Burger Quest :: Burger Lounge

Burger Quest :: Burger Lounge

Earlier today, I managed to disappear shortly from Day 2 of my daughter Kourtney’s dance convention. Dance conventions are the purest form of parent torture; as a mom, I’m expected to sit in a congested ballroom watching choreographers cycle through a new dance routine every hour, each using a song you can’t shake out of your head even if you jump up and down like there was water in your ear; and what’s worse, I don’t even get to join in (it’s hard to keep myself seated during the hip hop rotation). When you exit the ballroom, you’re faced with vendors hustling dance apparel and bows and turning boards (literally a 3-by-3 board used for dancers to practice turns) that you’ll be peer pressured into buying if you don’t make a firm commitment to hold on tight to your dollars. On Day 1, I was a good girl, getting work done on my laptop despite the music, going for a 6-mile run around the hotel’s adjacent neighborhood, limiting myself to just one item purchased at the stands, being gracious in offering one floor sitter an empty chair next to me that I’d been using to hold my purse, and only eating the healthy food packed in my lunch bag.

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Today’s experience was quite the opposite. I chatted when I should have been writing, talked myself out of my run (my knee ached from the frigid room), glared at the woman who kept sitting in the chair next to me despite half of my sweater settling on its edge (a clear indication not to sit there), bought yet another item for daughter – one she didn’t even asked for, and rebuffed my healthy lunch of apples and peanut butter, fresh raspberries, and trail mix, deciding instead to find a nearby burger to make up for the awful and dry burger I’d had the night before at a nicer chain restaurant where my husband wanted to go for his birthday dinner.

So my craving warranted a Burger Quest type of burger, and I was happy to find Burger Lounge via a quick search for locations within walking distance from the hotel (if I was going to spend money and skip my run, the least I could do was burn a few calories with a mile-long walk). And so the decision was made: once I made sure Kourtney was fed at the lunch break, shoed-up, and ready for her next round, I’d set out, asking a couple of the other parents to keep an eye on her (because I had very important work to do).

My walk took me through a tiny stretch of Beverly Hills, where I hoped to bump into a celebrity or two (I did see a limousine pull over in wait of a passenger at a fancy house but nothing more exciting than that). My hunger was fierce so I kept my feet moving briskly, removing a piece of clothing after each long block to keep cool (I’d layered, as the ballrooms were cold – and if you’re concerned about my public stripping, I stopped once I got down to my running tank). It took less than 20 minutes to arrive, and thankfully the line was short.

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I’m sure there are times when their line is out the door. Burger Lounge sits on a corner along Beverly Blvd. with passersby ranging from realtors yapping loudly on Bluetooth to ladies bold and brazen enough to leave the house in head-to-toe leopard to hungry cops to hipsters walking their dogs. With burgers of free-range turkey or lamb or grass-fed beef; of quinoa veggies or longline caught albacore, it’s easy to believe this place would garner big business for variety’s sake alone. I chose turkey, of course, and was pleased that, for once, it wasn’t packaged for some super conscious health nut; you know, with avocado and sprouts and without cheese (while I can be a health nut, when I eat a burger, I go big with it). This turkey came Lounge Style – with grilled onions and cheese (American or white cheddar) and 1000 Island dressing. I ordered the ¼ pound version, not realizing how tiny a ¼-pound would be. But it proved the right choice, a burger that when paired with fries filled me up quite nicely. If I’d gone with the bigger burger, I would have kept eating but been forced to stroll back to the hotel bloated and slow and with a bellyache.

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Yes it was small but gratifying. The turkey was succulent and dense, the sauce and cheese melding nicely for that perfect balance of sweet and savory. It was amazing. It was wonderful.

And then there were the fries. The wait staff who’d brought my burger asked if I’d like a side of their house-made Ranch dressing to go with my meal. Certainly, sir. So glad he asked, because THOSE fries with THAT Ranch was potato madness. And when I say potato madness, I mean potato GOODNESS. The fries were excellent, at once limp and crisp while being just the right kind of greasy and robustly russety (made-up word).

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Feeling guilty for trying out a new place without my partner in burger crimes, I returned to Burger Lounge with Kourtney after her convention ended. She’s a pretty harsh judge of burger joints, but she gave this one a thumbs up, equivalent on her scale to a primetime Emmy or a platinum record (do they still do that?). The second visit meant more cash exiting my wallet, but at least I was able to steal a few of her fries and slurp down more than my fair share of her rich chocolate shake.

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Next time, I’ll get my own shake (and I’m not even a shake person, but this one was worth carrying on about) and, after peeping a batch on someone else’s plate, will add onion rings to my fry order. It’s a given that I will be Lounging again very very soon.

Official Dianderthal Burger Quest Burger List:
1. Hawkins House of Burgers turkey burger with everything (mayo, mustard, pickles, tomato, red onion, lettuce), cheese added
2. PCB (Plan Check Burger) at Plan Check with americanized dashi cheese, ketchup leather, schmaltz onions, mixed pickles, crunch bun
3. 25 Degrees Number One Burger (turkey subbed for beef) with caramelized onions, crescenza, prelibato gorgonzola, bacon, arugula, thousand island
4. Burger Lounge’s Free Range Turkey Burger, served Lounge Style with organic white cheddar, grilled onion, lettuce, tomato, and house-made 1000 Island
5. Father’s Office Burger with arugula, caramelized onions, Gruyere, applewood bacon, and maytag blue cheese
6. Island’s California Flyer turkey burger (BBQ sauce, “Island Reds” – fried onion straws, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato & mayo)
7.Golden State turkey burger with provolone, lettuce, tomato, red onion, aioli, and ketchup, (added grilled onions)
8. Oh My Burger BYOMB (Build Your Oh My Burger) turkey with OMB sauce, ketchup, pepper jack, and onion rings
9. Holstein’s California Turkey Burger with sprouts, tomato, avocado, cucumber claw, pepperjack cheese, and Russian dressing
10. Yeah! Burger (Make It Your Own – turkey patty, whole wheat bun, pepper jack cheese, sriracha mayo, ketchup, grilled onions, honey mustard)
11. The Habit (Veggie burger made like a Charburger, with mayo, pickle, tomato, lettuce, caramelized onions, cucumber, and sprouts)
12. The Counter (Build Your Own – turkey patty, grilled onions, cheddar cheese, chipotle aioli, ketchup)
13. Burger City Grill (The BCG, turkey patty, pickles, grilled onions)
14. The Dallas at Bobby’s Burger Palace – spice crusted ground turkey patty with coleslaw, jack cheese, BBQ sauce, and pickles

Fry Factor
1. Island’s fries with ranch dressing
2. Golden State fried sweet potato wedges with garlic aioli (and a few with curry ketchup)
3. Burger Lounge’s fries with house-made Ranch
4. Holstein’s sweet potato fries
5. 25 Degrees Half & Half (sweet potato and regular fries)
6. Father’s Office sweet potato fries with blue cheese aioli
7. The Counter 50-50 fries (half regular, half sweet Ps)
8. Oh My Burger sweet potato fries
9. The Habit french fries
10. Plan Check sweet potato waffle fries and regular fries
11. Bobby’s Burger Palace sweet potato fries
12. Burger City Grill fries
13. Yeah! Burger sweet potato fries
14. Hawkins House of Burgers fries

Burger Lounge
281 S. Beverly Drive
Beverly Hills and other locations

Tasty Places :: Cochon Butcher

Tasty Places :: Cochon Butcher

It was just supposed to be a sandwich. I was on a break – 30 minutes to hustle down a few nutrients before returning to the New Orleans Convention Center for the next round of my public health conference. The food court at the convention center touted Big Easy favorites like po’boys, etoufee, and jambalaya, but I was seeking something a little less flashy.

Enter Yelp! and its dandy nearby search function. As much as I delight in researching cuisine in lands both far and near, I’d done very little preparation for my latest trip down south. My schedule has just been too dang crowded to get into obsessive and crazed Dianderthal mode. So I decided to trust Yelp! this time and happy was I to see the first listing had a 4.5 rating. And it was so close. And familiar – I recalled passing it the day before, thinking it a dapper place to unwind after a heavy conference day (they served wine!). Turns out it’s a pretty popular lunch spot too, the line out the door filled with ravenous and bleary-eyed conference goers. Some of them sipped on cocktails and idled about while they feasted (likely the attendees of the techie conference in the halls further down from my meeting – perhaps their firms didn’t frown on noontime drinking; or folks who just didn’t give a damn – why’d I have to be a responsible and professional public servant?). The sandwich, I had to remind myself.

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But then I saw the menu, once inside. Quickly opting for the turkey sandwich, I let my eyes wander over the other selections, curious about their desserts, their side dishes; figured there might be a coleslaw or potato salad I’d quickly pass up. Instead, I found those magical words that spark my salivary glands so easily: mac-n-cheese. It was plain and simple. Not a four-cheese mac-n-cheese. Not a bacon or a truffle or a tomato mac-n-cheese. Just MNC, 8 bucks. Sign-me-up.

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They might have been right to call it crack mac-n-cheese because after one taste, I was hooked. I’m an addict. A fiend. A mac ho. I might do illegal things to get that MNC again. Leave it to me to try this dish the afternoon before departing Louisiana, just hours before having to hop on a plane to head some 1,600 miles away, leaving me with a MNC jones that truly hurt. Unless I can find a version in LA that can rival, my taste buds, my belly, and the rest of me will have to suffer until my next trip down to Nawlins. It will prove challenging to find something as rich, creamy, savory, and zesty, or with a crackling crumb topping as melt-in-your-mouth gorgeous. If I had just an ounce less of pride, I’d have licked the plate clean. Thanks to Butcher, I’ll be daydreaming of cheesy macaroni for weeks.

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Neither forgettable was my sandwich, although I didn’t have room to start in on it until later, finally finishing it on the plane (to the envy of my mile-high up neighbors within smelling distance). Packed with the most boldly smoked turkey I’ve ever tried, the sandwich was purely satisfying with avocado, sprouts, and a basil aioli. It may have just been a sandwich, but it made me breakdance mentally (to Slick Rick’s The Show).

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Lastly, I was the easy target for counter merchandising efforts, the bourbon-soaked pumpkin cake begging me to buy two pieces – one for me, one for the husband since I was returning home on his birthday. Or one for me, another for me in case I liked the first so much that I might go into pumpkin withdrawals if I didn’t get a second piece soon.

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With plate after plate of touristy food going in (and out) of me over my brief visit, I was thrilled finally to fnd the palatable, scrumptious dishes New Orleans is known for. Butcher gave me hope and high expectations for my next trip to Louisiana which, thanks to Butcher’s mac-n-cheese, will be sooner than later. And that time, I’ll have come for the mac-n-cheese, a slice of cake, a cocktail, a pretzel with cheese (spotted at the table next to me), and – yes – the sandwich.

Cochon Butler
930 Tchoupitoulas St. in New Orleans, LA

Eating Chicago

Eating Chicago

Where, oh where did Dianderthal go? Oh where, oh where can she be?

It seems that autumn has sucked me up. The Sunday before Labor Day, I fell into a busyness swamp, then pulled myself out only to be swept up into a vicious cyclone of overwhelm, and was then thrown into a sea of tight schedules and deadlines. Oh, and then came Ebola (remember my full-time gig as a public servant at a local health department?). With three of four kids playing on volleyball teams in addition to dance classes, solo rehearsals, team leader duties at church, a half marathon, a birthday, a couple work trips, homework assistance, my part-time teaching job, and a 15-year anniversary, I blinked and it was mid-November.

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But now I’ve found a new determination – a re-commitment to my blog and the seven of you who read it. In late August, I spent four days in Chicago, and ever since have wanted to share my food experiences.

So to Chicago, what I remember of it – the many tasty bites I enjoyed now a savory blur. I’ll pull up the pictures I took and let them jog my memory.

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Here are just a few of the doughnuts I tried in the Windy City. Of the many I tried, Firecakes served what I recall as my favorites, in particular the Butterscotch Praline, the Valrhona Chocolate & Espresso Cream, and the Triple Valrhona Chocolate Cake. Firecakes was just a place we passed on our way to Navy Pier, yet was drawn to by its buzzy glow and enchanting entry. Actually, it was the husband who initially spotted it, pointing towards it with a grunt, compelling me to join him. Well played, Mr. Brown.

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This is Weber Grill, a place recommended by the concierge at a hotel where we were not staying [*when traveling with Mr. Brown, its our goal to stop at every Double Tree hotel and affiliate we happen upon to get warm cookies; at the Double Tree Magnificent Mile – our second DT of the trip – he also asked for dining suggestions]. While not a major chain, Weber Grill still had the feel of one due to the association with the Weber brand. If there is such a thing as Chicago BBQ, I’m not sure how authentic this place is. However, as skeptical as I was, this joint wasn’t terrible. In fact, my sangria proved mighty tasty.

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I didn’t eat at Mickey D’s but picked up McNuggets for my kid following my solo adventure to Little Goat. With leftovers in hand for my husband, I knew she’d be ready for some grub by the time I made it back to the hotel, so I stopped to get her some deep fried awfulness. But if that wasn’t the swankiest McDonald’s I’d ever been to…

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If I’d travelled with girlfriends instead of the family, I’m sure several hours might have been spent here, in Eataly, one of only two in the States. A third is supposed to open in Los Angeles but by the time it gets here (2017!), I’ll have busted open from all of this eating. To Chicago’s, I ventured twice – once with the gang for a stop at the Nutella bar and then dessert shop for sweets, and then again a morning later, waking as my husband and kid still snored for a coffee and croissant getaway. When I return to Chi-Town, I’d love to indulge in Eataly’s cheese offerings, wine, pastas, seafood, olive oils, vinegars, pastries – I guess it’s a good thing this outlet won’t be nearby for another couple of years to give me time to lose the 30 lbs I may gain in just one trip.

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As cute and sweet and lovely as Doughnut Vault is, I only had one bite of my DV buttermilk old fashioned. Not because it wasn’t tasty, not because I enjoy wasting my precious duckets, but because I purchased these doughnuts soon after finishing breakfast at Xoco; and though I set them aside for later, I had that dessert visit to Eataly I mentioned. And then more food and more food and more food (including yet another doughnut spot, Glazed and Infused). You know you’re eating well when you can’t finish off a couple of doughnuts.

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Across the street from our hotel sat XOCO, a place I’d visited years before when in Chicago for a conference; and a place I frequented twice on this occasion, and would have a third time for churros if I hadn’t been stuffing myself with various other Chicago treats. It’s owned by the celebrated Rick Bayless, one of my first favorite chefs. Likely my most memorable dish of the trip was their Torreja, a wood-oven baked French toast topped with bacon-pecan sprinkles (while on vacation, I take a vacation from abstaining from bacon). Yes, Hyatt Place offered a fine selection in their complimentary breakfast buffet, but rarely do I get a chance to eat Bayless for breakfast.

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And there he was! I saw him as we passed by the restaurant one morning. My husband tried to get me to go inside and ask to take a picture with him but I got cold feet.

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And you can’t leave Chicago without pizza. I made the mistake of going touristy with my deep dish at Gino’s East – not awful but I’m sure there’s better Chicago-style pizza in the city. As our first meal, it wasn’t the best way to start our trip but, as you’ve seen, I easily made up for it.

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And that’s Chicago (with a stop on our way to Purdue at MJ’s childhood home in Gary).

Xoco: 449 N. Clark and one other location
Doughnut Vault: 401 N. Franklin
Firecakes: 68 W. Hubbard
Weber Grill: 539 N. State Street and other locations
Glazed and Infused: 813 W. Fulton and other locations
Eataly Chicago: 43 E. Ohio
McDonald’s: 600 N. Clark and other locations