Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Tag Archives: Food

On Food

I love a good meal. I love food, but I’m not a foodie. I can appreciate the effort, thought and creativity that chefs bring to a dish, but I won’t value presentation over substance. All sizzle and no steak, does not, a good meal, make. A good friend of mine, who loves food like me, but is definitely more on the foodie end of the spectrum recently asked for recommendations for a place to eat at in New York. Specifically he wanted “Something new and exciting that takes food in unexpected directions. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but it has to be unique and different.”

I love the bar he set. But, quickly the conversation turned into a who’s who of New York restaurants. We of course had Nobu, Eleven Madison, Momofuku and the like. These are great restaurants. I’ve eaten at several of them. But, just like a designer pair of jeans, part of what you’re paying for and part of what skews your pov on these places are the name. Instead of being the name on the label, it’s the name of the chef. Why stop at Nobu? Let’s add Per Se, from Thomas Keller or Daniel or Le Bernardin. It’s now that these aren’t great places, but when I want a food adventure, I think of adventure in the way Anthony Bourdain sees the world, not the way the Michelin group hands out stars. You’re in New York, maybe the best city in the world for food and we end up with a list that reads like Business Insider’s Top Restaurants of New York list, which is basically a shrunken down version of the Michelin Guide.

Ultimately, there are only 3 things I want in a meal at a restaurant:

  1. I don’t want to leave hungry. I’m serious. The problem with so many “high-end” or Michelin rated places is they trade flash for substance. I get foam, which while beautiful, doesn’t exactly fill the belly. I once ate at La Belle Vie in Minneapolis, which while lovely, left us so hungry that we went to McDonald’s after we left. Thankfully, the dinner at La Belle Vie was paid for with a gift card…a $300.00 gift card, but hey, a gift card.
  2. It needs to be something I can’t make. Yours truly, can grill a damn good burger, but I can’t make the burger at Au Cheval, a burger so amazing, it’s life changing. I can make a great smoked brisket on my Green Egg, it’s not even remotely as good as the brisket from Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, Texas. What I love about this filter is that not only am I introduced to something that’s unique, it inspires me to cook something different.
  3. The overall experience needs to be worth getting off the couch and not ordering in. With platforms like GrubHub, Postmates and TaskRabbit, I can get a steak from Uncle Jack’s in NYC delivered to me, if I wanted. But, eating that steak, at home, is not the same as eating it at the restaurant and having Uncle Jack’s legendary service, killer Old Fashioned and deep fried, chipotle bacon, fresh from the kitchen.

I don’t think my bar is high, but it surprisingly difficult to find places that satisfy all 3 things. For example, Alinea, considered the greatest restaurant in the world, is great on #2 and #3, but woefully under-delivers on #1. I’ve been there twice and both times I ended up eating at Portillo’s on the way home. Yes, I’m serious. On the other end of the spectrum you have a place like Lugo Caffe in New York City, which has never sent me home hungry and creates a deep fried Lamb Shank that can’t be copied, but doesn’t offer a great or unique experience.

With that said, in no particular order, here’s my top 10 list of food places, across the United States, that deliver on my criteria.

  1. Katz’s Deli (New York, NY)
  2. The Slanted Door (San Francisco, CA)
  3. L&B Spumoni Gardens (Brooklyn, NY)
  4. Table 52 (Chicago, IL)
  5. Brasa (Minneapolis, MN)
  6. Morimoto (Philadelphia, PA)
  7. Franklin’s BBQ (Austin, TX)
  8. Crif Dog’s / Please Don’t Tell (New York, NY)
  9. Aureole (Las Vegas, NV)
  10. Rye (Louisville, Kentucky)

And more specifically, just so you don’t think I punted on the original question from my friend, these were my recommendations for places that provide “Something new and exciting that takes food in unexpected directions. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but it has to be unique and different.”:

  1. Fette Sau – this would take you to Williamsburg, so right off the bat, it’s a new experience. You get legit BBQ, that while not as famous as Dinosaur, is outstanding. You wait in an alley to get in, but you can drink while you wait. The fantastic selection of bourbon almost makes you wish the wait was a bit longer than it is…almost.
  2. Ajisen Noodle – There’s 3 locations, but the best and most legit of the bunch is in Chinatown. You can’t get more authentic than Mott Street. They’re located at 14 Mott Street which is just a few doors down from the iconic 8 Mott Street arcade that at one point in time had the famous Tic Tac Toe chicken. The food is simple, in that there’s not a lot of options, but what’s there is tremendous. In my opinion and the opinion of many other more credible sources, Ajisen has the best ramen noodles in the country.
  3. Tacombi at Fonda Nolita – First, visit the site. Look at the scene that is Tacombi. Yes, that’s a VW van in the middle of the restaurant, serving tacos. Only in New York. Oliver Strand of the New York Times said it better than I ever could “Tacombi at Fonda Nolita doesn’t feel like a restaurant as much as an art installation, a gallery with a taqueria set up in the middle of a concrete garage just off Houston Street.” It’s a completely transformative experience.

One of the things I love about food is how passionate people get about the subject. What I love, could be something you loathe and what you think is exceptional, I might find to be “meh.” Food is a personal thing. Similar to music, there’s more than enough options to go around, to satisfy everyone’s palette.


Donut Shop Reviews

If there’s one thing I know, it’s food. When it comes to food, there are 3 things I know really well: pizza, BBQ and donuts. If ever a place should open, that has all 3…look out.

A familiar part of my Sunday morning routine is taking the kids out for donuts and hot chocolate. For the past 4 years, we’ve always done donuts at Sunrise Donuts in Bloomington, MN.


Never one to be satisfied, we’ve been on the hunt for new donut places to try. Between, Yelp!, the web at large and recommendations from friends, we tried:

Mel-o-Glaze: let’s start by saying the owner let’s is cat roam the kitchen. Not cool. The donuts weren’t fresh. All were tasteless and hard, except the traditional glaze. I’ve never had a glaze donut like this. It was thick and cake-like, but with all the flavor of a traditional glaze. It was tasty, but a one trick pony and in a hard to reach location.

Glam Doll: this came recommended by several folks I’m friends with on foursquare. The location is great and the character-driven retail model works. There are ’50s style pinup paintings and photos hanging on the walls, and all the waitresses are dressed up in the vain of Bettie Paige. It must cost a lot to create that ambiance, because a dozen donuts will set you back more than $20. Yes, I’m serious. You do get some creative donut flavor creations that are given fun and whimsical names, like Bombshell and Femme Fatale. Overall a great tasting donut, but overpriced to the point, it makes NYC look inexpensive. Add in the time to travel to uptown (15 minutes) and these just aren’t worth the trip on for our Sunday journey.

Yo-Yo: located in a strip mall in Minnetonka (yes, I too was blown away that Minnetonka had strip malls) this donut shop is somewhere between Glam Doll and Sunrise. Let me explain…you get creatively decorated donuts, like the cake one with Fruity Pebbles adorned on top. There’s also a s’mores donut, that plugs the donut hole with a marshmallow. You also have simple bear claws and twists. A dozen will run you $17, nearly 3x the cost of a dozen at Sunrise. Add in the 15 minute drive and Yo-Yo is a no-no for me.

Look, there are two types of donut shops, just like there’s two types of bars. There are those that trade on flash (you pay a lot for this) and there are those that trade on substance. The substance places usually lack the polish and sizzle of the flash places. This usually leads to people preferring the flash places. No thanks. I will not be visiting the ROOF at the Wit in Chicago to pay $20+ for a mojito. Especially, not when I can get a great authentic pitcher at Havana. I digress. What makes Sunrise great is 3 things:

1. Consistency: always a great experience. Always friendly people. Always open when it’s supposed to be. Always the same people there. I’m practically a regular!

2. Taste: in my humble opinion, they make the best tasting glaze, cake and cruller style donuts I’ve ever had. They’re always fresh, with the right balance of topping to base.

3. Fair Value: a dozen is $6. Yep, $6. They could charge double that and I would pay it.

I’ll keep checking out other donut places, but I can’t imagine another place in the Minneapolis area besting Sunrise on consistency, taste and value.

10 Things To Pass On In Chicago

My best friend is coming to visit at the end of the month.  Whenever you have company visiting from out of town you try to be a good host.  That’s not always an easy proposition.  You need to figure out how to balance the really traditional touristy things with the things locals do every day.

Having lived in Chicago for roughly 6 years (over two different stops), I’ve got a fairly good handle on what’s worth seeing and doing…and what’s not.  There’s hundred of lists for what to do in Chicago, but I’ve never seen a list on what to avoid doing in Chicago.  Being the feisty guy that I am, I figured who better to create that list than me?  So without further adieu, here’s 10 things to pass on in Chicago.

  1. North Avenue Beach – The beach is small, it’s packed, the drink and food options are very limited.  You’ll spend more time trying to find a place to sit down/lay out than you will actually sitting/laying out.
  2. Navy Pier – I’m torn on this. Sure, it’s iconic, but there’s very little to actually do here unless you have kids.  And even if you have kids, it’s challenging to get to, tourist trap priced and overall not a good return on the effort.
  3. Wieners Circle – There are many hot dog options in the great city of Chicago.  Winers Circle is usually on a must try/eat list.  I would pass in favor of Hot Dougs.
  4. East Bank Club/The Wit – The places to see and be seen.  I live close to EBC and I have to say, it’s just not the people you want to hang out with.  Too much flash and not enough substance; oh and the price (even for just the sun deck or a simple mojito) will make you wonder if you are in Cannes or the Amalfi Coast.
  5. Little Italy – Tragic, for a city known for its great Italian food, Little Italy just doesn’t deliver the goods.  Little Italy is roughly 5 blocks by 5 blocks.  For comparison, that could fit into one corner of Little Italy in New York City.  Getting to Little Italy is tough, it’s away from the center of the city and when you get there, there’s not much to do or eat.  Even the authentic Italian Bakery concept is missing.
  6. Field Museum – It’s big, but lacks oomph.  Choose the Shedd Aquarium instead.
  7. Mag Mile Shopping – There are plusses and minuses here.  Yes, there’s lots to shop, but none of it unique to Chicago.  Instead, head to Lincoln Park in the Halsted/Armitage area for shopping that’s not so chain focused.
  8. John Hancock Center/Observatory – You really have two options for being able to see the city from a high vantage point.  The Hancock Observatory is one and the Sears Tower is the other.  The Hancock building is often mobbed because it’s right on Michigan Avenue.  The Sears Tower however offers a similar spectacular view, but without the lines.
  9. Gino’s East – Yes, deep dish pizza is on the menu, but I’d pass on Gino’s in favor of Giordano’s or Lou Malnatti’s.
  10. O’Hare Airport – Fly into Midway, not only is it faster, cheaper and easier to get into the city, but then you can fly Southwest…and that’s always a win.
For what it’s worth, because I’m not a total curmudgeon 🙂 here’s a list of 10 things I would have on my Chicago must see/do list:
  1. The Bean – I know the official name is Cloud Gate, but the “Bean” sounds cooler.
  2. The Drake Hotel –  It’s a piece of iconic history.  The bartenders are top shelf.  Not only do you get to see a true classic, you’ll have a great drink inside of a stunning hotel bar like no other.
  3. Lou Malnatti’s – Different than other Chicago Deep Dish institutions because of the cheese to sauce ratio.  In my opinion, it’s the best pizza in Chicago.
  4. Grant Park – Even if it’s only to see the fountain, it’s a nice experience and great for picture taking.
  5. The Art Institute Of Chicago – The best collection of impressionist art work I’ve ever seen.  Not badly priced, but note on most nights the doors close at 5.
  6. Wrigley Field – Baseball fan or not, it’s such an amazing experience.  The people watching alone coupled with the bar scene surrounding Wrigley makes it a must do.  Make sure to get an Old Style beer.
  7. Billy Goat Tavern – No fries, chips and your choice of a single, double or triple burger.  The legend of the Billy Goat lives on today.
  8. Tree Streets – This area is where all the high end shopping is.  But, you aren’t going to visit for that reason.  Nope, it’s all about the people watching.  More salmon colored shirts and deck shoes than you could shake a stick at.  At night the scene is so over the top, it’s almost impossible not to take your camera out and start snapping photos.
  9. Architecture Tour – How can you beat a boat, water, the sun and some serious knowledge?  You can’t, well unless you paired it all with a beer.  It’s a nice leisurely experience and something that’s 100% unique to Chicago.
  10. Steak – Chicago has no shortage of great steak places.  Some of the few I’d recommend are Smith & Wollensky, Gibsons and Gene and Georgetti.  The portions are usually huge and cooked to perfection.
So there you have it, the good and the bad.  See, I’m fair!

May I Have Some Peanut Butter

I’ve always loved how much Joe Black, loved Peanut Butter, in the movie, Meet Joe Black. I think everyone has their favorite and I’m no different. For me it’s Peter Pan. Specifically, the honey flavored. I finally found it in Chicago.

A Meal Fit For A King

I had lunch today at Lugo Caffe.  It was outstanding. Seriously, amazingly good. I had the Crispy Lugo Pork Shank, which was larger than I thought it would be and one of the best food experiences I’ve ever had.  Great recommendation from a great friend.

A Thoughtful Gift

After sharing some good news, I received a very special and thoughtful gift to help me celebrate my good news: 1lb of Katz’s Pastrami. To preserve the freshness it had to be packed with dry ice and shipped over night.  After a quick 2 minutes in the microwave it was ready to eat.  Eating Katz’s pastrami is a food occasion like no other.  You have to love it when people enjoy hearing your good news and then know you well enough to know exactly what to get you to help celebrate.

Shake Shack

One of my new loves is Shake Shack.  New York has some of the best food in the world.  And every time I visit the city I hit my old standbys of Katz, Scotto’s, Nathans and L&B Spumoni Gardens.  I also try to find new places.  A few trips back I discovered Shake Shack.  This particular one is

Pizza By The Slice

As a New Yorker I grew up eating pizza by the slice. You take the pizza, you fold it, put it in some wax paper and then stuff your face while you walk. That’s just how you do it. Every city seems to claim that they have NYC Bagels andNYC Pizza. I laugh at the idea of this concept. It’s just not true.

While on my way to lunch today, I passed by this sign, claiming to offer pizza by the slice.

I had to laugh.

My Sweet Tooth

I have a sweet tooth.  There’s no denying it.  My breakfast of choice lately has been a steady dose of Red Bull and Gummy Bears.  Yes, Gummy Bears.  Tasty.