Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Review: Rocks Chicago 1/2 Price Burger Wednesdays

I am a HUGE fan of Rocks, with locations in Lincoln Park and Lakeview in Chicago. I'd say it's a bar/restaurant hybrid, with delicious food yet also late night hours.

The Lincoln Park location has a patio to drink outside during the summer, or if you are in Lakeview you can sit on their sidewalk seating if you want to enjoy the weather. The Lakeview location was renovated this past winter, and now the indoor seating centers around a giant bar with a lit-up display of liquor bottles. It's pretty cool if you ask me, plus now it makes me want to hang out there late at night since the place centers around the bar.

If you're in a slump during the middle of the work week, you're in luck! Rocks in Lincoln Park and Lakeview both offer a Wednesday special where all burgers are 1/2 price (all burgers come with a choice of side). This used to only be a Wednesday special in Lincoln Park, but Rocks Lakeview started including the 1/2 off burger deal as well after they re-opened after the renovation! So now your hardest choice after choosing a Rocks location is, which burger should I eat?!

My favorite burger is The "Red Eye," which is topped with an egg over easy, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickle, and sandwiched between a soft pretzel bun. By the way, since the renovation, I noticed the pretzel buns are even softer than they were previously, so I encourage you to order anything on the menu with a pretzel bun.

My favorite side used to be fries tossed in buffalo sauce, with ranch dressing on the side (although the fries would get soggy from the buffalo sauce). My friend had this AWESOME idea to get tater tots tossed in buffalo sauce, and after I tried it I realized it's AMAZING since the tots are a lot crispier than the fries. So now that's definitely my go-to side. And who am I kidding, I do not like soggy things, especially soggy fries.

My one word of warning, be careful if you come in during a Chicago sports game. Last time I came in, the Blackhawks game was too loud on the TVs and my group of friends and I could barely hear one another when we tried talking.

  • Come to Rocks for 1/2 price burgers on Wednesdays. It's a fantastic deal and they're actually delicious burgers.
  • Actually, you should probably come to Rocks anytime anyway - except maybe not during a Chicago sports game if you want to talk to people.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review: Public House Chicago

Public House Chicago is one of those places that has a restaurant-like feel during the day, but at night it apparently gets crowded with the late night bar scene. I'll be honest, I've only ever been at Public House for the food and never late at night to drink - so this review pertains to their food I had at lunch. Word for the wise: many tables were filled when I arrived, so if you have a big group or even a client lunch, I recommend calling ahead and reserving a table.

I started by having their fried Wisconsin cheese curds (cheese and fried things are my two weaknesses). The curds were surrounded by a soft, breaded outer shell and accompanied with marinara and ranch-like dipping sauces. I'm actually not convinced the second sauce was ranch because it didn't leave a strong taste in my mouth like ranch dressing does, but I liked it and would ask for it on a burger or sandwich. I was very satisfied with the curds, although a bit greasy. They were perfect having been out the night before.

For my main course, I ordered the fried chicken sandwich, which had american cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and a "special sauce." This is where I went wrong - I assumed in my head that the special sauce would taste similar to McDonald's sauce, since pretty much every other place that has a special sauce mimics McDonald's Big Mac sauce. Alas, this special sauce tasted like what I thought was Frank's Red Hot sauce, and I was not having it. I like Frank's, don't get me wrong, but I have to be in the mood for a buffalo sauce. So with that being said, I managed to eat half of the chicken sandwich, still feeling bitter that the special sauce wasn't so special.

I ordered the parmesan-garlic fries as my side. They were a good mix of parmesan and garlic where I didn't feel my breath was so garlicky that I needed a piece of gum right after the meal. You can also see the parmesan cheese on the fries when they come out, which I like the reassurance that the cheese is actually on my food.

  • Order some cheese curds as a starter
  • Only order the fried chicken sandwich if you like the taste of Frank's Red Hot sauce, otherwise ask the waitress to leave the special sauce off
  • Get parmesan-garlic fries instead of standard fries if you want to add a kick to your french fries

Monday, April 28, 2014

Review: KFC Double Down

KFC brought the Double Down back on the menu starting April 21st, 2014. The Double Down, if you haven't heard, is melted cheese, bacon, and a sauce my taste buds could not identify, all sandwiched between two breaded chicken patties. Since I hadn't tried it when it launched in 2010, I thought, what better time than the present!

After spending $5.94 and waiting 7 minutes to try this infamous sandwich made with chicken patties instead of bread, I was ultimately aghast by the money and time I wasted.

It wasn't a sandwich, really. There wasn't enough bacon and cheese smashed between the patties to call it a sandwich. It was more like, let's spread a thin layer of bacon, cheese, and a strange sauce between two patties and expect someone to eat it like a sandwich, even though you should probably eat both pieces of chicken separately - using the bacon, cheese and sauce like a dip or seasoning.

  • Only try the Double Down for the sake of saying you ate a sandwich which has a lot of controversy surrounding its nutritional content. Otherwise please take you time and money elsewhere - or order something - anything else, really - from the KFC menu.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Review: Olive Garden

I loved Olive Garden as a child (and still to this day!) - I mean, who doesn't enjoy the breadsticks, the raspberry lemonade, the spaghetti, and the mint chocolates at the end of the meal? At one time I was so picky I didn't even eat the salad, but I've grown to love the salad and breadsticks and I'm proud to say it's my favorite part of the Olive Garden experience.

I'm sure many of you have gone to Olive Garden and tried the foods I ate when I was there this past Thursday, however I'd like to provide my commentary so you know exactly what goes through my head as I'm chowing down on that one last breadstick, or forkful of salad, or spoonful of pasta.

To start with the salad - always order the classic garden fresh salad with the Italian dressing, and ask your waitress to put freshly grated cheese on top of the salad. It's Olive Garden's Italian salad dressing, which I am sure is not in the least bit healthy, that really makes the salad an Olive Garden salad.

Since the breadsticks come out with the salad, I recommend having 1 breadstick with the salad, and then waiting to have a second or third breadstick once your entree comes (hopefully you order an entree with a tomato or cheese sauce). Because guess what. Dipping the breadstick in your pasta's sauce is the best thing EVER!

For the main dish I decided to try something I'd never tried before - and I chose the Tour of Italy. For a little over $17.00, I got myself a portion of lasagna, fettuccine alfredo, and chicken parmesan. The lasagna had what I thought was ricotta cheese in it (or whatever cheese it was, I definitely liked it!) and the portion of fettuccine alfredo was the perfect size for 1 person. Unfortunately I've seen others struggle to eat an entire entree of fettuccine alfredo themselves, and it hasn't ended well and sadly fettuccine alfredo doesn't keep well as leftovers. The most disappointing part of the Tour was the chicken parmesan. It was a thinly breaded chicken breast that didn't have much flavor. The majority of the flavor came from the tomato sauce and cheese that covered the top of the chicken. I would have been so sad if I'd just ordered chicken parmesan as my entree, so be warned if you are a chicken fan.

Olive Garden did have some newer menu options this time around. They had small plate appetizers if you want a starter but not a ton of food. They also offer a build-your-own pasta option, where you choose the noodles and sauce for your entree, as well as any extras like meatballs. Olive Garden also offers lower calorie entrees, as well as gluten free pasta if that's up your alley!

  • Always order salad and breadsticks
  • Don't order the chicken parmesan under any circumstances

Friday, April 25, 2014

Food News Fridays - 4/25/2014

This new weekly series helps you get caught up on food and chain restaurant news just like I do! This also comes in handy because everyone knows what fast food and chain restaurants are, and can hopefully relate to the excitement of this information (like the new Taco Bell fast food concept being a BIG DEAL).

Here are some of the biggest stories from this week:

McDonald's own Ronald McDonald goes through a makeover

The makers of Taco Bell create a Mexican fast food concept that caters to foodies (who's coming to Huntington Beach with me?!)

America apparently loves fast food breakfast - and uses creativity to come up with breakfast menu options

Man rides camel through Burger King drive-thru to pick up meal

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: Bub City vs. PorkChop Mac and Cheese

I’m excited to announce I had Mac and Cheese twice in one day at two separate Chicago eateries! To further illustrate my love for this cheesy, noodle-y side dish/entrĂ©e, I'm that person who wishes I could eat Mac and Cheese at every meal! If you also fancy a piping hot dish of creamy Mac and Cheese, and you are in the Chicago area, here’s my take on two different Mac and Cheeses.
The first Mac and Cheese I had was at Bub City**, a country/barbecue joint in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. I ordered the Baby Back Mac, which is Bub City’s original Mac and Cheese with chopped, barbecued baby back rib meat and topped with melted cheese and green onions. The dish also came with poblano peppers but since I have a low spice tolerance I told the waiter to leave those out – be warned if you don’t like spice either.
My initial reaction was that the Mac and Cheese itself (i.e. just the cheese and the noodles) is something I’d order again – it had the right amount of cheese and creaminess. They must bake it in the oven because it comes in a little cast iron serving dish. 

However, the Baby Back Mac to me was a man’s Mac and Cheese – and by that, I mean I live with a man who thinks every meal should include at least one meat dish. This Mac and Cheese was too meaty. Every bite included a piece of the baby back rib meat, and honestly I savored the bites that did not include baby back rib pieces. I wish I’d ordered baby back ribs separately, and then ordered a side of the original Mac and Cheese (Bub City calls it Pheobe’s Classic Mac if you're looking on their menu).
**Note: Bub City is a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, and I encourage you to check out the Lettuce Entertain You Web site if you want delicious restaurant recommendations in Chicago!
The second Mac and Cheese I had was at PorkChop, a bar/restaurant in Chicago's West side known for its barbecue. Great spot to go before heading to a Bulls or Blackhawks game!

At first glance, it looks like the cheesiest, gooiest Mac and Cheese EVER! However, this was not the case when I sunk my teeth into the first spoonful. Why, do you ask?

We ordered the Mac and Cheese as an appetizer for a group, but unfortunately the appetizers were brought out without plates and silverware. By the time we got our utensils, it had been 5-10 minutes that the Mac was sitting out, and unfortunately the cheese dried onto the noodles and it lost its cheesy consistency.

PorkChop, I’ve had great experiences with you and your Mac and Cheese in the past, but please bring out the essentials with your appetizers (i.e. plates and spoons) and this will help customers enjoy your food while it’s still hot!
  • If you’re looking for and craving a meaty Mac and Cheese, try Bub City’s Baby Back Mac
  • If meaty Mac isn’t your style, try Bub City’s Phoebe’s Classic Mac (no meat, just cheese and noodles).
  • I’ve had positive experiences with PorkChop’s Mac and Cheese before, but this last experience left me eating noodles with dried-up cheese.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Review: Bakers Square Honey Mustard Club Pita and Pie

I’ll be the first to admit I’d never been in a Bakers Square until the afternoon of Saturday, April 19th. We didn’t have Bakers Square (known for its baked goods) where I grew up, but I always got my dessert fix at our local Perkins. My co-worker, who also used to work at a Bakers Square, provided me with this restaurant recommendation last week and it did not disappoint (thank you Lisa!). She summed it up best by saying, “Casual Dining at its Finest - Bakers Square.” 
For those of you who’ve been to a Perkins before, Bakers Square is a similar setup. There are pies/baked goods in a case by the entrance, breakfast is served all day, and at the end of your meal the waitress hands you a check and you pay at a register which is conveniently located next to all of the pies. So if you didn’t already get a slice of pie with your meal, you will probably walk out of the restaurant with a pie anyway because who can resist staring at the French Silk Pie when you’re trying to pay your bill. And yes, I did order a slice of pie with my meal AND walk out of the restaurant with a whole pie.
Upon recommendation I ordered the Honey Mustard Club Pita, which is a fluffy, warm pita stuffed with bacon, carved turkey, ham, lettuce, tomatoes, and Swiss cheese, all melted and topped with Honey Mustard dressing and served with a pile of hot, golden french fries. Words can’t describe how filled this pita was - they aren’t messing around at Bakers Square and pictures say 1,000 words (or something like that).

I thoroughly enjoyed this pita, and wouldn’t hesitate to eat it again if I found myself at a Bakers Square. The drizzling of Honey Mustard dressing added a unique flavor to the pita sandwich. If you’ve had Chik-fil-A sauce, the Honey Mustard dressing was just as good - if not better. Actually, if they sold a jar of this stuff, I would have probably taken some home and used french fries, tater tots, chicken nuggets, burgers, bread, crackers, chips, etc. as dipping mechanisms for the Honey Mustard. However please note: if you aren’t a huge ham fan, I’d recommend asking for the pita without the ham. It was ham from the deli and not carved ham (like the carved turkey that came on my pita) and I didn’t understand why they didn’t stick with the symmetry of carved meats. When the waitress took my plate away, only the deli ham remained. Rest in peace deli ham, rest in peace.
Of course being at Bakers Square, I had to end my meal with a slice of pie. I tried a slice of OREO® Cookie Crunch and OH MAN. It literally TASTES LIKE OREO® COOKIE IN PIE FORM! There was a fluffy silk middle layer that tasted like the frosting, which was sandwiched between an upper and lower crust which had the same taste and consistency of a chocolaty cookie.

You may have noticed earlier that I said I also walked out of the restaurant with a whole pie. I got the French Apple pie for Easter Dinner, which brought me back to childhood with its apple crisp-like crust and sugary coating. These guys really know how to make their pies, and they make them well.
  • Order the Honey Mustard Club Pita without the ham
  • Ask for extra Honey Mustard dressing because you are probably going to want it
  • Get a slice of pie. Or a whole pie. No matter what you get from their bakery section I’m highly doubting you’ll go wrong. If you think otherwise, shoot me a note because I unfortunately did not have enough stomach space to try every pie.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review: Birthday Cake M&M's

Unfortunately all I can say is no. If you are in the mood for M&M's, I advise you to stay away from the Birthday Cake variety! The initial bite tasted like chocolate, but the end result was the fake taste of birthday cake that I had stuck in my mouth for the next hour. I have nothing against M&M's in general and love all the other flavors, but this one didn’t do it for me.

If you have a friend who wants to try these, suggest to them to bake a Funfetti cake with chocolate frosting, and that should give them the chocolate and birthday cake taste they desire.
  • Stay away from Birthday Cake M&M's.
  • Eat the Plain ones, Peanut ones, Peanut Butter ones, or even the Pretzel M&M's instead!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: Qdoba Queso

Sometimes when I leave work, the bar, the mall, my house, etc., I crave a meal with Qdoba queso. Maybe it’s because my second apartment in the City was near this beloved Mexican fast food establishment. I’ll always stay true to Qdoba’s original 3-Cheese Queso, but when I found out Qdoba was offering a limited time Queso Verde and a Queso Diablo I had to check it out!
Qdoba actually offers a “queso sampler” for those like me who are interested in trying these foreign queso flavors.
Also, let me preface that my spice tolerance only goes as high as eating a Taco Bell Mild sauce.
When I first tried the Queso Diablo and felt fire in my mouth, I wasn’t surprised as the kind woman scooping out my Qdoba warned that it was spicy. However, the Queso Diablo DOES have a smoky flavor to it instead of cheese - like if you had decided to put your mouth over a fire pit and inhale the smoke. I do not recommend eating Queso Diablo or putting your mouth in a fire.
My lunch partner, however, had the brilliant idea of asking for a cup of half Queso Diablo and half 3-Cheese Queso. We mixed it up and it tasted like 3-Cheese Queso with a hint of spiciness and smokiness (but much more enjoyable than if we’d had Queso Diablo by itself). It was about as spicy as a Taco Bell Mild sauce so much more doable to eat. I would only recommend ordering this if you want chips and queso and are looking for a slight spicy kick to your queso (which will still taste like queso).
Queso Verde reminded me of when parents try to sneak vegetables into not so healthy foods to get kids to eat healthier. I cannot confirm or deny that there are actual veggies in Queso Verde, but it tasted like vegetable cheese to my taste buds. I’m also not a fan of green salsas or the Taco Bell Border Salsa Verde, so potentially if you are a green salsa fan this might be a fit. Unfortunately it wasn’t for me.
If you still want to try Queso Diablo and Queso Verde even after my review, get to Qdoba before May 4th because after that it’s gone! Not to worry, they will continue to sell the famous 3-Cheese Queso we all know and love.
If you do head to Qdoba, I recommend signing up for Qdoba Rewards where you get free chips and salsa or a regular drink just for signing up. Every time you order a meal, you are on your way to earning rewards points that add up TO more free Qdoba!
  • Do not order Queso Diablo unless you like really spicy food and a strong smoky flavor to your cheese
  • Do not order Queso Verde unless you like cheese that tastes like vegetables, or you have an affinity for green salsas
  • Do order half Queso Diablo and half 3-Cheese Queso if you want a spicy kick to your chips and queso
  • Do ALWAYS order 3-Cheese Queso because it is the best ever