Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Spoonie’s – London Mills, IL

I saw someone post a photo of a gigantic deep fried pork tenderloin at this place this fall and I knew if I was ever in the neighborhood, I’d check it out. Sure it’s an hour and a half drive from my parent’s house, but that’s about as close to “in the neighborhood” as I  was likely to get to the 392-person town in central Illinois nowhere near an interstate.

I walked in and everyone looked at me. When they didn’t recognize me, they kept looking at me. I quickly ordered a PBR to set everyone at ease. Apparently, everyone that eats here knows each other.
Damn I miss small-town life. It’s tantalizingly simple and honest. Seriously, I miss these kinds of places. The inside is decorated with craft-y signs like “$5.00 charge for whining” and “you can’t fix stupid” and “Today’s menu: take it or leave it”. It’s also got that always-under-construction feel to it with some exposed studs on the wall.

They’ve got a huge patio on the side of the building for the warmer months. I  bet that place gets hoppin’ in the summer.
The bartender/servers were really nice and helpful. They made sure I got what I needed to drink and a menu. The place was almost full, even at lunch on a Thursday. And a lot of those people were ordering pork tenderloins. The menu had quite a lot of things on it, many of which visit the deep fryer before getting put on a plate. There are also plenty of sandwiches and pizzas to make sure no one starves here.

The tenderloin didn’t actually take that long to cook, and I was really happy about that. The thing is much thicker than I expected. Yes, it’s really large, but I thought that would be because they pounded it thin and wide. It’s wide, but it’s actually got some pork in there to contend with.  The flavor was actual pork and not just brown/fried. The guy working the fryer knew what he was doing, as well. No greasy flavor and not just overdone crunch. Well played, Mr. Fryer Guy. It comes with a regular sized bun (which my friend referred to as a Pork-T yarmulke), which means – based on the bun size – that this should be four sandwiches.

I promised my wife I wouldn’t try to eat the whole thing, and I didn’t. I basically ate three sandwiches by eating all the way around the bun. I’m sure I could have finished it, but I wouldn’t have fallen asleep on the country roads of Illinois. And also probably would have been in pain, but that’s beside the point. It was a great sandwich and I think the largest one I’ve ever tried to eat. The second closest would be the one in Indiana at Big Daddy’s.

If you’re ever driving near Peoria, Illinois, and have some time for a lunch excursion, it’s worth the drive.  You’re not going to get fancy beer here, but you will get full, and you’ll be happy about it.

Spoonie’s Bar & Grill
103 3rd St.
London Mills, IL 61544

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Hamburguesas El Gordo – St. Paul, MN

A rare lunchtime-date with D.Rough led us to a restaurant we had heard about. It’s in a small complex of shops on Payne Avenue, housing a brewery, a fruit smoothie shop, a barber shop, a jewelry shop, and a Mexican restaurant. The Hamburguesas El Gordo is almost a glorified food stand in this little complex, but it’s definitely worth stopping at. They’re known for ridiculously massive burgers and hot dogs… also burritos and tacos, oddly enough.

D.Rough and I both decided we needed the signature burger – it’s one beef patty, cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, ham, mayonnaise, lettuce tomato, onions, jalapenos, bacon, avocado, ketchup, and mustard. D.Rough added pineapple to hers, and I added a fried egg and salchichas (hot dogs) to mine. Apparently, the standard version didn’t have enough toppings. We also ordered the supreme french fries, you know, in case there was room for some filler.

The food came out in just over five minutes, and thankfully we got there right before a long line formed. The food was pretty impressive, to say the least.

The burger meat itself tasted great – we don’t think it was a frozen patty, which is always nice. The toppings were pretty impressive. I was surprised at how well the whole thing stayed together, probably because I had to smash it down pretty far to even get it in my mouth. I will tell you the total stand-out ingredients of this burger were the avocado, the fried egg (which was fried hard, not runny), and the pickled jalapeno slices. I really enjoyed this burger more than I even expected to. Well done on both the accuracy of the name and also the quality of my lunch.

The fries were good. Actual cut potatoes and loaded with toppings (mainly sauces – crema, hot sauce, ketchup, mustard, and jalapeno slices). We didn’t even eat half of these since were plenty full from the burgers. We decided that the next time, we’d get the asada (steak)-covered fries.

We also laughed that they have double burgers – which would probably kill someone. They also have mini burgers, and a double mini burger (which would likely end up being just a regular sized burger – hahaha).

This place is great and I’m glad we checked it out. I’m assuming the other items on the menu are going to be just as good, based on the showing we had at lunch! Cheers!

Hamburguesas El Gordo
990 Payne Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55106

Monday, November 28, 2016

Multnomah Falls - Portland, OR

D.Rough and I were out in Portland, Oregon, and I convinced her to go to Multnomah falls with me. Neither of us had been, but I was glad we did.

It's a 620-foot waterfall about a half hour outside of Portland. You can see it from the road, but you REALLY need to get out and see it.

The closer you get, the cooler it looks.

It's really difficult to get the entire top-to-bottom shot using your iPhone, but I did pretty well:

But, personally, I prefer the shot of OTHER people posing in front of the falls...

There is a short hike to the top of the falls. It's only about 1.2 miles. Sounds easy, right? Well, it isn't. It's a bunch of switch-backs with increasing slope and your legs are on fire when you get to the top. D.Rough and I had fun playing the game "make it or not" as we superficially and without-any-evidence judgmentally decided who we thought would make it to the top of the falls. When we realized we were being callous jerks, it gave us the fire to finish the climb so we didn't fall into the latter category ourselves. hahaha

The climb to the top has really awesome fuzzy mossy trees. They're both creepy and beautiful at the same time.

D.Rough is a daredevil. I fear for her safety at the best of times. This wasn't the best of times. We were 620 feet up near a raging river that's spraying everything within a mile with cold wet mist, she's got shoes with no traction, and (super-respectfully-of-course) she can pull some Lucille Ball moves that don't always end well - so yeah, I was TERRIFIED when she slid her way down the muddy bank to get closer to the water and grabbed a tree to catch herself.

I mean no, she was fine. Nothing to see here!  ...and I wasn't capturing it all on film while yelling at her to be careful repeatedly...

But seriously, this view at the top is REALLY awesome and heart-stopping.

And we got a fabulous photo of ourselves that we should probably put on a postcard or on the wall or something. Sometimes, we take good photos!

And, sometimes, we take photos that look like D.Rough has a waterfall on her head.

On the way back to our car, we walked along this stream (from the waterfall, obviously), and saw huge trout swimming back upstream. Really amazing and something I hadn't seen before. Obviously, they aren't going to get very far upstream, unless they've got the fish-cohones to jump 620 feet, but I still admire their persistence. Really fascinating to watch.

If you're in Portland, this place is worth a quick drive. Really.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Nighthawks – Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough and I hadn’t been to Nighthawks, even though many of our friends had recommended it to us. We set up a time to meet our lovely friend AllBlack and have some brunch. The place is bright inside, but still has an upscale diner kind of feel. We waited less than five minutes before getting a table, even on a Saturday around lunch.

The menu has all kinds of delicious sounding really inspired and unique food items, especially the pancakes. We decided to split a table poutine and each of us would get our own meal. I went with one of the specials – the Brisket Hash. D.Rough got the chorizo cheddar corn pancakes and AllBlack got the breakfast sandwich. And since we were right next to Five Watt Coffee, both the ladies ordered a Big Watt Circuit Bender Cold Press.
The entrees arrived pretty quickly, and I was impressed with the size of these things, as well as the presentation. The brisket hash was outstanding. Really tender and flavorful pieces of briskets on a bed of three different potatoes, with some salsa, guac, and pickled onions – then, covered with an egg. Every bite had all the components in it and it was a really heavy duty brunch meal.

The chorizo cheddar corn pancakes were surprisingly great. It sounds weird to put al those things together, but it totally works. They had layers of ingredients worked in, not just put on the top section. Nicely done, Nighthawks.

The breakfast sandwich was also great (I heard), and the hashbrowns were perfectly cooked. Not soggy and limp – they were crispy and tasty all the way through.

Sadly, our table poutine came out after we were finishing our meal, so none of us were really in the mood to eat it. I lied – *I* was in the mood to eat it. It was great. It had a ton of cheese curds and a wonderful gravy. It was covered with a LOT of banana peppers (maybe too many) and then another fried egg. The flavors were great, but I embarrassed myself by only being able to eat half of it myself. Hahaha

I liked this place even more than I expected to like it – which was already going to be a lot. I should have listened to people sooner and gone here. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Maya Cuisine – Minneapolis, MN

My friend Margs and I hadn’t hung out properly in a while, so she decided to go grab some Mexican food. We had originally planned to go to Bar Luchador, but she had been hearing good things about Maya in Northeast. The deciding factor would have been drinks, but since Maya has a liquor license, there wasn’t any reason to put up a fuss.

The inside of Maya is split into two sections: in the front is a less-expensive cafeteria-style line (with a salsa bar) with plenty of seating, and in the back is a more polished full-service restaurant and bar. I wasn’t sure what Margs has in mind when she chose this place, but I headed to the bar area and got a table. And promptly ordered two margaritas. …which were LARGE.

The menu has some standard fare items on it and some delicious sounding appetizers, but I kept going back to this really fancy sounding dish called Mixiotes de Res. Margs had her heart set on a bunch of various meat tostadas.

We managed to go through two baskets of chips while waiting – not because we had to wait long, but because we were starving and the salsa was delicious. But when the food arrived, I realized I should have scaled back my chips-and-salsa wolfing. It arrived on two large plates. One plate had rice, a nice cucumber and radish salad, and a crock of black beans, and the other plate had a generous portion of guacamole and a large paper pouch of meat.

The server told me not to eat the leaves that were in the meat – apparently just for flavor, so I picked out 3 or 4 bay-leaf-type greens and began to build my tacos on one of the six shells they provided. The meat was fantastic. It fell apart with a fork and had a deep smoky flavor. The guac was fresh and the other ingredients complemented the meat very nicely. Also, they brought out some green salsa which was too spicy for Margs, but I thought was fantastic. I didn’t think I could put back six of these, but I totally did. I’d highly recommend getting this entrĂ©e when you go here. It’s one of the more pricy items, but you’re going to get a ton of food. It’s probably not frowned upon to share with someone, either.

Margs really liked all three of her tostadas. She regretted saving the carnitas tostada for last, since she liked that one the most, but she was really pleased with both the flavor and the amount of toppings on her tostada. They looked delicious and I even used serious will power by not finishing whatever she left on the plate. You’re welcome.
I look forward to going back to this restaurant. I used to say that Minnesota doesn’t have good Mexican food, but a few places like this are changing my mind. You just have to find the right places. This is one of those places.

Monday, October 24, 2016

East Side Club Tiki Bar - Madison, WI

We were in town for a roller derby tournament and you know what that means ...... TIKI BARS!!! We always try to find the town's tiki bar when we're on the road for roller derby. Madison had one fairly close to the hotel we were at, so a couple of the guys and I drove over there.

When we arrived, we discovered the East Side Club was hosting a wedding inside. So we skirted the main building and followed the signs to the tiki bar, which was behind the main building. It isn't much of a tiki bar, to be honest, but it does have some of the prerequisites: super awesome bartender and rum. She whipped us up a couple of mai tais and we headed out to the patio area to view the beautiful giant lake in the middle of Madison.

Fortunately, we got our painfully uncomfortable stupid adirondack chairs just in time as some of the wedding folks began to spill out into the tiki bar area and down by the water. No big deal. In fact, we lasted at least oen more round before the torrential downpour happened:)

Overall, not impressive, but it did the job. If that's all Madison has in the way of tiki bars, then it'll have to do. It definitely treated us right.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fred Garvin's Cottage - Hancock, WI

This isn't a review, at all. Just a couple of photos from an awesome guy's weekend we had at Fred Garvin's family's cottage in central Wisconsin. Basically, we played disc golf the whole drive there, fished/drank/slept, and then played disc golf on the way home. Fantastic relaxing weekend with great friends and great golf.