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Traveling to the Madison, WI area one Monday evening, I stayed at a hotel in Middleton on Madison's west side. I found an Indian restaurant on-line and went there for dinner. Unfortunately, I found out when I pulled up in front of the place that they're closed on Monday's. I drove toward the old downtown area of Middleton looking for some place to eat. Now, a place that I've eaten at in the past - but not for a long time - is the venerable Village Green, a tavern/eatery that I first went to back in the 80's. The only problem is that the Village Green didn't take credit cards and a meal with two or three beers adds up fast and I usually don't take a lot of cash with me on the road. I just happened to go by the Village Green this one particular evening and glanced at their front windows. There were the familiar "Visa" and "MasterCard" stickers in the window. I whipped into a parking spot on Hubbard St. and went into the Village Green for the first time in about 10 years. (see map)
The Village Green first opened in 1976 when Ron and Cricket Boyer bought an old four-lane bowling alley with a bar that had come up for sale. Ron Boyer had extensive restaurant experience in the Middleton area having first managed, then owned a Kelly's Hamburgers franchise since 1961. But Ron Boyer has a side story that I found rather fascinating.
In addition to having a day job as the manager of the small fast food burger joint in the early 60's, Ron Boyer was also a drummer who met a young guitarist from Milwaukee who was going to school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison - a guy by the name of Steve Miller. Along with a couple of other guys, they started a band called The Ardells and played a number of campus and Madison-area gigs.
The Ardells line-up changed with the addition of Miller's boyhood friend Boz Scaggs, and then later on keyboardist Ben Sidran joined the group. Of course, Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs went on to have big careers in rock and pop music, and Ben Sidran - who is the brother of Quad City-area musician Dr. Ezra Sidran (Ezra sits in with my friends Wicked Liz and the Bellyswirls from time to time) - became somewhat of a legendary rock and jazz studio musician playing with the likes of Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Diana Ross and Rickie Lee Jones.
Miller eventually moved to Chicago to immerse himself in the blues and Scaggs ran off to London to get into the music scene over there. Sidran got his English literature degree from the U of Wisconsin before going off to study in the United Kingdom where he eventually became a studio musician. Ron Boyer went back to slinging burgers at Kelly's Hamburgers.
Boyer eventually turned his restaurant into a Pickle Pete fast food restaurant, but sensed that the days of a non-major chain/cheap burger joint were numbered in the mid-70's. When they found out that the former bowling alley in downtown Middleton was for sale, the Boyers bought the place. Ron ended up putting a floor over the bowling lanes, taking the pool tables out and putting in a grill behind the bar area.
The Boyer's four children were all involved in the business as they grew up. Two of their sons, Craig and Chad, who began to work in the place busing tables when they were in middle school, continue to work in the place today running the day to day operation. (Ron Boyer is semi-retired, but Cricket will come in and wait tables four or five times a week for a few hours.)
There's two distinct areas at the Village Green - the main dining area where the bowling lanes is on the left as you come in the front door. The dining room is well lit and a number of signs and chalk boards with food specials are on the wall. While it's far from fancy, it's got a nice neighborhood tavern-like feel to the place. The bar area is partitioned off to the right as you come in the front door.
I took a seat at the bar and was greeted by a young lady who asked me what I wanted to drink. They had a list of their draft beers on the wall and I saw that they had Esser's Best on tap, a good local beer brewed in nearby Cross Plains. She gave me a menu to look over.
The Village Green is locally known for their very good, flat-grilled burgers. But, quite honestly, I've never had a burger in the place each of the times that I've eaten there. I've had their reubens there, including a rather interesting and good Summer sausage reuben. They also have a number of appetizers, salads and soups including Ron Boyer's homemade chili that I've had before, as well. It's got a nice spicy kick to it.
Since it had been so long from the last time I was in, I couldn't order anything but the Village Green reuben sandwich - one of the best I've ever had. The girl asked me if I wanted a side with it and for some reason I said I'd take French fries. But the reuben is probably all I'd eat that evening.
They grill the corned beef and sauerkraut at the Village Green, placing the Swiss cheese on top of the corned beef before putting everything on thick sliced pumpernickel bread. Dill pickle slices come on the side. In fact, Chad Boyer was running the grill this particular evening.
The corned beef is thin sliced, but piled high on the sandwich. They use a lot of sauerkraut on the sandwich and the thing I like is that they serve the 1000 Island dressing on the side. Sometimes, I'll run into a reuben where the dressing is so overpowering that it kills the taste of the corned beef. I was able to dip parts of the sandwich into the small tub of 1000 Island dressing, using what I wanted to get that dressing taste on the sandwich.
And the sandwich was just as good as I remembered. The slightly salty taste of the corned beef was offset by the somewhat sour taste of the sauerkraut. The bread was fresh and a great part of the sandwich. On the menu, they call their reuben "the best around". I may have to agree with that. It's still very good.
While the Village Green isn't fine dining, it's a great place to get a sandwich. One of these days I'll have to go in and try their flat-grilled burgers. There's a lot of great watering holes in the greater Madison area and the Village Green remains one of my all-time favorite places to go get a beer and a reuben. Now that I've found that they take credit cards, I'm sure I'll be back for a burger at some point.
A few weeks ago, I was in St. Louis on a weeknight. The hotel I was staying in didn't have the network that was showing an Iowa basketball game that evening, so I looked around for a sports bar that was close by. I found a place on Manchester called The Post. It looked like a good spot to catch a game on TV.
Now, the Post isn't like a lot of other sports bars - well, hang on. Yes, it kind of is. But what makes it unique is that it caters to fantasy sports participants. In fact, it has been named by many media outlets as being the nation's first fantasy sports bar. The Post has a number of fantasy leagues for the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, even NHL hockey. They encourage people to sign up for the various leagues and follow the players they have drafted at The Post. Prizes and even trips are available to league champions. They also have a "superdraft" concept that encompasses all four major league sports where a minimum buy-in of $200 is required. I used to do fantasy baseball years ago, but fell out of favor because it was too time consuming. I just haven't gotten back into it now that fantasy leagues are all computerized and easy to follow.
The brain behind The Post is their 30-something co-owner Adrian Glass. Glass graduated from Saint Louis University in 2004 with a degree in marketing and accounting. He passed his CPA exam and became an auditor for Deloitte, the largest professional network in the world. Glass soon found that he didn't like the buttoned-down corporate world and decided that he wanted to channel his interest into fantasy sports - something he'd been doing since 1991 - into a concept sports bar that catered to fantasy sports participants.
While in college, Glass had worked for awhile at a restaurant in Breckenridge, CO and met a co-worker by the name of Bill Cipriani. Determined to see his fantasy sports bar concept through, Glass contacted Cipriani in 2006 and gave him a rough outline on his idea. It took three years before the pair opened the first Post in what was formerly the second Schottzie's location on Manchester, just east of Big Bend. (see map). In 2013, they opened the second Post location in Creve Coeur. (see map) (Pictured right - Bill Cipriani and Adrian Glass. Photo courtesy Riverfront Times.)
But Glass knew that he couldn't just bank on the fantasy sports crowd to keep The Post in business. Going to other sports bars in the area, he found that the quality of the food and good service is what kept people coming in. Glass and Cipriani made sure that The Post didn't falter in either category and for their efforts they were named The Best New Bar in St. Louis in 2010 by Metromix St. Louis.
I was able to find a parking spot in front of The Post on Manchester. Walking into the place, I was sort of shocked at how small the place was. Most sports bars are cavernous spaces with two or three bar areas. While they did have a number of flat screen televisions on the walls throughout the place, there was really only two dining areas and one bar. But it was cozy without people sitting on top of one another.
I took a seat at the bar which had a number of draft beers and a number of other beers in a glass refrigerator behind the bar. The bartender, Ami, came over to greet me. She was an outgoing-type, calling me "Hon" when she walked over. She apologized for her appearance, she said she was called into work at the last moment and she said she just threw some things on. I thought she looked all right to me.
I soon found out that I would probably be the only one in the place interested in the Iowa basketball game that evening. The University of Missouri basketball team was also on one of the ESPN channels, but more importantly to the vast majority of patrons that evening, the St. Louis Blues were getting ready to play hockey. Ami was good enough to have one of the managers tune in the Iowa game on the flat screen directly in front of me at the bar.
I had Ami slide me a menu after a bit. Most of it consisted of your typical sports bar food - appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches and pizza. Three young women were seated next to me to my left and they ordered a small pizza to munch on. It was a thin crust and looked pretty good. Interestingly - to me - the Post also features some vegetarian and gluten free options.
The guy to my right had ordered up a turkey reuben sandwich and he also ordered tater tots as a side. That sort of got my attention when Ami brought it out to him - the tater tots more so than the turkey reuben. I was looking at getting one of The Post's burgers that featured half-pound all-beef ground patties. They also had a Bison burger on the menu and that was sort of tempting. But I ended up getting the Farmer burger topped with grilled ham, bacon, cheddar cheese and a farm fresh egg. I asked Ami if I could get my egg over hard (I don't like the yolk dripping all over the place when I'm eating a burger). She said it would be "no problem, hon." And I took my neighbors lead and ordered some tater tots for a side.
After a bit, Ami brought my burger out to me. The cheddar cheese was oozing off the top of the burger patty and the grilled ham, bacon and hard fried egg were sitting on top of the patty. The bun crown was held in place by a toothpick because, well, it would have fallen off trying to balance on all the stuff on the burger.
I'll have to say the burger was very good. There were a lot of taste sensations going on all at once with the cheese and all the toppings. But the burger patty was juicy and had a nice flavor to it. The bun stayed together very well keep all the toppings from flying off with each bite. It was light and somewhat spongy.
The tater tots were a nice diversion. I usually will order fries when offered as a side, but I hardly eat any. The tater tots were piping hot and had a crunchy outer shell and the chewy potato taste inside. It was way too many tater tots, however. Especially after finishing the rather large burger.
For a sports bar, I was very impressed with the food and service at The Post. They were accommodating to me for putting on the Iowa game, and the burger was very good - one of the better ones that I've had at a sports bar. The beer selection was all right, but there wasn't a place in the bar where you couldn't see a television. There are a number of sports bars in the St. Louis area, but I think The Post just became my favorite.
It was a late evening arrival into Des Moines recently and I needed to get something to eat. I had been thinking about the Hesson Haus - a traditional German-style bier hall - for quite some time. Before I checked into my hotel that evening, I stopped at the Hesson Haus for dinner and a beer.
The Hesson Haus is one of many restaurants under the Full Court Press umbrella of restaurants in the Des Moines area which includes Buzzard Billy's, El Bait Shop, High Life Lounge (click here to read my entry on High Life Lounge), Fong's Pizza and a handful of other unique places to eat and drink. Housed in what was originally an old train station, Hessen Haus opened in January of 2004 and had their first Oktoberfest celebration in September later that year. Interestingly, with a metro area population fast approaching 600,000, Hessen Haus is the only German-style restaurant in the Des Moines area.
It was after 9 p.m. when I walked into the Hessen Haus, hoping that they would still be serving food. I was greeted by a young lady cleaning off some tables close to the front door and asked her if I was too late for dinner. "Not at all," she cheerfully replied. "We serve food until 10 p.m."
Even at that time in the evening, the place was still over half full. I took a seat at the long bar toward the front of the building. Towering beer spigots were prominent on top of the bar and glass encased beer fridges were full of bottled beer behind the bar. Hessen Haus boasts a beer list of over 175 draft and bottled beers with an emphasis on German beers.
When the owners renovated the building, they tried to use as much of the original beams and woodwork as they could. The place is bright and has the distinct feeling of walking into an old German bier hall. Hessen Haus has a number of German traditions that they bring to the party, so to speak, including the traditional glass beer "boot" - literally a large boot-shaped drinking mug that is passed around in a group. There are rules with drinking from the boot - you can't drink the boot unless the toe is pointing toward you, you can't set the boot on the table, you have to pass the boot clockwise in the group. Penalties range from having to take another drink (which isn't so bad, in my book) to having to buy the next boot.
I was greeted by the bartender, Harry, who asked if I needed a menu. He grabbed one for me and asked if I wanted something to drink. I saw they had Warsteiner on one of the beer tower spigots and I signed up for one of them. He said, "Do you want a liter?" You bet!
Looking through the menu, I saw a number of traditional German dishes that included wienerschnitzel and jagerschnitzel, kassler ripschen (smoked pork chops), and a sausage plate. They also had something called Mac and Cheese Baden-Baden (named after the city in the Black Forest region of Germany). It consisted of a mix of melted Swiss, muenster and parmesan cheese mixed with German spaetzle with your choice of chicken, pork or beef.
They also have a number sandwiches at Hessen Haus including a reuben, The Bismark that features chopped roasted pork with fresh mushrooms and onions that are sautéed with a sour cream au jus and then topped with melted Swiss cheese served on a large toasted French roll. That sounded real good. Another interesting sandwich was the German chicken sandwich - a grilled chicken breast topped with corned beef, bacon, a peppercorn ranch dressing and Swiss cheese on a toasted bun. They even had a German-style "grinder" sandwich - similar to the famous Italian grinders found all around the Des Moines area. They use Graziano's ground Italian sausage (click here to see my entry on Graziano's) in a housemade marinara sauce, then top it with muenster cheese instead of mozzarella like a normal grinder.
There's a number of appetizers including rueben rolls and sauerkraut balls, as well as soups and salads. And for those who would like a little snack to go along with their beer in the middle of the afternoon, Hessen Haus offers jumbo pretzels, pickled eggs - both spicy and regular, and landjaeger - a smoked sausage link from Usinger's in Milwaukee. (Click here to see my entry on Usinger's.)
Harry had told me of a couple specials that they had that evening, but I was looking hard at a couple different things - the Bavarian stroganoff which featured spaetzle in a sour cream sauce with mushrooms, onions and a choice of lightly seasoned beef or pork cubes; and the Black Forest schnitzel - a lightly breaded tenderloin in a creamy cheese sauce with ham, spinach and mushrooms served on a bed of spaetzle. I was in a quandary and I finally asked Harry what he recommended between the two. "I like the mushroom taste of the stroganoff," he replied. I was leaning that way, but Harry pushed me over the line. I ordered it with pork.
About fifteen minutes after I ordered, Harry brought the large plate of the stroganoff with pork came out. The sour cream sauce was thick and rich, and large slices of mushrooms were visible throughout the plate. Large chunks of pork were plentiful with the spaetzle.
The only problem was that the pork was tough. Very tough. The first couple bites were almost too tough to chew. It was very disappointing.
I concentrated on the spaetzle in the sour cream sauce. Now, I'll have to say that was very good, and Harry was right - the smell of the fresh mushrooms was very prevalent in the dish.
The sauce was warm and I went back to a couple chunks of the pork. They seemed to tenderize a bit the more they sat in the sauce. They were still somewhat tough and chewy. It was the only disappointment in what was otherwise a good hearty German-style meal.
I like German food, but it seems like it's getting harder to find in my travels. I'm not going to let the tough pork cubes in the otherwise very good stroganoff taint my initial observations on the food at the Hessen Haus. I just wish that they would have been more tender. One can hope that it's an anomaly, but I'm a firm believer in consistency in a restaurant. The Hessen Haus has a great atmosphere, a wonderful beer selection and a menu that has the best in authentic German cuisine. I just wish my initial meal at the place would have been a little bit better. (Picture at left -courtesy Examiner.com-Des Moines examiners)
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.