Archive | United States RSS feed for this section

Airport Dining, Midway Airport, and the Hot Italian Beef Sandwich

Well, let’s face it, airport food options always kind of suck. Just by being in an airport, the food is more expensive, the clientele more hurried, and most everyone isn’t even in the best of moods. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above writing up food joints in airports, since there are a few gems out there, but overall, one doesn’t ever go to an airport looking for great food. At best, they find good food despitebeing in an airport. But all that aside, there are a handful of airports that, while not really caring for the airport in and of itself, at least manage to give me some easy access to some regional food cravings. That’s definitely the case with Chicago Midway Airport. While it is night and day better than it was pre-2000 (when the new concourses and arrival/departure main terminal across Cicero opened), it’s still a sucky airport, dominated by discount carriers, and seemingly having been designed with each gate having about 1/3 as much seating as a typical Southwest flight. But, with a substantial fraction of my cross-country flights connecting at Midway, it’s also a handy place for me to indulge in some of my Chicago-area food indulgences. I’ve prattled on before about the Chicago-style hot dog, and Midway isn’t a bad place to get one of those… but this time, I’m talking about that other Chicago-area sandwich, the Hot Italian Beef.

Continue Reading ...

Selden Standard (Detroit, MI)

Like I mentioned in the previous review of Jacoby’s, Detroit has seen a lot of change over the years. Looking around downtown, one of the more significant areas of change in recent years is Detroit’s Cass Corridor. Running along the western edge of “Mid-Town” just west of Woodward Avenue, that whole part of town has had a huge makeover in recent years: when I first started visiting Detroit, up until the early 2000s, the idea of walking between the Detroit Institute of Arts and Downtown was “crazy talk”, involving walking through rather derelict parts of Brush Park or the Lower Cass Corridor (which, long ago, was actually Detroit’s Chinatown, centered roughly on Peterboro and Cass where remnants of Chung’s Restaurant and the On-Leong Merchant’s Association are still actually visible if you have an eye for detail). But by the early 21st century, decay led to wholesale clearing, and for quite a long time Mid-Town and the Cass Corridor were a handful of small businesses separated by vacant lots. But in recent years, the whole corridor has seen quite a resurgence. The building of Lil’ Caesar’s Arena, while unfortunately also bulldozing several historic properties, did stablize the region, and recent economic development throughout Midtown has led to a lot of new restaurants, stores, and even breweries showing up, and many of these new businesses are embracing the locality and trying to make Mid-Town a destination. One great example of this is The Selden Standard.

Continue Reading ...

Jacoby’s Biergarten (Detroit, MI)

If there’s anything that describes Detroit’s complicated history, the phrase “boom and bust” is it. Since even it’s earliest days as a fur trapping colony, it has had a cyclic history, with hallmarks including burning almost completely to the ground in 1805 (the source of its sometimes poignant “Resurget Cineribus”, “We will rise from the ashes” part of its motto), getting rebuilt as a modern metropolitan area, becoming one of the country’s largest banking and industry centers in the Industrial Revolution, having all that collapse in the Great Depression, rebounding again in WW2 as the Arsenal of Democracy, collapsing again in the late 1960s, slowly rebuilding through the 1980s and 1990s, getting hit harder than most in the 2008 mortgage crisis, and having a rather impressive recovery as downtown Detroit reinvents itself as a modern city. Unfortunately, those rounds of rebuilding and “urban renewal” aren’t without their costs: businesses close, their buildings go idle, and in many cases, the combination of economic depression and demand for sports event parking mean that many, many historic buildings and restaurants are now… parking lots. Really old, continuously operated businesses in Detroit are pretty rare. But a notable exception to this is Jacoby’s Biergarten, which has been serving up German food and beer for well over 100 years.

Continue Reading ...

Penny Red’s (Detroit, MI)

One of the more developments I keep seeing these days is the development of “food halls” and “beer halls” (such as the Market Hall Victoria in London that I detailed in my review of Gopal’s Corner) in which one or more bars and a handful of restaurants are combined in a large hall, reminiscent of the food courts of a classic US shopping mall, but including alcoholic beverages and a more curated selection of dining options. In the United States, this concept has been used a lot by the Galley Group who has opened “Galleys” in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit (with more coming in Chicago and Minneapolis), combining beer bars and cocktail bars with a handful of selected dining establishments that all bus your ordered food out to common dining tables. It’s a rather nice model. A more limited version of this opened this Spring in Detroit behind the new Shinola hotel at The Brakeman. Nominally a beer hall, the Brakeman also has two associated businesses attached to it: a cocktail bar inside the Brakeman, and fried chicken joint, Penny Red’s, the focus of this review.

Continue Reading ...

Gaku Ramen (Burlington, VT)

Since we live a little over an hour from Burlington, we tend not to do a lot of late night dining around town, since it’s often easier to grab something in Montpelier or the Upper Valley on the way home. But our recent trip had a staying a night in the very pleasant Hotel Vermont (which has a truly fine beer bar in the lobby), and between our earlier event with friends from the FOM and having a night cap at the Hotel Vermont bar, we decided to do a late evening stroll down Burlington’s Church Street, checking out the late night shopping and dining options. A lot of Church Street’s options close at 9, but a few places keep going for quite a while. While we almost got drawn into Ken’s Pizza (itself worthy of a review at some point), as we got to the south end of Church Street I remembered a place that’s been on our hit list for a while: Gaku Ramen.

Continue Reading ...

Bleu (Burlington, VT)

For our annual celebration of Carol’s birthday, we decided this year to head up to Burlington, VT for a weekend of hanging out with friends, exploring more of Burlington’s great scenery and dining options. Our usual go-to for Burlington is Asian food, since it’s the nearest metro area with a decent selection of Asian restaurants (and indeed, our previous night’s visit was to a ramen shop), but Carol was craving seafood, so we opted for a brunch at Bleu, located inside Burlington’s Courtyard by Marriott.

Continue Reading ...

Creek House Diner (Bethel, VT)

I really like wandering around the back roads of Vermont, and while a lot of the little towns in central Vermont (especially along Route 100) seem to have a lot of neat restaurants, I unfortunately don’t often seem to be driving through those parts of the state when we’re looking for food. But a recent trip to a beer festival in Killington, VT finally gave us a chance to check out one of the places that’s been on our hit list: Creek House Diner in Bethel, VT.

Continue Reading ...

Kowloon (Saugus, MA)

In the post-war Era, literally thousands of “Polynesian” and “Tiki”-themed restaurants showed up around the US, peddling a mostly even mix of Polynesian, Maori, Asian, Pacific Island, and Escapism. Providing a spot where you could get away and sip any one of a number of Tiki or tropical drinks, nosh at a pu pu platter, and, for the larger establishments, maybe even catch a floor show. Sure, if one is looking for “authentic” food (Chinese, Polynesian, Japanese, or otherwise), this isn’t your place, but like I said in last year’s House of Wu, these sorts of places still have a valuable niche in American cuisine, with somewhat equal parts sentimentalism, nostalgia, preservation, adaptation, and, admittedly, bastardization. Once plentiful, changing American tastes, a wider variety of competing cuisines, changing local economies, and different challenges of running a huge restaurant have taken their toll, and many of these 1950s and 1960s places have faced the wrecking ball (including the recent 2018 closings of both Chicopee’s Hu Ke Lau and Lynnfield’s Bali Hai, both former Tiki icons). Despite the trend, Kowloon, in Saugus MA, still hangs on (and heck, it’s one of New England’s highest volume restaurants).

Continue Reading ...

Little Brother Burgers (New London, NH)

Sometimes it can be nice to break a curse. We all know them, those “cursed” restaurant locations that, for one reason or another, seem to consistently fail to thrive as a restaurant for one restaurateur after another, until finally either a restaurant manages to break the curse, or the building owner gives up and converts the space to something other than a restaurant. Well, recently I was heading back home from SE New Hampshire, and decided to meet Carol for dinner in New London at Little Brother’s Burger Company for dinner. Looking up the address, 420 Main St (an, ahem, memorable address), I immediately recognized it as New London’s cursed spot. In my 18 years living in the region, that same address has had one failed restaurant after another. Most recently, it was Cataleya’s Caribbean Grill. Before that, the Hole in the Fence Cafe. A tavern before that, and several other places that have since faded into memory (Snyder’s Tavern, College Cafe, …). The track record for places opening here is, quite frankly, dismal. But hey, a new owner, some new ideas, maybe something will catch this time?

Continue Reading ...

15sx (Andover, MA)

As a NH resident who is primarily going to Boston, Worcester, or Natick when I visit, there are some surprisingly large regions of Massachusetts that I haven’t explored in much detail, just because they sit between my usual traffic routes, such as Melrose (just north of Malden) which I visited for the first time earlier this year, or Andover, which I’d somehow managed to visit every surrounding town but not Andover itself. But a recent Robotics event I was judging in Salem, NH had me looking for cheap but decent hotel accommodations, and I ended up at a reasonably pleasant Holiday Inn Express in North Andover. And, while my various robotic judging activities did include a reasonable amount of food, after things wrapped up one evening I was still interesting in having a light dinner, so I drove over to downtown Andover to finally check it out. It’s a pleasant New England downtown area with a good number of shops and restaurants, and while I originally was eying Andolini’s Italian restaurant, since I was looking for just a light dinner, I ended up in what is essentially their annex next door, 15sx.

Continue Reading ...