Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jackie's Cafe, Saturday Morning Splendor!

For me Saturday mornings are the "treat ME right," kinda morning. Traditionally Saturday mornings have been the one morning where laziness rules the roost. When there are little to no plans and therefore making plans on a spontaneous whim is aprapo. It all began when I was a child. Getting up and going to school was never my thing. Saturday meant, you don't have to go anywhere! Then as a young mother and Saturday was the first day after a 5 day work week. It was when my sisters would come over or someone else was there to help me get the babies ready. It was the one morning when a "true breakfast" was made and enjoyed. When coffee was slowly sipped. The tradition has continued. There is nothing like a Saturday morning.

This particular Saturday I woke up with a mission in mind. I was not going to cook, make coffee or putz around the house in my robe. Rather, I was setting out to find the perfect place to make me feel like royalty for the morning. It had been a long, exhausting week. I requested Steve's presence, but, he had some writing on his mind. So, well then, I will go it alone! I had my sights set on a nice little cafe we had stopped at during the summer months. The place; Jackie's Cafe, The mission; Experience the best!

I do not mind going it alone. I have done it many times in my life and I have found that I gain clarity, I am expressive, comfortable, at home with myself. I don't make it a habit, but, it isn't bad either. So, why was Jackie's a good place for going it alone? Because it feels like you are in a breakfast room of a cozy house, that's why. My server was very attentive, friendly and took the time to talk to me about her favorite breakfast dish. I took her advice. She was right! I enjoyed Egg's Benito. Poached eggs served on top of jalapeno corn bread with a slice of ham and topped with jalapeno cheese sauce. Delicious! It is a bit spicy, but, no complaints here. I ate half and brought the other half home for Steve. He also enjoyed it. The corn bread in particular was the best I have ever eaten out. Brava!

Following my meal I had a bit of a conversation with my server about the catering end of the business as well as the "back door bakery." Her exuberance about the place and passion for Jackie came very natural. There is something about being served by someone who really believes in the chef and the nature of the restaurant. How could I possibly resist such enthusiasm?

Around to the back door I went. It reminded me of an old time movie where the children would go out back and sneak a cookie before dinner. The bakery is small, quaint, but filled with sunshine and glorious aroma's of fresh baked, sweet treats. It was only a few seconds before Jackie made her way from the kitchen to welcome me. She moved from behind the bakery case to speak to me face to face on the "patron" side of the case. That immediately struck me as true hospitality. No wonder why the service was so wonderful, Jackie is wonderful! She took the time to tell me a little about her history, background and how she came to New Buffalo Michigan. Within a few moments of explaining why I was out on a Saturday morning brought about a very friendly exchange over sweet treats. She made a "goodie" box up for Steve so that he would know exactly what he missed. She even called him by name after I had only mentioned it once.

Jackie Shen and Jackie's Cafe receives 5 gold Saturday morning smiles for food quality, atmosphere, good service, going the extra mile and for representing what true hospitality is all about! Mission accomplished! I experienced the best!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Just when you think nothing's perfect....

It was a fine alignment of stars that had us back in the saddle of culinary perfection again.

That's right, I'm talking about Bartlett's Gourmet Grill and Tavern in Beverly Shores, Indiana.

I honestly wasn't thinking about food at all when we set off for the exercise club after work. I was going to put in my 40 laps in the pool, and maybe scavenge the freezer a bit for anything to get by on when we got home, ever mindful of the calories awaiting me on the day that I imagine might be considered a holocaust of sorts by turkeys.

I told Mary I could be interested in a couple carry out items from a couple places on the way home that do carry out well. But there she was, her phone connected to exercise club wifi in the club lobby, in the hunt for something better than typical.

That's when she mentioned Bartlett's.

We'd been there and been wow'd before. But for not a while, through reasons inexplicable. I'll chalk it up to how stuff happens.

Anyway, I knew that whatever was going on there would be quality, and of course relished the thought of the only Hacker-Pschorr tap I'm aware of in this part of the world. But then she said the magic words: "Eight dollar build your own pasta special." And that was that.

Not that I'm a big pasta fan. But I was just in the mood, both for the food and the price. I locked in and mumbled the word 'Engage!'

We arrived lickety split, and seated ourselves at the bar where Kaleigh was poised to serve.

I did my best to not order my pint of Hacker-Pschorr too quickly while perusing the menu. Indeed, the "build your own pasta" option was in play. But the menu had other plans for us. After a few sips of my favorite golden nectar, we settled on a Bartlett's burger with dill potato salad for Mary, and the flatbread special for moi. And of *course* we were going to share.

How do I say this? Perhaps my reference to the "Orgasmatron" in Woody Allen's "Sleeper" (while staring at the cylindrical refrigerator in the corner of the bar) set the stage. Let's just say it felt like one big climax from start to finish.

The burger was fantastic, the meat cooked the way a medium should be cooked, juicy and slightly pink. The toppings actually stayed between the meat and the bun for the most part, which to me suggests a law of physics or two were defied. But I appreciate that. The potato salad was a dill lover's heaven. Excellent all the way around.

But as good as the burger was, the flat bread was all that and more. I'm not remembering exactly what went into it, although Vietnamese spiced pork comes to mind. And there were definitely pickled jalapeño peppers, which I adore. But add a heaping helping of the right cheese melted just so, and maybe the slightest hint of barbecue sauce in the meat, and we're talking about it deserving at least misdemeanor charge for coming just a bit too close to pearly gates grade. I mean, no flipping way - it was just plain incredible.

So there I was, initially patting myself on the back for clinging tightly to my latest food reduction wagon of sorts, suddenly and helplessly throwing all calorie conservation thoughts to the wind. We ate everything off both plates but one frightened slice of dill-drenched red potato. I enjoyed two pints of Hacker, and Mary a couple decanters of a fine Chianti. (And, yes, we *will* be there next Monday night for their tap beer special!)

As great as the food and drink was, the intangibles scored major points as well. The ambience was superb at the bar - quaint surroundings lit to perfection. Our bartender and server Kaleigh was an absolute delight, transporting our food straight from the chef's hand the instant it was available. She was fun to converse with as well, talking up a recent beer festival in Valparaiso, and singing the praises of IPAs.

And then there was the magic factor. I'd become quite enamored of Old Rasputin Imperial Stout in the last few months, imagining I was the only one who know about it. Well, lo and behold, I mentioned it to Kaleigh, who nonchalantly said, "Oh yeah, we have that..." pointing to the Bartlett's selection of tap beers. Say *what*? Here I've been drinking my Old Rasputin out of the bottle, and a local establishment has the intelligence and sensibility to serve it on tap!

When I finally awoke, I found myself in heaven.

And so will you. Find a way to get to Bartlett's. From food to people to drink, it's the complete dining package.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Call of the "Wilde" Chicago

I can’t stand people who do not take food seriously.” Oscar Wilde

A wonderful day with my daughter brought us back to our old haunts in Chicago for a "girl's day." She use to live in Lakeview. I use to live in Lincoln Park. We both have great memories of our time hanging out in Chicago and now and then miss the neighborhoods. So to be back for an "ah" day was long over due! For over a week we discussed where we would eat. The hard thing about going to a place known for its food diversity is where to eat. The easy thing about going to a place known for its food is you almost can't go wrong. Needless to say no decision was made prior to us meeting up. Neither one of us had a taste for anything in particular, we just looked forward to the time together. One thing we did settle on was the idea of eating lunch as opposed to shopping first and then eating an early dinner. Our dining choice would be based upon;1)parking 2)response to our gut, (not to be confused with gastronomic gut, but, intuitive gut) and 3)timing.

Setting out on Lake Shore Drive on a Saturday seemed like the perfect path towards satisfaction. Following a familiar path, we turned off onto Fullerton and up to Clark. From there instinct took over. After chatting and driving around a bit we found ample parking. As we walked down Broadway many places called our name but we would only heed the call of one. Would it be pizza, pasta, Thai, sushi, deli, bagels? NO! Then it happened. Like a pull on my Irish ancestry and a whisper from kindred spirits of the past we heard the call of the Wilde! Was it the dark wood, quaint window front or the spirit of the Great Oscar Wilde that called us by name? No, actually it was my daughter saying, I think I like the looks of this place. Something made her look at the menu. She saw the word that solved the puzzle;brunch, you see, we love our brunch and breakfast foods.

Now to the rest of the story..."I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best." Oscar Wilde

Walking in to Wilde, we were quickly seated in the front area of the restaurant. A small table for two very near the fire place. Warm, comfortable, with an air of elegance. Everything about the restaurant upon first assessment was warm. The music where we were sitting was a tad bit loud, but, at least the musical selection was pleasant. Immediately I traveled back to the ladies room. Prior to leaving I indicated to my companion that I would like coffee with cream should a server come to inquire. As I careened through the restaurant I discovered that the restaurant was sectioned in such a way that it was somewhat reminiscent to the way a house is divided;parlor, dining room, library, etc. The wood tones, library, decor, lighting as well as overall lay out allowed for me to move through the restaurant much like a character from one of Oscar Wilde's plays. All that from walking to the restroom? Ah, but yes, the spirit of Wilde wit challenged my Rapier wit to a duel to which I recoiled back to a time of grace, decadence and illusory of pleasures.

My daughter was a bit concerned that it took a little long to meet our server. I assured her that possibly it was because our server was waiting for me to return to the table. It was not long after I sat down that we were greeted by our server and we placed our drink order. We began with a cup of coffee. The coffee was a better than typical restaurant coffee. Being the coffee lover that I am, I appreciated that. I also appreciated the real cream in a nicely served creamer. (minus the accidental cream that landed on my daughter's coat.) The menu was very impressive. Looking around at other patron's selections helped in narrowing down our choices. We chose from the brunch menu:

  • Spinach and Artichoke omelette with Irish cheddar grits and a side of  multi-grain toast 
  • Beet and goat cheese salad 
  • side of brunch potatoes
The food was delivered in a very timely manner and aside from a flinging of a little goat cheese and a plopsy of potatoes next to my daughter the plentiful platters were applauded. The benefit of the service being a little off kilter (I truly believe it was the spirit of the Wilde wit at play) is that we were able to engage near by diners in a humorous banter about the comedy of errors! However, I don't think my daughter was humored as much as the rest of us were. Needless to say the food was exactly what we had hoped for! The Irish cheddar grits were fabulous. To which I must acknowledge that increasingly I am loving what Chicago is doing with grits. Sorry you southern grit lovers, you have nothing on the Windy City! The spinach and artichoke omelette was like eating a healthier version of a really well done spinach artichoke dip. Instead of bread and chips it was enveloped around a perfectly cooked egg omelette. Even the multi-grain toast had a rich sense of an Irish countryside. I am not 100% certain, but, the butter was not your regular ole butter, which leads me to wonder if they actually use Irish butter, which is more like the butter we had back in the day. The beet and goat cheese salad was equally delicious and a perfect pairing for the omelette. It was a well calculated plan to order that which we would be able to pair and share. The richness of brunch potatoes were delectable, very rich, flavorful and the perfect item on a chilly autumn day.

I applaud our server for not making us feel rushed. The purpose of the day was to spend down time together. To just sit back, relax and feed not only our appetites but our souls. He was generous with refills on the coffee and kind to ensure that our every need was met. All in all it was a very pleasurable experience. Aesthetically pleasing, gastronomically satisfying and as the old Irish proverb states: Laughter is brightest where food is best!

I look forward to visiting Wilde "Chicago" Bar and Restaurant again. Wilde is located at 3130 N. Broadway, Chicago Illinois. Remember, "Love and gluttony, justify everything!" Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday for a Hamburger Today!" What Is Your Favorite Burger?

For those of you that do not know the quote, it by Whimpy a character in the Popeye cartoon series. Every time I think about a hamburger, I immediately remember that quote. It is probably one of the first quotes I memorized as a child. So considering today is Tuesday and there has been some recent discussion both in my social network world and my online radio show about the best burger in Northwest Indiana, specifically Michigan City, I have to write about what actually makes a burger the "Best" burger. So, with that said, we will delve into "burgerdom" and discover what the fascination is really all about.

Actually, what determines the "Best" burger? Well in looking at the history of the hamburger, one can imagine that it has evolved over time. It is no wonder that Americans take their hamburger seriously as it is like, jazz, rock n' roll, musical theatre and drive in theaters, it is an American invention. (Read a little more here.) The fact remains, Americans know there meat! A main stay of many cultures all melding together into a great big slab of beef. I actually believe that hamburger came by way of Lissan's wife who got tired of him bringing home bad cuts of beef and then getting all up in her business because she couldn't cook the meat tender enough! I know I just digressed but to me ground beef is exactly that, it is tenderizing the beef into a nice "cut" so as to simply and easily eat the meat with ease and it is, what every American family wants...their food fast! From that concept comes a now global enterprise the "fast food chain!"

So now on to the search for the best burger! But, before that we have to answer; what makes a burger really good? Personally for me it is a mood kind of a thing. Am I in the mood for a charcoal grilled burger, one with a little indication of crisp and edginess or am I more in the mood for the burgers mom use to make. Pan friend, or flat bottom grilled? Is it the seasoning? Simple salt and pepper, (although salting before cooking actually creates a drier burger, did you know that?) or more exotic flavoring? Is it the thickness of the burger or does one like it thin, yet stacked? Maybe it isn't the burger maker, or the approach to the making but it is the cut of meat prior to grinding it. In the end is it more to do with the bun, the cheese, the process? Again, for me it is the mood!

My favorite all time burger is the "Joe's Burger" from a previous life. Joe Fortin owner of Fortin's Tap on East Route 17 in St. Anne Illinois was the purveyor of the restaurant known for THE burger. Why was it so special? Well, it was cooked on a well seasoned griddle. The cuts of meat were freshly ground and hand packed. The meat came from the same butcher who only used beef from certain cattle. The meat was hand packed and minimally seasoned. The burgers were always cooked well served immediately on a simple fresh, very fresh hamburger bun, topped with a thin slice of quality onion, dill pickle slices closed up quickly in foil. If you wanted cheese then you would get cheese one way, simple American cheese. The temperature of the meat when enclosed into the bun and foil would slightly cook and add to the overall experience. But, then again, one must ask "was it the burger, or the traditional Saturday experience that lent to the overall flavor?" Regardless it is a burger that stands out above the rest.

Moving on and into the modern world...Redamak's a famous burger joint in New Buffalo is a Michiana favorite. Quite honestly the truth is Redamak's famous Velveeta burger is prepared very similarly to "Joe's!" We have seen many fast food joints try to create what is supposedly the best ever, but, often times I am left scratching my head and questioning the claim to the "Best!" Is it the Five Guys good hype or have they really cornered the market on "burgerdom?" I am leaning towards the hype. Most people will claim that the best burgers are those that come from local bars and taverns. When it comes to tavern/bar burgers I have to hearken back to my early discussion about the "Joe" burger. While back in the day I did not imbibe, I cannot wonder if the fabulous taste of a burger has more to do with the hunger that ensues as a result of imbibing in adult libation. Either way, a good burger is a good burger and a really good burger is something to pass on. Just as Whimpy will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today, when you gotta have a good burger, you gotta have a good burger. So pass it on! Share your favorite in the comments below. It will be my quest to try and tell. Who knows, maybe I will find a burger that beats good ole Joe and the palatable pleasures of the past will be nothing more than a memory!