heard Umami Burger has made it's way to Chicago. The Southern California burger chain got it's start in Hollywood before expanding to other parts of the area and then across the country to New York City. An interview with the owner came off as if he thinks Chicago's turn has come as the city's dining scene expands. Although I'm not sure he'd ever visited before, otherwise you know Chicago is one of the country's best dining destinations. Anyway we should feel blessed they decided to grace the Wicker Park neighborhood with their presence. Or should we?

Chicago's first Umami Burger location

Before diving into the food lets discuss the setup. It's really nice inside. I like how for during the warmer months they have the front windows completely open. The bar sits about 15-20 people then there's booths for groups. First come first serve at the bar while you'll need to see a hostess to be seated. On my visit this past weekend around 6p there was a one hour wait but a couple seats at the bar appeared not too long after putting our name down. We grabbed them.

a peak inside

It seemed as though folks dining at the bar were doing so in 15's meaning everyone was ordering and eating and then finished around the same time. This made for a busy job for the two of them behind it, they couldn't keep up. The bar boasts a pretty nice selection of both draft and bottled beer and also a pretty intriguing cocktail menu. I don't know if the drink menu is seasonal but many of them sounded like the perfect drink for a warm summer day. Seeing as how warm weather wasn't going to be here much longer I decided to try a couple. I was very pleased with each of them, impressive for a place just opened. Each drink will set you back $11 so this isn't a cheap meal if you're eating and drinking. After about a 45 minute time lapse while waiting to place the order we got ours in. I wasn't too upset with this because they were packed and the poor girl behind the bar was working her ass off. First appetizer up, tempura battered onion rings and than an order of Umamified fries to go with them.

Tempura Battered Onion Rings

Thin Fries with truffle Cheese Fondue, Truffle Salt

Both sides were pretty good. The thick cut onion rings had a fantastic batter though the taste of onion was minimal. They bring out a little basket of sauces for you to enjoy with them. All mayo based. The fries were richer than any spuds I've consumed and for that I liked them, though a split order was more than enough as far as tolerance. Onto the burgers. Each Umami location sports a signature burger that isn't available at any of the other outlets. Looking at some of the others they seem to try and create one with flavors from the area. For that we get the Calabrese which is a Italian seasoned sausage patty with truffled aioli, house truffle cheese and their own homemade blend of the city's signature giardiniera. The description sounded like something right up my alley and luckily for me also up hers. I convinced her to order it.

Calabrese Burger
Thoughts? They got some work to do with this one. Way to salty and the truffle aioli and cheese totally took over the flavor profile. The actual sausage patty was loose but sturdy and if it had not been bombarded with salt and instead had some subtle fennel notes to it, maybe it could of been better. This being my first visit to any Umami location I had to try their signature offering, the name sake burger. They take their signature blend of beef and top it with a Crispy Parmesan frico, shiitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelized onions and Umami house ketchup.

The Original from Umami Burger

Now I'm the first to give places time as far as getting their stuff together and I think a couple weeks was more than enough to get their burgers prepared and then cooked to the customers desired temperature. I was right. I asked for medium rare and it came medium rare. I was happy about that. I knew before ordering this might not be my style as I'm not fond of roasted tomatoes on my burgers, I don't get them with ketchup either but I wanted to try the one that made them famous. Unfortunately this tasted too much like a pizza burger which I'm not fond of unless they're made with an Italian sausage patty. Ironically the original had flavor profiles I would expect to find in their Calabrese. I didn't hate it but I would order one of the other ones next time should I make it back. I'm not anti that but the two burgers, two sides and three cocktails came to $72 and change so this isn't a place I'll be a regular at. After all Chicago is the heart of the Midwest and we corn folk know a thing or two about fresh ground meat between a bun. Oh and speaking of buns, I thought theirs were pretty dang good, even with the corny U stamped onto them. Welcome to Chicago.

The Insides

Umami Burger
1480 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 423-2005

Umami Burger on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 22, 2014

10 Wisconsin Biker Burgers

-Got beef?
The Burgers of Wisconsin

I love the burgers of Wisconsin. In case you didnt know it I'll argue with anyone that when it comes to states, none take them as serious as Wisco. Some people may say you can find good burgers in every state and I'd agree but you wont find the high concentration of spots that Wisconsin has anywhere else. It just so happens that I have the proof to back these claims up. All you have to do is look as posts tagged 'Wisconsin' to see I've given over 50 places putting out top notch burgers a shout-out. Today we focus on ten that cater to the states abundance of bikers. I'm not talking 12 speeds here, I'm referring to one of the states great exports, the Harley Davidson Motorcycle. With Summer done and Fall colors in the air now is the time many people are getting their last rides of the season in. So with it I thought it would be a good time to share some recs from the bars and taverns that cater to these riders as well as others. Here's ten burgers worth biking for. 

Captain Mike's

Kensoha, WI

Captain's has an extensive burger list ft. house made creations. Similar to a place like Kuma's but I haven't been there in a decade. Aside from the beer and burgers, the mac and cheese seems to be very popular with locals too. Good luck getting a seat at the bar on a Saturday. They do have outdoor seating when its warm. Burger options are overwhelming. They feature fresh grassfed patty's in 5 or 10 oz options and have a variety of Juicy Lucy spin-offs with a Wisconsin flare as well as every other popular combinations you can think of and some deep fried options you dont want to think of. Feel free to build your own on the sheet you fill out your order on.

a Zombie eating a burger inside the Fish Tank

So the burgers? Keeping it simple with an option like the "Dirty Burger" isn't a bad idea. Char-grilled top quality beef dressed with cheddar, a housemade black and tan onion ring, and horseradish mayo. Lettuce, tomato etc served on the side as well your choice of a side, the fresh cut fries kicked up with black pepper aren't bad. The burgers here paired with some beer from Ale Asylum or elsewhere in-state is the best thick style burger in the immediate area.

Captain Mike's "Dirty Burger"

Hanson's Bar and Grill 

Beloit, WI

I've long chose to pass thru Beloit whenever heading to or from Madison. But a tip over on LTH put this stop on my radar. They've been at it since 1940. As far as looks and atmosphere goes this is a classic Wisconsin style drinking and dining establishment. A big house makes for plenty of room for families and large groups. Over in the middle of the house is the bar which like most longtime joints is filled with yocals. Their specialty on the appetizer portion of the menu are the house fried mushrooms which are fresh and came fried perfectly. As good a batch as I've had from anywhere.

House Fried Shrooms

Then there's the burgers. After looking at their website and reading a few reviews about them elsewhere I was intrigued to try one. I ordered the house cheeseburger (1/2 pound) with cheddar and was rewarded with a top notch bar burger. Cooked to my medium rare request this was a Juicy Lucy but not from the cheese, the bottom part of the bun tasted like it had been "dipped" ala an Italian Beef and almost disintegrated before my last bite. They come with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles on the side. When it comes to bang for your buck burgers, this state has alot and Hanson's is hard to top. The odds are always with you in Wisconsin.

Hanson's Original House Cheeseburger

Skippy's Bar

Thiensville, WI

When one does some deep digging on where to find the best burger in the Milwaukee area, should you dig deep enough, this classic Sconnie style tavern will appear. Located in a suburb about15 minutes from MKE this old school tavern sits in a very scenic setting along an old creek and church built pre-1900's. The service was friendly and beer was cheap. The Skippy burger is a 1/3 lb of fresh beef cooked to order served with the famous Skippy Sauce on top. Pretty much similar to most thousand island based burger dressings this was a comforting one which hit the spot.

Skippy Burger

 Three Guys and a Grill

 Image Image
Elkhart Lake, WI

I was out in Sheboygan County on a consulting trip a little while back and seeked out a couple good burger stops on my route. Elkhart Lake is a small village located on the beautiful Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive which is a bikers best friend.The town itself is probably best known for being the home of the Road America Racetrack, which is said to slang a good charcoal kissed burgers on raceday. There's always been a history with racing in these parts as residents used to illegally race along the county roads back in the 50's before the track was built. There's also a history of grilling over real charcoal in these parts (see previous posts) and that's what I read the boys over at Three Guy's & a Grill were doing so I made it a point to stop by.

Flaming Charcoal Grill

Upon entry you're greeted by the grill sending sweet whiffs of smoke into the outside air. This was an integrated Sconnie bar in that there were what seemed to be a couple regulars, a few families and couple guys enjoying a drink after some hunting with a middle 40's aged female bartender who seemed to know them all. Cheeseburger with fried onions wasn't bad. It was a bit overcooked however the kiss of charcoal is always a pleasant taste and the toasted Sheboygan style hard rolls commonly used around here are top notch. Located in the 13,000 acre Marsh Park Wildlife area, the view while eating the burger might of been the best part.

Cheeseburger outside

 Platteville VFW Post 5274

Platteville, WI

I got to stop in and try the popular with locals and riders sliders they serve here while experiencing the atmosphere inside. I enjoyed my visit in doing so. The public is welcome but the average age inside on my visit had to be near 80 and this included me and the pretty young blonde bartender who the Vets obviously enjoyed shooting dice with. My first order placed was a coca cola and Spotted Cow from the tap, at $3 I felt like I could be a regular quickly if I lived near here like all the old timers inside do.

The view inside

It was around 5p and that's when slider night starts (it goes 'til 9p). It seemed that's the reason most of the guys at the bar were there. Actually I take that back, they were there for the cheap beer and some sliders to go along with it. There's a regular menu with burgers, brats etc but no one in the place was ordering anything but the special. Three for $2.50 isn't a bad deal and so I was told these have always been made here the same way and loved by the locals. You get what you pay for and then a little more as long as you like this style of burger. The patties were steamed and so they were lighter in color than your typical burger and loaded with onions served inside steamed buns with pickles and the option of cheese. Good stuff but getting to listen the old timers go back and forth while watching and analyzing the gameshow 'Baggage' with host Jerry Springer was really great. I thought it was a fun stop with a peak inside a different old school style of 'Midwest Living'.

Wednesday Night Sliders at the Platteville VFW

Monk's Retreat

Cross Plains, WI

Stopped into here on a classic roadtrip thru Southeastern Wisconsin a couple years back. It was a crisp Fall night and the Packers were on the air so the place was packed. Their burger might not look like much but it was a winner for those of us who like the classic variety. No frills,. just fresh meat, real Wisconsin Cheese, locally supplied bun and a good cooking job made this one a winner.

Cheeseburger Plate

Tamarack Bar

I'm happy to pass this rec on. Like me a twitter friend likes to explore the burgers of the area and when he tweeted to me that this spot was serving a good one. I made a mental note. It might not look like much from the outside but this is the reason I can legitimately argue why Wisconsin as a state makes the best burgers. They could just use some frozen puck patty but the beef is supplied ground to order by a local butcher. The $3 pricetag on Thursdays? made for one of the best valued burgers I can remember eating. Extra beefy.

Galesville, WI

Dick's Bar & Grill 

Hudson, WI

Hudson is on the western border of the state just a couple miles away from Minnesota. It's about a 15 minute ride into the Twin Cities from here. Hudson sits on the beautiful St. Croix River which makes it a fun place in the summer months with all the outdoor activities going on. The old historic downtown district is right off the water. Dick's is pretty much a place for all. There's the main bar which has your typical Wisconsin tavern feel to it. Located in the room next door is the dining room where families can eat, the room next to that is an outdoor dining area.

A peak inside the main bar

The building and location on which it sits was once the center of all the action back when the St. Croix Landing and Toll Bridge sat right out in front where all passerby's came thru back in the 1850's. The bridge provided a steady flow of people and vehicles into Hudson with the original route connecting Minnesota and Wisconsin. In 1867 the building Dick's now sits on became known as The St. Croix Saloon. It became Dick's in 1955. Today they have their own beer "Lucky Dog Red" which was a nice drink as we waited for some fried banana peppers from the appetizer menu.

Fried Banana Peppers

Nothing special as far as creativity goes but the peppers had me wondering why more places don't do this. You know why? Because most places just serve stuff that goes from the freezer to the fryer. I don't know if these are available pre-breaded and frozen but these were fried to order. If you like banana peppers like I do, there's no reason you wouldn't enjoy these. The burgers are what they're known for here and they come served variety of ways. I opted to follow a lead and go with the 'Big Richard'.

The "Big Richard" w/ Shaved Ham, Mushrooms & Melted Swiss Cheese

The burger was a 1/3 pound of fresh hand formed beef served with their signature fresh cut fries. All in all, another great bar burger served better than it had to be. The beef may have been cooked a little too well done but the piece of sauteed shaved ham and the mushrooms and melted cheese added some fat/juice into the mix. The fries were great. We spent a couple nights in Hudson and enjoyed some fun outdoor daytime activities with trips into the Twin Cities for the evening. The Apple River Tubing experience in nearby Somerset is a great way to spend a summer day as is a trip to the beautiful Willow River State Park. I enjoy this part of the state and look forward to returning.


Doorns Inn

Barnes, WI

We went into the Northwoods type tavern/roadhouse one day en route to Bayfield. My first instinct was to just take an order to go so we could get where we were headed ASAP but as I placed my order I fell into the trap that is Ice Cold American micro brewed beers. So of course I ended up ordering a couple while we waited. Even as the clock was just switching to the pm hours there were a couple regulars drinking, one of which was from the Ravenswood area and moved to the Northwoods. Of course with NFL network on the TV and football season near the Bears and Packers were being discussed. It's owned by a husband and wife team and the wife who was bar-tending was as nice as could be.

View from the bar

As seen in the picture above they have sold over 85,000 "Itty Bittys" which are their very popular with the locals-mini burgers. I read these are the best bar burgers not just in Wisconsin but in the country and in the few reviews and mentions of the place online everyone sings to their praise. They come in orders of three with fries and I think it was $6.95. I don't know how many spots I've doc'd in this thread but these were some of the best. Maybe a top 5 definitely a top 10. Fresh little balls of ground beef are cooked with a heavy amount of minced onion and together with the pickles and melted cheese they sing a glorious greasy tune. This is how most places claiming to serve "sliders" need to make them. But these aren't sliders, they're itty bittys and they're delicious.

Itty Bitty Cheeseburgers

Anton's Saloon

New Diggings, WI

Last but not least is my most recent burger consumed while in-state. I've long had the unincorporated town of New Diggings on my radar. Reason being is that there's two classic Wisconsin style biker bars located across the street from each other and that's it, no other businesses. One is famous for their BBQ pork sandwich while the other boasts a Macho Burger. Bikers from all over stop in for beer and food, most will got to both.

a peak around the place

I'm happy to report that the macho half pound burger is as good as the bikers that love it say it is. They get the meat supplied fresh from Weber Meats in nearby Cuba City and as seen in the pic they have the classic Wisconsin tavern setup where the bartender grills the burgers in an open area behind the bar. This isn't going to be some crazy new concoction that makes you wonder "why didn't I think of that" but it is everything you want from a classic backyard burger. If I was satisfied there's no reason you wont be.

Macho Burger

Captain Mike's Beer & Burger Bar
5118 6th Ave
Kenosha, WI 53140
(262) 658-2278

Hanson's Bar & Grill
615 Cranston Rd
Beloit, WI 53511
(608) 313-8797

Skippy's Sports Pub
113 Green Bay Rd
Thiensville, WI 53092
(262) 512-1240

Three Guys & a Grill
W7039 County Road S R
Elkhart Lake, WI 53020
(920) 876-2535

VFW Bar & Grill
110 W Mineral St.
Platteville, WI 53818
(608) 348-8883

The Monk's Retreat
1118 Main St
Cross Plains, WI 53528
(608) 798-3781

Tamarack Bar
Holcomb Coulee Rd
Galesville, WI 54630
(608) 539-2763

Dick's Bar & Grill
111 Walnut Street
Hudson, WI 54016
(715) 386-5222

Doorn's Inn
6935 County Highway North
Barnes, WI 54873
(715) 795-2000

Anton's Saloon
26320 County Hwy W
Shullsburg, WI 53586
(608) 965-4881

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.


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

Taco Nano! on Urbanspoon


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