Category: Chain (Page 3 of 4)

Two Places To Walk For Pancakes From The Hotel Lincoln

We stayed at the Hotel Lincoln in Lincoln Park, Chicago the weekend before Christmas and walked for pancakes.

For breakfast and brunch, the hotel’s dining options cover both ends of the spectrum: A coffee cafe and a high-end restaurant. What we were searching each weekend morning was an affordable, hearty pancake breakfast to fill us up for much of the day. Elly’s Pancake House and The Original Pancake House are located equal distances away from The Hotel Lincoln on opposite sides of Clark Street. A 5-10 minute walk will take you to both.

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When You Celebrate A Birthday At Joe’s Crab Shack

Photography Disclaimer: If you have a low tolerance for lousy phone food photography, avert your eyes after the section about Joseph’s Grill. This post is chock-full of bad phone photos. Pinky-orange crab, yellow-tinted whites, neon cocktails + a blurry, self-gratuitous selfie all bathed in the jarring lighting at Joe’s Crab Shack. I wanted to keep Martha Steward on her toes. Frankly, perfection bores me. If you feel the same way about food blogs, then this post is for you. 

How does one describe my mother-in-law?

Well, for one thing, she really likes themes. Like, really, really likes themes. Theme parties have become such a normal part of Jake’s existence, that he hardly bats an eye at her newest schemes. He smiles as he recollects a childhood of flower parties, color parties, first or last initial parties, and happy pumpkin parties.

On the other hand, my family didn’t give much thought to themes. They took it as far as asking me what I wanted on my birthday cake and possibly finding matching invitations, but no further. It’s no wonder that themes kind of frighten me.

We returned to the Twin Cities last weekend to celebrate Jake’s dad’s big 60th birthday and the theme was “Joe” since his hame is Joe. When I first caught wind of the themed weekend my mother-in-law hatched, I experienced a wave of anxiety. We were supposed to eat at three Twin Cities restaurants with the word “Joe” in their name, all on one day.

The restaurants chosen were Joseph’s Grill, Joe Senser’s, and Joe’s Crab Shack. Until this day, I had never visited any of these places.

We convened at Joseph’s Grill Saturday morning. Dreading two more Joe’s stops later that day, I kept it simple with poached eggs and a virgin Bloody Mary. Jake ordered the Greek Florentine Omelet filled with lamb, feta, tomato, onions, spinach and topped with tzatziki sauce. I’m sure it’s no surprise his entrée was more exciting than mine and, so I kept stealing bites of his lamb. If you go to Joseph’s, try something with lamb.

Joseph's grill collage border Collage

All in all, everyone was satisfied with their first Joe meals. Our server was friendly and served with finesse, portions were large and we were full.

My mother-in-law broached lunch at Joe Senser’s on the drive home and nobody bit. “What about if we just stop there for appetizers before dinner,” she asked? We groaned and arrived at the group consensus to strike on less “Joe restaurant” from the itinerary.

And then there was Joe’s Crab Shack. My first thought was that Joe’s Crab Shack looks like a space ship. Or at least, something can could be seen from space.

Joe's outside

The interior of the restaurant is as festive as the exterior. Bright lights, tropical stuff mounted on the walls and even an in-store gift shop.

Joe’s Crab Shack doesn’t waste time with napkins. Each table receives a big roll of paper towels. I was in the restroom when our server introduced himself and reacted with confusion when I noticed the roll. “Who the hell is Andrew and why is his name written on a paper towel?” I asked, before it dawned on me.

Paper Towels watermarked

Andrew did a great job taking care of our table. Joe’s is located near Northwestern College & Bethel. Many of the restaurants in this part of Roseville employ students from these colleges.

Because we were celebrating a special occasion, one of Jake’s brothers treated us to a variety of appetizers. My favorite items were the crispy hush puppies which arrived in a metal bucket along with ranch dressing. It can’t be hip to enjoy ranch as much as I do.

And then there were the drinks. A few people ordered the Category 5 Hurricane, a cocktail with a disclaimer. The menu states that each customer may only order two which is a good rule because the drink’s not only goblet sized, but strong. Plus, there’s no telling what might happen if a drunken brawl erupted at Joe’s. There are just too many mason jars and pointy marlin fish on the walls for anyone to be safe.

hurricane waternarjed

On the other hand, my margarita was weak. I know this to be true because I am the epitome of a lightweight and if I can’t feel a cocktail it’s weaksauce.

Those of us who ordered crab experienced a moment of surprise when servers approached our table to tie paper bibs around our necks. Mine said Hottest Legs Around. I could not complain because at least it wasn’t decorated with an STD joke. The rest of the bibs said things too ridiculous to mention here (nod to Marilyn Hagerty with my use of the word ridiculous).

“Help,” scream my eyes.

Bib watermarked

Of course Jake and I ordered crab at Joe’s Crab Shack. We split a Classic Steampot for two.

I was delighted that our steampot contained two, separate, perfectly symmetrical mesh bags because it meant we wouldn’t have to fight over halfies. Each contained two queen crab leg clusters, a handful of shrimp, one ear of corn, halved red potatoes, and a sausage.

Crab Pot watermarked
Customers can choose from six different flavor options for steamed seafood, but we kept it simple with Old Bay. If you want drawn butter with your crab, you have to request it. Joe’s serves it in small plastic cups that cool quickly into solid masses. I did not let this slow me down.

Jake ate slowly and avoided the “filler” items, hoping I’d leave him some crab. He waited in vain as I ate every single thing in my bag.

Crab Remains photo

The crab legs weren’t particular meaty, but tasted fresh enough, unlike crab legs I’ve ordered at similar (and nicer) establishments that reeked of ammonia. I assumed the sausage would be a bland filler, but found it to have a pleasant snap and flavorful spicing.

And then my father-in-law turned into a bird.

Chain restaurant birthday rituals are their own strange bird. They always seem to involve things like balloons, marching in single file lines, clapping, and singing and this was no exception. Joe’s took the restaurant birthday thing one step further by dressing Joe up as a bird with a styrofoam beak and wings and encouraging him to flap around the dining room. I don’t know if my memory of this incidient is hazy from too many sips of Jake’s Hurricane or a possible retreat into my happy place, but I have this picture so it must have happened.

Bird watermarked

My father-in-law was a great sport.

Joe wasn’t the only birthday boy in the shack. Shortly after, staff led another birthday charge. While they didn’t give the next birthday boy the royal bird treatment, they showered him with a procession of singing and clapping. A birthday celebration at Joe’s Crab Shack is perfect for those who want everyone to know it’s their birthday or tolerate mild form of public humiliation. Everyone else will want to die.

At the end of the evening, Joe declared that this was his favorite birthday of all time. 

The zany restaurant crawl was not made in vain and we could feel confident our dirty-joke bibs were worn with honor. The weekend served its purpose to celebrate Joe and launch him into his 61st year surrounded by family. Someone else’s birthday is never really about us, anyway.

Is Joe’s Crab Shack for everyone? Probably not. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a darn good time.

What The Ho Hey’s A Shamrock Shake?

It’s an official snow day. At least, as far as my school is concerned.

I got all of my errands done on Saturday morning. Then, my husband and I hunkered down at home. The snow began to fall Sunday morning and swirled late into the evening.

I felt drained over the past few weeks, so the quiet weekend was a good opportunity to recharge, although I felt a little stir-crazy. By Monday morning, I felt very stir-crazy and even bored enough to clean. I had to get out of the house.

Our parking lot was nicely plowed behind each spot. Armed with a tiny shovel and a scraper, I unearthed my car and redistributed the tiny mountain of snow behind it. The moment I pulled out of the crater I had painstakingly dug myself out of, someone rounded the corner and pulled into my spot. I cursed under my breath. In order to reach the city street, I had to literally gun my engine and hurl myself through another pile of snow. I quickly called off the rest of my errands and struggled across the street to McDonalds to answer one burning question.

What the hell’s a Shamrock Shake? 

I have never had a Shamrock Shake. I’ve never been in proximity to a Shamrock Shake. I haven’t seen anyone drink one in school or even in college. And, although my parents picked up fast food meals frequently enough, they never purchased a Shamrock Shake. During the past week, my friends’ odes to this shake on Facebook and Twitter fueled my curiosity.

My husband is also a fan of the Shamrock Shake’s release each spring. When I asked him if it tasted like mint, he replied, “No. Not exactly.” I kept wondering what on earth this meant. How does this green shake not exactly taste like mint?

Since I was already at McDonalds, I picked up a regular-sized order of their new Fish McBites. This new product is made of Alaskan Pollack, certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as sustainable. The Shamrock Shake and regular-sized Fish McBites cost about $6.30.

Unfortunately, my particular shake did not come with a straw so investigated with a spoon, cherry first. The thick, green liquid dribbled everywhere.

The shake did, in fact, taste faintly of mint. I couldn’t really discern any other flavors except sweet and tooty fruity. So that’s what Jake meant when he said “not exactly.”

So yeah. . . I just didn’t really like it. I shoved it in the freezer and left it for Jake.

I liked the Fish McBites better.

I threw out the nugget that looked like it was fried without half it’s breading. The fish was kind of gray and I thought that was gross.

The breading was crispy and course with cornmeal. Not very greasy. The fish didn’t taste that fishy and was moist inside the breading. I drenched the bites in fresh lemon juice and lightly dipped them into the tartar sauce. It was lighter than I expected and not too “mayonnaisey.” Better than I expected for being packaged.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to get more Fish McBites, but I also wouldn’t turn them down. I’ve had far worse fast food in remote joints between Minneapolis and Fargo. This is all coming from a girl who has never tried a Filet-O-Fish.

Hodo Sky Prairie Rooftop & Why I Can’t Hate Paradiso

Post orientation Hunger Games, Jake treated me to dinner at the Hodo Sky Prairie rooftop patio.  I washed away the day’s blood, sweat, and tears with a hearty glass of sangria, $9.

The beverage was refreshing and filled with a lot of fruit, though weak from an alcohol standpoint.  I know this because I, a lightweight who had only eaten a small cookie for lunch, did not feel buzzed.  Normally under these circumstances, I’d be tanked by a half bottle of light beer.

For dinner, we both ordered the American Double Cheeseburger special, medium rare, $8.

The burgers were deceptively small as the patties were quite thick.  They were juicy and actually cooked a little south of medium rare (which is better than overcooked) with a flavor like sausage.  We topped them with the accompanying ripe tomato, tender lettuce leaf, and red onion.

Sides included crispy, homemade sweet potato chips and a trio of pickle spears.  It seemed strange they were served three on a plate for two people.  Guess who just got one. . .

Jake ordered a dessert layering shortcake with peach, rhubarb compote, and whipped cream.

My favorite component was the tart rhubarb.  The shortcake was buttery but seemed a little bland, possibly benefiting from a dash of salt.  While the mint leaves added a beautiful flair, they seemed impractical to eat.

On Saturday evening, Jake got lucky.

For two weeks, I had badgered him into accompanying me to Bonzansaville’s Pioneer Days festival.  Think North Dakota’s version of Murphy’s Landing.  Fortunately for Jake, I learned Bonanzaville closed at 5 p.m., a mere half hour before I could corral him out the door.  With an admission price of $12 each, we made alternative plans.  I sulked while he rejoiced.

Plan B was errands and dinner.  We journeyed towards the bright lights of Paradiso Mexican Restaurant, a North Dakotan chain with four locations.  Tonight was the night to discover what what Paradiso was all about.  It loudly beckons from Interstate 29’s access road with fluorescent lights, and its parking lot is always full.

We walked inside waited along a throng of families.  Women sipped on margaritas in colors not found in nature.  When our buzzer sounded, we were lead through rooms that expanded into rooms.  One featured a large fountain while others were decorated with statues of children playing musical instruments and playing games.  Imagine the White Witch of Narnia’s courtyard.  Except happier.

Our waiter was a friendly college student who reminded me of my brother.  We were immediately fond of him.  Paradiso delivered on its catchphrase, “The chips are free.  Dinner’s extra.”  Our server brought us a basket of warm chips and a mild salsa (bottom left).

The salsa tasted fresh, though we wished for more heat so we asked our server if Paradiso had any hot sauce.  Instead of bringing us a commercial bottle of hot sauce, he provided a spicier and more garlicky version of fresh salsa (top right).  And when we polished off our first basket of chips, he brought a second.
As entree, I chose the Chimi Fundito filled with chicken while Jake ordered chicken fajitas with a side of re-fried beans.

The chicken in the chimichanga was moist and the creamy, green sauce was a little spicy.  In addition, the side of rice was flavorful without tasting like the artificially stinky versions I usually hate, and the re-fried beans were light and well-seasoned.  I just don’t have anything bad to say about my meal.

Jake said he enjoyed his fajitas, adding, “It’s hard to mess up fajitas.”

The chicken breast sat on top a large pile of sauteed onions.  They were so thinly sliced they bordered on mushy and tasted of margarine or butter flavoring.  Not what I expected to taste, but I ate some anyway.  Jake nibbled from my plate, commenting that my re-fried beans were much better than those he had ordered as a side.  Then he ate much of the remainder of my burrito.  Our bill for two entrees and two beers was $40, plus tip.

We were both too full to indulge in the fried ice cream dishes that kept floating past our table.

Paradiso was packed with families celebrating birthdays and screeching, crash-banging children.  The menu offered only Americanized choices like burritos and enchiladas and the margaritas ran in rivers of banana and electric blue.  I wanted to hate it, I wanted to mock it, but I just couldn’t.  I might have been having too much fun.

Mango’s Mexican Grill is still our Fargo-Moorhead favorite, but I thoroughly enjoyed my giant enchilada.

Easter Weekend Recap: When Chipotle Became Like A God & Take-Out From Little Szechuan

Jake and I returned home for a long, holiday weekend in the Twin Cities.

We spent time with our families and I visited some good friends.

Even as adults, we enjoyed being spoiled by our families who made Easter ham, roasted turkey, lamb, & cheesy potatoes.

We were somewhat productive in that we ascertained an electric saw and hammer and destroyed the lock on our storage unit at our Bloomington condo.  I had almost forgotten about my grandma’s engagement and wedding rings, packed somewhere in the dusty unit filled with mostly crap.  The rings swam amongst friendship bracelets and 10 for $5 jewelry from Claire’s, in a jewelry box wrapped in old newspapers and packed into a Cub foods box.  My engagement ring is part loaner-band and we are hoping to use my grandma’s.

Most importantly, I grabbed my copy of Hunger Games that was accidentally sent to our Bloomington address.  Everyone and everything have become obstacles between me and my Hunger Games.  I stayed up entirely too late on work nights, reading, and suffered Hunger Games-induced nightmares.

Hunger Games is ruining my life and I’m just beginning Catching Fire.

Announcing our engagement was a lot of fun and less anxiety-inducing than I had anticipated.  The story of our engagement is as unromantic as how we met, which is perfectly fitting and perfectly us.  Only Jake can really tell the engagement story, as it is practically a complicated web of lies.  Except for the part where he asked me to marry him and I said “yes.”

The Food Run-Down
We fit in a few meals out.

828 7th Street East
St. Paul, MN 55106

I was thrilled when I realized Jake’s family lives fairly close to Manana.  The pupusas filled with pork, cheese, and beans were as memorable as my first visit, pre-Jake.  Jake commented the pupusas were one of the best things he’d tasted for a while, the sentiment I remember feeling the first time I tasted one.

Unfortunately, my take-out order did not come with thecortido cabbage salad and hot sauce.  I wonder if my questions were misunderstood and I was supposed to serve myself.

On trips home, we always enjoy stopping at The Wine Thief & Ale Jail where Jake selects craft beers and I treat myself to sake.  The sake selection in Fargo is less than ethereal (not that I even know that much about sake, but still).  Afterwards, Jake wanted to stop at Chipotle for lunch.

I’ve practically grew-up on Chipotle.  Ever since Chipotle made its debut in Apple Valley, my mom became hooked on their barbecoa burritos.  Sometimes she bought them by the trio, slicing the foil-wrapped logs by the chunk for lunches.  I had already eaten my fill of Chipotle when I left for college in another Chipotle-less land.  When I returned to the Twin Cities, I found myself, again, at countless Chipotles until it no longer resembled food.

Now, I find myself in the land that Chipotle forgot.  Or blatentely ignores.  Around here, Chipotle is like a god.  Legendary and spoken of reverently, in hushed voices.  I still don’t crave Chipotle, but was somewhat happy to be reunited with my old friend and managed to choke down half a burrito.

On our last evening in the Twin Cities, Jake and I planned a date night.  We were disappointed when we found that Meritage and Broders Cucina Italiana were closed so we scrambled for a convenient back-up plan.  Which is how we found ourselves ordering take-out from Little Szechuan.

Little Szechuan
422 University Avenue West
St. Paul, MN 55103

When I lived near Tea House in Plymouth, MN, I always enjoyed their fish fillets in a spicy broth filled with cabbage and tofu.  I ordered Litte Szechuan’s Fish Fillet in Spicy Tofu Broth and cream cheese wontons.  Jake ordered Kung Pao Beef, extra spicy, and sesame chicken.

Our order cost $46 plus tip and was packed into this sturdy box.

I enjoyed the Fish Fillet in Spicy Tofu Broth, although I still think the Plymouth Tea House’s version is better.  The broth was more viscous than Tea House’s, though it was plentiful with chili.

It’s fish fillets had a silky mouth-feel and tasted fresh.  This portion was huge and could easily feed a family.

Little Szechuan’s Kung Pao Beef was one of the best versions of Kung Pao we’ve ever eaten, in addition to Tea House.

The sauce was flavorful and struck all of the spicy, sweet, and savory notes.  Lots of tender beef, and pleasantly spicy.

My least favorite dish was the sesame chicken.  It wasn’t inedible, but the batter was soggy, the chicken pieces tasted dense and dry, and the sauce was a little bland.  But it fulfilled my craving for Americanized Chinese take-out.

Lastly, I enjoyed the cream cheese puffs, per usual.

I’ve dawdled in a life-long love affair with cream cheese puffs.

All in all, a wonderful and eventful trip back home.  It looks like we’ll be home a couple times in the near future for celebrations involving family and friends.

A thank you to our families for taking care of us this weekend and to the friends who were able to spend time with us.

Meritage and Broders Cucina. . . we will be back for mussels, absinthe, and Eggplant Special pizza.

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