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Don’t do it Doug!

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This was quite possibly the worst news one could have received this week. I usually criticize media coverage for not sticking/focusing on more important issues, but this is pretty damn important.

Doug Sohn is closing down Hot Doug’s, effective October 3, 2014.

This is one of my favorite Chicago places, which became more evident when I had seven or eight people tell me on Tuesdays that the place was closing.

Doug, the savant of encased meats, sat behind the counter each day (Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or whenever he felt like it really, since he took a lot of days off) and greeted his customers with charm, with, and a bit of ribbing. No one else does what he does: giving people crazy game meat sausages and duck fat fries in an eclectic setting. The line that often stretched around the corner and into the nearby residential area was hardly a hassle to traverse. The reward at the end was worth it.

Aside from seeing WGN news media there in a more casual setting (looking at you Robert Jordan Jr.), my favorite memory of Hot Doug’s is this. I usually order three dogs and fries when I go: a corn dog, a normal dog, and a game meat dog. Their corn dogs are amazing, and I’m surprised more people don’t get them. Anyway, Doug’s joint is a cash-only restaurant. And while I had the $20 necessary to pay, I only had it in singles. As I keep handing Doug single after single, he asks if I just came from the Admiral and got a good laugh out of me and my friends.

That was also the day I had my favorite sausage at Hot Doug’s: the rattlesnake sausage. Tender, juicy, and oh so delicious, the toppings gave it an extra kick.

By the way, in order of favorite sausages:

  1. Rattlesnake sausage
  2. BLT Dog sausage
  3. Mountain Man (five meats in one!)
  4. Deer sausage
  5. Chicken sausage
  6. Duck sausage w/foie gras (delicious but just too much for me)
  7. All other hot dog joints in existence because nothing else ever has or ever will come close.

I wish Doug the best and understand his reasoning. He had a rough start in Chicago early on, being one of the only restaurants to serve foie gras during the Chicago ban on the ingredient, and he was part of the fight to bring it back. Obviously he won that fight. What isn’t so obvious is how many times I will have to visit Hot Doug’s before it closes.

Goodnight sweet prince of encased meats. Parting with you will be nothing but scrumptious sorrow.

Written by mlogli

May 9, 2014 at 2:45 am

Montreal cuisine: FREAKING AWESOME

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Montreal has been called a foodie town. God is it ever. Fresh seafood as far as the eye can see, particularly the delicious lobster. And of course there’s the Canadian classic: poutine. Known for French cuisine and fine dining, it truly is a gastro-foodie paradise.

This comes with one disclaimer: never order beef in any form. From burgers to beef stroganoff, any form of ground beef was cooked to black and deprived of any flavor whatsoever. I haven’t had cheeseburgers this bad since I was living at the college dorms.

I will try to go day by day as to what I had. Some entries will likely be longer than others. So, without further ado:

Friday, April 26:
We started out at the Gazette, named after the Montreal Gazette newspaper and attached to the Westin hotel directly across from the Palais de Congres. Aside from the tasty beer (an Unibroue Maudite, one of my favorites) the table shared buffalo wings and calamari tapas style. All of them were delicious. The wings were crispy and juicy, though the size was pretty pathetic and there were only six wings on the plate. As a result, I enjoyed the calamari better. It was well seasoned and crispy, and the sauce was delicious. It wasn’t quite marinara or anything, but it was pretty tasty.

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Ignore what the glass says; it’s a Maudite, I promise.

After the snacks we walked to a Mexican restaurant called Casa de Mateo.

I know what you’re thinking: why the heck would you go to a Mexican restaurant in Montreal, home of French cuisine? It wasn’t my choice. Doesn’t mean it was terrible though. It was a very good place though. I had two chicken tamales in salsa verde, which had the right amount of heat. The meat was well cooked and it was pretty tasty overall. Nothing too special, especially considering the chips weren’t the best. Sangria was excellent, and featured a lot of fresh fruit, but the margarita was lacking.

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Also not a fan of the salad over the refried beans. Silly French people.

Saturday, April 27:
This is when things started to get delicious. Lunch was provided by the conference center, so I won’t get too far into that. Dinner however was at the Jardin Nelson, and it was amazing. Again continuing the trend of 3-hour dinners, this French restaurant was not just about the food. The outdoor patio was beautiful and featured interesting designs. The umbrellas were inverted and would collect the water to filter down (probably for some other use). There was space for a jazz band too, and they played all the classics from Frank Sinatra to Benny Goodman.

I started the meal with a French onion soup that blew my mind. So much cheese, and a delicious broth that had a great coloring so it didn’t look like some sort of wastewater like how some French onions look. There is little I would do to change this, and the crock was huge. Then I followed things up with a seafood crepe, featuring scallops, scallions, scampies, Newburg sauce (egg and lobster sauce), mozzarella and cheddar cheese and delicious savory lobster. There was a jicama salad next to it, but screw that. This crepe was fantastic. It was perfectly balanced and the seafood inside was perfectly cooked. Nothing was rubbery, everything was fresh, and it was a perfect cap to the night.

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Yeahhh you know you want to put a spoon in that.

Sunday, April 28:
After a lengthy walk through town, I started the day off at Schwartz’s Deli, which is a famous Montreal eatery. It was featured on Anthony Bourdain and sells another Montreal delicacy: smoked meat. The meat at this restaurant is so popular, that if you use Wikipedia to look up smoked meat, you see the Schwartz’s Deli sandwich.

And man was it good. They pile the sandwich high with meat, spread a little mustard on the rye bread, and that’s it. So simple but so delicious. I can’t say I’ve ever had smoked meat that was still so wet. They have a “lean” version as well, but who goes to a deli to eat lean meat? This isn’t Subway.

I also added a giant pickle to the mix, cutting it up and interspersing it between bites. It was a nice added flavor and crunch to the sandwich. And since eat sandwich has 1/3 lb of meat on it, and I was still hungry from my exercise, I got one more. Like a good Lou Malnati’s pizza, I never got sick of this sandwich. My only criticism is that the rye bread wasn’t quite big enough for the meat, but after eating a few pieces of meat off it handled just fine.

The decor was really nice too, and kind of reminded me of the eclectic charm of Hot Doug’s, featuring news articles and photographs over every square inch of the wall.

And like Hot Doug's, Schwartz's is cash-only.

And like Hot Doug’s, Schwartz’s is cash-only.

I wish I could have taken pictures of this next meal because of how fancy it was, but it was a business meeting and that would have looked a tad unprofessional. We went to Bonaparte, which as one might expect specializes in more French cuisine and long-ass wait times to get to the main course. The difference though is this time we had a 5-course meal to get through, with several choices for each.

I started with the lobster bisque, keeping with the seafood trend, and since I had never had it before I figure this would be the best place to try it. It was a touch watery, but the lobster flavor was strong and balanced. Pretty sure some lobster shell pieces were somehow blended in there though, since I got some crunchiness, unless it was something else that was in there that I can’t recognize. Next up was a rabbit confit served in a tortilla shell with a salad. Man this was good. I likely made a mess of mixing all the parts together, but it was worth it to get a bite of all of the pieces in one. It was very rich, and also very salty (what with the tortilla and the duck fat) and in a more American portion it would definitely not be a healthy salad. Next up we had a palate cleanser: a lemon sorbet scoop in a champagne glass half-filled with what I’m assuming was champagne. It definitely had alcohol, whatever it is. It was bubbly and carbonated, and a drastic contrast from the rest of the meal, which I appreciated.

Next up was the main course: roasted duck breast (cooked medium) with maple berry syrup, potatoes, and veggies. It was very tasty, and I really enjoyed the sauce mixed with the potatoes and whatever those other veggies were. The duck was cooked to medium too, and it had just enough of that duck gameiness that I enjoy to an extent. Though after seeing someone order the lobster-stuffed chicken breast, I somewhat doubted my choice, but was still happy. Dessert came to end the meal and it had the best creme brulee I’ve ever had by a mile. It was so creamy and the flavor was pretty deep and intense. The crust on top was perfect too, and made it enjoyable to crack through with the spoon. It also came with three small cakes: a maple cheesecake, a chocolate layer cake with a wafer for bottom crust, and a white strawberry cake. All of them were excellent as well, but I particularly enjoyed that chocolate cake since that wafer bottom was unique and unexpected.

Monday, April 29:
Nothing too special until dinner, which wasn’t very special at all and was my least favorite meal of the trip. I had later learned from a Montreal local that La Cage aux Sports is so bad that even locals do not eat there (unless there’s a hockey game on). We found out why when we got our food. We basically had all the appetizers there, which come in “pick twos or fours” or separate. I’ll make a quick list.

  • Mozzarella sticks: I have no idea what kind of breading this was. It was awful and weird and sent me to a bad place
  • Onion rings: Passable
  • Jack Daniels BBQ Nachos: Nachos were okay, but not enough toppings.
  • Wonton tacos: A tasty, crispy shell wasted from lack of toppings, though what was there wasn’t that good.
  • Hot dogs in a blanket: Yep, keepin it classy. I can make better ones at home, and I have done so.
  • Bruschetta: Want to know how to make bruschetta suck? Instead of putting it on some small piece of bread, put it on pizza bread and then cover everything in cheese and NOTHING ELSE.
  • Taquitos: Passable, but so are the frozen taquitos. These tasted exactly the same.
  • Chicken quesadilla: This was my actual meal. I liked the spicy sour creme that came with it, but other than that it was just okay. Once again, no better than anything in the states, and it’s cheaper here.

I also want to take a minute to single out the decor of this establishment. This place has a mural of famous sports figures on it from Canada. Obviously there are players from the Canadiens, and a few Olympians. But I cannot for the life of me explain why in God’s name they put TOM BRADY on this mural? He’s from California, went to school at Michigan, and is probably too rich to step foot across the border.

Tuesday, April 30:
This was the best day of food that one could possibly ask for.

I was tired of eating late at this point, so I ventured out on my own before going to a birthday celebration at a bar called Nyk’s (which from what everyone else told me, had pretty good fish and chips). I didn’t eat any of it because I spent my time at Garde-Manger instead. Owned by famous Montreal chef Chuck Hughes, the place is famous for its constantly changing menu and for having an owner that beat Bobby Flay in Iron Chef America. One of the dishes from that competition, the lobster poutine, is a regular menu staple, and I had to try it for my first poutine experience.

It was kind of hard to find the place though. Even though it was located near Bonaparte and Casa de Mateo, because there’s no sign in front, I still managed to walk by a few times.

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How am I supposed to find this place? Seriously now.

This place was as delicious as advertised, if not moreso. I started with their special apertif fizz drink. It featured vermouth, orange liquor, bitters and sours, and Montreal maple syrup. Not a sweet drink, but fizzy and refreshing all the same. It acted as a good palate cleanser actually. I couldn’t wait for the lobster poutine and ordered it immediately. It was absolutely amazing, and I wish my pictures had come out better so you can really see how good it was. The gravy was creamy and smooth, and it somehow went perfect with the lobster and cheese. I believe it is a lobster stock sauce, so it is somewhat lobster bisque-y, only brown. The fries were perfectly cooked and remained crispy the entire time. Usually you see thicker fries with poutine, but these were thin and crispy. The lobster was incredibly rich and dense and had great mouthfeel. But I wasn’t done there. Lobster poutine is (for some reason) an appetizer, so I had a second one to round things out: pierogis with fried pork belly.

I'm very sorry these pictures aren't in better quality.

I’m very sorry these pictures aren’t in better quality.

As you may or may not be able to see, these pierogis were well done on each side, and covered in a white cream sauce. And the pierogis were filled with meat and ricotta cheese, and between the pierogis and fried pork belly was some sort of onion jam. I really enjoyed the texture here. The pierogis were crunchy because of the hard fry, and it combined well with the creaminess of the sauce and richness of all the ingredients. Now, I’ve been to Pierogi Fest, and in terms of just the pierogis, I still like the ones I find there better. But overall, this dish was bold and completely unexpected.

At this point I should have been done, but I wasn’t. I got roped into dessert. So of my available choices, I got the Rocky Road Brownie.

I am glad I caved into peer pressure.

I am glad I caved into peer pressure.

Why call it a Rocky Road brownie? The brownie itself was a homemade chocolate fudge circle, with chocolate fudge spread on top of it. That white stuff is actually a marshmellow disk about a quarter inch thick on top of said circle. There was some caramel and crunchy pieces on top of that (and I’m pretty sure they used a blowtorch on it) topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

And it was as good as it sounded.

Everything was the perfect proportion to everything else. Just enough marshmellow for the brownie, just enough ice cream (though barely) to get in every bite. They might have scrimped on the crunchy bits, but it was so fudgy and satisfying I didn’t really care. I’m a sucker for marshmellow anything, and this really whet my appetite. I could have left Montreal that night perfectly satisfied having not gone anywhere else. It was the perfect finish to the meal. If I ever come back and it is on the menu, I would pick the braised short rib though, as it was a huge piece of meat on the bone (my neighbors at the bar ordered it instead) and it looked delicious.

Wednesday, May 2:
I promise I’m almost done.

Last meal worth talking about on the trip. For our final dinner together (and a celebration of birthdays and final meetings for some) we went to the Three Brewers bar (Les Troix Brasseurs). In comparison, the place would be similar to a Ram or Rock Bottom. It’s a chain brewery: they brew their own beer and make their own food, and there are several of them in Canada. They had a very good red and white beer, and they also serve blonde, brown and a special beer or two of the month.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t resist my inner American here. I hadn’t had a burger in over a week and I was kind of craving one. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very good, for reasons I mentioned earlier. Even though it was a double cheeseburger, even though it had bacon, it still tasted like a burger that came from Late Night at the Illinois dorms. The fries were good at least, and I got to share from a few other plates at the table. They also had a solid poutine (though mine was a lot better) and the pizza was hit or miss, depending on the toppings.

So that’s everything! I won’t go over the beers, mostly since most of them can’t be bought in the states. That being said, I’m giving special shout out to Rickard’s Shandy, which may be the one shandy that I can compare to Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy and wish I could have had more of. I also have to mention that I had a buckwheat-based beer, called Coup de Grisou from the RJ Brewery. It was very unique, and I hope they continue to make this, since it sounded like a relatively new brewery.

For those that made it to the bottom of this, here’s a bonus picture. Thanks for reading!

It’s a hot dog, dressed as a hot dog, eating a hot dog! Mind…blown…

Written by mlogli

May 8, 2013 at 2:34 am

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