Monday, December 21, 2009

Bad Movie Night #3 - Minneapolis, MN

Bad Movie Night (BMN) is what I would consider a successful venture in the Minnesota area. You never know if these cultural oddities will transfer across state lines, but I’m glad this one did. Tonight’s theme was sort of religious, since we had a couple of biblical films to show. Only a couple of people followed the food theme for the night, but this one was a difficult one, so it’s understandable. HotGirlsBrother brought a couple of those Jesus candles you see in the Hispanic section of the grocery store – hilarious. And SB brought a loaf of bread and fish sticks, for the win – best theme food ever, SB.

We started the films with Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter. This is a really bad film, partially, because it’s from Canada, where the metric system makes everything even funnier. But also because it contains the greatest combination of movie ideas ever melded into one brilliant film: Vampires, lesbians, Mexican wrestlers, kung-fu, punk rock priests, broadway musical dancing, clown cars, and Canadian money. The premise is Jesus comes back to Earth and finds it is slowly being overtaken by lesbian vampires and atheists, so he basically fights as many of them as possible. Lots of parts to get the crowd yelling in this film, so it worked out well.

The second film, I was unsure about showing to this group, based on previous BMNs where the energy level dropped after a while. But the second film was a winner – Noah’s Ark. It’s actually a mini-series, not a feature-length film, but I was able to fast forward through enough of the boring spots to maintain the energy level. Made in the 1990s, it features Academy Award winner John Voight as Noah AND God, Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham as Noah’s best friend Lot (way off from the real bible story), Academy Award winner Mary Steenburgen as Noah’s hot wife, Academy Award winner James Coburn as the Peddler, Golden Globe winner Carol Kane as Lot’s annoying wife, Sidney Poitier’s daughter Sydney Poitier, some guy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a crap ton of terrible actors. This film opens with a script that says the directors of the film took poetic license with the bible – brilliant move, morons. They inserted a boatload of terrible special effects and CGI into the film, as well as some of the worst Monty Python-esque scripts and Wild Kingdom stock footage, and made one of the most awful movies ever. There’s a WATER BATTLE after the flood involving pirates and grappling hooks and also James Coburn on a paddle boat (hence, the PEDDLER). It’s an awful movie and I was glad to have people yelling and laughing along at the idiocy in it. It was a winner.

Huge thanks to everyone who came over and had a good time with it. We had some good food and LOTS of adult beverages were downed. A big shout out to Ruby Vita who suggested bringing Bubblegum flavored vodka (from Three Olives company) – which HotGirlsBrother scored for us. It’s amazing and after about 8 shots, you slur a lot apparently. We had bottles of port, madiera, mead, scotch, girly concoctions I made up, and a bunch of various beers. Clearly, the amount of fun had at bad movie night is in direct relation to the amount of adult beverages consumed. At least at OUR Bad Movie Nights. Sadly, there was no dancing in my kitchen this time, but there WERE chocolate and caramel covered pretzels, which made up for it. After staying up until 5am when everyone left, playing disc golf at 8am wasn’t as much fun as it could have been…

Billy's on Grand - St. Paul, MN

After roller derby, we were all starving, so we went to grab some food. We started out at Sweeny’s which I was really looking forward to, but the place was completely packed. We hopped back in the car and drove down the street to Billy’s on Grand. I’ve never been to this bar before, but someone thought they had food until late, so it was worth checking out. Then I heard this place kind of turns into a d-bag bar on weekends, so it had that going for it.

We got there and it turns out that d-bag thing was pretty spot on. There were frat boy d-bags with fedoras and backwards white ball caps all over the place. There were also mobs of super trashy trixies looking to hook up with the aforementioned d-bags that night. CLEARLY looking to hook up. We all pointed and laughed at and talked about how these girls were having trouble walking in their 5 inch pink spike heels and awful outfits. We were much more cautious about poking fun at the d-bags who were clearly ready to burst through their tiny d-bag shirts with roid rage.

We actually scored a table pretty quickly and ordered some drinks. I scored a Woodpecker Cider which is a pretty marginal CIDER. Not great, but not fantastic. The menu actually had a couple of things that looked good on it, so I finally narrowed it down. I decided on the Firehouse Burger – a habanero-infused burger with blue cheese and applewood smoked bacon. I finished it off with some curly fries, which the server assured me were “exactly the same as Arby’s”. I guess it was going to be an Arby’s night.

The food came out and looked awesome. A criss-cross of crispy bacon and a decent amount of blue cheese on the thing. I bit into the thing and was a little disappointed at how dry it was. The flavor was actually really good. I was impressed with the zing of the habanero in the burger and there was a great combination of blue cheese and bacon in it. With a better cooked patty, it would have been a great burger. As it was, it was just ok. Even ketchup couldn’t lubricate this burger enough to be fake-juicy. The fries were actually quite good. I will admit, they did taste just like Arby’s, so at least the server was right about it.

I tried some of the nachos, which were my second choice, but I’m kind of glad I didn’t. They were subpar nachos without enough cheese on them. There was a decent pile of stuff on them, including jalepenos and olives and tomatoes, but the cheese makes the nachos, and there simply wasn’t enough of it.

All in all, it was just an ok restaurant, but stellar d-bag bar. So depending on what you’re looking for, you might just score at Billy's on Grand.

Top 5 things about Billy's
1. Curly fries were just like Arby’s
2. Firehouse burger, minus the dry-ness
3. Good sized menu
4. Free popcorn, if you can find the machine
5. Whore-y girls to mock

Bottom 5 things
1. Dry burger
2. No decent cider
3. Nachos
4. Super d-bags
5. Super slow service

You know what I love? Spezi

My friend in Germany turned me onto Spezi (pronounced Spate-Zee) years ago on one of my trips to Germany. It sounds weird, but it's delicious. Coke and Orange soda - that's it. You can buy it like this in Germany, but you can make it yourself if you've got the drinks in your fridge. Just try it. (It's also called "designated driver beer" in Germany, so it's got that going for it.)

Taste of India - St. Louis Park, MN

FireRetarded called me up to see if I wanted to do lunch. I don’t turn down lunch that often, so I actually rolled out of bed and got ready for Taste of India. I took me some winding to get over to it, since it’s sort of buried in the interchange system around 100 and 394 – but I found it.

It’s a buffet style restaurant during lunch, so we hopped up and got in line. The buffet really isn’t very large, but still has enough to fill your plate at least once… The flow of the buffet leaves a bit to be desired. There are two sides, but one is pushed up close to the wall, so once you’re in there, you’re not getting out. It’s like a one way dead end. I trapped FireRetarded back there until I was done scooping copious amounts of food onto my plate.

Like most Indian food places I have been to, I can’t remember a single thing I ate (except for Tandoori Chicken). The food here is pretty mild in comparison to a lot of Indian places I’ve been in the Twin Cities. It’s not bland or anything, just not bright and spicy like Biryani or anything. I do love the deep fried and chickpea-battered vegetables you can find at most places - Bhajia. These seemed pretty good to me. There was also a spinach and garbanzo bean dish called Chana Saag that was really good as well. I had to go up for a second plate since the first one didn’t quite fill me up.

And we won’t talk about how FireRetarded pansied out after a plate and a half. It would be too embarrassing for him if people knew about his tiny stomach and inability to clean his plate at a buffet. (I’m totally kidding, FR. I was just starving…) I didn’t see any desserts on the buffet, so no rice pudding or syrupy donuts were available. I didn’t need any, but I do like to see them on there, just in case I have room for a tiny bit more than what I got on my plate the first two or three trips.

Top 5 things about Taste of India
1. Chicken in the orange colored sauce – whatever it was was great
2. Bhajia – deep fried chickpea battered veggies
3. Chana Saag
4. Beef Curry was great
5. Lots of vegetarian stuff on the buffet for those of you so inclined

Bottom 5 things
1. I think Gerd might have liked this place due to its mild flavors. It would have treated her insides better than the spicier stuff at other places. Plus she loved FireRetarded and would have made the lunch even more awesome
2. No desserty things
3. The “pickles” were actually carrots and peppers that had been pickled – just to warn you
4. The buffet wasn’t terribly large
5. FireRetarded’s Nancy stomach – just kidding, daddio

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ballentine VFW Post 246 – Minneapolis, MN

A group of randoms and I have been going to the VFW every Sunday morning for what’s called “Eyeopeners” – basically a happy hour from 11-1. They have $2.50 bloody marys and screwdrivers – where’s the bad in that?!?! Most days we show up and watch the Vikings game or whatever else is on the TV or play darts and rock out the juke box with annoying music. Afterwards, we usually walk somewhere (since we’re firm believers of “safety first”) and grab a bite to eat, since the VFW doesn’t have food there. The best/scariest part is the bartenders know all our names and all about us, so we get harassed every time we go there. It’s got a nice “Cheers” feel to it.

Well, this Sunday, things got real.

There was a Hot Dish contest being held at 1:30. (For those of you outside of Minnesota, Hot Dish just means casserole or crock pot.) The VFW regulars apparently got to smack-talkin and of course the only way to sufficiently settle such an argument is to have a cook-off. We didn’t know about this until the day of the event, so we didn’t have an entry. However, we did have $5 which was the cost of unlimited Hot Dish eating. We were told who the contest winners were, and I feel the judging was pretty accurate. I don’t know who Hot Dish #7 was, but it had an amazing flavor and had chow mein noodles in it – it was clearly the winner.

We all lined up with our plates and plasticware and tried every one of the contest entries. And some of us… meaning me… tried three portions of the entries. . . And then finished off a couple people’s plates at our table who wussed out and left portions of #7 on their plates. That’s just rude.

Additionally, HotGirlsBrother and TheDoctor love to drink what is called a “Dockworker’s Breakfast.” This consists of a shot of bourbon, and then you drink a beer with a raw egg in it. Yeah, really. It's from the television show "The Wire". Occasionally HotGirlsBrother will bring a carton with a couple of eggs in it for them to drink. And every once in a while, HotGirlsBrother will offer the dockworker's breakfast to random strangers who then turn into stalkers. Yeah, it happens.

This was probably the best day ever at the VFW. But there is hope that it might get better. They said, they periodically have these contests – with Chili and other various food items. I’m sooooooo looking forward to this.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Fainting Goat - Waverly, IA

Every time Gerd and I would drive back to Illinois to see our families, we would pass this sign for The Fainting Goat in Waverly, IA. We always wanted to stop, but never timed it right. I also found out they’re not open until after 3pm during the week and at 11 on weekends – just a warning. So I tracked down this place since it’s not on the beaten path. I was glad I did.

And for those of you who don't know what a fainting goat really is, watch this video. I CRACK UP every time I watch it. (0:49 is the best scene)

I sidled up to the bar since I was flying solo. The bartender was super friendly without being annoying or overbearing and asked what the plan was. He also called me “boss” which I absolutely love (side note – this is why I love Coach’s name because it commands power and respect. Maybe I should call myself lieutenant or chief or something – yes, I’m jealous). I asked for a menu and told him I planned on grabbing some food and chilling out for a while.

After perusing the menu, a lady came over and asked what I was thinking about. I asked her what they were known for and she said the tenderloin and the chicken bites. Both are hand breaded and from local meat place and people really liked them. Hand breaded tenderloins are a favorite of mine, so I decided to go with that. It came with a side and she said the broccoli cheddar soup was good. That sounded awesome since it was 9 degrees outside. And The Fainting Goat proudly serves Pepsi products (go Iowa), so I was able to score a Dew to pick up my spirits on the long drive back to Illinois. They also have Woodchuck (Amber and Granny Smith), but I thought that might slow me down too much on the drive, so I stuck with the dew – it was a tough call though…

The broccoli cheese soup was delicious. It had carrot shavings in it, which I wasn’t expecting, and I ate the whole thing pretty quickly. A third bartender came over to find out how I was doing and didn’t seem surprised that I liked the soup. Apparently, it had been a big hit since that day or something. I was more impressed with the number of people helping me out. It was kind of nice, actually. Lots of people to talk to, without pestering me. I also got to hear more about deer hunting than I ever remember hearing. Bartenders, customers, cooks, random people dropping things off for people – apparently, everyone in Waverly loves to hunt deer.

Bartenders in Waverly also love to crack Tiger Woods jokes, talk about drinking they did previous nights, and talk about girls. I totally forgot Waverly is a college town (a tiny college town, but a college town, nonetheless), but some discussion I overheard reminded me. It was all in good fun and no inappropriate discussions or anything.

My tenderloin arrived and I probably had a bigger smile on my face than I should have. It was pretty huge and looked fantastic. I was looking forward to this. It was even more awesome than it looked. It definitely had some grease to it, but not like I needed a shower or anything. Just the right amount. No wonder it was one of the things they’re known for. It’s that good that it could have a reputation just based on the tenderloin. I’m definitely getting the hand breaded chicken bites the next time I go here. And I WILL be going here again.

I also scored an awesome shirt from the place that I will wear proudly.

Top 5 things about The Fainting Goat
1. Hand breaded tenderloin
2. Broccoli cheese soup
3. The have DEW
4. Super awesome staff working
5. They have a lot of things on the menu I would like to try

Bottom 5 things
1. I felt bad eating here without Gerd, since we talked about it so many times and never made it. It probably wouldn’t have impressed her that much, since she wasn’t a fan of tenderloins and she already had a favorite chicken bite place
2. I feel like I could teach a class on deer hunting now
3. It’s tough to get to, since it’s not just off the highway
4. I wanted to stay until 10pm – there’s a note on the website that says “After 10 pm, we are the place your mothers warned you about” (I fixed the punctuation errors for your reading pleasure…)
5. They have screwy hours – who opens at 3pm?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hatebreed, Cannibal Corpse, Unearth, Born of Osiris – Maplewood, MN

When Charo told me about the Decimation of the Nation Tour, I was way more excited than I should have been. I have been dying to see Born of Osiris, and I love Cannibal Corpse, Unearth, and Hatebreed. The date rolled around and I headed over to The Rock in Maplewood – which is about as far from my place as you can get and still be considered in the Twin Cities Metro. It didn’t help it was all kinds of snowy and icy.

I’d never been there, so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t expect the door guy giving people crap for wearing band shirts from the band they were going to see that night – one of the most hilarious things ever. Yes, it annoys me when people wear the shirt of the bands they are seeing. Apparently, this angered the door guy too. The show was a bit steep on cost, but I could justify it because I knew there would be solid acts.

Born of Osiris – Absolutely flawless. This is my first time seeing them and they didn’t disappoint. Best band of the night, honestly. The guitarists switched guitars occasionally from 7 to 6 strings, which shows they’re not a low-chug band all the time. I saw incredible drumming - REALLY. The keyboards weren’t annoying, but I would be totally bored if I wasn’t playing half of the time – that’s just me though. Amazingly heavy sound and excellent stage presence. I feel bad giving such a small review for this band since they were so amazing. However, there’s nothing this band could have done better. I would have paid the money just to see this band – and I’ll do it again.

Unearth – This was the biggest disappointment of the night. I’ve seen these guys two other times and they’ve been VERY tight. This time, there was painfully obvious sloppy guitar work – I was VERY surprised. I’m not sure if they were drunk or had an off night, but it was bad. The solos on the guitars were waaaay too loud in the mix and I blame the guitarists since they were controlling the volume with their enormous pedal boards. The bass player used a pick and played two strings and was boring – apparently, this might be a new bass player – still no excuse. The Chickenhawk guitar guy with shaved layers into the sides of his head sang all the fruity parts (not surprising). There was waaay too much kitchy and corny staged antics, like the guitarists pulling down these Mesa Boogie cabinets without speakers in them (and not plugged in), so they could climb on them like big blocks and pose like idiots. If you’re going to do that, don’t write “DUMMY” on the top of the cabinet in big letters. Yeah, swinging from the rafters of the venue could be fun, but not when it is totally staged with go-go boxes you’ve pretended to be playing through the whole set. The singer, who may have been a tad drunk, told people to try to get past the bouncers in front of the stage. The best part of the band tonight was the drummer – he’s a smasher, but is really good and solid. There are two kinds of drummers – those that break cymbals and those that don’t break cymbals – this drummer is in the earlier group, but at the same time, he’s got some finesse. That’s what I like to see. Also, I hate backwards hat-wearing push moshers in the crowd.

Cannibal Corpse – One of the best death metal acts EVER. They have never disappointed me. The band makes no eye contact, except for the singer. They wear standard metal outfits – black cargo pants with combat boots and black band shirts. Didn’t move at all from their designated spot, which is super death metal style. Everyone has long hair, even the one going bald. The drummer was flawless and looked like Yanni’s younger brother. The bass player (normally filler in metal bands) tapped various parts, soloed, mirrored the guitar parts, and played all of the strings on his bass. The guitarist in front of me banged his head and dripped enormous amounts of sweat. The guitarist had an Anal Blast shirt on – which is awesome because I know one of the guys from this Minnesota-based band – not QUITE hometown heroes… The singer, George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, had eye contact, but normally these guys are all serious and scary – Corpsegrinder kept laughing at the crowd. He said we were the funniest crowd on tour. Every time the band would stop, someone in the crowd would yell something ridiculous or yell out a song and get it wrong or just do something retarded – it honestly was hilarious. It’s hard to be all tough and scary metal guy when the crowd is a bunch of morons. The singer’s neck is the size of my waist, probably because he spins his head and headbangs the entire show. They said they were going to finish with the crowd favorite Hammer Smashed Face, but they lied and played Stripped, Raped, and Strangled last – a much better finishing song – yes, I’m serious. Flawless except for some weird crackle in the speaker which I was standing right in front of (with ear plugs). These guys play through four Mesa Boogie cabinets per side, and all were functional and plugged in. SERIOUS volume.

Hatebreed – This is one of my favorite tough guy hardcore bands. Jamie Jasta got a rep for being a sell out because he got himself on MTV, but he’s still a good front man. He gets the crowd going and tries to get people on stage. At some point, some of the stage crew run across the stage and stage dives and he scores them, which I thought was pretty funny. He gave them a 7 and 9 for the night. At one point, Jamie even stopped the show when one of the bouncers got hurt. And he DID get hurt. It was pretty bad – EMTs and everything. Overall, great sound from the guitars. The bass player moved a hell of a lot, which is good for a bass player, since they’re generally playing one note at a time and have time to jump, kick people, and have fun. They all moved around all of the stage and interacted with the crowd, even though we were behind the barrier. The drummer is super solid and I like his style. He’s a solid hardcore drummer and puts in some interesting things, without being an over-the-top metal drummer. There was a young kid being smashed against the gate and one of the bouncers let him over to stand in the area in front to protect him. One of the stage guys asked the kid’s parents if they minded if he came up on the stage to watch from there and the kid got to watch the entire show from the stage. I’ll bet that kid is still smiling about that. He was having a great time.

All in all, a fantastic show that I’m glad I didn’t find some excuse for NOT going to. The sound quality at The Rock is really good and there’s plenty of room to stand without getting crowded or hit with things. Good area for merch to be sold and the bathrooms didn’t scare me to death. That’s a good thing.

Top 5 things about the Decimation of the Nation Tour
1. Born of Osiris
2. Cannibal Corpse
3. Hatebreed
4. Awesome sound in the venue
5. Corpsegrinder cracking up at the crowd

Bottom 5 things
1. Unearth’s performance
2. Backwards-hat-wearing d-bags push-moshing
3. Coach wasn’t there to hang at this amazing show with me
4. Hate Eternal canceled and I was hoping to see them
5. There were shot girls walking around in whore-y clothes trying to get the d-bags to buy shots from them while they yelled “wooooo!” like morons

Alibaba – New York, NY

While M. Giant and I were out in New York City, we got to see GBFN, my dear friend from London who moved to NYC a few years back. He’s moved to a new apartment since I’d last visited him, so I was anxious to see his new place, meet his boy (who is awesome), and meet his new dog Charlie! M. Giant was heading off to do his work stuff later that night, so we decided to grab a bite to eat. We hadn’t had Turkish food ever, so the four of us headed to a restaurant that M. Giant and I walked past earlier that day called Alibaba. When we walked past, it smelled awesome, so we knew we were in for a treat.

The menu is much larger than I anticipated, and oddly enough, there’s no turkey in this Turkish place. Hmmm. Fortunately, GBFN and his boy had been there before and they said we needed to get the Mixed Appetizer to start while we were deciding. Sure, sounded good to me. Done. I decided on the Karisik Pide (Which is sort of like a calzone-type item filled with Turkish Pastrami, Turkish Sausage, Ground Meat, and Kashar (a Turkish cheese). M. Giant went with the Donerli Pide, which is basically a calzone filled with gyro meat.

While we waited for our entrees, the appetizer sampler came out and looked awesome. It had Lebni – thick homemade yogurt with walnut, garlic, and dill; Humus (chickpeas mashed up with garlic, tahini, and herbs); Eggplant Salad (smoked eggplant, grilled peppers, grilled tomatoes, olive oil, lemon juice, and seasonings); Ispanak (spinach sautéed with dill, white onions, garlic, and olive oil); and Pilaki (red beans, potatoes, carrots, bell peppers, tomato sauce); and Eggplant with Sauce (eggplant in a moderately spicy sauce of fresh tomatoes, green peppers, onions, garlic, and parsley). It came with a basket of flat bread to dip into the different concoctions. Every single one of these things was amazing. I now know there are 6 different entire meals I could eat here – but I can get them all on one plate and be full. I think my favorite was the Pilaki and then both eggplant dishes. I was really impressed, considering I had no idea what I was eating until I wrote this review and looked at the menu.

My meal came out and looked awesome. Not at all what I expected, but it did look awesome.
I think they cut it diagonally and then when it didn’t fit on the plate, they moved the middle sections to a different spot. It looked totally intentional though – well played, Turkish chef guy. It really did taste like a bizarre calzone with a very different meat flavor than what I’m familiar with. The Turkish sausage is a beef sausage as it turns out, and is seasoned with all kinds of stuff that blew my taste buds’ collective hive mind – in a good way. Really, I was very impressed with this. The only downside, and it’s a SMALL downside is the dough and cheese flavor overpowered the meat flavor a little bit. When I just ate the meat pieces, I was very impressed, but when I had the whole thing in one bite, it was just good. (And when M.Giant left for his business meeting, I nicked a pieced of his gyro Pide. His meat flavor was stronger, but not as tasty as mine – I think I got the right thing.)

If you haven’t tried Turkish food, you really need to. I know GBFN wasn’t thrilled with what he got, but he did order something that said it was like ravioli, so how good could it be? Chef Boy-Ar-Dee wasn’t Turkish. Everyone knows that, right? But the seasonings and flavors are VERY tasty and you have no reason to be scared of them. I’d recommend the heck out of this place to anyone – even to Coach, and he’s the pickiest eater in the world. Now, I need to see if there’s a Turkish place in the Twin Cities…

Top 5 things about Alibaba
1. Karisik Pide (Turkish calzone)
2. Pilaki
3. Eggplant Salad
4. Eggplant with sauce
5. Lebni

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd never got to meet GBFN and loved to try new ethnic food experiences. I know she would have liked this food, even with a severe lack of cheese or desserts
2. Whatever GBFN got – it was something like raviolis, so if you see that, steer clear
3. They took away our appetizer sampler before I got everything I wanted from it
4. GBFN was amazed at how cheap the meal ended up being, but then realized we hadn’t had any drinks or wine (we picked up a bottle on the way home… heh heh heh)
5. The staff seemed more surly than most New Yorkers

Sunday, December 13, 2009

S’Mac and Pinch – New York, NY

M.Giant needed to head to New York City for some business reason, and I got the invite to come tag along with him and help keep him company while he wasn’t working. Of course I was interested – I don’t have a job!!! I contacted a friend out there and made sure we could crash at his place and we made our arrangements. It was a quick trip – like 24 hours. We left Minneapolis at 6am and were home by about 4 the next day.

While we were out there, we got to visit M. and Trash Giant’s friends Glark and Tara, who are hilariously awesome. They have a super sweet apartment and got to hang out with us for the afternoon since it was Sunday. They asked us what kind of food we were hungry for, but it really didn’t matter – they knew they were taking us to a macaroni and cheese place. And the best part is by taking us there, we would incur the ire of Trash, who is a vegetarian and survives solely on sticks, grass, and macaroni and cheese (I’m only partially kidding…). She was very upset when she found out that was where we were going. Glark looked at his watch and determined if we left now, we would beat all of the soccer moms and their multi-child strollers. We left post haste.

I really wasn’t sure what a macaroni and cheese restaurant was, but I soon found out. This restaurant is a combination of a pizza place (called Pinch) and Sarita’s Mac and Cheese (shortened to S’Mac) – so yes, the restaurant single-handedly proves domestic violence can be fun and tasty! There were large menu boards with pizza toppings (which you order by the inch and they bring out on long flat paddles) and also a bunch of different mac and cheese combinations. So many, that we had to grab a menu and study it before ordering.

As you can see, there are tons of different ways to make mac and cheese. Glark and Tara warned us to ordered the small size or we would die – which I USUALLY take as a challenge. This time I didn’t. This was their home turf and they knew better than I. Glark asked if we wanted breadcrumbs – which again didn’t matter because that’s just how you get these things. I finally decided on the Cajun Mac and Cheese – Cheddar, Pepperjack, Andouille Sausage, Green Pepper, Onions, Celery, and Garlic. It sounded amazing, but then again, so did everything everyone one of us ordered.

We hob-nobbed for a while and got caught up with life in general and our food came out pretty quickly. It comes in your own little skillet with a handle protector so your hand doesn’t burst into flame when you forget the handle is a bajillion degrees. It was lightly crusted over (hellz yeah for the bread crumbs!) and crunchy on the top while the inside was cheesey and chewy and delicious and awesome. Apparently, Glark and Tara take a lot of people here and everyone loves it. I certainly hope they’re not sick of going here because I expect to go here every time I’m back in NYC now. Simply amazing. Now I know why Trash was so upset that we went here without her (and then raved about it for hours – while she ate a handful of sticks).

Right as we finished up, mobs of stroller moms came in and parker their double-wides (asses and strollers) in the aisles and made a disaster of the dining room. We had to take to some maze-like circuitous route to get out of the door or risk being there for another 4 hours. It was awful. But, I’m VERY impressed how well Glark had the timing down on our lunch. Those Canadians and their metric-time – we could learn some things from the Queens rejects! (Wait, are we the Queen’s rejects, or the Queen’s runaways? I can’t remember!)

Just go to Pinch and S’Mac. And tell your friends – unless they have strollers. Then tell them they have to wait until approximately 12:30 or it will throw off Glark’s space-time-continuum.

Top 5 things about S’Mac
1. Cajun Macaroni and Cheese
2. Breadcrumbs are a must
3. You can get it to go, half-baked, or have it delivered, even in PARTY SIZE QUANTITIES!!!!!!!
4. The handle condom saved my digits numerous times from curling up like the wicked witch’s feet
5. Glark has impeccable timing for stroller moms – I might need to harness this superpower for evil…

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd might have made us move to NYC after this meal. She ate a lot of Mac and cheese, both at home, and whenever she could find it in restaurants. This would have blown her mind that such a place existed
2. Stroller parade – but not until after lunch
3. I wanted to try 13 different varieties
4. The pizza looked good and I wish I could try that, but I’m quite certain I will only get Mac and Cheese at this place
5. I’m sure Trash is going to be très angry at the mean things I said about her in this review

Happy Gnome - St. Paul, MN

About a year ago, Gerd surprised me with two gift certificates to the Happy Gnome in St. Paul. She had purchased them through some deal with the St. Paul Pioneer Press and got two for the price of one. Thankfully, they don’t have an expiration date, and I’ve been itching to use them. Oddly enough my friend KingDavid called me and asked me if I wanted to go to lunch, since he had two gift certificates to the Happy Gnome he purchased from the Pioneer Press about a year ago. Hilarious. Of course I was game, since I heard this place has quite a Scotch collection.

We met for lunch since I’m not employed and KingDavid spends a lot of time working from home. Liquid lunch always sounds good to me. The place is really nice inside. It’s got a bar area, and a restaurant area and then an upstairs room for overflow, which I’m sure gets used regularly on weekends. We found a nice booth and scanned the menu, which is sort of surprisingly small. But it wasn’t like I had any trouble finding something to eat on it. I’d guess there were 12-15 items on it with quite a variety of entrees and sandwich things to get.

I was having a hell of time deciding between the four PAGES of Scotch, so I just went with a Sprecher tap rootbeer (second only to 1919 rootbeer from the tap) to tide me over for lunch. I would decide later on the Scotch. I also ordered the Minnesota Game Burger – bison and elk combo patty, lingonberry sauce, and caramelized onions/horseradish/bluecheese sauce. I ordered the sauces on the side since they worried me a bit. KingDavid got the Butternut Squash Risotto which also looked amazing on the menu.

While waiting for our food, we decided on some Scotch for us to try. I opted for the Springbank 10 y/o 100 Proof. KingDavid got the Glenkinchie 10y/o. The waiter brought them out with our food, so we got some good smells in while wolfing down the food.

The food was REALLY amazing. The game burger was one of the best meat flavors I’ve ever had. I tried the sauces with a finger… I mean fork… and they were both pretty good. The waiter told me the sauces make the burger. I disagree since the meat was the best part, but putting the sauces on the burger was the right option. I’m not usually a weird sauce guy, but the lingonberries made the burger all kinds of happy and the onion/horseradish/blue cheese sauce gave a super rich and “fancy” taste. It was one of the burgers you’d never be able to recreate at home, but it was really good. I’d suggest the Minnesota Game Burger to any carnivore friends I have. The seasoned fries were also some of the better ones I’ve had in the Twin Cities area, as well. They’re worth getting.

Not to slap the burger in the face, but KingDavid’s Butternut Squash Risotto won the day. It was even better than the burger. It had whole garlic cloves, brussel sprouts, and chunks of squash. The flavor in this was awesome and the risotto wasn’t mushy or pasty or anything. Here is KingDavid doing his best Damien Omen impression when I tried to score another bite of the Risotto.

We moved on to the Scotch since that was REALLY the reason why we wanted to come here. With the meals already paid for by the gift certificates, we could splurge a little on the Scotch, right? We did. The Springbank 10yo 100 Proof was really much smoother and caramel-y than I expected. It had some serious heat at the end of the sip, but was one of the best I’ve had. In fact, it was so smooth, we thought the waiter might have mixed mine up with KingDavid’s. The Glenkinchie 10yo was fire right from the start. Seriously, fire. A couple drops of water opened this up and made it smoother, but it was still major heat in your mouth. [I tried the Glenkinchie 10yo the other night to see if it we got our glasses switch, but I think we got the right ones, KingDavid. Guess I need to go get us a case of this stuff, huh?]

Top 5 things about the Happy Gnome
1. Butternut Squash Risotto
2. Minnesota Game Burger (WITH the sauces)
3. Springbank 10y/o 100 Proof
4. Seasoned fries
5. Gerd basically bought our lunch, which makes it even more sad she didn’t get to share it

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd was soooooo excited when she got us these gift certificates for the Happy Gnome. She and QueenRachel should have been at lunch with us trying to convince us not to drink Scotch before noon.
2. Surprisingly small lunch menu – but I still found things to eat, without trouble
3. Huge beer menu and huge Scotch menu – it will take you days to go through it
4. It’s not a cheap place to have a quick lunch
5. KingDavid and I seriously have three more gift certificates to use here, so we’re going to become regular drunks

Jax Café – Minneapolis, MN

Over the past few months, I’ve reconnected with two gradeschool friends. One I already wrote about – MyKrore. The other, TheMayor, I also haven’t seen in 20+ years. As it turns out, he has been consulting in Minneapolis for like 6 months and we finally were able to get together for a nice dinner. As many of you know, Gerd and I have this huge list of places we would love to try and I still consult that list (and add to it) from time to time. There was a place on the list called Jax Café that I had heard good things about, so I booked us a table there.

This place is pretty classy. I wasn’t sure how classy, but when I checked the website, it suggested business casual and up. With me being unemployed currently, it was a stretch for me to even put on pants, but I thought TheMayor would appreciate that. I’m glad I spiffed up a bit. It was really nice. It was so nice, in fact, that they give you embossed match books with your name on them when you reserve a table. Small touch, but that’s what makes it a classy place.

We got caught up on 20+ years of our lives and had a great time figuring out how we both got from gradeschool in Milan (Illinois – not the REAL Milan) to Minneapolis. Long stories, and I’m sure we frustrated the server who we kept telling to come back. I ended up ordering a French Martini before dinner, since I’m a huge fan of them. Plus, I didn’t want to let TheMayor down from all of my big talk about loving the girly drinks. Hahaha. Who doesn’t love purple fruity martinis? (Oh, yeah – everyone I know)

TheMayor had looked at the menu online before he came, so he already had his choices narrowed to two or three things before we arrived. I was going in fresh, but I generally know what I like. Large meat… And that’s what I got. I ordered the Bone-in Tenderloin with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and a Caesar Salad and TheMayor finally decided on the Prime Rib (rare) and French Onion Soup). There were a couple of other things on the menu we both really wanted to try, but we simply had to choose one and get on with the meal.

They brought some really delicious bread out to our table and we munched on that until the appetizers came out. Our soup and salad actually came out pretty quickly. TheMayor said his French Onion Soup was decent and had no complaints. My Caesar salad was a little smaller than I had expected at a place like this. It was pretty unexciting. Thankfully, the server asked if I wanted anchovies on it, or I would have been surprised – I chose no slimy fish this time. The salad was fine, just something I could have gotten at Denny’s.

The food came out while I was still finishing up my salad, so my plate got whisked away before I was actually done. Now, I know it looks like there’s a bun on my steak, but it’s a giant mushroom. I didn’t realize how much it looked like a bun until I looked at the photo again… The steak was a good piece of meat. Not amazing, but good. It was tender and had minimal fat, but the flavor wasn’t vibrant or filling. Don’t get me wrong, I ate every bite of it, but at a steak place, I like to be wowed and I was just satisfied here. Not a fail for Jax or anything, just not up to the hype (or price). The Garlic Mashed Potatoes were actually quite good and I was glad I decided on them instead of a baked potato.

TheMayor said his Prime Rib was quite good and he’s somewhat of an aficionado when it comes to prime rib. We were both so totally absorbed in our own meals, we forgot to swap pieces for each other to sample. I think if either of us would have raved about our food, we would have swapped, but as it was, we didn’t want to disappoint…

Jax is a decent restaurant, but for the price, I think I’d head to a couple of different places I’ve already been to in Minneapolis. Sure if someone wanted to go here, I’d go back, but I don’t think I’d recommend it to people or suggest it for a group outing. However, it had a really nice outdoor seating area that looked festive and decorated for the holidays – I’m not sure if it’s heated or not, but it looks like a great summer hangout. You will be treated like a king at this place, however. They’re really up on the service levels here and you’ll be treated well.
After dinner we headed back to the Aloft Hotel bar and had additional drinks. A coworker of TheMayor showed up and had a bite to eat and chatted with us until he headed off to a party. IF you get a chance to stay at an Aloft Hotel, I’d recommend it. It’s a fun, hip, classy place with all kinds of amenities. It’s one of the better places TheMayor has stayed while he’s in Minneapolis for months at a time. Sounds like it’s not terribly expensive, and it’s a good time.

Top 5 things about Jax Café
1. The service was top notch
2. Prime Rib – just going on TheMayor’s word on this
3. Great menu had me second guessing everything I decided on
4. Embossed matchbooks were a classy touch
5. Inside is classy and appropriate aloof, and the outside seating area looked fun

Bottom 5 things
1. It always bums me out to go places on Gerd and I’s list without her. She also love her Prime Rib, so thankfully, she would have liked her meal more than I liked mine.
2. Bone-in Tenderloin was just average
3. Got my plate taken before I was done
4. Small and unimpressive Caesar Salad
5. This place seems more like an old people place than a date place (I found out it might be a date place after we went – I wasn’t making a move on TheMayor)

Thai Garden – Silvis, IL

Whenever I’m back in Illinois, I try to see as many friends as possible and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. This time it did. Somehow, we tricked Tekmet and his wife, FunHater and his GF, and Coach to go out for dinner. All the stars aligned and we booked it. FunHater decided we needed to go to this new Thai place near his house (which it turns out he’s gone to like 5 times since they’ve opened).

He of course couldn’t remember the name of the place, so I had to drive there a half hour early and then text people the location and the name of the place so everyone else could find it. Hilarious. The best thing was the marquis in front says “Catfish $9.95” and “Filet Mignon $11.95”. How Thai is that? I didn’t know what restaurant this was simply because they didn’t have any sort of signage. It had a printed tarp on the front with those stick-on letters that said “Thai Garden Restaurant”.

When I walked in, I could tell it was an old country western bar – which my parents told me used to be called The Pauper’s Den. My father used to go here for lunch during his working years and my mom said they had amazing hamburgers – which she generally doesn’t order anywhere. Too bad that place isn’t still around. There are still wagon wheels and super dark wood and wicker lights and HUGE beer coolers behind the bar. This place didn’t have even the slightest touch of Asian-ity to it. Hilarious.

When everyone showed up, we all scoured the menu and figured out what we wanted. Of course, they brought us out water, and like idiots, we all grabbed our glasses and chugged….Silvis water. If you haven’t heard about this apparent lapse in water testing technology, Silvis proudly announces they have the worst water in the country and you can see the evidence of this by hundreds of water heaters discarded on every street corner in the city. I don’t know how they haven’t fixed this, but they haven’t. It tastes terrible and if it does to your insides what it does to water heater and plumbing pipes, it CAN’T be legal. Anyway, continuing on…

The menu does have quite a few awesome looking things on it. I’m still really surprised by the marquis with all the white people food on it, because this place is clearly cooking Asian food. And because it’s a Thai place and they usually have them, I ordered Fresh rolls/Spring rolls. They’re my favorite and I like to compare them at as many places as possible. I also went with the “Chef’s Very Own Thai Pasta” – yes, that’s the name. Chicken with tomatoes, onions, bamboo shoots, chilies, Thai basil, and seasonings over egg noodles. Sounded pretty good to me!

While we were waiting for our food, this random guy comes up to Coach and asks the most hilarious intro question I think I’ve ever heard, “Were you at Rugrats about 10 years ago?” This guy remembered seeing Coach at the Rugrats movie when they showed the trailer for the (at the time) new Star Wars film. Yes, Coach is a nerd and paid for an entire movie just to see the SW trailer. So Coach recognizes him and says, “yes, and I saw you at Toys R Us afterwards buying toys, and then at the premier of the star wars film, and then at some sort of ‘club’…” Apparently, it was a gentlemen’s club since the guy was standing there with his kid talking to Coach. Oddly, the guy DID look like Judge Reinhold. Super nice guy, but this was a conversation only two nerds would ever have.

The appetizers came out and I think I got some other kind of roll, since these were fried crispy. They were slightly better than average – I have eaten these kinds of rolls before, but they were not what I was looking forward to. I did like them, but it still wasn’t what I ordered. They were flavorful and the dipping sauce that came with was fine, but it still wasn’t fresh and tasty like I had hoped for. (And apparently, I ate them and forgot to take a photo for the blog – my apologies.)

After a seriously long wait for them not being very busy, our food finally came out Also, the waitress gave Tekmet and I chopsticks, but no one else – clearly she could tell we were the most Asian at the table. The Chef’s Very Own Thai Pasta was just average. It had some sort of fish or oyster sauce in it, which made it sort of weird. The food itself was flavorful, but everything had this weird fishy taste to it, which was kind of a bummer. I’ll chalk it up to bad ordering, not bad cooking. FunHater’s eggplant chicken was better than mine, so I’d recommend that if you go there.

We had some of the most awesome conversations about the best subjects ever. I love these guys sooooo much and I wish I could go out to dinner with them every time I come into town. I will make more of a concerted effort based on the amount of hilarity that ensued at dinner. And as a bonus, I might have a new theme for 2010, thanks to FunHater! We will wait and see if anything more awesome comes up, but I doubt it will. It’s a total winner. Another hilarious thing we saw was the bathroom sign for the men’s room pointed to the emergency door. It was actually pointing towards the back of the restaurant, but it totally looked like you just headed out to the parking lot to pee. Classy place, this.

I’ll probably go back here just because I need to give it another try, but the first time wasn’t stellar. There are seriously good Thai places in the QCs (yes, I know that’s weird, but it’s true), so I’ll see when I can back to the Thai Garden Restaurant.

Top 5 things about Thai Garden
1. Eggplant Chicken
2. Really nice staff working (hot waitress and then after the meal, the owner gave us coupons to come back)
3. Really big menu – lots of stuff to choose from (including super white-people food specials, I guess)
4. Hanging with some of the best people in the world
5. Hearing Judge Reinhold call Coach out for being at Rugrats

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd loved FunHater, Tekmet, and their various significant others – and also Thai food – she should have been here enjoying this with us all
2. Silvis water
3. Super long wait for food
4. Weird fish sauce in my food
5. Didn’t actually get what I ordered

Gebby’s Family Restaurant – Peoria, IL

While visiting Peoria, I forced my cousin and her friend to get up at the crack of 10 and meet me for breakfast. I also tricked my friend Charro into going out for breakfast – even though I stayed out with her until like 3am… She hates me now, for sure. The previous night we had asked friends for suggestions on where to eat and one of them said Gebby’s Family Restaurant on War Memorial Drive. We drove by it the previous night so we could find it again in the daylight.

We all showed up roughly the same time, so it worked out well. The place is a small town greasy spoon diner – which means it’s going to be good. They had a decent sized menu, so I had my order narrowed down to like 5 things when the waitress showed up to take our order. I decided on the Number 1 Breakfast – eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, and toast.

The food took longer than I would have thought to come out and there were a couple of mistakes, but it ended up being fine in the long run. It’s kind of hard to screw up breakfast food (though there are definite exceptions, as I’ve noted in numerous places on this blog), so I won’t go into too much detail on the various things, but I can vouch the bacon was the best part of the meal. It’s hard for it not to be the best part of any meal, truly.

On a fun note, Charro and I were trying to figure out if a guy sitting across the restaurant was our friend Beefwheel, from back in the day. I hadn’t seen him in years, but he’s pretty unmistakable. I finally just went over and asked if it was him. I’m sure it embarrassed him in front of his family and all, but I was glad I did it. It had been too long. He said if he would have seen me with Coach, he would have known for sure it was me. But no Coach means no Chao in a lot of people’s books – especially in Peoria.

I don’t know that I would head back to Gebby’s with any sort of passion, but if someone wanted me to meet them there, I would go back.

It was a standard breakfast, so I won’t bore you with a top 5 list on this.

City Limits Saloon and Grill – Rock Island, IL

A friend of mine from GRADESCHOOL and I got reconnected after 20+ years and he and I have tried to get together over the past couple of family holidays, to no avail. We finally both ended up being back in Illinois around Thanksgiving. We decided we’d head to a long-standing staple of the Quad Cities divey bar and grill scene – City Limits. It used to be a rundown scary kind of dark bar, but they threw some serious remodeling funding at it years back and it’s actually a great place to eat now. Of course, I forgot which day we planned to meet there and got all panicky, but we figured it out eventually.

MyKrore met me there and thankfully, we had seen photo of each other before this meeting, else I wouldn’t have known him from anyone. He was always taller than I was back in gradeschool, but that was 20 years ago. Now he’s a mountain of a lumberjack man, which is hilarious because his mother had found some memorabilia from when we were kids in the family hope chest, which he brought. MyKrore held up a tiny shirt from when we bowled in a league together. It was REALLY small. I flat out said, “You never fit in that shirt did you?” It was classic and awesome reminiscing about the old days when we were both smaller and more awkward. Fortunately, we both grew up… some of us more than others…

MyKrore had been to City Limits last year and told me they were known for their hand breaded tenderloins. The bartender who took our order said it’s his own special recipe for breading and he was pretty proud of it. I’ve always been a fan of tenderloins when they’re hand breaded and this sounded amazing to me. You know what else is amazing? We were back in Illinois where places actually carry Pepsi products – Mt. Dew for the sasquatch, thank you sir! It’s sooooooo nice, and yes, I make it more of a big deal than it is, but it’s one of those things noticeable to those of us who care. And you know what’s even MORE amazing? I ordered this sammich with bacon. Dur. Why WOULDN’T I?

The tenderloin came out and looked delicious. It comes with a pickle and a bag of chips. I got rid of the chips quickly but only because I was waiting for this delicious fritter of deep fried pork to cool off. This thing was really quite amazing. Not greasy at all, but not dry. I only used ketchup because I’m an addict, not because it needed it to flavor or lubricate. I don’t think you’ll go wrong if you order the tenderloin here.

The people are nice and friendly and it’s not a loud place at all. If you’re a Quad City native and you were scared to go to City Limits years back, don’t be now. It’s really awesome and I’d eat there again over and over. [MyKrore, hilarious note, one of our gradeschool classmates (whose name rhymes with Mindy, but starts with a K) works at City Limits every day EXCEPT SUNDAY – when we were there. Small freakin world.]

Top 5 things about City Limits
1. Hand breaded tenderloin
2. They have Dew
3. Hanging with MyKrore after 20+ years
4. Super awesome staff
5. It’s got a pretty good sized bar menu

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd would have loved this place and I’m sure would have enjoyed crap talking me to my long lost gradeschool friend and reminding us how old we are…
2. The City Limits website music makes me want to kill
3. I wish I didn’t have to drive multiple hours after dinner, or I would have enjoyed some serious drinking with MyKrore – next time, brother
4. We missed our other gradeschool classmate by one day
5. Seriously, you’d be hard pressed to find something bad about this place

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Peoria Rivermen vs. Manitoba Moose(s) – Peoria, IL

Like I said, my family loves them some hockey. We all piled into various cars and headed down south to Peoria, Illinois, to watch the Peoria Rivermen play the Manitoba Moose. Again, I’m not a fan, but I do like to yell in public. So we chilled out in the stands and saw what Peoria had to offer. The Rivermen won in overtime in an action packed game (seriously, that wasn’t sarcastic this time).

Two of my nephews were at the game and the whole point was to embarrass them. Unfortunately, they’ both are used to my family, so it was very difficult to actually embarrass them. I tried though. My voice hurt afterwards.

My family went home with all kinds of schwag, but the hilarious part was my father. He would kick up his feet on the railing when the players were at the other end of the rink. Then when they would come back towards our end, he’d put his feet down so his shoes didn’t block the action. Yup, that’s my dad.

Quad City Mallards vs. Port Huron Ice Hawks – Moline, IL

I went to see some hockey while I was back visiting the folks. My family came in from Michigan and they’re big into hockey. So we scored some tickets to see the yet-to-win Quad City Mallards play the Port Huron Ice Hawks.

I won’t go into too much detail, since I’m not a huge hockey fan. I just like to yell at the top of my lungs and embarrass the rest of my family, which I EXCEL at. My sister, PalmMapper, was watching my niece Froggy like a hawk the whole game since my niece was working her magic with some older guys. Hilarious. But now I know that my camera has a decent zoom on it (if it didn’t have a caffeine-shaky operator).

Wouldn’t you know it, the Mallards won their first game in a shoot out. Weird. But I was glad I got to see it. It was actually a decent game and my father (who goes to many games) said it was the best he’d seen them play. Go Mallards, I guess.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happy Birthday, Karin

It's not very happy for me. Your family misses you. Zoey misses you. All our friends miss you. And I miss you more than I ever thought I could miss someone.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rudy’s Tacos – Moline, IL

Another place that I grew up eating is Rudy’s Tacos. It’s the most American-tainted Mexican food place in the Quad Cities. Don’t let anyone try to tell you different. That being said, it would be a 9 on the Minnesota-weighted scale of Mexican food. Yet, when you talk to people who have moved away from the Quad Cities, they’ll tell you Rudy’s is one place they like to visit when they’re home.

I went with my many of my family members, and since I don’t have offensive pseudonyms for all of them yet, I won’t name them all. I pretty much have the menu memorized, and though I now eat about 50% of what I used to eat, I still almost always get the same thing – tried and true – the Small Combination. It’s a taco, an enchilada, and a tostada with beans and rice. Simple, but you get a little bit of everything on your plate. If I’m particularly hungry, I’ll do the Large Combination, but I knew I was going to be yelling at the hockey game that night, so I’d spare the people around me meskin vomit and stick with the small combo.

They usually bring out the food quickly here, and this time was no different. It looks exactly the same as it did when I got the same thing (and about 4 more items) when I was at the bowling alley at the age of 8. Scary. And it tastes exactly the same. They use some sort of amazing plain cheddar cheese and the flavor of that cheese penetrates everything. It’s amazing boring/delicious at the same time. I love it. Throw some weird red-flavored (yes I meant to write that) sauce on everything, and you’re gold. GOLD, I tell you!!

I’m not sure why I get a combo to try different things, since they all taste the same. Seriously. If you are in the mood to be under-whelmed and addicted at the same time, go to Rudy’s. It’s a Quad City staple and there are like 10 of them, so you can find one no matter where you’re at. I’m not sure I’d drive out of my way for it, but you’d be surprised how oddly tasty it is. And I guarantee, if a Rudy’s franchise opened up in Minnesota, Rudy could retire LOADED. People up here would kill their children to eat at this place.

I’m too familiar/jaded/in love to give an unbiased top 5 for this one…

Ross' 24 Hour Restaurant - Bettendorf, IA

Sometimes when you go back to your hometown, you just need to eat some place from your childhood. Ross’ Diner is one of those places that I grew up on. Then once I graduated to adult beverages, it became the place to go to soak up alcohol (with a designated driver, of course). There’s a lot of stories and history with Ross’, including my friend Coach snotting into his milkshake from laughing too hard (which he denies), but some things you just have to keep going back to. When Pul-Chevy called me and woke me up with the proposition of breakfast, I immediately thought ROSS’.

Ross’ is basically a truck stop greasy spoon diner know for its Magic Mountain. Over the years, they’ve grown the mountain range and added various mountainous concoctions of gut busters, so now you’ve got to decide. To be honest, you can’t go wrong with any of them, unless you’re some kind of tree-hugging hippie and order the meatless mountain (That would be you, Callous-un and ChickenLittle).

Pul-Chevy decided on the Morning Mountain – grilled texas toast, hash browns, sausage, scrambled egg and cheese sauce or gravy. I had been craving a Volcano (a Magic Mountain covered with chili) – grilled texas toast, ground beef, French fries or hash browns, and cheese sauce. This is not for wussies, I can tell you that much. I had to get a strawberry shake as well, since that’s just what you do there. You can get them with real strawberries (which I recommend) or they’ll use what I think is Strawberry Quik (which I also recommend) – weird, but still good.

The food comes out pretty quickly at this place, unless it’s packed full of drunk people. Fortunately, on a Wednesday morning, it was slim on drunk people – not devoid, but slim. When our food came out, I was surprised how small Matt’s Magic Mountain looked in comparison to my Volcano. Maybe the breakfast version is more petite or something, but it is clearly smaller. But it didn’t matter. We tore into these things and did some serious damage. Everything about the Mountain is delicious. I think it comes from the years and years of grease built up on the fryer and grill here. It makes it special and unreproduceable. There is just no bad. The chili isn't the dangerously spicy kind you find at some truck stops - it's just perfect. My friend Richie is a Nancy and can’t finish a whole Mountain, but I put a hurtin on him by cleaning my plate (like I always do at Ross’). In your face, Richie. (We will hang soon, brother. I promise.)

While you’re eating at Ross’, you can enjoy the show across the street at the Traveler Inn and Adult Video Store. You can get rooms by the hour there and some nudie movies if so choose. There’s always a steady stream of people in both the store and in the rooms at all hours of the day – even a Wednesday morning. On weekend nights, you can see college parties (by the hour) in the rooms, so that’s always fun to watch. Just take my word for it.

I wish I could go to Ross’ every time I go back to the Quad Cities, but I usually can’t find anyone to go with me. So if you’re game, let me know and I’ll put you on the list. I will have to try the Mega Mountain next time I’m there – it’s double everything. That means double awesome.

Top 5 things about Ross’ Diner
1. Volcano
2. Morning Mountain
3. Strawberry shakes
4. Dinner and a show at the Traveler
5. I love hanging with Pul-Chevy!!!

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd loved to go here before we moved up to Minneapolis. Yes, it made her insides angry, but she loved it anyway – especially the Traveler watching
2. If you’re a germ-o-phobe, you might want to pass on this place
3. My former mentally-challenged co-worker Donnie wasn’t working this time
4. I should really try something else on the menu, but really, what’s the point? Maybe I’ll have them sprinkle bacon on next time
5. I left my phone on the table like a moron and had to drive back and get it from the nice ladies at the cash register

Azteca – Davenport, IA

Sometimes, when I head back into my hometown, I’ll round up the canoe trip crew and go out for Mexican food. We sometimes end up at Azteca, because it’s decent Mexican food and we can drink multiple pitchers of margaritas. And when we invite canoe people, we invite Mr. Burns, which also means I get to play with toys at the dinner table and act like a kid.

Azteca is a pretty large establishment. There’s three large dining rooms and a decent sized bar, so you can get a lot of people in here. We had a table for 10, so we had to wait ten minutes to get our table, but that’s understandable. SOME of us are patient. Normally this would have been fine, since one third of group is habitually late – but for some weird reason, everyone showed up a few minutes early for our gathering. Very peculiar.

They bring out small carafes of salsa and bowls with hot chips, so you can pretty much fill your own salsa bowl at your own pace. So of course we dove right in and ended up eating about 10 baskets of chips. Our group loves the chips. The menu at Azteca is pretty extensive – and it’s 95% Mexican food, so plan on spending some quality time looking at different house specialties and combinations of traditional items. I went with the Suprema Enchiladas Rancheras – 5 different enchiladas (beef, chicken, cheese, potato, and pork). Oh yeah, and we started with two pitchers of margaritas – wurd.

While we waited, Mr. Burns and I hung out and played with Bakugan toys. We were behaved this time and didn’t get shushed by his mom (like we sometimes do). Clearly, I’m not up on the lingo and the goings-on of the Bakugan world, but he brought me up to speed quickly. Everytime we’d have a break-down session of these toys, I would lose, but I think he had some secret kid toy knowledge that he wasn’t divulging.

The food came out after a short wait and we dove in. Things got really quiet as we all shoveled food in (and yes, ordered another pitcher of margaritas). My sister, NotMomsFavorite, bailed on us, so I had to drink her portion – cha-ching!

My food was really quite good. My favorite enchiladas were the cheese and also the chicken. Tons of flavor and they didn’t’ skimp on the filling. The enchilada sauce at some places is pretty weak, but the sauce here is just about right. Good flavor without being weak or overpowering. I’d recommend this enchilada dish if you can’t decide on or commit to one particular order of enchiladas.

Despite not being the best Mexican food in the Quad Cities, it’s still pretty good. I keep forgetting some of the more awesome Mexican restaurants in the area when I set up these get togethers. Next time, remind me, people!

Top 5 things about Azteca
1. Chicken enchilada
2. Cheese enhilada
3. Margaritas
4. I got to play with toys at the dinner table – thanks, Mr. Burns!
5. I continue to amaze myself with how awesome my friends are (I know they were only there for the food, but still…)

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd loved hanging out with all of these people. We’d gone with big groups to Azteca before and we always had a blast
2. We waited a while to get seated (but I understand with a 10-person group)
3. Almost too many choices on the menu – it’s very difficult to decide
4. It can get really loud inside with all the dining rooms full
5. I’m the worst Bakugan player ever

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Icosium Kafe – Chicago, IL

We tried to go to one of my favorite Chicago breakfast places (Orange) this Sunday morning, but when we showed up, there was a huge crowd of people waiting to get in. Our group was not convinced that this meant it was the best breakfast place ever. Callous-un had lived in the area years back and remembered going to this awesome crepe place a couple times a week and thought we should see if it was still open. Thankfully it was.

We found the Icosium Kafe a block from Orange. Icosium is an Algerian crepery (as opposed to a French crepery) and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The inside has a middle eastern/north African feel to the decoration (that’s where Algeria is, you knobs), and the menu reflects that to some extent. We took a glance at the menu and everyone was impressed with the variety of choices available. We thought this would be a winner.

Icosium has a ton of different kinds of crepes available – breakfast, sweet, lunch-ish, or full dinner crepes. I was torn between a number of crepes, as was everyone else. We all got a variety of crepes: Trash got the Crepe Salem – Pineapple, honey, and walnuts. CorpseKitten got the Crepe Labella – Banana, Belgian chocolate, toasted almonds, and coconut.
And I can’t remember what Callous-un got, but her’s was tasty (I DO remember that). I finally decided on the Chicago Crepe – which I’m slightly embarrassed about since I generally try to un-Americanize my food when at ethnic-skewed restaurants. I’m sooo glad I did though.

My order comes with a bowl of soup. I had the choice between vegetable soup or chicken soup. I went with the chicken, not knowing what I’d get. It wasn’t chicken noodle, it was straight chicken in a chicken broth. And don’t let that description fool you – it was delicious. Small pieces of chicken in a seasoned broth with some vegetables in it – what’s not to like with this thing? The soup came with these small pita piece things that were awesome when put in the soup like croutons/dumplings. Awesome soup, truly.

My crepe was amazing and one of the best I’ve had.

It had Muenster cheese, avocadoes, sun dried tomatoes tapenade, fresh cilantro, bell peppers, scallions, organic greens, and sun flower seeds. And just because it sounded right, I ordered Merguaz inside (Algerian lamb sausage) – and it was oh so right. Each bits had sausage in it, so there was plenty inside. It was very seasoned without being spicy and complimented the rest of the ingredients very well. The avocado was tasty and not hidden, and the sun dried tomatoes were perfect in this crepe. I couldn’t have been happier with this choice (seriously, I didn’t even reconsider ordering bacon in this thing – like I usually do). It was perfect. I kept raving about it and the only one in my group that could share the raving was CorpseKitten since she’s not a vegetarian. She concurred – delicious.

I was happy to see they had Orangina here, as well. It’s always been a favorite of mine since the first time I went to France, and the fact that I could drink it while chowing on a crepe (even an Algerian crepe) brought a smile to my face and a whole bunch of hilarious memories from Paris (including watching a high speed chase complete with guns in front of us while eating crepes – frighteningly delicious). Trash raved about this place enough to commit to coming back to Chicago in two more weeks just to eat here again.

Just go here.

Top 5 things about Icosium Kafe
1. Chicago Crepe
2. Merguaz (Algerian lamb sausage)
3. Chicken Soup
4. Orangina is the best thing to drink with crepes
5. Crepe Salem

Bottom 5 things
1. So many things to order on the menu
2. The restroom is through the kitchen (I’m assuming it’s frowned upon for public use)
3. Trash changed her mind 10 times on her order. Once the food came out, hers was the least good – still amazing, but hers wasn’t as amazing as all of ours were – sucks for Trash
4. Everyone’s crepe came with fluffy whipped crème except mine (yes, it wouldn’t have gone with the savory stuff, but still, I felt left out)
5. How many carrots must die to get fresh squeezed carrot juice?!?!?!