Monday, October 20, 2008

A divey weekend -- Where Else, Elk Grove; Philly's Best, Chicago

Last Christmas, my mom gave us an Entertainment book as a gift. It was a great gift -- full of coupons for all manner of restaurants, stores and services, and many of the restaurants are buy one entree, get one free. But almost all the coupons expire Nov. 1 (they start selling next year's in October) and so we are trying to use a few more coupons up before the book is 80% useless.

So it was because of an Entertainment book coupon and our love of trying new places that we ended up at the Where Else? Bar and Grill in Elk Grove Village on Friday.

It's sort of divey. The inside is decently nice -- mostly bar with a smallish dining area off to one side, lots of wood and straight out of the late 60s -- but outside, it's right on Route 72 between an auto body shop and a liquor store. No polished suburban strip mall here.

The menu wasn't huge, either. Mostly sandwiches, a few salads, a few wraps, a few bigger entrees. We ordered a combo appetizer platter -- mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers. The chicken fingers were good; the mozzarella sticks were ... unexpected. Instead of the typical breaded sticks 'o cheese, they were a wrapped puff-pastry like substance filled with gooey mozzarella. Tasty, and unusual.

I got a patty melt, and the husband a burger (I think - I'm blanking a bit here); served with giant pickles and plenty of fries. One nice touch: I said no to my coleslaw (blech) and was offered Manhattan clam chowder as an alternative. It was pretty tasty.

My patty melt was utterly greasy, but they usually are. The meat was surprisingly tender and it was overall a very good patty melt. I actually asked for it medium, expecting it to be darker; it came out medium-well, which is how I really wanted it. :)

Fine dining? Not hardly. But I would go back, if we were in the area and looking for some decent, divey food.


Our culinary adventures continued Saturday. Now, this was in Chicago and therefore does not qualify for a "Suburban awesome," but -- they do have a location in Evanston. So I urge any and all Evanstonians to patronize this wonderful find.

I lived in Philadelphia for 10 of my formative years. Despite being a Hoosier by birth/blood and an Illinoisian from here on out, part of my heart belongs to Philly.

And one area where Philly kicks some serious Chicago heiny is in the area of steak sandwiches. Cheesesteaks are one of man's great creations, and nobody -- nobody -- can make them like a Philadelphian. I have had many, many discussions with my husband -- and anyone else who will listen! -- about what makes a real cheesesteak and how so many places fall short. (For instance, if they must put the word "Philly" in front of it, it ain't even close.)

So I was intrigued and delighted when I heard about Philly's Best, a small chain in Chicago founded by two brothers from Upper Darby who ship their meat and rolls in from Da City of Brudderly Love. And Saturday my husband, on a whim, suggested we go check it out. Oh, my, yes.

First we drove by what we thought was the closest location to us, in the 5900 block of North Avenue in Austin. No such luck. It's not open yet. So we recalibrated and headed to Milwaukee Ave., in the Logan Square neighborhood. This location is a "Philly's Best Express," and it's a small joint with about 5 tables stuck in the middle of a car wash.

Yes, the menu has pizza, grinders, and other treats, but we were there for the cheesesteaks. Onions and provelone. An order of fries to share and some Tastykakes [that mecca of Philly snack cakes] for dessert.

Oh, dear reader, let me tell you, it was steak-cheese-onion-bread bliss for this Philly girl. So very, very good, and so very very right. The steak was tender, chopped just right, salty and flavorful; the onion-cheese medly a perfect accompaniment. The roll was soft, chewy, and everything I wanted.

(Excuse me while I wipe my drool off the keyboard.)

It's a good thing we don't live closer to a PB's location, because I would get so fat. As it is, we may have to make the trip again the next time I find myself missing Southeastern PA.

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