Welcome to Burt's Food Blog

Hello I'm Burt Fleisher, a Chicago area restaurant lover who travels the USA extensively, and is always seeking out interesting and unique food wherever I may be. This Blog has become my photo-journal, chronicling most of my restaurant and dining experiences with a bit of humor added in to keep it light.

I want to thank you for stopping by and reading, I hope you enjoy my musings and that you'll subscribe to Burt's Food Blog or Like Me on Facebook.

Eat well and take care!

-Burt

Monday, February 11, 2013

From Being a Blogger to Becoming a Restaurant Owner

I’ve been blogging about restaurants non-stop since 2006. And it has been an awesome experience that has given me a very unique perspective about restaurants, food and the people who run them.

Over that time, my writing style and picture taking skills really have greatly evolved. But I have always felt that my reviews usually ended up as either being called “Rave” reviews or “Rage” reviews. Mainly because no one really cares about the stuff that falls in between; the food was ok, had some flavor that I’ve had many times before, was served at room temperature by a transparent wait staff with an ambivalent attitude in a unmemorable room with very reasonable average prices and an experience that left me feeling generally unnoticed, much like elevator music. See? Not too exciting right??

The crazy rage reviews were almost always without fail due to some gross negligence, poor quality or somehow due to no skills at cooking whatsoever. I secretly hated writing these reviews, and I always felt that I would be building up bad karma somewhere along the line for even writing them.  But I also always felt that in order to be true, and have a sense of integrity to my readers, that the truth had to be told, no matter how ugly.

Which leaves me with all my gems. These are proudest moments that I loved the most. The real reason I starting blogging to begin with. The RAVE REVIEWS.  These are the great ones, the food porn moments of flavor ecstasy. Those  unexpected discoveries, or times that I wandered into a small business like Big Ed’s In North Chicago and met a sincere, honest man proud to be a new restaurant owner, who was laying everything he had out on the counter for the world to discover, and discover him we did!  All the way to being right there with him when we were filmed together on the ABC7’s Hungry Hound, which forever changed the way Chicagoland thinks of Big Ed. 

Or the time that I took a detour to avoid a lunchtime train in Mundelein, and by accident found some amazing Chinese food at Dragon Star. The many visits to Frank’s For Memories, Lomelie’s, Scotty’s Hot Dogs in Round Lake or when I found Big Jacks right after they opened, and how years later, after dozens of Italian Beefs and hot dogs, I still hold the Buttacavoli family in the highest regard for making some of the greatest Chicago style food in Lake County.

The same story goes for the countless great restaurant operators, bakeries, donut shops, that I have blogged about, become a regular customer at, or in some cases over time, I become trusted friends with the owners or staff. Guys like Rudy Garza of Rudy’s/Rio in Grayslake or Dave Raymond of Sweet Baby Ray’s to name just a few of the really wonderful people that I’ve had the pleasure to meet while blogging.

The restaurant world is full of the kind of guys that would give you the shirts off their back, that’s what I love about this business, people proud to do the best they can, make great food, and folks who never let you leave feeling unnoticed or like you were just a ticket number.

And thus my transition into this world.  I have been inspired by all these great folks. And each has advised me in ways that I never fully understood until last month when I decided to open up my own restaurant in Kenosha WI, called Bad 2 Da Bone BBQ.

I’ll be spending less time writing about the other guys restaurants now, and I hope that all you readers  and bloggers continue to let the world know just how great they all still are. But for now, my blogging pen will be silent from blogging while I myself go from being the reviewer, to being the reviewed.

If you ever find yourself in Kenosha, stop by and say hello. Tell me how things really are, and if I met your expectations or not. My goal is to deliver the best food experience that I can, and to try to do for my customers what the all the great restaurants that I’ve raved about have done for me.

So I leave you with some choice pictures of what I will be serving at Bad 2 Da Bone BBQ & Grill above, but most importantly I want to say: Thank you for reading, take care, eat well and please support small business!!

-Burt

Bad 2 Da Bone BBQ
2311 Roosevelt Rd (Hwy Rt.50)
Kenosha, WI 53143
(262)955-2232
www.B2DBbbq.com

Monday, September 17, 2012

Smoke Daddy Pellet Pro Competition Upgrade for the WSM

I’ve been a serious BBQ guy for a pretty long time. And over the years I’ve owned or used quite a few different smoker brands; ranging from Brinkman, Weber, Cookshack and Masterbuilt, plus a few others in between. I’ve also been to quite a few BBQ competitions and even been part of a team that Grand Championed, twice.

My BBQ team is name is Bad 2 Da Bone BBQ, and right now I just do a couple of pretty good BBQ meat rubs, but who knows? Maybe someday you’ll see them with this logo on a store shelf, and then again, maybe not. Anyway, in July, Bad 2 Da Bone BBQ was entered into the Big Ed’s Rib Throwdown BBQ contest in Waukegan, IL, because I really enjoy cooking.

Bad BBQ Banner

I’m pretty brand agnostic when it comes to brands of smokers, which is why, when it came time for me to buy a smoker that was legal to use for these competitions, I choose the 22.5” Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) based mostly on affordability.

The problem was, the WSM didn’t arrive in time for the Big Ed’s contest. Fortunately my trusty 6 year old Masterbuilt electric smokehouse was OK’d for use in this contest, so I used it instead, and you really have no idea how much I really like using it.

At the Big Ed’s contest, I got to know Dennis Correa of Smoke Daddy Inc., who showed up with his sizable BBQcrew that he calls the “Voodoo BBQ team”. Dennis of course, cooks on his own line of Smoke Daddy Pellet Pro Competition smokers, which really caught my eye since they look a lot like beefier versions of the popular Traeger Pellet Smokers that I’ve seen around at a few competitions.

Dennis got to talking to me about his Pellet Pro Competition smoker, and how it works in great detail, and he said that he not only sells the line smokers, but that he also sells the complete pellet hopper assembly unit. My techy brain logged that little piece of information for future use… Overall it was not a bad weekend, I ended up taking third place in the contest with the Masterbuilt, and I had made a new friend.

My beautiful new WSM arrived the following week, and right away I started cooking with it. And despite all the tweaks and mods from the Virtual Bullet forum, and plenty of advice from some of my local WSM friends that I know around here. I started to feel that I just wasn’t able to achieve and recreate same level of tenderness with that perfect relaxed texture that I get from my trusty Masterbuilt.

I entered Bad 2 Da Bone BBQ in the KCBS Kenosha Grill Games in August.

I was still toying with the WSM quite a bit, but with the Grill Games contest looming right around the corner, I finally decided on using the minion method of fire control with Coshell coconut shell briquettes (since they gave off a lighter smoke and longer lasting fire than lump or Kingsford), a clay pot base filled with sand in the water pan, and a PartyQ by BBQ Guru to keep my temperatures stable, and help make my fuel consumption more efficient.

From a BBQ perspective; The Kenosha Grill Games outing was a disaster!

None of the BBQ cooked on the WSM got a call (although we did have a call in anther category), but we finished a paltry 28thout of 41 teams. There were two big errors that really hurt; the late lighting of one of the two WSM’s (by almost 2 hours) which meant that the stink of the initial charcoal lighting was still strong, and the temperature had not fully stabilized when I wanted to load in the Brisket and Pork.

The second key mistake was the inadvertent mistake of leaving the lid slightly ajar during the night on the second WSM. Which meant, that we had a really hot smoker on our hands to deal with in the morning by about +50°. And as many of you know, bringing down the temp in a WSM is brutal if not impossible! It also didn’t help that the both electric fan monitors crapped out, so we had to go old school and just use vent control.

To say I was disappointed in the WSMs performance that weekend might be a bit of an understatement.

After I got home that night, I started thinking about the Smoke Daddy Pellet Pro. Mentally debating if maybe I had bought the wrong kind of smoker for my style of cooking. And the more I thought about it, the more my techie brain started trying to solution the problems with the WSM’s. So instead, I got an idea. To some; an awful idea. But I knew I’d had a wonderful, *awful* idea”.

IMAG0560-1That week I drove down to Smoke Daddy Inc. in Waukegan and spoke to Dennis about retrofitting the Smoke Daddy Pellet Pro hopper assembly onto my WSM. He looked at me kind of funny at first, but after hearing out the whole idea, he quickly said “sure, I think we can give it a try”.

The hopper stands about a foot off the ground, and for the purpose of making a prototype, we bought a Cajun Bandit BBQ Stacker to cut up and modify for the Pellet Pro hopper assembly to fit into. Dennis’ lead fabrication guy Gary really did a bang up job of cutting, mounting and fitting the hopper into Stacker ring for the WSM. And within a day we had a working prototype to test cook on, check out the pictures.

After several cooks with the Smoke Daddy Pellet Pro hopper assembly mounted into the Cajun Bandit Stacker, I can tell you that I am already seeing big benefits, such as; complete hands off fire monitoring, steady temps that are +/- 10 degrees of target set point, pure wood smoke without that acrid charcoal first light stench. Very efficient use of the pellets; the WSM is really tight and is only going through about ¾ lbs of pellets an hour. The food is more “relaxed and moist” and I’m getting predictable results that are very close to what my electric cabinet smoker does effortlessly. The temps from removing and replacing the lid recover to target temp in less than 3-5 minutes. And achieving set target temp from a cold start has been taking about 15 minutes on average.

grill2I think with just a few minor tweaks, such as permanently mounting the probes above the stacker ring, maybe filling the water pan with water instead of using sand and the clay pan, and possibly sealing/beefing up that flimsy stock door it will be perfect.

I honestly can’t wait to take this to a few competitions next year and see how it fares against the other teams, I know that I’m really happy with the results so far, and at this point, I think it’s safe to say, that the kind of errors that hurt me in Kenosha, shouldn't ever hurt me again in the future.

If you’re interested in upgrading your WSM to be a pellet smoker like pictured, please contact Dennis at Smoke Daddy, Inc. for help and guidance, and to buy the Smoke Daddy Pellet Pro hopper assembly as well! He says that if he sees enough demand or interest for it, that he would like to offer this as a WSM retrofit kit for either the 22.5” or the original 18” WSMs.

Smoke Daddy, Inc.
54 Le Baron St.
Waukegan, IL 60085
(847)336-1329
www.pelletprogrill.com

smokedaddyinc@msn.com

Monday, November 28, 2011

Fiasco At Fiamico’s

I’ll start with the niceties; The restaurant is really very attractive and warm. It looks and feels cozy, and the seating is comfortable, and the décor is very nice. From the fireplace in the center of the restaurant, to the wood burning brick pizza oven and the bar, it all looks great with nice classy touches and shows what must have taken a good show of money to make it all work.

Unfortunately for them, I'm the guy who would have been more ecstatic about eating on wobbly used plastic TV trays while sitting on stacks of milk crates if the food and service had been stellar, because great ambiance only goes so far.

To put it bluntly; I was massively disappointed by my meal and service at Fiamico. And the long 6-9 month wait and buildup for this hopeful gem to finally open it’s doors in a sea of restaurant despair that is downtown Waukegan, only made the whole experience seem even more deflating.

The dinner fiasco began with a basket of sliced crusty Italian & focaccia breads placed at our table without butter, oil or cheese, so I asked our WINOT (Waiter In Need Of Training) for some. After 10-15 minutes passed by with no sign of the WINOT. I flagged down a passing waiter to help find the WINOT and have him stop by. The WINOT showed up empty handed, and wanted to know what we “wanted”. And after being reminded, WINOT brought out oil & cheese but of course forgot the butter.

By the way, the oil was herbed and tasted low grade, the cheese smelled and tasted like that pizza Parmesan-Romano mix from a can, and not a quality fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano like most quality establishments at this price point would normally provide.

I ordered the meatball appetizer and had asked if an Italian sausage link could be added alongside the meatballs for me to try out. What came out from the kitchen was this bizarre 3” high pile of ground up sausage meat in the shape of a cone (wish I had a picture of it!). Without a doubt, this is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen served. I sent it back, and reminded the WINOT that the request had been for a sausage link, but not to worry about it now, and just cancel the order.

Somehow that last part of what I said got lost, because near the end of the meal, the kitchen sent out a whole intact sausage link anyway. Then later when the check came, WINOT pointed out that someone named Gino was nice enough to mark the link “n/c”. What I wish is that Gino would have got up and stopped by my table, and if he’s reading this, I’ll bet he’s wishing that he had too.

While I could go on about how the rest of the meal went on like this, there were just too many mis-queues to even bother recounting.

I guess what bothered me most, is that the meal from start to finish was so poorly executed by the kitchen. From the minestrone soup that did not taste cooked all the way through to tender, to the canned tasting marinara sauce used on both the meatballs and pizza. The main attraction wood fired pizza itself was a disappointment as well, with an underdone crust, resulting in a limp/soggy pizza center and that terrible sauce.

I left feeling like I wasn’t important enough to warrant the undivided attention of a WINOT, in what was basically an empty restaurant. And that no one who represented the ownership or family of the restaurant ever came by any of the tables to see how things were going, bothering to build new relationships or welcoming in new customers. Or to even find out what had gone wrong after food was sent back and then care enough to get customer feedback on how to improve.

Fiamico, whether they know it or not, are in the awkward position of trying to backfill a pretty big gaping hole left by the successive failures of downtown Waukegan’s last three Italian eateries, which were all pretty good, Bacci’s was even a real standout. But that was then, and this is now Fiamico’s time. And they have a great opportunity and a rare captive audience to try to win over for Italian food in this area, but they better get their heads in the game or I’m afraid they won’t last.

FIAMICO RISTORANTE
226 N Sheridan Rd.
Waukegan IL 60085
(847) 672-4117
http://fiamico.com/

Taste: 3 (of 10)
Experience: 3 (of 10)
Value: 4 (of 10)
Score: 3.5 (of 10)

Fiamico Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wauconda’s Bulldog’s Grill, These “Guys” Aren’t Foolin’ Around!

There’s no denying that a “full on” burger war is being waged these days. Everywhere I seem to go, claims to have these new “premium” burgers. Some would even have you believe that they either invented the concept, or that they are taking it to new heights.

Even the old burger vet’s like Wendy’s & McDonalds are rethinking their strategies based on the onslaught being brought on by the new fast food “up and comer” chains of 5-Guys, Smashburger & Red Robin, which are popping up on every open corner in the country. 

But if you look deep into your heart, and face the truth, we all know that these chains are really “just” chains. Hot grills manned by what amounts to teeny bopper cooks who are flipping burgers. Doing their best to meet large volumes of mindless consumption by the marketing driven masses. Oh sure, most manage to do an “adequate” job when it comes to making those burgers, but that’s about it. After all, there is no pride or craftsmanship at stake here, and that’s a fact. And that’s the reason that it’s hard, if not impossible, to bottle up and mass produce the secret ingredients of high quality, mature cooking skills and determined care and bring it to any fast food or chain establishment.

Which goes to one of the most basic elements of great food; you can teach just about anyone to be a cook, but you have be educated, trained and then gain real experience in order to become a chef.

And why do you need a chef to make a burger?  Because I’m talking about real burgers.

Thick (1/2 lb. or greater) fresh ground beef made into loosely hand formed meat patty's. Hand seasoned on the grill or griddle to form a glorious caramelized flavored meat crust that sears in the meats juices. So that when that burger is bitten into, the tender juicy pure beef center releases a wave of flavors with just the right balance of juices intermingled with crust to give you that euphoric mouth feel of savory cooked perfection.

But there's more to a burger than just cooking great meat, a truly great burger is, if anything, a masterpiece of layered flawlessness. The bun for example is soft, yet unyielding, a barrier of baked flavor that serves as the protector of the meat package. It can’t be too thick, or large. It should never dominate the meat in such a way that the juices soak into it before it hits your eager awaiting pallet, and never should it dissolve in your hands, falling way useless and worn, nor should it be so dense and thick that it takes more chew than that of the meat itself.

Proper burger construction is key; even the placement of moisture barriers such as lettuce or mayo, which shield the bun from sogginess, and the right balance of toppings weigh into making the perfect burger. And lastly; presentation. Only a chef would know how to build such a perfect burger, and only a chef would care so much about such minute details, and that is exactly why only a chef can turn the ordinary burger into a masterpiece.

And that my friends, is what finally brings us to Bulldogs Grill in Wauconda (and soon in Grayslake as well). Bulldogs has a chef running the kitchen of this 50’s looking diner, which has a menu that spans a  wide range of good eats that go from salads and wings, to fish tacos, Italian beef and hot dogs and then focuses squarely on over 30 different burger creations, plus a few specials of the day. The chef and his partner have created an all star line up of burgers like no other place that I’ve seen before. Most of the burger creations start with a 1/2 lb. hand formed patty atop a fresh soft local bakery bun and then pile on stuff, lots and lots of stuff… each burger is a unique masterpiece in its own right.

As my eyes scanned double staked chalkboards with 6 columns of options, my brain was nearly overwhelmed by the burger combinations that were available. Varied from your standard single 1/2 lb. hamburger/cheeseburger, to the wildly complex, creative and even humorous specials of the day.

Take for example the Scarlett Johansson: a burger with cream cheese, jalapenos, bacon and apple bbq sauce, or the Texas Tornado (pictured) which has Frito's, grilled onions, avocado, jalapenos & salsa.  I opted for the Double D: a double 1/2 lb. cheeseburger with grilled onions & bacon, all for under $9. I was stuffed well beyond reasonable capacity, and I couldn’t even finish it. But I’ll bet I fared better than whoever goes for the one called the Triple Bypass burger; two grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with a burger, cheese, bacon, lettuce & tomato, and more cheese!!

Normally burgers this great would be more than enough to get me to fall hard for a place all on their own, but my review just wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention that the hand mixed milkshakes and hand cut fries were OUTSTANDING as well. They really are good, I practically demolished a large plastic basket of fries on my own, well, OK maybe I had some help, but I did eat a ton of them!

Overall, Bulldogs is one of the best burger experiences I’ve ever had, along with some really great shakes and fries too. I was impressed by the great personalities and ease of comfort that I felt while eating there with my friends, who all not only loved what they ate, but also seemed to have a great time talking with Joe the owner and the rest of the fun Bulldog’s staff. 

There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the best burgers in Lake County, if not in the entire Chicagoland area, or dare I say possibly in the country as well?

 

Bulldog's Grill
122 S. Main Street
Wauconda, Illinois 60084
(847) 526-8234
http://www.bulldogsgrill.com/

Taste: 9.5
Experience: 9.5
Value: 9.5
Score: 9.5

 

Bulldogs Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Just Like Italy, is Like Nothing Else In Gurnee!

This year my wanderings and travels have taken me all over the planet. So when I get out and about, in my very own neighborhood and discover that there are new and exciting restaurants opening up in the area (in spite of a horrible economy), I want to be the first one on the scene.

A few weeks ago I discovered the newly opened “Just like Italy” in the Northeast corner of Gurnee (in the old Gurnee Pizza location).  It’s been a long time since there was good Italian restaurant to talk about in this area, and let me tell you; this place is special!

The restaurant is run by a really nice Italian family, Mom & Dad and two sons run the back and seem to do most of the cooking. Two daughters run the front by waiting on tables and doing a great job of making everyone feel right at home.

The décor is non pretentious, with red & white checkerboard tablecloths and small mementos and pictures of Italy on the walls and counters, Italian pop music plays in the background.

So far, I’ve been back 3 times; once with my family, and once with a work colleague of mine, and once on my own, and all I can say is each visit gets better than the last!

For starters, all the pasta’s and sauces are made fresh in house everyday. The same goes for the amazingly flavorful soups (tortellini & minestrone) that I’ve tasted as well. The Panzerotti is really special by the way, according to the daughters, they tell me that their dad the chef, is from the very town in Italy where these originated, and that he takes great pride in them. I loved them.

The cold subs are outstanding using quality Italian deli meats, and the meatballs & sausage have my work colleague considering a 12 step program to help him stop eating them! They're that good. The pasta and sauces are amazing; especially that vodka sauce. My daughter loved the lasagna, and from my taste, I can see why. And the Cappuccino that I had was authentic and right on the money made perfect!

The pizza is very good, I’ve only had two so far, the first one was good, the second was even better.

I want to cut them some slack, since they are only in week three of doing business, and they may still be tightening down few details, but my only criticism would be that I was not crazy about the Italian beef/combo sandwich. But, I am still amazed that they are able to knock this many quality items out of the park, this early into the game. So I remain optimistic that anything that isn't great now, will be, in a very short amount of time.

Just like Italy is a very welcome addition to the Gurnee/Waukegan area, and I know that as word about the great food starts to get out, they will do a great business, and hopefully be with us for a long time to come.

So get over there, and support these guys! And please let me know your thoughts and comments if you can, take care and happy eating-



Just Like Italy
1810 N. Delany Road
Gurnee, IL 60031
(847) 336-1200
http://www.justlikeitaly.com

Taste: 8.5
Experience: 8.5
Value: 9
Score: 8.75

Just Like Italy on Urbanspoon