Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tommy Chicago’s Pizza – Mendota Heights, MN

Since this place opened, D.Rough and I have meant to get to Tommy Chicago’s Pizza in Mendota Heights. We drive by it all the time and consistently mention that we need to stop there. We both had Martin Luther King day off from work, so we decided to grab some lunch buffet action there.

The restaurant has a small bar area for seating and also a medium-sized dining room. The really helpful server told us to grab a seat anywhere and she’d be over to help us. We were having the buffet and therefore didn’t need much in the way of assistance.

The buffet area is pretty small. But keep in mind the buffet part is only for lunch, so it isn’t up the entire time the place is open. That being said, there is still enough room to house like 8-10 different pizzas on the heated surface. There’s also a separate salad bar area, which I personally ignored completely. Hahaha.

I loaded up my first plate with a slice of BBQ chicken, pineapple and Canadian bacon, and some Chicago deep dish.

The Hawaiian pizza was pretty good. Plenty of pineapple chunks and the Canadian bacon wasn’t a pain to deal with like it has been at some places. The BBQ chicken was also good. Not a ton of chicken on it, but the BBQ sauce was good. I liked it. The Chicago Deep Dish was just a little disappointing though. I am originally from Illinois, so maybe I had too high of hopes for it. But, the cheese on this piece was pretty skimpy and the sauce on the top wasn’t the same sauce as was on the other pieces that we got. It was more tomato-y and less pizza sauce-y. The crust was nice and thick, so I appreciated that aspect of it, but I think what I was hoping for was more of a stuffed pizza, rather than a deep dish pizza. I get it, it’s deep dish, and it was fine. But honestly, when D.Rough and I come back here, I’m going to do the stuffed crust like Giordano’s does it back in Chicago. D.Rough liked the piece of deep dish she got, so we’ll call it a draw – average deep dish pizza with the sauce on the top, just to make it official Chicago-style.

I went back for some more basic slices after they brought more out (and after the swarm of teenage boys let the dust settle). I got a slice of cheese and a slice of pepperoni. Both of them good, actually. Nothing ground breaking, but it was good pizza (there isn’t too many places I’d consider bad pizza, frankly).

I even went back for a sausage pizza and a couple of beignets (all that were left). The sausage was good Italian sausage and delicious. The beignets were surprisingly better than I expected, especially with a glob of honey on them. And that’s one of the best thigns about this place – they have honey at the tables for you to slather your left-over crust with after your done with toppings. I got hooked on this in Denver and now I love to see it on tables, not just for the beignets.

D.Rough's slice of Chicago Style Deep Dish was much better than the piece I got, so I figured I'd better show a photo of that, so you weren't left with a negative impression - it IS good pizza, I promise.

I’d give Tommy Chicago’s Pizza a big thumbs up. It’s not the run of the mill pizza place and has some pretty special combos on the menu – make sure you look at that, as well. They have calzones, salads, and a bunch of other items on the menu worth picking up. If you’re going to try the Chicago Style, my vote is to go with the stuffed pizza, and leap right over the deep dish. Again, just my opinion.

I’m looking forward to eating here again. They have a great pizza selection, aside from the buffet, and a beer and wine bar that isn’t too shabby. Thanks, Tommy!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Terrible Shark Movie Marathon – West St. Paul, MN

As many of you know, I host a fairly regular Bad Movie Night, where I show a couple of movies that people have never heard of and all of us yell at the screen, and people bring potluck-style foods to go with the theme of the evening. I decided to do things a little different this time around, mainly because I realized I own more than ten shark-themed really awful movies. It was time for a Terrible Shark Movie Marathon!!!!

Here’s the schedule, and yes, it did actually start at NOON:
  • Shark Swarm – Noon
  • Sharks in Venice – 2:45
  • 2-Headed Shark Attack – 4:15
  • Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus – 5:45
  • Sharktopus – 7:30
  • Sharknado – 9:00
I won’t even go over the movies for you, since they’re all the same, basically. All of them are filled with terrible special effects, buckets of fake blood, scantily clad co-eds, really fake screaming, and an occasional D-list celebrity.

But the more important part is ths creative food people bring to these things.

We had hummus with corners of pita chips stuck in it like shark fins.

Swedish Fish-flavored Candy Canes.

Gummy Great White Sharks (you can tell because they have white bellys) and Life Savers.

Island Kielbasa.

Blue Jello Shots with Gummy Great Whites in them.

Shark Flavored Fruit Snacks (NOT shark-flavored fruit snacks).

Landshark Beer – the only time I’ll buy a Jimmy Buffet product.

And D.Rough made a super awesome SHARK CAKE.

As you can tell, we have a LOT of fun with the potluck themes at our house. We’ve got some more Bad Movie Nights coming up – a Heavy Metal theme night and a WTF theme night. I can’t wait to see what people bring for food on THOSE nights!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

7th Street Social – St. Paul, MN

It had been far too long since I had dinner with EnyaFace! She suggested 7th Street Social for dinner and we even picked a night that D.Rough didn’t have anything going on, so she was able to attend. She and I knew this place had opened and were curious what it was going to be like. The only other time I had been to this building, there was some definite weirdness (like me being served food during a wedding reception – NOT kidding). We walked in and I was happy to see the place had been deeply renovated. The bar area was nice and open and there was a smaller dining room – the banquet room is still there, just shut down and used as overflow on weekends and special parties. Once seated, we realized all of were the youngest people there by about 30+ years. The dining area didn’t have a real happening feel to it, honestly.

They have some creative cocktails, so we all found one we liked:
  • St. Paul Sour for me – Bulleit Rye, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, wine float – odd with the wine in there, but I came around to liking it a lot by the end
  • Blackberry Old Fashioned for EnyaFace! – Bulleit Bourbon, sugar in the raw, blackberry puree, orange, soda – the sip I had was quite tasty
  • Cry Baby Cry for D.Rough – hard apple cider, prosecco, ginger beer – I really liked this and would love to have this on a nice summer day outside in the yard

The menu only has a few things in each section, so making a choice wasn’t too difficult. We asked the server if he had any recommendations, which was a bad idea – he read 90% of the things from every section of the menu, which took about ten minutes, and didn’t get us any closer to deciding what we wanted.

We all started with the House Smoked Salmon with all the garnishes. I wasn’t sure what the garnishes were going to be, but we had all of them. When the dish came out, I understood what they meant. There was a nice hillock of smoked salmon, next to two stacks of buttered and crusty toasted baguettes, a mound of capers, some sour cream, lots of chopped red onions, and a pile of chopped hard boiled eggs. Honestly, this was the best part of the meal. The salmon was smoked well and wasn’t fishy in that way that makes you wonder how long it was out. The toppings were delicious, even if we had slightly smaller piles left over when we finished it all. The whole thing was worth getting again.

I got the Flat Earth Dark Beer Pot Roast – Cygnus X-1 gravy and sweet butter mashed potatoes. The dish had plenty of food on it, but once I took a few bites, I was reminded why a lot of people don’t order pot roast at restaurants. Unless you have either awesome gravy or awesome pot roast, the whole thing tastes bland. The gravy had no flavor to it, not even beer flavor, which was the main ingredient. The pot roast tasted (and chewed) like it had been around a while sitting next to something that sucked the flavor out of it. And since the assorted vegetables on the side of the plate were covered in teh gravy, those were sort of ruined as well. The mashed potatoes were good, but those are difficult to mess up, especially when you add sweet butter to them. I was a little bummed about mine.

D.Rough got the Fiorenza Burger – country ham, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, tomato on ciabatta bread. Al of the things on the burger sounded like they might lead to a pretty good burger, but this wasn’t the case. The meat itself should have something going for it and it fell flat. No flavor in the meat. The two bites I tried were really lackluster, with the ham being the staring flavor of the whole sandwich. Thankfully, the fries were well cooked and well seasoned, so we basically fought over those and left some of the burger when it was all said and done.

EnyaFace! got the Mac and Cheese and was pretty happy with it. She said there were a lllllllot of bread crumbs on it, but once you got down to the bottom of the crock, you had some pretty good cheese flavor and a good amount of it. From the sound of things, not the best she’d had, but not the worst, either.

Somehow, we had managed to NOT eat all of our dinner by this point and still wanted something for dessert. The write-ups we had read before coming here talked about the best thing not he menu being the Nut Goodie Kro-Nut. …to which the server said they didn’t have any today. WHAT? Alright fine. He said the replacement was a bread pudding (my temporary favorite dessert for the past month) with a whiskey sauce on it. The server also confirmed repeatedly and forcefully (I’m not joking about how forceful he was about this): Raisins, but no nuts! Repeat x6. EnyaFace talked us into sharing it and it came out pretty quickly.

There was serious amount of whiskey sauce on it and surrounding it. It was drowning in sauce. But thankfully, the sauce was really good. And with that much, you didn’t have to ration it on a per-bite basis. The bread pudding was super dense and firm, but with it sogging up a bit in the whiskey sauce, it ended up being pretty nice by the time we neared the end of it. And yes, we definitely finished this dessert.

I hate to say it, but this was one of the more mediocre meals I’ve had. I maybe could have been able to foresee that, based on the amount of older folks in the dining room. We don’t plan to go back here anytime soon. We’ll go a little bit further down the road and go to Ras!!!

Top 5 things about 7th Street Social
1. Smoke Salmon Plate
2. St. Paul Sour
3. Cry Baby Cry

Bottom 5 things
1. Flat Earth Dark Beer Pot Roast
2. Fiorenza Burger
3. Out of their signature item, the Nut Goodie Kro-Nut
4. So many bread crumbs on the Mac and Cheese
5. Their website is a blog plage, not an actual website – pet peeve, sorry

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Buttered Tin – St. Paul, MN

I had been planning to hit up The Buttered Tin for a number of months after I found out about their extra-special treat they make their – a house-made Twinkie (spelled Twin-Key for legal reasons). What could be better than that? The place is open for breakfast and lunch, so D.Rough and I went sort of in the middle of those times and ended up being able to order either breakfast or lunch. We both went with breakfast, based on what they had to offer. It wasn’t an easy decision, since most of their menu sounds pretty good.

I finally decided on the Bread Pudding dish they had that day as a special, and D.Rough got the Creamy Polenta. The server was super friendly and answered a ton of questions we had about various dishes. Plus, you can watch your food being made through the giant glass window into the kitchen. Makes it seem like the food comes out super fast (it actually WAS pretty quickly).

The creamy polenta was good, I won’t say amazing because it was even more liquid-y than either D.Rough or I expected. It had great flavor though. There are bits of something with color in there – peppers or seasoning or something really delicious. It has a smoked bacon and mushroom ragout on top with a poached egg, which, when combined all in one bite, makes a darn good rib-sticking breakfast. The grilled bread that comes with it is for sopping up the bits when you’re through, as well.

The bread pudding, which I have been eating in every restaurant I can find recently, was really good. I’d order this again and again. It was a tough choice between this and hash, but I’m glad I went with this. It was clearly bread pudding but it wasn’t the mega-dense almost pound cake consistency that some bread puddings are. This one was even a bit on the savory side, with blue cheese, ham, fingerling potatoes, and arugula, with a dollop of homemade herbed sour cream on top for some contrast. This bread pudding is delicious.

D.Rough and I were incredibly crushed to find out they had run out of the house-made twinkies for the day and we wouldn’t be going home with one. I’ll complain about it for years, but I know all I have to do is drive ten minutes to this place and pick one up sometime (which I plan to do).

This place is pretty good for breakfast, brunch, or lunch. I have a feeling we’ll be back here sooner, rather than later…

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Which Wich - Eden Prairie, MN

I’ve had some friends talk about this place, which is usually a good sign for a restaurant (in my book). I normally don’t review chain restaurants, but this one I caved on and decided to do one anyway. It’s close to work, so I popped over to check it out. When I walked in, a super friendly worker came over to me while I was in line and asked me if I’d been there before. I told him I hadn’t and he walked me through how the ordering works – I’m really glad he did. It isn’t complicated or anything, but it helps to have someone tell you what to expect.

You decide what kind of sandwich you’d like, first off. They have 8-10 different sandwiches, each with its own brown paper bag. You grab the bag you want and then it’s as easy as writing your name down at the top and then marking off the ingredients you want included. It’s super easy. Then you hand the bag to the checkout person and they ring you up with whatever drink you want (or pineapple shake, in my particular case).

I got the Wicked sandwich – it’s got five meats and three cheeses on it. That’s a serious sandwich. I picked out the weird ingredients I like and handed over the bag. It’s a pretty quick process. They called out my name a few minutes later and I got my shake and sandwich.

The bread itself was really good. It isn’t crusty, which I really like. Fresh ingredients and pretty much no end to the number of items you can get on it. It might make for a messy sandwich, but do you really care, if you get everything you’ve ever wanted on a sandwich? There was plenty of meat on here, and enough cheese you could taste it, but it didn’t seem like a gummy mass.

The place has a good thing going. Basically, it’s super customizable sandwiches that aren’t terribly expensive. The do a regularly changing special sandwich item each month or so, so keep an eye open for that on the webpage. It’s worth a visit. It isn’t going to be a mind blowing sandwich, but it’s going to be exactly what you wanted for lunch (unless you’re an idiot and select an ingredient you don’t actually like). It’s a better than average sandwich, for sure, and they have locations all over the country, so you should be able to find one close to you.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Burger King Rib Sandwich – West St. Paul, MN

I’ve had a few friends ask how the Burger King Rib Sandwich compares to the McDonald’s McRib, so I thought I’d do a brief comparison (totally an excuse for me to run to Burger King and get one of these, by the way).

The BK Rib Sandwich, upon first look, is pretty small. It’s on the standard round JR Whopper-sized bun, so it’s bordering on slider-sized to begin with (the photo makes it look much bigger than it it really is). Added to this, BK has still chosen to go with a rectangular shaped rib patty, meaning it doesn’t even fill that entire small bun. So, once you factor in that, you’ve got a few bites of bun-only chewing. No fun.

There are a couple of pickles thrown on and two rings of onions (the McRib uses slivered onions for uniformity), so that part is similar. There was some BBQ sauce on the BK rib patty itself, but it was a pretty meager amount. It wasn’t slathered all over and sloppy like the McRib. Pretty skimpy on the sauce, if you ask me.

The overall flavor was pretty good though. I’m loyal to the McRib (I know that horrifies people, but it’s true – it’s the only reason I will actually go to McDonald’s in the past ten years, frankly), but the flavor of the BK Rib Sandwich was almost as good. The sauce flavor was a good complement to the meat patty, so no issue there.

On the upside is the fact that these things are ONE dollar – much less costly than the McRib. So the way I see it, you buy three of the BK Rib Sandwiches, and you’ll get more meat (and triple the bun, which isn’t necessary). So for a super-slightly inferior flavor, you get just as much out of eating multiple BK Rib Sandwiches as you do out of a McRib.

So my question is, why aren’t people as outraged that I eat the BK version as they are when I eat the McRib version. Is it simply because the publicity wagon hasn’t been boarded by a bunch of anti-corporate complainers YET? Frankly, I don’t care that these things are rib-shaped and rib-flavored – I think they’re delicious! I’m glad BK answered the McRib product launch. I’ll be especially happy if they keep them around on the menu, unlike McDonald’s once-a-year and inconsistent-regional-location publicity stunts.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2013 - Year in Review

Each year, I like to look back and see what I've acccomplished (or NOT accomplished). 2013 had some surpises, but I'm glad I made it through. Here are some of the highlights, if you're interested.

  • Hosted the 2013 Scotch Pong World Championships - yes, beer pong, but with scotch! (B.Sweet and I even came in second place)
  • Went to an awesome lodge in Hayward, Wisconsin with D.Rough for our anniversary and had the best time ever
  • Spent an amazing New Year's Eve at the Gay 90's with D.Rough and a bunch of awesome Minnesota RollerGirls
  • Celebrated the passing of the Same-Sex marriage bill in the fine state of Minnesota with boozy shakes and rainbow Nerds!!
  • Went to the 17th Annual Running of the Llamas in Hammond, WI 
  • Went to Des Moines to watch the Minnesota RollerGirls All-Stars play against the Men's National Champions - Your Mom (best roller derby team name ever)
  • Did the Polar Plunge to support Minnesota Special Olympics
  • Tried more ridiculous facial hair styles
  • Ate Mu Shu Pork Pizza and Crab Rangoon Pizza at Fong's Pizza in Des Moines 
  • Saw my amazing wife's home roller derby team win the Season 9 champinoship!!!
  • Attended a few Minneapolis Scotch Society meetings
  • Saw Sex Wings (The Atomic Bombshells' amazing musical group) play two sets at Camp Bar
  • Showed The FP to new people who all loved it and agree it is the best movie of all time
  • Went to see Tracey Morgan's live show - which ruled
  • Went to a roller derby burlesque show
  • Saw the Bare Bones Halloween Puppet show with 20 foot tall puppets and tons of fire!
  • Brought BBQ ribs to a friend who had just had ACL surgery and was home-bound
  • Tried to ride a unicycle (unsuccessfully)
  • Saw two moose(s)
  • Got to see D.Rough's cousin Tom and his girlfriend Tori get married
  • Did duckpin bowling in Milwaukee 
  • Attended a bunch of wine tastings with Minnesota Monthly's New Vintage (sponsored by Solo Vino) events with my awesome friends
  • Passed the son-in-law test (I know it really wasn't a test) where I went to the family cabin, caught my first fish in 25+ years, went tubing, drove the boat, dug a pretty substantial hole through rocks and clay for the firepit, started a serious fire (in the firepit), ate butter soup, and didn't shower for a few days
  • Traveled to Mason City, St. Louis, Milwaukee (twice), Des Moines, and Asheville for roller derby, including the 2013 World Championships!
  • Went to Weetacon (a blog writers convention) - my favorite event of the year - and even won a trophy for Best in Show. I kept it classy this year!
  • Ate a ton of poutine at various Twin Cities Poutine Crawl events
  • Ran in the 3rd Anual Big Gay Race and even beat my time from last year
  • Got to see my Aunt Ikue and Uncle Gene, Coach's Aunt Kathee and Uncle RAM, and my friends Caroline and Johnny in North Caroline
  • Attended a few Special Library Association meetings
  • Got birthday drinks with Justin, Ashley, HB, Shotgun Millie, EmaLeethal, Karen, Sarah, Carolyn, Murray, Dave
  • Held various Bad Movie Nights, including a New Zealand/Peter Jackson theme
  • Pulled off a pretty awesome Valentine's Day with my wife
  • Got a promotion and raise at work
  • Went to see amateur burlesque with CorpseKitten and The Latvian - awkward for many people
  • Went to D.Rough's parents' annual Halloween party with 200+ other people. Best party of the year!
  • Ate at some pretty awesome restaurants including La Cabana, Zombie Burger, Pig Ate My Pizza, Creekside Taphouse, Teque Arepa, and a bunch of other ones
  • Went to one of the most fun annual Superbowl Parties
  • Met some fun new work people at various happy hours
  • Got to travel to Orlando for a work conference and got to see my family while I was there (and Coach's little brother Jake)
  • 4th Annual .10K Triathlon
  • Went to Taste of the Twin Cities with M.Giant
  • Put ridiculous ads in the Minnesota RollerGirls bout program (even got asked to be in another sponsor's ad!)
  • Attended a few Minnesota United Football Club professional soccer games
  • Stayed in another cabin on the Canadian border just for fun (BTW, the Gunflint Trail is amazing)!
  • Watched Wrestlemania at John Maddening's house with a bunch of drunken wrestling fans
  • Went on the most dangerous tubing adventure I've ever been on. But didn't sprain my ankle, hit my head on the rocks, or get sliced up by being dragged through the trees like other people.
  • Went to a Lagunitas beer dinner at Pig and Fiddle with M.Giant 
  • Went to a serious metal festival to see The Ocean, Norma Jean, Dillinger escape Plan, Aeon, and a bunch of others
  • Rocked the annual canoe trip on the Mequoketa River in Iowa that I've missed the past two years
  • Did a decent job at D.Rough's mile-stone birthday this year
  • Did an awesome bar crawl in the Quad Cities with my sister and brother-in-law for the first time since they got married a hundred years ago
  • Got to be back home in Illinois for my mother's and my brother's birthdays
  • Wrote up a cheering lyrics sheet for MNRG Aquaman Army - we're the rabble rousers that travel to the away games the AllStars play
  • Went to a Festivus party at a friend's house
  • Took off two weeks from work around the holidays (which, in turn, blew since I had strep throat the entire time)

Some not-so-awesome things happened in 2013, as well. I like to list these as a reminder of what to look out for in 2014...
  • Missed the wedding of two of the most amazing people in the world - HB and TheDoctor, I love you guys so much!
  • Missed Nile playing two sets at Station 4 and a bunch of other bands I wanted to see live (Doro Pesch, D.R.I., Meshuggah, Hatebreed, Emilie Autumn, Whitechapel, Emmure, Slayer, etc.
  • Missed this year's Pi Pie Party at Justin's (but DID get to attend their housewarming party!)
  • Got screwed on our tax returns this year
  • Missed one of D.Rough's home season bouts (in which they destroyed the other team)
  • Missed seeing the reunion show of Butt Lynt in the Quad Cities - an influential band for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration
  • Couldn't afford to take D.Rough to the Bahamas like she had wanted all year
  • Missed our annual block party for the third year in a row
  • Missed my friend Kim's surprise 40th birthday party in the Quad Cities
  • Missed going to D.Rough's parents house for Christmas, since she had Bronchitis and I had strep throat. Talk about ruining the holidays for us…
I'm coming for you, 2014! Better be ready...