Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Alexis Diner, Newburgh NY

The Alexis Diner in Newburgh used to be called the Lexus Diner until the car company sued them over the use of the name. It didn't matter that the diner had the name first, I guess the corporate suits were worried that some of their customers may not be able to tell the difference between a Japanese luxury car and a corned beef sandwich. They may have been right though, both a burger and a car can some deluxe, but who wants fries with a coupe? But, as Shakespeare said, what's in a name? The Alexis Diner by any name is one of the best in the Mid-Hudson Valley.

I can speak on this with some authority, I've probably eaten there somewhere between fifty and a hundred times and it's been very good almost every time. The few times it wasn't was a few years ago when I think they were temporarily under a different management, since that they've been back up to snuff. The menu is extensive, the service is good, and the prices are reasonable.

As for the food, the Rueben sandwiches are good, and huge, the Gyros are good and come with a small Greek salad (see the picture above), the burgers are good, the deserts are very good, the salads are fresh and huge, the omelets are fluffy, in fact, just about everything is good. Of course I follow my rule of ordering diner food in a diner. By the way, if you order a salad, order the small one because it is plenty even for me, and plan on sharing a desert too. The pie slices are big.

My daughter was visiting from North Carolina and we were watching Man Versus Food on TV. It was the episode where he ate a huge corned beef sandwich. Rachel said she wanted a Rueben. You see, they don't have diners in the South. They have places they call "meat and three', meaning you get a meat and three sides. We went and she got her rueben, I got a gyro (again I pronounced it right, yee-ros, and the waiter said gyro. Of course he wasn't Greek, he was Mexican) and Teresa got a burger. All were good.

Stop by sometime for a good meal. You won't be disappointed. For more info, visit their website.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Double O Grill, Wappingers Falls, NY

Double O is a bistro type restaurant with a large bar and an extensive menu. We used to go there years ago when it was the Rolling Rock Cafe and hit it a few times after they changed hands. The hands that own it now are the same ones that own the Eveready Diner and the Coyote Grill. Since I like the Eveready Diner, and my wife has been to the Double O a few times recently we had it on our short list.

Well we went there the other day on our way to a 7:30 meeting in Wappingers Falls. There was a traffic incident along the way, so we didn't get to the restaurant until 6:35. Plenty of time for a burger and a salad, or so I thought.

It wasn't busy and we were seated promptly. The waiter introduced himself to us, got us water and took our orders. I ordered the Blue Cheese Burger and Teresa had the Parmesan Crusted Chicken salad. For a slow night, the food took a while, but it was well worth the wait. My burger was perfectly cooked. Crusted on the outside and medium rare in the center. The blue cheese was plentiful, and of good quality, and there was a delightful grilled red onion slice on it. Sweet. The salad was a neat presentation, I wish I took a picture of it, and tasty. No complaints about the food.

The problem came with how long it took to pay. We got the bill and I looked at it, inserted the credit card, and waited ten minutes for the waiter to return. When he picked it up, it took another ten minutes before he came back with it saying, "Here's the bill, I have to backtrack my steps to find your card." Yup, he lost my credit card. I stood there for another ten minutes fuming as thoughts of having to cancel the card and the inconveniences associated with it ran through my mind. One of his associates said, "Oh, they fall out of those holders all the time." No they don't.

Anyway, he found my card and I signed the bill. I did lose his tip though. I never stiff a waiter, but the service wasn't good to begin with and he really did get me mad.

Bottom line? Double O has good food and you should try them. Just watch the waiter as he may be a bit careless.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Red Robin, Exton PA

Red Robin is an interesting chain. They create some really cool burger combinations, give you bottom-less fries, have good beers and give a fun atmosphere to enjoy them all. The Exton location is as good as any Red Robin I’ve been to, maybe better since they have Victory Beer. I was at the tail end of a long drive so I passed, but a Hop Devil sure would have gone well with my meal.
I’ve tried most of the burgers, my favorites being the Guacamole Bacon, the Blue Ribbon, and the Royal [with a fried egg on it]. This time I tried the Burnin’ Love burger, [from the website] “crispy-fried jalapeño rings, tangy salsa and spicy Pepper-Jack cheese layered on top of our cayenne-seasoned beef burger. It’s topped with shredded lettuce and tomato to cool things off and served on a jalapeño-cornmeal Kaiser roll with Chipotle mayo,” for $9.79. It was very good with heat in everything on it, but not overwhelming. I have a new favorite.
Service was good, restaurant was clean, including the rest rooms, and the food came hot and cooked right. If you’re passing through Exton on Uwclan Ave, stop and eat. You won’t be disappointed.
Now the rest is about Red Robin Restaurants in general. My experience at Exton was very good.
One thing I recommend, as soon as they bring your meal, order the second round of fries. This way they’ll bring them as you’re finishing the first round (They don’t give you a lot the first time). The second round is bigger, hotter, and taste better. Yeah, I don’t know why either. The other recommendation I make is to check the bill. They are notorious for making a mistake somewhere but they are so accommodating about fixing it. At some locations I’ve gotten the wrong order, been billed wrong, had them forget to bring my wife’s order, you name it. But they always fixed it, gave coupons, freebies, whatever. I don’t mind mistakes as long as they make up for them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sonic, Wappingers Falls NY

I've been to a few Sonic's when I was in the South and found them to be okay. The drinks are good, but the burgers are nothing special. When the chain started to come up here I decided to stop off at the Wappingers Falls location. It had recently opened and there was quite a bit of hype about it.

First off, the place is busy. Very busy. The line for drive-through was about ten cars deep and most of the drive-ups were full. I parked in the lot and ordered at the board by the tables. Two cheeseburgers and a chocolate shake seemed right. Well, after sitting there for about twenty minutes a girl came out and said the trays had gotten mixed up and my order would be out soon. Soon was another five minutes. When I got it the burgers were a bit cold, but I'd already paid, and I didn't have another half-hour to spare waiting to have them redone, so I ate them. Like I said before, the burgers are nothing special, but when cold they really leave a lot to be desired. The shake was good though.

As I finished I was thinking that I should have driven a few miles north and gone to Five Guy's. I was also thinking about how the roller blades were going to work out in the snow. Maybe they'll flood the parking lot and give them ice skates.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cup and Saucer Diner, Pine Bush NY

Pine Bush New York is one of the UFO capitals of the world. There have been many sightings over the years, well mostly a few years ago. So when a new diner opened up in Pine Bush they came up with the cheeky name of Cup and Saucer and designed a spaceship logo. It's cute and interesting.

What's even more interesting about the Cup and Saucer Diner is that it is a very good diner. We've been there quite a few times and almost always the food was excellent. The only times it wasn't was when we deviated from traditional diner fare to try something different, like a special. But that's true of most any diner. If you stick to what they make al the time, it should be done right.

This time I had the gyro, I pronounced it yee-row and the waitress said, gyro. I should have written it for her in Greek, γύρος. It was very good with a Greek salad and I upgraded to sweet potato fries. I've also had the Philly cheese-steak sandwich, the rueben, omelets, and the triple decker club. Every time what I got was good.

Stop by and pay them a visit. Check out their website for more info.

Update- 9/30/11. I've been back a few times since I wrote this and the food has always been very good. Most recently I had what I thought was the best Rueben I've ever had.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Franco's Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant, Walden NY

The little village of Walden, about 7,000 people, has three Chinese restaurants, one diner, two ice cream places, two bars and five pizza places. The pizza places range from just above mediocre to pretty good. Franco's is one of the pretty good ones and is also more of a restaurant in that they serve more traditional Italian dishes. We've been there a few times to eat, and gotten take out a couple more.

Franco's is located at the Thruway Shopping center in the old laundromat. The conversion came out well and it's a pleasant place inside with tables and booths.

In the latest visit I had the Veal Sorrento, veal cutlet with prosciutto, eggplant and provolone cheese on linguine with a white wine sauce. It came with a good salad and garlic bread and the price was $13.95. Teresa had the manicotti, also with a salad, for $8.95. Reasonable prices and decent sized servings. Mine was good. Not great, but good. I thought it was a bit flat tasting and had to add salt and parmesan cheese. The manicotti was good too, but the sauce was bland, like it came from the can and didn't get enough seasoning.

In the past I've had the veal parm hero, it was okay, and the stromboli, not very good. The pizza is good though, probably one of the best in the village, and they have a $9.00 special on Mondays. Anyone out there remember the old five dollar pizza nights? They offer a few specialty pizzas, and the calzones are good.

Overall, Franco's is good. Not great, but good. Pay them a visit sometime.

Friday, November 13, 2009

McKenzie Brew House, Malvern PA

On Route 30, in Malvern Pennsylvania, sits a nice large, new restaurant called McKenzie Brew House. My son-in-law and I stopped off for lunch, he'd been there the day before, for a quick bite on the way to visit my daughter who was in the hospital in labor (she had a boy two days later, my fourth grandchild).

The restaurant is large, clean, and well laid out. Even though it was crowded for lunch, we were seated right away in the bar area. It really is quite large inside. I ordered the half-pound burger with buffalo sauce and blue cheese crumbles, and Brian got the burger with caramelized onions and blue cheese sauce. $9.25 each. They came out exactly the way we ordered them, medium, on a fresh baked bun with quite a bit of fries. They were also delicious and juicy. The buffalo sauce on mine was just the right heat. It added flavor without overpowering the burger.

I didn't try any beer, we were on the way to the hospital, but Brian said he sampled one the night before and that it was good. Rest assured I'll be back to try a couple. By the way, the beer prices are reasonable at $4.00 for a pint and only eleven dollars for a growler.

The service was good, and the food came out quick. A nice unpretentious place with good food, just what I like. This is going to be one of my favorites and I'll do an update soon, with beer reviews. They aslo have another location in Chadds Ford. Check out their website for more info.

Update 11/13/09- I went back a few days later and ordered the same burger. It was just as good, except that I forgot to order medium. The default is medium-well in most places if that happens. It was still good. I also had a pint of their IPA, Wicked Will's I think it's called. Very good, slightly hoppy, and satisfying. Next time I'm going to try the sampler.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Brookfield CT

Five Guys has ruined me for other 'fast food' burgers. The burgers there are tasty and fresh, a handful of happiness. I use the term fast food carefully since everything is made fresh, so it does take a few minutes. The short wait is worth it though.

The Five Guys in Brookfield is on Federal Road, just up from the Stew Leonard's so we decided to go eat first, then do some grocery shopping. We changed our mind when the Five Guys lot was full so we shopped first and tried it again. This time there were a couple of spots available, but there was quite the crowd inside. It isn't as big as the one in Poughkeepsie since it is an old diner that's been converted, causing an odd interior. The food, however, was every bit as good though.

This time we decided to try the regular Five Guys fries instead of the cajun fries. They were good, but bland compared to the spicy ones. I had two little cheeseburgers with pickles and Teresa had a little burger with onions. Plenty of good food for a little over eighteen bucks with a soda.

I may start planning trips revolving around Five Guys locations, at least until they put one in Newburgh. If you haven't tried Five Guys yet, shut down the computer and take a drive. You can find their locations on the company website.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant, West Chester PA.

West Chester Pennsylvania is a neat little place. A college town with interesting stores and lots of places to eat. My favorite is the Iron Hill Brewery on 3 West Gay Street. We were there about a year ago and I remembered it as being really good, so when we were discussing dinner options and Iron Hill came up, I voiced my opinion. So Teresa and I, Nicole and Brian, and our friends Annette and Rob headed off for dinner.

Now I rate a restaurant on food quality, food quantity, service, price, and ambiance. Not necessarily in that order. In this case I'd rate the service as top-notch. We called ahead and put our name on the list, a good idea for any popular place, and only had to wait five minutes after we got there. They seated us in a booth. Problem was that my daughter is eight months pregnant, and a couple of us are in the extra large category. My wife asked for a table, and the manager got us one right away. The waitress also turned off the fan above us at our request. Orders were taken promptly and the food, and beer arrived fast and hot, Not the beer, that was nice and cold. I'm sorry I forgot our waitresses' name because she was awesome.

About the food, it's good and reasonably priced. Normally I'd get the burger, but I'd already eaten two that day, so I opted for the fish and chips. I picked up a taste for them when I was in England and I've found fish and chips to be better here. Iron Hill makes a good fish and chips, please note the picture above. Rob had the chicken pot pie, baked in a bowl with only a top crust. He liked it. Annette had the salmon burger, looked great and she said it tasted great too. Brian had a burger and Teresa had something off the special list and Nicole had a wrap. Everyone was quite full, and happy.

And the beer. I had the Ryesing, and American rye IPA with a slight hoppy taste and a hint of citrus flavor. Nice and refreshing. So much so that we left with a growler. Brian had the Heater Room, a brown ale with a smokey taste. They make some good beers here and there is something about a fresh beer with no preservatives in it. It just tastes cleaner.

And since we're hitting all of the criteria here, Iron Hill has a nice ambiance. Lots of wood, fairly bright, and you can even look into the food prep area, at least from where we were sitting. I like a restaurant that puts it all out there. Nothing to hid.

You really have to try this place sometime. They have a few other locations in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. For more information check out their website.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Paltz Indian Restaurant

I like Indian food. The problem is that I don't know much about it, so I never know what to order. The solution? Buffet. I've had a few Indian buffets before, but the best so far is in New Paltz at the New Paltz Indian Restaurant on North Manheim Blvd.

We had food from here a few weeks ago when we were invited to a surprise birthday party for our friend Amy. Her friend, Gina, ordered the food from here and I helped her pick it up. While there I noted a sign announcing that on Tuesdays they have a buffet for $12.95. I cataloged that in my memory and after eating the food at the party decided we had to try it. By the way, we got to take home the plum sauce and the cilantro seasoning from the party. The plum sauce made a fine marinade for pork chops and chicken. The spicy cilantro sauce made a delicious chicken marinade.

Anyway, my wife and son and I went there this Tuesday and it was good. Fresh, hot nan bread, papadum (lentil wafers) and various samosas to start. Follow this with Tandoori chicken, Shrimp Korma (my favorite), chicken curry, and some great basmati rice, plus a whole lot more. Everything was delicious, fresh and hot.

Great food, friendly people, good service, and a reasonable price. We'll be headed back soon and you should pay them a visit too. Check out their website for menu and directions. Oh, they have one opening soon in Kingston.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Poughkeepsie NY

I know, I said I don't usually do a Zagat rated restaurant, but this place is different. Five Guys Burgers and Fries has won accolades all over and I'm about to add mine.

This chain started in the DC area a few years back and it is growing fast. It isn't a typical fast food joint as many locations are in an office building, as well as the free-standing ones. They have a successful business model. Do one thing, do it right, and be consistent. They have burgers, dogs, soda and fries. That's it. Nothing complicated, nothing fancy. Just good food served right.

A regular hamburger has two patties and the little hamburger has one. They are all cooked well done for safety reasons, and to make the operation simpler. This way when the order is placed it's simply a matter of how many patties they have to make. Then you can add any of fifteen toppings, ketchup, mustard, peppers, onions (grilled or raw), etc, plus the cheese and bacon if you ordered that. Sodas are large and regular, as are the fries. The fries come or Five Guys Style, or Cajun. Regular or large. Regular size is plenty enough for two people to share.

We've been to the Poughkeepsie location twice now, and found it to be great both times. You place the order and they tell you your order number (it's on the receipt too) and the approximate wait time, and have a seat. On the way you can pick up some roasted peanuts in the shell to pass the time. Five minutes or so later, and they call your number. Each order is cooked fresh. I usually get the little burger as I'd rather have two of them than a single regular burger. The burger is good too.

Stop by at your local Five Guys for a nice burger. Check out the website to find one.

Update 12/19/08- I went here with seven people who have never been to a Five Guys before and they were impressed. We had all been at a party, and ate there, but we managed to chow down pretty well. I ate two burgers and even though I was stuffed, I could have had another. These are probably the best 'fast food' burgers out there.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Red Lobster, Middletown

My Mother-in-law was over and we, my wife and I that is, decided we should go out to eat. Mom loves shrimp, and Red Lobster has that never-ending-shrimp special going on so . . . well there we were.

First I have to tell you that the staff was great. We were seated right away and our waitress took good care of us. We decided on the never-ending shrimp (I was actually considering getting a lobster tail and a steak, but changed my mind). Well our waitress kept coming back to refill our water, and our shrimp.

The shrimp comes several ways, and you start with two, and refill with any choice. I tried them all. In order of favorite:
1. Cajun on rice pilaf
2. Scampi swimming in butter
3. Fried
4. Teriyaki
5. Coconut

None of them are truly stellar, the food is good, hot and prepared right, but Red Lobster isn't a great seafood place. It's a good seafood place. We did eat our fill however and left quite a few spent shrimp tails on the bread plates. Maybe next time I will get the tail, or try the new grilled menu.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

MacDonald's, Chicago

At the intersection of Clark and Ontario Streets in Chicago sits the biggest Mac shack I've ever seen, and one of the best. It's actually a museum as well with some interesting pictures and memorabilia all over. On the first floor is the regular food area and there is a second floor where they serve gelato. Gelato at a Mac Donald's is pretty cool. Almost as cool as getting a beer in the London locations. The view from the second floor is good. Check it out when you're in town.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Billy Goat Tavern and Grill, Chicago

Okay, remember that old Saturday Night Live skit with Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi in the diner saying, "Cheezborger, cheezeborger, Pepsi, Pepsi. Cheeps, no fries"? Well, this is the place that inspired that skit. The Billy Goat is also famous for the curse on the Cubs causing the drought in World Series appearances. Those two thing are enough to make a visit to one of their locations a 'must' when you're in Chicago.

There are a few locations. Stay away from the one on Navy Pier, they jacked up the prices for the tourists. Stay away from the one on Michigan too. They play up the Saturday Night Live skit a bit too much and get obnoxious about it. Maybe some of you like to be insulted at restaurants, but I don't. It doesn't add any charm. The one to go to is the one by the Opera House on West Washington, or the one over on South Wells. Going in is like stepping into the 1940's. Bar, grill, atmosphere. You may feel like a newspaper reporter taking a quick lunch between stories.

Food is somewhere between okay and good. Every day they have a special, like double burgers, or triple burgers, and they have a nice supply of pickles to put on your burger. The fries are good too, and they have a few other choices.

It's not great, but it can be fun (of course this may bring a curse on me, but I'm not seeking a pennant). Check out their website for more info.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder

One time when we were visiting our daughter and son-in-law in Chicago we were watching the Food Network and Rachel Ray was doing her Tasty Travels in Chicago. One of the restaurants featured was the Chicago Oven Grinder on Clark Street. It looked interesting, so we decided to give it a try. Plus there was the draw of the building being across from the site of the Valentine's Day massacre, with the building the restaurant is in having been a lookout. That appealed to the historian in me. Once we got there it was apparent the whole city saw the episode and thought the same thing.

Brian and I dropped of Teresa and Nicole and went out to find a place to park. we got one a few blocks away and when we got back Teresa said the wait was about an hour and a half. After discussion, we decided that by the time we went to get the car, decided where to go, and drove there we'd have to wait someplace else. We stayed. Now they didn't take our name, the man at the door just looked at my wife's face and said he'd remember her. He did. We were called in right after the people who got there before us, and right before the people who came after. Interesting.

Once inside the smell of the food, make even stronger by the wait, was amazing. It was also small, so I can see why there was a wait. We ordered the pizzas and a couple of oven grinders. The pizzas were different. Kind of like a Chicago deep dish pizza served upside down in a bowl, with the crust on top. Think pizza pot pie and you have the visual. We shared the one pounder, and a half-pounder. The oven grinders are baked heros, subs, grinders, hoagie, or whatever you call them where you live. Very good, and very filling. We split the Italian combo on this one.

An interesting side story here. If you note on the right of this blog I have some books featured. I write a mystery series called the Maria Hart Mysteries. I have an image of what she looks like, as well as her husband. While standing in line for the bathroom (they have a one-hole men's room) I was behind a man who was exactly what I thought Dan Hart should look and sound like. I looked over at his table later and his wife wasn't Maria though. Too bad.

Anyway, the food was great and well worth the wait. Check them out sometime and visit their website for more information.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Flat Top Grill, Chicago

One of my favorite restaurants in Chicago is the Flat Top Grill over in Lakeview at 3200 Southport Avenue. They have a few other locations, but I’ve been to this one a few times and enjoyed it every time. It’s an interesting ‘create your own’ stir-fry restaurant.

What you do is this; take a wooden stick from your table and write your name on it, then bring it to the food line with you. Take a bowl and put in your veggies, ladle in the sauce you want, add meats, stick in colored sticks for additional add-ons, like shrimp, stab your stick with your name on it, and put the bowl by the large flat top (hence the name) grill. They’ll stir-fry it and bring it to your table. Can’t figure out what you want to create? Well, they have recipes posted giving the ingredients and portions on the wall above the food. Oh, and you can keep going back for more to try different combinations. They also have a full bar.

Give Flat Top a visit and I think you’ll like it. Check out their website for more info.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Eveready Diner, Brewster Revisited

My review of the Eveready Diner in Brewster has become one of my most viewed reviews on this site generating traffic from NYC, CT, and all over New York. As a result, we decided to stop by on our way home from Danbury to check it out again to make sure it was as good as I said it was. Okay, we were hungry too.

This time it wasn't crowded at all, probably because it was quarter to five on a Saturday, and also because the 'new' had worn off since they'd been open awhile. However why, it doesn't matter, but it was much more relaxed and I got a chance to look around without having wall-to-wall people. It's bigger than I thought, there is a back room, and I like the Art Deco look, although the waitresses look a bit uncomfortable in the uniforms. I think they were shooting for a 1930's, or 40's look here.

Food was good this time too. My wife had an omelet, and her friend and I shared a cheeseburger with fries and a reuben with onion rings. Neither of us could decide which we wanted, so we had half of each. The burger was a good diner burger, nothing more, nothing less. The reuben was good too, but I made the mistake of getting the pastrami instead of the corned beef. I like corned beef better and I recall that the corned beef is very good here.

There are good diners, great diners, and crappy diners. Eveready is a good diner. The food is good, the service is good, the selection is good, and the prices are good. They're also consistent it seems, having been there twice. My original recommendation holds, pay them a visit. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Weber Grill, Chicago

If you’re a fan of Weber grills, and I certainly am, a must see place in Chicago is The Weber Grill Restaurant at 539 N. State Street. Even if you’re not a fan, you should go there anyway. You’ll know you’ve found it when you see he distinctive red kettle mounted above the door. When you go in, you’ll see a whole lot more grills since they have several very large grills behind the counter on which they cook your food. I like to sit in the front room so I can watch them cook. I like a place like that, nothing to hide and a little theater while you wait for your food.
I recommend going for lunch, as they have a nice menu at a lower price than the dinner menu, and it’s less crowded. Either way, you’re going to have a great meal, comparable I daresay to the expensive big name steak houses in town but for less money.
We were there twice, both times for lunch. We had the fire roasted artichoke and spinach dip, amazing, each time to start. One time I had the Wisconsin Burger, cheddar cheese and bacon, and the other time I had the Black and Blue Burger, blue cheese on an Angus burger. Both were outstanding and cost $11.50. They have a daily burger special for $10.50. My wife had the Barbeque chicken for $10.50 one time, I forget what she had the other time, but I remember she liked it.
They have a nice beer selection, but since you’re in Chicago I recommend the Honker’s Ale from Goose Island. It’s a nice English ale that goes well with steak, chicken, or burgers. They’ve also added Weber’s Backyard Barbeque Brew made for them by Goose Island since we were there. Ty it and let me know how it is. Oh, if you don’t want a beer try a Goose Island Cream Soda Float. Tastes just like a Creamsickle.
There’s also a good desert menu, but I don’t think you’ll have room for more after the portions you get.
Stop by and enjoy The Weber Grill. You won’t be disappointed. Check out their website for more info.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Back to Chicago

My vacation travels are over for now, and I'll be back to teaching starting next week. We travelled about five-thousand miles all over, from Pennsylvania, to North Carolina, to Alabama, and on to New Orleans. We visited a lot of family, and had some good meals. It'll be good to get back into a routine, but I'll miss trying out new places and sharing them you everyone. What I've decided to do is to take a look back at some of the great places I went to in the six years my wife and I visited Chicago when our daughter and son-in-law lived there. Hence the back to Chicago in the title. I wish I could actually go there, but a memory trip is good too.

Now it's been two years since we were there, so many of these reviews are written from memory. I will use the internet to check the menus and such. It is possible that a restaurant has changed for the worse, or better, so please let me know and I'll add your comments.

Another reason I'm doing a section on Chicago is that I've discovered that I have quite a few readers there, plus I love that city. So two and two is four, six and two is eight, don't you make me late. Sweet Home Chicago.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Andy's Burgers, Shakes, and Fries. Wilmington NC

Andy’s Burgers, Shakes and Fries is a neat chain of restaurants in the North Carolina area featuring a retro look, and a retro menu. Step inside and you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time to the fifties. There’s lots of chrome and Formica, and plenty of pictures of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. The menu is simple, burgers, fries, shakes, hot dogs, cheese steak sandwiches, and chicken.

The prices are good too. I had the cheeseburger, fries and a shake for $6.99 and added two Chubby Checker hot dogs, with chili and some sweet onions, for $1.59 each. All was good, and very filling. You can even add things, like peanut butter cups, to the shake at no extra charge.

They have an interesting challenge there called the Big A. It’s a six patty (50 ounces of meat) cheeseburger, large fries, and a large soda. If you eat it in a half-hour, it’s free. If you don’t finish, it’s $21.95. I wasn’t quite up to the challenge this time, but I’ll definitely try it some time and post the video here.

My daughter said that I needed to add that the bathrooms were very clean, and that's a huge point for people, especially those with children.

Stop in for a blast from the past. Check out the website for more information.

Front Street Brewery, Wilmington NC Revisited

When I find a restaurant I like, I go back often. In my travels I’ve come across a few that I’d like to visit more often, but I can’t. Such is the case with Front Street Brewery in Wilmington, NC. We paid our second visit there the other day and all I can say is that I’m even more impressed. The food was excellent, the service great, and the atmosphere fun.

You see, Front Street Brewery is one of those places that just isn’t pretentious, and if you’ve been following this blog at all, you know that I hate pretentious. I like simple food for regular people, and that’s what Front Street is all about. They aren’t trying to impress you with anything but the food and the beer, and even that’s understated.

We had a party of eleven, eight adults and three children. Five of us got there first and sat at the bar for a beer while waiting for the rest of our party. I met a nice man named Sam eating at the bar and we struck up a conversation, turns out he works there and we were discussing beer and Philadelphia where he was from. I also had a nice conversation with Maddie (I think that’s her name) the bartender. The people who work there are nice, friendly, and interesting.

When we were seated, Christy took care of us, after the first server left (I hope we didn’t scare him off) and she quickly corrected a mistake in the order. Food was great! Please note the picture above of my delightful Black and Blue Burger. I ordered it with sweet potato fries and that was the error that Christy corrected for me; I even got to keep the regular fries when she brought the sweet potato fries, probably the best I’ve had by the way.

We had a few appetizers; the fried green tomatoes, Buffalo Blue Sticks, and Buttermilk Breaded Onions, all half-price between four and six by the way.

I had a few beers. The Scottish Ale was delicious. The Vanilla Porter, the special that day, was interesting with a nice taste. I liked the California Common as well. It has a nice taste that starts off like a wheat beer and finished like an IPA, with a slight fruit flavor. They were out of my favorite, the Port City IPA.

Definitely stop by Front Street Brewery if you’re in Wilmington and tell them I sent you. Check out their website too.

Cape Fear Wines and Beer, Wilmington NC

A neat place in downtown Wilmington is Cape Fear Wines and Beer, at 139 Front Street. They claim to have over 300 beers available, and looking at the coolers, I’d say that’s about right. The selection can be a bit overwhelming, but it’s well worth the strain on the eyes. They also have a few beers on tap, and I chose the Old Speckled Hen. My daughter and her boyfriend got the 1825 Porter, an English brew patterned after a beer found on a shipwreck. Good beer.

Check them out when you’re in Wilmington, or visit their website.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Boombalatti's Ice Cream, Wilmington NC

Boombalatti's, a funny name for something that's neither a burger, nor a brew, but one amazing ice cream place. The address is 1127 Military Cutoff Road, Wilmington North Carolina. You'll find it across the street from the Mayfaire Mall.

They have a great selection of ice creams, and they say they are all made fresh daily. It took a while to decide. I had the two scoop sundae for only $3.75. My two scoops were Peanut butter cup and chocolate cream pie, with hot fudge, whipped cream and peanuts. Heaven in a plastic bowl.

Stop in and visit them when you're in town. You'll be glad you did. Better than Cold Stone, and a whole lot cheaper.

Update- April 2, 2010

We went back the other day and it was every bit as good as the last time. Excellent ice cream at good prices. If you live near them, patronize them and keep them going. If you don't live near them, take a road trip.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sonic, Wilmington NC

Living in the North, Sonic is kind of new and exciting. They opened one in New Jersey and traffic backed up on route 17 for about a mile, plus I think someone got run over there. Now I've been to Sonic before, once in Tennessee, and once in Mississippi, so it wasn't all that new. It is however, interesting.

I don't eat in the car, it's too new yet, so I like to pull into the spot and take advantage of the tables in front. There's a nice big menu there and you can look at it as long as you want before ordering. When you decide, and there's quite a bit to choose from, push the button and order, You can pay with the credit card right there. Sit down and relax and pretty soon a waitress on roller skates comes out with your order. Pretty cool.

This visit I had the special, a cheeseburger and a shake (chocolate) for $2.99. Add a chicken finger sandwich off the dollar menu (yeah, it's one dollar and it's good) and I'm stuffed for four buck plus tax. The burger is good too, and the shake is nice and thick. Overall, a nice cheap eat, and a cool fast food experience.

Cook Out, Wilmington NC

August 2011- I wrote the review below two years ago and it has become one of the most read articles I've done. As such, I wanted to clarify a few things.

First, this is a good hamburger. I would rank it near the top in the fast-food category. Second, I still do not like the menu board. It is hard to read and this last visit I wound up parking the car and walking to the front window to get a closer look at the menu. I discovered they had bacon available. Third, they make mistakes. As you read below they made a mistake on the order and it happened another time here as well. I was at one of their restaurants in Virginia and they put the order for the car behind us in our bag as well as our order (no charge for it, but we didn't want what they ordered, and we didn't know we had it until we were a few miles down the road). Fourth, it is a good burger and cheap. How cheap I don't really know because I can't read the menu!, but the total is always low.

August 2009- Cook Out is a small restaurant chain that started in 1989 in Greensboro North Carolina and grew to over sixty locations. They recently opened one in Wilmington, right next door to UNC and it looked interesting, so we decided to give it a try.

The place is drive up and walk up only, but if you want to walk up to the window you’d better have walked there because there’s no place to park more then three cars, and if you do park you’ll never get the car out of the parking lot since there is at least a ten car line for the drive through at all times. The drive through is fast though, and they have one line on each side of the restaurant so you’ll be at the order menu before you know it, and that’s where the problem hits. The menu is small, in funky fonts of different colors, and there are a lot of cars behind you. If you don’t know what you want ahead of time, you’ll feel like you’re caught in the Soup Nazi episode on Seinfeld.

We ordered three burgers, three cheeseburgers, and three fries. We got three cheeseburgers and three fries. The burgers we got were good; they seemed to be fresh meat. The fries were good too. We weren’t charged for the three burgers we didn’t get, but we could have used them. Also, with cars pushing you along, there’s no way to check what you got without feeling like you’re holding everyone up, I'd recommend going online and getting your order ready ahead of time, but I don't think the company has a website of it's own. At least I couldn't find one anyway. There is, however, a very useful independent web site, which posts the menu and even has a picture of the menu board I was talking about.

What I recommend that Cook Out do is to place a larger menu someplace else so that you can read it while waiting in line. They may have a ton of regulars, especially from the college, but new customers need to know what they have.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bacchus, New Paltz

Okay, in New Paltz there is a place called Bacchus, named after the Roman god of wine, where they claim to have 400 beers available. Naturally I had to try it.

I had the Bacchus Burger at $6.95. Add .75 for cheese, and a buck for bacon, and at $8.70 it’s a good price for a nice burger. When the bill came, my burger was a lunch special at $2.95, a steal for a great burger. It was a nice piece of meat on a fresh Kaiser roll with lettuce, tomatoes, and your choice of steak fries, onion rings, or curly fries. I got the onion rings. It was a very good burger. By the way, the picture on the masthead is the burger I had. My buddy Steve got the grilled chicken sandwich with avocado, pepper jack, bacon and guacamole for $9.95, and he said that was good too.

Two lunches, four beers, and a tip was $43.00.

Now, about those four beers. With such an extensive selection, it took a long time to decide and I told the waitress I liked IPA. She suggested the Hurricane Kitty from Keenan brewery in Kingston, a local brewery. It was so good that instead of switching it up for the second round, I had another. Steve had a German Pilsner and a Belgian Pilsner. Mine was better.

Overall, it was a very good experience. Food was great. Service was great. Beer selection was great. Check them out, I’m certainly headed back.

For more information, check out their website.

Update: I went back on September 19th and was just as pleased with the burger. This is one of the best burger places I've been to.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Chicago hot dogs

I miss Chicago for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest is the hot dogs, one of my greatest pleasures is eating a Chicago style hot dog. They use a bigger dog, Vienna Beef being the preferred one, and dress it with pickles, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and celery salt. All of this deliciousness is served in a seeded bun.

I found a great blog about the Chicago dogs, as well as Italian Beef, gyros, and a whole lot more. The name is The picture above is from the site. Check it out sometime.

Fudruckers, Parsippany NJ

Like they say, it’s a funny name, but it’s a fun place to get a good burger. We stopped off at the Parsippany, New Jersey store on the way home from the road trip to get a bite. We’d been there once before, and liked it.
I had the black and blue burger, a nice half-pound Angus burger with blue cheese and caramelized onions. It came cooked perfectly at medium and was served on a fresh bun with seasoned fries. What I like most about Fudruckers is the toppings bar. There are pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, and relishes. They also have cheese to put on the fries, regular and jalapeno, plus they have the sauce that goes on onions. Oh, by the way, the fries are endless, so I got a second order right away.
The prices are reasonable, the food is good, and the name sounds cool. For more information, check out their website.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Front Street Brewery, Wilmington NC

On Front Street in Wilmington, North Carolina, you can find a really nice place called The Front Street Brewery. When you find it, go in and eat and drink. You will not be disappointed. We were there with seven adults and three children on a Tuesday evening and had a very enjoyable experience.

First, check out the appetizers because on weekdays from four to seven PM they have a great selection for half price. I tried (not just me, but the whole party) the fried Buffalo blue cheese strips, the fried green tomatoes, the onion rings, and the jumbo soft pretzel. All were good.
For dinner I recommend the Black and Blue burger, bacon, blue cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and a half-pound of good beef on a Kaiser roll for only $7.99. The only drawback is that the rarest they’ll make it is medium well, but it was okay. I like mine medium. My son-in-law had a Horseradish burger, and he had a grin on his face as he ate it. The rest in my party had the Baja salad, Blackened Chicken Breast, Bratwurst, and Fried Shrimp. Everyone said his or her meal was good.
I liked their IPA, they are after all a microbrewery. I also tried the Oatmeal Stout, but was slightly disappointed. Not that it was bad, but I’ve had better. I tasted the Scottish Ale, and that was good too. I think I need to go back and try a few more.
Like I said, it was a good dining experience. Maggie took good care of us and made sure all of our needs were met. We also tasted some nice wines, because on Tuesdays they have a free wine sampling.
Check out their website for more information.
Update- Aug 22, 09
When I find a restaurant I like, I go back often. In my travels I’ve come across a few that I’d like to visit more often, but I can’t. Such is the case with Front Street Brewery in Wilmington, NC. We paid our second visit there the other day and all I can say is that I’m even more impressed. The food was excellent, the service great, and the atmosphere fun.
You see, Front Street Brewery is one of those places that just isn’t pretentious, and if you’ve been following this blog at all, you know that I hate pretentious. I like simple food for regular people, and that’s what Front Street is all about. They aren’t trying to impress you with anything but the food and the beer, and even that’s understated.
We had a party of eleven, eight adults and three children. Five of us got there first and sat at the bar for a beer while waiting for the rest of our party. I met a nice man named Sam eating at the bar and we struck up a conversation, turns out he works there and we were discussing beer and Philadelphia where he was from. I also had a nice conversation with Maddie (I think that’s her name) the bartender. The people who work there are nice, friendly, and interesting.
When we were seated, Christy took care of us, after the first server left (I hope we didn’t scare him off) and she quickly corrected a mistake in the order. Food was great! Please note the picture above of my delightful Black and Blue Burger. I ordered it with sweet potato fries and that was the error that Christy corrected for me; I even got to keep the regular fries when she brought the sweet potato fries, probably the best I’ve had by the way.
We had a few appetizers; the fried green tomatoes, Buffalo Blue Sticks, and Buttermilk Breaded Onions, all half-price between four and six by the way.
I had a few beers. The Scottish Ale was delicious. The Vanilla Porter, the special that day, was interesting with a nice taste. I liked the California Common as well. It has a nice taste that starts off like a wheat beer and finished like an IPA, with a slight fruit flavor. They were out of my favorite, the Port City IPA.
Definitely stop by Front Street Brewery if you’re in Wilmington and tell them I sent you.
Update- April, 2. I stopped by today for a quick Port City IPA ( I didn't have time to order food) and I remembered why I love this place. Great beer and nice people, even without the great food. I'll be back a few times this Summer.

Portillo's Italian Beef, Chicago

Portillo's is a great place to get a hot dog in Chicago, but when we were last there I had the pleasure of experiencing an Italian Beef sandwich for the first time. Holy crow! What was I missing all that time? If you haven't had one think of a Chicago version of a Philly cheese steak, except mine had sausage on it too. I was going to get a side of cheese fries and I'm glad I passed on them. That sandwich filled me up.

This is the signature sandwich of the Windy City, like the Muffaletta in New Orleans and you can't go wrong.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cigar Factory, New Orleans

After a nice dinner, and a couple of good beers, a nice cigar tastes good. In New Orleans they have a place called the New Orleans Cigar Factory where you can watch craftsmen roll cigars. They have a nice selection, and the prices are right as well. For three dollars you can pick up a nice medium sized cigar in either natural or sweet flavor. I found them every bit as enjoyable as the Cubans I had in England, and fresher. Stop in and sample one. They also ship anywhere, so check out their website.

Crescent City Brew House

After a very filling lunch we walked around town for a few hours hoping to make room for dinner. The problem of course is too many choices to eat, and not enough time to try them all. One place that looked interesting was the Crescent City Brew House on Decatur. After we found a ‘buy one entrée, get one free’ coupon at the hotel, the decision was made. This turned out to be another great decision.

The restaurant reminded Teresa of the Blue Bayou in Chicago, maybe because that bar was patterned after a New Orleans restaurant, lots of wood, and open.

The menu was extensive and we decided to have the seafood. I ordered the shrimp Pappardelle, which is jumbo shrimp over noodles with bacon, peas and mushrooms in a creamy sauce of fresh basil and Parmesan cheese. Teresa had the crabmeat stuffed shrimp. Both were delicious, but mine was probably the best seafood dish I’ve ever had. There was so much on the plate I couldn’t finish it all so I took a doggy bag and gave it to a homeless guy we saw later.

I had two beers. The first was a Red Stallion, a Vienna style copper beer that was pretty good. The second was one of the specialty beers, a dark Weise beer that had a nice flavor. The beers are a bit pricey at $6.50 each, but worth a try.

For more info check out their website.

Chartes House Cafe, New Orleans

We’d checked in at the hotel and asked at the desk about a nice place to eat, that wasn’t too expensive. We were told about a place around the corner and headed off. Well, we didn’t like that place, so we walked a bit further and an interesting gentleman (his picture is shown here) showed us a menu from the Chartes House Café, on Chartes Street, and it looked interesting. A few blocks down the road, and we decided that was the best place we’d seen and got a table. Well, we were certainly right. It was great.

I had the Muffaletta, an amazing sandwich that cost only $8.95. What’s a Muffaletta? Why it’s only one of the best sandwiches in the world, and a specialty of this region. It’s salami and ham, topped with melted provolone cheese topped with an olive salad (much like an olive tapenade) on a large round roll. Teresa had the Taste of New Orleans, which is a sampler of red beans and rice, Jambalaya, and chicken & andouille sausage gumbo for $14.95. That was delicious also. Both came with fries too. I had two beers, both from Abita, and they were only $3.50 each, more on that in a later review.

So if you’re in the Big Easy and want a nice place to get some great food, stop in at the Chartes House Café at 601 Chartes Street and enjoy yourself. For more info check out their website.