Dec 29, 2013

A breakfast that’s Juan In A Million

Juan In A Million is one of the more famous foodie destinations in Austin, Texas.  Aside from the catchy name, it has steadily built a reputation since it opened its original location in 1980 for generous portions of authentic Tex-Mex food at generous prices.  The TV show “Man Vs. Food” further cemented the restaurant’s reputation by including its Don Juan breakfast taco challenge on its Austin episode

And then there’s founder Juan Meza himself, who still tries to personally greet as many patrons as possible.  He’s even famous for it, as alluded to on the menu. 

With all of this in mind, how could I refuse when my friend Omarr suggested we go to Juan in a Million for breakfast one morning during my work trip to Austin last fall? 

Located on East Cesar Chavez Street in the increasingly revitalized East Austin neighborhood, Juan In A Million is hard to miss. See, even at daybreak, it stands out.

First in line for breakfast

Dec 22, 2013

Austin: South Congress and the Continental Club

When I went to Austin, Texas last fall on a business trip, I knew I didn't want to leave town without catching at least a small slice of its famous live music scene.  Fortunately, my friend Aaron obliged my request, and once we were done eating and drinking at Banger’s in the Rainey Street District, off we went to the South Congress neighborhood and, more specifically, the Continental Club.  

The first thing I noticed about South congress was the parking situation.  Anyone who is lucky enough to find a spot on South Congress must park diagonally – and they must back in to the spot.  See what I mean?

Dec 12, 2013

A commoner reviews Rainey Street and Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden, Austin, Texas

Before I embarked on my business trip to Austin last fall, one of the items I put on my short list of things to do during my off-time was a pub crawl up and down Sixth Street.  It had been more than ten years since I was last in Austin, so I didn't want to miss the chance to once again hang out on what I considered to be of the best bar scenes in the United States. 

With this thought in mind, I at first found it ironic that the friends I made on my first full day in Austin were actually kind of discouraging me from Sixth Street.  The locals don’t do Sixth Street, like they used to, I heard.  It’s always too full of tourists and college students, and the weirdos (which was one thing I liked – a little Bourbon Street charm in south central Texas), I was told. 

So, where do the locals tend to go more and more?  Rainey Street

Dec 5, 2013

Finding Jalapeno’s by the Austin airport

Have you ever traveled for work and found yourself with some unexpected down time in the middle of nowhere?  That’s kind of how I felt the Sunday evening I arrived in Austin, Texas earlier this fall.  Yes, there are some nice hotels by Austin-Bergstrom International Airport that cater very nicely to business travelers (including the Courtyard by Marriott where I stayed), but aside from that, there’s just not a whole lot else nearby.  Fortunately, I used my commoner’s travel instincts to find a diamond it the literal rough.

For a while, things didn't look good, though.  The hotel bar wasn't going to open on Sunday, and although I had the option to purchase libations at their gift shop/news stand, I had already decided if I was going to be a lone drinker in my room, I was going to stock up at the nearby 7-11 instead. 

To make matters worse, dinner time was approaching, and the hotel’s website only listed two restaurants within walking distance – Waffle House and Subway.  I could also see a huge Denny’s sign from the hotel parking lot.  I seriously considered buying a microwave dinner at the news stand. 

But then I befriended an attractive and charming young lady wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey working the checkout counter (it was game day, so rooting for your favorite NFL team among employees was apparently encouraged).  Understanding my plight, and reading the look of boredom across my face, she enthusiastically recommended a place located in the strip mall at the closest intersection with the main highway that would take you back to the airport.    

“It’s Tex-Mex and it’s the closest place for us to go for a drink after we get off work,” she said. 

It seemed like the last, best option.  So, I walked to the strip mall, and there it was – innocuously placed in between the Subway and Starbucks – Jalapeno’s

Dec 4, 2013

Airport food in Austin, Texas

Every once in a while this commoner will get lucky and his work will send him to faraway places on a business trip … OK, maybe not that far away, but I did get to travel to Austin, Texas earlier this fall.  Sounds great, right?  Work by day, great food, drink and live music by night. 

The logistics proved to be were a little challenging, however, when I discovered my work booked my hotel room near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.  Nice, new airport.  It just happens to be near the middle of nothing.  Urban sprawl is still a couple of years from catching up to it.  A commoner should never trust his travel booking to his work. 

Oh, well, during the time I was in and around the airport, I made the best of what I could find, and that’s what the first two installments of my recent Austin trip is about.  (Don’t worry, faithful followers.  I’ll cover my brief sampling of the Austin food and music scene, too.)  

Nov 26, 2013

A commoner reviews Stroud’s, Fairway, Kansas

If you’re like me and love food, and the Food Network, you’re probably very familiar with the show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”  The show’s premise revolves around a theme for each show, and then famous chefs and food critic describe their favorite dishes in that category and where to get it.  I've eaten a lot of great food at a lot of restaurants from hole-in-the-walls to legendary meccas for certain foods, so I don’t use the words “best ever” lightly. 

That said, and with apologies to my grandmother who made some awesome pan-fried chicken almost every Sunday when I was growing up, the fried chicken at Stroud's Restaurant is the best I ever ate.  Certainly the best I ever ate at any restaurant.

I had discovered Stroud’s while researching a trip with the Young Curmudgeon to Kansas City several years ago.  Unfortunately, we never made it there, so I put it on my short list of places to go in KC as part of this summer’s road trip to Colorado with my friend, Ken, and the fake wife, Christine.  On our way back from Colorado, we finally made it, stopping at the newer location in suburban Fairway, Kan.      
The entrance to the Stroud's south location.

Nov 21, 2013

Things discussed at the Brewhaus: 18th edition

Just when you thought that – like the Brewhaus itself sometimes – ideas for topics of conversation at the bar were in short supply, your friends surprise you.  No, I don’t have a list of 18 things for the 18th edition, but I still found enough over the past couple of months to hopefully whet your appetite for further discussion:

Nov 17, 2013

Cokes and smiles in Vicksburg, Miss.

When the Young Curmudgeon and I decided to spend a day exploring Vicksburg, Miss., last summer, he was particularly excited to see the military park and battlefield.  But honestly, what I think sealed the deal for him was when he learned about the Coca-Cola Museum in town.

The Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum is located in Vicksburg’s historic, restored downtown area.  More specifically, it’s on Washington Street, which has been transformed back to its brick surface and most of the boutique shops and galleries are located.  The streets are hilly and narrow (parking streetside can be a slight challenge), but the area is quite scenic, as the river meanders past only a few blocks west.  And driving down Washington Street in particular is a little like stepping back in time.    

Because of the restoration, you won’t find any flashy signs advertising the museum.  But you’ll know you’re there when you see the restored storefront for the Biendenharn Candy Co. 

Nov 11, 2013

Scenes from Vicksburg National Military Park

Somehow, I thought it was appropriate to save this post for Veterans Day.  Last summer, the Young Curmudgeon and I chose to extend our vacation a day to stop in Vicksburg, Miss., specifically to tour the Vicksburg National Military Park.  I thought the idea of touring the park was especially fitting with this year marking the 150th anniversary of the battle which, coinciding with the Battle of Gettysburg, turned the tide of the Civil War for the United States. 

The idea of visiting Vicksburg also brought me back to my youth when I had the opportunity to visit Gettysburg on a school-sponsored spring break trip. Even as a kid in junior high school, the memories of seeing the battlefield in a glorious and ominous morning mist are some I will never forget.  And, when the Young Curmudgeon and I toured Vicksburg on a steamy July afternoon, I felt some of the same senses of reverence, awe, and appreciation for the history that took place on the site. 

Nov 7, 2013

Stealing history in Dodge City

Before Ken, Christine and I departed Dodge City on the last leg of our road trip, we decided to take a few minute to explore the Boot Hill Museum and Historic Front Street near downtown.  A few minutes turned into a few hours, as we were quite literally drawn into the multitude of fascinating exhibits and the journey you go on back in time to a recreated Front Street as it existed in 1876. 

The journey actually began quite innocently at the Museum Store, a gift shop marking the entrance to Boot Hill.  Its exterior has looks like the reconstructed Great Western Hotel, which appropriate also serves as a gateway to the Front Street portion of the museum. 

Oct 30, 2013

Scenes from the Dodge House Hotel and Restaurant

If I had to choose one aspect of my summer road trip to Colorado with my friend, Ken, and fake wife, Christine, that most exceeded our expectations, I would have to choose our side trip to Dodge City, Kan.  I had booked a night’s stay at the Dodge House Hotel for the return trip from Colorado on a lark (frankly, Dodge City was one of the only spots on the Kansas map I had ever had any remote interest in visiting), and Ken and Christine were kind enough to indulge me. 

Granted, the trip there from central Colorado left a lot to be desired.  Once you get past the Rockies, there’s just a whole lot of nothing (e.g, plains, prairie, corn and cattle) in eastern Colorado and western Kansas.  Even the historical significance of following parts of the original Santa Fe Trail along the Arkansas River wasn't exactly awe-inspiring.  So, by the time we outran a Kansas thunderstorm and drove past the stench of a gazillion stockyards around Garden City, we were ready to settle in for the night.      

Looks like we found the place ... 

Oct 23, 2013

Curiosities of Kansas

Even if you've never been to Kansas, you’re probably familiar with its reputation.  To the outsider, Kansas is generally regarded as dull at worst and quirky at best.

Maybe it has to do with the state’s largely rural reputation (actually, 75% of the population lives in urban areas).  Maybe it goes back to the state’s role in the whole temperance movement (the state didn't re-legalize alcohol after Prohibition until 1948, and there are still 29 dry counties).  Or maybe people outside of Kansas struggle with relating to a group of people who regard Bob Dole as exciting.      

If you are here, you are probably bored and tired of driving, already.

Oct 17, 2013

All along the UFO Watchtower

This blog entry is dedicated to the fake wife, who absolutely insisted I slam on the brakes and stop here on our way out of Colorado. 

And, after a week-long blogging hiatus, the National Security Agency (NSA) may be sending me on a longer hiatus if they’re monitoring my blogging activity.  That’s because I’m about to reveal one of the biggest alien invasion conspiracies you've probably never heard of.  It must be true – the lady running the UFO Watchtower told me about it.  You don’t get sources much more reliable than that. 

The UFO Watchtower is positioned just north of Hooper, Colo., on state Hwy. 17, about 30 minutes south of Crestone, smack in the middle of the San Luis Valley.  The high desert plain just seems like the most appropriate place to spot aliens, doesn't it? 

The Watchtower is the kind of tourist attraction you have to either completely stumble upon or really be looking for.  It rests on private ranch property, the signs for it are small, and the most noticeable signs it exists are the scattered debris you might see from the road or the Flintstones house with a cage and deck over it (that’s the Watchtower directly over the gift shop). 

Oct 9, 2013

A night in a yurt

This sounds like the title to either an obscure Murray Head song or a lost Marx Brothers movie …

Our story begins with a text conversation between me and the fake wife in July.  Christine was booking places to stay near Crestone, Colo., and had discovered Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa.  She asked me to take a look at the website. 

It seemed like a good fit considering the hippie vibe I was already getting from the area, and the idea of spending a couple of hours relaxing in a mountain-fed hot spring pool sure didn't suck.  Still, I was concerned a little about the room rates and availability of the on-site hotel due to the Crestone Music Festival taking place and the short time frame before our trip and the limited number of rooms.  Then, I saw they offered lodging in yurts (I quickly ruled out the tepees).  I was amused.  And intrigued.  Half joking, I contacted Christine and suggested we book a night in a yurt.

Oct 8, 2013

Salida, Colo. – Amica’s and the Arkansas River

Wood-fired pizzas?  Microbrewery?  And an historic downtown location?  I’m there. 

Those were my initial thoughts when Amica’s was the suggested lunch spot by Christine’s daughter when Ken, Christine and I spent the day with her and her boyfriend exploring Salida, Colo. 

Salida is about 40 minutes north of Crestone.  It’s in the heart of Colorado, where U.S. Hwy. 50 meets U.S. Hwy. 285.  Tourism is the big money-maker in town, thanks to the abundance of opportunities for rafting, hiking, camping, hunting, skiing, etc., nearby.  Case in point:  On our way to Crestone, we had already enjoyed a breathtaking ride along U.S. 50 as it meandered alongside the Arkansas River and past one whitewater rafting excursion after another.

With the surrounding beauty of the Arkansas River and the Rockies, I was very much looking forward to seeing more than the outskirts of town.  And, in fact, the historic downtown, did not disappoint with its Victorian Era buildings and dozens of shops, galleries, restaurants and bars reminiscent of Old West times – all catering to tourists and expatriates who have migrated to this beautifully placed town.

Oct 2, 2013

A Silver Star in the lining

In my last blog entry, I discussed our road trip destination of Crestone, Colo., and its surroundings.  I did not say much about accommodations in Crestone, however. 

Truthfully, if you plan on staying in or near Crestone, you don’t have many options.  Christine, the fake wife, certainly found this out when booking lodging for our first night in the area.  There is a small hotel in town, a youth hostel, and the White Eagle Lodge outside of town which I briefly mentioned in relation to the site of the Crestone Music Festival.  And then there are the bed and breakfasts in the “New Age” neighborhood.  That’s where Christine discovered the Silver Star Bed and Breakfast … and Retreat Center.

Sep 30, 2013

Destination: Crestone, Colorado (and Crest-Fest as a bonus!)

What happens when you combine the remnants of an Old West mining town with a hippie commune?  The result would probably look something like Crestone, Colo. 

Sep 28, 2013

Scenes from the Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colo.

After a week-long hiatus and business trip to Austin, Texas, I’m back to blogging and ready to pick up where I left off on my Colorado road trip last summer.  We pick up the adventure after spending the second night of the trip in Colorado Springs. 

Before embarking on a journey that would take me, Ken and Christine several hours along the Arkansas River, through a pass in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range and eventually into a high desert plain to reach our destination in Crestone, we went with Ken’s suggestion to spend the morning exploring the Garden of the Gods just outside of Colorado Springs.  And I am very glad we found a few hours to go there.

Sep 18, 2013

Things discussed at the Brewhaus (and beyond), Vol. 17

Yes, just when you thought these postings had run their course, a recent flurry of bar discussions in and around regular barroom haunts has proven otherwise. 

I wish I could come up with some clever tie-in for the title, but the only songs I can think of are “Seventeen” by Winger and “Sexy and Seventeen” by Stray Cats.  I really don’t feel like giving a shout-out to a mediocre-at-best 1980s hair band, and – let’s face it – many of the topics on these lists aren't all that sexy.  But many are R-rated, and 17 is the age of admittance at the movies, so let’s go with that.     

So, here are 17 topics for the 17th edition of “Things discussed at the Brewhaus”:

Sep 17, 2013

Getting a charge out of downtown Kansas City

Of all the cities which are less than a day’s drive from my home port in Springfield, Ill. – St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Nashville, Memphis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, etc., – I rarely used to think of Kansas City, Mo., as a go-to destination.  Maybe I associate it with the West (and rightfully so), which makes it feel farther away from the heart of what I consider the Midwest than it really is. 

Thankfully, on our way out to Colorado, I had an opportunity to explore some of downtown Kansas City – even it was a few short hours on a relatively innocuous weeknight – with my friends Christine and Ken.  The takeaway:  Kansas City takes its fun seriously, and there’s a wide variety of fun to find there.     

If there’s one place to consider “party central” in downtown Kansas City, it’s the Power & Light District.  Veteran party aficionado Ken gave the area his highest recommendation, so we headed straight there from our dinner at Gates Bar-B-Q.  But along the way, I ran into a familiar friend – the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, Kansas City outpost

The Flying Saucer has been serving what seems like a gazillion kinds of draft and bottled beers since 1995 and has expanded to 16 locations throughout the Midwest, Southeast and Texas.  I’m pretty sure one of the oldest locations is in Memphis a couple of blocks off of Beale because I've been enjoying their variety and British pub atmosphere for well over 10 years.  Seeing the Flying Saucer immediately put me in the mood to try something new.  But decisions, decisions …

Sep 14, 2013

A commoner reviews Gates Bar-B-Q, Kansas City

This is the first in a series of blog entries recording my adventures with Christine (the fake wife) and my good friend Ken on our soon-to-be-infamous road trip to Colorado to visit the fake wife’s daughter.  The small town she’s staying in is quite a hoot.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, for on the first day of the road trip we eased into the trip with a five-hour drive to the Kansas City metro area.  We actually stayed on the Kansas side, so the Gates Bar-B-Q location we chose to try is actually in Kansas City, Kan. 

If you’re familiar at all with the Kansas City barbecue style, a few names come to mind – Arthur Brant’s, KC Masterpiece, maybe Oklahoma Joe’s or Jack Stack, and, of course, Gates.  In fact, most followers of the Kansas City style apparently trace its origins to one man, Henry Perry, who moved to Kansas City from Memphis. Arthur Bryant himself worked for Perry, as did a cook for Perry who formed Gates Bar-B-Q with George Gates in the 1940s. 

Sep 10, 2013

A burgoo breakdown

What do small Illinois towns Brighton, Roodhouse and Utica have in common?  If you’re from one of them – or if you've been to enough of them, you probably shouted out a simple one word answer:  Burgoo! 

Well, maybe that would never happen, but for dramatic purposes, go with me on this one, readers. 

What is burgoo, exactly?  Well, the answer may depend on the town, and even the particular burgoo.  It’s basically a thick stew cooked in huge cauldrons, usually under a wood fire and large enough to become a town tradition.  Seriously, burgoo festivals are pretty much the most exciting things these towns have to look forward to every year. 

The burgoo can include everything under the sun, but since current day health departments tend to discourage the outdoor cooking use of wild game and varmints, most burgoos today include a variety of beef, pork, chicken, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, corn and something to use as a thickener.  (The burgoo pictured below actually had some pasta in it.  Well, it looked like pasta, so I’m going to continue to believe it.)  The ingredients are then cooked slowly – very slowly – and stirred constantly – sometimes literally overnight – until the burgoo is one thick consistency.  Burgoo enthusiasts say a good burgoo is one where you can stand your spoon straight up in it.

Sep 3, 2013

Scenes from Cypremort Point

When the Young Curmudgeon and I were in the planning process of our summer trip this year, we made the decision that after three nights in New Orleans we would move on to somewhere else.  At times, we would talk about staying somewhere in the heart of Cajun Country.  Other times, the desire to relax on a beach somewhere on the Gulf Coast took precedent.  Being the indecisive people that we are, we eventually talked about fitting in both.  Then I remembered a place I once visited briefly a long time ago in another life far, far away. 

So, I visited the Louisiana State Parks website and booked a night in a cabin at Cypremort Point State Park.    

Aug 31, 2013

A Commoner Reviews Rita Mae’s Kitchen, Morgan City, La.

Anyone who has ever read this blog knows I love to find local places to eat that are a little off the beaten path.  Places where the people who run it put the heart and soul in to the food they’re fixing.  Places where the food is cooked from scratch.  Rita Mae’s Kitchen is just such a place – one where you have to be in the know to even know about it, and you have to be even more in the know to know how to get there.  

I would have not known about Rita Mae’s if it wasn't for the Internet and specifically Urbanspoon.   But it’s one of those types of places you can find out about if you do a little online research.  And when you do – and you realize the reviews are almost unanimously positive – you figure you’re probably missing something by not stopping. 

Aug 27, 2013

A brief pit stop at the Abita Brew Pub

I’d be lying if I said I drove straight back to New Orleans from my childhood home of Angie, La.  And to be fair, unless you plan on going back across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, there is no “straight shot” south into town.  Truthfully, I had one more pilgrimage to make – back to a wonderful place I had not been in more than a dozen years – Abita Springs, home of Abita Beer.

I can’t think of a prettier town than Abita Springs, La.  As the name suggests, the town owes its existence to the artesian springs nearby, which have been used for medicinal purposes since the Choctaw Indians first inhabited the area.  Since 1986, that water has been used to make Abita Beer, and it may be the primary reason why their beers (no matter which brew you try) taste just a little bit better than most others.   

Aug 25, 2013

You can’t (quite) go home again

On one of my days this summer in Louisiana with the Young Curmudgeon, I somehow thought it would be a pretty cool thing to show him where I spent part of my childhood – in a small town called Angie located right on the toe of the boot shape that forms the state. 

We started by ambling our way northward, crossing the 26-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and through the horse farm country near Folsom, where I first showed him where my aunt and uncle and cousins lived.  It was literally a drive-by.  I had no intentions of stopping, and that’s pretty much all you need to know about me and family relationships.

We then made our way through the twists and turns La. Route 60 through the pine forests and into Bogalusa, the largest city in Washington Parish, which also includes Angie.  Then, it was just a short ride on La. Route 21 through Varnado (a village not much larger than Angie, but it does have the nearest high school which I might have attended in an alternate life), past a lumber mill that has grown exponentially since my childhood and I grew up, and soon we were there.

Aug 16, 2013

Experiencing New Orleans with a Young Curmudgeon

One thing I learned on our recent trip about the Young Curmudgeon and his growing admiration for New Orleans is how he’s starting to realize there’s a story – and often a photo opportunity – around every corner.  Here are a few random examples from our three-day stay in July in the Big Easy.

I am corrupting him already.

Aug 13, 2013

A commoner reviews Mother’s Restaurant, New Orleans

I have a confession.  One main reason I was excited to walk with the Young Curmudgeon to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans was because I knew it would be convenient to stop at Mother’s Restaurant for dinner on the way back.

Stop me if you've heard this before (actually, don’t), but Mother’s is, hands down, one of my favorite places to eat in the Big Easy.  Mother’s has been a New Orleans institution in the Central Business District for more than 70 years, and once you've eaten there it’s easy to understand why.  Apparently, I’m not alone in that assessment, as the walls are lined with pictures of famous visitors through the years.  And if you’re a social media follower, you can keep track of who’s stopping by on their Facebook page.  (I go back for the food and drink pictures, but food has always inspired me more than fame.) 

The "World Famous" Mother's Bloody Mary, spiced just right :-)

Aug 11, 2013

A sobering day in New Orleans – the National World War II Museum

After two road trips in three weeks and logging 4,000 miles traveled, I suddenly have an abundance of topics to blog about.  So, I might as well get started where I left off.  And in case you were wondering, I haven’t forgotten to finish my list of 100 All-Time Favorite Blues Songs. I plan to time the wrap-up around Springfield’s annual Blues and BBQ festival; it just seems to be an appropriate thing to do.  So onward we go …

On our first full day in New Orleans, the Young Curmudgeon and I decided to check out the National World War II Museum, which required a somewhat lengthy (but really not strenuous, unless you are averse to humidity) walk from where we were staying in the heart of the French Quarter, through the Central Business District and to the outer edge of the Warehouse District.  Still, the walk alone was a good way to explore downtown New Orleans, pass by Lafayette Square, walk to nearby Lee Circle and window shop at the many storefronts and restaurants along the way. 

Jul 31, 2013

A commoner reviews Middendorf’s, Manchac, La.

This is going to read more like a glowing endorsement than an objective review, but in all honesty I've never had less than extraordinary food here.  And I come here almost as often as I make it to New Orleans. 

Middendorf’s is located just off Interstate 55 in Manchac (or Akers, as their mailing address uses), La.  It’s on the first of two exits as you drive southbound over the bayou.  As a town – and I use that term loosely – Manchac has more homes reachable only by boat than car.  Fortunately, you’ll find Middendorf’s in the “heart” of Manchac on old U.S. Highway 51, right before the bridge rises over Pass Manchac, a channel allowing boat traffic to go between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchatrain.   

As you might imagine, Manchac itself is very scenic, has a feeling of being very much off the beaten path (a small building that serves as a St. John the Baptist Parish police station is located behind Middendorf’s restaurant), and is very much surrounded by water.  As my friend Tom Woolsey, who is very familiar with the area, once said, “It would be a great place to hide a dead body.” 

Jul 28, 2013

Random roadside observations: Louisiana and Mississippi

I've been meaning to share some memories from my recent road trip to Louisiana and Mississippi (notably Vicksburg) with the Young Curmudgeon.  I had promised such a trip to him for his high school graduation present, and it delivered countless memories and father-son bonding moments. 

Of course, long hours on the road produce varying levels of boredom while on the interstate.  I usually much prefer the roads less traveled, but sometimes you have to acquiesce to time constraints if you want to maximize your time at any given location.  Still, those stops along the way, mundane as they may seem at the time, can yield some interesting memories.

Jun 26, 2013

A sweet 16th edition of Things Discussed at the Brewhaus (and beyond)

One thing I've learned is you don’t have to confine Brewhaus-like conversations to the Brewhaus.  Any place with good booze and a flat surface is liable to induce lively conversations and debate.  For instance, here are a dozen topics recently discussed at the Brewhaus and other similar environs:

Jun 16, 2013

A Chicago fast food sampler – part four: Barbara Ann’s

Let’s see … earlier this year we covered Chicago-style pizza, Italian beef and hot dogs (high-end and classic Chicago-style).  What’s left?  Well, the Young Curmudgeon couldn't leave town without hitting a classic south side barbecue joint.  Fortunately, we discovered Barbara Ann’s. 

Located at the corner of 76th and Cottage Grove, Barbara Ann’s is deeply entrenched in Chicago’s south side.   Its carry-out only storefront is located in front of Barbara Ann’s Motel, which caters to those who take advantage of the motel’s weekly rates.

Jun 11, 2013

Random observations from SOHO Music Festival No. 9

It’s time to put my spin as both a blogger and volunteer on another successful SOHO Music Festival after the ninth annual celebration of live, local music to support the Mini O’Bierne Crisis Nursery was held June 7 and 8 in downtown Springfield, Ill.    

When I wrote about last year’s festival, I touched upon the controversy created by Springfield Mayor Mike Houston when he – seemingly out of the blue – decided all downtown music festivals had to be quiet by 9:30 p.m.  Well, nobody played along with that, of course, and that order was quickly rescinded after a resounding thunder of negative press came the mayor’s way.  So, you would have thought this year’s event would have been relatively controversy-free. 

Jun 2, 2013

A Chicago fast food sampler – Part Three: Wiener’s Circle

Before I continue my series of Chicago fast food joints, I want to thank my faithful followers (all five of them) for all the kind words about this blog over the past week.  It’s very gratifying to know people are reading and seem to like my slant on things.  It has definitely helped me get out of a personal funk and hopefully broken the writer’s block I've had over the past couple of months. 

On to stop #3 on my Chicago fast food binge with the Young Curmudgeon – Wiener’s Circle. 

May 21, 2013

A Chicago fast food sampler – Part Two: Hot Doug’s

(Editor's note:  The "brick-and-mortar" location of Hot Doug's is no longer open for business; however, if you're enjoying a Chicago Cubs game from the bleachers at Wrigley Field, look for the Hot Doug's stand at the ballpark.  My suggestion -- order the Keith Moreland.)

In tribute to the Young Curmudgeon, who is currently in Chicago on his senior class trip (how did he get old so fast, anyway?), I’m continuing my series of blog entries based on the fast food joints that help define Chicago – or vice versa. 

You really can’t go more than a couple of block without finding some place selling a Chicago-style hot dog.  Your mileage may vary, of course, depending on where you choose to go.  Well, when Doug Sohn, the founder of Hot Doug’s opened his hot dog joint, he dared to be different.  Yes, you can find the classic Chicago dog there, but with all their unique and off-the-wall choices of toppings and specialty sausages, why would you?

May 14, 2013

Things Discussed at the Brewhaus, Vol. 15

A cold, rainy spring has only meant more time to mull over the mundane at my favorite drinking establishment.  For proof, look no further than this sampling of topics touched upon over the last couple of months:

May 11, 2013

Random thoughts from Memphis and the 2013 Beale Street Music Festival

A cold, wet, muddy mess.  That pretty much sums up my three days at this year’s Beale Street Music Festival May 3-5 at Tom Lee Park in downtown Memphis.  But for my five faithful followers who deserve more details about the experience, I offer these random thoughts and observations from in and around the festival. 

May 1, 2013

A Chicago fast food sampler – Part One: Al’s #1 Italian Beef

Last month, in an unexplainable fit of adventure, the Young Curmudgeon and I decided to take a daylong road trip to Chicago during his spring break.  With no agenda other than a stop at the Chicago History Museum, we decided it would be fun to eat our way through a sampling of the some of the quick eats Chicago is so famous for. 

Our first stop, mainly because we saw a sing for its Shorewood location on Interstate 55, was Al’s #1 Italian Beef.  Al’s has collected many accolades since it began in 1938 as the best Italian beef sandwich in Chicago and one of the 10 best sandwiches in America, and they’re not afraid to tell you about it. 

"Eat this sandwich, or you're terminated."

Apr 21, 2013

Scenes from a drunken bus pub crawl

I have to hand it to my friends Scott and Richelle – they sure know how to throw a party.  For the last few years, in fact, they've organized a rolling party of sorts for their annual pub crawl by bus to the famous Fast Eddie’s Bon Aire in Alton, Ill.  They call it the annual Fast Eddie’s Party Bus Trip, and if you’re fortunate enough to get an invite, for a mere $30 you can be cruising from bar to bar and back in style. 

It's no short bus.  

Apr 18, 2013

A Commoner Reviews the Peotone Bier Stube

UPDATE:  I've recently learned the Peotone Bier Stube has closed, according to various reports on Facebook and other social media sites.  While I (among many other followers) hope this restaurant reopens, for now please consider this blog entry only as an homage to a great German restaurant.  If I learn of its reopening, I will post another update to my blog.

If you've never heard of Peotone, Ill., it’s a small community that, despite being in affluent Will County south of Chicago, has remained largely untouched by the urban sprawl that continues to encroach upon it.  In fact, it’s probably one of the first signs of rural Illinois farm town life you’ll find driving southbound on Interstate 57. 

If you have heard of Peotone, it may be because it’s the proposed site for a third airport to serve the Chicago area (the airport in Gary, Ind., would actually be closer but who realistically wants to fly into Gary?).  So, if certain politicos have their way, the landscape of Peotone could change drastically in the next decade. 

What I hope doesn't change about Peotone is a little gem of a German restaurant and beer garden called the Peotone Bier Stube, located on Illinois Highway 50 as it runs through town (Side note:  If you follow Hwy. 50 north, you eventually find yourself on Cicero Avenue in Chicago).  Peotone is probably not on most people’s short list for delicious, authentic German food, but then again, those people aren't seeking out the uncommon in a commoner’s travels.   

Apr 11, 2013

Gino’s East … and dillydallying in downtown Chicago

One thing I love about downtown Chicago is that you never have to stray more than six blocks from wherever you’re staying to find everything you need for a fun one-night or weekend getaway.  Case in point:  my recent stay at the Inn of Chicago.  So, when it came time for me to venture out for the evening, my options seemed limitless.  But once I realized I was just four blocks south of the original Gino’s East, my choice for dinner became a no-brainer. 

A single slice of Gino's East Supreme, with your choice of pepperoni or sausage (pictured here), green peppers, onions and mushrooms.

Mar 25, 2013

5 Oddly Named Places I’ve Visited

If you’re like me and prefer to take the scenic route, drive the roads less traveled or follow the thin red lines on the Rand McNally, then you know that’s where you’ll find some of the best roadside adventures.  And sometimes, the name of the place you find yourself is a great indicator.  Take these five examples …

Bulpitt, Ill., pop.  250 (or 222, if you believe Wikipedia) – I bet at least half of my four faithful followers have been to this one since it’s nearby where I’m living.  Considered one of the tri-cities of Christian County, along with Kincad and Tovey, Bulpitt is located on Illinois Route 104 about 30  minutes southeast of Springfield, Ill.  Honestly, not much makes Bulpitt special, except that it’s fun to say the name.  Its eastern border literally straddles Kincaid, and if you aren't paying attention, you’ll miss it.  All three towns are basically right next to each other to form a conglomerate farming community of about 2,200 people.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s Bulpitt’s most famous landmark …

Mar 12, 2013

Things Discussed At the Brewhaus, Chapter 14

It’s a shame in a way that this isn't really Chapter 13 in this series because there are some morally bankrupt conversations that have taken place recently.  Here’s the rundown of recent topics:

Feb 7, 2013

A French Quarter pub crawl potpourri

I’ve been meaning to blog myself out of my recent writer’s block, and what better cure than another New Orleans-themed post just in time for Mardi Gras weekend?   I wish I could be there for all the fun (along with many holdovers from the Super Bowl last weekend), but I’ll settle again for Soulard Mardi Gas in Saint Louis this year. 

So, if you happen to be in the Big Easy soon (and frankly, many of the best places to drink with the locals are best enjoyed outside of festival season), here are some images captured from my personal wayback machine to help you with your own personal pub crawl through the French Quarter.

I recently raved about both the food and drink at Coop’sPlace on Decatur Street across from the entrance to the French Market.  Right next door is Molly’s at the Market.  Notice how my friends Ken and Michelle love this place.

Jan 22, 2013

A Commoner Reviews Coop’s Place, New Orleans

This is less of a review and more of an affirmation of my love for one of my all-time favorite places to eat and drink in New Orleans – Coop’s Place on Decatur Street in the French Quarter, right by the entrance to the French Market.  Look for this sign …

So, what makes Coop’s Place so special?  Let’s start with the atmosphere and the drinks. 

Jan 13, 2013

A lucky 13th edition of Things Discussed at the Brewhaus

Just because I’m celebrating my own personal “No Booze January,” I’m not exempt from partaking in some serious debates among drinking buddies.  Here are a lucky 13 topics recently discussed among a drink or two (or more recently, none, in my case):

Jan 10, 2013

A Commoner Reviews Johnny’s Po-Boy Restaurant, New Orleans

Among the things that are quintessential New Orleans, having a good po-boy must be high on the list.  That’s why I brought my friends to Johnny’s for lunch on the first full day in the Big Easy during our trip last fall. 

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...