Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Coalfire Pizza

Location: 1321 W Grand
Cost: About $15 per person

I got off my shift a few Friday's back when The Professor told me about some nerdy gadget conference at Tribune Tower. I wasn't all that excited for the conference, but there was a good crew going. Plus, I was assured there would be lots of free drinks. After a good hour of listening to technology pitches in order to get free giveaways, we all (Marc, Spencer, Jordan, Michael, Professor, and myself) had worked up quite an appetite. The Professor had heard of this pizza place from a work buddy that we just had to try. So the six of us piled into a single cab and headed west to Coalfire.

Logistics
It'd be easy to miss Coalfire if you didn't know where you were going. It's a moderately small storefront that goes pretty deep to make room for a decent amount of seating. We called ahead while driving over, and they had a table waiting for us when we got there. The inside looks pretty rustic and there's a nice feel with little things like upside down tomato sauce cans used to prop up the pizza on the tables. There's plenty of street parking around there too.

Our waitress was friendly and efficient. She had good suggestions, and we ended up ordering the perfect amount of food with her help. She had a little difficulty keeping our drink order straight. The impressive point in the night was when our pizza came out in what seemed like less than ten minutes. Each pizza was around $16, and the three pizzas we ordered were able to fill us up.

The Food
Like I said above, we got three pizzas: the Sausage and Garlic, the Pesto, and the Prosciutto with Egg. Lets talk toppings first. The sausage came with well distributed crumbles. The pieces were juicy and well seasoned. I expected a bit more with the extra garlic than what came. The pesto also had kalamata olives and ricotta. The flavoring on the pesto wasn't particularly strong, and the ricotta laid a moderately bland blanket over the slice I had. For the prosciutto and egg we got half without meat to accommodate for some of our fellow diners. Again the white cheeses masked some of the other flavors in this pizza, and unfortunately I didn't get an egg (which didn't stop me from dipping my slice in the Professor's yolk). The fresh basil was a nice touch, and the prosciutto itself had a refreshing and rich presence. As for the crust on all of these pizzas, there was a really nice char. Some bites were a bit much, but it really added a distinct flavor. The bitterness of the burnt parts overshadowed any potential sweetness. The chewy consistency of the crust was pretty enjoyable too.

The Sausage and Garlic

The Prosciutto

The Pesto

Overall
With all of these thin crust pizza reviews of late, it's pretty easy for me to rank a new place. I gave an order of my favorites recently. The strengths of Coalfire were the quality toppings and burnt crust flavor, but a lot of that came across a little muddled. I'd say Coalfire would rank in between La Madia and Sono Wood Fired. The service and atmosphere were nice touches as well. I'm giving them 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Coalfire on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sedgwick's Bar and Grill

Location: 1935 N Sedgwick
Cost:  $15 per person

This post is from a while back when the Bulls were still in the playoffs. Now I for one prefer to watch sporting events (especially early round games) at home. We have a good TV, a fridge full of beer and food, and a couch with my imprint already on it. Ricky and Jeremy, however, will have none of that and need to turn watching a game into an outing whenever possible. More or less, that's how we ended up at Sedgwick's.

Logistics
We got there 45 minutes early, expecting to fight a crowd of eager Bulls fan, but finding the bar practically empty. It worked out nicely though since we ended up with a group of 15 people or so by the end of the night. It's a pretty simple sports bar setup that gets obnoxiously crowded at times, but usually not until later in the night. They had a huge projector set up for watching the game, but it wasn't HD.

Our waitress was helpful and willing to put up with our obnoxious indecisiveness. I don't think anyone came with the intention of eating dinner, but they had some half off appetizer deal which sparked a feeding frenzy. Most of the appetizers and sandwiches are in the $10 range, and the portions are plenty relative to the cost. What we didn't know, was that they set up a free buffet of crummy but filling fried food around 11PM or so. I don't think we would've been able to wait that long anyways, but it's interesting to know.

The Food
We took advantage of the appetizer deal by getting orders of the Barbecue Pulled Pork Nachos, the Tater Tot Mountain, the Wings, and the Shrimp Festival. The nachos, besides the pulled pork, had the standard nacho cheese and jalapeno topping. The coverage by key ingredients was pretty poor, and we ended up with a lot of blank chips. The same could be said about the tater tot mountain (which was more of a mesa). The bacon bits were rather scattered as was the cheese coverage. We had the shrimp festival served grilled. It came with 10 little chunks of shrimp that I'm sure were frozen just a few minutes before getting to us. Even with the half off, I thought this dish was a bad deal. The wings were standard with a thick hot sauce. The texture of the wing was a little too tough though.

The Tater Tot Mountain

The Barbecue Pulled Pork Nachos

The Shrimp Festival

 The Wings

Our group eventually ordered some sandwiches including the Italian Beef and the Classic Burger. I didn't get to try either of these or grab a picture, but the general consensus was that they were acceptable. The beef was noted to be pretty dry.

Overall
It was pretty easy for me to pick apart each of the appetizers we ordered. They were all a bit chintzy for one reason or another. The sandwiches weren't anything special either. It was cheap, and we were able to conveniently bring a huge crew of people last minute. Still, I'm giving them 1 out of 5 Pearls.


Sedgwick's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bernie's

Location: 3664 N Clark
Cost: About $15 per person

We're well into baseball season which means I'm back to complaining about the crummy food surrounding Wrigley Field. Some of you may remember the travesty of a meal I had at Casey Moran's last year. This time my dad suggested we check out the bar next door, Bernie's, before heading to the game.

Logistics
The setup at Bernie's is similar to many other sports bars in Wrigleyville. They've got two floors and a spacious patio. It was cold and rainy so we had to pass on the patio. The place was pretty empty which I guess makes sense since all hope was lost for the cubs before the season even started.

Our waitress was fast and friendly, but it's not like she had that many other tables to wait on. Our food came out quick enough for me to be pretty sure not that much effort went into it. Everything was right around $10 and the portions were large enough to keep me going throughout the game without ordering some expensive bison dog.

The Food
We didn't have too much time before the first pitch, so we ordered a few beers and some sandwiches without stopping for any appetizers. My dad got the Cheeseburger, and I got the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. They tout that the burgers are grass fed, and it's almost worse that they butchered such a nice piece of beef. The patty was dried out, and the bun was a little stale. The chicken sandwich was pretty standard. The sauce was spicy but could've been a little thicker or richer. The chicken itself was mildly overcooked, but with the sauce it wasn't too dry or anything. Both dishes came with a side of fries that were nothing special.

The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

 The Cheeseburger

Overall
I can't say I was surprised, but I had yet another sub par meal in Wrigleyville. It's amazing to me that sports bars in most other neighborhoods seem to have stepped up their game while these guys keep pumping out the same unappealing grub. I'm giving them 1.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Bernie's on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dawali Mediterranean Kitchen

Location: 1625 N Halsted
Cost: About $15 per person

The whole strip of restaurants on Halsted from North to Willow has left me unimpressed ever since I moved to that part of town. For the most part, they're overpriced, moderately generic, and serve the sole purpose of feeding people before or after they hit up a show at Steppenwolf. For the record, this doesn't include Balena which recently opened up in the same strip and I've yet to try. Well the other week, Amanda and Jess wanted to get a quick bite and catch up since we hadn't hung out in a while. Amanda, also living in my part of town, saw this new place Dawali Mediterranean Kitchen and suggested we try it out.

Logistics
Dawali is a very simple setup, and for now it doesn't seem to be too much trouble to walk right in (although they take reservations). They've got plenty of seating and can easily accommodate large groups. It's right off the North and Clybourn red line which makes transportation pretty simple.

The service was spot on. The waiter gave us plenty of time to chat and hang out while not forgetting about us. The food came out pretty quickly, and his suggestions were insightful. The cost is pretty good with most entrees ringing in around $13. You can split a few appetizers to start in the $5 ballpark too. What really looked cool were the large combo platters that some of the bigger parties were getting. Also, it was BYOB.

The Food
We started off with a few things including the Spinach Pie, the Masaka's, and the Baba Ghannouj. The pie was very doughy and the filling had too much lemon. The Masaka's was a mixed grilled vegetable salad with peppers and eggplant playing the main roles. It was a little mushy but really garlicy and right up my alley. The Baba had a nice consistency with a strong eggplant flavor.

 The Spinach Pie

For our main dishes Jess got the Beef Shawerma and Lamb Kebab Combo, Amanda got the Chicken Kebab, and I got the Beef Shawerma. The platters all came with yellow rice, tahini, salad, and a garlic dipping sauce. The chicken kebab had a strong herbal rub and wasn't dried out at all. The beef shawerma had a really strong acidity but kept a hearty savoriness. It was served in an almost pulled fashion, making it a bit stringy and chewy, but the flavor was strong despite the texture.

The Combo Platter

The Chicken Kebab

The Beef Shawerma

Overall
It's nice to have a casual BYOB Mediterranean spot in my backyard. I want to go back with a big group and get some of those large party platters. A few dishes were strong while others had some textural troubles. For the most part though, it's a convenient option that brings a new twist to the neighborhood. I'm giving them 3 out of 5 Pearls.


Dawali Mediterranean Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 18, 2012

Scooter's

Location: 1658 W Belmont
Cost: About $5 per person

One day, out of the blue, my friend Dave asked me if I'd been to Scooter's. Dave somehow finds time to read JEC while working hard as a first year resident. I can't even imagine what he'll do with all the additional extra time he'll have once he starts his radiology residency. Anyways, he saw my post on Bobtail and thought that it was a shame that I hadn't tried Scooter's, the clearly superior option in his mind. So one Sunday, the two of us and Kayleen drove a bit west on Belmont to try it out.

Logistics
There's nothing tricky to Scooter's. You step right up to the counter and order some frozen custard based dish. The menu is written on the wall alongside the impending line. They've got plenty of seating indoors (which came in handy since it was raining), but they've got a nifty window to the outdoors so that people can just walk up to the side of the building if they prefer. We got there just at the right time because the line immediately grew to a good 20 minute wait.

Everyone was very nice there, and if it were a shack in a parking lot instead of a storefront, you might mistake Scooter's for a small town custard shop. The cost is fine but not necessarily cheap. Some of the concoctions they make run above $6. Still they have plenty of options for around 4 or 5 bucks.

The Food
Like any custard shop, the menu is entirely composed of different ways to mix custard in a cup with a variety of ingredients while calling it some term with a minimal association to thickness. At Scooter's they've chosen "concrete." Kayleen got the Coco Loco, Dave got the PB&J, and I got the Elvis. Dave's had a delicious homemade blackberry jam. It was like an awesome fruit at the bottom cup. The Elvis had reese's peanut butter cups and bananas. The coco loco gave off a coconut cream pie sensation, but since it was the flavor of the month, and I don't think you'll be able to get it anytime soon. In general though, the custard was creamy and smooth. It blended well with the ingredients in each of these dishes while keeping a firm base flavor. I thought it could've been richer though.

The PB&J

The Coco Loco

The Elvis

Overall
As far as custard goes, Scooter's has some of the best in town. Each one of our concretes had a wonderful consistency. I think what sets them apart were the variety of options and the quality additional ingredients. I don't usually find myself in that part of town, but a lot of other restaurants throughout Chicago carry Scooter's. I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.


And a special thanks to Dave for taking all of the pictures.

Scooter's Frozen Custard on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Standard Indian Restaurant

Location: 917 W Belmont
Cost: About $15 per person

Sometimes people that don't know vegetarians well think that it's impossible to go anywhere with them because they can't eat anything. Really though, these social outcasts of sorts (just kidding) can find something most anywhere. On top of that, there are a few genres of food that lend themselves very well to vegetarians. My go to places are usually Indian or Italian for that reason in particular. When we were in our last week of neurology, my friend Renee (notorious vegetarian) found a groupon for her favorite Indian place, Standard Indian Restaurant. We got out early one day and decided to check it out.

Logistics
If you walk East when you get off the train at Belmont, you can't really miss Standard Indian. It's a simple storefront with an enticing buffet line near the window. You can sit on some pillows on the window sill while you wait. We were there pretty early on a Thursday and still had to wait about 40 minutes. The owner took note of this and brought us some free mango shakes to tide us over. I think the wait was so long because there were only a dozen tables or so.

I can easily say that this was the best service I've had since starting JEC. The owner checked in on us multiple times. The waiter was very educated. We were brought out extra food that the chef thought we were missing from our order. For a small storefront amongst busy foot traffic, I was thoroughly impressed with how homey it felt. The cost is reasonable as well. They have an all you can eat buffet that might be around $16 for lunch and is closer to $18 for dinner. We both ordered Thalis that were $14 each. The portions in general were huge, but things got really plentiful with all the complimentary add ons.

The Food
The first thing that came out was a sample of the Kadhi, a creamy soup with a rich tomato presence. It was a little grainy but packed a punch. They also brought out some Veggie Samosas. The fried exterior was very light and flaky. With my thali I also got to order an appetizer, so I picked the Samosa Chaat which is like a typical samosa in a variety of sauces and chickpeas. This would be my suggestion for how you should start your meal off when you go.

The Veggie Samosas

The Samosa Chaat

The Kadhi

By ordering the thalis we were able to get a nice sampling of the menu including the Aloo Gobi, the Saag Paneer, the Chana Masala, the Chicken Makhani, the Chicken Tikka Masala, and the Lamb Vindaloo. My favorites were the Saag Paneer and the Chicken Makhani. Most of the dishes were very nicely prepared. I thought the aloo gobi was a bit bland, and I wish there was more lamb in the vindaloo. I felt pretty confidently that I could've mentioned this and it would've been taken care of, but I was so full by that point anyways.

Renee's Thali

 My Thali

Overall
Standard Indian Restaurant didn't have the most amazing Indian food I'd ever tried, but it was still damn good. It's the service that makes the experience unforgettable. I'll try and build up a massive hunger before I return because there's a bunch of the menu I still need to try. I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.


Standard India on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Phil's Last Stand

Location: 2258 W Chicago
Cost: Around $6 per person

Our fourth roommate is back in town. Ricky's girlfriend Rachel has a rotation for PA school which means that she'll be around the apartment plenty for the next few weeks. The other weekend her parents came down to the city to take the whole apartment out to lunch. Now Rachel's dad Ron, in addition to being one of the largest JEC fans, used to own a hot dog stand in the city. He'd heard about this place in the Ukranian Village that we just had to try out. So we all headed west to Phil's Last Stand.


Logistics
Phil's is just what you'd expect. There's practically no room for all of the people cramming in to get a taste. You place your order with who I can only imagine is Phil. He sits as his chair and barks out orders to the cooks while schmoozing with the customers (for that matter, I think it's called Phil's Last Stand because he's probably been sitting in that chair for years). Don't be surprised when he rings the gong for every tip either. It should also be noted that there's a parking lot, so you can skip the street spots.

There's seating for maybe 15 people inside between the few tables and the counter. If that's not enough, they've got a bunch of picnic bench style seating outside. The service is great, and by the service I mean Phil. He told us exactly what to order and even tossed us some freebies to highlight his menu. The prices are cheap. You can get a double char dog with fries for $5. Most of the menu follows the trend of tons of food for little money.

The Food
We tried our best to run the menu. Our order included some Char Dogs, Fatso Burgers, Char Grilled Salami Sandwiches, Mac n' Cheese with Salami, and plenty of Cheese Fries. The burgers were griddled with a nice crisp and plenty of sauce. The Salami came in thick slices on a Turano roll which wonderfully soaked up the grease. I think it would've been better off without the tomatoes which were pretty mushy. The Mac n' Cheese didn't have the typical elbow noodles, but the sauce was excessively creamy. The chunks of salami complimented everything nicely as well. The dogs came with split ends but no scoring along the dog. There was a nice char to the whole thing and plenty of snap with each bite. There wasn't a single soggy fry in my order. They had the option for shoe string fries, but I significantly preferred the regular cut. The nice touch to all of this was the use of Vern's Cheese. It was thick, sharp, and went excellently with the fries and the salami sandwich.

The Char Dog with Fries

Vern's Cheese

The Grilled Salami Sandwich

The Fatso Burger

The Mac n' Cheese with Salami

 The Shoestring French Fries

Overall
There are certain places that have unhealthy food. Phil's takes that one step further. The food is delicious and detrimental to your health to the point that you're cardiovascularly unable to leave (and thus are forced to eat there forever more). Seriously though, most of the dishes were flawless, and it's hard not to fall in love with the place from the second you step foot inside. I would've tweaked the salami sandwich a bit and gone without the shoestrings. Luckily, it's only a short drive for me to get there, and I'll have plenty more opportunities to check things out. I'm giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Phil's Last Stand on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Native Foods Cafe

Location: 1023 W Belmont
Cost: $15 per person

For the last two weeks of my neurology rotation I was partnered up with my friend Renee. Two important things to know about Renee are that she lives in Lakeview and is a vegetarian. The last time we'd gone out to eat was at The Chicago Diner. I'll hold my rant on imitation foods this time, but feel free to reference the aforementioned post to read more. Well Renee wanted me to check out another one of these similar style faux food joints that she's become very fond of, Native Foods Cafe.

Logistics
Native Foods has a standard setup where you order at the counter and put your number up on some table stand. We went pretty early on a weekday and didn't have any wait. I've seen some lines develop when I've walked by in the past, so I'm sure you might have some waiting at busier times. It's right around the corner from the Belmont red line, making transportation pretty easy.

Our service was very friendly but somewhat poor all around. Placing our order at the counter was a bit of an adventure, but they gave us a free drink to make up for the delay. It also took me tracking down the waitress to get my take home box after waiting a good ten minutes. The cost is pretty good for how large the portions are. At the same time, soy/gluten based proteins and vegetables probably don't cost that much in the first place. The sweet potato fries we split were $4, and our entrees were around $10.

The Food
Renee went with her favorite by ordering the Twister Wrap, I went for the Soul Bowl, and we split an order of Sweet Potato Fries. The wrap had a southwestern style by coating some of the Native Foods Chicken in salsa and creamy chipotle sauce. I got a solid bite and was impressed that the imitation chicken carried such a crunch. My soul bowl reminded me of a healthier version of the mashed potato bowl they serve at KFC. It had red beans, brown rice, a variety of veggies, and some of their fried chicken. The barbecue and ranch sauces topping everything were tangy and creamy respectively. This dish was a veggie lovers dream, and it was really filling. They also tossed a piece of their cornbread on top. I thought it had a pretty mushy texture but the flavors were in order. Now the sweet potato fries were spot on. They had this sugary dusting and came with a chipotle dipping sauce that was probably my favorite part of the whole meal.

The Twister Wrap

The Sweet Potato Fries

 The Soul Bowl

Overall
I liked most everything that I tried at Native Foods. I thought the imitation chicken did a nice job, but it's not like if I had closed my eyes that I'd believe it was real. I think the strength of any vegetarian place is to find dishes that feature lots of vegetables (they have to be good right?). When it comes to my fake meats, I'm giving the edge to the Chicago Diner, and I'm giving Native Foods 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Native Foods Cafe on Urbanspoon