Thursday, June 28, 2012

Oaken Barrel (Greenwood, IN)

50 Airport Pkwy #L, Greenwood, IN 46143, T: 317-887-2287

Oaken Barrel is a brew company that also has a large brewpub annex sport bar in a small strip mall just off the I-65. It is very busy on this summer day; perhaps because no one uses their outdoor seating today (it’s 102F!). They have a regular bar menu, but with a culinary (and spicy) twist. 

We start with the Cajun Beef Tips ($7.75): blackened bits of beef tenderloin sautéed in Cajun spices served with horseradish sauce. They warn that it is very spicy, but that is an exaggeration. The beef chunks are grilled medium, very juicy, and have a great kick to them. Delicious! As an in-betweener we get a basket of Homemade Chips ($3), which turns out to be a rather generous portion of large and thick chips, fried fresh and crispy. Delicious again! Finally, I get the Tex Mex Burger ($7.75), which is exactly how I like my spicy burgers: soft bun, well grilled burger, and the spicy comes from the jalapeños, rather than the sauce, and is complemented by the fresh tastes of homemade pico de gallo. Yum! Finally, the side of onion rings (+ $1.50) is a huge portion of thick sliced onion, freshly battered: good. Oh, and M. tells me that the beer is great too!

VERDICT: 93/100
Outstanding bar food! They only shouldn't use the term "spicy" so lightly. ;-) Service could be better (and nicer) too.

Jib Jab Hot Dog Shoppe (Hubbard, OH)

6965 Truck World Boulevard, Hubbard, OH 44425, T: 330-534-0296

Ever since I was a little boy I had a fascination for trucks, and for a long time I wanted to be a trucker. So, the combination of fast food and truckers is extremely seductive to me, even though it has often worked against me. Jib Jab Hot Dog Shoppe is a small shop in the Truckworld Mall, which serves… well, hot dogs.

I get a Texas Hot Dog ($2.35), which really is a large chili dog. Both the bun and the dog are large and ok, the chili isn’t remarkable. We also get the Trucker's Favorite ($6.87) – how can I resist? – which includes a Texas Hot Dog, a soup of the day, and a large soft drink. M. adds Sloppy Joe to the hot dog, which is chunky and fairly tasty. Unfortunately, within minutes the sweats and the runs hit me. Clearly, I do not have a trucker’s stomach.

VERDICT: 58/100
Jib Jab serves hot dogs for truckers, which means quantity over quality, and price over hygiene.

The Governor's Pub (Bellefonte, PA)

211 West High Street, Bellefonte, PA 16823, T: 814-353-1008

By accident we stumble upon Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, which is a quaint town in the middle of nowhere with an old, rustic downtown. We find The Governor’s Pub, a both modern and traditional pub-like restaurant. The menu is built around a fairly classic fare, but with an original twist: burgers, pub classics, sandwiches, salads.

I order the favorite, the Robert Walker Ruben ($8.50). It is a classic Ruben: toasted marble rye, tender corned beef, a fairly light sauce, and cabbage: very tasty! It comes with their Fresh Cut Fries, which are clearly double fried, perfectly crispy, and sprinkled with kosher salt and thyme: some of the best fries I have had in the US (and I am a traditionalist!). M. has the James Beaver Chicken Salad, which is fresh, and the chicken is juicy, but overall uneventful.

VERDICT: 90/100
The Governor's Pub is the kind of place I love; unassuming and serving regular fare but with exceptional quality. Do NOT miss out on their fresh cut fries!

Smash Burger (East Hanover, NJ)

368 New Jersey 10, East Hanover, NJ 07936, T: 862-701-5411

Smash Burger is a new chain of upscale burger joints, founded in 20007, which has already some 100 locations in the US, and hopes to double that by the end of 2012. It looks clean and funky: the slogan is “smash, sizzle, savor” (trademarked, obviously). It has a fairly extensive menu of various burgers, chicken, hot dogs, and shakes.

I get the Spicy Baja Big Smash ($7.19): a freshly grilled, large but relatively thin patty, lettuce, tomato, onion, guacamole, fresh jalapeños, and spicy mayo on a jalapeño bun. It is really fresh, full-flavored, and with a real kick. M. gets the Spicy Baja Black Bean Burger ($4.99): same deal, but the black bean burger has good consistency and is tasty. We also get the Haystack Onions ($2.29) – strings of thinly battered onion, bit undercooked, with a tasty dip – and Smash Fries ($1.99), flavored string fries – they are ok, but I prefer regular or steak fries. Finally, we have a Chili Cheese Dog ($4.29): a large dog on a (not much steamed) bun with thick meaty chili and fresh jalapeños, which give it a good kick.

VERDICT: 89/100
This is a really good upscale, modern burger joint, particularly for the more refined and/or vegetarian.

Top Bunz (Huntington, NY)

337 New York Ave, Huntington, NY 11743, T: 631-923-1100

Top Bunz is a small burger joint in downtown Huntington. I had read that it has the best burger in town and I am happy that it is still open after my concert is ended. The menu is pretty straight forward: burgers, fries, shakes. The ordering is pretty basic: one burger, a bacon burger, or a double burger. There are a host of additions, which you can order for $0.50 or $1 extra each.

I ordered a Double Bacon Burger with lettuce, roasted jalapeños, and BBQ sauce as well as Seasoned Fries and two soft drinks for a total of $14. The burger included two thin patties, crunchy on the outside, in a nice soft sesame bun, with very spicy jalapeños. Surprisingly good! The Seasoned Fries were crunchy, but not very seasoned.

VERDICT: 84/100
Good burgers, decent fries, but quite pricey.

Brennan and Carr (Brooklyn, NY)

3432 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11229, T: 718-646-9559

Brennan and Carr is an institution in Brooklyn, New York, which recently got national fame through the show Man vs Food, whose host Adam Richmond, is a Brooklyn native. It is a small brick construction, which inside looks more like a Bavarian small town tavern, than a Brooklyn classic. It is known for its roast beef sandwiches, which according to the admittedly biased Adam Richmond, are among the few best in the Northeast. 

We order a Roast Beef Sandwich ($5.50), and get it Double Dipped. The thick layer of thin sliced warm roast beef, with grilled onion, on a big soft bun, soaked because of the double dip in their homemade au jus, is simply amazing! Soft, tender, and full flavor. Full disclosure: we got another one (this time without fried onion, which was also excellent, but with onion is even better). We also got a Gargiula Burger ($6.45): a burger plus roast beef on a soft bun with dip. Also delicious, but the burger doesn't add much. The Onion Rings ($4) seemed freshly battered, and were crunchy and thick, while the Chicken Tenders ($6.25) were thinly battered, very tender(ized), with a nice little kick to them (they might have been frozen though). Both the onion rings and the chicken tenders were a bit overprized.

VERDICT: 98/85/100
If you go to Brennan & Carr for the roast beef sandwich, as you should, you will not be disappointed. One of the best sandwiches in the country! The rest is (quite) good, but sometimes a bit overpriced.

Vassi's Drive-In (Hellertown, PA)

1666 Main St, Hellertown, PA 18055, T: 610-838-1877

Vassi’s is not really a drive-in, but rather an old-school local snack bar/ice cream parlor, which is bumping on this very hot summer evening. They are mostly known for their gyros, hot dogs, and ice cream (Soft Serve and Hershey Ice Cream).

I get the NY Gyros ($5.49): classic Greek pita grilled well, shaved meat, well spiced and a bit crunchy, fresh lettuce/tomato/onion, and very tasty light tzatziki. Hands-down the best street gyros I have had in US! I also have a Hot Dog ($1.35), which is kind of a coney dog, but with a deep fried dog (and mustard, onion, and homemade chili). It is good, but not outstanding. The soft serve is mostly sweet – the ice cream they serve is from Hershey.

VERDICT: 88/100
Vassi’s is one of the best old-school drive-ins I have visited in the US, and that is purely on the basis of its superior gyros. The hot dogs are pretty good, while the ice cream is ok.

TJ's Restaurant & Sport Lounge (New Staton, PA)

110 E Pennsylvania Ave, New Stanton, PA, T: 724-926-9670

We were driving the Penn Turnpike I-76 and needed to find a sports bar where I could see the EURO 2012 match of the day. So, by pure accident, we ended up at TJ’s Restaurant & Sport Lounge, off exit 75, in New Staton, PA. TJ’s is just off the Turnpike, and is a large, dark, non-smoky sports bar, which prides itself on its great food. They have a large menu, which features the usual types of foods (sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, chicken wings), but with an original twist. It all already sounds fresher and tastier.


We start off with the Mesquite Chicken Tenders ($5.99): Little chunks of perfectly grilled chicken, juicy and with a little kick, which are delicious by themselves or dipped in a light, watery, zesty BBQ sauce. I then get the Flatbread Chicken Club ($8.50):  marinated chicken breast fire grilled and served on grilled focaccia bread with crisp bacon, chopped romaine, beefsteak tomato and chipotle mayo. The chicken is thick but juicy, the generous bacon strips are indeed very crispy, and the focaccia fresh and dense. The sauce is a little overpowered by the (tasty) bread and chicken. The generous serving of French Fries were thick and incredibly crunchy: excellent! M. had a very fresh and tasty salad, showing that TJ’s does not serve your regular bar food.

VERDICT: 92/100
This is premium food for any sports bar or even a general American-food restaurant.

Marshall's Restaurant (Columbus, OH)

1105 West First Avenue, Columbus, OH, T: 614-294-1105


Marshall’s started as breakfast place and is still famous around town for it. However, it has developed into a full-fledged restaurant with a full menu of (allegedly great) burgers etc., and in the evenings the place organizes various events in the “party room.” Finally, it does catering and has a “party bus.” We have been stopping here for breakfast whenever we can, mostly on our way from Indy to NYC.


This morning I order the Meat Lover $6.75: 2 eggs, 2 choices out of bacon, ham and sausage (patties or links). M. has The Western Omelet, also known as “The Big One,” which is filled with ham, onion, green peppers, mushrooms, hot peppers, tomatoes and cheese, and comes with toast ($6.95). We also get a pancake. I don’t know how they do it, but even their eggs just taste better than anywhere else. I choose sourdough toast, which is thick and tasty, the bacon strips are crispy, and the sausages have an excellent consistency and a nice tangy taste. The omelet is heavenly, according to the M, while the pancake is perfectly fluffy and crunchy, and has a yeasty consistency. Amazing!


VERDICT: 95/100
At least for breakfast Marshall’s is among the best in the country. Their omelets are big and tasty, their traditionals (eggs, bacon, sausage) are top, and the pancakes are out of this world.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Three Pints Brewpub (Plainfield, IN)

5020 Cambridge Way, Plainfield, IN 46168, T: 317-839-1000

The Three Pints Brewpub opened up a couple of years ago and I have visited it many times. It has a great selection of beers, several brewed on the premise (changing regularly). Inside it is fairly noisy, particularly when college basketball or NFL football is on, but in the summer you can sit on their large terrace (one of the few in town). It has a fairly common menu of appies and sandwiches, although also some more original items (such as the Rattlesnake Shrimp Pasta).

As an appetizer, I order a half basket of Onion Rings ($2.95), which are freshly battered, crispy, not too thick, and come with a nice tangy dip sauce. My favorite on the menu is the Pot Roast Sandwich ($8.95) to which I add their fabulous beer battered jalapeno. The meat is tender and has a strong delicious taste and is soaked into the soft bun, while the jalapenos add a kick. The fries are fairly soft, have a slight dusting of spices, and are soft yet slightly crispy. I have also had the Fish & Chips ($12.95) and THE BIG ONE ($8.95), an 8oz Angus beef burger (ALWAYS add the beer battered jalapenos!): both were good!

VERDICT: 89/100
Three Pints Brewpub serves by far the best pub food in Plainfield, IN, which is in itself not very impressive. But even on a larger stage it would be very competitive, and its original dishes (in particular the Pot Roast Sandwich with beer battered jalapenos) are great!

Talkin Turkey (Indianapolis, IN)

Moving location in Indianapolis, T: 317-809-3427

Indianapolis is slowly but steadily developing a food cart culture, although they are not always easy to find. I find the Talkin Turkey food cart outside of the City Market (you can follow their location through their website). It serves “real Cajun cooking,” which means po-boys and a lot of rice and beans.

I get a Catfish Po-Boy ($6), which includes chucks of lightly battered and crispy fried catfish on a piece of brown baguette with mayo, lettuce, mustard, and slides of carrot. It is very original in both design and taste.

VERDICT: 85/100
Talkin Turky does real Cajun cooking in a bit original way. Their po-boys are decently priced and tasty!

Bru Burger Bar (Indianapolis, IN)

410 Massachusetts Avenue, Indianapolis, IN 46202, T: 317-635-4278 (4BRU)

I am seldom excited about trends in the restaurant industry, but the recent trend in upscale burger restaurants is an exception. While the burgers are not always better than in a dive, it allows you to eat burgers at a place that your wife can east a salad. Bru Burger Bar is a great new place in the hip Mass Ave area of downtown Indy with excellent beers and one of the best terraces of Indy. Their menu is build around a good selection of original gourmet burgers.

For appies we are getting the BRU Fries ($6), which comes with House Ketchup, Black Pepper Mayo & Chipotle BBQ. The fries are absolutely amazing, and the black pepper mayo in particular is very tasty. 

I get The End ($11), a thick juicy burger with cartelized onion, lettuce, tomato, truffle aioli, and a fried egg (I opt out of the horseradish havarti). It has a very fresh and full flavor; almost doesn't taste like a burger (in a good way). For $2 I get a side of onion rings, which have a very thick tempura batter that is addictive, but very fat. M. has the Ground Turkey Burger ($9), which has a thick turkey patty (which is a little bit dry this time), carrot ginger salad, peach compote, and curried mayo on a multigrain bun. It is by far the best turkey burger I have ever had.

VERDICT: 93/100
High-end burger restaurants are not always the best places to pig out. But Bru Burger Bar satisfies both the high-brow and the pig out eater. The fries are incredible, the onion rings addictive (and very fat), and the burgers fresh and high quality. True gourmet burgers!

KT's Pub (Plainfield, IN)

120 N Perry Rd, Plainfield, IN 46168, T: 317-268-4931

KT's Pub is a huge empty rock/sports pub in a strip mall, which is normally too cold, too dark, and too loud (rock/metal music). It has a huge screen for games, but this seems only for football. This evening there are two guys trying to impress the very busty waitress, who tries to impress them for tips (she seems to win). The menu is classic bar food: appies, burgers, pizzas, sandwiches. Although a couple more people walk in, I am the only one eating, and still have to wait more than 20 minutes to get my order.

 I order the Trash Can Burger ($9.95): two patties, jalapeno, mushroom, lettuce, tomato, onion, and bacon. Normally it comes with chips, but I prefer fries. The fries are thick and wrinkled, which are seasoned and a bit salty. The burger is huge: two thick but very dry patties, while the weak bun makes it impossible to eat. It also comes with American and Swiss cheese, even though I asked without cheese. Did I already say I was the only one eating?

VERDICT: 44/100
KT's Pub offers poor food in a terrible setting and with incompetent service.

The Hungry Dutchman Cafe (Holland, MI)

12350 James Street, Holland, MI 49424, T: 616-396-1475

The Hungry Dutchman Cafe is part of Nelis' Dutch Village, established in 1958, a tourist attraction off the US-31 in Holland, Michigan (an area with a large Dutch immigrant population). It offers a replica of stereotypical Nether lands of years gone by. It is only open seasonally, i.e. during the summer. For a self-exiled Dutchman like myself, it is one of the few places to get not just dry Dutch food, but also a few typical Dutch snacks.

I order the Croquettes (kroketten), a uniquely Dutch-Belgian snack of breaded meat-ragu ($6). They are pretty authentic, a bit mushy, and come with two slices of bread and mustard. Yum! I also get the Saucijssenbroodjes ($8), which is actually more of a three-course meal. It includes two small saucijssenbroodjes, which are pork sausages baked in pastry dough (they are 80% meat and 20% dough, while it often is the other way around in the Netherlands; decent, but not authentic); Pea Soup, hearty and tasty with little chunks of rookworst (smoked sausage); and apple cake, which is quite authentic, sweet and mushy.

VERDICT: 82/100
There are few places in the US where you can get more or less authentic Dutch food, and The Hungry Dutchman Cafe is one of them. It is not like back home, but it is fairly decent and not (too) overpriced).

Halo Burger (Flint, MI)

3805 E. Court Street, Flint, MI 48506, T: 810-744-1260

Halo Burger, formerly known by its full name Bill Thomas' Halo Burger, is a chain of fast-food restaurants that has been in existence since 1923! It currently has 11 locations, all in the larger Flint, Michigan area. It has a regular menu for a hamburger joint, but its specialty is that you can add olives to everything for a mere $0.50 extra.

Although it is only 11 AM, and I haven't had breakfast yet, I cannot resist to test a new local chain, so I enter and keep it light. ;-) I order the Supreme Combo ($6.99): burger, fries, and soda. The Supreme is a large burger with a very well grilled 1/2 lb patty, fresh lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and very crispy bacon. The only weakness is the sauce, which isn't that strong. The fries are relatively thick for fast food and perfectly fried and tasty.

VERDICT: 84/100
Halo Burger serves surprisingly good fast food! The portions are generous and the prices are very acceptable. Definitely among the better fast-food restaurants! Shame it is only in the Flint area.

Goed Eten (Toronto, ON)

188 Ossington Ave, Toronto, ON M6J 2Z7. T: 416-533-3213

When I heard there was a Belgian restaurant in Toronto, which had authentic Belgian fries and mayo (!), I had to eat there. The little restaurant is situated in Little Portugal (I know) and has fairly tight hours. Goed Eten (Good Eating, in Dutch) has a limited menu built around fries, tostis (croque monsieur), waffles, and all-day breakfast. While some reviews complained about the service, that day there was a nice and attentive waitress.

I get the 8oz Beef Burger with Curry Sauce ($9): the thick bun overpowers the meat, which has a strange sweet taste, lettuce, apple string (?), and odd sauce (not curry). Not that tasty.  The Belgian Fries ($6) taste a bit sweet, are more fried than deep fried, not very crispy; ok. The mayo is weak, but has a hint of authenticity. M. has the Poutine Fries, Cheese Croquettes & Curds with Guinness Beef Stew ($9): the cheese croquettes are ok, but the stew is really tender and tasty. 

VERDICT: 77/100
Goed eten is pretty pricey for average quality (particularly in Toronto). Definitely NOT authentic Belgian food!

Murphy's Ice Cream Parlour (Mississauga, ON)

9 Main Street, Mississauga, ON L5M, Canada, T: 905-826-8755

Small ice cream parlor in the heart of Mississauga, which is very popular among the local youth. They have a wide range of different flavors of ice cream, gelato, and frozen yoghurt. You can’t sit inside, only at some benches outside.

I have a chocolate-peanut cone with pistachio-almond and moose paw (I think it was called), M. a similar cone with double chocolate brownie.  All flavors are very creamy but not overly sweet, thus keeping the real tastes. The pistachio-almond is a great combination, the moose paw is an original blend of vanilla, raspberry syrup and chocolate pieces, while the double chocolate brownie had a thick and creamy chocolate flavor and was simply “decadent” (according to M).

VERDICT: 87/100
This is a great ice cream parlor with original combination and good creamy but nor overly sweet ice cream.