Smoque BBQ

Last Saturday was an excellent day for a bike ride compared to every other day this July in Chicago, since the high was only 88 degrees (as opposed to 100 degrees). So I decided to ride my bike 6 miles to Smoque BBQ in Irving Park, which has gotten excellent reviews on both Yelp (4.5 stars) and Zagat (26/30 for food).

I got there at about 1:30 pm, which was perfect. There were still quite a bit of people but not enough where I had to wait for a table.  Right as I got in, a worker asked if I was eating there or to go, so he could get a table for me.  Sure enough, after I ordered there was one ready, which was great.

I ordered a sliced brisket platter with the brisket chili and mac and cheese as my sides.  I also added on 1/4 lb. of their St. Louis ribs.  Overall, pretty affordable and in the same price range as other barbeque places I’ve been to ($12.95 for the platter + sides, $4.50 for the extra ribs).

I have no idea how the slaw tasted, because I wasn’t going to waste my stomach on fatty lettuce when I could be eating the rest of this deliciousness.  The sides were so good, especially the brisket chili.  You could really taste each individual part of it, especially tomatoes and the brisket.  The mac and cheese tasted really homemade, while the breadcrumbs on top were a nice touch.  Honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of the ribs.  I thought it would be fall-off-the-bone tender, but it just wasn’t.

The real winner was the sliced brisket.  It was extremely tender and moist and quickly fell apart whenever I tried to get a slice of it on my fork.  The sauce that comes with it didn’t overpower the meat at all, in fact, it probably would have been just as good without the sauce.

One of the workers was amused that I brought my own tupperware to bring the leftovers home, but I explained that I rode my bike and didn’t want anything to leak.  And then what happened?  One of the barbeque sauces accidentally opened and spilled everywhere on the way home!  Anyway, this place was amazing and definitely fulfilled my barbeque craving.  I’ll definitely be back!

Molly’s Cupcakes

When I was looking for a place to live, Google Maps was my best friend. On Clark Street, where I eventually ended up, I noticed a few places that were important enough to get their own shoutout as a landmark on Google – The Weiner’s Circle (more on that later), D.O.C Wine Bar (named one of America’s Best Wine Bars by Travel + Leisure), and Molly’s Cupcakes. Then, I saw that Molly’s Cupcakes was named as one of the 10 great places to bite into a gourmet cupcake by USA Today. I am a huge sucker for any of these kinds of lists! So for the past several weeks I’ve been making it my mission to get a cupcake from Molly’s every Sunday night as a good start to the workweek.

The first cupcake I tried was a Kahlua cupcake, which is “chocolate cake filled with Kahlua cream, and topped with coffee buttercream.”

This was really good. The chocolate cake was extremely moist. You could definitely tell that it was a kahlua filling, but it wasn’t strong enough to be overpowering. The coffee buttercream tasted just like the center, except less strong (obviously, since it wasn’t actually kahlua).

Next, I tried a Cookie Monster, described as “vanilla chocolate-chip cake with cookie dough filling and buttercream frosting.” This is definitely one of the best looking cupcakes Molly’s Cupcakes has to offer! I love the little chocolate chip cookie at the top.

I didn’t think I would like this as much as I did! The cookie dough filling tasted just like cookie dough, enough that I’m wondering if it is actual cookie dough or a fake made with no eggs (Update: the menu says it’s a raw cookie dough center!).

Now, this wasn’t exactly the freshest cupcake I’ve ever had; it tasted like it had been out for a couple hours… probably because I went on a relatively dead Monday night instead of Easter Sunday, when Molly’s was closed. So although the line on Thursday-Sunday nights might be a little annoying, it’s probably worth it for fresher cupcakes.

The next cupcake I tried was the Ron Bennington, which is chocolate cake, peanut butter filling, chocolate ganache, and crushed butterscotch topping.

To be honest, this wasn’t my favorite… it was pretty dense and heavy and made you feel really guilty while eating it. The cake itself was very moist and was definitely the best part of this cupcake. The peanut butter inside was really just peanut butter. Not sure why I was surprised by this, I think I was expecting something a little sweeter but still peanut butter flavored. As for the frosting, I think I am just not a fan of ganache… buttercream all the way!

This is advertised as their #1 best selling cupcake though… so maybe it’s me?

Next I tried a Red Velvet cupcake with vanilla buttercream. In addition to their famous center-filled cupcakes, you can make your own cupcake. You start with a chocolate, vanilla, red velvet, carrot, or banana cupcake, and then add vanilla buttercream, chocolate buttercream, brown butter buttercream, or cream cheese frosting. Then you can add toppings like m&m’s, gummy bears, sprinkles, etc.

I liked this a lot – it was really simple but both the cake and the frosting were delicious. My friend also tried the carrot cupcake and had good things to say about that one too. The price difference between the regular cupcakes and center-filled is pretty significant… the regular cupcakes with frosting (no toppings) are $2.00 while the center-filled ones are $3.75.

Next up was the Cake Batter cupcake – “vanilla confetti cake, raw cake batter, vanilla buttercream, and festive sprinkles.”

Like the Cookie Monster cupcake described above, this had a raw center. The cupcake wasn’t as runny as you’d expect with it being raw cake batter in the middle, which is a very good thing. The only bad thing I have to say about this cupcake is that the icing is extremely pink which kind of turned me off on it (and might be why I haven’t tried the Mixed Berry cupcake – its icing is EXTREMELY purple).

On Mother’s Day, I strolled in at 7 pm and was welcomed (unwelcomed?) by this sign:

How does Molly’s CUPCAKES run out of cupcakes 3 hours before closing!? I get that it’s Mother’s Day, but still…

Next, I tried the Candybar Carnival. It was described as (I think, it’s not on their website) chocolate cake with peanut butter filling and peanut butter buttercream sprinkled with nougat, peanut, and caramel. I’m not even a peanut butter fan, but I really wanted something with buttercream since I have already established I’m not a fan of ganache.

In short, this cupcake was awesome. It was super moist, and none of the flavors were that strong or sweet, which is a good thing. Unlike the Ron Bennington, the peanut butter filling was gooey and a little sweet instead of just peanut butter stuck in the middle. The buttercream was extremely light and even the consistency was great, although that might have to do with the 90 degree heat outside more than anything else. The crunchy nuts on top were a great touch. The only minor issue is that this one’s a little messy.

I recommended this one to a friend and while he also had the same messy issues, he said that it might be the best cupcake he’s ever eaten!

Last but not least, I tried the Blueberry Cheesecake cupcake. This is described as “vanilla cake, infused classic cheesecake, cinnamon graham cracker crumbs, pastry cream, and glazed blueberries.”

This turned out to be one of my favorite cupcakes I’ve had at Molly’s. When I got it I thought it would be just like a blueberry muffin. It’s not exactly center-filled, but it does have the infused cheesecake on the top:

The cheesecake is enough for the entire cupcake to taste like it has icing when it actually doesn’t. The vanilla cake is what makes it a cupcake and not a muffin, as it’s more moist and sweet than a muffin. The graham crackers on top were great and gave it a different texture from the rest of the cupcake.

Overall, Molly’s Cupcakes is a great place to get your (occasional) cupcake fix. I say occasional because duh, they’re cupcakes and you shouldn’t be eating them so often. My favorites are the Candybar Carnival and the Blueberry Cheesecake… but there are so many more flavors to try!

Katz’s Delicatessen

For lunch on the Saturday of our NYC trip, David, Veronica, and I hit up Katz’s Delicatessen in the Lower East Side.  This was definitely an experience.  It was 1:30 pm and we promptly got in line where there were about 30 people ahead of us.  Here are some snippets of what some people said when seeing the line: “Oh my God!”; “Are you kidding me??”; “Is this the line?!”  Luckily, the line went by pretty fast due to the restaurant’s cafeteria style.  As you enter, someone hands you a blue ticket and from there it’s pretty much a free-for-all.

This place is classic NYC where everyone’s so busy and they don’t really have time to be nice or explain what to do.  I headed over to the sandwich line where the butcher made me a brisket on rye bread sandwich, which came with a classic cucumber pickle and a garlicky pickle.  The butcher took my ticket and wrote the price of my sandwich on it.  You pay as you leave (cash only), so it’s nice if you want to go back and get something else if for some reason the pounds of meat didn’t fill you up.

My brisket was ok for what it was, but I think I would have liked a little sauce with it.  I felt awkward asking for anything other than meat and bread.   David and Veronica both got pastrami, which they’re famous for, and they both really liked it.  The potato latkes were really good!

Overall, this was a nice experience but I wouldn’t really come here on a regular basis if I lived in NYC.  I don’t need to be spending $19.75 for slightly dry meat on regular sandwich bread and a drink.  I lugged around my bag of leftovers on our entire day of sightseeing, and at the end of the day didn’t really want to eat it but felt I had to justify the decision of carrying it around all day.  I hate to say it, but this made me think that Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor as a steal.  I’m glad I can say I’ve been here, though!

New York City!

I’ve been on a project in the Bronx for the last two weeks but it’s ending today!  So when I heard that a couple of my friends were visiting the city for a weekend, I promptly invited myself to their trip… many thanks to David and Veronica for letting me crash with them!

David and I planned a late dinner on Thursday night, but had no specific place in mind… but when I passed Shake Shack on my way to our hotel, I knew I wanted to go there.  Even though it was about 9:30 pm when we made it there, there was still a huge line that snaked out the door.  The line moved pretty quickly and they handed out menus for the wait, so it wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked.

I got a single ShackBurger, cheese fries, and an Arnold Palmer.  The ShackBurger is just a single patty, cheese, tomato, lettuce, and ShackSauce… it is pretty delicious.  I’m not really sure what the ShackSauce is but the burger had a really nice salty taste to it.  My only complaint is that the burger is on the small side – I definitely could have eaten two.  The cheese fries were just okay; the cheese tasted (and looked) like extremely processed cheese, but at least the fries were good.  My Arnold Palmer was delicious!

David got the Shack-cago Dog, which has relish, onion, cucumber, pickle, tomato, sport pepper, celery salt, and mustard.  David mentioned that the hot dog was pretty crunchy due to the abundance of cucumber, relish, and onion.  He was also really surprised at how spicy it was – we thought it was jalepeno but I guess it was the sport pepper.  What’s a sport pepper?!

I didn’t get to go to Ess-a-Bagel, but David went there in the morning to pick us up some bagels in the morning.  While I was too scared to branch out of my usual plain bagel + plain cream cheese combination, David got a nova bagel sandwich and Veronica got a belly lox bagel sandwich.  Here’s the nova bagel:

I tasted some of it… it just tasted like sushi on a bagel.  Not really what I want to be eating in the morning, but I guess it works for some people.  My plain bagel was really good though, and I hear there are tons of different flavors of cream cheese you can get.

For dinner we ate at John’s Pizzeria to get our fix of traditional NYC thin-crust pizza.  We split a margherita pizza… I have no idea what to say about it other than it was just your normal thin-crust pizza.  So it could’ve been better, also could’ve been a lot worse.

Stay tuned for another NYC post!

Zingerman’s Deli

For one last Ann Arbor dinner before I left for Chicago, my friend Jessica let me pick anywhere to eat in Ann Arbor.  I didn’t really want to go to Main Street… too expensive.  Jessica and my roommate Jill aren’t really the biggest meat eaters either, so I wanted somewhere with a bigger variety.  I also wanted something “special”.  Then it hit me… Zingerman’s Deli.  Zingerman’s is the total Ann Arbor experience and is known around the country.  Even though I went to school at Michigan, I didn’t really know about Zingerman’s until Oprah named the Lisa C’s Boisterous Brisket one of the best sandwiches in America.  If there’s a celebrity in town?  They’ll be seen at Zingerman’s.

Walking into Zingerman’s is awesome because it immediately smells like a deli. There are tons of cheeses and other deli foods like olives and smoked trout that they’ll let you try.  The menu is broken up into sandwiches with corned beef, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, beef, pastrami, or vegetarian, so it’s easy to have a starting point to work with since their menu is so huge.

While you wait for your food to be delivered to you, you can go into the Zingerman’s creamery next door to fill up your soda… I’m not sure if this is new, but they were all old school sodas from Boylan!  You can get different flavors of soda like cream, black cherry, orange, and root beer.  The creamery also has its famous gelato. I’ve never tried it because I’m always spending enough on my sandwich, but they look delicious!  I’ve heard good things about the ginger flavor.

I got the #23, Mary’s Commute, which is chicken salad with bacon on challah bread.  I really like the bread – it’s almost a little buttery and it’s easy to eat (I hate breads that are extremely hard and almost break your teeth).  And I love the bacon in this!  It’s thick and I even saved a little bit of it to eat by itself when I was done with my sandwich.  All the sandwiches come with a pickle, either traditional (more garlicky) or new (more cucumbery).  I’m not a pickle fan so I gave mine away, but I think the consensus is that the traditional one is definitely better.

Max and Jessica both got a #77, Jimmy Wants Rosemary’s Baby, which is ham, fresh mozzarella, and tomato.  I talked to Max about it the next day and he said it was good, but it was kind of a lot of mozzarella and not enough meat.

Jill got a Peter’s Peppered Pick, which is a BLT + turkey + ranch dressing.

The bad thing about Zingerman’s, and all of the Zingerman’s businesses, is that it is so expensive.  My sandwich + drink was $16.42 and I didn’t even get any leftovers to take home.  Once, I won a $50 gift certificate to Zingerman’s, and it lasted me one sandwich at the deli and one meal at the Roadhouse.  It’s also little more off campus than other places to eat, so that plus the cost makes coming to Zingerman’s a special occasion.  But everyone should visit at least once… it is definitely the #1 food related thing to do if you’re ever in Ann Arbor.

Blue Tractor BBQ

I didn’t really know where to bring my parents for the one dinner they’d be in Ann Arbor for, so I just decided to bring them to Main Street to let them pick out something.  We parked right in front of the Jolly Pumpkin near Main & E William and I started pointing out things – Italian (Palio, Gratzi), Chinese (Middle Kingdom), seafood (Real Seafood Company), Indian (Shalimar), stir-fry (Mongolian BBQ), brewery food (Grizzly Peak, Jolly Pumpkin), and on and on.  My dad finally decided that he wanted barbeque, so we headed up to the Blue Tractor on Washington St.

I’ve only been to the Blue Tractor once before with my old roommates, and after we were done, one of them said, “Why haven’t we been going here all the time!?” After that, he’s been to the Blue Tractor with his family a lot and, on separate occasions, saw Tim Hardaway Sr. and had a beer with Shane Battier!

My dad decided to get the pulled pork sandwich, while I got the pulled pork sliders and a basket of fries.  My plate was huge!  I was expecting 5 tiny little burgers, but each one was a pretty decent size; I also got a big helping of fries.  I’m not the biggest french fry eater, but these fries were really good.  The pulled pork was a little bit dry, but this was remedied by the barbeque sauces that came with the meal.  They came in four different varieties, described as vinegar BBQ, smoky and sweet, tomato BBQ, and mustard BBQ.  My favorite was definitely the smoky and sweet!  In addition to the taste, a big reason I thought this meal was great was because of the price.  $10 for this whole basket!

My mom got a half rack of baby back ribs and upgraded her fries to sweet potato fries for an extra dollar.  She really liked the sweet potato fries!

The one bad – and really bad – thing about this place was the service.  I think the bartender was the only one taking care of the bar AND a large number of tables.  Getting our food took a long time and it took forever to pay.  So I wouldn’t go here if you’re in a rush… but it’s a great place to get your barbeque fix without breaking the bank!

Le Dog (Part 2)

I think the thing with Le Dog is that if it sounds good, it’s really good, but if it sounds normal, it’s pretty ordinary.  I’ve had a pretty ordinary chicken noodle soup here.  The best soup I’ve ever had here was a ribollita, an Italian soup made of veggies, sausage, and potatoes.  I’ve only seen it once though!

Monday:

Monday I decided to get the cheesy chicken tortilla soup, which is one of the most popular soups Le Dog offers.  As I was waiting for my soup, the woman behind me in line went up to order and said to the worker, “I just realized I don’t have enough cash… would it be possible for you to spot me?”  The worker said “yeah, no problem, that’s fine,” with a big smile.  Not sure if she was a regular or something, but it was still nice regardless.

When my friend Max had this soup on Friday, he took one taste and said, “This is by far the best chicken tortilla soup I’ve ever had.”  As I was eating it outside on Monday, this woman passed by and stopped and said, “Where did you get that soup!?  It looks really good!”  It definitely is really good.  The cheese makes it thicker than normal chicken tortilla soup, but it isn’t an overwhelming amount of cheese.  It’s also a little bit on the spicy side, as I spotted a few jalepeno pieces in my soup.

Today’s Michigan Celebrity Spotting: I’m pretty sure I saw Meryl Davis walking by Angell Hall on State Street.

Tuesday:

I was really excited to go to Le Dog on Tuesday!  On Monday’s menu, it said that it would be offering a cassoulet on Tuesday, and they only have it once a year.  I had to get it!

It was more of a stew, not a soup, which might be why it was labeled the “best item today” and not the “best soup today”.  I was actually a little disappointed with this.  It was advertised as “duck, pork, lamb, sausage, beans, tomatoes + spicy herbs”.  So you’d think there’d be a lot of meat in it, right!?  However, I’d say it was 70% beans and 30% meat.  And even with the meat, it had way more sausage than it had duck, pork, or lamb.  I think it had one chunk of lamb in it… that one chunk was very good though.  This was extremely filling and I didn’t even finish half of it, I saved it and ate the rest for dinner.

Today’s Michigan Celebrity Spotting:  Mary Sue Coleman crossing Ann Arbor’s most annoying intersection (if you’re driving) at South U and State St.  Denard Robinson and Kevin Koger chillin’ on a friend’s porch at State and McKinley.

Wednesday:

I realized I had spent $28.50 on SOUP in the last four days and decided to take Max up on his offer of bringing over food… which was soup.  Hahaha.  Thanks Rachael!