A Man After My Own Heart

 

Well, he was –  until I realized that I don’t think he likes girls.  Or anybody, really.  I think his one and only love is Macaroni & Cheese.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

When I was flat broke and living downtown by myself, I used to be too poor for the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  I remember I used to have to buy the TownHouse brand, which really tasted like crap compared to the one-and-only blue box.  But, the TownHouse was like 35 cents per box while the Kraft was like 75 cents,  and when you’re literally buying a weeks worth of groceries with $10 it makes a difference.

Also, what up with people who make their Kraft Macaroni & Cheese all soupy?  Follow the goddamn directions – it’s only a 1/4 cup of milk!  It’s not fucking soup – it’s Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner!  They paid a boatload of Macaroni & Cheese scientists a bunch of money to come up with the perfect butter & milk ratio for their powdered bliss, and the least you could do is follow the recipe on the box, okay? And, while I’m on the subject – don’t buy the stupid shapes and stuff.  Scooby Doo?  Dinosaurs?  SpongeBob SquarePants?  No, no and no.  Only the original elbow Mac & Cheese is the correct Mac & Cheese.  Got it?

I wonder if this dweeb has a TownHouse brand box?  And, does he eat all this Macaroni & Cheese? If I did, I would weigh about 500 lbs.

 Yes, I’m jealous.

The Suckage of Allen Brothers Steaks

steak

No… not the steaks – their meat is beyond fantastic.  What sucks is their crappy customer service reps – who have now fucked us over for the holidays not once – but twice.  For the past two years we have ordered Allen Brothers Steaks for my in-laws for Chirstmas – and for the past two years Allen Brothers has failed to deliver the goddamn steaks in time for Christmas for no apparent reason other than their own incompetence. 

Last year after the steaks failed to show up as planned five days before Chirstmas, we called  customer service and found out that although they had a record of the order leaving the warehouse, somehow it was eternally on a FedEx truck and never delivered – even after five days of calling.  Um, we live in Chicago, where Allen Brothers is located.  It does not take five days to get from Chicago to Chicago (well, unless you’re the Post Office, but that’s another story…)  Each day they would tell us it was on the truck “out for delivery,” and each day nothing showed up.  After a week, they finally conceded that perhaps the steaks were not “out for delivery” and sent out new steaks.  Problem solved, although we looked like the assholes who got nothing for our parents for Christmas in front of the entire family, but oh, well.  Anyone can have a snafu, right?

This year we were suckers again and ordered more steaks to be delivered to my in-laws.  (Yes, I know – but they are that good….) On Christmas morning we trek over to my in-laws’ house to open presents.  It is then that we realize that the steaks have failed to show up once again.  They were scheduled to arrive on the 23rd.  Again, we look like idiots to the rest of the family.  One of them asked my why we keep ordering from them if they keep forgetting to actually deliver the order on time.  Good fucking question!  My husband calls this morning and the very uninterested CSR looks up the order and says that – oops – they forgot to send it out.  That was the entire sum of the explanation on where the steaks were.  No apologies, no offers to make it right.  They just forgot to ship it.  WTF?

Well, I think I will forget to order from them again any time soon.  If you order from them, just know that their delivery is crappy, and the Customer Service reps don’t give a shit.  But, those steaks are damn good!  Curse you, Allen Brothers!

You Sold Me a Short Rib with a Hair Around it!

 

Okay, remember when I told you that I went to Napa a few weeks ago with some friends – you know, when the idiots at the TSA stole $30 worth of duxelles from me and threw them in the garbage?  Well, I have another Napa story to share with you.

My friends and I wanted to “splurge” one night while we were there at a really fabulous restaurant, so we picked one of Thomas Keller’s and made our reservations months in advance.  So, our big night comes and we are excited to see what’s on the menu that night: a braised beef short rib over homemade pappardelle – yum! Considering that every one of us in our group has some sort of silly food issue, this is a positive sign that this is something that we all like.

The first course comes, and it’s a fresh heirloom tomato/mozzarella salad with some sort of crack-sauce.  Oops – I mean sherry vinaigrette… it was probably one of the most perfect Caprese salads I have ever had.  I could have eaten five pounds of it and gone home right then and been perfectly happy.

Then, the short rib.  Everything here is served family style, so it’s a hearty helping of boned short ribs that, the waiter tells us, has been braised for 48 hours.  So, we dig in and it is truly sublime.  These short ribs were amazing as they were as thick as a steak, and hardly had any fat on them.  We are all ooohing and ahhhing and I had just  mentioned that I thought there was a very small amount of tarragon in the dish, when suddenly I realize my friend next to me is freaking out.

Yes, there was a hair on her short rib.  A little short black one. And it ain’t hers or mine, that’s for damn sure!  (And, no – it’s not what you’re thinking – it wasn’t a pube or anything like that – I can’t take you guys anywhere…)  Anyway, my friend is totally grossed out and is done with that portion of her meal, even though she only had a few bites.  This starts a discussion around the table about what we should do.  In the end, we don’t say anything to anyone, and we enjoyed the next two courses (which were unbelievably fabulous, BTW) with no problems.

What we discovered was that all four of us would have handled the situation in four different ways.  One of my friends would have asked for a new plate and would have been okay with that.  Another said she wouldn’t have cared if she had to floss with it!  One would have alerted the waiter because we are in a nice restaurant, the rest of us wouldn’t have.

I fell somewhere in the middle.  A stray hair doesn’t bother me so much, (as long as it’s from your head!) I mean, it happens – hairs are falling out of your head right now!  If I had seen it on my short rib, I would have flicked it off and continued eating.  Do I want to pull it out of my mouth?  No.  Do I want to swallow it?  No.  Have I eaten hairs I don’t know about?  Probably many more than I care to think about.  I wouldn’t really say anything to the waitstaff, either.  I never really say anything unless something is really really wrong.  A hair on my short rib?  Phsaw.

Anyway, the whole episode reminded me of the Seinfeld when Elaine gets a Cinnamon Babka for a dinner party and discovers a hair and gets a new one by yelling, “You sold me a cake with a hair around it!”  It kind of became our mantra for the rest of the weekend.

What would you do?

Bennigan’s Out of Business?

There’s a rumor going around this morning that the restaurant chain Bennigan’s is out of business. What a sad day for Corporate Restaurant Chain America! Bennigan’s was kind of the first big sit-down restaurant chain that I remember – it used to be the place to go when I was in college.  We did a lot of 21st birthdays there.  With the cray-zee decor (Bicycles on the wall!  Goofy signs! Musical instruments!) and innovative menu (The first place I remember having Mozzarella Sticks and the Monte Cristo sandwich!) Bennigan’s paved the way for all the mediocre chains behind them:  Friday’s, Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday, etc.  Plus, I think they made up the Singing the Birthday Song bullshit to anyone that pretends it’s their birthday.  Another corporate innovation!

My favorite Bennigan’s memory was when I worked at the Olive Garden back in 1990.  We weren’t allowed to drink at the Olive Garden bar even if we were off work and out of uniform, and Bennigan’s had the same rule for them.  Our restaurants were right next to each other, so we worked out a little secret criss/cross system where they would give us free drinks at their bar, and we would give them free drinks in ours.  After awhile, we all kind of knew one another and at one point we figured out that if we were working and took an order, turned it in to the kitchen, jumped in our car (yes, our car) raced over to Bennigans in time to have a shot at the bar and race back just in time for the order to be up.  One time I did this a few too many times in one night and one of my tables walked out on me.  Ahhhhh…. memories!

Farewell, Bennigan’s! Viva the Monte Cristo Sandwich!

St. John Restaurants – Disappearing by the Day

The crummy economy is killing vacation destinations like St. John, especially the restaurants. The past eight months has seen numerous restaurants and some bars shut down, and unfortunately, some of them are my favorites.  Although the villa rental market is only slightly down (I think because they were booked way in advance), the restaurants are dying because the people that are coming are cooking in the villa and not coming in to town.  St John restaurants are expensive – but so are groceries – so I am not sure where the money is being saved.

Closed or Closing:

  • Stone Terrace:  This is really too bad, because Stone Terrace was a really good spot.  I once had the best lamb chops with sweet potato mash ever.  I almost licked the plate clean.  RIP
     
  • Señorita Pizza:  This is a total bummer.  We used to go here for a quick, cheap and good pizza for takeout.  The best thing about it?  The location – – you could order your pizza and hang at the Beach Bar or Joe’s Rum Hut while it was being made.  I don’t like Ronnie’s or Cafe Roma pizza half as much, so this sucks!
     
  • Chilly Billy’s:  Home of the famous monkey bread french toast, Chilly Billy’s was always a good spot for breakfast.  The good news is that the owners of The Front Yard have leased it out and are planning a 24 hour restaurant here according to the Coconut Telegraph.  Not sure if there is really a market for a 24 hour place, as Cruz Bay usually gets kind of sleepy after about 11.
     
  • Sosa’s:  Supposedly this was more a shut down due to the VI Health Board rather than slow business, as Sosa’s was always busy with loud Dominican music and it always seemed a party was happening.  We only went to Sosa’s once or twice to hang and drink, but it was always fun.  The corner is so quiet now without it – a little bit of Cruz Bay died that day.
     
  • China Shack:  I’ve never been a big fan of China Shack, as I thought the food was mediocre and overpriced, so I wasn’t that surprised when it shut down.  St John has no Chinese food now, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
     
  • Subway:  Yes, the Subway trailer closed a few weeks ago.  This one seemed like a surprise because the locals loved that place and it always seemed busy.  The owner was actually on St. Thomas and just decided it wasn’t worth it any more to run it, I guess.  Can’t say I’m sorry to see the island’s only chain restaurant go, but for the locals and workers on the island, this was one of the only reasonable places to get lunch.
     
  • The Front Yard:  Is open until the end of Carnival this year (July 4) and then closed for good. Where will all the trouble go now that both Lizards Landing and the Front Yard are gone?  Methinks Larry’s Landing is the new hot spot in town for trouble…
     
  • Bringin’ In the Fun: Internet cafe and coffee bar located next the the Banana Deck was only open for a year or so before they gave it up.  I had never been here, but often thought that the location was really the problem, as many different businesses have tried the spot over the years.
     
  • Satyamuna:  Not closed yet, but recently listed for sale on the St. John MLS, which is usually not a good sign.  I really like the small, vegetarian eatery in the Marketplace for their yummy falafels and veggie lasagna.  I will be sad to see it go if it does end up closing.
It’s interesting to note that most of these restaurants are casual, lower-end restaurants  in the Cruz Bay area.  Coral Bay restaurants so far seem to be doing fine, and the higher-end restaurants (except Stone Terrace) seem to be doing okay as well.  Also, a brand new high-end restaurant just opened at the Wharfside Village called Waterfront Bistro, and seems to be doing well.  The menu is pretty lofty for St. John:  (sweetbreads, duck, foie gras, etc) and although it certainly was good it’s definitely not cheap.  It will be interesting to see how this one does.

 

The Beauty of the Chicago Dog

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There really is no comparison to the famous Chicago hot dog. Because they are so ubiquitous here, I don’t give them much thought since I can pick one up at any time. It’s just one of those things that you don’t miss until you can’t get it. But then – you get that craving and you must have it and you must have it now!

The Chicago dog is very specific – there is not a lot of leeway when having the Chicago dog. First and foremost, the dog must be a Vienna Beef dog. No other brand is allowed. Kosher Best? – no. David Berg? – no. Nathan’s? Fuggedaboudit. Vienna Beef and Vienna Beef only. Second, the dog must be nestled in a fresh, steamed poppy seed bun. Stale buns are a big no no.

Here are the rest of the ingredients, in order. No substitutions!
1. Yellow mustard
2. Bright green relish
3. Fresh chopped onion
4. Two tomato wedges
5. Kosher pickle spear
6. Two sport peppers
7. A dash of celery salt

…and for God’s sake – no fucking ketchup! What the hell – are you five years old?

There are hundreds, no, probably thousands of hot dog shacks in the Chicagoland area, so naming the best dog would be silly. As long as the above rules and regulations are abided by, they are good in my book. Some famous ones: Fluky’s, Frankly Yours, Demon Dogs, Franks for the Memories, Gold Coast Dogs, Little Louie’s (home of the first Chicago dog I ever had in Northbrook, IL), Weiner’s Circle. They are all awesome.

The only sour note? I know I am probably commiting sacrilege by saying this, but I have a problem with world famous Superdawg on the northwest side. I know they have been run by the same people since 1948, and it is a fact that they are a Chicago institutuion. But, they don’t use Vienna Beef dogs, and they put a piccalilli of green tomatoes instead of two slices of red tomato and no celery salt. Therefore I cannot put them in the same category with a traditional Chicago dog. Sorry Maurie & Flaury. It’s just not right.

If you’ve never had a chicago dog, or if you moved away and miss your dogs – Portillo’s will come to the rescue and ship them to you for a mere $50. 

I think I know what I have to do for lunch today…

Chicago and the Italian Beef Sandwich

mmmmmm.... beef!

Since I’ve lived in the Chicago area 17 out of my 38 years, I’m thinking I can now call myself a Chicagoan as well as a Coloradoan, although as the years go by I seem to forget a little more of the Colorado days. So, I am embarrassed to admit that I had never had a famous Chicago Italian Beef sandwich until last year. Why did I wait 16 years? I guess it’s because I love chicago hot dogs so much that when I go to a typical stand, I always get that and never tried the Beef.

For those of you outside of Chicago, the Italian Beef is a Chicago-only creation. It’s a scrumptious combo of thinly sliced beef simmered in au jus gravy, piled on the perfect Turiano bread, with sweet or hot peppers (and sometimes cheese if you’re being a bit of a non-traditionalist.) There are numerous places that serve the Beef, but only a few are famous for that and that alone.

Anyway, I finally had my first beef sandwich when we had Portillo’s cater our Halloween Party, and I’ll tell you it was sooooo good. I can’t even imagine the calories, so I won’t. I’ve since had Beefs at Scooters, Dog Tracks, Kooker’s and Barrington Gyros (all in the Barrington area) and none of them compare to the Portillo’s version. (My husband swears by Zippy’s – who makes a cheezy beef on garlic bread. That gives me a stomach ache just thinking about it.) I’ve never been to what most Chicagoans consider the King of the Beef, Al’s #1 Beef downtown, but it’s on the list next time I go.

If you’re from Chicago and miss your Beef, or if you want to try one – Portillo’s will ship them to you – for $65.

Long live the Beef!