Monday, May 30, 2011

Burger Bar

Burger Bar has been on my list since it opened about a year ago. The fact that a friend recommended it, it was National Burger Weekend, I had recently eaten at Kuma's Corner, and I was tired after having biked 80 miles. In theory, Burger Bar operates in the same class as Kuma's. They are essentially a beer bar that offers "gourmet" hamburgers so I will have to compare them. If I am going to compare the two, I will have to describe this place. Burger Bar is located in SoNo in the Clybourn Corridor. It's pretty big with a window wall along Clybourn. It also has cement floors and an unfinished industrial look. Two of the walls are chalkboards and the beer list and specials are written there and the music was alternative rock. There is a menu for the table (as well as a beer list that actually describes the beers) but the special is only on the wall so you have a place to look after the waitress tells you what it is. The burgers are about half a pound with some signature burgers and a build your own option. The prices are pretty comparable to Kuma's as well. The burger pictured was the special. The name wasn't phenomenally imaginative, The Memorial Day Burger. It is a half pound burger with white cheddar, smoked brisket, fried pickles, and cole slaw. The fries were homestyle truffle fries. It was as huge as it looks and I had a hard time getting my mouth around it. I was able to manage and it was very good. Now, the fact that there is no line is a big advantage. The beer lists are comparable but the fact that Burger Bar describes the beers is an advantage. While the list of burgers isn't as big as Kuma's, the build your own option is an advantage. The waffle fries that Kuma's used to make were really good and their homestyle fries are good but the fry options for the Burger Bar: homestyle, sweet potato fries, homemade chips, side salad, truffle fries for a $1 premium, and sweet potato tots for a $2 premium is an advantage. The burgers themselves are comparable but the pretzel roll at Kuma's is much better. Burger Bar is very good and it has some big advantages over Kuma's but I like the atmosphere, the pretzel roll, and the choices at Kuma's are better. If given a choice between Kuma's and Burger Bar, I would probably choose Kuma's but Burger Bar pulls a close second.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Kuma's Corner

This is the Neurosis Burger. It is named after the heavy metal band Neurosis, as are the other 23 burgers and sandwiches on the menu at Kuma's Corner (named after heavy metal bands). If there is any connection between the name of the burger and the name of the band, it is generally a big stretch. There are a few that make some sense, Hate Beak is a Chicken Sandwich, Pig Destroyer is pork, and Black Sabbath uses blackening spice but, for the most part, the names just play to the theme of the restaurant, a heavy metal biker bar. Kuma is a Japanese word for bear and is the name of the owner's Akita (which kind of look like bears). The art is what you might expect from a heavy metal bar named after a bear, a lot of bears and blood. There are also many paintings of semi-clothed women in S/M poses as one also might expect in a heavy metal bar. All of the wait and bar staff have tattoos and the music is all heavy metal. The place is small, seating about 40 people in the main dining area and an additional 20 at the bar. The patio in the back which is open in good weather adds about another 30. There is a TV behind the bar that plays fantasy, action, and horror movies when it's on, close-captioned because the music is pretty loud. The food here is fantastic and they don't take reservations. Because of this, the wait can frequently be 2 hours plus although the bar is first come, first served. I am generally not a heavy metal guy but I am a music guy and the music adds to the ambience of the bar. I really like this place and will deal with the line every few months to have another fantastic burger. While the appetizers are really good, trying to eat an appetizer and a burger by yourself is overkill. This time around I had the Neurosis Burger. It is a 10 oz burger on a pretzel roll with carmelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, cheddar and swiss cheese, horseradish mayo, with lettuce, tomato, and red onions. It was one of the messiest burgers that I have had but, like every other burger I have had here, it was fantastic. The one thing that I missed (slightly) was the waffle fries that they used to serve with the burgers. The hand cut fries that took their place were pretty good but the waffle fries were better. This will not stop me from coming back though, I have more burgers to try.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

City Farm

This is where it begins. I like talking about food and restaurants and a lot of them get their vegetables from City Farm. City Farm is a branch of the Resource Center, a non-profit that was started with a focus on recycling and reuse. The site that City Farm uses is a 1 acre plot in the area where one of Chicago's most notorious housing projects was located. The city donates the land and the farm can actually be moved if the city decides that they want the land back. The soil is created from a combination of the compost created from the weeds on the site, food waste from the restaurants that are customers, and manure from the city's horse barns. The farm operates using organic practices (if not certified organic). It operates year round although obviously they can't produce nearly as much in the winter as they can in spring, summer, and fall. They produce, beets, lettuce, carrots, several different types of lettuce, herbs, and more than 30 different types of tomatoes. This year they also received a few chickens from Gunthorp Farms that they will use to work over a farm bed after harvest and before clearing and possibly receive a few eggs in the process. If the experiment is succesful, they may expand the roost and add a few more chickens so they can supply eggs to local restaurants. Some of there customers include Frontera Grill & Topolobampo, Vie, Lula Cafe and Nightwood, Sepia, and North Pond. In addition, they run a CSA, a farm stand, and operate in two farmers markets. In the green seasons, they also have volunteer opportunities every Saturday which is how I found out about them. I volunteer about once a month mostly doing a lot of weeding although occasionally when clearing a bed we are able to harvest some stuff that was missed which is how I got these radishes.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bone Daddy's

There are certain foods that people have very strong opinions about. Pizza is one, with opinions about thick or thin, stuffed, how much stuff goes on it, how it's cooked, and even how it's cut. While there is a wide variety of styles of pizza, I would say that barbecues have a much wider array of styles (and meats). There are four major styles of American Barbecue: Carolina style uses vinegar or mustard on pork (although there are some areas that use a tomato based sauce), Memphis style does pork ribs wet or dry with a tomato based sauce, Kansas City style uses a variety of meats which are cooked with a dry rub. The sauce is served on the side and Texas style uses beef and a thick tomato based sauce. Other regional styles are basically variations on these styles. When I was in Midland last week, I went to Bone Daddy's BBQ Restaurant. The propieter of Bone Daddy's travels to regional barbecue competitions and has had some luck. They claim to serve either St. Louis style or Northern Style Barbecue. They do a variety of meats including beef (brisket), pulled pork, ribs, and chicken. The sauce is a sweet and spicy tomato based sauce which is pretty good. When I go to a barbecue joint, I generally don't order ribs because ribs are phenomenally messy. I am safe in this respect with Bone Daddy's because both their brisket and their pulled pork are great. I decided when I went this time that if I was honestly going to be able to talk to this place, I would need to try their ribs so that's what I had this time around. With the ribs, I also got blue cheese coleslaw, baked beans and corn bread. The corn bread and the coleslaw were good (especially with the blue cheese) but the beans were a little too smoky. I remember thinking in the past that the sauce didn't quite match with one of the meats although I don't remember which one. With the ribs, it went perfectly. The meat was also smoked and had a nice smoke ring. and had just the right amount of tooth pull (It was neither mushy as parboiled ribs would be or dry as an overcooked rib would be). I enjoy coming to Bone Daddy's when I am in Midland and will be happy when I come back. All of their bbq is good and while I might not again have the ribs if I eat there, at least I know that they are worth the mess I would get from eating them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Truffle Truffle

I had a gift certificate for a sampler from Truffle Truffle. As I was going to Michigan last week, I had it shipped there so I had people to share it with. I really like chocolate and sweets but I wasn't sure that I wanted to eat all of it by myself. The sampler came with a box of caramels, a box of beer and pretzel marshmallows, and a box of truffles.

First we started with the caramels. There were four caramels in the box: maple bacon, fleur de sel, Mexican hot chocolate, and dulce de leche. All of them were very good but the maple bacon and the fleur de sel were the best.
The next box was the Beer and Pretzel Marshmallows made with Rogue Chocolate Stout. The marshmallows were made with the beer, coated in chocolate and rolled in pretzels. While the marshmallows were a lot better than the ones that you would buy in a grocery store, and the chocolate and pretzels were good, the beer flavor needed to be stronger.

Finally came the truffles. I got a box of 16 with some pretty exotic sounding flavors like elderflower, pb&j, champagne, wasabi and mascarpone. As you can see, the truffles also looked good. Having said that, while there were a few flavors that were really good (strawberry lemonade, chili, pb&j), there were also several that were too subtle with the flavors (wasabi, champagne, beer and pretzel). I thought it was a good sampler that gave me an idea of what I might like (the caramels). If I buy from them again though, I will probably buy from one of the local stores that carries them like Southport Grocery or Foodstuffs. Overall, they do good things even if there are a few things that I thought they could do better.

Friday, May 6, 2011


I had wanted to go to (K)new for a while but a Groupon that came up last fall provided the impetus to actually go there. (K)new is a nice little neighborhood restaurant in Logan Square headed by Chef Omar Rodriguez (formerly of Think Cafe and the Carlucci Restaurant Group). The main room is light blue and brown and will seat about 50 people. The walkways are wide so it doesn't feel as if you have to share a seat with your neighbor. With the wife of Chef Omar heading up the Front of the house, this truly felt like a family run operation. There were two servers and one busboy working and while it wasn't terribly busy when I got there, it was getting there when I left. I arrived a little early and was immediately seated (in the corner). While I wasn't a huge fan of being sat in the corner, it did give me a good view of the actions of the dining area and the way the house interacted with the customers. The restaurant is a BYO with a fairly reasonable corkage fee ($5) so I brought a Ferrari-Carano Fume' Blanc because there was a lot of seafood and poultry on the menu. My dinner started with Amuse Bouche. They actually brought the Amuse out before I ordered the rest of my dinner. It was an Ahi Tuna Ceviche with Avocado and Beet Microgreens. This was in a Phyllo Shell and served with some chili oil. It was pretty good and gave a good foreshadowing of how the meal would be. The waitress came about the time I finished the ceviche and I made my order.

My appetizer was Diver Scallops with Applewood Smoked Bacon and Microgreens served over a Roasted Pineapple and with Brussel Sprouts on the side in a Pineapple Buerre Blanc. I have to say that the scallops were cooked perfectly and matched well with the pineapple and bacon. They also went well with my wine. They were probably some of the best scallops I have ever had. Because they were so good, I kind of wish that I hadn't ordered it because it set a high bar for the rest of the meal. My entree was a Cavatappi Pasta with Lobster, Shrimp, and Cherry Tomatoes. There was a light sauce made from Mascarpone Cheese and EVOO and it was spiced with Tarragon, Basil, and Mint. It wasn't bad and the serving size was pretty big. The lobster was pretty good. I don't know that I have ever had lobster that wasn't overcooked and rubbery so this was a real plus. The dish was good but it wasn't as good as the scallops.Finally, I had to try dessert. I ordered a Dark Chocolate Cupcake Brownie with White Chocolate Mousse and Mint Chocolate Gelato. There was an orchid on top of the brownie, the gelato was served in two bowls on either side of the brownie and the plate was spread with chocolate sauce, powdered sugar, and blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. It was a large beautiful dish that didn't taste bad and it was fun to eat the orchid but the gelato was a little too melted.

Overall, dinner was good. The food was good,the service was friendly if a little slow, and the fact that it's a BYO makes it quite affordable. While it isn't world class, it is a very good neighborhood restaurant that would make a good date or group dinner.