Friday, November 30, 2012

Checkers Pancake House

Just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg Illinois is the cute little diner, Checkers Pancake House
It looks to be in a remodeled Wendy's building, but they did a heck of a job on it.  The whole place was extremely shiny and clean.  A busboy was walking around polishing the freaking chairs.  He was actually keeping busy instead of smoking in the parking lot and talking crap about fellow employees.  Color me impressed.  In fact, every single employee was genuinely sweet to us.  Must be something in the water...or coffee.

The menu was similar to Family Restaurant in Davenport.  Pancakes, omelets, and a few dishes with a Greek influence. I knew I wanted a big omelet and Richie wanted a lot of food so we were both pleased with the large menu.  After carefully analyzing my choices, I finally decided on the Hawaiian omelet because I have never thought to pair pineapple with egg.

Richie ordered corned beef and hash, 2 eggs, hash browns, and pancakes.  Less than ten minutes later, our food was served fresh off the griddle.

Aloha!  My ridiculously large omelet was stuffed full of goodies, including the sweet and juicy pineapple chunks.  It was kind of a different taste, not unlike that of Hawaiian pizza.  I enjoyed the salty sweet combination but the mixture of textures was off putting.  I ended up eating around most of the pineapple.
The hash browns were freshly shredded from potatoes.  Definitely a step up from the dehydrated ones that I make from the box.  Just add water.  They were lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.

The pancakes were thick and fluffy but the syrup had a strange flavor.  Maybe we got the sugar free kind on accident?

Richie's meal was nearly gone before I lifted my fork.  A testament to the tastiness of his meal and his amazing digestive system.  We noticed that, like the Family Restaurant, his two eggs magically became four.  Must be using chickens on some serious fertility drugs. 

Both of us left full and happy, especially after seeing our paltry bill for our bounty of food. Checkers is open for just breakfast and lunch, which is unfortunate because their food is perfect for a post midnight feast.
We will be back Checkers.  Oh yes we will.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


On a recent trip to Schaumburg, we stumbled upon a wonderful discovery called Smashburger.  I realize that Smashburger is old news to everyone every where else in the US, but not to people from small town Iowa.  I had actually heard of the chain before, they boast hundreds of North American locations.

 Walking in, we were greeted by a friendly manager who asked if we had ever visited a Smashburger.  We said No, so he explained the menu to us.  The food is all made fresh and their specialty is the beef burgers they smash and sear on the grill.  They have several options or you can pick and choose your toppings. First you choose the bready receptacle for your beef.  They have my personal favorite, pretzel buns.  Love them buns. Then, choose a cheesy cloak for your beef and amass an army of free toppings.  You can also add several fancy schmancy garnishments for small fees, such as fried eggs, avocado, and garlic mushrooms.
 In addition to burgers, they also serve crispy or grilled chicken, black bean burgers, and hot dogs. Yay, choices!  In my black book of restaurants, this positions them higher than Five Guys.  Sides are offered a la carte and include veggie frites, sweet potato fries, and BEHOLD.. fried pickles.  Be still my heart. 

Richie was stoked to see Green River in bottles.

We ordered and paid at the front counter then found a booth to sit in.  The manager even brought over a high chair for us, which I thought was nice because it's a fast food, serve yourself restaurant.  Try getting that service at Burger King.  About five minutes later he brought us our food.

When they say Smashburger, they mean Smashburger.  Even my chicken was smushed flat.  Smashchicken just doesn't have the same name appeal, but it looked and smelled amazing.  Richie ordered the Barbecue Bacon Cheddar and added a fried egg for good measure and poor health. 
Red ordered the hot dog kids meal but it was a might big dog that I couldn't resist tasting.

The chicken came as requested with spinach, mustard, and pickles.  Everything was fresh and the pickles were especially crunchy.  The chicken was juicy and had a good char flavor.  The bun was great and tasted like an big unsalted Super Pretzel.

Richie eloquently described the burger as very juicy and tasty. Cooked perfectly.  The toppings were harmonious and abundent.  Each bite was composed of all the flavors and textures of the sauce, bacon, egg, cheese, and onion straws. 
We shared a side of fries which were concealed by chili, chopped onions, and melted cheese.  The fries beneath remained crispy and never turned soggy from the chili. 
After our meal, I seriously considered opening a franchise in the QCA, but then I remembered that I have no money.  The nearest location is Bloomington Illinois.  So please, will someone bring Smashburger to the Quad-Cities?  Pretty please?  You won't be disappointed. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

11th Street Precinct

Several persuasive friends finally convinced us to visit 11th Street Precinct in the Village of East Davenport.  I'd sort of been avoiding it because I assumed it was just an average bar. I hate bars, they are loud, have the same foods, and terrible lighting.  I hate people in bars, they are loud, smell like beer, and have terrible manners.  We have eaten at bars and never bothered to review them because food always tastes a bit sour when 50 year old drunks are leering at your tattoos.     

 We stopped in pretty early on a weeknight, so it wasn't too crowded or loud.   We found a table in the window and were promptly greeted.  The menu was a bit more expansive than a typical bar with appetizers, salads, pizzas, and pastas.  With a menu that big, I worried that they might not have a specialty, but they claimed to have award-winning tenderloins.  When was this awards ceremony for tenderloins?  I would have gone, dressed to the nines.  I went ahead and ordered one because it would be unIowan to not.   

Richie heard good things about their black angus burgers, so he ordered the bacon cheddar burger.  I Googled black angus to figure out why they superior to normal beef, and it has to do with fat distribution throughout the cut of meat.  So there you go.  

As for an appetizer, we went with Chicago style fries topped with cheese and giardiniera.  Apparently you can make anything Chicago style by throwing peppers and crap on it.

The food took a while to come out but maybe it just feels that way when you have a one year old mashing fruit loops all over the place.

The fries came out topped with lots of rubbery melted cheese, but no giardiniera.  Our waitress brought some out for a side.  

Maybe it was my extreme hunger that day, but that was the BEST pork sandwich I have ever had.  It had great grilled flavor and was very tender.  Not wanting to look like a porker myself, I saved half of it to eat later.  The pasta salad looked suspiciously like the boxed brand, but actually tasted different and better.

Richie's burger was another story.  He was quite disappointed.  Thought it was a little overdone and the toppings were sparse and added no flavor.  For the first time EVER he only ate half the burger.  He did happily demolish the rest of it the next day though.

On the other hand, he really like the light and crispy onion rings.  They have stripes, which completely baffles me as to why.

So if you happen to find yourself in the Village, you might want to stop by 11th Street and try the tenderloin.  There are other cheaper, faster options such as the Deli or  Lagomarcino's, but this is the best evening/sit down option in that area.  Then again, it will be crowded on the weekends and it will cost you a pretty penny, so drive down a ways and check out Front Street or Boozie's for cheaper options and better burgers. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Jarling's Custard Cup

I have quite the sweet tooth but it was actually Richie who wanted to stop at Jarling's Custard Cup after our dinner at Gross' Burgers.  Even though I had just eaten ice cream, the menu sucked me in and many flavors begged to be enjoyed.  When you've been open for over 60 years, there's a lot of time to create new and delectable flavors and treats.

Custard Cup was first opened in 1949 by George and Helen Potter.  George created the original custard recipe.  They retired in 1969 and the Jarling family bought the business.  The family still owns and operates it today.

We drove up around 8 pm and there was a short line of people waiting to order at the windows.  It gave me ample time to check out their menu and make a knowledgeable decision.  I take my frozen treats seriously. Vanilla, chocolate, lemon, orange, and strawberry custard are always available for your tasting pleasure.  They also rotate in other flavors each week.  If I recall, the weekly flavor was Butter Pecan.
Shakes with mix-ins are called Snowstorms.  Typical.  The ice cream pies sounded awesome but I didn't want to display my gluttony in public.  The full menu is online here.

So what did I choose?  I finally settled on a dip of chocolate custard with marshmallow topping.  Relatively tame, but I wanted to be sure I could taste and feel the custard.  That sounds odd.    Ever the sour one, Richie chose his typical lemon custard. 

We sat at a picnic table on the side of the building and enjoyed our frozen delights.  The custard was rich and smooth, very filling compared to the soft serve I had earlier.  I only ate about half of my sundae before I threw in the towel.  The chocolate tasted a bit artificial, or maybe it was the topping, but it wasn't my favorite chocolate dairy treat.  If I go back, I'd like to try orange.

Richie claims Jarling's has the best lemon custard he has ever had.  "Best lemon custard ever. I have yet to find an equal."  That's the most glowing review he has ever given any sweet treat.  He also ordered a green river and gave that a less than stellar review.  "It was clearly made with off brand lime syrup, not official green river flavoring. And it had that crappy slush ice that I hate because it immediately waters stuff down."  I think Lagomarcino's sets the bar pretty high, but I have to agree with his account.  I took one sip and all I could taste was odd flavored water with a hint of lime. 

Overall I would recommend Custard Cup.  It seems to be popular with the locals which is always a good sign.  It's definitely a smoother and more filling treat than a DQ creation, and if you're a fan of custard it's the obvious choice.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gross' Burgers

On a trip to Eastern Illinois, we got a tip to check out a burger joint called Gross’ Burgers.  Anyone who can succeed for 30 years with that name must make a mean burger, so we drove to Danville to check it out.  
 When I see a sign for “gross burgers” I conjure up an image of Wendy’s Jr bacon cheeseburger.  Thankfully, these were nothing like that.

The place is pretty small with several metallic chairs and tables crammed into the dining area and a tall counter where customers place their orders. 

 It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the owner was in the Marine Corps.  Based on the jungle d├ęcor, I’m guessing that he’s a Vietnam vet which automatically makes him a total badass.  Above the door is a mural complete with the front half of a jeep, a machine gun, and empty shells.  Uniforms and American flags adorn the opposite wall.  

 After we ordered and the infantry got to work, we found a place to sit and I took in the surroundings.  I was inspired to start a ‘Nobama’ chant but our burgers arrived and my mouth got too busy.

If you’re like me and have a hard time making decisions, Gross burger is the perfect place.  It is decided that you will have a burger.  If you want a side, it will be fries.  Ice cream presented a problem because I wanted a half and half twist cone.  They do not have chocolate ice cream. So I chose to have blue goo swirled in.  They ran out of the goo.   Finally, I settled on a cone with watermelon swirl.  Shakes are also available in vanilla, chocolate, banana, strawberry, and cherry.  The special is the All American (f*ck yea) meal which, unsurprisingly, includes a massive amount of food for under 7 bucks.  Can you guess what Richie ordered?

The meat for the burgers is ground daily which immediately trumps any fast food burger you’ll find.  (Still waiting for a restaurant that keeps their cows out back.)  The patties are grilled and flattened to the size of a saucer.    I ordered a simple hamburger with pickles, ketchup, and mustard.  The burger spilled out the sides of the bun, so Red and I started with the well done edges.   After the long journey to the center of the burger, I was full, but the burger was just getting to it’s juiciest. 

Feast your eyes on Richie’s triple cheeseburger.  Though the crust of the burger looks well done, you can still see pink in there.  Ooh Rah.   He went on the offense and gobbled that thing up.  

The fries are pretty standard looking but they are dressed in a light garlic salt.  Each table is locked and loaded with little containers of garlic salt and cayenne pepper.    

 Someone was also clumsy enough to dump about a gallon of garlic salt on the floor by the trash cans.  My shoes still smell delicious.  

 The ice cream was fun because of the red swirl which really did taste like watermelon…well…  Laffy Taffy watermelon, because real watermelon tastes like air.    After dessert we evacuated by chopper and Operation Frequent Binge was complete.  

Gross’ Burgers is just the place we love to visit and blog about.  The setting is interesting and homey, the service is fast, and the food is delicious.  If you’re in Danville for lunch, go get Grossed out.
Here’s a great article from another Gross’ Burgers fan.
Gross's Burgers on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 6, 2012

Crust Stone Oven Pizza and Pub

Not a fan of Quad-Cities style pizza, Richie was eager to try the new restaurant, Crust Stone Oven Pizza and their "European" style pizzas. Oh la la.  On Bix Saturday, we pulled into the parking lot and weren't sure if they were open or not.  As we walked in, we saw that it was only the 3rd Saturday they were open during lunch hours.  Their normal business hours don't begin until 4 p.m. on all other days of the week.
 We were offered either a table inside or on the patio, so we opted for the chilly air conditioned dining room.  The interior is pretty swanky looking- black and white, dim lights, photography on the walls.  Each wall was adorned with a couple of TVs turned to either ESPN, the Cubs game, or some snooze fest volleyball Olympic game.  Sad choices, so I stared at the walls instead.  And these randoms

The menu is small, but appealing.  The appetizer and sandwich section offers fancified french fries and cheese curds, a chicken sandwich, a burger, and mac n cheese.  The pizza offerings are your typical pepperoni, margherita, and sausage, plus a few interesting flavors- chorizo potato, three pigs, and chicken artichoke.  View the menu here.

Being the good carnivore he is, Richie ordered the three pig pizza which is topped with pancetta, capacolla, and soppresatta a.k.a. a bunch of pork.  Don't ask which meat is which.  The pizza is baked in a stone oven with temps of up to 900 degrees.  Need to get rid of a dead body?  The pizzas cook in about 90 seconds.  My mac n cheese held us up, but we still received our food very quickly, in about 10 minutes.

The macaroni had a nice crust on it, dotted with bacon. Mmm more pig. The inside was very hot and filled with melted gouda cheese, bacon, and peas.  It was creamy, flavorful, and the peas made me feel like I made a healthy choice.  (I didn't)

I shared my order with Scarlett, who also gave it a tiny thumbs up, though I think she prefers Easy Mac. 

Richie devoured about half of his pizza.  The crust is very thin and chewy, so it wasn't hard to do.

He actually thought it was a little underdone and could've used a few more seconds in the oven.  He didn't eat the top crust, but I did, and I enjoyed the taste and texture had a bit of char flavor.  He happily reported that the meats each had a bold, distinct flavor.  However, they were a bit salty to his palate and decided he would try pepperoni next time.  Nonetheless, he claimed that it was delicious and real pizza, "unlike that Quad-Cities style stuff."  Whatever.

He also downed a mug of Steven's Point Root Beer.  For 4 bucks you should get to keep the glass.  He likened it to Barqs because it had a bitter bite to it.

We had no issues with our waitstaff, and I read about a cool thing they did, but a friend of mine who went on the restaurant's second day said his waitress was very rude and ignored his table to talk with her friends.  He also said that management dismissed his complaints.  If you aren't given good service, be sure to complain.  Maybe they will listen or maybe they will continue to be douchey.
Crust Stone Oven Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Zombie Burger

With The Walking Dead and people eating each others' faces, zombies are all the rage.  I've never been a fan, but when I heard about Zombie Burger in Des Moines, I immediately planned to stumble into Des Moines with a hungry belly and craving for burrrrrgerssss.
After a long drive from the QC to Dead Moines, we arrived ready to eat around 3 p.m.  the first thing to know is that Zombie Burger is not a theme restaurant.  You are not greeted at the door by a "sexy zombie" in terrible stage make up.  It is owned by chef George Formaro, who also owns some fancy pants restaurants in the DM area.  We entered the sit down restaurant side, but dashing diners also have a to-go option at the counter.

The interior of the restaurant, luckily, is not filled with bloody brains and loose limbs.  It feels a bit like a shiny steel fortress protecting it's diners from evils lurking about. 

We sat beneath a mural on the far wall.

The menus mimic a newspaper with news of zombie attacks and cheeky articles on the front, the good stuff on the back.  Most of them reference zombie movies, but I'm not cool enough to know which ones. 

All the burgers are available as either beef, chicken, veggie burger, or portobello mushroom.  The toppings are what distinguish one terrifying treat from the next.
I chose the Trailer Trash with grilled chicken.  Richie chose the

  and added a fried egg on top because he's worried about low cholesterol.
The joint also has a drink lab with options for sober survivors.  I chose the Tallahassee, a shake with cherry Kool aid powder and a Twinkie. Pretty sure 7 year old me had that idea but it didn't quite work out.   Richie chose the plain ol' cherry Kool-aid shake. 

The shakes were thoroughly blended and had a light artificial cherry flavor, which is pretty much what one would expect from a Kool-aid shake. Tastes like summers in the 80s. We started with some poutine fries which looked about as good as they sound. They tasted OK. Imagine eating french fries dipped in gravy and sprinkled with chunks of cheese.  Yep.  That's poutine for ya.  Like a vulture I picked out the cheese and left the remains.

About 5 minutes later, the burgers rose from the grave and we inspected all of their entrails.  Mine included mostly fried versions of traditional trashy foods.  Pickles, cheese, and bacon.  Yes, chicken fried bacon.  And you thought bacon could not be improved.

 Richie's massive double burger included American cheese, caramelized onions, bacon, and zombie sauce  plus two smushed grilled cheese sandwiches to serve as a bun.  There was a lot of grunting and groaning while he was trying to finish this thing.....sort of like a ...zombie? 

The food was amazing in the worst way possible.  The odd combination of tastes and flavors seemed to work, mostly because everything on my sandwich was fried. It was a little dry because I nixed the ranch and the cheese curds kept popping out. I didn't master the smush-and-eat zombie technique. Ran a 20k the following morning and the Trash sat in my stomach like a rock (brain?) during the whole race.  I felt like walking..sort of like a... zombie? Hmmm.