Thursday, June 21, 2007

Eating in Chicago and Indiana

So, I just got back last night from Indiana, where I had gone for six days to visit my wife Jen, who is there for the summer working at Eli Lilly in conjunction with her fellowship that's paying for her Master's degree in pharmaceutical economics. Over the weekend we drove up to Chicago for two nights, where we had never before been. While in Chicago we ate at the following places:

1. Late Saturday night: Miller's Pub, downtown. Open-faced prime rib sandwich. Hit the spot.

2. Sunday lunch: Hot dogs at Superdawg.

3. Sunday dinner: Deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati's.

4. Monday early lunch: Coq au vin at the cafe at the Art Institute.

5. Monday late lunch: Italian beef at Mr. Beef.

I liked the food in Chicago. The famous "Chicago hot dogs" are basically just good all-beef hot dogs in a poppyseed bun filled with a bunch of toppings. Since I don't eat much in the way of toppings, I just had a good hot dog in a poppyseed bun with ketchup and onions. Good but not really as distinctive as they might make it seem.

The Chicago deep-dish pizza is quite distinctive. It seems odd to compare it to regular pizza; it's more kind of halfway between pizza and lasagna. It was very good, though, and quite filling.

An Italian beef sandwich is also something I can stand behind, although I should point out that aside from the topping, it's very similar to a French dip sandwich. But hey, I like those a lot. I think if I lived in Chicago I would eat a lot of these. I loved Mr. Beef's "elegant dining room" (actually a cinderblock room with three long formica tables seating about 16 people each).

More Midwest food:
1. We stopped for a snack at Culver's, which is a chain that advertises "butterburgers" and frozen custard. We didn't eat any burgers, but we did eat frozen custard, which we liked a lot. Actually, it was a sundae with cashews and caramel, a tasty combo. The key: use salted cashews.

2. On our way back we stopped for a late dinner at the Sonic Drive-In in Kokomo. Since I've been to Sonic several times before, I wouldn't mention it except that (A) the carhop was actually on rollerskates, which is rare, (B) it bugs me how there's only one Sonic in all of Southern California (it's in Anaheim), and (C) I couldn't get that idiotic Beach Boys song "Kokomo" out of my head.

3. There's no way to defend White Castle as quality dining, but gosh darn it, they certainly have appeal. Very inhalable. A White Castle burger is distinct from a regular burger; it's little, it's square, it has five holes in it, and it's sort of steamed on a bed of grilled onions. Weird, but kinda good. And they have CHICKEN RINGS. These are like chicken nuggets shaped liked rings. I went for lunch on Tuesday; I had eaten at one once before a year ago in Kentucky.

4. One good chain around Indianapolis is Steak n Shake. Like fast food, it's clean, shiny, quick, and has a limited menu (the "steak" refers to their "steakburgers"), but you get table service, the burgers are made to order, and you eat on real plates. The burgers and shakes are high-quality, and it's nice to be able to get soup with your burger.

5. I should point out one oddity around Indiana is that there's a local chain called Waffle House that's different from the national (but not in California) chain of the same name. The Indiana Waffle House has a totally different-looking logo, and is basically like a Denny's or IHOP. Not bad, but not anything really special. Confusing matters is that eventually the national Waffle House moved into Indiana, too, so now there are two chains called Waffle House in Indiana. For a while the national Waffle Houses used the name "Waffle and Steak" in Indiana, apparently now the Indiana Waffle House has started to use the name "Sunshine Cafe" instead and so the national Waffle House is free to use the name Waffle House. On this trip, though, I saw both chains using the same name.

I remember driving through Panama City, Florida a couple years ago on US-98, where I saw a Waffle House, then an Omelet House, and then an Omelet and Waffle House.

6. Jen has still not found any good Chinese restaurants in Indianapolis. We did find a Thai place, Sawasdee, that was good but not great, and a very good Korean BBQ, Mama's House, on Pendleton Pike. We went to Chicago's Chinatown, but it just had about two blocks of tiny, old, poorly-stocked markets and restaurants. Pretty pathetic. I fear that the closest good source for Chinese food for her may be in Toronto.


At Thursday, June 21, 2007 at 3:59:00 PM PDT, Anonymous doafy said...

St. Louis Anne used to rave about Steak 'n Shake. She says they have the most awesome cheese fries. They're fries with cheese dipping sauce. Like nacho cheese without the spice.

At Friday, June 22, 2007 at 7:24:00 AM PDT, Blogger Theodore said...

I basically survived on Italian beef sandwiches through grad school. There's a place right around the corner from the Cathedral that I would have recommended -- the name's escaping me right now for some reason -- or Carmen's near Loyola's another good choice (as well as a good choice for pizza without going to a "name brand" place). But, anywhere that's got the "Vienna beef" logo is likely to be reliable.

Maybe it's a matter of perspective, but I'd never consider comparing Italian beef to a French dip -- there's a lot more spicing in the preparation of the roast, and the fact that it's served wet on a bun is sort of coincidental. I've been working for years on an Italian beef recipe, and I'm only now sort of getting good at it. Of course, anyone who's got a good recipe ain't sharing it.

I'd been keeping neck-and-neck with you in the county-counting race up 'til now, but I suspect I'm officially screwed after this trip.

At Friday, June 22, 2007 at 1:26:00 PM PDT, Blogger Adam Villani said...

I picked up 17 new counties on this trip (1 in Illinois, 16 in Indiana) and 13 on my driving trip around the Sierras (9 to complete California, plus 3 in Nevada and 1 in Oregon). So I think before I went on that trip I was one county ahead of you (558 vs. 557). But that was only because of Jen and my trip last month to Virginia and DC, where I picked up a slew of new counties, or, as the case may be, county-equivalents:

DC: 1
MD: 10
DE: 2
WV: 1
VA: 31

It's really easy to pick up new county-equivalents in Virginia. Not only are the counties just inherently smaller out there, but VA has this special thing where a city that incorporates separates from its parent county. So, just around DC, for example, Alexandria, Falls Church, and Fairfax are all independent cities and count as separate.

Then in the Hampton Roads area the cities have completely absorbed their counties, and so the southeast corner of the state is one big countyless mass. So, in one afternoon, I made a loop around the area and easily picked up Poquoson, Hampton, Newport News, Suffolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach, all before crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

It's a lot more challenging to pick up new counties here out West. If you look at my county-counting map, now, the closest unclinched county for me would probably be in northern Nevada. I think it'll be a while before I pick up anything new out here.

At Friday, June 22, 2007 at 1:31:00 PM PDT, Blogger Adam Villani said...

Oh, and Mike Benedetti (798 counties) is far ahead of both of us, although he hasn't been adding much new since he stopped long-distance hiking.

At Sunday, June 24, 2007 at 10:02:00 AM PDT, Blogger Theodore said...

Oh, I might not be so screwed yet. I overestimated the number of counties you'd've clinched last week.

We're considering a road trip down to the Rio Grande Valley to watch some minor league baseball (2 teams in Corpus Christi, a couple down in the Valley, then maybe San Antonio on the way back) and see just what the big deal is about South Padre. That'll probably net me about 15 more, depending on how we go, including the very interesting-looking Kenedy County. Then, I'm going to be driving to New Orleans around the New Year, which, depending on how much wandering I do, could add another 15-20 counties/parishes. So I guess I'll be able to keep up.

At Sunday, June 24, 2007 at 11:24:00 AM PDT, Blogger Adam Villani said...

I might visit Jen again sometime next month, in which case we'd probably go to Ohio and pick up some new counties, but that's the only plans I have through the rest of the year.


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