Restaurant Reviews

Experiencing Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago

I’m a self proclaimed pizza snob from NY. To me, the perfect crust is thin and crispy. The ratio of cheese to sauce needs to be just right. To eat a slice of pizza right you should be able to fold it in half and hold it in your hand. So you can imagine my hesitation at accepting deep dish pizza when Dane and I went on our recent trip to Chicago with our friends Sam and Jason. Dane was really excited to try two legendary deep dish places and so I went along with it, still emphasizing my belief that NY is the best when it comes to pizza.

First up was Lou Malnati’s. Lou Malnati opened his first location back in 1971 and is probably one of the best known names in deep dish pizza. There are now 34 locations in and around Chicago and the business is still family owned and operated. This was our first stop after getting to Chicago. We checked into our hotel, dropped off our things, and headed right back out to one of the locations that was only a few blocks from our hotel (which Dane had mapped out ahead of time).

We decided to go with one pizza to share between the four of us. We got some appetizers too, which we realized were really not needed once we saw our pizza come out. We ordered the Malnati Chicago Classic which had sausage, extra cheese, and sauce on their Buttercrust.

This was the densest, cheesiest, sausagiest (I had to make up a word to describe it) pizza I had ever tried. The waitress had an art to serving the pizza to get the cheese from oozing out too much.

Safe to say Jason liked it.

The sauce was a little chunky so you got bigger pieces of tomato like a hearty marinara. Fork and knife were very necessary but the crust was surprisingly crisp. I couldn’t do more than one slice, but it was very good. Thumbs up Lou Malnati’s!

On our third day in Chicago our stomachs had recovered from our first foray into deep dish and decided to try Giordano’s. Dane had this one mapped out too, so he knew just where to go and we headed there for lunch. Giordano’s was started by two brothers in 1974. Now they have 43 locations in and around Chicago and also in Florida.

Look at that cheese action! Again our waitress was obviously practiced in cutting and serving the pizza with all of it’s gooey cheesiness.

This time we went with just a regular cheese deep dish pizza. Giordano’s pizza has a double crust so they layers go (from bottom to top): crust, cheese (A LOT OF CHEESE), more crust, sauce.

I absolutely loved this pizza. I liked the sauce more and the ratio of cheese to sauce was better for me here than at Lou Malnati’s. Lou Malnati’s did win for me in the crust category though. I thought it was more flavorful and crispier there. Overall, the votes for our favorite were:

Me: Giordano’s
Dane: Giordano’s
Sam: Giordano’s
Jason: Giordano’s

Giordano’s unanimously wins with this group! We really enjoyed both places, but when you get the chance to try two very well-known deep dish pizza restaurants you just can’t help but pick a favorite. And for the record, even as a thin crust loving New Yorker at heart, I liked real Chicago style deep dish pizza. It’s a totally different food experience, but one that was worth having!

Jim’s Cheesesteaks, Philadelphia

When Dane and I were in Philly at the end of September we (finally!) made it to Jim’s Cheesesteaks. Since Dane is from Philly, I was surprised he hadn’t tried all of the best known cheesesteak places in town. Somehow, Jim’s slipped past him. At least I got the bonus of being there for our first try together.

Jim’s has been around for over 70 years at it’s original South Street location in Center City. Now it’s expanded to four locations in and around Philly. All have the original signature cheesesteaks. While we stayed with Dane’s sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, they were kind enough to make sure we got the experience. We went to the newest location, in Springfield (actually it’s over 10 years old now, but still it’s the newest of the four locations).

Jim’s has this art deco thing going on (which I read is similar for all their locations). Just a grab your food, sit, and enjoy kind of place. Which is exactly what we did.

The sandwiches were huge. There was a lot to love about it. Everything about it was perfect. I went with provolone on mine, but there was a choice of cheeses. It was a juicy, cheesy mess of goodness.

Adults love it. And kids do too! Best to get them started on a love of cheesesteaks early in life.

It’s such a nice treat to have an actual cheesesteak from Philly. Up in Boston there are a ton of places that claim to have the best steak and cheese subs, but it’s never quite the same as a cheesesteak.  You have to go straight to the source for the real thing.

If you’re visiting Philly, head down to Jim’s! And while you’re at it, you should probably hit up three of four cheesesteak places. For research purposes, you know? Enjoy!

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, Minnesota

Yes, I know. Tired of my Minneapolis trip yet? I feel like it sometimes takes me forever to get around to doing posts, so I’m still writing about my trip. But it was so awesome that I can’t just leave anything out!

My second night in visiting with Sam and Jason (right after leaving the MN State Fair for the second day in a row) we headed to the Town Hall Brewery, a brewpub in downtown Minneapolis. Sam found the place and loved their website so much that she decided we had to go. That and they have great beer. I was sold. Doesn’t take much.

Our main goals was to try a bunch of different beers. We had eaten so much at the fair that we didn’t need much in the way of food. Just some beer samples. The Town Hall Brewery made it really easy to try different styles with their different beer flights.

Sam went with a flight of their signature brews: Dortmunder Local, Masala Mama IPA, Hope and King, Black H2o Oatmeal, and West Bank Pub Ale. I decided to go with the seasonal flight: Smoked Hefe, Broken Paddle ESB, Tank Monkey Double IPA, Honey Storm, and a special infused beer.

There were some really interesting flavors between these 10 different beers. Some that stood out most to me were in the seasonal flight. The Smoked Hefe had some really intense smokey flavor, along the lines of a smokey bourbon or a whiskey. The Honey Storm was interesting too, with a sweet start and really oakey (is that a wordy? it is now.) finish.

All the signature brews were good, solid varieties. I especially liked the Hope and King Scotch Ale and the West Bank Pub Ale. To me, both were really drinkable and I could totally see them becoming a favorite for me with some growlers at home if I didn’t live so far away.

OK, and I know I said we weren’t really hungry, but somehow sampling 10 different types of beer makes you feel like you suddenly have an appetite again. So we ended up with the Spinach and Artichoke Dip and the Mashed Potato Pizza (!).

The dip was delish with the pita chips for dipping and the “pizza” was basically like potato skins on a pita. Carbs anyone? Perfect pub snacks for imbibing some delicious beer.

I would love to go back for an actual meal in the dining room. We sat near the bar since we weren’t planning on ordering much food, mostly just drinks. I loved that they had different flight options. The most appealing part of the Town Hall Brewery to me was their selection of in-house beer, so I was really happy that it was easy to try so many different kinds.

Thanks Town Hall Brewery for a lovely evening filled with 10 different styles of beer!

Redbones, Somerville

Man, I love barbeque. We went out with a group of Dane’s co-workers to Redbones in Somerville for some delicious meaty goodness and were not disappointed.

We started up at the bar while they figured out our seating for 11, which was just fine with us. To be adventurous I decided to spin the Wheel of Beer and have my beverage choice made for me.

I ended up with number 16, the Opa Opa IPA. Thank you Wheel of Beer, for making an excellent choice for me. Never had that brew before but I really enjoyed it and I don’t always love IPAs.

As soon as we were seated it was down to business. An order of fried pickles and jalepenos, stat.

I can’t look at this picture without thinking about how delicious this was and how much I want it right this very second. I don’t love the jalepenos, but Dane takes care of those for me, and they give the pickles a nice kick.

Then on to the meat smorgasbord. I went with my favorite, pulled pork sandwich and beans. Dane went straight for the ribs. The pulled pork is super juicy and slightly smokey, and clearly my love of pickles plays out here too with some on top of my sandwich. Nice saltiness to go with the lightly sweet BBQ sauce. Dane’s ribs basically fell off the bone. They were super tender. Just what you want (or at least what we want) in BBQ ribs.

When a very chatty group of 11 people go basically silent for the duration of a meal once the food comes out, that’s how you know it’s a seriously delicious meal. Except for the occasional invitation to share with others (and there was plenty to share) there wasn’t a peep out of us.

Then there was this beauty, the Combo. Described as “whatever ribs we have on hand at the time” along with a variety of other meats, this platter is definitely not for the faint of heart (or light of stomach). Disclaimer: We did NOT order this, it was one of Dane’s friends from work. I salute  him.

There aren’t really any words to describe this beast, so I’ll just let you soak it in via the picture.

Loved Redbones this time, just as I have all the others. It’s really fun with a group and if you’re open to trying some new things. Portion sizes are big, and I never end up being able to finish my entire meal despite my healthy appetite.

My love of craft beer was nurtured with the Wheel of Beer, and I don’t think I would ever order any other way again now that I’ve done it. Go get yourself a beer and some pulled pork. You’ll love it!

McGreevey’s, Boston

A lunch with friends is always fun, but recently I tried a new spot for a late lunch with some of my favorite people. With this group there’s always lots of laughs, catching up, and good food. But mainly, there’s lots of laughs.

McGreevey’s is on Boylston Street in Boston, right near some other notable night spots (Pour House – a personal favorite of mine, Dillon’s, Cactus Club, Whiskey’s, Lir). The bar has an interesting history, which you can find out about here, but the current reincarnation opened in 2008 and looks to stay as close to it’s namesake as possible. The walls are lined with Red Sox memorabilia and the layout is a replica of the originally McGreevey’s 3rd Base Saloon which opened way back in 1894.

We started with some classy beverages.

I was slightly disappointed with the beer selection on tap. There were a few good ones, but overall I had higher expectations for an Irish pub. Oh well, I was happy with my Gansett.

Then there was this face sitting next to me. Hence the abundance of laughing throughout our meal. Once we pulled it together, we all ordered food. I went with the macaroni and cheese which was good, not great. But the highlight of this meal was what Dane ordered.

The Beckett Burger.

The burger is named for Josh Beckett, #19 on the Red Sox. One pound and nine ounces of burger with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickle. Part of the proceeds go towards The Josh Beckett Foundation and if you finish you get a t-shirt to announce that you beat the Beckett burger. That was all Dane needed to take on the challenge.

When he ordered it, the waitress actually asked “Wait, are you serious?”. She’s only seen one other person order it, and they didn’t fare so well against it.

And there it is. Now, in this picture you can’t quite grasp the scale of this burger. It looks like it could almost be a normal size.

That’s better. It was pretty much bigger than Dane’s head. Oh, and it came with fries, in case you were wondering. Between the burger eating next to me, and this happening across the table…

… it’s safe to say it was an entertaining lunch. Seriously not sure what was happening here. Just normal time with this group.

And when all was said and done, Dane finished his burger (and I’m still grappling with whether to be proud of him or worried for him). This lovely t-shirt was his forever.

Such a happy man. Although not super blown away by the food, we definitely still had a great time. Always great to have good people to share a meal with!

Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage, Cambridge

During one of our ridiculous snowstorms here in Boston Dane and I both had a snow day at work (one of the perks of working in higher education). Nothing could get us to leave the house. OK, one thing. Burgers from Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage in Harvard Square. Despite the foot of snow on the ground, I convinced Dane to get on the T with me and head to Cambridge for a taste of these delicious burgers.

Mr. Bartley’s has been in around in some form since 1960. There’s a variety of things on the menu, but it’s really all about the burger. They were featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri on the Food Network recently (which to be honest I didn’t actually know until we saw the signed poster there). It’s easy to see why the Food Network would want to showcase this place. The funky atmosphere and perfected recipe for a burger, along with all the fun names on the menu are definitely different and worth visiting.

My favorite part of eating here is the menu of all the different varieties of burgers. Some are named for politicians (the Menino, the Scott Brown, the Barack Obama), sports figures (the Tom Brady, the Kevin Garnett), pop-culture icons (the Lady Gaga, the Oprah, the Facebook), and everything else you can think of. Each has their own flavor and mix of toppings.

I ended up with the the Democrat (saurkraut, swiss cheese and Russian dressing) and Dane had the Mayor Mumbles Menino (fried egg, bacon and cheese).

And milkshakes because the burgers experience is just rounded out when you have a yummy chocolate milkshake to wash it down with.

If you like a great burger, you have to try this place. It gets mobbed at lunch, especially when it’s nice out (though we found a late lunch around 2pm can work just fine). Branch out with your burger tastes here! It’s the perfect opportunity to try some toppings you might not ordinarily think of, and would never make on your own.

Looking forward to heading back there, but this time minus the foot of snow.

Vee Vee, Jamaica Plain

Somehow after living in JP for almost 4 years, I had never heard of Vee Vee until recently. Thanks goodness Rebecca remedied this. As she swooned and was almost speechless over the sirloin she had had there, we decided it could not wait. We had to go to Vee Vee that night.

It was a Saturday night, and we knew it’d get busy so we made reservations for as soon as it opened. Why wait, right? We opened the place up.

Vee Vee serves modern American food that changes with the season. They have a nice selection of craft beer to go with their appetizers and entrees, as well as wine (but for me the beer selection always comes first). The staff was lovely and knowledgeable and the atmosphere perfectly relaxed, fitting well into the Jamaica Plain community.

We started out with some drinks, and I when I saw Pretty Things was on the menu I had to get it. Pretty Things is currently my favorite local brewery. I have yet to try a beer from Pretty Things that I haven’t fallen in love with. Vee Vee had bottles of Our Finest Regards, and with a name like that I knew I couldn’t go wrong.

Also, this little guy on the label at the top? I love him.

Now on to dinner. Since Becs gave the sirlion such breathtaking reviews, my mind was already made up. We both went for it. Dane mixed it up and went with the pollock.

The sirloin au poivre was served with hollandaise and a fried egg, with a side of blue cheese and bacon mashed potatoes. I had to look up what “au poivre” actually meant after I had it, and it’s a way of cooking a steak by coating it in cracked peppercorns then searing it to create a crust. In other words, just making it awesome. The egg on top of the steak is something I wouldn’t have necessarily imagined that I would have liked, but it was absolutely delicious. Both Becca and I devoured our meals.

Dane’s pollock was panko crusted, which I think is what sold it for him (he loves panko bread crumbs so much that he probably didn’t even read what came with the meal after he saw the word). Along with the pollock there was brussel sprouts, cabbage and a bacon (seriously!) aioli. Needless to say, we didn’t hear a peep out of Dane while he ate, a true sign of a delicious meal.

And although were were very full, we had to have a dessert. Pear gingerbread upside down cake.

Check out Vee Vee’s “Hood of the Week” for discounts depending on where you are coming from to have dinner. Each month another area is featured, and if you are from that town/neighborhood and come in you receive 25% off your bill. An AMAZING deal and great way to bring in new customers from outside of JP.

Bottom line? We loved Vee Vee and will absolutely be visiting again soon. It was a great place to relax with friends on a weekend evening and enjoy some great food and great company.

Vee Vee on Urbanspoon

Anniversary Dinner at Sonsie, Boston

Crazy but true, Dane and I just celebrated our one year wedding anniversary! This past year really flew by. Of course we celebrated our anniversary with a delicious dinner.

Dane surprised me and chose a restaurant from our Wish List. I had no idea where we were going, which is half the fun sometimes. We headed into Boston and started walking. We passed so many restaurants, and I kept thinking every one must be where we were headed. Then we finally stopped at Sonsie on Newbury Street and I was so excited.

I loved Sonsie from the second we stepped foot inside. It was warm and cozy with a great lounge feel. Upscale but comfortable at the same time. We first went to the bar and got a drink while our table was prepared. Within 5 minutes it was ready and we made our way to the dining room.

We settled in at our table and were greeted with cava because it was our anniversary. I had never had cava before, but it’s a Spanish sparkling wine which is produced using the same method as champagne. Since the term “champagne” is reserved strictly for sparkling wines made in the Champagne region in France, cava is Spain’s version. Now we had our drinks and cava to enjoy. Off to a great start.

For an appetizer, we decided to give the Olives a try. Best idea ever. I can honestly say this was one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. I’m a HUGE fan of olives. A few varieties of olives (kalamata, green, and black) were served heated in a iron skillet, along with a bean dip and rosemary foccacia bread. I want to go back immediately just for a martini and this appetizer.

We probably could have stopped there and been perfectly content, but we ordered our meals. I went with the grilled sirloin, and Dane ordered the lamb.

And it was all fantastic. I couldn’t finish it all after our appetizer, but it was really hard to finally put down my fork and knife and concede that I was full. Dane managed though, as he usually does.

We couldn’t say no to dessert after looking quickly at the menu. The Cocoa Nib caught both our attention. Pizzeles, rum bananas, caramel and Nutella swirl ice cream. It lived up to all our expectations.

Anyone want to go to Sonsie with me for a cocktail and some olives? That is, if you can get me to share! We highly recommend Sonsie to anyone, especially if you’re looking for a new place for a nice meal, a lounge atmosphere, or a cafe. Sonsie has a little bit of everything for everyone.

Sonsie on Urbanspoon

Meet you there!

Ula’s Cafe, Jamaica Plain

I love my funky neighborhood. Dane and I make an effort to eat close to home and try new places, and a favorite of mine is Ula Cafe in the Brewery complex in JP.

The cafe is a great gathering place for JP locals and visitors, that offers sandwiches, soups, and beverages. Baked treats are made on site and fresh each day. During the summer the outdoor patio is the place to be, and the cafe is dog friendly, providing treats and a water bowl for pups while they hang out on the patio with their owners. Ula’s also strives to support sustainability in their food and daily operations. In short, it’s a funky neighborhood place that welcomes everyone and supports the planet. Pretty great, if you ask me.

I mentioned the fresh baked goods. They are AMAZING. I’m a huge sucker for the raspberry crumb bars (or any of them really – I’ve tried apple, fig, and apricot too) and popovers. I would love to learn how to make popovers, but Ula’s are just so good that I feel like mine wouldn’t live up to them.

If you’re a coffee or tea lover, this is the place to try things. I love the Rooibos tea, served in a small teapot. If you’ve never had Rooibos, give it a try. Smells like vanilla and tastes so soothing.

Not in the mood for sweet treats? Grab one of their sandwiches. You have the option of a whole or half sandwich and some change with the seasons. Each has some unique toppings and amazing flavor blends. I LOVE the Black Forest Ham sandwich with herb cream cheese, apricot chutney, and cucumbers. The mix of the cream cheese and sweet apricots makes for great complimenting flavors.

With my sweet tooth, I usually only have room for a half sandwich, but I think it works out for the best. Ula’s is a gret lunch spot and hangout for coffee and a snack.

Until recently, Ula Cafe had unlimited free Wi-fi for patrons. In the past few months free Wi-fi hours have been limited to exclude the busiest times (lunch time during the week, and mornings/lunch on weekends). Smart move in my opinion for Ula’s. There were times I’d go in and one person would sit with their laptop at tables meant for four people for hours upon hours at a time, while purchasing one cup of coffee. I hope this will help this small business bring in more revenue and allow more people to come and enjoy the food and atmosphere.

If you find yourself in JP, (maybe visiting the Sam Adams Brewery?) check out Ula Cafe! Enjoy!

Ula Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Fireplace, Brookline

I had been wanting to try this place for months. Come on, a restaurant called The Fireplace? It sounds so warm and cozy! During Restaurant Week this summer, Dane and I finally got ourselves there for dinner. And my warm cozy thoughts about The Fireplace were definitely confirmed.

The Fireplace is an upscale restaurant that comes with a slightly upscale price point. But during Restaurant Week The Fireplace offered the 3 course deal for $33, along with many other Boston restaurants. There is no way to beat that. A full meal from appetizer to desert for only $33? Yes, please and thank you.

The restaurant itself has a comfortable atmosphere, complete with – you guessed it – a fireplace. Doesn’t it just look warm? I definitely want to get back here for drinks (and maybe some dessert if I’m feeling sassy) with friends.

The Restaurant Week menu had some great choices, and it definitely took us a bit to make our decisions. I really just wanted one of everything. I also made the mistake of looking through the menu, which made me want to order some cheese and a Humble Offering (a special that is offered Sunday-Thursday for a lower price than the average entree), but I refrained by reminding myself that I had 3 courses on the way.

First up for me was the Summer Vegetable Soup and for Dane the Endive Salad. I could not get enough of my soup. It was fresh and perfect.

For my entree, I barely even read past the first option – Grandma Gladys’ Grilled Flank Steak with Boston Baked Beans and Garlicky Broccoli. It’s like this meal was made specifically for me. I absolutely LOVE flank steak (my dad makes it the best which I’m sure is why I love it so much). Broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables. I can’t get enough garlic. And Boston Baked Beans? Come on Fireplace, it’s like you read my mind. Dane agreed, and we both ended up ordering the same thing.

After all that, I was thoroughly stuffed. But wait – there’s more! For desert, the Apple Pan Dowdy. Doesn’t get much more cozy than that for a desert.

We both had a great experience at The Fireplace. The service was quick, friendly, and knowledgeable. And I think I’ve already said enough about the food – it was delicious. Check out The Fireplace on Twitter for news (including updates on their changing Humble Offerings). Anyone want to meet me there for drinks?

Fireplace on Urbanspoon

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