This is my top thin-crust pizza in town. This is the Piece white pizza with banana peppers and mushrooms. In case you are not familiar with white pizza, it just has a little garlic and olive oil in place of the red sauce, then some mozzarella, and the toppings. I add parmesan and crushed red pepper. Simple, basic, but oh so tasty.

Let’s talk a little about randomness, a trait I like in my food. This pizza has a certain randomness to it. It’s not really round and it’s not really square. The toppings are not spread uniformly throughout the pizza. And the slice sizes range from bit-size to big. This allows you to have several different food experiences in one sitting. I like that. We are going to talk more about randomness when I have a certain north side burger in a few weeks.

It’s reasonably priced, but not cheap. This medium ran me $18.95 takeout, with tax. My wife and I chowed on it during the Rose Bowl and still had enough for a small meal the next day. Piece is such a cool place though, so it’s worth a little extra. I describe it as “hip sports barish micro brewery with pizza.” You are not overpowered at all by the bank of TVs behind/next to the bar and you can avoid that scene altogether by sitting on the wall opposite the bar. The beers are truly something special. A friend of mine had a buddy in from Santa Barbara and they went to Piece. They loved the beers and the guy from Santa Barbara happens to be a member of the Santa Barbeerians, so he is a serious beer authority. He actually wrote about it in the Follow Your Beer section of the Santa Barbeerians November 2006 Newsletter. Check it out and get to Piece soon for a thin-crust and beer fix.


Grace O’Malley’s


This is the Buffalo Chicken sandwich from Grace O’Malley’s in the South Loop. It has a lightly breaded chicken breast doused in buffalo sauce with pepperjack cheese and comes with blue cheese on the side (along with lettuce, tomatoe, onions, fries, and a pickle). I can’t recall exactly, but I think it was $8.95. I felt like I was stealing because it was so damn good.

My wife was with me and she exhibited some surprise when I did not get the burger. Well, I do like the burger at Grace O’Malley’s, but I do not limit my sandwich selections so much that I would pass up a good buffalo chicken sandwich. If I were to rank my top five sandwich styles, I would do so as such, if you care:

  1. Burger
  2. Fish – Grilled, with a spicy red sauce or rub (preferably cajun)
  3. Buffalo Chicken
  4. Fish – Fried
  5. Steak

Grace O’Malley’s version of the buffalo chicken is probably one of the best I’ve had. Let’s start with the wing sauce. I would rank the heat at a solid medium, which is weaker than I usually like it, but you don’t have any choice. You can tell that they actually dunk it in a vat of wing sauce and roll it around for a little, they don’t just squirt some sauce on it like your low-class joints do. Notice the perfect lower bun saturation, a hallmark of a great sauced sandwich; about a 35% saturation, enough to heighten the flavor yet not make it a soggy mess.

Now the bun, that is something special. Check out the depth on the top half! It’s a pretzel style roll, which they also use on the burger, and it is incredible. The surface is kind of crispy but the inside is all white, fluffy, and tasty and it springs back shortly to its original shape after each bite.

One more item of note, check out the empty wicker serving basket in the background. That was the previous holder of the Grace O’Malley’s potato chips. I gotta believe they are homemade. They are thick and have a spicy something on them, can’t tell if it is barbecue or what. One member of my group detected some paprika. Suffice it to say, I can’t blow any holes in this dining experience. Move it up the list.


BomBon Cafe Toluca

IMG_3176 copy

Here it is, the Toluca from BomBon Cafe. It has chorizo, mixed greens, tomato, avocado, pickled red onions, Oaxaca cheese and bean spread, and man is it tasty. All for only $6.95.
This introduces a couple of themes. One, I love chorizo. Two, I love sandwiches. So it should not come as a surprise that this is on the short list for “top food experiences in Chicago.” In fact, the delectable nature of this sandwich inspired this blog. Take another look at that cross-section; it is truly a thing of beauty, especially when you consider I got it takeout so this is how it looks after sitting sideways for the 10 minute trip up Ashland. Stupendous my friends.

BomBon Cafe should not be missed. It is at 38 South Ashland in Chicago and is an off-shoot of the original BomBon Bakery in the heart of Pilsen at 1508 West 18th. I have been to the Cafe twice and had this sandwich both times, but I am branching out the next time because there is a ton of good stuff on the menu. Also, be sure and grab a tres leches for the road. They usually have about five flavors to choose from and all are good.


Skeleton Man

If you would have told me 20 years ago that my most enjoyable and anticipated reading experiences would be crime novels about two Navajo tribal policemen that take place in the area where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona meet, I would have called you crazy. I would have grabbed my Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancy novel and laughed in your face.

But here I sit, having just finished another fine story about Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, and I can safely say that in my estimation, there is no other fiction writer that fires on all cylinders as consistently as Hillerman. Here are a few of the great things about Tony Hillerman’s writing.

  • The relationship between Leaphorn (sage, retired cop) and Chee (young cop that occasionally bucks the system) is pitch perfect. Nothing is overdone and it’s very believable.
  • You are transported into a fascinating world of unfamiliar Native American customs in the arid landscape of the four corners region of the western US. Each book invariably brings outsiders into this world and the ensuing clash of cultures is an added twist on how the mystery shakes out.
  • Chee’s ongoing struggles with finding the perfect woman provide some great character depth but are never too obtrusive in the mystery at hand.

This current adventure has all of the above ingredients. Chee is months out from marrying former police officer Bernie Manuelito and in the middle of investigating a robbery and murder where the accused is a young nephew of Chee’s good friend, Officer Dashee. Chee and Dashee set off to slot-canyon country to dig up some evidence and Manuelito convinces them to bring her along. What was expected to be a routine evidence-gathering turns out to be perilous, and all sorts of intrigue erupts.

You can’t go wrong.


The Last Coach

I sit here on the eve of Thanksgiving reflecting on how timely my reading of this book has been. It’s already been a highly emotional time in my college football fandomania and I have a feeling that the emotions will build into a frothy frenzy three days hence on Saturday. You see, Bo Schembechler died last Friday on the eve of the once-in-a-lifetime clash of #1 Ohio State vs. #2 Michigan – and this Saturday, Notre Dame plays USC in easily the most important game that Notre Dame has played in over a decade. I am fortunate that my reading of this book coincides with these momentous occasions because the confluence has intensified my emotions and awareness of how this game affects my life.

Because of where I grew up, I really had no choice but to be a fan of college football. Check out the link below. Do you see that town right smack-dab in the center of the trip from Columbus to Ann Arbor called Findlay, OH?

Columbus to Ann Arbor

That, my friends, is my hometown and I spent the first 18 years of my life there. It is 95 miles from Ann Arbor and 92 miles from Columbus, and you gotta go through it if you are making the trip on gameday. It is the epicenter of one of the greatest sporting rivalries ever – Ohio State vs. Michigan. It is a town influenced as much by the Detroit-centered auto industry as it is by the rich agricultural heritage of Ohio. I think fandom is about 67/33 in favor of the Buckeyes, but my brother says its 80/20.

If that wasn’t enough to burn the passion into my brain, then I went to the University of Notre Dame to usher in the Lou Holtz era and cheer on the Irish to a National Championship in my senior year (1989). Needless to say, the fact that college football remains a huge part of my life from Labor Day through the Saturday after Thanksgiving shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

Yes, I am a college football apologist. I will defend my passion for college football in the face of frequent onslaughts from its detractors. Yes, there is hypocrisy, injustice, graft, greed and controversy that have no place on a college campus. But for every negative story, there are as many stories of hope, maturation, and community. That brings us to this book about the Bear, arguably the greatest college football coach of all time. You get both sides of the story about college football, the seedy and sacred, the pain and the joy.

This book starts out with a great history of college football. Believe it or not, the roots of college football are in the northeast. The original football machines were the Ivy League teams and Rutgers. But by the 1930’s the SEC had a firm grip on the game and still does to a certain extent, especially if you ask the pollsters and ESPN.

Bryant was a star at Alabama and started his coaching career at Maryland (1945). He turned that program around in one year and went to pull turnarounds just as incredible at Kentucky (1946-1953) and Texas A&M (1954-1957). When he came to Alabama in 1958, he was already a legend.

Shortly after his arrival at Alabama in 1958, he told his team this:

He told his players that he had come to Alabama for “one reason. To build a winning football team. We are going to do two things. We are going to learn to play football, and we are going to get up and go to class like our mamas and papas expect us to . And we are going to win. Ten years from now, you are going to be married with a family, your wife might be sick, your kids might be sick, you might be sick, but you will get your butt up and go to work. That’s what I’m going to do for you. I’m going to teach you how to do things you don’t feel like doing.”

That was classic Bear Bryant and this book is full of some great quotes and motivational speeches. But it’s not a Bear Bryant love-fest. In fact, Barra’s book appears to be a balanced portrayal of the coach. He gives equal time to the triumphs and tragedies in the Bear’s life and digs deeply into both sides of his defining moments. You get all angles on the Junction Boys, the hasty departures from his first three coaching gigs, and the accusations of fixing the 1962 Georgia-Alabama game. But that only gets you about half way through the book because you have not even touched on the last 20 years of his tenure at Alabama. It’s in this 20-year period from 1963 to 1982 that the legend is cemented.

In those 20 years, Bear Bryant won five National Championships, 12 SEC Championships, and was named Coach of the Year twice. It was an astonishing two decades of coaching but resulted in zero Heisman Trophy winners, which is even more of a testament to his prowess and emphasis on team play. He won championships while running a pro set and an option. He won championships while integrated and segregated. He won the five National Championships in the same era as Ara Parseghian, John McKay, Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, and Joe Paterno. He blew them all away (although his record was 0-2 against both Parseghian and Devine – fire up Irish!!).

He was a tortured soul and Barra does not paint him as a saint. He was tough on his players and he took losing hard. He also brawled with other coaches and had a rocky relationship with the media. If I were to compare him to a coaching icon of my generation, I think an apt comparison may actually be Bobby Knight. Bryant never hit players or abused fans like Knight, but he was a polarizing force in the game and had the rapt attention of the national media. As with Knight, he was the center of his sport for decades while chasing the record for all-time wins and he had no shortage of off-the-field issues. However, near the end of his career, Bryant became somewhat repentant. There are documented instances of him apologizing to those he felt he wronged, lamenting the fact that he had not lived much outside of football, and at one point seeking some spiritual council from a former player.

He retired at the end of the 1982 season and died a month later in January 1983 at the age of 69. So no, he did not have much of a life outside of college football. And no, Alabama football has not recovered from the loss but for that blip in 1992 when Gene Stallings led them to the National Championship. But yes, you gotta read this book if you are at all interested in college football.



This book starts with a speech by King George made around September 1775 (once again, I listened to it, so it’s tough to flip back and check facts, but I will give you the gist) . Effectively, King George questioned the sanity of a bunch rebels campaigning for freedom when they had it so good. I mean, how could you not like being under the thumb of one of wealthiest and most powerful nations on the face of the earth? The rebels, he figured, would soon understand how good they had it and basically surrender. He did not go as far as to say that his troops would be “greeted as liberators,” but he definitely called out the resolve of the rebels.

The first part of the book centers on the effective blockade of Boston by George Washington’s army. The blockade started in the middle of 1775 and as it dragged into winter, commander-in-chief George Washington started to get impatient. He continually pushed for a frontal attack on Boston but the war council decided it was not the best idea. After all, the city would probably burn and the loss of human life would be huge. Then, in early 1776, copies of King George’s speech circulated among the rebels and ended up being great bulletin board material, which started to fire up the rebels to kick some redcoat ass.

Also at this point (early January), General Knox arrived with guns from Fort Ticonderoga. This set into motion the incredible occupation of Dorchester Heights (overlooking Boston) by the rebels. With the rebels on Dorchester Heights, the British had little chance of surviving a frontal attack, so they piled into their boats and left town.

As expected, the British headed for New York City, but Washington and his men were there first. It was different from Boston though because the advantage was on the side of the British. Mostly because the British brought in reinforcements, including the Hessians. Also, the British commanded the sea, with most of their fleet set up in the waters around New York.

A strategic stalemate lasted well into the summer of 1776, until August, when the British began coming ashore on Long Island. Washington and his men crossed the river and occupied Brooklyn in effort to keep the British out of New York. This did not last long and Washington and his crew slipped back to New York and eventually retreated back to Philadelphia. Now, with the British in control of New York City and numbers on the British side, things were looking pretty bleak for the rebels. They were holed up in Philly, with a pack of Hessian soldiers on the other side of the river, and on the brink of losing thousands of soldiers when their commissions were up in the fall.

But, the rebels had a few things going for them. First, the British made some poor battleground decisions. They should have been more aggressive on Long Island and crushed the rebels before they had a chance to retreat. And effectively calling a unilateral halt to fighting on the onset of winter in December 1776 was just downright stupid. But most importantly, one George Washington led the rebels, and he was a pretty gutsy guy. Washington made a rousing speech to convince many soldiers to extend their commission and planned one of the most audacious offensives in the history of the fightin’ man.

On Christmas Day, 1776, Washington marched his men to the Delaware River during a nasty rain/sleet/snowstorm. They hopped into flat bottom boats and negotiated the river despite the brutal cold, the dark of night, the wicked wind, and the jagged chunks of ice floating in the river. Once over the river, they walked through the night, and by the next morning they were queued up about a half-mile outside of Trenton, New Jersey, which was occupied by a few thousand Hessians. In the driving storm, they attacked with overwhelming force and took Trenton in less than an hour. The victory was so lopsided that the rebels did not even have a casualty of war. The only rebel deaths were two men that died from the cold during the walk over.

Trenton and the night crossing of the Delaware was the turning point of the war. This ended the year of 1776 but the war went on. Around 25,000 Americans would end up dying before the fighting ended and I think it would be like the early 1780’s before the British actually called it quits. I don’t want to blow it out of proportion, but one could make a case that our freedom today would not be if Washington did not choose to pursue that offensive during the holiday season of 1776. How appropriate as a lead-in to this holiday season. I may just have to reflect a little on this and I will definitely consume more David McCullough books.


Unplayable Lie

This tidy little mystery was a lot of good fun. It’s a police procedural that takes place in Scotland, where a murder was committed. Yikes, a mmmuuurrrrddddeerrrr. That’s scary. Alright, enough with the funnin’ around.

This has been sitting in my stack of stuff to read for a year or two maybe. It’s a mystery, which is a genre that I like, and it has a link to golf, which I like. So I was gonna get to it eventually. I kept thinking that I asked for it for Christmas or something. Then my wife sees me reading it and says, “Hey, how do you like that book? That’s the one I picked up at Jackson Park Golf Course for free.”

What? I take great care in picking out every book that I read, and my wife is telling me that she grabbed it for free from some writer with a card table and a Sharpie at a Chicago municipal course where you can play all you want for like $15. I think that is the case. Well, it turned out alright, even though it was not even signed. Maybe he just left a stack to give away or something, I don’t know.

Though short on golf-oriented sections, it was pretty long on golf insight. At one point, Inspector St. George and his cohort, Laurence Poole, have to go to historic St. Andrews to do some detective work. The inspector is a golf lover, and during some downtime he is describing his penchant for blowing big bucks at golf shops:

“Make no mistake, Laurence, I’ve spent many happy hours immersing myself therein [golf shops]. And if those various proprietors included my patronage in their annual budgets, then I must confess they did so with good reason.””Ah! In other words, you’re hooked.”

“Yes, I suppose you could say so. But that makes it sound rather pathologic. After all, it’s not like I’m a gambler.”

Always sensitive to his mentor’s sensibilities and moods, Poole hastened to add, “Of course not. Just sounds better than ‘compulsive’ or ‘addicted’.”

“Let’s just say ‘focused’ and leave it at that.”

“All right. Pathologically focused.”

Keen insight into a common malady with golf junkies like myself. You know when you start denying it, or comparing it to vices like gambling, drugs, or internet porn, that you really do have a problem.

I may grab the other Inspector St. George mystery at some point, who knows.


Devil in the White City

I love Chicago. I just can’t imagine living anyplace else actually. I love the lake, the downtown, the size, the options for entertainment (including golf), the change of seasons…just about everything about it. It’s just a great, all-around city and one person that I have to thank is the world famous architect and city planner Daniel Burnham. If you read (or listen to) the Devil in the White City, you will understand why.

It is the story of a period in Chicago that runs from about 1890 to 1895. The backdrop is provided by the Columbian Exposition, which took place in Jackson Park from May to October in 1893. The story revolves around two men, Burnham, the leader of the Exposition, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who thrived in the Englewood neighborhood at the time of the Exposition.

Let’s talk about Burnham first. The dude was friggin’ intense. All Chicagoans – no, let me rephrase – all Americans should be thankful that he poured himself into architecture and city planning. The Columbian Exposition, while fraught with tragedy, certainly achieved great things. It put Chicago on the map and started the city on a path to greatness, it provided the impetus for countless innovations and social movements, and it entertained and educated the world. Plus, it made money, despite the fact the country was mired in a recession at the time. After reading this book, it’s not surprising that Burnham coined the phrase, “Make no small plans.”

As a Chicagoan (albeit transplanted), I am embarrassed that it took me this long to get through this book. So many important things happened in the time period that this book covers that I think it is a must read for anyone interested in the history of Chicago. Burnham, Sullivan, Adler, Root, the Rookery, Englewood, Jackson Park, Lake Michigan, the Windy City…it’s all there. Great stuff.

However, for all of the greatness exhibited by Burnham et al; there was pure, abject evil, to a level even more extreme, exhibited right down the street from Burnham. This H.H. Holmes guy was a sick, sinister mother #$%@*^ and makes Gacy look like a candy-ass. Enough said, its actually uncomfortable talking about it.

This is like two distinct books. One part feels like a history book and the other part feels like a James Patterson novel. Either way, it is a lot of good stuff and if you are a Chicagoan, you do yourself a grave injustice if you don’t give it a whirl.


Six Disciplines for Excellence

There are lots of good things that have come out of my hometown of Findlay, OH, in no particular order:

That small town America can churn out such manufacturing, culinary, and athletic excellence may come as a surprise to some, but not if you grew up there. That’s why, when my brother-in-law suggested a business book written by a local entrepreneur, I took it to heart and put it on my reading list.

Gary Harpst, a local Findlay guy who sold his financial software business to Microsoft and started a small business consultancy, wrote this book. The subtitle is “Building Small Businesses that Learn, Lead and Last.” Therefore, don’t expect to gain a lot from this book if you just finished your MBA and you’re shuffling paper at a huge multi-national.

In short, this book is a great overview of all of the different things you need to excel at in order to have a successful business. There’s not any single concept that feels particularly groundbreaking. In fact, if you’ve read much of the popular and classic business press, you will immediately see where Mr. Harpst is grounded. But he makes no bones about it and gives credit appropriately. I think he is comfortable that his book is intended to be an overview and that if you really want to become expert in each area, you have to read more on your own, or hire a Six Disciplines consultant, of course.

You have heard of the vest pocket MBA. This book is like that but it won’t fit into your vestpocket. Let’s call it the “briefcase MBA.” Some of the great books that he relies on follow, and I have already started picking up the ones that I have not read because I was so compelled.

If you are just starting a small business and you are curious about resources that can help you with the business side of things, you can’t go wrong with this book. I would blast through it quickly without reading all of the charts, tables, and graphs. Then, I would start from the beginning and read it for implementation purposes. When you get to an aspect of your business that you think needs extra focus, look at the footnotes that Mr. Harpst gives and start reading some of the books that he used to formulate his theories. The man ran a highly successful business so he knows what he is talking about.

I have another idea for those that have just started their own gig but have no business experience whatsoever. Try this, grab this book and the E-Myth and read them together. They are both about small business. Just bounce back and forth between the chapters or something. In the E-Myth, you don’t get charts, graphs, lists, or stats like you do in Six Disciplines. The E-Myth is motivational, theoretical, and emotional whereas Six Disciplines is practical and tactical. They are a great complement to each other. Give them a whirl.


The Power and the Glory

This is the story of an unnamed priest. He is a tortured soul only referred to as the “whisky priest.” We learn about why he is called such as he is reflecting:

He was a bad priest, he knew it. They had a word for his kind – a whisky priest, but every failure dropped out of sight and mind: somewhere they accumulated in secret – the rubble of his failures.

The reader meets the whisky priest as he is thinking about boarding a boat to get the heck out of town. You can’t blame him, after all, because the Mexican authorities want him dead for the simple fact that he is the last priest in the state (probably Tabasco) still practicing Catholicism. In fact, the only person wanted as badly as the whisky priest is a murderer and thief from the United States that’s loose in the state. The priest is such a horrible criminal in the minds of the Mexican authorities that a particularly zealous lieutenant is able to convince his boss that he should be allowed to take one innocent person hostage from all of the surrounding villages until someone turns the priest in.

The reader follows the priest as he attempts to evade the aforementioned lieutenant. He hops from town to town, always one step ahead of the lieutenant. Along the way he meets a cast of characters, of which some show him kindness, some treachery, and some indifference. These rich characters complement the harrowing pursuit scenes to weave a gripping story. But it’s much more than that. Underlying it all is the inner struggle of a priest who has to deal with his demons in a time when he must show great courage and fortitude. He is on the run and constantly forced to choose between saving himself or helping others. The tragedy and triumph that ensue are the direct results of his choices.

It was a fast and pleasurable read.