Monday, May 2, 2016

Chicago, IL: Al's Italian Beef

Al's BeefDeep dish pizza? Check. Chicago-style hot dogs? Check. Next: Italian Beef.

Al's BeefAl's #1 Italian Beef is recognizably THE place for Italian beef in Chicago, so we walked a few blocks away to get our mitts on a sandwich. I ordered an Italian Beef regular with cheese. You can get it wet (additional gravy), dipped (even more juicy), or dry (no gravy). I didn't realize they had sweet peppers, so I said no peppers. Bummer. We also got a thing of fries.

Al's BeefTypically, this isn't the kinda thing I go for. I'm not a carnivore, so I wasn't expecting this to be my favorite. But, the flavor of the gravy (don't think Italian gravy or mashed potato gravy, think juice) was complex - cinnamon? curry? - something, that really gave it a little extra something. I do wish I would've had the peppers to help break it up with some sweetness. The fries were really good. Very crisp and delicious. Tony had the Italian beef at Portillos and remains convinced it was superior. I was pleasantly surprised, though it's not something I think I'd seek out again.

Al's BeefGrade: B
Al's Italian Beef Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Chicago, IL Edition: The Signature Lounge at the 96th

Hancock BuildingFor some reason, I'm a fan of going up to the top of really tall buildings and looking out and see everything else down below. We first went to the top of Sears Tower (now called Willis Tower), which was once the tallest building building in the world and currently sits at 12th in the world. It is the second tallest in the country (behind One World Trade Center) and the tallest in Chicago. Very touristy, long waits, but a cool experience where you can step out onto a ledge and see the rest of the city below you.

Hancock BuildingAnd, we went to The John Hancock Center is the eighth tallest building in the United States. But, we took a different route this time. The building actually has a restaurant on its 95th floor and a lounge on the 96th. If you go up to the top observatory deck, it's $20. But, if you got to the lounge, it's just a few floors below, and there's no cover. You do, of course, have to pay for a pricy drink, but I'd rather sit and hang out with a drink than cram with a bunch of people for $20.

Hancock BuildingThere was no wait, and we made our way up to the lounge very quickly. But the demand for window seats is high, so we waited a few minutes so we could be seated at one. They are very strict about letting people crowd the windows or switch tables. So, be kind to the doorman, wait your turn and get ready to have a drink overlooking all of Chicago.

Hancock BuildingI ordered a Skyscraper for $16, which had Bacardi rum, pineapple juice, cranberry juice, and a pineapple wedge. It was ... not great. It tasted watered down, very watered down. BUT, you're paying for the view. And we happened to be seated in a corner, so we could see views every which way. That was pretty cool. Oh, and the women's bathroom? The BEST view!

Hancock BuildingGrade: B
Signature Room at the 95th Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Chicago, IL Edition: Gino's East

Gino's EastWe're on our third pizza place in three days. This time? Gino's East.

Gino's EastGino's East was just a block or two from the hotel, so we stopped here for lunch. We actually arrived here slightly before they opened, and we waited outside the doors with a few others for them to let us in (damn tourists). There is writing all. over. the. walls. and. seats. It's everywhere! Which is mostly fine, but I was worried about sitting on it. No worries.

Gino's EastAfter being seated, we ordered the "Gino's Supreme," with pepperoni. It comes with pepperoni or Italian sausage, onions, green peppers and mushrooms. Since Giordano's switched our order, and we ended up with sausage, we still had yet to try one with pepperoni. After the waiter read the order back, he said "pepperoni deep dish," which I assumed meant a Gino's Supreme WITH pepperoni. When he came back with our drinks, I clarified, and he basically told me I said it incorrectly (nope) and rushed back to fix it. K.

Gino's EastBut, it came out correctly, though I can't say it was my favorite pie. It has a very, very buttery, flaky crust. It almost seemed like I was eating an actual pie crust. I like the crisper crusts better. The sauce and toppings were just OK. Little soggy, not a ton of flavor. But, it had the best cheese, by far. Ooey and stringy. Very good.

At this point, the appeal of deep dish pizza was wearing on me, and this crust just wasn't doing it for me. Not bad, by any means, but not the one I'd go back to, either.

Grade: C
Gino's East Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, April 29, 2016

Chicago, IL Edition: Portillo's

PortillosSo far in Chicago, I've had the popcorn. I've had the deep dish pizza (2x!). Now it's time for the Chicago-style hot dog.

PortillosA Chicago-style hot dog is topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt on a poppyseed bun. It's said to be "dragged through the garden" with so many toppings. And, it's much different from the West Virginia hot dog (chili, slaw, mustard and onions).

PortillosPortillo's is kind of a one-stop-shop for Chicago-style food. You can get your hot dogs, Italian beef, and a ton more. They are also known for their chocolate cake shakes, which is a milkshake with bits of chocolate cake mixed up.

The ordering process is a bit scattered and confusing. We grabbed menus, walked up to one of the many lines that were forming and initially told a woman with a handful of bags what our order was. She scribbled some shorthand and then we proceeded to the counter. They confirmed our order (which was actually wrong, and they erased and rewrote it on the bag), and we paid.

PortillosWe found our way up to a table and dug in. The cake shake, which I know is a THING, is weird. I mean, it's a chocolate shake, so that's not bad. But the small, piecey, almost gritty pieces of cake just disrupted the texture of what I thought a milkshake should be. It wasn't bad, of course, but I think I'll take my future milkshakes cake-free.

PortillosThe hot dog was SO good. I didn't think I'd be a big fan of a hot dog with so many veggies on it (because, grumble, gimme my chili and slaw), but it was delicious! The hot dog was snappy and good quality, and I loved the steamed poppyseed bun. It's a different experience - one that's fresh and not super heavy. Very good.

PortillosA side of fries and cheese was just the cherry on top. Nothing especially exciting, but when they give you a cup of cheese, how can it go wrong?

Grade: A
Portillo's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, April 28, 2016

West Virginia Bites & Brews 2016

WV Bites & Brews

This past weekend saw another great fundraiser: West Virginia Bites & Brews 2016. The Children's Discovery Museum of West Virginia, which is now known as SPARK Imagination and Science Center, held the food and beer event on Saturday, April 23 from 5-9 p.m. at the WV National Guard Readiness Center.

WV Bites & Brews
The mission of the Children’s Discovery Museum of West Virginia is "to inspire children and their grown-ups to explore, discover, and grow together through exceptional learning experiences and interactive play." While I haven't had a chance to visit -- and have no kids to which this caters -- I think it's great to have a place where parents and caregivers can participate in their children's learning experience. The museum operates on admission, memberships, donations, fundraisers, grants and sponsorships. So, the tasty bites and brews event served to raise money for the organization.

WV Bites & BrewsTickets for the event were $30 for "bites" only or $40 for "bites" and "brews." If you purchased before April 4, there was a $5 discount. Not too shabby! Plus an 80s/90s cover band "Cover Me Badd." Unfortunately, I'm pretty stupid, and they sold out before I had a chance to purchase one. They sold 235 tickets! So, I got in touch with the organizers to let them know I wanted to write about this first-time event, and they comped me a media pass! Lucky!

WV Bites & Brews
Cupcakes from Alayna's Sweet Treats
So, for the food, there were Hash Browns & New Grounds, Jersey's Subs, Russ's Ribs, and Hometown Hot Dogs. Each had a sample to try, as well as full items to purchase. Dessert vendors included Almost Heaven Cupcakes, Apple Annie's and Alayna's Sweet Treats. Microbreweries included Chestnut Brew Works, Morgantown Brewing Company, Big Timber Brewing Company, and Northern Eagle Distributing with Charleston Brewing Company and Bridge Brew Works beer - which attendees received a souvenir mug in which to drink all the delicious brews.

Food trucks were stationed outside, which was cool, and the desserts and brews were inside.

WV Bites & BrewsHash Browns & New Grounds gave out samples of their gnocchi macaroni & cheese, which is one of my favorite things in the world. The added spice of the grilled pepperoni pulls it all together. Plus, I got to chat with Cody a little bit about the new restaurant he's opening. So excited to see the cool, crazy, awesome, weird stuff he's doing soon!

WV Bites & BrewsJersey's Subs gave out samples of their cheesesteak sandwiches - tasty, as always. And, definitely good for the kinda cool, sunny day outside.

WV Bites & BrewsRuss's Ribs handed out samples of a rib and cornbread. At first, I was going to use my fork so I didn't look like a barbarian, but these were so tender, it wasn't even needed.

WV Bites & BrewsHometown Hot Dogs dished out half a hotdog with any of the fixins you would like! I went for chili, mustard and onions, which hit the spot.

WV Bites & BrewsAlayna's Sweet Treats handed out these chocolate cupcakes, which, what I think I heard her say, was that it was her grandma's chocolate recipe from Germany. The band was loud, so it was tough to tell. But, this girl, who is 14 years old, is incredible. She makes all these delicious cupcakes (look at the photo at the top for full size ones to purchase), and they're beautiful, too! Just super cool.

WV Bites & BrewsAlmost Heaven Cupcakes made strawberry shortcake cupcakes, which were very tasty, as well. And, they just look super cute!

WV Bites & BrewsApple Annie's also ended up making cupcakes - oreo ones! Another mini cupcake that was quite tasty.

For the beers, there was:

Morgantown Brewing Company - Brookside Farmhouse Saison
Chestnut Brew Works - Halleck Pale Ale & Class II Wheatwater
Big Timber Brewing - Sluice Dry Stout & Bit Double IPA
Northern Eagle Distributing providing: Charleston Brewing - The Raj and  Bridge Brew Works - Coffee Stout


Best Food Truck: Hash Browns & New Grounds
Best Dessert: Alayna's Sweet Treats
Best Brew: Big Timber Brewing

Lots of good prizes were also up for silent auction and raffles; I ended up snagging a Blenko water pitcher for $40! Great event, with great prizes, and I hope they raised enough money to make this an annual event! If so, I'll see you next year!