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Chicago Deep Dish Round 2

Posted from Chicago, Illinois, United States.

Let’s try this again. After a cold walk around Chicago’s South Side and the Robie House, we decide to give deep dish another try. This time we go off the recommendations of some Chicgo ex-pat friends and stop into Giordono’s. The menu claims a history of Italian immigrants bringing over a recipe from Turin in the 70′s, so can this really be considered authentic Chicago deep dish?

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This one was better. The crust was piping hot and crispy. The filling was a little cooler than I’d like and the mushrooms and peppers would have benefitted from sautéing first. But the cheese had great flavor and you could taste the pork, fennel and spices in the sausage.

This is a much better pie than we had at Lou Malnati’s, but I think there’s still some room for improvement to make a truly great pie.

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Quick flavorful fast food

Posted from Chicago, Illinois, United States.

Quick junk food, Portillo’s is setup like a food court. This Chicago Classic is spreading locations across the country, selling quintessential Chicago dogs and Italian food. While people may dispute the quality, there’s no doubting the heavenly aroma when you walk through the doors.

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A Chicago dog with everything on it… onions, pickles, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers but no ketchup! Not a special dog, but pile high like this makes it amazing.

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Of course the dog wasn’t enough, so I also got the Italian beef with sweet peppers. Delicious, juicy, flavorful an light years better than the giant McDonalds across the street.

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Historic ribs in Old Town

Posted from Chicago, Illinois, United States.

Twin Anchors Tavern is a small dive on Chicago’s north side and a huge part if Chicago history. A favorite of Frank Sinatra, this tiny bar has a great beer list and is famous for their ribs. We started our tavern tour here, and grabbed lunch while we waited on a coldly snowy Chicago morning.
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The pork is tender, juicy, with some great smokey flavor. The barbecue sauce is tangy, sweet, almost picklish and light on the molasses. Great way to warm up!

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The ribs are worthy of the reputation. Great bark with lots of flavor and char. Tender fall of the bone, I can see why Frank enjoyed them so much. The spicy sauce with ghost peppers adds a lot of sweet heat that sneaks up on you, but doesn’t mask the great flavor of the ribs.

Both dishes were great, but the ribs really stand out and are worth coming back for.

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Noodling along through Chicago

Posted from Chicago, Illinois, United States.

Ok, I know it’s not real Chicago Italian-American food, but it’s a regional chain I’ve heard about. Noodles & Company makes all things noodlish, from Asian to Italian styles, and represents something you just don’t find in LA, hot hearty convenient food for a cold day.

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I’m a sucker for good Mac and cheese, and very picky about it. So I knew it was a gamble to try their Wisconsin Mac & Cheese with meatballs. If you like the blue box, you’ll probably like this. The noodles are very hot and al dente, but the cheese sauce tastes powdered. The pile of factory shredded cheese on top didn’t melt and didn’t add much to the dish. The meatballs had great texture and a lot of rich flavor with a nice oven toasted crust, but were very salty. But within a few minutes the whole dish had congealed into a lumpy gross mess.

Pearl fared much better with the Bankok Curry. Pulled pork on rice noodles tossed with fresh herbs and vegetables in a nice light spicy gingery sauce. Certainly not Thai, and not a curry either, but quite delicious. Add a delicious dash of Siracha and you’re all set!

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Deep dish delight disappoints

Posted from Chicago, Illinois, United States.

OK, it’s a chain, but it’s only 2 blocks from the hotel and it’s cold out, so Lou Malnati’s will be our first experience with deep dish pizza in Chicago. We get a table almost immediately though the place is pretty busy.

We’re told our pizza will take 30 min or so, and based on the questions asked, it sounds like most patrons preorder their pie. Good way to turn tables, and a good sign if people know the ins and outs of ordering.

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While we wait for our pie, I indulge in a pint. Noticing a regional label unfamiliar with, I quiz the waiter and settle on 312 Urban Wheat from Goose Island. Not very translucent, light on wheat flavor, and the taste of chorine and too much hops is of putting for this style of beer. I much preferred it when I found it on tap a few weeks ago in San Francisco. I still need to check them out while I’m here in Chicago.

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What you see is The Chicago Classic, a sausage pie with mushrooms and onion added.
Honestly? A little disappointed, but maybe I had my hopes too high for a chain. Crust is nice and crispy, but doughy. The sausage is generous in portion, and lean, but the only flavoring seems to be salt. Likewise the mozzarella is generic and salty. The tomatoes make everything on top a watery mess. Overall this pizza lacks in flavor. Sad to say, their frozen ones might actually be better.

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No nonsense noodles

Posted from San Francisco, California, United States.

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I made it through TSA security with only 20 minutes until boarding. Normally this would mean a sad sandwich packaged the previous night for $15. Luckily I’m at SFO and for a small airport the food options look surprisingly good. I pass up the packaged sandwiches, gourmet picnic foods, as well as the specialty pizza and hot sandwiches, choosing instead the sushi and noodle counter, Wakaba. Mesmerized by videos of Mt. Fuji, I quickly get a bowl of beef udon and a cold bottle of Sapporo while keeping track of my flight out of the corner of my eye. (Since when does TSA allow glass inside the security point?)

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The broth is light, slightly sweet and very hot. The noodles and seaweed are nicely al dente. The beef is flavorful, but over cooked and not as tender as it should be. And after a long day of meetings, the Sapporo really hits the spot. Alas, I have to rush, and don’t get to finish the broth or last few sips of beer.

Does it hold up to a great noodle house? No. But it’s 40 feet from my gate. Besides, what’s being served inside your airport?

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BBQ, Beer, and the Bay

Posted from San Francisco, California, United States.

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Just off the plane and checked into my hotel on a Monday night in San Francisco. Stuck without a car, and not wanting to figure out the public transit just yet, I decide to stay in walking distance. Being a daytime tourist trap, the Fisherman’s Wharf area is pretty light when it comes to late night options. Applebee’s, Subway, and In-N-Out top the list. Don’t get me wrong, I love a Double-Double, grilled onion, protein style, but if I’m traveling, and blogging, then it needs to be a little more special.

After a bit of googling, I landed in The Pub BBQ, a BBQ bar with a late kitchen tucked away to the corner of Ghirardelli Square. It’s a typical dark wood paneled pub, but with BBQ. Quiet, with only me and a couple of locals, but it’s a Monday and there’s few tourists in February.

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Deciding on a pint of whatever I didn’t recognize on tap, I found 312 Urban Wheat, a nice light cloudy heff from Chicago. (I may have to look up the brewery next month when I’m there.)

Considering this is a BBQ place, and not too touristy looking, I opted for the pulled pork sandwich with a side of tater tots.

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Good, crispy, hot tots with house BBQ sauce for dipping. Very different BBQ from any I’ve had before. It’s apple cider tangy, sweet, heavy in the catsup and almost overwhelming celery salt, but not much molasses. Not quite Carolina style, but still worlds away from dark Kansas City sugary stuff. The pulled pork is served on toasted sourdough (this is San Francisco and Boudins is just around the corner). The pork is smokey, juicy, and tender, with a soft, but dark bark. Clearly this is prepared right and not just simmered in a crockpot. The pork is thoroughly tossed with BBQ sauce. Not sure if it was the same sauce as with the tots, but if so, it totally transforms on the meat. There also a house hot sauce, with the tang of Franks Red Hot, but some nice smokey flavors too. It blends really well with the BBQ sauce by adding heat without wrecking the flavor.

My only regret? It’s a beautifully clear night in the city and I forgot my camera and tripod.

Overall probably the best I would have found for late night dining without a guide. Next time you’re in San Francisco, step away from the generic seafood on The Embarcadero and try The Pub BBQ. Just don’t forget your chocolate soda upstairs.

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Let’s see how great this famous coffee really is

Posted from Indianapolis, Indiana, United States.

Finally, a Dunkin Donuts. I’ve been itching to try them for a while now, especially since their coffee repeatedly wins tasting polls.

Pearl is a fan if their donut holes, so we picked up one of each:

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Glazed – ehh, nothing special, good balance of glaze to cake though

Chocolate – rich and creamy, definitely the best of the bunch.

Powdered – not too sweet, fresh crisp taste

Cinnamon powdered – nice variant on the traditional powdered

Pumpkin – mostly cinnamon and allspice, not much pumpkin flavor

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Apple raspberry jelly – nice fluffy cake and jelly has some nice tartness to it. But hard to identify apple or raspberry flavors. Tastes like jello.

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Coffee is good. Default cream and sugar levels are perfect. Slight hint of chickory, and the roast flavor clearly comes through. Even without all the crazy flavor add-ins, I can see why people pick this as their favorite. Nothing exotic, just simple comforting flavor.

If I was around, I’d stop in again for the coffee.

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Cafe by the Canal

Posted from Indianapolis, Indiana, United States.

Day one on our own in Indiana, and we decided to wander around the museums and attractions in White River Park, an urban park and cultural area in downtown Indianapolis. First we hoped to try the LS Aryes Historic Tea Room, but that is only available for special events. So instead we tried the cafe in the Indiana State Museum, figuring museum cafes usually have decent choices.

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I selected the only thing that comes close to being a regional specialty, a fried pork tenderloin sandwich. This was delicious! The pork tenderloin was amazingly tender, literally falling apart at the touch. The breading was nice and crispy, holding the meat together. Topped with some lettuce, tomato, onions, and a spicy dijon mustard dressing, this was a well-constructed sandwich. My only complaint was that the crisp of the pork was a bit oily in flavor, but the texture was great.

chicken salad with corn chowder

Pearl is a sucker for corn, bacon, and soup, so how could she pass up the bacon sweet corn chowder. Loaded with corn, potatoes, and bacon, this was a rich hot creamy dish. She paired the cup with a half-sandwich, a chicken salad sandwich so loaded that she needed to eat half of it with a spoon! The chicken salad was delicious, with flavorful chunked chicken instead of shredded. A surprising touch was the addition of cherries instead of the usual raisins. The result added a nice fresh tang to offset the creamy dressing.

So, if visiting the museum area, check out the cafe. It’s a great option in an area with little else to choose from.

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SLO isn’t so slow on Thursdays

Posted from San Luis Obispo, California, United States.

On Thursdays San Luis Obispo transforms from a quiet rural town to a thriving festival with the weekly Farmers Market. Finally a chance to get some truly local fare.

We’re all adults, so let’s start with desert first. Ice cream sandwiches at Batch! Nice warm peanut butter cookies with a generous scoop of creamy coffee ice cream.

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For dinner I decided on Firestone Grill because everybody swears by their tri-tip sandwich and fries. It was on the corner, just past the end of the market, so easy to step in, but the line was huge! I recommend going on an off night since its apparently fairly crowded at lunch too. The line does move fast though, and food rolls out quickly considering the crowd.

The tri-tip was great. Silky smooth and tender, but not smokey enough for my tastes. Everyone says the fries are laced with crack, but I didn’t care for them. Though they were generous with the seasoning, it was mostly salt. So a lot of seasoning meant a lot of salt, which I guess is good in a college bar hangout. If you’re in town, do stop by for the tri-tip though. You won’t be disappointed.