Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Superdawg

Location: 333 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling and 6363 N Milwaukee Ave.
Cost: About $10 per person

My buddy and old roommate, Steve, was heading back to Arizona for another year of dental school after a summer break in Chicago. Steve and his father, The Dude, know north side hot dog places like the back of their hands (probably because they hit them up on a far too regular basis). Of all the places they frequent there's nowhere they'd prioritize over Superdawg. With such little time left to utilize my connoisseur of sorts, I made Steve head up to Wheeling to check this place out.

Logistics
Superdawg has an old school drive in setup. You can order from a radio box and eat in your car. If that's not your cup of tea, they have some indoor seating and some patio tables. They're open pretty late (till midnight on the weekends and 11 on the weekdays). The lines can get pretty long, but we went in the mid afternoon.


The service is fast, but there's not too much to hot dogs and fries that takes time. The cost is a bit more than what I'd like. A hot dog and fries is $5.25, and a shake is $4. Portion wise, you don't get a ton of food either. The box they serve the food in looks kind of cool, but I think it's just a backhanded way to skimp on fries a bit.

It should be noted that they have a location in Chicago on Milwaukee and Devon in addition to this spot in Wheeling.

The Food
Our orders were straightforward. We each got a Chicago style hot dog with everything and fries. I got a chocolate milkshake on top of that. The dog was fantastic in every sense of the word. The bun was light and fluffy. The dog itself had a firm casing with a nice snap. There was the proper proportion of mustard, tomato, sport peppers, neon green relish, pickle, and onions. The milkshake was touted as ridiculously thick. I'd say it was as thick as possible while still being able to drink it through a straw. Some people think this is an impossible feat, but they're probably just not trying hard enough. The french fries were crispy, lightly salted, and crinkle cut. There wasn't a single soggy fry. I just wish there were more of them.

The Dog and Fries
 The Chocolate Shake

Also, not that we tried these this time around, but Steve says his family also likes the Superfish sandwich and the Whoopskidawg (polish sausage).

Overall
There's nothing not to love about Superdawg. The whole operation is fantastic from the giant hot dogs on the roof to the neon car ports where you can order. The dog and fries are near perfect. It's the standard that all other dog spots should be held to. It's not the best deal, but it's not going to break the bank either. I'm giving them a Pearl Necklace, 5 out of 5.


Addendum
After writing this post I went to the original location which is much closer to the city (6363 N Milwaukee). All I really need to say is that I loved it just as much as the Wheeling location if not more. I wanted to try other things like the Whoopskidawg, but I was just in a hot dog and shake mood again. If you're a city dweller with a car, this is a totally reasonable option for a fantastic hot dog that is well deserving of the Pearl Necklace.

Superdawg Drive-in on Urbanspoon
Superdawg Drive-in on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Twin Anchors

Location: 1655 N Sedgwick
Cost: Around $25 per person

My friends Maddie and Kim are on surgery and ob/gyn respectively. That means that whatever complaints I've had about lack of sleep, long hours, and tough work don't really compare to what they're dealing with. I guess I'm just a whiner. Anyways, they made time in their busy schedule to come meet me for dinner a few weeks back. We tossed around ideas for restaurants for a while, and they said they wanted some barbecue. I remembered that my cousin Annie and her husband Jeff had a favorite spot when they used to live in Old Town. We took their recommendation and hit up Twin Anchors.

Logistics
Twin Anchors is a Chicago institution, and there's really no way not to pick up on that from the second you step foot inside. The big claim to fame is how much Frank Sinatra loved this place. They've also had a bunch of movies filmed there including scenes from the Dark Knight. The restaurant has this wooden dive bar feel to it. They've got a little patio seating too. They don't take reservations, and on a Saturday night, it took us about 35 minutes to get a table. They have a good tap selection, so the wait wasn't a problem at all.

Our waitress was efficient and honest. She was very knowledgeable about the different menu options and made sure to steer us toward the right ones. The price is on par with a lot of barbecue spots in the city. A full slab of ribs is $21, and a combo of ribs and chicken is $19.

The Food
Per the recommendations of the waitress, we went with the classics. Maddie and Kim both got the full slab of Baby Back Ribs while I got the Ribs and Chicken Combo. We were given options of bbq sauce including original, zesty, and prohibition. We all decided to get zesty and then have the other sauces on the side for tasting. The ribs here are done "Chicago" style which basically means that they bake them until the meat falls off the bone. There's not really any smokey flavor to them, but they still have an allure however non-traditional it may be. As far as the sauces go, the original had a hard tomato flavor, the zesty was something close to a Sweet Baby Rays, and the prohibition had a strong brown sugar presence with a spicy aftertaste. The prohibition was by far my favorite although I could see the spice getting to some people after a bit. The chicken was a little dry. Plus, I got light meat when I asked for dark. I got the baked beans for a side while both Maddie and Kim went for the crinkle cut french fries. I thought they were alright, but I much prefer the beans at Smoque.

The Baby Back Ribs

 The Ribs and Chicken Combo

Overall
Twin Anchors has seemingly been around forever, and it's no wonder why. The atmosphere of Chicago tradition that emanates from this place is irresistible. The barbecue won't blow your mind by any means, but it's consistent and flavorful. I'm giving them 3 out of 5 Pearls.


Twin Anchors on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Swirlz

Location: 705 W. Belden
Cost: $3.50 per person

A few times a week, the third year med students in pediatrics get lectures on key issues in the field. Normally that entails a rather thorough powerpoint presentation and some moderate note taking. One day, however, we were given a lecture by Dr. Nevin. In addition to being known for her teaching abilities and good rapport with students, she is also known for bringing a good selection of treats to her teaching sessions. This was no exception, and we were pleasantly greeted by a plate of cupcakes from Swirlz upon entering the session.

Logistics
Swirlz has a pretty straightforward setup right around the corner from Children's Memorial Hospital. They seem to do a pretty good catering and take out business. They'll deliver locally, and you can make special requests for customized orders. I don't think you'll have to fight the lines there that you might have to at a place like Sweet Mandy B's or Molly's. They have six flavors available every day and an additional six daily specials. On top of that, I'm not really sure there's much to say. It's just a solid, efficient, bakery. Oh, and they have some gluten free and/or vegan options.

The Food
We had a pretty nice selection to pick from including Red Velvet, Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch, Vanilla on Chocolate, and straight up Vanilla. For the sake of trying multiple options, me and DK split a red velvet and a chocolate peanut butter. The red velvet had a cream cheese buttercream and a buttermilk cake. The chocolate peanut butter crunch was really heavy on the peanut butter which is how I like it. In general the cake on each was a bit too moist to where it didn't stand far enough apart from the icing. At the same time, there was no need for a filling because of the cake consistency.

 From Left to Right: Red Velvet, Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch, Vanilla, and Vanilla on Chocolate

Overall
I'm not a huge fan of this cupcake "fad," but I'm also not one to turn down deliciously sweet snacks. These cupcakes had strong, distinctive flavors, and my teeth didn't hurt after eating them (hence they weren't too sugary). I thought the cake could've been more substantial though. I'm giving Swirlz 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Swirlz Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Indian Garden

Location: 247 E Ontario
Cost: $18 per person

The third year of medical school has really shaken things up a bit. For one thing, I barely get to see my classmates with the exception of the two or three guys rotating with exactly my schedule. Once a month, however, we have a day where the whole class meets for lecture on campus. It's almost like a miniature reunion where everyone gets to see their "old" friends and swap battle stories. If anything people were getting a bit too excited at the first one of these days. We just got our pagers, and the second that lecture got boring, everyone started prank paging each other. So of course my buddy Dave lost interest with the rest of the class and started texting people to round up a crew for lunch. Since my trip to India, I've been a bit worn out as far curry and naan is concerned. When Dave got everyone on board for the unlimited lunch buffet at Indian Garden, I was a bit hesitant but didn't want to be the turd in the punch bowl.

Logistics
Indian Garden fits with most every other Indian lunch buffet you'll come across. They have a wide selection that isn't necessarily limited by region as many Indian places can be. There is plenty of seating, and they were easily able to accommodate our last minute large group.

The buffet was kept well stocked through our multiple trips. They could've done a better job at both clearing our plates and refilling our waters. The lack of water became an issue with some of the spicier dishes. The website says it's $13.95 for a lunch buffet, but I could swear we paid closer to $16.95 before our Northwestern student discount (around 10%).

The Food
The buffet had about 20 items, but I'll try my best to point out the memorable ones. The Veggie Samosa had a nice crisp to it but a bland potato filling. It's dangerous to have these guys on a buffet line because they're so filling. They had a Chicken Salad that was one of my favorite things. It had large chunks of moist chicken with tangerine slices in a light dressing. The Tandoori Chicken was just alright and could've had a more pungent spice rub. The Chicken Tikka was a bit bland and boney. There was a Paneer dish with a creamy tomato sauce. The paneer had a lot of substance and flavor. It was a bit chewy and spicy for most of our party, but I was a fan. The Chicken Biryani was a clear fan favorite except for the few unfortunate souls that unexpectedly bit into a chunk of bone. There was a Lamb Stew that was a bit too boney, and most people gave up picking through it. Finally, there was a well prepared Saag Paneer with large chunks of potato. I was disappointed that I only had so much room left by the time I discovered it. That being said, I was far too full to try any of the desserts which included some Gulab Jamun and Rasmalai.

 My first of four plates

Overall
Indian Garden was in line with most Indian buffets I've been to. I felt like a lot of the dishes were toned down in authenticity. I really liked the Chicken Salad, Biryani, and Saag Paneer though. So with a few highlights among a smattering of options that were just alright, I'm giving Indian Garden 3 out of 5 Pearls.


Indian Garden on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sweetwater Tavern and Grille

Location: 225 N Michigan Ave.
Cost: About $18 per person

A few weeks ago there was a concert in Millennium Park that Schneider really wanted to go to. Accordingly, he rounded up Ryan, Yoni, Truck Stick, Bacalar, and myself to join him. We figured we'd grab dinner beforehand. Ryan works in that part of town and suggested we all hit up Sweetwater.

Logistics
I'm a fan of the setup at Sweetwater. They have a pretty large sized patio in prime people watching location. The bar has a lot of TVs and a bunch of large booths that were ideal for a group like ours. One issue was that there weren't any good games on, and we were subjected to watching women's softball. One of our guys got there early to put our name down. If that hadn't been the case, we probably would have waited 20 minutes or so. The place gets busy on nice days during the week, which makes sense based on the high traffic "businessy" area.

Service was fine although it took a little longer than expected to get our food (especially since it was mainly an order of burgers and wraps). The price is alright, and a little high if anything. Wraps and burgers float around $11, and the portions are medium. Considering the location though, this is a pretty decent deal. Still, if the portions were larger then maybe Bacalar would've been full enough to share his chips with this homeless guy who asked for them at the concert.

The Food
We got things rolling with an appetizer of Spinach and Artichoke Dip. It was way too creamy and peppery for my liking. The herb pita it came with was soft and flavorful though.

The Spinach and Artichoke Dip

For our entrees we got the Trevi, the Burger, the Santa Fe Wrap, the Ahi Tuna Wrap, and the Waldorf Wrap. The Waldorf wrap had a nice balance between the sweetness of the cranberries, the crunchiness of the walnuts, and the succulent chicken. The Ahi Tuna was served at a nice rare with a sear, but there was way too much dressing in mine. Our party had two of these wraps, and they were pretty inconsistent as far as the amount of tuna and dressing was concerned. Most everyone got the tater tots with their sandwich, and I thought they were a bit too greasy (still crispy and delicious though). I went with the grilled veggies for my side, which was a mistake. The pieces were cut too small, and the peppers were soggy.

The Trevi

The Burger

The Santa Fe Wrap

 The Waldorf Wrap

Overall
There's a decent amount to be said for the space at Sweetwater. It's a cool looking bar with a nice patio and good seating options for groups. The food on the other hand is just average and fell victim to common bar food pitfalls such as inconsistency and sloppiness. I'm giving them 2.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Sweetwater Tavern and Grille on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 15, 2011

Trattoria Isabella

Location: 217 N. Jefferson St.
Cost: About $25 per person

My buddy Josh finally moved out of the medical district and into the West Loop. I wanted to check out his new place, so I headed over that way. His family was still around from helping him move in, and we all went out to dinner. We went right around the corner from his place to, Trattoria Isabella.

Logistics
Trattoria Isabella is a pretty huge restaurant with multiple dining areas and a beautiful patio with outdoor bar. They have complimentary parking too. We would've sat outside, but it was a scorcher. We practically had one of the dining rooms to ourselves since it was a bit slow at 6PM on a Sunday (plus everyone else was on the patio). They take reservations, but the seating is pretty expansive, so it seems like a safe bet for a short wait.

The service was spot on throughout the meal. The food was fairly priced. Most everything from pasta to chicken floated between the high teens and low twenties. The portions were large enough to justify the cost but nothing excessive. It should be noted that they have a pizza oven normally, but it's been on the fritz for the past little while.

The Food
We got things rolling with an order of the Grilled Calamari. It came out with a pleasant, sweet balsamic dressing. There was a nice texture to the calamari, and there was just the right smokey hint to each bite.

 The Grilled Calamari

For the main course we got the Gnocchi Bolognese, the Farfalle al Pollo, the Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce, the Chicken Marsala, the Special Ravioli, the Di Mare Pasta, and the Whitefish of the day. I thought the gnocchi was a bit tough texturally. The rigatoni and farfalle had a similar cream sauce that was scrumptiously rich and tangy. The ravioli was bursting with cheese, and if I didn't ignorantly burn the roof of my mouth, I might have enjoyed it more. Scott and Davida really enjoyed their fish and chicken respectively. The marsala sauce had a really nice thickness and sweetness to it.

The Farfalle al Pollo

The Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce

The Chicken Marsala

The Gnocchi Bolognese

The Special Ravioli

The Di Mare

 The Fish of the Day

It should also be noted that the Finkle's have gone back to Trattoria Isabella since this visit and were just as impressed if not more so. That being said, consistency seems to be a strength.

Overall
From atmosphere to the service, and most importantly to the food, we were pretty pleased with Trattoria Isabella. The gnocchi connoisseur in me was left wanting more, but the other dishes I got to try were spot on. The patio really is a great al fresco option as well. I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.


Trattoria Isabella on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 12, 2011

Oodles of Noodles

Location: 2540 N Clark
Cost: Around $12 per person

A few weekends back there was going to be a barbecue for Erika "my gchat status is what I'm wearing" Schmit's birthday. I got all psyched up for an evening of hot dogs and beer and headed over to the Professor's apartment so that we could go over together. When I got there, I found out that plans had changed. Erika had chosen to go to a restaurant since the barbecue had fallen through. The birthday girl was in the mood for Thai food, so we ended up at Oodles of Noodles.

Logistics
The crew ended up totaling to five with the Ericas, Hailey, Joel, and myself, and there was no problem getting a table. The setup is really funny considering that there are three different interconnected store fronts. It's all one big place with three names (Oodles of Noodles, Red Bambu, and Chicago Creamery). It was pretty odd eating our food while people stood in line next to our table to order ice cream.

The service was efficient and attentive, but there weren't really that many other people to keep them busy. The cost was what I'd expect. Most appetizers were around $5 and entrees were closer to $8. It was BYOB with no corkage fee.

The Food
By the time we started dinner it was kind of late. On top of that, we didn't want to be too full before going out. That being said, we went straight for entrees. We got the Chicken Pad Thai, the Panang Curry Beef, the Chicken Udon Noodles, the Shrimp Pad See Lew, and the Spicy Chicken Crazy Noodles. There was a lot of sharing going on, and I got to try all of the dishes. Except for them calling it Pad See Lew instead of Pad See Ew (like it's called everywhere else), the dish was solid. The noodles were wide, saucy, and substantial. I was pleased that the chicken wasn't overcooked in any of the dishes. The Panang Curry was a little bland, and I would've liked more beef. One issue was that lots of the dishes, although containing different noodles, sauces, and proteins, had a similar overall feel.

The Chicken Udon Noodles

The Shrimp Pad See Lew

The Spicy Chicken Crazy Noodles

The Panang Beef Curry

 The Chicken Pad Thai

Overall
Oodles of Noodles did a nice job of avoiding common pitfalls of cheap Thai restaurants like being overly greasy and having overcooked proteins. It was ideal for our last minute plans. I wish the dishes packed a little more unique flavor across the board though. I'm giving them 3 out of 5 Pearls.


Oodles of Noodles on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Frances' Deli

Location: 2552 N. Clark
Cost: $13 per person

So I'm on my pediatrics rotation which takes place at CMH in Lincoln Park. For a few days I worked at an outpatient clinic on Clark and Deming. Another buddy of mine, Mike Heller, was at the same location, and one day we were given an extra long mid day break. We decided to grab lunch nearby at Frances' Deli.

Logistics
Frances' is a two room setup on Clark. When we went for lunch we were practically the only people in there. The service was pretty good although not that quick for a lunch spot on a weekday. Also, our waitress didn't seem all that knowledgeable. When I asked what they're known for, she explained to me that it's a "Jewish" deli place and that I should get the corned beef (she used finger quotations around the word Jewish and had a weird tone in her voice [I don't think she realized we were Jewish, but I also don't know how she could mistake Heller's curls for anything else]).

The cost is what I'd expect for a place serving large deli sandwiches. Most sandwiches were $11. Mike and I both got the half soup and sandwich for $9. Mine had some add ons so it came out closer to $12.

The Food
So we stuck to the recommendations of the waitress. I got a half Reuben with Matzoh Ball Soup, and Mike had a plain Corned Beef on Challah. The soup was pretty average. I appreciated that it wasn't too salty, but the ball wasn't particularly light, fluffy, or flavorful. The Reuben had a nice balance of toppings and meat, but the corned beef itself was a bit dry. Mike wasn't very impressed by his sandwich either. In retrospect, I guess the sandwiches weren't all that large either relative to other delis I've been to.

The Reuben

 The Half Corned Beef and Matzoh Ball Soup

Overall
I don't think there's much need to hurry over to France's. We both felt like it was just alright all around, and nothing really stood out as impressive. Maybe we just got unlucky dry cuts of beef. For deli food I'd stick to Manny's or 11 city. I'm giving Frances' 1.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Frances' Restaurant & Deli on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sushi Para M

Location: 1633 N Milwaukee Ave.
Cost: $18.99 per person

The first family of sushi, the Finkles, came to the city to take out some of their out of town family members to dinner. They were generous enough to invite me along. Now they can really make a dent when it comes to seafood, rice, and seaweed which is why an all you can eat deal is right up their alley. Sometimes when I hit up these types of places, I worry that we'll get charged for leaving too much extra on the plate, but with this crowd that's not much of a concern. Accordingly, we hit up Sushi Para M.

Logistics
The setup is pretty much the same as Sushi Para II. I can't say for sure, but it seems like this one is a little less crowded. It has less seating than the Lincoln Park location. You can make reservations with large enough parties, and we fell into that category.

I thought the food came out quickly enough, but the service was haphazard and disorganized. They have each person fill out their order on a piece of paper with their name. When the plates came out they just put them in the middle of the table. This was pretty tough to deal with since a lot of the orders were relatively similar. No one really knew if they were eating exactly what they ordered, and it was tough to differentiate among certain rolls.

The deal is the same as the other locations too. For $18.99 you get all you can eat sushi and some other items. You can place as many orders as you'd like, but if you leave too much extra food on the plate they'll charge you.

The Food
For starting dishes we got some Veggie Tempura, Gyoza, Pepper Tuna Salad, Cucumber Salad, and some Octopus. The pepper tuna salad and the veggie tempura were worth the stomach space, but the other dishes were just noise.

The Cucumber Salad

The Pepper Tuna Salad

The Veggie Tempura

 The Octopus

From there we tried out pretty much every roll on the menu. The highlights for me were the Spicy Tuna Hand Roll, the Chicago Roll (salmon, eel, avocado, masago), and the Spider Roll. The fish tasted fresh. I don't think they went overboard trying to fill us up with rice. Still, they have exterior rice on all of the rolls, and I kind of miss the flavor added by a traditional seaweed exterior. The amount of fish per roll was also pretty fair.

The Spicy Tuna Hand Roll

Some Sashimi

My First Plate

 My Second Plate

It should also be noted that you don't have to get the all you can eat sushi deal. Lonnie decided to go with the Beef Negimaki. She seemed pleased enough with the dish, but I think the purpose of this place is to grotesquely stuff yourself with fish.

 The Beef Negimaki

Overall
I don't think anything is that particularly special about Sushi Para M. I felt like it was a little better than Sushi Para II with respect to the restaurant setup and time of food turnaround. Sushi can get pricey, and I understand the draw of a place giving you all you can eat for $18.99. None the less, you pay an additional "cost" in service, care of preparation, and quantity of rice. I'm giving them 2.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Sushi Para M on Urbanspoon