Thursday, August 30, 2007

Chicagoland-North Shore Division

On our way back from Camp, this month, we spent 3 nights with good friends in Glencoe,IL. We ate most of our meals out, with them and various others. Places ranged from excellent to good with one mostly forgettable.
The first night we met out host near the train station in Hubbard Woods, the northern part of Winnetka. He worked late so we met around 8:15 PM but that was just fine as we had had a large lunch at the "Norska Nook", as mentioned in the last posting. The restaurant, 'O"Neil's" at 1003 Greenbay Road-phone-847-466-7100, was quite full, for that time and location. It is medium priced with an accent of Italian. Pastas run from about $13 to $21 and the servings are quite large, no one finished their portion. I had Grilled shrimp on Angel Hair with an excellent light pesto sauce. The other two had either a version of the pasta and pesto with no meat or seafood or a Penne Primaera. The server, who did a very good job, after a slow start, recommended a Ruffino Toscan which turned out to be a very good wine and an excellent choice.
The next day we met a couple, we have not seen in several years, at "Max and Benny's" a full service deli in Northbrook, 461 Waukegan Rd, phone 847-272-9490. Marilyn and I had out usual first deli meal; hers is Mushroom Barley Soup and a half Corn Beef sandwich, mine surprisingly is a little more substantial, a bowel of sweet and sour Cabbage Soup and a Sable plate with all the trimmings plus a toasted Bagle and cream cheese. I died and have gone at least party way to heaver. Everything was excellent. I miss a first class deli in Cincinnati.
That night we had the 39th annual meeting and dinner of our "Lobster group". The history is a whole other subject, which I may broach at some point. We are usually in one of the 4 couples homes but this year we chose to go to the Palm Restaurant at 2000 Northbrook Court, Northbrook, IL 60062, phone 847-239-7256. The Palm is a very expensive, white table cloth steak and lobster chain which is national. Surprisingly it turned out to be a good value, but as I just said at the high end of the price scale.
Lobsters are $47 on up, depending on weight and every thing is "ala carte". We had quite a bit of wine and liquor, steamers, 6 lobsters and a steak, $38, and seared tuna plus salads for everyone and a large order of Saratoga Chips and onion straws for the table. We had an excelled serving staff and the kitchen co-operated by splitting some of the salads and dividing the potatoes and onions on to two good sized platters, probably about one and one half orders. For desert our waiter suggested a warm chocolate brownie with vanilla bean ice cream and a piece of carrot cake. He then appeared with not only that but a piece of chocolate cake with more ice cream and berries, "on the house". The pieces of cake were huge and easily divided in 8 pieces, some of which were never touched. The total cost including a 22% plus tip was $100/person. Not cheap but well worth the price.
The next day lunch was in Highland Park at a local hang out for Highland Parker's, skip this one. Dinner was at Charlie Bienlichs, an institution on Skokie Road just west of Glencoe. Some people use this as their eating an meeting club. The have an old fashioned bar and specialize in Hamburgers. It's a very long drive but if you really want a good burger drive the 450 miles north to the Anchor Bar in Superior.
Next morning we returned to Max and Benny's and had large and reasonable breakfast with several generations of cousins, before we picked up a load of "deli" for the evening meal with Joanne and family in Cincinnati. If you go to Max and Benny's you wont be disappointed. Marilyn is still raving about the Cinnamon swirl baked french toast. Also you wont leave the North Shore hungry, at least we didn't.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Up North

After posting a definition of Northern Wisconsin, a couple of days ago, here I go expanding my own geographic boundaries. I'll include, in the following, a spot about 25 miles south of Eau Clair as the restaurant also has branched north. Follows, comments about 3 places we ate, besides Camp Nebagamon on our recent excursion. Incidentally the food at camp, where they serve over 1000 meals a day is first rate, thanks to Ann Rowe and her wonderful staff.
Dawn Simons, a past food critic for Cincinnati Magazine, in one of her books,"Best Food in Town. comments on the Anchor Bar in Superior. That's how I knew Dawn and my tastes were aligned.
The Anchor Bar, 413 Tower Ave, Superior WI is just what the name implies. A true bar with tables and a few electronic games and many great lakes mementos. It is properly dark and some what smokey and you would be laughed out if you asked for a reservation or to pay with a credit card. They also happen to have the best hamburgers and fries that I get anywhere. They list about 15 different burgers including plain, cheese, cashew, Ruben etc and a couple of plain sandwiches for those demented enough to go there and order those. The "french fries" are equally good and not cut from the whole, chilled potatoes until ordered. Order the FF anyway you want but you get them just the way the kitchen decides to put them on you paper plate, usually on the crisp side. If you want to read what Dawn has to say you will find it on page 159 of her book.
On nights at camp when the dinning hall is closed, you would need a good scrubbing weekly if you were trample by 300 teenagers per meal daily, we usually go looking for pan fried Walleye. Our favorite spots are "The White Birch" in Solan Springs or the Pickwick, in downtown Duluth, the most expensive of the 3 or the lakeside tavern on Fish Lake, north of the Duluth Airport, all of which are quite good. This visit we got,steered, by friends, to Miller's Deep Lake Lodge in Iron River. I'm not going to give you details for if your in the general area go to one of the other 3 mentioned. We had Walleye, deep fried, salad and one of the several kinds of "house potatoes". To my taste the Walleye lost everything by the very "deep frying". Look for Walleye "pan fried" not deep. Good fishing and hunting and let me know where you find delicious Walleye.
After leaving Camp and on our way to Chicago we stoped at the "Norske Nook" in Osseo. There are branches also in Hayward and Rice Lake, all in the original boundaries. The Norska Nook was first written about in Jane and Micheal Stern's original "Road Food" book. Dawn Simons also writes about it in the book mentioned above. The Restaurant and Bakery have a decided Norwegian flavor but is mainly know for their 28 varieties of pies, many of which are award wining. I usually go light and have pie plus ice cream,if it is a strait fruit pie. This day one of the specials was fried smelts with french fries and slaw. I succumbed and was treated to more that I could eat. The smelts were deep fried but light and sweet while the french fries made me forget The AnchorBar and that is saying a lot. The slaw was also much to my liking. Much to heavy a lunch but delicious. Luckily dinner in Chicago was scheduled quite late so I was back in the mood, as though I am ever out, at meal time.
Now your up to date on Wisconsin this summer.
I apologise for this article as my computer is acting up and I don't know what I hit that makes words run together and cancel the next letter. I'll publish and call my teacher but I am indeed sorry. You'll just have to get the idea and excuse spelling and sintext. I may have found the trouble, thanks to my grue but I'll let the statement stand to cover many sins I make in writing.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


One never knows the location of his/her next excellent meal. Ours came at L'Etoile, 25 North Pinckney St, Madison WI 53703- phone 608-251-0500.
On our drive, from our home to Camp Nebagamon, in very Northwestern Wisconsin, we usually stop at Madison, about 500 miles. It's a good resting place after 8 or more hours in the car and leaves us about 300 miles for the next day.
Madison is a growing city and may someday surpass Milwaukee as Wisconsin largest. With both the state capitol and the main campus of the university it has plenty to keep it's economy humming. Madison also boast all kinds of food from the Campus fast food line up to several top flight restaurants. In the last few years we have sampled sea food, Italian, Bar-B-Que, Japanese and good old north woods American. None in our estimation comes close to L'Etoile.
L'Etoile has been in business over 30 year with 2 owners and several chefs but stays true to it calling; presenting local produces with simplicity and flair. The spirit is European but the meals sparkle with fresh ingredients, all of with are listed on the back of the menu along side their producers.
Because we had made a reservation, which did not seem necessary on the Thursday evening we were there, our menu was headed: "L'Etoile welcomes the Hirschhorn party". The menu had 6 First Courses, 5 Entrees and 24 Wisconsin Artisan Cheeses. Both First courses and Entrees had one or two specials also offered that evening. Diners wore in everything from Business attire( coats and ties) to shorts and sandals, an interesting mix. The dining room is up a flight of stairs, but there is an elevator. The walls are unfinished brick with painting and other art work, hanging in places.
After my usual "Bombay", Marilyn and I, after discussion with our excellent server, decided to split dishes, no problem.
We started with a Heirloom Tomato Sampler with a Basil Vinaigrette, 6 different type tomatoes, each type represented by either a large slice or a third of the whole tomato, $12.50. Next came a bowl of Sheep Milk Gnocchi with Maine Lobster Bolognese, many large lumps of lobster meat mixed with a light tomato sauce over the tender Gnocchi, the kitchen split the portion, for us, into two small bowls, $15.00. We had discussed with our server whether to split a steak, one of the specials, or have the vegetarian Entree; luckily we choose the latter. Our Entree, again split by the kitchen, was a Sweet Corn Pancake Napoleon with butter-roasted Cauliflower, Broccoli, Mushrooms, pencil thin Baby Carrots, Sweet Onions and Kale. The whole stack was topped with a maple Butter and Blueberry Zinfandel Gastrique( read, fresh Blueberry sauce with whole fresh Wisconsin Blueberries, cut by wine so it was only slightly sweet),$29.00. I had a glass of a lovely white wine, which I had ordered, augmented by a half glass the the Mater Dee wanted me to try. Who am I to refuse?
We ended our meal with, in house made, peach cobbler with a scoop of light Carmel ice cream and Marilyn's usual "decaf".
You can bet we will return and you should see if you agree, if and when you are in the Madison area.

Friday, August 24, 2007

All Gaul

We have been traveling for the last 15 days and over the next several weeks I will report on our activities, especially concentrating on the restaurant and food activities. Before I do I want to lay a couple of guidelines on my readers, mostly family.
As every first year Latin student learns, in his first reading lesson; "All Gaul is divided in three parts". I feel the same way about Wisconsin, where we spent at least 11 full days.
My divisions of the Badger State are: Northern, the territory from Eau Clair, Wausau and Green Bay north, Middle. Madison, Milwaukee and environs, although some would add more of the towns from Milwaukee to Green bay, around the lake and "Chicagoland", all the area south of Milwaukee and east of Beloit and Janesville.
Now that I have staked out my parameters I will tell you that my heart, as many of you know, is at Camp Nebagamon in Lake Nebagamon, WI about 25 miles Southeast of Superior.
I have been going there, off and on, for the past 67 years and the people, place and memories are very special to me.
Getting back to food most Wisconsin "dinning" is in the middle area and the the Norther area is mostly "eating", bars and lakeside road houses and taverns.
Starting in the next posting we'll get into more specifics about the past 15 days, with knife and fork in hand.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Walt's Hitching Post

Walt's Hitching Post, 3300 Madison Pike, Ft Wright, KY-859-331-0494 is our Bar-B-Que"Shack". I don't remember making reservations unless I wanted a special table or had a really big group, then I think it's helpful to the restaurant to let them know you are coming.
My order always seems to be the same: a Whole Slab, of excellent ribs, tossed salad with "house dressing"( tomato-garlic), adding crumbled blue cheese, which is extra, crisp home fried potatoes and adding onions, which are also extra and a beer. They place a basket of rye-bread, buttered and toasted plus corn sticks on the table and will gladly refill. That's a heavy, fatty meal with flavors full in every dish.
The "whole slab" is currently $18.50,including "sides" and is enough for anyone, probably 12 to 14 good sized ribs. Often there are ribs left over which make a good lunch the next day. The sauce is slightly sweet and tangy with cloves and other spices. I dip in both the ribs and potatoes and usually ask for some extra sauce of the side. The ribs are coated as they are wood roasted and people often eat them as they come.
Marilyn and I especially like the ribs which we find as good or better than those we find anywhere. We are not experts but have had ribs from Memphis, TN to Superior, WI with New York, Chicago, Georgia and Texas thrown in. What we like is that the ribs, at Walt's, are firm, meaty, not excessively fatty and cling to the bone, giving us a challenge and something to really "get our teeth into".
Walt's is reliable, relaxed and just plain easy and good. Eat with you fingers and wash your hands before you go and also afterwards, unless like our European Friends we have taken there you tackle everything with a knife and fork.
We're tried to get Danny Meyer there, with so far no luck. Go yourself and enjoy and help us pressure him.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Primavista, revisited

Our trainer is Italian and for a time was a partner, and Manager, at Primavista( written about earlier). When he heard we were going Friday night he made strong recommendations as to what I should order, Marilyn always has the Veal Picata, and I followed his advise to the letter, with the exception that I passed on 2nd glass of wine.
We arrived for a 7 PM reservation on the dot. I'm neurotic about punctuality, among other things. After being promptly seated we waited for approximately 15 minutes with no sign of a server. At that point I asked the hostess if there was someone assigned to our table? She scurried off and in a minute or two returned to tell us that our assigned server was overburdened and she had change our table to someone else. Promptly a server and his trainee showed up, and from then on it was clear sailing. Besides the service "goof" the meal was perfect in every way.
The advice I had been given was to start with the "house salad" and follow with two appetizers. The salad is crisp and good size, although not huge. The two items which served as my main course were: Mozzarella Pomodoro and Italian Sausage in a Marsala Sauce. The first is a rolled mozzarella stuffed with pesto, pine nuts and minced fresh herbs. It is sliced into pin wheels and drizzled with virgin olive oil. The plate is garnished with fresh sliced tomatoes. It is light and tasty and has true Italian flavors. I, personally, am not a fan of Mozzarella as my taste runs to stronger cheeses but it is a good dish with a glass of Orviato of another Italian white. The sausage dish was another matter entirely. Fresh "home made" Italian Sausage is browned and then served with a Marsala sauce, that has been slightly reduced. It is poured over freshly sauteed mushroom slices and toast points, plus ,of course the sausage. Unbelievable! The sausage is slightly sweet and slightly spicy while the sauce has a strong Marsala flavor, but not enough to drowned the mushrooms. A true taste of Itally on a hill top in Cincinnati. A Chianti is recommended.
This Sausage dish was not on the regular menu, however, the floor manager, who stoped by our table, told me that they are happy to fix it for anyone who makes the request. He also said if they have the ingredients in the kitchen they would fix whatever a guest ordered. Now that is a way to run a first class restaurant, which Primavista is, in my opinion.
The others has Veal, and too different Raviolis, or Ravioli, which ever is correct. One cheese and the other spinach. Both served with separate sauces. Three of us stared with the salad and one with Wedding Soup. In my mind the Sausage dish stole the evening.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Song Long

Last night it was Song Long, 1737 Section Road, 45237-phone 513-351-7631, with a small mob. We went with two sisters, both in their forties, and their families, children ages 4 to 9. It's hectic, but it keeps us feeling young, at least we think so, and that is why we develop young friends.
Song Long has several things going for it, besides free parking, no reservations necessary and handicapped accessibility. It is very good Asia food, well priced and served by extremely attractive sibling who deftly hand "the front of the house".
As usually happens, with a large party and Asia food, in this case Thai and Chinese, we ordered for the whole table and past all around. The three men, all of which have good apatite's and are good beer consumers, served as the "garbage cans".
Starting with summer rolls, veggies, shrimp, pork and thin noodles wrapped in a thin rice pancake, we proceeded thru one large bowl of soup, two orders of seafood and Chinese vegetables, pepper shrimp and pork, an order of spicy pepper pork, by consensus the best dish of the evening, Pud Thai, and a special order of Bar-B-Que pork, bean sprout and scallions. Is your mouth watering yet? Also we added on order of fried chicken for the youngest in the group. Imagine an Asian restaurant who has fried chicken. The food was all excellent, hot and tasty.
Our only problem was that when we arrived the place had more people than they had expected and so it was badly understaffed and service was non existent. A call home brought more sisters and then we were in business, as were the rest of the customers, both "eat in" and "carry out".
Total bill for the 9 of us, inculding food, drinks, tax and tip came to $150, which we split 3 ways.