Archive for September, 2009

Comfort food Vol. 1 The King of Sandwiches: The Turkey Club

September 29, 2009

Comfort food . That dish that satisfies your ultimate crave, heals you when your sick and helps you make sense in this maddening world. I have a few dishes that are just what the doctor prescribed on an otherwise bleak and dreary day. For many it is the simple meals only a mother can make. Mac & cheese, tomato soup & a grilled cheese sandwich, tuna casserole or meatloaf with mashed potatoes. Maybe it’s as simple as a piping hot bowl of chicken soup or a favorite recipe of chocolate chip cookies. Whatever your flavor, no doubt, everyone can list off a few comfort food dishes of the top of their heads.

For me, the one thing that tops the list, The King of the castle, the dish with which I judge a diners worthiness over would have to be the turkey club sandwich. I am very particular about this simple sandwich though. In order to qualify it to comfort food caliber I judge the sandwich on a few simple criteria:

1. The turkey must be fresh roasted and hand sliced. Think Thanksgiving bird here.

2. Tomato fresh, ripe and juicy. No yellow or white in the center thank you.

3. Iceburg lettuce. It’s crispy and provides the right balance for the other ingredients. The leafy dark green stuff is for salads.

4. Crispy thick bacon. The key to good bacon is not to overcook it which will dry out the bacony flavor everyone loves.

5. Real mayonnaise. Homemade even better. Nothing with the words dressing or whip or promising miracles can deliver better than real mayo.

6. Toasted white bread. Wheat is healthier sure but who are we kidding here, we’ve already got bacon and mayo on this thing. I like a good country white.

7. Eighty Six* that third slice of bread, It often smothers the flavors of the ingredients and it’s really difficult to bite into. And while you’re at it, just cut the thing in     half.  It’ll keep the good stuff inside from spilling out making it easier to eat.

Triple Decker Club version.

Triple Decker Club version.

Serve it with fresh hot french fries and enjoy which is exactly what I did tonite at my favorite local diner. The Glen Oak Restaurant. This place has been serving a myriad of comfort food dishes for over 30 years. Maybe longer, all I know is that it’s just always been there, it’s always comforting and always been an affordable option as long as I can remember. As a kid, my favorite dish they make is the francheesie. To read it on the menu today still brings a smile back to my face though I dare not order it now under strict orders of my cardiologist.  The francheesie is a hot dog wrapped in bacon and smothered with American cheese. It’s served with french fries & a smile.

I’ll blog more about the Glen Oak in the future. They have a few other comfort dishes I consume frequently. The next time you think of turkey remember, the club is king.

* The term Eighty Six is fabled to refer to the old speakeasy Chumley’s in New York City. Located at 86 Bedford St. in Greenwich Village. The cops, who were on the payroll, would phone into the bar just before they were about to raid the place allowing the bartender enough time to yell out 86 to the patrons so they could sneak out before the police arrived. I’ve been to Chumley’s before it was condemned for safety reasons. Hopefully they’ve restored the place and kept the dirty musty smell that gave it it’s charm. Other references to the term refer to when a place has sold out of a particular item it has been 86’d for the evening meaning they no longer have anymore to serve.

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Here’s the Beef.

September 25, 2009

In different parts of the world we are treated to specialty dishes. That is to say, dishes that are unique or particularly special in that region or city. I live in the Chicagoland area and am blessed to have numerous dishes that are specialties. Eventually I’ll get through them all and post something about them here. Tonight I  dined on a particular Chicago specialty. The Italian Beef sandwich. This is truly a Chicago original. It’s a seasoned slow roasted slab of sirloin sliced paper thin and soaked in the pan juices the roast creates. The meat is then scooped into an Italian french roll and topped with either giardinara (hot peppers) or roasted green bell peppers (sweet peppers) Some places go so far as to offer melted cheese on top. mozzarella  or Provolone.  Other cities  boast a french dip sandwich which is similar in that it is thin sliced and served with an au jus dipping sauce. Philadelphia has the Philly cheesesteak, which are thin slices of steak grilled and served on a french roll with melted cheese & onions.  The latter two lack the seasoning  and peppers that makes The Italian Beef so unique.

You can find an Italian beef at most hot dog stands and Italian/pizza restaurants. Tonight I had my favorite restaurant variety. Giordanos.  The benefit of going here is that it is a sit down place with table service. You can have your cheese baked on top of the sandwich which slightly browns the cheese allowing for the natural sugars to ooze out  into the sandwich. It’s also served on a plate with either french fries or a soup/salad option. The hot dog joints generally wrap the sandwich in waxed paper and serve with a sack of greasy french fries.  Most are take out or offer a few seats or a counter to eat at. Of the fast food places, I like Johnnies Beef on Arlington Hts Rd. in Elk Grove,  Portillos’s located throughout Chicago’s  suburbs and Al’s Beef downtown Chicago and surrounding suburbs.  Jay Leno is a big fan of Mr. Beef on Orleans in Chicago.  Word to wise on Mr. Beef, they will dip the entire sandwich into the juice if you do not request otherwise. I don’t like this method as it saturates the roll making it virtually impossible to handle without making a complete slob out of yourself while eating it. A simple request of no dip when ordering prevents this.  There are numerous other places most of which offer a decent version of this Chicago classic. Generally, you can’t go wrong if the place lists beef on their signage or menu. So the next time you’re in the windy city, seek out this sandwich treat. Tell the guy behind the counter, I’ll  have the beef.

beefsandwich-1

The Arabian Taco

September 22, 2009

With the rise of Middle Eastern immigrants, comes the rise in Middle Eastern Cuisine. New restaurants and grocery stores are popping up in urban areas with funny sounding names.  Do not fear these places. Inside are delicious dishes that are surprisingly more healthy than traditional American fare. They are lower in calories and saturated fats and bolder in flavor. Names like falafel & tabouleh, baba ghannouj & fatoush and my favorite the shawarma. Essentially an Arabian Taco, the shawarma is a pita pocket stuffed with slices of rotisserie beef, lamb, turkey or chicken with diced tomatoes, onions, cucumbers or lettuce. The vegetable options vary depending on the restaurant.

11-slicing the shawarmasandwish

I’ve recently been on a shawarma sensation lately and frequently visiting one place in particular. The Pita House. Their small location offers dine in or take out. The food is very inexpensive and always served fast and freshly prepared to your liking.  I’ve tried virtually everything on the menu and have enjoyed it all though I favor the  shawarma. If you have room, try the baklava. It’s scrumptous. But more on that later…

Beer makes the batter better

September 19, 2009

Along life’s highway are hidden gems. Testaments of what is great about this country. Local folks cooking local food for the local residents. And for those adventurous enough to heed the advice of the local residents, are edible delights and memories for the wayward traveler of what the term “homeade” is all about. Sadly our world has seen the massive rise of the Outback Crabshack’s awesome blossom. The corporate restaraunts that fuel the fast food nation with their jacked up specials featuring fiery chipolte pesto sauce or whatever the flavor of the month is. Marketing has replaced invention in the kitchen in these boxy chain eateries. I’ll be down the road at the Johnsons place or Mels diner thank you. Where the pie is made fresh daily and the specials reflect what’s in season.

Tonight I had the fish fry in beautiful WI. The Friday night special. Beer battered tender goodness with a homeade tarter sauce preceded by a New England Clam chowder that is worthy of an Eastern fish shack. Certainly an oddity in the middle of nowhere middle America. Normally I wouldn’t go for the cod on a menu that boasts fresh walleye. A local freshwater catch. But it was the beer batter that reeled me in. I may have to spend an extra 20 minutes on the treadmill later to burn it off, but the flavor had to be savored. Homer Simpson has often claimed how beer makes things better. In this case, his wise teachings are proved tastefully true.

So the next time  you find yourself traveling off the beaten path, stop in to that odd looking little family restaurant and take a chance. Unlike the corporate chains, here you never know what you might find. Chances are, the batter will be better.

http://www.firehouserestaurant.net/index.asp

A bloody good orange.

September 17, 2009

bloodoranges1r

I stumbled upon a rare treat today. The Blood Orange. Upon my way home this afternoon from a meeting, I stopped by my favorite local multi-cultural market today. It’s a massive grocery store that caters to the melting pot of American cuisine. Indian, Hispanic, Asian, European, you name it, they have it. And usually a large variety to choose from. They even dedicate a whole aisle to Olive Oil.  That’s a lot of lube. So when I meandered past the exotic fruit row in produce, I was sure to keep an open eye. To my delight there was the blood orange.

The blood orange has a rich citrus flavor and a deep raspberry aftertaste. It’s juicy but firm flesh ranges from orange-veined with ruby coloration to vermilion to vivid crimson to nearly black. It is sweet and sticky and absolutely delicious.  After dinner tonight, my late evening snack will be one of this sumptuous delights. I like to chill my fruits a bit before I eat them. It enhances the eating experience for me. Creating an almost candy like feeling. Like I’m spoiling myself or being naughty somehow. Though a bit more difficult to peel than the navel or valencia, it is worth the effort.

They’re hard to find and often very pricey. I know I can always pick one up at the Whole Foods but I can’t afford or justify spending that kind of money on fresh fruit. Considering the hoopla that currently surrounds the controversial CEO, it’s easy enough to just say no to Whole Foods…for now.  Rarely does my local Jewel Foods (Albertsons subsidiary) or Dominicks (Safeway) carry these sweet treats and Trader Joe’s my favorite specialty organic friendly grocer only offers Blood Orange sparking juice. Which does make for a nice dinner beverage if chicken or fish is on the menu.

If you never sampled the blood orange but do enjoy the navel or valencia, do yourself a favor and pick one up the next time you stumble across them. They’re bloody delicious.

A new beginning with an old standard.

September 16, 2009

Alfies

Tonight’s meal seems rather fitting for my first entry in the world of blogging. It began like many a night. Vacillating over my dinner options. Earlier in the day I had planned on grilling up some burgers and the Organic carrots purchased at the Amish farmers market. I say organic as it seems safe to say that a culture that forgoes the creature comforts of the modern world would also forgo the chemical pesticides that plague our countries heartland. Therefore qualifying them in my eyes as “organic”.  More on that topic in future posts.

I decided upon Alfies Inn.  A simple family joint that caters to the local community. The menu boasts a myriad of meat options but the burger here is what has made them a staple. A well seasoned chuck patty grilled to your liking with a minimum of toppings. Choice of cheese and either grilled or raw onions. They also offer a bacon burger, mushroom swiss, and the patty melt.  The ribs are also of noteworthy mention as are the generous fried appetisers of zucchini, mushrooms and onion rings. Tonight I had the patty melt.

According to Saveur Magazine in 2001,  the patty melt was created by William “Tiny” Naylor sometime in the 40’s or 50’s at his chain of Southern California coffee shops called Tiny Naylor’s (they say he also may be the inventor of pop-up plate servers, refrigerated drawers, and the open kitchen)
They describe it as a hamburger patty covered with melted swiss cheese and a heap of sauteed onions served on grilled rye bread. My version opted for cheddar cheese instead of swiss.

I have been a regular patron here since I was child. I can recall many a night where my mothers gossiping sessions far extended into the dinner preparation hour and upon my fathers return from a long work day in Chicago, would learn of her deciscion to go to Alfies for dinner. It was inexpensive, and always tasty. I am happy to report that some 30 years later, the same can be said.