Archive for the ‘off track – Chicago’ Category

Fuddruckers in Highland Park

The sign at Fuddruckers claims to serve the ‘Worlds greatest hamburgers’, I am not certain how true that is, but I do quite like eating here even though it is a chain resturant. Their slogan is after all a registered trademark, I wonder if those trademark approval people get a pile of hamburgers to sample for verification purposes? In Fuddruckers own words from their website “Some people are driven to create the world’s fastest cars or the world’s tallest buildings.  Our calling is only slightly less glamorous but a whole lot tastier.  We were born to create the World’s Greatest Hamburgers®.”

Sounds like quite a mission.

Fuddruckers Menu Board

One of the things I do like about Fuddruckers is the build your own option, and I do like that you can choose some different types of meats for you hamburger.

Fuddruckers Burger Combinations Fuddruckers Exotic Options Fuddrucker combination options

Once you have selected your Fuddrucker combinations, you can then choose from a 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 or 1 lb patties and get it grilled to order. I have never tried anything larger than the 1/2 lb burger and usually find that the 1/3rd lb is plenty. I do usually get one of the exotic options as this always make me imagine that I getting something slighlty healthier or of better quality, and when I am in a chain style resturant that sometimes makes me feel slightly better about stuffing my face with one of these hamburgers. In Fuddruckers I do tend to lean towards the Buffalo or the Boar option, both are quite good and not as greasy as the basic hamburger options.

Fuddruckers Bacon Cheddar Cheeseburger with onion rings

I have tried many of the combinations, I like the “Swiss Melt” which is “Sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions and Swiss cheese” and I also quite like the “The Works” which isSmokehouse bacon, American cheese and grilled mushrooms”. On this occasion though I just got the basic “Bacon Cheddar” burger which is topped with “Smokehouse bacon and cheddar cheese”. I chose to have the  Buffalo patty and to substitute onion rings for fries. They do have pretty good inion rings here, all thing considered. They have a fair range of sauces to dip them in too, I tend to favour the sweet honey mustard.

To be honest with you I am quite surprised that I managed to write this much about eating at a chain, having said that it is one of those resturants that I quite like. Although I have only eaten at this one in the Chicago suburbs, if I was elsewhere on a cross couuntry journey and stuck for somewhere more unique to eat, if I chanced upon a Fuddruckers I would probably not be too unhappy.

Fuddruckers on Urbanspoon

Big Jones

Last year we went to New Orleans and had some pretty decent Louisiana Southern Cooking, including some of that gumbo. I had heard from some local NOLA alumni that the place to get Southern Food in Chicago was at Big Jones in Andersonville. So I booked it for lunch to see what their gumbo was like and try some more of that Southern Food.

When I perused the menu I just could not really decide what to get, I wanted to try the gumbo, but I also wanted rice and beans, and I wanted the chicken and dumpling soup, and also I really fancied getting my hands and mouth around their butcher’s platter. I kind of figured that was not realistic, so we settled on sharing the ‘Butchers block’, and a small gumbo each.

Homemade Corn Bread

I wasn’t going to mention it as on the face of it, this is just cornbread. But I cannot lie, I have never had corn bread like this before. It arrived warm straight from the oven, it was savoury and sweet at the same time. The soft bread was interspersed with chunks of fresh sweetcorn. If this was anything to go by, then I had a feeling that we were going to be in for a good meal.

Butcher's Block

The Butchers Block is listed as ‘Authentic Cajun charcuterie made in house’. On the face of it the board does not look that big or overwhelming, but we were pretty full by the end of eating it, and we had not even got the gumbo yet. But lets get back to that board.

Left to Right we had

On the top left some ‘Potted Guinea Hen’ which was “Local guinea fowl preserved in its own aspic with Madeira and herbs, served with sweet quince pickle, bourbon-brown sugar mustard” I was really quite taken with this one. The guinea fowl meat was nice and gamey, the aspic was well flavoured kept the whole piece quite juicy. It came with slices of sweet quince which really added light sweetness to each mouthful.

On the bottom left was the Tête de Cochon, a hog’s head pâté, made with brandy and peppercorns. This was accompanied with bourbon-brown sugar mustard. You really needed to use the mustard to cut through the strong flavour. I enjoyed this one the least, it was good but the strong flavour from my initial bite, became stronger with the next bite.

Top Middle was the black pudding or rather the official name was Boudin Rouge. This was a cajun blood sausage, I am not sure exactly what was in it, but it did have a mild cinnamon flavour which I thought was a bit unusual. I really liked it.

Bottom Middle was the Andouille sausage which is Slow-smoked over pecan wood, quite nice but this had the least distinctive flavour of all the charcuterie items on the board.

Top right was my favourite item of all the board. This was the Tasso Ham, the menu describes this as ‘Heavily spiced, dry cured and smoked for two days’, it had a really good mild curry flavour, it went well with the pimiento cheese, and piccalilli. There were also some house made benne crackers which also were good with the cheese.

Overall this was a really good butcher’s board. I would have liked a little more explanation of everything on it, but that was just a minor thing. I had taken a picture of that section of the menu on my phone, so we just kept referring back to that to see what we were eating.

Gumbo

After all that a nice warm bowl of the Gumbo Ya-Ya arrived, the menu describes this as a ‘Traditional Cajun chicken & sausage gumbo in dark, smoky roux, with buttered aromatic rice from Arkansas’ It was a little different from the gumbo that I had in New Orleans, it certainly had the right dark colour for the roux which showed me that it had been cooked down for the right amount of time, it was however a little bit more bitter tasting than I remembered. I still enjoyed it, but the bitterness and the deep richness of the sauce made me glad I had only got the starter size.

I quite liked Big Jones, but it made me realise that some of that food I got down in New Orleans may not have been quite the same, maybe I was just getting the stuff they give to tourists. I may not go back to Big Jones, but I have a resolve to go back down South to see if I can get some better local cajun food.

Check out the menu and the details at http://www.bigjoneschicago.com

Big Jones on Urbanspoon

Kuma's Corner

I had heard a lot of talk about Kuma’s Corner and it’s infamous burgers. “Big burgers”, “Hard Rock music”, “Long waits, but worth the effort” seemed to be the general theme of those conversations. So with my Mum in town and knowing that she likes a good US Style hamburger I figured it was a good place to take her for lunch. I thought I would casually forget to mention the rock music part. We rode here on the 77 CTA bus which stops right outside Kuma’s, very handy to know. That bus runs between the Belmont El Stops Blue and Red.

Kumas Artwork

It was quite busy inside for 2pm on a Wednesday but not too bad, there was a 15-20 minute wait for a table or we could get seated straight away if we sat at the bar. We sat at the bar, why not that is where the action and the beer lives. Also you can watch them making your burgers if you sit there. Plus you get a good chance to peruse some of the more random art work.

Nantucket Light Lager

Seeing as we were at the bar I felt that it was best to forgo the water option and get myself a beer. After a chat with the barmaid I got a Sankaty Light lager from Nantucket. This is a light American Golden Lager, light bodied with a good balance and a distinct hop character. I quite liked it, just about right for a lunchtime drink.

Once again I am failing dismally in my duty to tell you about the prime reason for my visit here, which was to sample their burgers.

The Kuma Burger The Kuma Burger

I played it basic and opted for what they describe as “OUR FAMOUS KUMA BURGER” this is basically a burger covered with Bacon, Cheddar, and a Fried Egg – for $12. Selected mainly as I just cannot resist those fried egg toppings. I guess I have mentioned that enough times in multitudes of pages. The burger was a huge 10oz as promised and almost too big to contemplate eating. Once the top pretzel bun lid was placed onto the burger it was so large that you cannot even see the fries behind it. I decided to tackle this one head on and take no prisoners. First bite released the egg yolk creating a nice juicy layer that helped to lubricate the bun. Despite the fact that by now my hands and chin were getting covered in meat juice and egg, I plowed on mission, the tomato and onion fell out, but too late no time to stop to pick up stragglers if they cannot keep up. I was still trying to get through the burger. On occasion I paused briefly to sip beer and eat one of the fries. Finally the job was complete the plate was cleared of burger, and I was so stuffed I could not even finish my second beer.

Kaijo Burger

My Mother went for the Kaijo Burger, again a mammoth 10 oz beef patty, this one covered in Bacon, Bleu Cheese, Frizzled Onions for $13. This was also consumed but minus the top bun, we all have to make some minor sarifices in the quest to consume big burgers. I understood that this burger was excellent but I was too stuffed to even try a bite.

So the verdict on these burgers was that they are good, way too big though, if you eat one you will not need to eat for the rest of the day. I can kind of understand the hype as there is some novelty value here. Am I crazy if I say that they would be perfect if they were maybe just a 6 oz burger. Perhaps but then I could have had some room left for their build your own mac ‘n’ cheese which you can make choosing from Bacon, Prosciutto, Andouille, Chicken, Roasted Red Peppers, Caramelized Onions, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Broccoli, Peas, Mushrooms, Scallions, Sweet Corn, Garlic, or Jalapeno. Now I feel slightly sad and that I might have missed out.

Still I have the memory of that fried egg topping to sustain me until next time.

Kuma's Corner on Urbanspoon

Hopleaf Sign

I can hardly believe how quickly time can fly by. About two and a half years ago I was heading up to Andersonville with my copy of the Chicago ‘Not For Tourists’ guide in my hand hunting down a Belgian bar called Hopleaf. I got all the way up there and sady it was not open. Since then apart from the occasional memory prompt while watching it appear on Diner’s, Drive-ins and Dives I pretty much forgot about it for the next couple of years. Until this week that is when I was trying to find somewhere to eat and get a good beer and the mists in my mind cleared for a Belgian beer moment.

Kwak beer

It was much bigger inside than I thought it would be, there was a front bar, a restaurant at the back, and we were taken up to the mezzanine to a select group of quiet tables overlooking the downstairs area. There was a really large selection of beers to choose from, but it did not take me too long to settle on a draught Kwak beer (pictured above), and before you ask, yes one of the things that I like about drinking this beer is the funky drinking vessel. You get a round bottom goblet a sort of smaller version of a yard of ale glass, and the handle is a wooden holder. The first time I ever saw one of these was in a themed Belgian Bar on the waterfront in Cape Town. At that bar if you had one of these glasses they made you give up your left shoe as a deposit and it was put in a basket above the bar. Something I have seen elsewhere and a memory that is embedded in my mind. That is not the only reason I get this beer, it is also a very drinkable beer, not too overpowering in terms of malt, and it hides it’s alcoholic content well. Just a couple of these can send you well on your way.

OK now for some food to soak up or rather accompany this beer.

Rabbit Sausage Starter

We shared a starter getting the Rabbit Sausage Platter. This came in a bowl, which was unexpected, I was exepecting a plate or even a charcuterie board. It might not have been quite as envisoned, but it certainly was visually a good plateful or rather bowlful. Apart from the lightly spiced rabbit sausage it also had some braised Savoy Cabbage, a Rosemary Yorkshire Pudding (which was perfectly done), Red Pickled Beets, and a light jus. The sausage was quite subtle and had a spicing that we could not quite place. I queried this with the waitress and the message came back that it was rosemary, but I was still not convinced, it was more like a fennel or fenugreek flavour, at least that was what I tasted. This was a good bowlful, you could eat this yourself, and get a main course, but it was big enough to share if you just wanted a tasting plate.

Hopleaf Brisket Fingerling potato salad

There was only ever going to be one choice of dish for the main course and that was going to be some brisket. More specifically the Organic montreal style brisket platter. I had seen this prepared on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on a few occasions. The most recent being about 10 minutes before I caught the bus over to Andersonville this evening. Apart from the brisket the platter came with dill pickle (which was left untouched), coleslaw, and a stilton mac ‘n’ cheese. The  Stilton Mac and Cheese was surprisingly good, I am not a massive stilton fan, but this was judged just right not too much stilton, and you were left with a good flavour, but not too blue.

We also got a side of german potato salad which was made of fingerling potatoes, caramelized red onions, garlic, bacon, apple cider vinegar. Largely because we both love fingerling potatoes. Really a nice mixture I may try and make these myself.

This was all great, but the brisket, the star of the show, was kind of out of this world, a beautiful thing to behold. Organic grass fed brisket is rubbed all over with minced garlic then coated with a montreal style rub made up of a mixture of kosher salt, black pepper, smoked sweet paprika, brown sugar, ground cumin, ground fennel, ground coriander, ground celery seed, mustard seed, mustard powder, all spice, and pink salt. It then gets left to marinate in the cooler for 72 hours. Then it is put on a sheet tray, covered in slices of bacon, and some red wine poured into the base of the tray to keep it moist as it is placed into a smoker for 8 hours at 250F.

After all that work you just know that it has to be good and believe me it was seriously good, tender, juicy, flavoured so well.

All in all a great meal, some great flavours, good beer, and a decent price point.

There is not much else to tell you about this trip to Hopleaf other than I was sad that I had left it so long to pay them a visit.

check them out at their websit; http://hopleaf.com/

Hopleaf on Urbanspoon

Middle Eastern bakery and grocery in Andersonville has been a great place to stock up on spices, spice mixes, rubs, teas and pretty much everything I have needed for my varied and eclectic cooking.

DSC05875 Spices and seeds

There are shelves packed with practically every spice you need, ground or whole, plus a whole lot of pre-mixed rubs, tagine mixes, and curry mixes. The only thing I have not been able to get here was curry leaves, but they are better fresh and if you head up to any of the groceries on Devon Avenue in Little India you can get them there. But anyhow as I say this is a great place to stock up for those more advanced recipes.

Teas

They also stock some really healthy, rather invigorating, and just tasty tea blends, everything from classic Green Teas, Northern India Chai, to refreshing blends made with different dried fruits. I particularly like the Pomengranate Tea, it is very good either hot or cold.

Spinach PiesSpinach

In the Deli counter they have an impressive selection of Pies, Kibbi, and Falafel. I have tried the Spinach & Cheese (feta) Pie and it was quite good, the pastry is a little more dense than an English pasty, but the fillings are good. They also have other options such as Chicken, Mushroom, Green, & Red Pepper Pie, or  a vegetarian pie with zuchinni, yellow squash, eggplant, black & green olives, tomatoes, red &
green peppers, just to give a couple of examples. Other specialities are the kibbi balls which are either meat or spinach mied with bulgah.

The grocery has so much more to offer and you really need to check it out. You can get a good overview of what they have on offer from their website at http://middleeastbakeryandgrocery.com/deli

Middle Eastern Bakery is at 1512 West Foster Avenue, it is not really near any El Stops, the easiest might be to ride the Brown Line to Damen then jump onto the CTA 80 bus, or get the 22 Clark Bus up into Andersonville.

Middle Eastern Bakery on Urbanspoon

Tom & Eddies

It took me a while to even learn the name of this Burger joint. For about three months it was known as ‘new burger place’ and it was an infrequent stop off on our lunchtime burger circuit. This particular Tom & Eddies is in Deerfield Square, way up in the suburbs near to the Deerfield Metra station and is one of five locations in Illinois. Tom & Eddies tagline is “good taste in everything we do”

Build your own burger

There are many signature burger options that are well worth getting, but it is often nicer to just play it simple and ‘Build your own’, in this case a simple Cheeseburger, fresh handmade  patty  of 100% angus beef with (in this case) swiss cheese. This was a good choice, but on the menu my favourite so far has been the ‘3 Mushrooms and Swiss’ Apart from the Angus burger this one is topped with Grilled shitake, cremini and oyster mushrooms, with swiss cheese, red onion and truffle ailoli on a gourmet roll. Just one of the many signature options.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

If you fancy something slightly healthier then I would recommend the Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich. It even looks healthy in the picture, that is a lot more salad than I would normally allow anywhere near my plate in a Burger Joint. Here at Tom & Eddies this sandwich is a grilled chicken breast, a larger slice of prosciutto, melted swiss cheese, those mixed greens I just mentioned, a smear of garlic alioli and dijon mustard, all on a toasted ciabatta roll. This one of my faves at Tom & Eddies.

Its a pretty good small chain burger and sandwich joint, a little bit pricey, but probably value.

This Tom & Eddies is at 740 North Waukegan Road in Deerfield

Tom & Eddie's on Urbanspoon

Fox and Obel

I have shopped for food many times at Fox and Obel. They have a lot of good produce, even though it is at a high price point such as $5.99 a lb for fingerling potatoes (but available all year round even when no-one else has any), in general it is all worth the visit for your groceries. I have never baulked at making the one hour (at least) trip down from North Center to buy myself a good thick slice of pancetta or some other deli item that I need or occasionally just desire.

Now as for the food in the cafe, I have only eaten there on one previous occasion, it was not my best meal in town, but I am not one to hold a food grudge so we made a trip in here today to give it another try.

Fox and Obel Specials Menu

Last time out I tried the Grilled Cheese and Tomato soup, it wasn’t terrible just not memorable. This time I figured I would try one of their daily specials, so I went for a simple Reuben Sandwich for $8.50. My Mother got the Grilled Chicken Panini off the Hot Sandwich menu for $9.99. These both came with fries which seems like a good deal.

ReubenReuben Half Slice

I enjoyed the Reuben Sandwich, there was a good bit of corned beef in the centre with plenty of swiss cheese. The flavours were good, I liked the corned beef, the 1000 island dressing did not amaze me, and the missing sauerkraut perturbed me. Maybe it was lost in action between the kitchen and the cafe.  Mysteriously towards the crust there was just the dressing and no meat. Very strange.

Chicken Paninihalf chicken panini

The Grilled chicken panini was filled in places with grilled chicken breast, roasted pequillo peppers, aged manchego cheese, baby arugula, basil pesto on sour dough bread. Overall a very tasty sandwich, but there was a major inconsistency, one half of the sandwich had no peppers or arugula in it. How does that happen? Still a good sandwich, but you have to wonder what is happening as its made.

So what are we saying here? My experience was much better than my last trip when my experience was soured by a 40 minute wait for a grilled cheese sandwich, this time our food was on the table in 10 minutes which cheered me greatly, but around me I saw one table leave as their order was ‘forgotten’ and another two tables had to go back up to the counter to seek out there own bowls of soup as they never arrived. That is why I prefaced the write up as ‘toss a coin for heads or tails.’

I liked the taste of both sandwiches and there is little doubt that the ingredients were good, it was just a shame that they were inconsistent in the way that they were put together. There is so much to like and so much to give hope, but also some doubt as I have had two trips to the cafe and neither encouraging a return which makes me sad in many ways.

When I first came to Chicago I went on an open top bus trip and as we drove past Fox and Obel the guide cheerfully told us that Oprah did her shopping there (or rather someone else did it there for her). Mind you Oprah has left town now.

Despite everything, Fox and Obel is still a pretty damn good grocery shop.

Fox and Obel Cafe on Urbanspoon