This is the Patty Melt from Hackney’s in Wheeling (241 S. Milwaukee, Wheeling). Just in case you don’t know what a Patty Melt is, it’s a hamburger patty, American cheese, and grilled onions, on dark rye bread. Oh yeah, one more thing, when it’s all put together, the whole thing gets fried lightly on both sides in a pan or on the grill, with a little butter of course. If memory serves, I think the cost was $9.45 for the half pound version (can’t round that up to $10, smart…very smart).

I’ve stared at this picture and I think the colors are a little washed out. I may need to mess with my camera settings or something. This burger was not done as well as it looks, it was just right (on the medium side of medium well). Yes, I do order my burgers medium well, because I prefer them hot. I know, all of you food snobs are thinking that I’m some sort of caveman. But this one was actually done perfectly for my taste…but then again, I have a wide band of satisfaction when it comes to burgers.

Hackney’s is a suburban hamburger institution with one downtown location. All total, there are six of them. The food is great, service always perfect, and they have a few outdoor patios that are a must for summer dining. In fact, the haiku. I wrote the one below in a moment of joyous reflection after this dining experience:

dark Rye catches my eye
golden Cheese glistening with grilled Onion juice
me belly beckons, tasty friend


The Bar on Buena


This is the Burger Wrap from The Bar on Buena in Buena Park, on 910 W. Buena. No, I’m not trying to set the record for “most times using Buena in a sentence,” that’s just how it works. This is quite an original twist on the burger for $8 at a great neighborhood pub and eatery (P&E). It was good, and you could tell if you were there because I didn’t talk much while I shoveled it in. It’s a generous helping of crumbled burger, cheddar cheese, some bacon, and guacamole. And even though the fries are positioned slightly behind the Burger Wrap in this picture, they don’t take a back seat to any foodstuffs because they are perfectly done.

In the interest of full disclosure, a friend of mine has a stake in this place. That won’t affect my take on it, but you should know, because if you haven’t recognized it already, there is some serious journalism happening here.

You want beer? They have a massive beer selection. It includes both bottles and beer on tap; they are grouped by country and each has its own glass. That could be why Metromix describes the place as having a “European quaintness.” If what they mean is that “you feel like you’re in Europe because regular humans there cherish each glass of beer in the same way that a sommelier cherishes a glass of wine.” Well then, Metromix is spot on old chap (I say that last part in my head with a British accent).

When I first stepped foot in this place, it felt like someone punched me in the jaw with a fist labeled “friendly neighborhood pub,” which probably looked something like this:


I mean this in a good way. It’s the kind of place that you go to because you’re hungry or thirsty and you want to talk with some friends, without the normal distractions of pub life. I was there on a Thursday night and the place was full, but there was no loud music to shout over and I never once thought “where is the wait staff?” It works, and it works well.


Homemade Meal of the Month

IMG_0175.JPG copy

This is a brand new feature on Tasty Chicago. Each month, I will highlight a homemade meal by one of the top cooks in this country, my wife. She makes a darn good rib (I don’t prepare food by the way, even manly stuff like barbecued ribs, more on that later).

Check out that bone on the lower left, that just fell off this half slab as I transferred it from tray to plate. You can probably tell that I am not one to pass up the charred flesh of an omnivorous domesticated hoofed mammal, especially with a spicy red sauce of some sort. Throw in fall-off-the-bone friendliness as exhibited above, and I’m in hog heaven, suuuuwwwweeeeeeee.

I had this plate of ribs (that’s her mac and cheese on the side also) during the Bears/Saints playoff game last weekend. It actually takes my wife about 48 hours to make the ribs. This session started on Friday night when she tore the thin membrane from the underside of the ribs, put a dry rub on, wrapped them in cellophane, and put them in the ‘fridge overnight. On Saturday afternoon, she took them out of the cellophane and popped them in a cooking bag with about a cup or so of water and spices. She sealed the bag, put a few slits in it, then cooked it for around 2.5 to 3 hours at maybe 300 degrees. Then she sauced them and wrapped them again for another night in the ‘fridge. On Sunday, at about the end of the first quarter, she sauced them up again, then put them in the oven for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees, and they were ready by halftime.

The sauce is different every time. She combines a few different store-bought sauces with various spices. I don’t know, they’re just always good. I’m talkin’ really good.

This recipe was actually inspired by my brother, so there you go Jim, here’s to giving you some credit. And to D-man, you inspired the “charred flesh” comment in para 2, thanks for that.

Kind of inspires me to cook…well…maybe not. I mean, I’m a writer, not a cooker.


The C-P Matrix

There are many factors that affect your enjoyment of a food-related endeavor. Taste, of course, is one of the main factors; it has to taste good, period. Service is another factor; prompt and courteous, but not rushed. We can probably agree on the definitions of good and bad for these factors.

However, when it comes to the atmosphere or overall feel of a venue, preferences tend to diverge. Writing about Goodwin’s the other day prompted me to ask myself some deep and probing questions. Do people agree that a restaurant in a basement is cool? Maybe stainless steel is cooler than exposed brick? Hmm, I don’t know. What’s your take?

Well, fear not, I have created a tool that is going to help us sort through this mumbo jumbo. It’s called the C-P Matrix and it’s going to give us the framework to have intelligent discussions about two very important aspects of a venue’s atmosphere, coolness and pretension. Here it is.

C-P Matrix

It’s built somewhat along the lines of the BCG or Growth-Share Matrix. We have two axes, one measuring the relative of coolness in a venue and one measuring the relative amount of pretension. By placing your food-related experiences on the matrix, or by observing how someone else places their’s on the matrix, you can make a more informed assessment of how desirable that experience is, was, or could be. As you get better at it and build a map of your restaurant visits, your decision making on questions like the following will greatly improve.

  • Boy, I want to go somewhere special for my wife’s birthday, I think she would be up for a simple, relaxing wine bar, can you suggest a few good ones?
  • Man, Jed is coming in from Denver and wants to hit a few microbreweries. He checked coats at the first brewpub in Denver and likes that atmosphere, any suggestions?
  • My only black outfit is at the dry cleaner, so where do I go on the Gold Coast to get a good cosmo?

I could answer the first and second, not the third.

Let’s run through an example of how I would place the aforementioned Goodwin’s on the matrix. As far as coolness goes, you can tell from my writeup that I think it would rank high on the coolness axis. And as far as pretension goes, it would be low. The crowd is business people in the loop just looking for decent, fresh food that’s not too expensive. To me, this place is Right On – high cool, low pretension – that puts it in the upper right quadrant and also explains why the line is out the door by 11:50 AM on weekdays.

Let’s talk about the other quadrants. Comfortable would be a great place to put many of the Irish Pubs I frequent. No pretenses, lots of dark wood, Guinness on tap, and plenty of burgers and fried food on the menu. Low cool, low pretension – my kind of place.

You know what Clubby is don’t you? High pretension, high cool…beautiful places full of beautiful people. The term clubby sometimes has negative connotations but I don’t have anything against VIP rooms or deconstructed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I just don’t go to many places like this and if I did, they probably wouldn’t let me in, until they saw some of my moves, of course.

Desperate. Not a pretty term, I know. But to be truthful, I don’t know of many places that I would put here. In fact, that’s probably the point. Picture a place that is kind of ratty, with no sign, and dim lights. The only people who know about it are people who know about it. Same crowd every night. Actually, doesn’t sound bad, but I probably won’t have any on my matrix.

Let me know what you think. If you’ve been to any place on my matrix, do you have a take on where I have placed it? Am I nuts, or am I food genius the likes of which the world has never seen before? Do you think I should get a bunch printed on 8.5 x 11 magnetic sheets so you can slap one your fridge for reference purposes?




Alright, I had lunch in the Loop today at Goodwin’s, 175 North Franklin. The tortilla wrap (not burrito) above is the Santa Rosa. It’s served hot in a flower tortilla, filled with spicy black bean mix, chicken breast, pico de gallo, guac, Provolone cheese, and sour cream (which I had them hold). It was $6.50, and that includes the chips, the side of guac, and the side of salsa; the Diet Coke was extra. Great food and reasonably priced.

I don’t like to eat wraps and burritos in front of other life forms. I just can’t seem to get it done without getting the ingredients all over my face. Trust me, you won’t be able to finish your meal if you look up from your food and see black beans, tomatoes, and chicken spread all over my mug. But this wrap is very manageable and can be consumed even amongst the most delicate of company. I had no problem eating it with very little hand-drip (leaching of sauce through micro-tears in the tortilla). They don’t overstuff it and they keep the tortilla in the steamer for just the right amount time. Great flavor, these folks are pros.

Plus, this place is really cool. I don’t want to put myself out there as the arbiter of cool, but let me tell you about some of Goodwin’s coolness:

  • It’s in the basement…cool!
  • It has exposed brick, not found often at Loop lunch spots…really cool!
  • There is a second level, with a couch…ultra cool!
  • They name sandwiches after California cities…wow, beyond cool!

Now, I’m a dork , but when I left this place, even I felt cool. In fact, on the way back to the office I tried to bum a Gauloise off some guy, and I don’t even smoke, nor do I speak French. Hmm, go figure.


The Art of the Start

I have been reading a lot of blogs lately and one that I keep coming back to is Guy Kawasaki’s How to Change the World. It has a lot of practical content on entrepreneurship, marketing, and management. Much of it relates to the tech industry because he manages a tech venture fund and is a former Apple exec. The blog is interesting enough so I bought one of his books.

He claims that this book is specifically geared towards starting a business, a not-for-profit, or a new product in an established company. He is stretching it with the not-for-profit and established company claim. I would only read this book if you’re slaving away in your garage on the next YouTube and you’re wondering what the next steps are.

Here is my diagram:

The Art of the Start

This diagram is not quite as involved as my diagrams for Execution and Blue Ocean Strategy. It’s a different style than those. This book is not very theoretical and is written kind of like his blog, just a bulleted brain dump of his thoughts, which I think is appropriate for covering the topic of starting a business. He is just grazing the surface of a broad range of topics which is what the person in the garage needs most.

For sure however, that person in the garage is going to have to shortly recognize when they need additional business knowledge. If capital is scarce and bootstrapping is the route taken, much more focus on running the business is going to be required. That means being clear that your personnel policies, marketing strategy, operational model, and financial infrastructure are sound. In this case, Kawasaki’s book will still be a great start, but will need to be supplemented quickly with more general business learning.

If the garage owner has a compelling enough idea and capital flows freely, they may never need to think about running a business because the capital provider may very well bring in a CEO. In this situation, the inventor can stay on and concentrate on the technical and creative side of things or take the money, buy a bigger garage, and start working on the next big thing.

These are extremes, but in either case, this book is a solid start that can be consumed in a matter of hours. So get started if you want to get started.


For One More Day

I grew up 90 miles south of Detroit and if you wanted real sports news in my town, you went to the local magazine store and picked up the Detroit Free Press. So my first experience with Mitch Albom was reading his regular column in the Free Press. Around the same time, I was also an avid reader of the Sporting News, which was a much different beast than its current form. Heck, Larry King and Furman Bisher had weekly columns in the Sporting News. These journalists have taken different routes to fame and the only one that stayed true to his sports writing roots was Furman Bisher I think. Albom still dabbles in sports, but I am betting that most of his cash flow comes from book deals.

This is Albom’s third non-sports book. I read Tuesdays with Morrie but did not read The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I liked Tuesdays with Morrie. I liked this book.

It’s the story of Chick Benetto, a guy who’s having a really bad day. You see, he just found out that his daughter got married and didn’t invite him to the wedding. This, after a long spell of family problems that started about eight years previous when his mother died. And man, he really mistreated his mother while she was alive. He was kind of an ass actually. So, he tries to kill himself by getting drunk and driving like a crazy man back to the home he grew up in. He runs off the road and rolls the car a couple of times, then walks the last few miles. When he gets to his home, his dead mother is there, just acting likes it’s a regular day. He gets to spend the day with her and sort things out. It’s touching.

This is a worthy theme. The point is, you should be thinking about how you’ve treated your loved ones and if you need to make amends, DO IT NOW! That’s part of the role of art, to get a certain point across that does not slap you in the face as you go about your day. Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to get some clarity. Or maybe a good movie. Or maybe a painting or a play.

If this theme of “return” interests you, I have another option for you. Go check out the movie Volver, with Penelope Cruz. My wife and I just saw it the other day. Very good. The similarities to Albom’s book are eerie, but Volver goes about getting the point across much differently. Pedro Almodóvar wrote and directed it and he adds a lot more peaks and valleys to the story. Also, Albom’s book has a somber tone throughout but Almodóvar throws in more humor and a much darker twist than Albom’s. In the end, notwithstanding that one’s a book and one’s a movie, I think Volver digs a little deeper into the mother/child relationship and leaves more of a lasting impression.


The Rest of the Iceberg

I have always been interested in this guy. My interest is rooted in a foggy memory of him quitting the football team at Ohio State (now The Ohio State University) back in the early 90’s because they would not let him study enough. I thought, wow, this guy must have some standards. He talks about this incident and takes much of the burden on himself. Smith admits that he skipped classes in early summer and wanted to back out of certain workouts so he could catch up. This caused him to butt heads with Coach Cooper and the new emphasis on physical conditioning, so Smith just quit. It was a completely uncool move by Smith and I actually feel sorry for Coach Cooper and his assistant, both of whom were implicated by a scathing SI article. But then again, Cooper was a bumbling idiot when it came to football.

Smith is arrogant, I’m talking really arrogant. But, I didn’t expect anything different from this book. He’s very intelligent with great athletic gifts. He starred at Ohio State and in the NFL. He’s very accomplished and this is, after all, his autobiography, so just by the fact that he undertook this project means he probably has some sort of “exaggerated sense of his own importance” (Mac OSX dictionary). It’s a pretty basic retelling of his life. Well, at least the first 181 pages are. The last 40 pages are Smith sounding off on a variety of topics that he is pretty well-versed in. These topics range from why athletes are not overpaid to religion in schools.

Let me analyze a couple quotes from the book.

The college scouts were making regular stops at the school (his high school) and my list of favorites was narrowed to five: Ohio State, Michigan, Miami (Florida), USC, and UCLA. I thought these schools would give me the chance to excel both on the field and in the classroom. I had wanted to be a doctor since I was a young boy and all of these universities had highly rated medical schools.

I guess that last sentence portrays why Notre Dame was not on the list, they don’t have a medical school. But why not consider them Robert? It’s less than four hours from your home, has a great football program (in the middle of the Holtz revival), and is highly respected academically. Maybe it was because you knew you would not see the field with Ricky Watters, Jerome Bettis, Rodney Culver, and Tony Brooks competing for carries. Hmmm, just a thought, but maybe I’m the arrogant one.

How about this one regarding “overpaid athletes,” quoted in the book from a USA Today article that he wrote.

If Americans didn’t spend so much time watching and reading about sports, then athletes wouldn’t be paid as much as they are. It’s a shame, but I’m sure more Americans know who the center for the LA Lakers is than those who know who the Senate majority leader is.

Well, I can’t really take issue with this. It could be because I never complain about overpaid athletes since my top two spectator sports are professional golf and college football. In golf, participants are paid for performance. In college football, participants are not paid. So, I guess I don’t have anything to complain about. Cool.

Or, it could be that I don’t take issue with this because I don’t know who the Senate Majority leader is (Harry Reid). But then again, I don’t know who the center for he LA Lakers is (Andrew Bynum). What does that make me (don’t say village idiot)?

I don’t recommend this book. There are much better football books out there and I think of this as a niche book that may be interesting to people from Ohio or people that want marijuana legalized. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it. I liked it because even though I don’t agree with many of Smith’s views, they are thought provoking. Additionally, I do love college football and there was a lot of good stuff here that I did not know. It was good just to see Tyrone Willingham’s name because Ty was Smith’s first running backs coach when Smith started with Vikings. I always liked Ty.




Wow, I love burger cross-sections. This is the burger from Cullen’s (3741 N. Southport), called the Saloon Burger, done medium well, with American cheese and grilled onions. It’s a good, solid entree by any measure and will cost you $9.50.

It’s half pounder, but I think that means pre-cooked, which is fine. At medium-well, it was still a flavorful, juicy burger, albeit a little “corporate.” By corporate, I mean the burger was perfectly round in its form. Now, this could be because they have a drill sergeant in the kitchen saying things like “you muss make ze burgers perfectly rount” – I say that in my head with a German accent. Or, they could be purchasing them by the stack from a local meat packer. I’d like to think it was the former, but even if it was purchased pre-formed, it was from a local, fresh, quality meat packer because it’s a good burger.

The bun is really nice. Very fluffy, so even though the burger to bun ratio looks to be around one to three, it does not overwhelm the burger. The bun is toasted or popped into an oven of some sort because it’s slightly warmed, with a crispy outside. Very nice, actually.

Now, I don’t know about the math you’re using, but if I were rounding $9.50 to the nearest dollar, it would be $10. So let’s ground ourselves; you better have a damn good burger if you are going to hit double digits in a bar! We know that the Miller Beer Police will revoke your license to sell Miller if you’re going to charge $11.50 for a burger, so Cullen’s must know that they are treading on some serious ground here (cryptic, but this comment relates to a Miller Beer commercial shown mostly during NFL games). You’re paying a little extra for a great atmosphere, a perfect Guinness pour, wait staff with Irish accents, an extensive menu, and one of the trendiest neighborhoods in town. I’ll be back, because I want to try the Buffalo Chicken sandwich, which a member of my party said was great, and the Steak Frites with blue cheese butter, which also sounds great.


Skinny Dip

This is a novel of suspense, humor, and satire, not necessarily in that order. For me though, the humor is the most memorable of these three ingredients. Hiaasen is just damn funny and I found myself cracking out a laugh even when I was away from the book. Something would cause me to think about the book and I would just start laughing.

For example, you kind of have to be there, but the main character, Mick Stranahan, has occasion to make phony blackmail calls to one of the villains. Now when Mick makes these calls, he imitates the voice of either Charlton Heston or Jerry Lewis. This, for some reason, has caused me to break into a fit of laughing no less than three times in the last 48 hours. Hiaasen plays these things up, then refers to them occasionally throughout the book. It is pure, comic genius as far as I am concerned…but I do have a warped sense of humor, so take it with a grain of salt.

The satire in this book is priceless also. Here are few things that Hiaasen makes fun of in a sinister, condescending, and satisfying way:

  • Cruise ships
  • Viagra
  • Condo associations
  • Real estate developments

Another theme in this book, that Hiaasen really hammers on, is the destruction of Florida’s Everglades. I am very attentive when listening to environmental issues, so it made the book even more interesting. It may bother some serious polluters though, so if you are one of those, you may want to stay away.

If you want though, you can just read this as a suspense/crime novel. It’s about a woman from Boca Raton who gets tossed overboard from a cruise ship by her scumbag husband. She gets saved by a bale of pot floating in the ocean and eventually winds up on a private island inhabited only by the aforementioned ex-cop, and hermit, Mick. They hatch a plan to get revenge on the scumbag husband and the fun begins.

It all takes place in South Florida also. I love South Florida. I refer to South Florida as the “Southwest Michigan” of Florida; it’s that great.

This is only my second Hiaasen book, and I plan on reading all of them before I die. I think I’m also going to find his column at the Miami Herald online and start reading it.