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I've eaten at the Blu Fish Sushi Bistro in Glenview, IL many times over the past two or three years, but I've been staying more toward the Des Plaines area around O'Hare Airport over the last year or so. To the east of Des Plaines is Park Ridge, a small suburb that is probably best known as the hometown of Hillary Clinton. There's a number of little restaurants in and around Park Ridge and I decided to try the Blu Fish located along Northwest Highway in a combination retail/residence complex. (see map)
This Blu Fish location opened in 2011 and offers pretty much the same menu as the original location. While they feature steaks and seafood prepared in their kitchen, I always go and hang out at the sushi bar to get some of the most wonderful sushi in the Chicago area.
It was one of those evenings when I needed sushi and I found that the Blu Fish location in Park Ridge was less than a 10 minute drive from my hotel in Des Plaines. The entrance to Blu Fish is actually behind the building from Northwest Highway, across a small street from the Trader Joe's in Park Ridge. Parking is plentiful in the lot in front of the entrance.
The interior of the Park Ridge Blu Fish is similar to the original one in that it had a classy contemporary look. While both locations look elegant and chic, I've never once gotten an attitude or an ounce of pretension from anyone on my previous visits to the Glenview location. It turned out to be exactly the same for my visit to the Park Ridge Blu Fish.
I asked to sit at the sushi bar. Like the Glenview spot, it had a blue under-lit sushi bar that I enjoy immensely. I was greeted by the sushi chef - Mongo (gotta love the name!) - and soon after a young lady came over to take my drink order and to drop off a sushi order sheet. I ordered an Asahi - large.
The sushi in the case in front of me looked fresh and delicious. I had a small breakfast and no lunch, so I was pretty hungry. And I always seem to order way too much sushi when I go to Blu Fish. But it's just so damned good. I immediately told Mongo that I wanted one each of the spicy tuna and the spicy salmon rolls. I always get the spicy tuna rolls until one of the chefs at the Blu Fish in Glenview talked me into the spicy salmon on one visit. Mongo began to make them for me as I filled out what I wanted for nigiri sushi.
For sushi, I ordered some pieces of smoked salmon, yellow tail, albacore tuna and, as a treat for myself, I also ordered up some blue fin tuna they had available at market price that evening. I doubled up on the smoked salmon - which is some of the best I've ever had - to make it 10 pieces in all.
The spicy rolls came up first. And I have to say that I thought the salmon rolls weren't as good as the ones I've had up at the original Blu Fish. They didn't have the forward spicy taste like I found with the spicy tuna roll, but they were still very good. The spicy tuna was out-of-this-world delicious. And the other thing I like about Blu Fish - their sushi rolls are big, easily the size of a silver dollar.
I had just finished up the last of the spicy tuna and salmon rolls when Mongo handed the sushi plate over the counter to me. He also included a piece of seared o-toro tuna nigiri that he said was on the house. That was certainly nice!
The sushi at Blu Fish in Park Ridge was just as good as the sushi I've had at the Glenview location. The albacore tuna was melt-in-your-mouth smooth and the smoked salmon was superb. Even the seared o-toro was fabulous. I was sitting there savoring the taste of the sushi and I got to thinking, "Why go anyplace else? Blu Fish is great!"
And it is great. The only drawback is that it's a little expensive. Well, sushi, in general, can be pretty expensive. But if you go into Blu Fish knowing that you're probably going to spend some coin on sushi, you won't be disappointed in the least. I've never had anything close to a bad experience at the Glenview location, and I'm looking forward to return trips to the Park Ridge location in the future.
Another place that I've written about in the past - a long time ago - is Volpi Italian Meats in St. Louis. This is a company that is one of the oldest Italian meat companies in the United States. My previous entry over 8 years ago didn't do the place justice and on a recent visit to Volpi's, I picked up some meat and cheese and got some pictures of the place.
Giovanni Volpi was a salumiere in his hometown of Milan, Italy, an Italian meat artisan who dried and cured his own meats to sell to the public. Hearing that the American heartland was a bountiful place for beef and pork, he left Italy in 1900 to travel to the United States. He ended up in St. Louis in the city's growing Italian neighborhood, The Hill. In 1902, "John" Volpi - with partner Gino Pasetti - established his company, the John Volpi Sausage Company, and was making Italian meats with high quality Midwestern raised pork and beef along with using only the finest in spices and seasonings in the meat.
John Volpi ended up marrying Gino Pasetti's sister, Maria, in 1905. A midwife by trade, Maria never worked in the meat processing plant. Volpi and Pasetti continued to make Italian meats and by the mid-1920's, Volpi Sausage Company was nationally known for having some of the best Italian meats in the United States.
In 1938, Volpi's and Pasetti's Italian nephew, Armando Pasetti, was sent to America to learn the old world art of curing meats from his uncle. Pasetti, although only 14 years old and only being able to speak Italian when he started with his uncle, quickly learned the trade and took classes at night to learn English. He eventually took over the company - then known as Volpi Foods - when John Volpi passed away in 1957. Pasetti updated the facilities and improved the process of making the meats, but he never strayed from the family's standards of excellence in making the meats.
By the 1980's, Volpi Foods was selling Italian meats across the nation and internationally. They began to distribute meats to the Schnuck's supermarket chain in the St. Louis area. You can find Volpi meats in supermarkets in many Midwestern cities today.
After getting her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and subsequently getting her MBA from Washington University in St. Louis, Pasetti's daughter Lorenza joined the company as an assistant bookkeeper. She eventually began to learn every aspect of the business, from curing and production to distribution and marketing. She became the General Manager of the company and eventually took over the day-to-day operation of the company when her father retired in 2002 at the age of 78.
(Pictured right - Lorenza and Armondo Pasetti)
The retail shop for Volpi is located at the corner of Edwards and Daggett on The Hill. (see map) This is the original building that John Volpi and Gino Pasetti established their retail meat shop that they called "Uno". Over the years, Volpi Foods has added on to the original building and as they continued to grow, they bought other buildings near the retail store to do their curing and production work.
Volpi continues to buy only fresh meat - they only buy from pork and beef producers no more than 350 miles away from St. Louis. They don't like to freeze the meat - but if they have to, they limit the meat to only two days in the freezer. Their meat is ground at a low (above freezing) temperature, then allowed to set for awhile in a cold refrigerator before it is ground again at a low temperature. According to the company, if the meat was ground at a higher temperature, the fat content would "smear" and that would prevent the meat from drying in a proper fashion.
And Volpi is in no hurry to cure their meats. While most companies take two weeks to cure pepperoni, Volpi takes up to 6 weeks to cure their pepperoni by using a cold drying process. Volpi's top seller is their prosciutto and it takes up to nine months of pain-staking drying techniques before it is sold. Today, the company continues to experiment with new types of meats such as wine-flavored salami and international flavors injected into the meats are starting to show up in Volpi's meat cases.
The retail space for Volpi is not large. It's a quaint little shop that features all different types of Italian meats, cheese, pastas and other Italian specialties. Volpi's also has a number of olive oils, sauces and spices on sale, as well.
Their Milano and Genova salami are their two top selling salamis. The Milano has more of a spicy and peppery taste, the Genova is more smooth with a forward flavor of old world spices. I like using the Milano salami when I make my homemade Italian sandwiches. I picked up some of the Milano salami on this particular visit.
I also like to use sandwich-sized pepperoni and spicy capicola on my sandwiches. I made sure to pick up some of both of those meats when I was at Volpi Italian Meats. The Volpi pepperoni has a slightly salty and spicy taste. And while the capicola isn't as spicy as I'd like it to be, Volpi still makes a good capicola.
Rounding out my homemade Italian Sandwich, I like to use provolone. The cheese case at Volpi features dozens of different styles of Italian cheese. I had one of the ladies behind the counter slice up about 10 slices of provolone cheese for me.
Before my visit to Volpi Italian Meats, I stopped off at the Missouri Baking Company (click here to read about Missouri Baking Company) to pick up some of their wonderful sliced Italian bread. They slice it thin enough for sandwiches or for dipping into olive oil. I use thin sliced Italian bread for my Italian sandwiches. (If you're interested in the recipe for my Italian Sandwich, click here.)
While I was there, I took a look in the freezer case and saw that they had Mama Toscano beef ravioli in there. I grabbed a 1 pound box of the ravioli that is made not far from Volpi Italian Meats. My wife doesn't care for ravioli all that much, but I certainly do.
The only thing that I don't care about Volpi's salami is that it doesn't last all that long once it's been opened. I bought a pound of sliced salami and I had to throw out a little less than a half-pound about five days later because it had gotten a pretty foul smell. I'm sure that has to do with their processing of their salami. Fresh out of the package on the first couple of days, it's tough to beat. After that, you're on your own.
Here's a good tip if you're visiting The Hill in St. Louis - take a cooler. Between picking up some of the best tiramisu at the Missouri Baking Company and getting meats and cheese from Volpi Italian Meats, you'll have a full cooler. Volpi Italian Meats continues to have an old world feel to what an old world Italian meat market should be like. Even if you don't like Italian meats - and who doesn't? - it's worth a trip to see a place that is one of the oldest Italian meat markets in America.
It was my wife's birthday recently and I like to take her out to some place nice for a meal each year. A place we'd been to a couple times, but just for sandwiches in the bar, is the Bass Street Chop House in Moline. Although it wasn't my first choice for dinner that evening, my wife wanted to go there. And since it was her birthday, we ventured over across the river for dinner that evening.
Fine dining restaurants usually fall flat on their faces in the Quad Cities. Upscale and pretentious dining isn't a strong suit with residents in the area and there has only been a couple three fine dining restaurants that have been able to stick around for more than a couple years. Bass Street Chop House has been the exception to those who tried, but didn't last. A group of investors opened the Bass Street Chop House in June of 2006 and installed restaurant industry veteran Jeff Harrop as the managing director of the restaurant. Doug Lear has been the executive chef since the place opened. About four years after opening Bass Street Chop House, the group opened a pub called "The Landing" a couple doors down. That has since closed down and replaced by a new place called Pub 1848 which opened in May of last year.
Bass Street Chop House is part of the Bass Street Landing complex of office, restaurant and entertainment destinations that the City of Moline has helped develop over the past few years. The new Kone Centre Tower is located in the Bass Street Landing development complex and there are shops, hotels and upscale condos in the immediate area. The iWireless Center is located just a couple blocks away. In the wintertime, the City of Moline constructs an outdoor skating rink in the plaza area of Bass Street Landing. The night we were there, we were surprised by the large number of people skating on the facility considering it was about 35 degrees outside with a light rain.
We found a parking spot across River Drive from the Bass Street Chop House. (see map) A meeting room to the left as you come in was full with people for a function and a group of three had ducked in ahead of us. We were greeted by a hostess who asked, "Name?" with the assumption that we'd had reservations. I told her that we had no reservations, it was just the two of us. She let out a little surprised, "Oh!" And she said she'd see what she had to accommodate us. It was through the week and we didn't think that it would be that busy, but Bass Street Chop House appears to be a destination for not only people celebrating events, but for those in town on business. With John Deere, Kone, the Rock Island Arsenal and other large corporations nearby, it's a place that is designed to load up a businessman's expense account.
My wife and I were seated at a table near a window that looked out toward the skating rink. Our food menu along with a wine list was dropped off at the table. Not long after we were seated, our server for the evening, Kyle, came over to greet us. He said, "I've got to go drop off a couple drinks and I'll be back to tell you about our menu in a bit." Most of the men dining in the restaurant were dressed in business attire and the women were in stylish outfits. While my wife wore a nice top, a skirt and boots, I wore a sweater, button-down shirt, jeans and a pair of white cross-training shoes. I was - by far - the most underdressed person in the place. But I certainly didn't give a damn. My money spends just as well as the guy in the Brooks Brothers suit seated at the next table.
The Bass Street Chop House dining area is situated in a long room filled with tables along the windows and high-backed booths in the middle. Heavy white tablecloths adorn the tops of each table. The decor is a cross between 1930's-style art deco and the elegance of a big city steakhouse.
The bar area at Bass Street Chop House - the Chop Bar - has a distinct classy old time feel to the area. There are a handful of booths and tables in the bar area and they feature their own menu for the bar. We went there on a Sunday night a few years ago - woefully underdressed in shorts and summer shirts - and sat in the bar and shared one of their burgers. I didn't bring my phone with me on that trip, so I couldn't document the burger. But I do remember that it was pretty good. Expensive - but good.
The menu at Bass Street Chop House features dry aged, USDA Prime and Choice cut steaks. They have a number of fresh seafood items on the menu, as well. Appetizers include Duck Confit Spring Rolls, mushrooms stuffed with Italian sausage, and smoked salmon with capers and a lemon dill sauce. Their sides range from garlic or Maytag Blue Cheese potatoes, prime macaroni and cheese, and a mushroom gratin with Boursin cheese. The sides are big enough for two people to share.
The wine list was pretty extensive and rather impressive. The only problem was that the font size for the menu was about a 3 point. It was very difficult to read in the somewhat dim lighting in the dining room. I had to break out my phone and use the auxiliary light to read the wine menu. And I noticed that I wasn't the only one to do so.
Kyle came back and reintroduced himself to us. Then he went into full sales mode. Servers in upscale restaurants are basically salesmen, explaining why they have high dollar steaks on the menu without mentioning the price of the high dollar steaks on the menu. I asked Kyle if they aged their steaks in house. He said, "Yes, in fact we're the only steakhouse to have their own aging room between Omaha and Chicago." They age the steaks for 28 days and they feature just two different cuts - a Delmonico (basically a rib eye) and a New York strip. They also feature three cuts for USDA prime cuts of meat, and four different cuts of USDA Choice steaks including a bone-in rib eye and a 24 oz. porterhouse. Kyle was doing his best in selling the highlights of the menu. As a salesman myself, I couldn't fault him for trying to up-sell us.
He asked if we wanted a drink while we looked over the menu. In addition to the large wine list, they also have a number of craft beers, many from around the Midwest. I ordered a Founders Centennial India Pale Ale for the time being and Cindy ordered a drink that featured whiskey and absinthe. She said, "It sounded interesting and I wanted to try it."
I figured that I'd get a steak for dinner and I thought I'd step up to the plate and try one of their aged New York strips. Cindy was torn between getting a filet or one of the Delmonico steaks. When Kyle came back to take our order, she decided upon the 14 oz. prime cut Delmonico steak. He explained that the chef cooks the steaks a little more on the warm side of what people order, so he suggested that if she liked it medium then to order it medium-rare or medium-rare plus. And medium-rare plus is how she ordered it. She also ordered a cup of the lobster corn chowder and she wanted a side to go with the meal. I wanted the mushroom gratin, but she doesn't like mushrooms (one of our very few incapability issues in our 20 years-plus together). She ordered the creamed spinach - the smaller of the two sizes they offered of the side.
I ordered the 12 ounce aged New York strip - rare. I also ordered some au poivre sauce to go along with it. I then ordered a wedge salad to start out. "Crumbled blue cheese along with the blue cheese dressing," Kyle suggested. I couldn't say no.
For wine that evening, I ordered a bottle of the Maipe malbec wine from Argentina. We've really gotten into malbec's - not only for their hearty and forward flavor for a red wine, but because the price is so reasonable. The Maipe was $28 bucks at Bass Street Chop House. About five minutes after I ordered the wine, Kyle came back and said, "You know, we're having a wine tasting up in the Chop Bar and one of the wines we're featuring this evening is this malbec.' He showed me a bottle of the Finca el Origen Gran Reserva malbec. He said, "My manager said you really should come over and try a taste of the wine. It's only two dollars more than the Maipe that you ordered." I wasn't familiar with it, but I thought it would be worth a try.
Cindy's lobster corn chowder featured small chunks of fresh lobster along with some sweet corn in a light cream broth. And it was very rich. She could only finish a little over half of the cup and she declared it to be almost too rich. She offered me a couple spoonfuls and I could see where she was coming from. It was a wonderful and rich cream-based soup. A bowl of it would have been a full meal for me.
My wedge salad was basically half a wedge of iceberg lettuce. A generous amount of creamy blue cheese dressing, blue cheese crumbles and real bacon bits adorned the top. I love a good wedge salad and the one I had at Bass Street Chop House was exceptional.
After we finished our soup and salad, our steaks made it to the table along with the creamed spinach. Cindy's steak was a nice chunk of beef and had a nice charred outer layer. The presentation was minimal with a single thin homemade potato chip on the side.
My aged New York strip was also a healthy piece of meat with char marks on the outside. Interestingly, the au poivre sauce was served on the side and it looked like it was - maybe - only two tablespoons of the sauce. I'm used to more au poivre sauce than what they served me and for a $2.00 up charge I expected more.
My steak was, well, hmmm... I guess I was disappointed in my steak. True to Kyle's word, the chef overcooked the steak. Not by a little - a lot. It was almost a medium-well on the outside layers of the cut, more of a medium through the next level before getting to a deep red rare strip that was - maybe - an 1/8 of an inch thick in the center of the steak. I would have preferred the steak to be sort of that deep red rare throughout the whole thickness of the cut. I'm sure their high-temperature broiler was the culprit, with an inattentive chef leaving it in too long on each side. I almost sent it back, but then I thought I would just man up and eat it as it.
The steak, itself, was sort of chewy due to the overcooked outer layers. It wasn't easy to cut and I guess I didn't get that deep beefy aged taste to the steak. The au poivre sauce - what there was of it - had a nice spicy black pepper flavor, but it was tremendously salty. I was glad that I only had a small amount of the au poivre sauce because if it had been poured over the steak - like many steak au poivres I've had in the past - it would have ruined the taste of the steak. The steak needed help and the au poivre didn't do it for me. For the money I was going to pay for the steak, I was highly disappointed.
Cindy's steak, however, was probably more rare throughout than mine was. It was a light pink medium-rare the whole thickness of the steak. It was also easier to cut and was more juicy than my steak. She was very happy with her steak.
The creamed spinach side was nice. It, too, was sort of a gratin style with bread crumbs and cheese mixed in. I expected to eat only a couple fork fulls of the creamed spinach, but I know I had many more.
The Finca el Origen Gran Reserva malbec had a very full bodied and forward taste. The wine went extremely well with the steaks, it's deep flavor and robust finish was a great compliment to the steaks. It was definitely one that I will seek out at a local wine shop.
For dessert, Cindy decided to get some of their housemade creme brulee. Kyle tried to talk her into the double chocolate lava cake, but Cindy thought that would be too rich. The creme brulee was rich enough. It had a wonderful and abundant vanilla flavor with a savory hint of nutmeg. The creme brulee at Bass Street Chop House is very good.
I expected to drop a couple hundred bucks on our meal at Bass Street Chop House and with a nice tip for Kyle we did just that. His service was very good and exactly what I expected from a fine dining steakhouse like Bass Street Chop House. However, I was disappointed with the most important part of my meal and wished I'd gotten like a filet or the Delmonico with a little more marbling. The aged beef didn't impress me and I'd say save your money and get a prime cut of steak rather than an aged steaks. Bass Street Chop House isn't for everyone, but if you do go expect to pay a little more than you normally would. It will be up to you if it's worth it.
I recently stayed out in the far northwest suburbs of Chicago near a dealer I have in Hoffman Estates. After a morning meeting, I went back to the hotel to return e-mails and pack up. Across the street from the hotel I stayed at was a small entertainment area that featured a brew pub called The Lucky Monk. I didn't have my next appointment until about 2 p.m., so after checking out of the hotel I wandered over to The Lucky Monk to get some lunch.
The Lucky Monk opened in December of 2009 and is owned by a group of capital investors - NexGen Partners - based out of west suburban Lombard. Kevin Chorzempa is the General Manager of the restaurant and Anthony Carollo is the Lucky Monk's brewmaster. The 10-barrel microbrewery features six different styles of year-round beers as well as a number of seasonal varieties. If you name the place after Trappist Monks who perfected the art of brewing beer, you'd better have some good beer.
The Lucky Monk is located just north of the Northwest Tollway and just west of Barrington Road in what is known as South Barrington. (see map) I think Hoffman Estates is considered to be on the east side of Barrington Road. I was greeted at the hostess stand by a young lady who delivered me to a table in the bar area of The Lucky Monk. She seated me at a tall banquette seat along the wall and dropped off a menu. She said that Jinny would be my server for lunch.
There's a spacious dining area off to the right as you come in, but the bar area is also rather large with a rectangular bar, the brewing barrels are off to the side behind glass windows, and a number of flat screen televisions hang from the ceiling and walls of the bar area. There was some sort of one instrument synthesized music playing in the background of the bar.
My server came over, only she introduced herself as "J.J.". She asked if I wanted something to drink and I ordered up their housemade Confessional IPA. In addition to the year-round and seasonal beers they feature at The Lucky Monk, they also have a number of other regional craft brews available including Lagunitas beers from California and some imports. I found that to be somewhat interesting because most brewpubs refuse to have other beers other than their own.
They're proud of their burgers at The Lucky Monk - all burgers are made with USDA prime beef and ground in house. They feature twelve signature burgers which include the Grilled Cheese burger - a grilled bacon and cheese sandwich as the bed for a burger and it's topped with another grilled bacon and cheese sandwich for the crown. There's also the Ellis burger that is topped with ratatouille, feta cheese, Kalamata olives and arugula. Then you have the Sunrise burger that is topped with a fried egg and bacon marmalade. And they have a burger in which they pay homage to Elvis Presley - The King - which is topped with sliced bananas, peanut butter and bacon. Uh, no.... thank you very much. For the health conscious, they also have two turkey burgers on the menu.
In addition to burgers, The Lucky Monk features wood fired pizza, the typical appetizers, soups and salads, a handful of sandwiches, dinner entrees that include baby back ribs, a tri-tip sirloin steak, and an interesting pasta dish featuring short ribs braised with their housemade stout beer and mixed with wild mushrooms. They also have skirt steak tacos, as well as deep fried fish tacos. If they had grilled fish tacos, I may have considered getting those.
The Confessional IPA was actually very good. It had a good and forward hoppy taste, but it wasn't overpowering as some India Pale Ale's can be. The beer had a nice finish and a lingering hop taste that was rather tasty.
When Jinny came back to take my order, I figured on making my own burger. I got a burger topped with Merkts cheddar cheese, smoked bacon and sauteed mushrooms. Fries came with the burger, but I was more interested in the burger.
The lunch crowd had ramped up while I was there and it took about 20 minutes from the time I ordered my burger until another server brought it to my table. The burger was topped with sliced red onions, a sliced tomato and lettuce greens in addition to the sauteed mushrooms, Merkts cheddar spread, and smoked bacon. The burger was sitting on a small base that gave it more height over the mound of hand cut French fries that came with it.
The burger was cooked to a perfect medium for me - a little pink in the middle. With all the toppings, I was sort of worried that I wouldn't get the essence of the taste of the meat. But after my first bite, I forgot about that. The bold taste of the ground USDA Prime beef jumped out at me. It was juicy and very flavorful. The toppings were a great complement to the burger. The Merkts cheddar spread was very forward but not overpowering. The sauteed mushrooms had a great taste, but I couldn't put my finger on what they sauteed them in. I was guessing butter and Worcestershire sauce, but it could have been soy sauce, too. And how you go wrong with bacon on a good burger? Even the bun was a big part of the burger. It wasn't large and it held together well with all that was on the burger.
The hand cut fries were sort of cold and lifeless. It was like they had made them up about a half-hour earlier and put them under a heat lamp. But quite honestly, I wasn't there for the fries. The 8 ounce burger and all the toppings were more than enough for me for my lunch that day.
For my first visit to The Lucky Monk, I have to say that I went very impressed with the place. The burger I had was exceptional, I really liked the Confessional IPA that I ordered, Jinny's - or J.J.'s - service was very good, as well. I liked the atmosphere at The Lucky Monk and I wouldn't mind going back and trying one of their wood-fired pizzas at some point. Like I said, The Lucky Monk is proud of their burgers, as well they should.
Driving home on a recent trip, I had to stop in Galesburg, IL to get some gas. The station that I normally stop at just off the Interstate had closed down, forcing me to drive further into Galesburg toward their downtown area. As I was pumping gas into the car, I remembered a post from the Slakingfool blog site about a little hot dog place in Galesburg that I've always wanted to try. (Click here to see his entry.) I looked up the name on my smart phone - Coney Island - and got the address. Three minutes later, I was pulling up in front of Coney Island on South Cherry Street. (see map)
Brothers Paul and George Nickolopolous grew up in Greece before moving to the U.S. just after the turn of the 20th century. Upon entering the U.S. at Ellis Island, their name was changed to Nicholses. Ending up in Galesburg, IL they opened a little hot dog shop in a building that had once been a vaudeville showplace - Gaiety Hall. The floor slanted toward the stage and they had to fill in the base to level off the floor before they could open. The brothers started a tradition of selling grilled all-pork hot dogs topped with their beef coney sauce - basically a Greek-style chili. They initially sold their chili dogs for 5 cents each. (Today, a Coney Island coney dog is just over $2 bucks.)
The Nicholses eventually sold their business and there's not been many owners since them. There was a Ken who owned it when it was called Ken's Coney Island. The Dixon family owned it when it was called Dixon's Coney Island. The place had fallen into disrepair by the early 1990's and Dave and Erin Buckmaster bought the place, cleaned it up, and made some renovations. Dave Buckmaster tragically passed away and Erin sold it to Bill Forrester in 1999. Forrester opened up a second Coney Island location in north Galesburg not long after taking over. That location eventually closed in 2007.
In 2004, Jesus Valdez and his mother, Maria, bought the original Coney Island from Forrester. Maria owns the Fashion Cleaners business next to Coney Island and she still comes in during the lunch rush to help out her son.
And Maria was there when I walked into Coney Island around 1:30 that afternoon. Not much has changed since the business opened in 1921 and Maria told me that the grill they use is the same that the original owners - the Nicholses - used when they started up in business. "A daughter of one of the previous owners came in the other day," Maria told me. "And she said, 'Oh, good! You're still using that old gas grill top. If you ever quit using that it would never be the same.' " And they use the same chili recipe that the Nicholses brothers perfected over 90 years ago. In fact, the Valdez's have the original copy of the recipe on a sheet of paper that has been signed by all the owners over the years. Now, THAT has to be in a safety deposit box somewhere.
The menu is located on the wall behind the front counter. You place your order there and wait for the hot dogs to be made. In addition to hot dogs and chili dogs, Coney Island also features Chicago-style hot dogs, and a plethora of other hot dog toppings including sauerkraut, cole slaw, bacon cheese, taco meat, and something called the Mud Puppy which I was told was a cheese and chili combination. "Some people like the Mud Puppy with cole slaw," Maria told me. Coney Island also features a barbecue pork sandwich, a chicken salad sandwich, an Italian beef sandwich and something they call a "Made Wrong" - their take on the loose meat burger from Maid-Rite.
There's also a Veggie Dog on the menu. Interestingly, former owners Dave and Erin Buckmaster were vegetarians and they found a vegetarian hot dog to sell and came up with a vegetarian coney sauce that didn't feature beef. The Valdez's kept the Veggie Dog on the menu when they bought the place. And not long after they bought Coney Island, the Valdez's put in a small ice cream counter and started selling cones, root beer floats and other ice cream treats.
I ordered up a couple coney dogs with everything - that means it's topped with chili, yellow mustard and onions. Maria made them up for me and placed them on a paper plate. I made my way back to the old style counter with what looked like the original swivel stools in front of the counter.
The decor at Coney Island is a combination of history, kitsch and nostalgia. They have about a dozen old school desks that was salvaged from the then recently closed Lombard College in the early 1930's. There's dozens of old Coca-Cola signs and memorabilia on display, as well as old bottles and cans of Coke and other brands of soda pop that were actually bottled in Galesburg years ago. Many of the items on display were put there by the Buckmasters when they owned the place in the mid-to-late 1990's.
The chili dogs weren't big and three would have been fine with me on most occasions. But after a big breakfast, I probably couldn't have eaten three. The buns were steamed making them fresh and chewy. The hot dogs had a nice little "snap" to the bite - the way hot dogs should be. They had that great grilled taste - I almost enjoy a flat-grilled hot dog more than a steamed hot dog. The coney sauce was very reminiscent of a Cincinnati-style chili with a hint of all spice in the taste. The chili wasn't spicy in the least. It reminded me of a chili dog from George's in Sioux City, IA - one of my all-time favorite chili dog places. (Click here to see my entry on George's.) This was a very good chili dog. And I can't believe that I hadn't tried one up until that point.
In 2011, to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Coney Island, the mayor of Galesburg - in conjunction with the Galesburg Historical Society - presented the Valdez's with a plaque that was affixed to the front of their building proclaiming Coney Island as Galesburg's oldest restaurant. It is a place where first dates took place, where students from nearby Knox College warded off hangovers, and where families have dined on coney dogs for generations.
Coney Island is a slice of Americana at its best. The nostalgic decor, the hot dogs grilled on the same flat top grill since the place opened, and using the same chili recipe for over 90 years. It took the work of Dave and Erin Buckmaster to salvage the business 20 years ago and the Valdez family is carrying on the tradition. Even if you don't like hot dogs or chili dogs, Coney Island is still a place that should be a destination when you're in Galesburg. And if you like hot dogs or chili dogs, it's going to be tough to beat the ones they serve at Coney Island.
There's a lot of very good Italian restaurants in the Des Moines area and one that I hadn't been to for a long, long time is Latin King on Des Moines' east side. I figured the last time I went there was over 20 years ago with my dad for lunch. Things have changed dramatically at Latin King since my last visit.
Actually, it's officially known as Tursi's Latin King, named after owner Bob Tursi. Tursi purchased Latin King in the summer of 1983 from founders Jim and Rose Pigneri who had opened the restaurant in 1947. The Pigneri's and Bob Tursi's parents had come from the same small town in Italy. Bob Tursi's father, Joe, was a well-known clothier on Des Moines' south side for years. Bob Tursi had gotten his start in the restaurant business working at the old Crystal Tree restaurant on Fleur Drive at the age of 16. He ended up buying Latin King in 1983 at the tender age of 21. He and his wife, Amy, continue to run the business today.
(Bob Tursi is also involved with the Exile Brewing Company in downtown Des Moines with his son, R.J. The younger Tursi had spent time at a small family winery in Italy learning about wine before coming back to Des Moines and opening the brewpub with his father. Click here to read my entry on Exile Brewing Company. R.J. Tursi is also the sommelier at Latin King.)
About 10 years ago, the Tursi's invested nearly $1.5 million into an expansion and upgrade of the restaurant. New dining areas were added along with an upgrade of the bar area. A new entrance on the north side of the building was built along with an expanded parking lot. The outside of the building looks more like a small Italian villa complete with stucco and an old world look.
The remnants of the original Latin King are still in evidence with the original dining room. I remember walking into the building from the east side years ago. That's all closed up now. But the cozy nature of the dining room is still evident.
The bar has more of a modern flair that what I remember about the old bar area. Soft lighting, tiled floors and an elegant wood decor highlights the bar area with a fireplace along the north wall of the bar area.
The middle dining room (below left) is, I believe, part of the original building. But, once again, it's been so long since I was last in there that I can't remember. The lower ceiling with can lighting gave the room it's signature cozy and comfy feeling.
The newest dining room is just to the left of the new entrance. Higher ceilings and a paint scheme to make it appear that you were eating in an old world Italian outdoor patio helped liven up the room.
As it has been since 1947, the Latin King sits on Hubbell Ave. just north of E. University, right across the street from the Anderson Erickson Dairy and the iconic dairy cow statues that look out to the corner of Hubbell and E. University. (see map) The cow - Annie - has been in place since 1966, while the calf - Eric - joined her in 1977. The two were damaged by vandals - the calf had to be completely replaced - in 2007. If you see the cows, then Tursi's Latin King is just across the street to the west.
I walked into the new waiting area with the bar off to the left. It was around 8:30 and no one was there to greet me. Finally, Bob Tursi popped his head around the corner and said, "Sir, has anyone helped you?" I told him that they hadn't and I told him that I was by myself for dinner. He grabbed a menu and took me into the new dining room and showed me a seat at a booth. He said that my waiter would be with me shortly.
And shortly thereafter, my waiter - Phiz - came over to greet me. I ordered up a beer while I looked through the menu. (For larger parties, Tursi's Latin King also has a family-style dining menu that offers a number of appetizer and entree combinations.) They're famous for their Chicken Speidini and Steak Duburgo at Latin King, as well as for their pasta and seafood dishes. The Pepper Steak is also a longtime favorite with strips of beef grilled with a variety of peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes.
I was thinking about getting some pasta that evening and while I remember their lasagna being pretty good, I was looking for something a little more daring. The Penne Regine sounded like it would fit the bill for me that evening and I ordered that up from Phiz when he came back.
I also wanted to get some wine with the meal. The wine list at Latin King was a little strange. It was printed on a rather ratty looking piece of paper. No wine book, nothing fancy. For a restaurant that has a pretty extensive and impressive wine list, I thought the presentation of the list would be a little nicer. My guess is that the wine list changes rather frequently. Nonetheless, I found a 2007 Haras Maipo Valley cabernet from Chile that they had by the glass. Phiz suggested that I get a half carafe of the Haras cab as it was cheaper if I was thinking about having more than one glass. ($6 bucks for a glass - $10 for a half-carafe.) Actually, I wasn't thinking about having more than one glass until he suggested it. (Great upselling on his part.)
A salad and a loaf of warm sliced homemade bread came with the meal. The salad was all right with their house oil and vinaigrette dressing. But the bread was absolutely delicious.
The Penne Regine came out and it wasn't quite what I envisioned when I ordered. The discription in the menu had the dish in a light cream sauce with brandy. There was barely a sauce on the pasta. However, there were ample amounts of prosciutto ham, fresh mushroom slices and peas along with slices of tomato mixed in. It was a lot of food - there was no way I was going to be able to finish it. But I tried. The penne pasta was cooked perfectly, the prosciutto gave the entree a little kick, and the mushrooms and peas were a nice complement to the overall taste. I probably ate 60 percent of what was in the bowl - including all the mushroom slices and prosciutto I could find - before I threw in the towel.
Bob Tursi asked me as I was leaving if my meal was satisfactory. It was. I told him that I hadn't been in the restaurant for over 20 years and complemented him on the changes in the place. He sort of winced when I said it had been 20 years since my last visit and he said, "I hope you're from out of town." I told him that I used to live in Newton but had been over in the Quad Cities since 1991. He said, "Well, I hope it isn't another 20 years before you come back to see us." I told him it wouldn't be. As I said, there's a lot of very good Italian restaurants in Des Moines and Tursi's Latin King is among the best. The food was good, as was the service. Even though the wine list was rather ratty looking, it was an interesting blend of Italian and North American wines including a number of wines from the state of Iowa. You probably won't go wrong if you want to get a good Italian meal at Tursi's Italian King.
I have a dealer in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago and when I was in there recently, I got together with him for breakfast at a place he suggested in Des Plaines - Katie's Kitchen. "It's a neighborhood place," he told me. "And they have great breakfasts." I was staying near O'Hare airport on the south side of Des Plaines and it was about a 20 minute drive from my hotel to Katie's Kitchen.
Katie's Kitchen is a breakfast and lunch place that is open from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. through the week, and 6:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on the weekends, and not long ago they began to serve dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Katie Kautz is the Katie behind the name on the restaurant and along with the help of her father, Michael Kautz, she opened the doors of the restaurant in October of 2008. (Michael Kautz is the owner of Michael Kautz Carpets, a longtime flooring business in nearby Mt. Prospect.) A hands on owner, you'll often see Katie Kautz working the floor serving food and filling up coffee cups.
Katie's Kitchen is in a small strip mall on N. Wolf Road in between Rand Road and Central Avenue (see map). In fact, it is right across the road from one of my favorite little Italian places in the NW suburbs, Bob Mele's Little Villa (click here to see my entry on Bob Mele's). I walked into the restaurant situated on the south side of the strip mall. My dealer hadn't shown up yet. I told the girl at the counter that there would be two of us, but that I'd wait for a moment to see if my guest would show up.
The brightly light restaurant featured two dining rooms - the first dining room had a number of booths along the walls with tables in the middle. The far dining room had a similar set up only with banquette seating along the walls instead of booths, but it also had a large fireplace that was conspicuously not lit on a cold Chicago morning.
While I was waiting for my dealer to show up, I was reading some of the reviews that they had cut out on placed on the wall of the front waiting area. There was an article from Chicago Magazine where they called the cinnamon swirl French toast at Katie's Kitchen the best in Chicagoland. I wasn't planning on having much for breakfast, but that was certainly intriguing.
My dealer finally showed up and we took a booth in the back corner of the first dining room. Our waitress came over with menus and a couple moments later she came back with two small ginger muffins. It was a nice little welcoming touch.
As I said, Katie's Kitchen is famous for their cinnamon swirl French toast. My dealer told me, "Oh, boy. It's good. But it is SOOO rich!" I was looking at getting one of their breakfast sandwiches - the Wagon with corned beef hash, scrambled eggs and Swiss on grilled marble rye bread was my top choice. They also had a meat lovers skillet with eggs, Katie's signature diced red potatoes, and bacon, sausage and ham that looked good. She had also left off a separate "specials" menu that featured a number of items including a chili omelet made with Katie's housemade chili recipe.
But I kept going back to the cinnamon swirl French toast. They take housemade cinnamon rolls with a glaze of cream cheese on top, cut them flat, dip them in an egg batter, grill them up and top them with cinnamon sugar. I just had to give 'em a try. My dealer went basic - eggs over easy, red diced potatoes and ham.
The breakfast came out not long after we ordered and I was served three hearty slices of the cinnamon swirl French toast. The caramelized sugar glaze was oozing out of the swirls, there was an ample amount of cinnamon sugar on top, and it came with a small tub of chock full of butter and a small container of maple syrup.
The taste was simply out of this world. It was the most unusually great sweet breakfast taste I think I've ever encountered. The roll/toast was somewhat chewy and had a nice crisp outer side to the face and back.
But my dealer was very correct - they were VERY rich! Oh man! I've been watching what I eat lately - especially portion sizes - and thankfully I ate slow enough for my stomach to tell me that two were more than enough. Sometimes when I eat fast, my stomach is slow to inform me that, "Hey! I've had enough, down here!" The cinnamon swirl French toast is one of those things that is easy to devour when you're hungry at breakfast.
Katie's Kitchen isn't just another breakfast/lunch diner that proliferates the landscape across Chicagoland and the Midwest, as a whole. It's one of those little neighborhood restaurants where the staff knows the regulars by name. The service was fine, the menu was extensive and many of the offerings are very unique. I'd wholeheartedly recommend Katie's Kitchen as a fine place to get breakfast in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago.
I was in Columbia, MO recently and invited a dealer and his wife out to dinner. My ulterior motive was to try the reincarnation of the famed Glenn's Cafe in Columbia, a long time culinary destination that had closed, then reopened in a small near Columbia a few years ago, then reopened in downtown Columbia as part of the renovated Tiger Hotel in 2013. Glenn's had been one of my all-time favorite restaurants, one that a good friend of mine who lived in Columbia turned me on to years ago. It was a special place for him, as well - his first date with his wife was at the second Glenn's on the corner of 9th and Cherry.
The first Glenn's was opened in the early 40's by Glenn Purdy and his wife, Tilley. It was located along side U.S. Highway 40 on the north side of Columbia. Basically a combination gas station and diner, the Purdy's ran Glenn's for over 40 years, staying open when Interstate 70 was built parallel to the highway. The Purdy's changed the name from Glenn's Drive In to Glenn's Cafe to reflect the more upscale food the small restaurant was serving.
The Purdy's sold their business and it went through a couple of owners before a young restaurateur by the name of Steve Cupp bought the place in 1985. Cupp immediately put his stamp on the place by offering Cajun-stamped entrees featuring steaks, seafood, chicken and pork. (This was the first time I was introduced to Glenn's Cafe.) Looking to heighten Glenn's profile, Cupp moved the restaurant to downtown Columbia in 1988, just north of the University of Missouri campus.
Citing a lack of profits, Cupp closed the downtown Columbia location for Glenn's in 2002. I was told that he hung out in the Caribbean for awhile before moving back to Central Missouri in 2006 to open the 3rd incarnation of Glenn's Cafe in the newly renovated Hotel Frederick in Boonville, MO, about 25 miles west of Columbia.
(Pictured left - Steve Cupp. Photo courtesy L.G. Patterson from Inside Columbia Magazine)
Cupp was approached to become the food and beverage director for the Tiger Hotel, an upscale boutique hotel in downtown Columbia that had undergone an extensive renovation in 2013. He jumped at the chance to bring Glenn's back to Columbia as it turned out that 50% of his clientele would drive the 25 from the city out to Boonville to eat at his restaurant.
A side story regarding Glenn's - I ate at the 2nd edition of Glenn's many times on trips to Columbia in the late 80's and into the 90's. As I said, it was one of my favorite restaurants in the Midwest at one point. It also was the scene of a somewhat hilarious misadventure one evening involving the hostess at Glenn's. The hostess, a middle-aged blonde woman, always seemed to be half in the bag each time I would go in for dinner. One evening circa 1989, my buddy, his roommate at the time, and I decided to go get dinner at Glenn's. We joked if the "drunk chick" would be hostessing before we got there and, sure enough, there she was to greet us when we came in the door. She wobbled as she led us to a booth along the wall and proceeded to tell us that the special that evening was a blackened swordfish. Ooooo.... That sounded real good!
When our waitress came over to take our order, I told her that I'd have the blackened swordfish. She looked at me funny and proceeded to tell me that they didn't have blackened swordfish. Crestfallen and somewhat upset, considering I had my heart set on blackened swordfish, I said, "Did you sell out?"
She said, "We don't have it as a special tonight. Who told you we did?"
Simultaneously, the three of us seated in the booth pointed toward the inebriated hostess who was having trouble sitting on a stool at the bar. The waitress looked back at the bar and immediately said, "Oh, my God..."
The waitress went away from our table and got a manager to help get the woman out of the restaurant. We laughed and laughed about that for years afterward.
That particular hostess is no longer at Glenn's Cafe and it was a young lady who greeted me at the 4th edition of Glenn's Cafe now in the Tiger Hotel at the corner of 8th and Cherry. (see map) The venerable and iconic Glenn's Cafe sign hung from the side of the building - the original Glenn's Cafe sign that was on the original building on the north side of town. When Cupp wanted to hang the sign on the side of the Tiger Hotel, local leaders cited a city ordinance that restricted signs in the downtown business district. A civic uproar ensued with locals - including the Columbia Historic Preservation Committee - calling on City Hall to allow the sign to be hung. I heard that Cupp and the owners of the Tiger Hotel threatened to stop the development, but city leaders gave them an exemption earlier this year and the well-known sign was hung from the side of the building.
My dealer and his wife were already seated in the ornate and posh dining room at Glenn's Cafe. The second Glenn's Cafe - a block to the east - had more of an art deco theme to it. This was definitely more upscale than the old downtown Columbia location.
Our waitress - Crystal - came over to greet us as we took a look through the menu. She took our drink orders - I got a Dixie beer, my dealer got a Coors Light, and his wife got a cosmopolitan. She brought my Dixie beer to me, but didn't have the Coors Light or the cosmo. After about another 5 minutes, she brought out the cosmopolitan, but said that they were out of Coors Light. My dealer said, "Well, OK. How about a Busch Light?" She said she'd get that right away. Right away was another 5 plus minutes. When she brought his beer, she apologized and said, "The bar (which is pretty small and in the connecting passage way between the hotel lobby and the restaurant - pictured above right) is slammed." I immediately ordered a second Dixie figuring that it would be sometime before I'd get it.
Many of the items on the menu were the same as when I was last in Glenn's with my wife, my friend and his wife sometime about 15 years ago. The shrimp creole was always delicious, as was the spicy bronzed pork chops. Their roasted prime rib comes with Yorkshire pudding, and the Cajun-Italian infused Pastalaya featured penne pasta mixed with shrimp, a house-made tasso ham, smoked duck and andouille sausage in a seafood reduction sauce. Glenn's also had their famous gumbo on the menu. I couldn't pass up getting a cup of the gumbo.
My dealer and his wife talked about the cornbread at Glenn's, calling it the best they've ever had. This, too, was their first visit to Glenn's since it reopened in Columbia and they were giddy to get some of the cornbread with their meal. This was probably the most important point they made to Crystal when they ordered their food. My dealer's wife ordered the Pastalaya and my dealer ordered the jumbo deep fried shrimp. He asked if I wanted to get some oysters on the half shell as an appetizer and I couldn't say no. He ordered a half dozen for he and I to split (his wife didn't care for oysters).
I ordered the blackened redfish, not knowing if I would actually getting redfish anymore than some sort of seafish with Cajun seasonings. And I got a cup of their wonderful gumbo.
This is where things got a little discombobulated. Service had been choppy up to that point - Crystal was taking care of a number of tables in our immediate area and we were doing a lot of talking up to the point of ordering our food. We weren't in a large hurry, but we noticed that she would leave us alone for long periods of time. After she took our food orders, we were sitting talking, waiting for the oysters and the gumbo to come out. About 15 minutes after we ordered, our main entrees came out. I said to Crystal, "Uh, hey. We didn't get the oysters and the gumbo."
She said, "Oh, they're right behind me." A young man was carrying the oysters and the gumbo on another tray. When I said that I had hoped we'd get the gumbo and oysters before the meal and not after the entrees had shown up, she apologized. Suddenly, we had a table full of plates with not a lot of room to maneuver through our dishes.
Well, at least the gumbo was there. It was that same dark brown gumbo I remembered from Glenn's Cafe years and years ago. It had a wonderful smoky flavor to it and was even better when zipped up with some Tabasco sauce. The oysters were meaty and plump with little grit. They actually gave us seven oysters on the half shell and I let the dealer have the last one after I had already eaten three.
Through all this, I was trying my blackened redfish while taking bites of gumbo and raw oysters. It was a large filet with copious amounts of Glenn's Cajun seasonings. The taste was very good and the fish was flaky and fresh tasting. The zipped up taste of the seasonings was exactly what I remembered from the past. I had told my dealer and his wife the story of the old hostess and the blackened swordfish, and they both remembered her. "Oh, yes," my dealer's wife said with a laugh. "She was well-known around Columbia for having a few on the job."
The redfish also came with some whipped garlic potatoes that were pretty good, and some sweet-glazed carrots that were also good. I do like my carrots to be somewhat sweet if they're cooked.
The Pastalaya was a large bowl of penne pasta, tasso ham, andouille sausage and shrimp mixed in with the reduction sauce. My dealer's wife said that it was somewhat spicy, but not too bad. She said, "You know, I can't remember if this was on the menu before, but it's very good."
My dealer had the large battered shrimp that came with a side of creamy cole slaw and a berried rice. It came with a small ceramic container filled with Glenn's sweet and sour sauce for dipping. My dealer said that he normally doesn't care for battered shrimp, but "the batter here is pretty good." He wasn't unhappy in the least with his choice.
However, my dealer and his wife were unhappy with the cornbread. Their anticipation on the cornbread exceeded either of their entrees, but after the first bite into the cornbread they both looked at one another and agreed, "It's not the same. They've changed it."
A manager came over to our table during our meal. "I understand there was a timing problem with getting your food," he said. "What can we do to make it up to you?" I suggested taking the oysters off the bill. "Done," he said with authority. But when my dealer and his wife commented that the cornbread wasn't the same, he said, "It should be the same as it's always been. He hasn't changed the recipe of many of the items he originally had."
My dealer said, "Maybe it's because we haven't eaten at Glenn's since it was first out in Boonville, but I remember the taste of that cornbread from 25 years ago. To us (pointing to his wife), it doesn't taste the same." The manager said he'd check with Steve Cupp to see if there was a change. When he came back to let them know that it was the same recipe, my dealer said, "Maybe my tastebuds have changed as I've gotten older."
The one thing I remember from earlier visits to Glenn's Cafe was their great bread pudding. It's served warm in a bourbon sauce and it's just to die for. I hemmed and hawed about getting one, but I finally couldn't say no. I asked Crystal to bring three spoons, but my dealer and his wife declined the offer. Fine! More for me!
And the bread pudding was everything I remembered it to be. It was sinfully rich and flavorful. The creamy bourbon sauce is a great complement to the sweet taste of their bread pudding. My dealer's wife couldn't resist, especially after the look of bliss on my face after each bite. She had a bite and said, "Oh, my gosh, that's rich."
When Crystal brought out my bread pudding, she also brought out a small container that held extra pieces of the cornbread. She said, "This is a little thank you and an apology for the service."
My dealer's wife said, "I didn't have the heart to tell her we were disappointed that it wasn't the same." My dealer said the cornbread wouldn't go to waste.
It always bums me out when favorite restaurants go out of business, but then come back - and it's never the same as it was. To me, Glenn's Cafe was just as I remembered 20 plus years ago, only in a different spot a block away. Yeah, the service was choppy, but they realized it and did their best to make up for it. (I later found out that they had only been open for less than 90 days at this new location and were still working the kinks out.) It won't deter me from going back at some point - always hoping that the blackened swordfish will be available on that visit.
A Christmas Eve tradition in our household is to go out to eat sushi and to take in a movie. We didn't do it last year, primarily because there weren't any movies that we really wanted to see. This year, we wanted to go see Anchorman 2 (a funny film for about 3/4's of the way through, then they realized they didn't know how to end the movie) so it meant an early dinner at a new sushi place in Davenport - Ichiban Sushi and Steakhouse.
Actually, Ichiban is the upgraded version of the old Shogun Sushi and Steakhouse, the first place we went to years ago to start our Christmas Eve tradition of sushi and a movie. The two owners, I've only known them as Henry and Tim, ended up selling Shogun a couple three years ago and I'd heard that it had gone downhill. Quite honestly, we hadn't eaten at Shogun for the past couple of years because Red Ginger, a sushi place near our house, had opened up (click here to read about Red Ginger); and Osaka in Bettendorf - before their service began to suffer - had been our "go-to" sushi place in the Quad Cities (click here to read about Osaka). In the summer of 2013, Shogun shut down and on trips by the building we noticed that they were gutting the place. When they reopened in the fall of 2013, we heard that Henry and Tim had taken back the ownership of the business. Probably wanting a fresh start after the bad press the old Shogun received after they sold it, they named their new and improved business Ichiban, which means "Number One" in Japanese.
It was around 6 p.m. when we pulled into the parking lot of Ichiban at the busy corner of Brady and Kimberly, the two main thoroughfares in Davenport (see map - but you can only get into Ichiban's parking lot by either going northbound on Brady or eastbound on Kimberly). They share their parking lot with Griggs Music, but there was only one other car in the lot when we pulled in. Cindy was a little leery of going in even though the "Open" sign was on in the window. She thought no cars in the parking lot in front of the building was not a good sign. To me, it was a good sign because I knew we'd get our sushi fast.
They had certainly upgraded the interior of Ichiban over the old Shogun, keeping the Japanese-style decor, dark velor wall covering with royal blue trim, and the large hibachi table in the middle of a side dining area. The place was empty and we took a seat at the six-seater sushi bar. As we were taking off our coats, we were greeted by the sushi chefs behind the counter - Lin was the main guy that night - and I immediately ordered up a spicy tuna roll. A waitress came out and Cindy got a hot green tea while I ordered a tall bottle of Asahi. She said they only had the 12 ounce bottles and that was fine with me. (Picture below left courtesy QC Life.com)
It didn't take Lin very long to hand the spicy tuna roll over the counter to us. I was ready to give it a try. In fact, I took the picture above right after I'd scarfed down the first piece of the spicy tuna roll and then realized that I'd forgotten to take a picture of it. While the roll wasn't big, it was packed with a savory and somewhat spicy tuna wrapped in a seaweed sheath and rolled in rice. It was a great start to the meal.
From there, we ordered up Maguro (tuna), smoked salmon and regular salmon, yellow tail and red snapper. I noticed on the menu that they had toro - the high grade fatty tuna. I asked the sushi chefs behind the counter if they had toro that evening - some places show it on the menu, but many times they don't have it - and Lin immediately said, "Yes, toro! Yes!" We got a couple pieces of that type of sushi.
We soon realized that we weren't the only ones wanting sushi that evening as a few other people had wandered in by the time Lin handed the plate over the counter to us. First of all the presentation was tremendous - the maguro was nestled on a bed of ornamental twigs sitting atop two small bowls that had alternating LED light embedded within. A small orchid laid on top of the sushi. Cindy said, "Oh my God! This looks too good to eat!" I made sure I took a number of pictures to make sure that I got a good picture of the presentation.
The first thing we had to try was the toro. And it was fresh, flavorful and literally melted in our mouths. The price - $7.95 a piece - precluded us from ordering more, so we just let it savor in our mouths before we moved on.
I like smoked salmon, but I'll have to say the smoked salmon at Ichiban was a little tough. It had a good smoked flavor and all, but the consistency was stiff. It was all right, but I'd had better smoked salmon. The regular salmon, however, was absolutely killer. It, too, sort of melted in our mouths yielding both a wonderful taste and a pleasing texture. I immediately ordered up four more pieces of the salmon for us.
I tried the hamachi (yellow tail) next and I was pleasantly surprised that the fish was fresh with no fishy aftertaste. Same with the red snapper - if it really was red snapper. I've been told that most red snapper sushi is usually some other type of sea fish that is similar to the red snapper. But both were very good, great taste with the right amount of firmness. The fish was all very, very fresh.
Cindy was getting full and she didn't want to have any of the yellow tail or red snapper. I told her that it was some of the best yellow tail I've had and she didn't want any more, citing that she was full. However, she suddenly wasn't full when the waitress came back and asked if we wanted any dessert. Dessert? At a sushi joint? Well, they also do hibachi, so I suppose dessert after grilled meat would be nice. Cindy asked to see the dessert menu and the girl said, "Oh, we have a tiramisu..."
Cindy stopped her there. She said, "Do you guys make it here?" The waitress said that they did. I was a little incredulous, but Cindy went ahead and ordered up some of their tiramisu.
First of all, I thought we didn't need any more food. Secondly, I sort of wondered what kind of tiramisu they would have at a Japanese restaurant. It turned out that it was more of an ice cream-based tiramisu with round patties of flavored ice cream sandwiched in between a bed or lady fingers. The presentation looked great, but it wasn't very good. I told Cindy afterward, "OK, new rule - no tiramisu at a Japanese restaurant." She quickly agreed.
But that was the only black mark on what, otherwise, was a great experience at Ichiban Sushi and Steakhouse. We always seem to go overboard when we do sushi and this was no exception. The bill ended up at $90 bucks with a tip. But we don't do sushi together all that much and Christmas Eve is a nice time to splurge a little on ourselves. While we like the close proximity of Red Ginger, we've sort of fallen out of favor with Osaka because it has gotten too busy and the service has fallen off. We were very pleased with both the sushi and overall scene of the new and improved Ichiban. I think we'll be going there more often in the future. (Photo courtesy Trip Advisor)
One early January morning as I was crossing the Las Vegas Strip from the Mirage over to the Venetian to go work our suites during the Consumer Electronics Show, I saw a digital billboard on the side of the Venetian touting B&B Burger and Beer - a new restaurant venture under the umbrella of the Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group headed by celebrity chef Mario Batali and his partners, Joe Bastianich, and Joe's mother - author, television host and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich. Well, I got the chance to eat there not once, but twice in the same day.
B&B Burger and Beer opened in December of 2013, a full month before we visited the place. Going there in early January went against my rule of never visiting a new restaurant for the first 90 days of its existence, but I didn't know that it had only been open a bit over 30 days until after my visit. Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich - who also run B&B Ristorante and Otto Enoteca Pizzeria at the Venetian, as well as Carnevino in the attached hotel/casino the Palazzo - had announced in the summer of 2013 their intentions to open their burger place in early September of last year. But a $900,000 renovation of the space that formerly housed the short-lived Rattlecan burger joint took a little longer than anticipated. Batali and Bastianich opened B&B Burger and Beer in early December of last year.
Now, the Las Vegas burger scene is crowded with a myriad of burger joints owned by celebrity chefs - and some of them aren't too good. Other high profile burger joints have opened over the past couple three years making Las Vegas a burger lovers destination. It was with a bit of trepidation that I took my dealer and his salesguy to B&B Burger and Beer for lunch on the last day of the Consumer Electronics Show. It was so new that I was having trouble finding the place on a map of the Venetian property. I finally asked a security guard where it was and he told me it was behind the poker room at the Venetian and directly across from the sports book. My dealer had spent many an hour playing poker in the Venetian's poker room and I knew where the sports book was as I had slipped away from our suites to watch an Iowa Basketball game a year ago.
Upon finding the place, we found that it has a separate outside window - B&B Burger and Beer 2 Go - along with a small indoor patio area that looks onto the sports book. (There's also an outdoor patio that butts up against Las Vegas Blvd., a.k.a. The Strip - but it was closed off that day.) A long bar was off to the right hand side of the restaurant as you come in. Nearly two dozen flat screen televisions tuned to sporting events are on the walls of the burger joint.
We were seated at a table with a banquette wall seat along the back wall of the restaurant. Menus were left off with us by the young hostess. In addition to burgers, the menu features hero-style sandwiches consisting of pastrami, meat ball, chicken, sausage, and lobster rolls. Appetizers of unfried mozzarella sticks, chicken wings, fried oysters with remoulade sauce, and shishito peppers with a garlicky Romesco sauce were available, as well.
We were greeted by our server, Jared - an earnest young man with a quick smile. He took our drink orders. I wanted a beer and the hostess didn't drop off a beer menu. Jared went to get one. It took him more than three minutes to bring one back. That was kind of the fore-bearer of the level of service we'd see from him.
On the Sunday night we all got into Las Vegas, after setting up a good portion of our suites we had a ritualistic dinner at I ♥ Burgers located in the Grand Canal Shoppes of the Venetian/Palazzo. (Click here to see my entry on I ♥ Burgers) It was our third straight year we've gone to I ♥ Burgers because the burgers are good, they have a good beer selection and it's close. The only problem this year is that we found they paired down - by more than half - many of the eclectic beers they offered at I ♥ Burgers. Well, B&B Burger and Beer has picked up the craft beer gauntlet (it can't say "beer" in its name if they don't have a good selection of beers). While the beer menu isn't as extensive as I ♥ Burgers' used to be, it still features a number of local and California craft beers in bottles and on draft.
My neighbor back in Davenport, Greg, is a big fan of the Ballast Point beers out of San Diego and they had the Ballast Point Calico Amber on draft. I ordered that. My two guests ordered diet pop.
Beer menu at B&B Burgers and Beer - click for larger size.
B&B Burger and Beer sources their beef from the same local purveyor that supplies their sister restaurant Carnevino Italian Steakhouse. The beef is ground in house and hand-pattied into 6 oz. patties. They use a variety of buns for their burgers - sesame seed, pretzel, ciabatta and even a potato bun. You can build your own burgers using cheese selections such as Swiss, American, pepperjack, gorgonzola, Fontana and even goat cheese. Toppings include pickled peppers, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, avocado and chili. They also feature a number of sauces including either a balsamic or chianti mustard, jalapeno pesto, or a truffle aioli.
Their signature burgers include the Morning After with a fried egg, Fontana cheese, truffle aioli, and sauteed mushrooms. The amusingly named Bottom Burner was topped with pepperjack cheese, Mario Batali's hot sauce, onion rings and jalapeno pesto. And the Royale with Cheese featured Robiola cheese, a grilled Treviso raddichio, caramelized onions, and finished with a Parmigiano/Marscapone cream cheese spread.
I built my own burger when Jared came back to take our orders. I got the 6 oz. patty on a potato bun, and had it topped with Swiss cheese, Heritage Berkshire bacon, and sauteed mushrooms. Jared asked how I wanted it cooked and I asked for medium. My guests went simple - they both ordered the Drive-Thru burger - two 3 oz. burger patties on a sesame seed bun with American cheese. One guy ordered it with the cheese, the other without. We each ordered fries with our meal.
The burgers took about 20 minutes from the time we ordered to the time they showed up at the table. Jared was a little slow with the drink refills during that time, as well. We had to flag Jared down to get more pop and another beer. And it took a long time for him to return with our drinks.
Someone other than Jared brought out our burgers to us. The fries were in a large metal cup with wax paper. They were thin and crisp. A side of housemade ketchup came with them. The burger featured a tall potato bun crown that sat on top of the burger and toppings. Lettuce, a fresh tomato slice and red raw onion rings came on the burger, as well.
I haven't had a burger with a potato bun for quite sometime, but the one at B&B Burger and Beer was very good. It had a somewhat hard outer shell, but a nice chewy core. It held together well with all that was on the burger giving the burger a very good complementary taste.
The burger, itself, was flavorful and juicy on its own. It was cooked to what I call a perfect medium with a hint of pink in the middle. I liked it a little better than the burgers I've had at I ♥ Burgers, but the trade-off is that I like the toppings offered at I ♥ Burgers a little more.
My guests both liked their burgers. "Better than anything I've tasted back home," one of the guys told me.
The fries were all right - nothing special. They had a nice crisp taste and many had broke in half during the cooking process. They went well with the burgers.
That evening, we were packing up our suites on the 29th floor of the Venetian after the end of the Consumer Electronics Show. We were sort of at a standstill around 7:30 p.m waiting for our shipping crates to show up, so my boss decided that we'd go get something to eat. There were 12 of us and we first tried to get into the Public House bar and restaurant at the Venetian. When we found that they couldn't accommodate us, someone suggested that we go back to I ♥ Burgers. Knowing that the beer selection at I ♥ Burgers was disappointing, I suggested B&B Burger and Beer. Shrugs of shoulders to enthusiastic affirmations greeted my suggestion. We walked over to B&B Burger and Beer and they were able to put some tables together back in the same area that I had eaten at earlier in the day to accommodate our group.
Our server that evening, Shiloh, was much better than Jared. She was attentive, witty, and on the ball. Two of the people in our group don't drink beer, but it turns out that B&B Burger and Beer has a small wine list that they pair with some of their signature burgers.
On this visit, I built my own burger once again. This time I got a burger - medium - on a pretzel bun and topped with pepperjack cheese, a hard fried egg and garlic aioli. I got fries again after contemplating getting either onion rings or their housemade salt and pepper potato chips. I didn't figure I'd eat many of the fries as the burger would be more than enough for me - especially after having one at lunch. I also got a Ballast Point Calico Amber ale to go with the dinner.
The second burger I had at B&B Burger and Beer was just as good as the first one. I liked the pretzel bun more than the potato bun, but both were pretty damned good. The pepperjack had a nice spicy bite to it, the egg was a great complementary taste, but I couldn't really get much of a garlic taste with the garlic aioli. Overall, everyone seemed to be happy with the burgers at B&B Burger and Beer. At least no one complained and many were happy with the beer selection - limited, but a better selection of craft beers than I ♥ Burgers.
On my most recent Top Ten Burger List, another B&B Burger - the one from B&B Grocery in Des Moines - has consistently been in my Top Ten for the past couple three years. (Click here to see my entry on B&B Grocery.) The B&B Burger in Las Vegas was very good - one of the better "celebrity-gourmet" burgers I've had. While I've found some "celebrity-gourmet" burgers to be vastly overrated, the burger at B&B Burger and Beer was pretty damned good. The service we had in the afternoon for three people was below par, but the service by Shiloh in the evening taking care of 12 tired, thirsty, hungry and wise-assed guys was stellar. Being that it is new, I'm hoping the signature burgers, as well as the craft beer selection, is a work in progress. We may have found a new Sunday night burger destination when we get back to Las Vegas for the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show - B&B Burger and Beer. (Photo courtesy Vegas Chatter.com)