Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Meat Heads (Bloomington, IL)

305 N. Veterans Pky, Suite 107, Bloomington, Illinois 61704, T: 309-661-8866

According to their website, "Meat Heads is a simple concept that focuses on serving high quality burgers, fresh cut fries and beverages in a stylish and casual atmosphere." They opened their first restaurant in Bloomington, IL in 2007 and have since opened two more franchises and are planning at least 4 new ones (all in Illinois). The set-up looks suspiciously like the Five Guys chain: both chains only have fresh burgers, fries (reg and cajun) and beverages. However, unlike Five Guys, which only offers build-your-own burgers, Meat Head offers six "signature burgers" (mostly burger versions of famous sandwiches, like the Philly and the NY Ruben).

I went for The Meathead, a double patty with the classic vegetables, but exchanged the various sauces (ketchup, mustard, mayo) for bbq sauce and added bacon ($.50) and fresh jalapeno! I also got a regular portion of cajun fries ($1.50). Clearly, the Meat Heads didn't only steal the looks of Five Guys, they also rival their high quality. The burger was very tasty, even though the patties were thinner than at Five Guys (hence, I advice to take the double patty!), and the cajun fries were even more tasty.

VERDICT: 89/100
Meat Heads might not be the most original place, or offer the broadest choice, but what they do, they do very well. Everything is fresh and tasty!

Hamburg Inn (Iowa City, IA)

214 N Linn St, Iowa City, IA 52245-2149, T: 319-337-5512

The Hamburg Inn started in the 1930s and is allegedly the oldest family-owned restaurant in Iowa. It is situated in the University of Iowa area. The inside is quaint and old-fashioned, although one thing stands out: the endless pictures of famous people who have dined at the Hamburg Inn (including various presidents) and off stories about the establishment. Clearly, you are at a place of considerable repute here.

As I was not very hungry, I only had a small order: a bison burger with fries ($7.99). The burger came with mustard, onion, pickles and ketchup; I deluxed it with lettuce and tomato for $.40 (which is fairly ridiculous). The bison burger itself was thick and tasty. The crinkle fries were thick but tasted a bit old and lukewarm. The authentic setting was somewhat undermined by the arti-studenti waiters and the loud music blasting from the kitchen.

VERDICT: 81/100
The Hamburg Inn provides undoubtedly the best in Iowa City. I do not understand, however, why the place would be hyped outside of the city. Their burgers are good, but not outstanding.

Frostee's (Winterset, IA)

101 E Green St, Winterset, Iowa, T: 515-462-2777

Frostee's is a small ice cream place in the middle of the small town of Winterset, IA, birthplace of John "The Duke" Wayne. It only has a couple of outside benches. Although it mainly sells ice creams and shakes, it also has some hot snacks (such as hot dogs).

I inquired about a 'cyclone', their specialty, which according to the girl behind the counter was similar to a McFlurry at McDonalds or a Blizzard at the Dairy Queen. I decided to go for a small cyclone ($3.16) in the flavor 'banana split' and made with choclate (rather than vanilla) ice cream. The rsult was tasty, although it mainly tasted like chocolate ice cream with a couple of pieces of banana in it (oddly enough, it also seem to have some other fruits in it).

VERDICT: 72/100
A fairly standard small town ice cream place. No thrills, although I did enjoy the authenticity of the place.

Oklahoma Joe's BBQ (Kansas City, MO)

3002 W 47th Avenue, Kansas City, KS 66103, T: 913-722-3366

Oklahoma Joe's is one of the most famous bbq restaurants in the US. The winner of dozens of prizes, its original restaurant is situated in a former gas station (it now also has a location in Olathe, KS). As I had expected, there was a long line when I came in, but the efficient team behind the counter moved fast, so in the end the wait wasn't too bad and there was ample seating.

Unfortunately, I wasn't very hungry when I arrived at Oklahoma Joe's, and I heard great things about the sides, so I ordered only a regular pulled pork sandwich ($4.79), a regular bag of fries ($2.35), and a cup of spicy coleslaw ($3.19). The pork was firm but tender and you could smell and taste the smokiness of the meat. The award-winning sauce was very tangy and tasty. As I had been told by M., the fries were absolutely amazing, as was their own mayo (which , for my Belgian readers, had a bit of a samurai-feel to it). The spicy slaw, finally, lived up to its name and had a real kick to it.

VERDICT: 95/100
I love Oklahoma Joe's! I cannot wait to get back and try some of their other meat dishes, including ribs and a Carolina sandwich... but how do you do that without missing out of those amazing sides?!?!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Al's Chickenette (Hays, KS)

700 Vine St, Hays, Kansas, T: 785-625-7414

Another tip from Roadfood, Al's Chickenette is the place to be for... indeed, chicken! Now, I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of fried chicken, but when it is good and boneless, you can count me in. So, I took the exit from the I-70 and arrived just in time (the kitchen closes at 8.30 on Sundays).

I ordered a chicken tender dinner, which includes fries and a side salad, and a soda for a total of $10. The fries were thin-cut and home-made, but fried too cold, and thus soggy and overly fat. The salad was mostly dressing and iceberg lettuce - not necessarily bad, just not remarkable. What was remarkable, however, was the chicken. At first I was a bit upset that the tenders came without any dipping sauces. But when I took my first bite, I knew why: these tenders don't need any sauces. They were lightly battered and perfectly fried, making them so tender that you could almost suck them. Amazing!

VERDICT: 82/100
Whether you are a chicken-person or not, when you drive along the I-70 in Kansas, you must stop by Al's Chickenette. However, don't waste your stomach space (or calories, whatever) on the sides, stick with their specialty: fried chicken!

Toast (Littleton, CO)

2700 West Bowles Ave, Littleton, Colorado 80120, T: 303-797-9543

In a suburb of Denver is a place called Toast, which prides itself on "fine food and coffee", and deservedly so. I saw online that it has the best pancakes in Denver, so I went there for Sunday brunch. Unfortunately, it was absolutely packed and there was a wait of 30 minutes (slightly shorter because I was alone :-).

As everything looked really good, and I was very hungry (or so I thought), I ordered a "Big Breakfast": three eggs, bacon and sausages, home fries (which I substituted for wheat toast), and pancakes (which I upgraded for $1.99 to banana foster pancakes). Together with my large Americano this set me back almost $20! BUT, was it worth it!!! The bread was great, the bacon crispy, the sausages zesty, and the pancakes were simply amazing (the caramelly foster sauce was divine). Even the coffee is really good! Moreover, the portions were so big that I had to leave one piece of toast, one sausage, and roughly a quarter of the pancakes (and believe me, I did everything I could to finish that plate!).

VERDICT: 92/100
As far as breakfasts/brunches go, Toast is a 'little' piece of heaven! I don't know for a fact that their pancakes are the best in the Denver area, but I find it highly unlikely that even better pancakes would remain unnoticed anywhere.

Wienerschnitzel (Grand Junction, CO)

2550 North Avenue, Grand Junction, Colorado 81501

Wienerschnitzel is a chain that specializes in.... exactly, hot dogs! Although they are branching out to include other dishes, such as burgers, chili and sandwiches, do not expect to find anything even resembling a wienerschnitzel! The chain is mostly in the southwest of the US, but has recently made its way as much east as Illinois.

I visited a branch in Grand Junction, Colorado, where the server seemed particularly annoyed with her job. Anyway, I ordered a chili dog ($1.29), and a pastrami sandwich combo (incl. regular fries and a medium drink at $6.39 -- incidentally, a mere $.38 cheaper than when you order everything separate). The chili dog tasted like shit, the fries were ok, and the pastrami (really?) sandwich tasted like mustard and pickle.

VERDICT: 32/100
The fact that a chain with the name Wienerschnitzel does not sell wienerschnitzels should already say enough. But the food they do serve is crap, as is their service. Thus, stay away from this disaster!

Westside Drive In (Boise, ID)

1939 West State, Boise, Idaho, T: 208-342-2957

The day before I made my (second) cross-country trip from Oregon to Indiana, I had bought the book Roadfood, which also has a website, and that was undoubtedly my best purchase in years. The Westside Drive In was one of their tips; not just because of their (allegedly famous) Chef Lou or their signature potato ice cream desert, but most of all because of their overall high quality food.

The Westside Drive In has a huge menu, including a broad variety of burgers, sandwiches, different types of fries, shakes, ice creams, etc. etc. I went for a Cajun burger, small curly fries, and a small banana shake (all for $10.57). DELISH!!! The burger, which was juicy and tasty, came with lecttuce, pickles, friend onions and peppers, and a zesty red sauce. The curly fries were tasty, if standard. The shake had real banana and was not too sweet or creamy.

VERDICT: 91/100
The Westside is definitely the best drive in I have visited so far. I wish I had another opportunity to sample some of the other burgers and shakes.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hawg Wild BBQ & Grill (Corbin, KY)

1880 Cumberland Falls Hwy, Corbin, KY 40701, T: 606-258-9944

In a tiny village in Kentucky one finds the Hawg Wild BBQ & Grill , a small restaurant with a big outside smoker. As we arrive, around 2 PM on a Sunday, they are already out of some sides (notably coleslaw). We ordered a half rack of ribs with two sides (apple-baked beans and potato salad - $12) and a pulled pork sandwich ($3). The ribs were Memphis style, although we were not impressed by the dry rub. That said, the ribs were quite tasty, as was the sauce, but the pulled pork was dry and tangy.

Thus, we ordered another dish, which looked much more interesting on the other table than on the menu: spiral fries ($3). The spiral fries are by and large freshly fried chips, but definitely among the best chips I ever had. You do have to eat them warm though; I finished half several hours later and they had lost much of their magic.

VERDICT: 76/100
Definitely an authentic bbq place with ups and downs. I suggest the ribs and spital fries. They won't disappoint (as the pulled pork will).

Gold Star Chili (Wilder, KY)

1007 Town Drive, Wilder KY, 41076, T: 859-781-0333
(there are 90 restaurants, of which almost 80 in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area)

Gold Star Chili is a chain in the Cincinnati/North Kentucky area; allegedly Cincinnati is Chilitown USA. It falls between a fast food place and a restaurant (there are waiters). They serve chili in bowls, on corndogs, on hot dogs, and on spaghetti.

M. has a vegetarian chili with beans, while I took a firehouse coney, and garlic bread. The firehouse coney is a small hot dog with mildly spicy chili; tasty, but not remarkable. Similarly, the garlic bread was tasty, but not remarkable. Prices were acceptable, however (roughly $10 for everything, including a small soda).

VERDICT: 72/100
Gold Star Chili is a decent enough fast food chain that provides an alternative to burgers. The chili wasn't bad, but the hot dog was extremely small. I do remain curious about the chili spaghetti.

Fat Matt's Rib Shack (Atlanta, GA)

1811 Piedmont Ave NE, Atlanta, GA, T: 404-607-1622

Fat Matt's Rib Shack is a blues and bbq institution in Atlanta. Whenever you swing by, there will be a highly multicultural line waiting. Every night there will be a live band; and if they are not playing, some great blues will come from the speakers in- and outside.

The menu is quite limited, but trust me, you don't need anything else than they offer. I ordered a 1/2 slab of ribs ($9.75), a chopped pork sandwich (with chips) ($3.95), a side of coleslaw ($1.20), and lemonade ($1.25). The ribs are simply amazing; so juicy, you can suck them of the bone. The pulled pork sandwich is incredibly tender, juicy and tasty; the best I ever had. Finally, the coleslaw and lemonade are very tasty too, if not truly remarkable.

VERDICT: 96/100
What else can I say than, if you are ever in a 100 mile radius of Atlanta, GO TO FAT MATT'S!!! Do NOT leave without having eaten the ribs and chopped pork sandwich... the rest is up to you!

Brown's Diner (Nashville, TN)

2102 Blair Blvd, Nashville, TN 37212, T: 615-269-5509

This dark, shady pub in downtown Nashville allegedly has the best burgers in town. The menu is very limited, particularly with regard to burgers: hamburgers and cheeseburgers. The do offer various other dishes, including some bbq staples. To be honest, my expectations weren’t high when I ordered.

I got a hamburger ($3.99), a small cup of chili ($3.50), and a side of coleslaw ($1.75). The hamburger was quite small, but thick and juicy. It came with lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles, and… mustard! Odd, I hear you think. Yes, but very tasty too! Similarly, the cheeseburger (with mayo instead of mustard; $4.25) received raving reviews from my friends. The chili was very acceptable, although a bit too beany and salty for me. The coleslaw was not very creamy, which I like, but could have been tastier. The fries, which were ordered ‘for the table’, were very disappointing – thin yet still a bit soggy.

VERDICT: 76/100
Brown’s Diner is an experience for sure. However, when you go there, stick with the burgers! They are really good, although they look and sound very average, they are definitely among the better burgers I had. Unfortunately, the rest of the menu doesn’t meet the same high standard.

Friterie Verviers Station (Verviers, Belgium)

Rue d'Ensival 1Y, 4800 Verviers, Belgium, T: 087-33-45-55

This friture was a tip of a friend of my brother T. and clearly, he knew what he was talking about. It is one of three snack bars around the railway station of Verviers, in the Walloon region, but by far the busiest.

Despite the abundance of choice, we went for our usuals. I ordered a medium frites with mayonnaise and a vuurvreter (fire eater) with samurai sauce, while T. went for a large fries with pickles and samurai as well as a cheese soufflĂ©. The fries were very freshly cut and fried crispy. They were filling without being overly fat. The snacks and sauces were excellent too, though from the regular distributor. I don’t remember exactly what we paid for it, but it was roughly one-third cheaper than in downtown Antwerp.

VERDICT 90/100
After eating here, it made perfect sense why it was this particular friterie that had a long line of customers, whereas the others were largely empty. Friterie Verviers Station has great fries, excellent snacks, quick (if not particularly friendly) service, and very acceptable prices.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

De Griek (Leiden, Netherlands)

Steenstraat 21, 2312 BT Leiden, T: 071-512-81-55

This Greek snack bar opened when I was still a student in Leiden, years and years ago, and was the cause of many a pouind extra packed on my no longer tight body. Over the years they have opened a couple of other places in Leiden, but this one remains my favorite.

De Griek (The Greek) is most liked for its meats: gyros, souvlaki, and suzuki; but they also have moussake, daily made, Greek salads, etc. My favorite is the mixed grill, De Griek which has all three meats, fries, salad, and tzatziki. Heavenly! This time, however, I settled for a pita gyros (€ 5,00), which comes with cabbage, tomato, and tzatziki. Although (because?) their pitas are greasier than most, they are also tastier. What an absolute delight. If only I had a De Griek in Plainfield, IN.

VERDICT: 92/100
As far as Greek fast food joints go, De Griek is the best I have ever eaten. The gyros comes straight off the skewer, the tzatziki is delicious, and the portions are accurate. I can't wait to be back for the mixed grill De Griek!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Australian Home Made Ice Cream (Antwerpen, Belgium)

De Keyserlei, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

(this is a Belgian chain with almost 30 shops in the country)

Australian Home Made Ice Cream was founded in 1989 in Knokke, at the Belgian coast, and today has almost 30 franchises throughout the country. They have a broad range of ice cream flavors (overall they developed some 50 different ones) and also serve waffles. Prices vary by franchise, although not much.

To be honest, I am not a big fan of ice cream; I prefer sorbets, or water-based ice. Australian home made ice cream is very creamy and sweet. For me, this only works with a few tastes, notably butterscotch. So, I ordered a cone with one scoop, which cost me 2 euro (about 20 cents more expensive than the other franchise in Antwerp). The ice cream was very sweet and buttery, but I love the little chunks of brown sugar in it.

VERDICT: 72/100
Australian is for people who like really creamy and sweet ice cream. For lovers of Italian ice (cream), like me, there are few flavors that are acceptable.

Pita Pan (Antwerpen, Belgium)

Keyser Center - UGC (next to the entry of the cinema) -- CLOSED IN JANUARY 2010!

Pita Pan is a Greek fast food chain with 17 restaurants in Greece and Cyprus and, since April 2009, one outside of Greece, in Antwerp. Its menu includes staples of Greek food, such as pita gyros, souflaki, but also various salads and other vegetarian options.

I ordered a Gyros Pita Pan (€ 5.20), which is classic pita gyros with salad and tzatziki sauce (but without fries, as they do in Greece). The ingredients were really fresh and the bread was crusty, but the tzatziki lacked that thick creamy taste I like on my pita. It was also quite small, particularly given the price.

VERDICT: 82/100
Pita Pan seems to be more a healthy snack option than a true pig out spot. Although they do carry various meat pita’s, they tend to be small and fairly light. Still, if your girlfriend wants something healthy and fresh, you can always go here and still get some grease in. ;-)

Frituur Skyline (Antwerpen, Belgium)

Gemeentestraat 5, 2060 Antwerpen, T: 03-234-04-30

Frituur Skyline is one of my favorite snack bars in Antwerp. This is not just because the quality is high, but also because it has an amazing selection of snacks, including at least 4 different meatballs. It is situated in a main street close to the railway station and is open till 1 AM weekdays and 3 AM in the weekends.

As always, I ordered a medium french fries (2.15) with mayonnaise (0.50) and a gigantico (2.20) with samurai sauce (0.60). A gigantico is a huge frankfurter with a layer of thick batter around it. Skyline is one of the few snack bars in Antwerp that carries this snack. Unfortunately, this time the owners were on holiday and a temp took care of business. Not only did she annoy me with her racist talk, she also undercooked my fries and overcooked my snack. However, normally the fries and snacks are baked well, so I will ignore this unfortunate mishap and judge the general performance.

VERDICT: 84/100
Frituur Skyline had really good fries, delivered fresh daily, but truly excels in its range of snacks (ca. 45) and sauces (over 30 different hot and cold ones). Prices are normal for Antwerp centrum. I highly recommend the gigantico and the swedish meatball!