Saturday, October 26, 2013

Best of Chicago Edition

I was in Chicago for the Men's Health Urbanathlon with some friends. We may or may not have went out to eat...a lot! On this trip, I had some of the best food I've ever had including the best hot dog, cupcake, bacon and pasta. Now those aren't things that I eat a lot anyways but I also might have had possibly the best cheeseburger (close between them and The Nook's Juicy Lucy) ever.

Restaurant: Au Cheval

City: Chicago

Ordered: Single Cheeseburger (which ironically has 2 patties on it)
Recommendation: If you like cheeseburgers, bacon and America. Go there RIGHT NOW!

We stopped here for a late lunch. The recommendation we've heard is the BEST burger in Chicago. You know how that goes when you hear that...but whoever said that was serious. The burger tasted great but the meltiness of the cheese was perfect. The bun was big enough to hold the burger but its taste didn't get in the way of the burger. I ordered with bacon on top of it and that only things more perfect. My 2nd picture doesn't do the bacon justice but we all agreed it was the best bacon we've ever had. It was as thick as any slice of bacon you've ever seen and cooked to perfection --small amount of crisp on the outside and chewy and meaty when you bite into it. The restaurant is small, hipstery and dark. It seemed like a cool place to hang out though and I definitely plan to stop by again.

Restaurant: Hot Doug's

City: Chicago

Ordered: Steve Swisher -Sante Fe (Chicken Sausage dog)

Recommendation: Definitely check it out once before you die and if you enjoy a good hot dog. Don't come starving because there will probably be a wait.

 With all the hot dog places popping up in DM, it only made sense to try out a classic gem to see the standard. We had to wait in line an hour but to say I've been here, it was worth it. You could tell when every person left with a smile on their face, it was going to be good. One person even walked out sayin "it was like sex, but a hot dog." What else needs to be said?

This place has been around for a while and with how popular it was, it isn't going anywhere. You wait in line, you order one of the various options for a hot dog/sausage from Doug himself (who is hilarious), you wait a few minutes for it to and devour happiness. I ordered the chicken sausage and you can see in the 3rd picture how much flavor is inside of it. It has a nice zest to it. The toppings taste fresh and are prepared well. It's still a hot dog, but definitely the best hot dog I've had. Come here and order one or two of them.

Restaurant: Molly's Cupcakes

City: Chicago

Ordered:Choco-ccino (chocolate cappucino)

Recommendation: Go there if you are in the area and love cupcakes.

I don't go crazy for cupcakes but this was worth the hype that my friends were giving it. Molly's is a small cupcake shop that is only in a few locations around the world. They have several unique flavors and combinations so you can go back several times and have a new cupcake. This isn't something I usually cover in the blog but the presentation was amazing (see above). The cupcake itself tastes great and I loved that it came with chocolate covered coffee beans which I love. I am guessing these might be one of the best cupcakes in the world....but I am no expert on that. If you are in the area, check them out.

Restaurant: XOCO

City: Chicago

Ordered: Carnitas Salad? with Avocado lime dressing


Recommendation: Go there if you are in the area!


I would describe XOCO as an upscale latin/mexican restaurant. They seem to have a good reputation around their desserts (especially their churros). The churro is crispy enough on the outside but soft and gooey on the inside. It was light but flavorful. Not pictured was the Tres Leche cake which I shared with everyone- phenomenal! It was presented well (not overly wet) and was a light consistency still with a lot of flavor--not too sweet, just right! They definitely take desserts seriously.

I ordered the Carnitas salad which had avocado, tortilla strips and pork on it as well as a Avocado Lime dressing (recipe can be found at the link above) which just sounded awesome. The salad was good, everything was fresh and I liked the unique dressing. It was still just a salad but it was the right amount of hearty and light which is just what I wanted. Myself, I wouldn't go out of my way to go here but it was good and if you are looking for a place for an upscale dessert, this would be a great place to check out.

Restaurant: Paesano's

City: Richmond, IL

Ordered: Gnocci Vodka Cream w/ chicken

Website: Go there if you are in the area!

As you know, I am on a no-wheat kick so I thought potato pasta might be a good step to satisfy (kind of) that, plus I've never ordered restaurant Gnocchi. This was phenomenal! The pasta was perfect textured/softness and the Vodka cream sauce is now my favorite sauce; it's a great mix of tomato acidity with a creaminess that everyone loves. The restaurant is pretty popular in this small town but definitely worth swinging by if you are in the area. Think Latin King type atmosphere.

Restaurant: Lou Malnati's
City: Elmhurst, IL

Ordered: Sausage Chicago Style

Recommendation: Solid but don't go too far out of your way.

I love Chicago Style pizza and heard great things about Lou Malnati's. I've seen him various times on food shows so I HAD to try the pizza. We ordered a sausage pizza which is uniquely cut and flavored. The sausage was great, the crust was decent, the sauce tasted great and the cheese was good. On paper, this was a good pizza but I had really high (probably too high) of expectations and it just didn't quite live up to them. Because the sauce is so juicy, the bottom crust gets wet when the pizza is cut which a small mark against it. Other than that, it's hard to find things that I didn't like, there was just nothing that I LOVED about it. I feel like Felix and Oscar's is about as good as them. So I say, still check the pizza (recommend Sausage) out but don't put your expectations too high like I did.

What is your favorite Chicago dish? Which one of these places do you want to check out the most? How do you like the format of this post?

Monday, October 21, 2013


For those of you that love the DSM downtown Farmer's Market, you've probably come across Tacopocalypse which was a popular vendor for their unique tacos. I believe they also sell their tacos at Cumming Tap for the Tuesday Taco ride. Now they've decided to open up a small restaurant in the East Village. After a long day of working on a house with HYP (Habitat Young Professionals), it was time to check this place out.

So trying to stick with the "no wheat" diet, I thought I would try their shell-less taco. This essentially is meat with toppings on it. At face value, that sounds awesome but it isn't much food. Normally, a taco is $3 and 2 of $5. People were talking up the Korean chicken so I went with that. It was pretty tasty. Nice acidity/crunch with the cabbage and good flavor from the chicken (if I recall, there was a peanut buttery flavor to the chicken).

Korean Chicken Taco (w/out the shell)
Any normal human being would need at least 2 tacos to sustain them more than 45 minutes. A taco without a shell and having done manual labor all day (yes, very rare occurrence for me). It wasn't going to be enough for me so I decided to order a burrito.

Bacon Chicken Ranch Burrito
The burrito was very good and very filling. The ingredients tasted pretty fresh and the bacon chorizo was a nice flavor within the healthier chicken/veggies. This burrito actually tasted better than a typical chicken burrito you might get at a normal sports bar/restaurant but not quite Panchero's level. Still, it looks good and tastes the same. The fresh made tortilla chips were actually pretty good and unique. They were a little oily for my liking but very crisp and fresh.

I've always thought Tacopocalypse was a little overrated for all the hype they've received within Juice and amongst all the hipsters. The food here (especially the burrito) was pretty solid though. I definitely recommend checking them out. What's your favorite taco/item there?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Almond Flour Pizza

I've been trying a new element to my daily food routine: avoiding wheat. It hasn't been as difficult as I thought but I still eat it here and there. You eventually get sick of ordering chicken salads when you go to restaurants.

To eat foods that traditionally contain wheat, you have to find new ingredients to make breads/tortillas and pizza crusts. I recently purchased Bob's Almond Flour (10.99/lb) and Bob's Coconut Flour (9.99lb) from Hy-Vee's organic section. I rarely bake but I thought I would try to see how realistic it is for me to live a wheat free life. It is certainly more expensive up front but to feel better and be in better health (and avoiding medical bills later in life?) it could be worth it.

My first experiment with this endeavor was making Almond Flour Pizza Crust. The recipe is simple...even for someone like me that never makes any bread/crust from scratch.

Almond Flour Pizza Crust

Here are the results of the crust. Note this is a DOUBLE batch.

Another similar recipe:

A Tortilla recipe I will likely try next:

So as I said, I'm not experienced with making crusts but this wasn't too difficult. Of course, it doesn't look like a normal crust and I used a rolling pin to flatten it out. The crust probably was 1/8" thick so pretty thin. I made a double batch because I was feeding two and I wanted leftovers. Plus, a single batch looked pretty pathetic.

With some added toppings (2 cups of shredded cheese, crushed red pepper and 1 serving of turkey pepperoni):

Crispy and chewy at the same time

So everything tasted OK but the almond flour crust is very dense in texture and flavor. I don't think I could have made the crust much thinner though. To balance the flavor of the crust, you really need to add a lot of toppings and probably add some seasonings to the crust itself. I takes about $5.50 worth of flour to make this crust which is a lot relative to white flour or buying an already made crust (2 Mama Mary's crusts for about $5). Nonetheless, it was fun to experiment and I still want to try other Almond Flour/Coconut flour recipes. Next is the Almond Flour Tortillas linked above.

Anyone make a lot of non-wheat breads/crusts/tortillas/goodies? Throw some recipes/advice my way.