Chicago q

***** (5 stars)

This might not be the best barbecue place in Chicago, but it’s certainly the nicest, and I love their approach to food and beverage. They focus on flights of both, and offer variety in surprising ways.

For example, we started with the barbecue flight, a good way to sample brisket, pulled pork and pulled chicken. It came with four(!) different barbecue sauces, all of which were good.

Well, we didn’t actually start with that, because when you sit down they give you a generous basket of seasoned house-made potato chips and delicious sweet pickles.

For our main courses we had the chicken and waffles and another flight, this time of eggs benedict. I still don’t really get the combination of chicken and waffles, but both were good–even better when I asked for some barbecue sauce to dunk the chicken in. The eggs benedict was served three ways, each of them huge: with brisket, pulled pork, and pulled chicken. But it was different from the barbecue flight, because each was on a different base: biscuit, fried green tomato, and corn bread. Each also had a different Hollandaise sauce, which my dining companion wisely opted to have on the side. A little bit was all it needed.

There’s a really extensive list of beers, wines, whiskey, bourbon, scotch and a limited list of cocktails. Staying with the flight theme, we tried the Grand Tasting, which consisted of nine(!) whiskeys. It wasn’t cheap, but it was a real learning experience, because they were all so different, and the beverage manager was really knowledgeable about them.

For the record, here are my ratings (on a scale of 10) for the flight:

Auchentoshan Whiskey (American Oak) 6/10
Hibiki Harmony (Japanese) 7/10
Wieser Uuahouua (Pinot Noir barrels, Austrian) 7.5/10

Compass Box Spice Tree (clove cardamom cinnamon) 7/10
Elijah Craig (barrel strength 102 proof) 8/10
Slaughter House by Orin Swift 9/10

Noah’s Mill Bourbon 6.5/10
Willet Pot Still Bourbon 7/10
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked 9/10

I really like the whole approach to food and beverages at Chicago q.

Chicago q
1160 N Dearborn St
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 642-1160
http://www.yelp.com/biz/chicago-q-chicago

Portillo’s Hot Dogs & Barnelli’s Salad Bowl

*** (3 stars)

I’ll start by confessing I’m not a huge fan of Chicago-style hot dogs or Italian beef sandwiches. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

That said, there’s a lot to like about Portillo’s. Foremost, it’s not a hot dog stand or a dumpy diner, it’s a stylish, themed, village-like food court with several counters: one for their specialties, a separate operation for Italian food, and a hamburger counter. The interior ambiance is great.

The main attractions are hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, so that’s what I tried.

The Chicago dog was pretty much like all the others I’ve had: very soft roll with poppy seeds, very tender dog, green relish, large pickle, and a couple of sport peppers. Nothing really distinguished it, except that the sport peppers were a bit tamer than some I’ve had, making it easier to taste the rest.

The Italian beef was less interesting. The very tender shaved beef had little flavor, and the very soft, soggy roll didn’t thrill me. I’m not sure what would have fixed this, but no condiments were available. I wouldn’t order it again.

The vanilla shake was good, a bit frothy compared to some.

Overall Portillo’s was fine, but I see no compelling reason to return.

Portillo’s Hot Dogs & Barnelli’s Salad Bowl
100 W Ontario St
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 587-8910
http://www.yelp.com/biz/portillos-hot-dogs-and-barnellis-salad-bowl-chicago

3 Greens Market


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***** (5 stars)

Perhaps the 3 in the title of this place if for the three expansive salad bars. They certainly look good. I say “look” because I haven’t actually tried them. On my next visit I need to do that. But this visit was all about a hamburger.

Ever since Au Cheval’s burger was named the best in the country by several sources I’ve been attempting to try it. Unfortunately, every time I’ve gone there it’s either had ridiculous wait times or been unexpectedly closed (mid-afternoon they only serve drinks and snacks). In fact, it’s been a lot like my failed attempts to try Hot Dougs, but that’s another story.

Anyway, when I saw that they’d spun off a smaller operation called Small Cheval, I resolved to try the burger that way, but somehow never managed to get there.

So when I saw that 3 Greens Market was serving a Small Cheval burger, I spotted my chance to at last try the famous burger. Of course, it’s a burger twice-removed from its source, but still… It was a mighty good hamburger.

I like my burgers pretty much loaded. But some people just like mustard and ketchup. What’s interesting about this burger is that those are the two ingredients that aren’t included. So some people probably wouldn’t like it, but I did.

Here, the emphasis is on the two perfectly cooked beef patties, the very melted cheese, and the garlic aioli. Secondary flavors come from the pickle slices and chopped onion. I added bacon which, in retrospect, was unneeded. The bun is sturdy enough to hold the whole thing together, an impressive achievement considering how much is going on.

Of course, when someone declares a thing “the best” they’re setting it up for comparison and naysaying, and in fact I’ve had burgers I liked better, including one here in Chicago at Good Stuff Eatery. But this is a very good burger, and I wouldn’t argue with someone who says it’s their favorite.

The accompanying fries were skinny, very crisp, but didn’t have a lot of flavor.

3 Greens has Coke Freestyle machines, which are always fun to experiment with.

Counter service is friendly and efficient.

Next time: the salad bars. Maybe.

3 Greens Market
354 West Hubbard Street
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 888-9195
http://www.yelp.com/biz/3-greens-market-chicago-3

Crispers

*** (3 stars)

We used to go to this Crispers all the time, but a number of years ago they reduced the potions sizes and we stopped going. I’m glad we tried it again, because it seems like things are back on track. My flatbread was good, and the Thai Chicken salad was excellent. Portion sizes are now generous, and the pricing seems reasonable. I like the “pick two” approach.

The thing that drives me crazy is the inefficient ordering process for a group, which is unchanged after all these years. They make each person place their order while everyone stands around waiting, and then process the credit cards one by one. This means the first item can’t start being prepared until the last item has been paid for, which is incredibly inefficient. And having six or eight people standing around at the register is really annoying. Every other counter service restaurant in town manages to put the same table placard number on each person’s check without this nonsense (see Pei Wei, for example). It’s time someone with some efficiency sense showed Crispers how to do it.

Crispers
2228 S Kirkman Road
Orlando, FL 32811
(407) 296-4551
http://www.yelp.com/biz/crispers-orlando

Pizza @ Artegon

**** (4 stars)

I’ve been to this mall many times over the past fifteen years, and it has always been deserted. But I hadn’t been there since it changed to Artagon, so I was surprised to find… that it’s still deserted.

Be that as it may, this is an excellent pizza spot. You place your order at the counter and supervise as they assemble your pizza and run it though a conveyor oven, a process that only takes a few minutes.

The resulting pizza is on a thin, tasty crust. What’s really nice is that for about $8 you can put up to six ingredients on. Usually extra ingredients are ridiculously expensive, so I love this build your own approach.

That said, I decided to go with one of their featured recipes, the”Goofy Foot.” I’m not sure what a sauceless seafood pizza has to do with where you put your feet on a skateboard, but it was delicious. The combination of cheeses, mahi, shrimp, basil and chili oil really went together. My only complaint was that for some reason–probably the amount of moist ingredients–condensation immediately began to form under the crust, and I had to keep moving it around to keep it from dissolving. I’d like to experiment with ingredients and see if there’s a way to get a truly crispy crust.

Everyone in our group absolutely loved their pizzas, and said they’d like to return. That shouldn’t be a problem, as there will likely be no lines.

Pizza @ Artegon
5250 International Dr
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 480-5008
http://www.yelp.com/biz/pizza-artegon-orlando

Giordano’s

*** (3 stars)

I’ve never been a fan of deep dish pizza, so there’s that. I find the crust tastes like saltine crackers, and there’s just too much filling.

Plus, it takes about 40 minutes to cook, which is tool long for lunch hour. So it’s unfortunate that the only pizza lunch specials at Giordano’s involve deep dish pizza (what they called stuffed).

Still, they offer regular pizza and even an extra thin version. Unfortunately they have that same weird dough. Not my favorite.

That said, their Caesar salad is excellent. And the service at this Giordano’s is excellent. So if deep dish is your thing, by all means check it out.

Giordano’s
6203 W Sand Lake Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 377-0022
http://www.yelp.com/biz/giordanos-orlando-3

Lac Viet

***** (5 stars)

We had a great meal here, made all the more memorable because the night before we ate at Morimoto Asia. The food a Lac Viet was substantially better, and one third the price.

The interior of the restaurant–which I remember from decades ago, when it was Le Cordon Bleu–is bright and open, divided in to many intimate rooms.

We started with the Tom Yum, which had a thinner and less tomato-based broth than the Thai version I’m used to, but despite it’s clarity, it was the most flavorful Tom Yum I’ve ever tasted, with just the right spice level.

The seafood crepe was also good, although not quite what I was expecting. Fried to a crispy gold, it looked more like a giant taco, filled with bean sprouts, shrimp and other goodies. This is a giant appetizer, so plan ahead.

The Vermicelli bowl is always my favorite at Vietnamese restaurants, and this was no exception, the combination of charred pork, cucumber, sprouts, vermicelli, and greens was delicious, especially with some added fish sauce, hoisin and Sriracha.

The other entree we tried was a massive assortment of pork, beef and chicken. The pork and chicken had each been sautéed with different sauces and vegetables, and were absolutely delicious. This one dish is plenty for sharing, but we were happy to have lots of all three preparations to take home for later. This dish really emphasized the light touch of Lac Viet, because it was similar to Chinese stir fry, and yet there was none of the heavy oiliness that turns me off of Chinese food. Really great stuff.

There is a small but well thought out list of wines and beers. Service is attentive and helpful.

There are quite a few good Vietnamese restaurants in Orlando, particularly in the Mills 50 area, but Lac Viet is the best I’ve been to anywhere.

Lac Viet
2021 E Colonial Dr
Orlando, FL 32803
(407) 228-4000
http://www.yelp.com/biz/lac-viet-orlando

Panera Bread

**** (4 stars)

Every Panera I’ve been to has essentially identical food, so reviewing it seems superfluous; you either like it or not.

Panera always seems a bit like a bait and switch to me, as they bill themselves as healthy, yet most of what they serve is not particularly good for you. Just look at that bakery display! But you can eat healthy if you try, and assuming their calorie counts are honest they must have the lowest calorie tuna sandwich on the planet. Also, did you know you can get an apple instead of chips?

What sets Paneras apart is the location, and this one is well-sited. It’s easy to get in and out, has lots of parking, and even a drive through. Also, there is a porch, so you can eat outside, yet be in the shade.

Service is friendly, but I sure wish they wouldn’t page you before your food is up, a reliable occurrence. What’s the point of the pager if you’re just going to stand at the counter anyway?

You can also order online and pick your food up in a bag on the shelf; very convenient.

Panera Bread
4200 Conroy Road
Orlando, FL 32839
(407) 248-0811
http://www.yelp.com/biz/panera-bread-orlando-7

Circa 57

**** (4 stars)

This place is all about the decor, which is fabulous. I’m not sure there were any diners in the 50s that were actually this nice, but it gets each individual element perfect, right down to the two-tone glittery piping on the vinyl booths.

The menu is exactly what you’d expect from a place that serves 50s comfort food, with very little concession to modern nutrition. Everything we tried was good, and probably less greasy than its 50s inspirations.

Service was attentive and friendly. This is an excellent choice for before theater dinner.

Circa 57
101 W Campbell St
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
(847) 392-1957
http://www.yelp.com/biz/circa-57-arlington-heights