The Cheesecake Factory

After being deprived of restaurant food for the past four months, Conor and I decided to hit up The Cheesecake Factory for some fancy food. Since this trip is not my first to this restaurant, I knew I would not be disappointed. Unfortunately, we chose to go on a bustling Friday night and soon found ourselves hungrily waiting for a table. After an hour of salivating over the case filled with the array of cheesecake, our table was finally ready.

Only minutes after sitting down, our appetizer was on its way. We decided to pick it off of the ‘small bites’ menu so we would have enough money for cheesecake later on. (Let’s face it, we are college kids with limited funds.) We ordered the chicken samosas which came with a cooling cilantro dipping sauce.

Chicken Samosas

The samosas were tasty, despite the fact that they lacked the traditional indian spices and flavors. The filling was earthy and the crust was perfectly flaky with a textural crunch. The cilantro dipping sauce was the real star of the dish though. It was very refreshing and bursting with flavor. Even after consuming the samosas, I dipped the complimentary bread into the sauce. It was a bright alternative to butter.

Conor, excited to eat his crispy chicken 'glamburger'

After briefly skimming the menu, as usual, Conor decided on the Spicy Chicken Glamburger. It was served on a brioche bun with a side of chipotle mayo. The sandwich was quite large, but to Conor’s disappointment was served with a very small tomato that did not cover the entire sandwich. It was crispy and as flavorful as one would perceive a chicken sandwich to be. The best part of the sandwich was the sauce. The chipotle mayo was a creamy spark of spiciness for the chicken. It also complimented the sea salt french fries quite well. As you can see, he was excited to eat this burger and was satisfied by the end of it.

Wasabi Crusted Ahi Tuna

Now, for my entree. After thoroughly examining the menu, as I always do, I finally chose the Wasabi Crusted Tuna. As a whole, the dish came together beautifully and was impressive overall. I tweaked my order and substituted mashed potatoes for white rice. I was happy with this decision, but the potatoes could have been a bit less lumpy. The julienned vegetables were crunchy, which added texture to the dish. If they were not cut so thin, I may have been upset because they seemed a bit undercooked. And finally, for the protein. The wasabi crust was a winner and really added a necessary spark to the dish. It was a mild spiciness but the wasabi flavor definitely came through. The tuna was a tad overcooked for me; I believe ahi tuna is at its best when barely cooked. The portion was huge, but I, of course, managed to finish it.

Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake

While my tuna filled me up, cheesecake was a must. Let’s face it, cheesecake is always a must! I did get it to go and indulged later on into the night. When I finally did eat it, it was a little like magic in my mouth. The cheesecake aspect was a bit lost, but the red velvet cake layers were moist and delicious. I think it went together well, but is not the best choice for someone craving a true piece of cheesecake.

As expected, my final dinner back in Elmhurst was a success. I experienced many different flavor pairings and enjoyed them all. Once again, I realized my appetite is not what many would call normal. While waiting for our table, I saw that literally almost every person walking out of the restaurant was carrying a bag of their left over food. The portions at the Cheesecake Factor are huge, yet I managed to successfully finish everything. Well, in France its rude to take home leftovers, you either finish the meal or leave it. Maybe that will be my next foodie destination.

Until I’m hungry next,

Cristina Pronove

Johnnies Beef


Welcome to Johnnies Beef. I have tried so many times to take pictures of the food so I could finally blog about my ultimate guilty pleasure.Unfortunately, to this post, it has not happened. After waiting in the long line and ordering my food, I am unable to control myself long enough to take a picture of the wonderful food. The aromas I experience in line only contribute to my anticipation of this spectacular meal. While the menu is short, I have never met a person who could not find what they desire. Italian beef, italian sausage, combo, french fries, hot dogs, and tamales. While this may seem like a boring, typical menu, it seems to please everyone in the line that goes out the door and surrounds the hut. No doubt, this is because the quality of the food is exquisite. I have been an italian beef lover for the past eight years, even before I realized my love for food and after trying so many, from Portillo’s to Chickie’s, I proudly stand behind Johnnies as the best.

Say it with me, “Juicy beef with sweet peppers and hot on the side.”  This is what I constantly crave, whether it be 6 in the morning or 6 at night, if offered Johnnie’s I will never decline. Sadly, they do not open their doors until 11AM but if I could get it for breakfast, I would. The two locations, Arlington Heights and Elmwood Park, are both a good 20 minutes away from my Elmhurst home, but the trip is always worth it. So, let’s talk about the beef. The seasoning is what sets Johnnie’s apart from every other Italian beef, it is filled with spices and somehow they make the au jus so good that it is something I want to bathe in. After layering the tender beef onto a french roll, they do exactly that, but with the sandwich.

Now lets talk peppers. The sweet peppers are out of this world. Cut in thin, short strips, these bell peppers are sauteed with onions and doused with the au jus. They do sell pepper sandwiches, which sounds delicious, but I could never pass up the succulent beef. If I could duplicate the sweet peppers there is no doubt that I would snack on them like potato chips. The hot peppers are just normal giardaniera, but still enhance the beef if you like it spicy. I have tried it with hot and tried it with sweet and then both, but I have found that my best solution is sweet peppers with the oil of the hot giardiniera drizzled onto the beef. This way I get the spicy without eating a huge chunk of hot pepper, which can sometimes mask the flavor of the beef. Ah, perfection.


The best way to wash down a flavorful beef, is with the best italian lemonade. As you can see in this picture, Johnnie’s was featured on food network and is a traditional favorite among locals in the area. The lemon ice is the perfect blend of refreshing and sweet. It is the simplicity of this dessert, done right, that makes it so special. Next time you’re in or near the Chicago area (I’m talking a span from Rockford to Indiana), give Johnnie’s a try. I have never heard a complaint from someone who has experienced a delicious beef from here.

Best Thing Ever.

Honestly, I am not quite sure what this place was called. It was about two years ago, when I was more interested in stuffing my face than creating words to describe what it was that I was stuffing my face with. Nevertheless, I remember this like a mother remembers going into labor, only the opposite.

On the way to the Philippines in 2008, my family, flying standby, missed our flight from Tokyo to Manila. Luckily, my mom’s long time friend, lives in Tokyo with her family, and were generous enough to take us in for the night and following day. After exploring the suburbs of Tokyo, the best part could finally occur. Take a guess: the food.

It was a pretty unanimous decision from my family once Nancy muttered the words “sushi.” It then became the highlight of my day when I heard it would be “a revolving sushi bar.” This concept has never crossed me back in America, which is truly a shame. Imagine: a conveyor belt slowly transporting the most fresh, amazing pieces of sushi past your booth. At about a dollar a pop, it is an understatement to say that my family and I treated ourselves.

Everything imaginable, all taking place in the country that sushi originated in. Not to worry, if the amazing array of prepared rolls do not create a spark on your visual palette, you are free to order a certain piece for no additional charge.

While the rest of Japan was all well and good, this revolving sushi bar was an experience in itself (possibly the best of all). From ebi nigeri to the freshest toro sashimi, the options were endless and the meal, priceless.

Peggy Kinanne’s

Think: old Irish pub meets Chicago suburbia plus chocolate molten cake. This restaurant is filled with gizmos and gadgets that bring you back to the good ol’ days. Although the TVs at the bar are not quite the originals from 19th century Ireland, the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. The extensive menu offers a wide span of options ranging from burgers to Irish favorites like Banger’s mash. But for me, I go for the reuben.

A traditional reuben sandwich, as you may know, is corned beef on toasted rye bread with thousand island dressing and sauerkraut. The one from Peggy Kinanne’s is no exception. How to differentiate a good reuben from a bad one is the corned beef. What we are looking for is a thick, yet lean slice piled high on the bread. The ratio from corned beef to sauerkraut should be about 70/30 and lightly dressed with the thousand island. The bread needs to be able to support these innards as well as add the distinct rye flavor. Overall, Peggy Kinanne’s does it right. The ratio is more like 85/15 from beef to kraut but it suppresses the cravings. Best reuben that I have had since St Patrick’s Day in the Chicagoland area.

I would also like to talk about the pulled pork sandwich. This is a treat. The pork is tender, but in chunks rather than shredded, which is how I like it. Also the sauce is sweet rather than tangy, but it still is comes together nicely. The best part is the fried onions, similar to the typical onion ring, but homemade. It is a wonderful mix up of textures that is needed in such a soft sandwich. It is also like a free order of onion rings that melt in your mouth.

The cherry on top of your sandwich is knowing that you get your choice of mashed potatoes, french fries, mac n’ cheese, or coleslaw. For an extra $2 you may also choose fried green beans or sweet potato fries. Basically, if you are in the mood for either one of these types of sandwiches, bets are that this will satisfy all of your urges.

Reggie’s Sandwiches

Among the midst of uptown Normal, Reggie’s Sandwiches lies. My new job as a cashier/premium sandwich maker is nothing short of paradise. For a foodie like myself, being surrounded by an unlimited supply of veggies, meats, cheeses, and freshly baked bread is not so much considered a job as it is playtime. So far, I have worked for a total of six hours and tried two different sandwiches. I cannot resist, it is a weakness.

Comparing Reggie’s to a commercial sandwich joint is not a difficult task. The difference you ask? My first response would be: the sauces. Go into subway and yes, you can get mayo, mustard, or vinegar and oil. But go into Reggie’s and you have your choice of Bourbon Sauce, Cusabi (which I will later talk about), grey poupon, and so many more. The sandwich creators at Reggie’s have hand-picked sauces for each sandwich on the menu, but the best part is that you are free to mix and match as much as your taste buds desire at your own discretion. This means, for no extra charge, you can get a sandwich with every single sauce. Now I am not recommending this because I am not quite sure that BBQ, mayo, and sweet chili go hand in hand but if you wanted, you have the option.

Next, I will tell you about the most important part of a good sandwich, the bread. Everyone knows that good sandwiches start with good bread. Being connected to The Coffeehouse, where all pastries and bread is homemade, Reggie’s receives the same treatment. From focaccia to ciabatta to plain old white sub rolls, this bread is fresh and delicious, but nothing can compare to the zorba bread. A roll where chedder cheese and green onions are baked in, this zorba will complete any sandwich.

Now for the sandwiches that I have tasted. First, the Cuban. Toast me a zorba roll with mozzarella and ham, throw on some BBQ pulled pork, top with pickles and squirt on the Dijon mustard and BAM! I was first hesitant to try ham and pulled pork, for it sounds like an odd combination, but the saltiness from the ham and sweetness from the pork was a flavorful sensation for my mouth. It is an acquired taste but one worth trying.

Second we have the sweet chili chicken wrap. While this is a well-known sandwich among America, the difference is in the sauce. This sweet chili sauce compliments the spiced chicken to make something completely new. The flavors bounce around in your mouth hitting the red onion, tomato, and cheeses. Not being a big fan of the usual wrap, this is different because rather than a bland tortilla, Reggie’s uses a thin bread similar to flatbread. It is actually a mix of tortilla and flatbread, making it thin enough to wrap but still hearty enough to hold the goodies inside.

Now back to the cusabi. A refreshing sauce made up of wasabi, cucumber, and spices, the pale green sauce will automatically make any vegetable or sandwich twelve times better. The flavor is a zesty, spicy mix which somehow cools the palette. I would like to compare this to putting chocolate sauce on an ice cream sundae, once you have it you just can’t go back; it won’t be the same because you know how much better it is when you have it. Unfortunately, Reggie’s has only created one sandwich with this sauce, the veggie wrap. They are always open to ideas and opinions though so my next goal is to get my very own sandwich on the menu, I am thinking something with cilantro and cusabi. I strongly believe that drinking this would be a good idea.

Being a new employee at Reggie’s is more than I can ask for. I can play my own iPod when I am working and cut all the veggies I want. definitely come visit me in my new environment of choice and let me make you a sandwich!

Until I’m hungry next,

Cristina

Armand’s Pizzeria

“Armand’s of Elmhurst.”-The way I have answered the phone as a phone girl since August of 2009. Working here has allowed my palette to broaden its horizons. From mac n’ cheese bites to linguine to the one of the best pizzas I have ever tasted, eating Armand’s twice a week has definitely contributed to an unwanted weight gain.

Armand’s originated in Elmwood Park, Illinois in the 1950’s where many families grew to love the italian food created in the kitchen. A few years back, in June of 2009, the Elmwood Park location closed resulting in many unhappy adults who grew up on the food. Lucky for them, the Elmhurst location was ready for their business only a mere ten miles away. Answering the phones for a year now I have grown accustomed to explaining that the Elmwood Park location went out of business, that is just what happened. It costs a lot of money to run a restaurant and apparently you just weren’t giving them enough.

Since I have tried many items at this beloved restaurant, I solely feel the need to talk about the pizza. While the pasta sauces are usually savory, they can be inconsistent and, in my opinion, are overpriced. The pizza is the thing to order, it is what my sister and I crave when we are away, basically, it is everything you want in a pizza. My combination of choice? Spinach, onion, garlic, and sausage. Well that is of course if I could only choose one. The spinach, although frozen, delivers the taste needed to bring the pizza together. The sausage is Armand’s own, and it is very good. I recommend you get any pizza that has sausage on it with one extra spin. This way the sausage is sure to cook all the way through and you eliminate the chance of having the surprise of a chewy, undercooked bite. (You could also get it cooked well done, but that is a bit too much for me.) I would also like to stress the fact that garlic on pizza, although the same price as another ingredient, is probably the best thing of my life. Sausage and garlic, pepperoni, mushroom, and garlic, ANYTHING with garlic is delectable and worth it.



While this would be my go-to pizza, I also enjoy experimenting. My recent creation is pepperoni and hot giardiniera. The tang from both goes together like Ernie and Bert. The saltiness from the pepperoni and the spiciness from the hot giardiniera come together to make this pizza outstanding. Add extra sauce and there is no going back.

Now at college, I realized that I have started this blog at the wrong time. In a few minutes I will be on my way to the Watterson dining center where I will be forced to eat salads and sandwiches on wheat bread. Already, I miss Armand’s pizza and so many others.

Until I’m hungry next,

Cristina

Gumrai Thai

$7 lunch menu with a free appetizer? Oh baby, this is the place for me. Of course when I receive the bill for a table of two, it is no surprise that it is not $14. This is because the crab Rangoon at Gumrai Thai is the best of the best. As a piece is included with the appetizer during half of the week, nothing can really compare to the fresh, bubbling experience you get when ordering the order itself. Taking a bite is definitely one of those light crunches that is also somehow able to melt in your mouth kind of feelings. More than once I have burned myself but it is a burn that feels so good.

The appetizer always includes a cup of tom yum soup, which happens to be my favorite Thai soup as of now. It is a spicy, sour broth with cilantro and chicken. On days such as Saturday, two skewers of chicken satay comes with the soup. These are seasoned decently, but nothing special. They come with a cucumber salad and mouth-watering peanut sauce for dipping. On other days such as monday, a crab Rangoon and egg roll accompany the soup. I prefer these days, it is always a bit of a mystery to see what we will get. Either way, it’s a free way to start off a great meal.

The menu is extensive, especially for lunch. Choices include luxuries like teryaki salmon, tom yum soup, curry, and enough noodle dishes to satisfy anyone’s craving. Today, as my allergies attacked, I  decided on the Tom Yum soup with seafood. This includes mussels, shrimp, scallops, imitation crab meat, and squid for only one additional dollar. Although the soup itself is served in what I can safely call a caldron, the seafood was rare to come across in the midst of the spicy, hot broth. I was only able to find one piece of each crustacean with the exception of the squid. Another complaint with the soup was the choice of noodle. A thin rice noodle has a difficult time standing up to the broth, it is as if the delicious broth cannot cling to such a small surface area.

All in all, it was a kick in the ass for my congestion and a power kick for my taste buds. I look forward to eating the leftovers and whatever else comes my way today.

Until I’m hungry next,

Cristina