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Hunting down the best (and 'wurst') burgers, hot dogs, and pizza.

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Franks Chicago Style Shrimp

 10410 S Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL
 

Top Notch

When you think of “Chicago food,” most likely deep dish pizza and hot dogs come to mind; but a ‘native dish’ in Chicago is fried shrimp, and you’ll find local chains competing for the best recipes and reviews. The oldest, and arguably the best, is Frank’s Chicago Shrimp House, with four locations.

I lived in Chicago twice and didn’t know this, and having lived in New Orleans for some time, I’ve become kind of a shrimp snob. There are thousands of shrimp species, varying in size and color, dependent upon their habitat. In recent years, methods of farming shrimp have become more developed, and a great deal of the shrimp you purchase in the grocery or at a restaurant was farm raised (not caught in the wild). Shrimp are sorted by the number per pound, with 10 U (under 10) the largest available in the US. 11-15 would be considered “jumbo” by most any classification system.

I’ve been lucky to have even bigger, in the hospitable warm and food rich waters of Southeast Asia… I’ve also had the pleasure of purchasing shrimp right off the boats in both New Orleans and along the Texas Gulf Coast. Shrimp boats ply most of the Gulf Coast and you can regularly get the freshest shrimp available anywhere at a bargain price…..bring your cooler. In addition to fresh Gulf shrimp, my very favorite is Key West shrimp, known by their bright pink color and sweet meat.

All that to say, you won’t find any pond raised shrimp at Frank’s. Born in 1946 as the Ship Shape Shrimp Shake the business flourished for thirty years until ill health caused the owner to shut it down. A few years later, a local businessman got together with the former owner with a plan to reopen. Frank’s opened with the old recipes, and the founder’s philosophy of selling the freshest seafood as inexpensively as possible, and was an immediate success. These day’s, Frank’s daughters run the four current locations while developing more expansion plans.

The menu is brief. Buy by the plate, pound, or partial pound. Fried shrimp (regular), Chicago style (spiced fried), Catfish, Scallops, Perch, Chicken Strips and Frog Legs. Sides include fries, rings, zucchini, slaw, and a few other items. The top price on the menu is $20 / pound for the shrimp, a fairly reasonable price. Eat in or take out.

I opted for some Chicago style shrimp and some cat, with a few fries on the side. Everything was fried perfectly and the ‘seasoned’ pieces had a slight hint of heat. Shrimp are good sized with just the right firmness, and cooked when you order. A choice of condiments is offered: seafood sauce, bbq, tartar, lemon juice, and one other I forgot already.

This is great stuff.

Catfish at Franks Chicago Style Shrimp

Catfish

Had catfish and chicago style shrimp. both excellent.

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Kuhn's Delicatessen

 749 W Golf Rd
Des Plaines, IL
 

Old World Recipes, Modern Day Portions

The other day, a Los Angeles area newspaper had me write an article about the recent closing of an iconic traditional delicatessen. They do seem to be vanishing at a rapid rate, but I never gave much thought as to why, until the owner of this one that was giving it up set me straight. It’s kind of a result of several things happening at once in America’s dining habits – the infatuation with ‘fast casual’, the number of people following special diet regimens, like vegetarian and gluten free.

The traditional deli is mostly meat and baked goods. RIP. There are very few left; one of my all time favorites is still around, Cecil’s in St. Paul.

So as I was thinking about that, I was on my way out of Chicago for the winter, and had a deli craving. I was in Des Plaines, not far from Ray Kroc’s first McDonalds, and some locals suggested “Kuhn’s”, a German deli. So I rolled into the parking lot.

You walk into the door into the market portion of the deli, a counter ringing the interior room full of sausages, smoked meat specialties and salads; the outer walls are lined with shelves chock-a-block full of European groceries.

At the rear of the market, you can step through a door into the cafe section table seating for maybe 24 people. The menu offers a variety of German traditional dishes, including schnitzels, rouladen, sauerbraten, and of course, sausages. They also have a good selection of ‘traditional’ hot and cold sandwiches.

I went with the sausage assortment plate, which came with one each of knackwurst, thuringer, and veal bratwurst. A choice of sides had me opt for “German fries.” Now I have a question about that dish. They looked suspiciously like “American fries.” Now if they would have looked like “French fries,” I would have assumed the recipe was just one more thing the Germans pilfered from the French during WW2, but how the heck did they purloin our American fries? In any case, they were very tasty. As were the sausages, which were actually more than I could eat at a serving. (Yeah, I know, shut up). The plate was accompanied by three slices of fresh bread and a ramekin of coarse mustard.

Chicago’s ethnic pockets and restaurants, German, Czech, Polish have some real gems, unfortunately, most visitors to the city don’t realize instead of Chicago being one big city, its really a collection of very unique neighborhoods.

Being as I’m on the road, I couldn’t load up on sausages from the deli case. Damn.

Sausage Plate at Kuhn's Delicatessen

Sausage Plate

Three different sausages and one side. Excellent.

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Algonquin Mexican Restaurant

 648 S Main St
Algonquin, IL
 

Fresh prep, good value

Back in Chicagoland for the last time this year, had a craving for Mexican food since Mrs. Burgerdogboy has been on a cooking strike lately and she makes some fine Mexican platos.

I was out in the NW burbs, some areas of which are increasingly populated with people of various Latin heritages, and mercados and taquerias are popping up like pop-ups.

Not wanting to cause confusion among any potential customers, one entrepreneur labeled his restaurant as plain as plain could be: “Algonquin Mexican Restaurant.” (AMR)

With tables that will accommodate thirty and a counter with room for eight more, the AMX serves breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday with hours from 10A – 8 PM. They were doing a brisk take-out business, but I was in the mood to be waited on, so I took a seat a booth looking out at the Algonquin intersection the corners of “Road Construction” and “Needs Road Construction.” The gajillion dollar downtown bypass appears that it will take another generation of works before it is actually finished, and from where I sit, will do little do alleviate the REAL area traffic problems, which are East – West, while the bypass is north-south. DOH!

The menu is straight forward and straight Mexican. Order ala carte or a plate which includes beans and rice. (Me and the Mrs were forever spoiled by the refried beans in Aberdeen, WA one day). Turns out tho that these were pretty tasty. I wish I had ordered an additional side of them. (The ones in Aberdeen were so tasty we ate two orders at the table and got an order to go).

Polished off the complimentary chips and pico, and then I ordered three tacos, chorizo, shredded beef, and ground beef. Chicken, steak, pork, and pork skin were other options. No tongue here. I thoroughly enjoyed the tacos, even tho I had them with the gringo flour tortilla. They come loaded with lettuce, tomato, and sour cream. A second “filling” option is straight chopped onion and cilantro. Should have tried that.

In order of favorite – chorizo one, then shredded beef, and lastly ground beef. The accompanying rice was nothing to write home (or here about) so i won’t. I rarely eat rice as a side anymore. Can’t say why and sure you don’t care.

Circumstances were such that I spent a fair amount of time in Mexico this year, and of course little North of the border can match local street food in Juarez or TJ, just like after living in China I was spoiled to that type of food in the US.

But in any case, if you happen to be driving around the NW burbs, or live in Algonquin, Dundee, Lake in the Hills or Crystal Lake, the Algonquin Mexican Restaurant is worth a stop with freshly prepared food at great prices.

Taco Plate at Algonquin Mexican Restaurant

Taco Plate

Excellent and very filling.

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The Machine Shed

 7475 E State St
Rockford, IL
 

Americana, Great Food, Great Value

“Dedicated to the American Farmer” – was the slogan of a restaurant we used to pop into in Davenport Iowa. The “Iowa Machine Shed”, just outside of town, served wholesome American food in large quantities. Today there are a half dozen Machine Shed restaurants in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The restaurant cooks from scratch and uses top notch suppliers. Some people might compare it to Cracker Barrel, and I guess there is a similarity, but Machine Shed is better, in my opinion.

These places seat a big mess o people, so remember that when setting out to visit. They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with slightly different menus at each meal.

After your drink orders are taken, the server will bring the table complimentary “fixins”, which is comprised of an ample bread basket with super soft large dinner rolls, a family sized bowl of slaw and one of cottage cheese. I love cottage cheese, and this has to be some of the best I have had, ever, anywhere. High milk fat content, small curd.

This trip, I ordered the country fried chicken, which was nice and crisp on the outside and juicy inside. Dinners come with a vegetable and your choice of a large variety of spud preparations. I got fries and some nice gravy to go with it.

If you’re in for breakfast, or need a little sweet thing (besides Mrs. Burgerdogboy), they have these massive breakfast rolls in a couple of different varieties, and I swear, they must weigh two pounds.

Next time I zip through the Upper Midwest, I’ll angle to hit a Machine Shed at breakfast, as they have a platter which covers all the breakfast pork options. Nice. And BTW? There is no better place to be during summers in America than the farm belt. County fairs, small town festivals, block parties. The best.

Typical dinner menu.

Great - Country Fried Chicken at The Machine Shed

Country Fried Chicken

Excellent. Comes with tater and vegetable choice.

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Green Mill Restaurant and Bar

 340 Lake Ave S
Duluth, MN
 

Pleasin' Growing Chain

Has come a long ways from its origin as a dive bar in St Paul, with almost thirty locations across the midwest. Excellent deep dish pizza, their signature dish, and newly expanded menu offers something for everyone. This location recently updated decor, nice changes.

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Luigi's Pizza

 11019 N Woodstock St
Huntley, IL
 

Out of the Way Gem

Spoiler alert: Luigi’s pizza is spectacular. If you’d prefer to stop reading now and head directly to the restaurant, that’s ok with me. Actually located closer to Rockford, IL than Chicago, the village of Huntley, once a bucolic rural town surrounded by dairy farms, has become a burgeoning suburb of the Windy City; so burgeoning that it will in the near future, get its own commuter train.

Before the farmers started selling out to development companies, long before the commuter train was even imagined, Luigi’s Pizza and Restaurant was serving the good folks of the village, every Tuesday through Sunday, with classic American style pizza and a full menu that includes pasta, sandwiches, and daily specials.

I was meeting some pals at this family owned and operated restaurant; walking up to it, I wondered if a 6PM time on a Friday was a bad idea, but there were a couple of tables still open. The restaurant has seating for – perhaps thirty, with room for a few more at the bar.

The table was attended to by one of the owner’s daughters, and she was both affable and diligent in her work. The food came out as ordered, and in the right order, with only the pizza taking a bit of time, maybe 25 minutes.

I could find no fault with the pizza as my personal tastes go. Cracker crisp crust, tangy tomato sauce, really, really excellent cheese in copious quantities, and a perfectly seasoned, hand pulled fennel laced Italian sausage.

This may be the best thin crust pizza in Chicago land, and is worth a drive to Huntley, even if you aren’t bound for the town’s annual Turkey Testicle Festival!

Sausage and Olive Pizza - Sausage and Olive Pizza at Luigi's Pizza

Sausage and Olive Pizza

Superb, every ingredient and prep was top notch. Priced less than many area competitors, will definitely return.

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Pickwick

 508 E Superior St
Duluth, MN
 

Duluth Icon Updated

Nearly 100 years old, but yet a “newborn”, the Pickwick (“the Wick” to locals) has always been a Minnesota favorite, and has been operated by the same family until this week. The new owners have modernized some of the infrastructure, and will be “updating” (horrors!) the menu.

First pic of the new bar area (below) shows that they have increased seating, extended the bar itself, and added more seating at the bar (formerly, it just had 8 highly coveted stools). Looks like the have lightened up the room a bit, and possibly removed the plethora of dead animals and fish that previously hung on the walls and replaced them with flat screens (horrors, again!) (Can’t we go anywhere, anymore, w/o having to watch television?).

The Minnesota Burger Posse was there for opening night and reported nothing had changed, apparently, in the usual (and favorite) Pepper Cheeseburger and onion rings. But they added an aside, that the “true test” of the burger is how it tastes after a night in the frig (like I believe the test of a pizza is how it tastes after a night on the kitchen counter!).

The Wick has retained their charcoal broiler for steaks and fish. One can only imagine they kept the various local fish entrees, featuring Walleye. Or one can hope. Word is they will be opening the 2nd floor, previously unused space, as a wine bar.

The group started with the Pepper Poppers, before launching into the burgers. Poppers were reported as “a nice addition to the menu.”

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Psycho Susie's Motor Lounge

 2519 Marshall St NE
Minneapolis, MN
 

Crazy good time at Psycho Suzi's

Defined by their exotic-themed cocktails made from rum, Cantonese inspired food, and adorned with South Seas island decor, the first tiki bar in the U.S. sprouted in Los Angeles in 1933. Ernest Gantt created “Don the Beachcombers” as an homage to life in the tropical Pacific Islands. A few years later, at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, the other iconic bar of the genre, “Trader Vics”, was opened by Victor Bergeron.

The format spawned other outlets and imitators, and was largely in favor in the US until the late 1960s, when the concept fell out of popularity for several decades. Independent operators, looking for new concepts, revitalized the idea in the 1990s, and both of the original bars started reinvigorating their own brands. Today, there are innovative tiki bars across America, and in Northeast Minneapolis, Psycho Suzis Motor Lodge sprouted in 2003. With three differently themed bars on the premises, and a raft of signature cocktails, PSML offers you and your pals an afternoon or evening away from Minnesota’s tundra landscape.

Veering away from the traditional Cantonese inspired food menu, Psycho Suzi’s food offerings lean more towards the traditional bar cuisine Minnesotans are used to – appetizers, wings, pizza, sandwiches and burgers. Saturday and Sunday middays sees brunch entrees added to the choices, like biscuits and gravy, or chorizo benedict.

Pizzas come in two crust varieties, a deep dish, or a hand-stretched thin crust, about the thickness of your standard Pizza Hut pie (for comparison purposes only). Toppings are plentiful and high quality. The fennel sausage is a delight.

Psycho Suzis is open until 2AM daily.

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Taylor Street Pizza

 4081 Algonquin Rd
Algonquin, IL
 

Me Oh My, Perfect Pizza Pie!

With a name that is synonymous with Chicago’s “Little Italy” neighborhood, the seven location Taylor Street Pizza in Chicago’s NW suburbs has a rep to live up to.

Primarily a delivery and carry-out operation (with dine in available at the Elgin location), Taylor Street offers thin, double dough, and deep dish pies, as well as standard Chicago fare like calzones, Italian beef, hot dogs, ribs, fried chicken, and a host of appetizers/sides.

I was motivated to try it today as I had a $10 coupon from Restaurant.com, and I’m usually ready to try a new pie purveyor, especially when I am passing through Chicago, a city that has so many great pizza places.

My usual order is a thin crust, Italian sausage, green olive, and extra cheese, which was the choice today, as well. A 16" pie with the three toppings came to $12.30 after the coupon. Spoiler alert: Taylor Street carries Pepsi products.

It took less than 25 minutes to be ready, and came out of the oven piping hot just as I arrived. Aesthetically, it was a work of art. Taste wise, for my pizza palate, it was perfect. Flavorful sausage, mild sauce, a sprinkling of herbs (such a small thing always makes a pizza special to me). The crust was crispy on the outside, and chewy as you worked your way in, as it should be. Excellent “pull” on the cheese, and best of all, cheese, toppings, sauce all adhered to the crust nicely.

Taylor Street will be one of my “go-to” places when I’m in Chicagoland, for sure.

Sausage Pizza

Excellent. Great crispy thin crust, quality cheese.

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Restaurant 301

 301 E Superior St
Duluth, MN
 

Creative cuisine and welcoming ambience

A few years back, a newly built luxe hotel went up in Duluth, a mid-rise Sheraton at the eastern end of downtown. It’s across 3rd Avenue from the former Hotel Duluth, which opened with 500 rooms in 1925. The lobby and dining rooms were very ornate, heavily decorated in a Moorish style. While Duluth has many nice inns that fall into the “tourist motel” category, and some spiffy B&Bs in the city’s finer old homes, the city really needed a hotel of this nature, and a dining experience to match, which it has in the first floor eatery Restaurant 301, named after the street address of the hotel.

The dining room serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and has an attached lounge. The cuisine is locavore-American with a continental touch, courtesy of Executive Chef Kevin Ilenda. In addition to the standard offerings, Ilenda frequently treats Duluthians and visitors to special theme meals with wine pairings. He has culinary skills and creativity not often witnessed in the Zenith City.

A recent visit found smiles were around the table. The table shared an appetizer of Warm Blue Cheese with Pear and Walnut Glazed with Honey in a Fresh Baked Tartlet. The burger is ground in-house daily, mixed with pork, topped with cured bacon, baby Swiss, and house-made barbecue sauce; like other sandwiches, it is served on focaccia. Chicken sandwiches, with house-made chips were described as moist and flavorful, as was the turkey club.

They finished their repast with an off the menu dessert that Ilenda proferred, a take-off on s’mores, prepared table side.

Dark wood paneled walls, with a crackling fireplace make for a comfortable experience during the day, and the potential for a romantic tryst in the evenings. Dining available 6:30A – 1oP, the attached lounge serves from 11A-11P. Reservations: 218-336-2705. The Sheraton is located at the corner of 3rd Avenue East and Superior Street, less than 200 steps from Duluth’s scenic Lakewalk.

Hamburger

House ground beef, smokey bacon, creamy cheese on a great roll.

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