Today is National Doughnut Day. I don't know how all businesses are handling the gala celebration, but here's some info on two companies.
Krispy Kreme is giving a free doughnut to customers. You can find locations here. For those who live in my area of West Los Angeles, there's a store at 1231 Wilshire Blvd., in Santa Monica.
Dunkin' Donuts will give customers a free "classic donut" with the purchase of a beverage. (Their classic donuts include Boston Kreme, Glazed, Glazed Chocolate and Strawberry Frosted with Sprinkles..) And you can find your local store by clicking here. As for those folk among you who live in West Los Angeles, there's a Dunkin' Doniuts -- hey, great news!!! -- at 1132 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica. Only a block away from Krispy Kreme!
Just another service from Elisberg Industries. Serving your doughnut needs since 1873.
Yesterday, I went to lunch at one of my favorite barbecue joints, Dr. Hogly Wogly's Tyler, Texas Barbecue, with the producer of my movie project. He and I went there in December, though we're hardly regulars. As much as I Iike the place, don't got there often because it's not convenient, and I only go maybe a couple times a year -- there have been years when I haven't made it over. And he probably hasn't been to the place in 20 years.
Anyway, when it got down to ordering, I double-checked with the waitress about how many beef ribs (my fave) come with the "Three-way dinner plate." She said three, which surprised because another waitress had said two. "Oh, that's because the last time you guys were here, you got the baby back ribs, which only come with two beef ribs. But you said you wanted the spare ribs and those get three."
Say what??? I was flabbergasted. Not about the ribs. What boggled me was not just that she actually remembered us being there two months earlier...but she remembered what we ordered!!!
That, ladies and gents, is a professional and talented waitress. And yes, we tipped her well. Excellence deserves recognition.
I had lunch with a friend today at the Taste Chicago restaurant in Burbank. That wouldn't mean much to most people, but it's probably the most low-key celebrity restaurant in the world -- co-owned by actor Joe Mantegna and his wife Arlene. It's a little joint that seats about 50 people and serves (as the name implies) Chicago food -- Italian beef sandwiches, Chicago-style deep dish pizza, and Chicago hot dogs, and more.
While there, Joe Mantegna showed up -- as he apparently does on Fridays, if he isn't filming. (As do other Chicago actors on occasion.) And since my friend had directed him in an episode of Criminal Minds, he stopped by for a chat. I kept quiet for the most part, but since I knew he was a huge Cubs fan (the place has a lot of Cubs memorabilia on the wall, and a big Cubs blue W on the side wall outside, along with other items from Chicago sports), I mentioned often hearing him on Cubs broadcasts when he shows up in the booth. He smiled and said that in fact he was going to be in the booth and lead the crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" next Friday, when the Cubs play the Yankees.
You have your scoop.
I was going out to dinner with a friend the other day, trying to figure out where to eat. And I started to pine for a place I dearly love in the Chicago suburbs nearby where I grew up, called Charlie Beinlich's. It's not that there isn't a Charlie Beinlich's in Los Angeles, it's that there isn't a place I know of that's even close to it. And so I must do without -- but always go there when I return to Chicago. I've wrote about the place earlier in the year when I was last there, but realized that it deserves more than just a description of lunch -- though for Beinlich's that a fine starting point.
Beinlich's (or to put it properly and in full, Beinlich's Food and Tap) is even a bit odd for Chicago, though it's very Midwestern, and so there are places that are at least somewhat similar. But Beinlich's is idiosyncratic. It began life as a truck stop probably at least 60 years ago, probably longer. (That alone, a 60+ year old restaurant is uncommon.) Indeed, it's the kind of place that reinforces the cliche that if you want to find the best food in a town, follow where the trucks go to. (I don't know if the cliche is true, but it sure holds at Beinlich's.) They actually close for two weeks in the height of summer, during August, so that they can go fishing. Really -- there's a sign they put out front that pretty much says, "Gone fishing." For that matter, they're also closed on Sunday, the busiest day of the week for more restaurants. But like their August closing for fishing, they want their Sunday's off. Monday's too -- they want their two-day weekend. And they don't take credit cards. And Beinlich's being Beinlich's, they don't even list their phone number on their website. Hey, they've been there for over 60 years. People know them, there's not much of a reason to call. But if you do and want take-out, they're in the phone book, look them up. Or you probably wrote their number down decades ago, it hasn't changed.
The place isn't in Chicago proper, but the northern suburbs, in Northbook on Skokie Highway, not from the the oft-mentioned here Chicago Botanic Gardens and Ravinia Music Festival. Next door to the town where I grew up, in Glencoe.
Beinlich's is basically a pine log cabin, with mounted fish covering the wall, lots of electric beer displays, and a wall-to-wall oak bar, along with maybe 20 tables at most. There is a sign when you enter that says, "Food is served for the convenience of our alcohol-drinking patrons" -- in other words, if you're going to eat here, please get a beer. There are no menus, just a small sign in the corner, but that's all they need because there are only about 10 items they make.
Mainly, they make burgers and cheeseburgers -- thick, juicy, rich, fresh and meaty -- which you can get regular with chips, or deluxe with French fries and coleslaw. (And the fries are piping hot, and taste like little baked potatoes.) If you're a non-conformist, though, there's barbecued beef, a ham-and-cheese sandwich, grilled cheese, and they eventually added a chicken wrap, as lighter fare, and egg salad. Honestly, small as the menu is, I can't be accurate with everything since I've only gotten a burger deluxe there for the past probably 40 years. They're that good. (I think once, decades ago, I may have gotten a barbecued beef, but I can't swear to it.
The two sides -- and hey, this is Beinlich's, they only need two sides, they're that good -- are shrimp cocktail (which my dad loved), and stunning chili. Okay, my dad loved that, too. As for me, it may well be the best chili I've had. I don't put any onions or cheddar cheese on, but just take it straight. Though I do like their oyster crackers, and dump a bit of red pepper flakes on.
(Decades ago, after my dad had quadruple bypass surgery, he cut down on meat. So my mother -- a quiet, demure, small Midwestern lady, who used the telephone like Heiffetz played the violin -- called to ask if they could make a vegetarian chili. They said to call in the morning before we came in, say how many bowls we'd want, and if they hadn't made the chili that day -- something they did 2-3 times a week -- they'd put those bowls aside before adding the meat. Much as I love the Beinlich's chili -- and I said it may be my favorite -- I loved their meatless chili even more. It was lighter, and the flavors came through more, without having the meat predominate. Anyway, a couple of years ago, after my mother passed away, my dad and I were going to head to Beinlich's, so I decide to take on the responsibility and called ahead to ask about getting the meatless chili. Sorry, he said -- but disappointed as I was, I loved and preferred his reason. "We only did that for your mom.")
Beinlich's even still has some staff who I remember from when I first went there when I was eight years old, though at this point it may be down to Andy, who began as a waiter, and is either the general manager at this point, or a part-owner now. But there are about 3-4 "new" guys which at Beinlich's means they've been there for probably 20 years. There are also now a couple of actually-recent servers. And the waiters, bartenders, and bus boys have always, for over half a century, always and only been men. But the last time I was in they had, for a very first time -- a young woman busing tables.
Lunch usually isn't a big problem, though the place is always full. But if you show up for dinner too late -- like much past 6:30, the tiny waiting area and tiny enclosed porch is going to be jammed. That's more of a problem than you think -- remember, this is Chicago. If you get there too late at night in the winter, you're going to be standing outside in sub-freezing weather. But people will do just that. But ultimately, it's not a huge problem, because Beinlich's is fast. They zip you your food, and when you're done -- whoosh, it's gone. But somehow magically, you never feel rushed. It helps that everyone who works there, even when they're in a bit of a hurry, has always been Midwest friendly, and will give you time and chat if you need to. And if you want to linger a bit, that's okay. But because there's so much movement around, and a long line, people tend to be polite to others and empty their table.
No, there isn't anything like Charlie Beinlich's in Los Angeles. Or most anywhere.
Yesterday, in late January, it was 59 degrees. Yes, really. Usually it's in the upper-20s. It could easily be 10 degrees -- or less, in late January. With a Wind Chill Factor of 15-below zero. But here we are at 59. Even the elves taking care of he homestead back in Los Angeles were suitably impressed. And little impresses these other than extra cheese dip left in the refrigerator. But there it was, 59 degrees. Thank goodness the White House has removed Climate Change from its homepage and it's only a hoax created by the Chinese...
I picked the right day to go to the Chicago Botanic Gardens (which is not actually in Chicago, but in Glencoe, about a miles from where I grew up). Whatever you think botanic gardens are, put it out of your head -- this is the Disneyland of Botanic Gardens with different "lands" -- The Rose Garden, the English Walled Garden, the Prairie Garden, Evening Island, Spider Island, the Waterfall Garden, Japanese Garden Island and more, like the Miniature Train Land and restaurants, stores, tram rides and carillon with nightly concerts. But it's not only magnificently laid out and deeply-informative, but it also has research centers, learning centers, working vegetable and fruit gardens, esplanades, greenhouses, soaring fountains, outdoor theaters and...yes, more. It's not remotely as glorious in the winter as when in full bloom the rest of the year, but it's still a joy to wander through.
And afterwards, another treat. One of my favorite restaurants, Charlie Beinlich's in bordering Northbrook. Beinlich's is a little place that gives truth to cliches. It began life over 60 years ago as a truckstop, though has far-outlived that, but is living truth to the line about looking for the place with the most trucks because it will have great food. It's also a cliche in its Midwestern roots -- the walls are pine, and covered with mounted fish and beer signs. But they aren't props. Beinlich's takes its fishing seriously. They always close for a month in August with a "Gone fishing" sign. And they take all their comfort seriously -- they close two days a week, Sunday and Monday, so everyone can have a couple days off.
It's always full, lunch or dinner, and if you don't come early in the evening, you'll have to wait in a line snaking out the door, jammed in the tiny foyer (at least you hope you get in the foyer during the winter, because the alternative in the winter is standing outside). Even if you come early for lunch, it's already crowded.
The menu board in the corner is very small (there are no menus to hand out) -- basically burgers, roast beef, grilled cheese, ham and cheese, barbecued beef, chicken wrap (a somewhat-recent concession to the times) and shrimp cocktail. Their chili is one of my favorite anywhere, rich and flavorful. And the french fries taste like miniature baked potatoes, coming to the table piping hot. But it's their freshly-ground, thick burgers on poppy seed buns -- grilled or fresh onions optional -- that are the standouts here. (Most people get the "deluxe" which comes with the fries and delicious cole slaw. And it's still, after all these years, cash only. It hasn't hurt business.
That's all there is to it. Basic at heart, with a TV always set to to ESPN and sports, but full of texture and a long history in the area. A very simple throwback in an area that's very upper-scale. Across the busy Skokie Boulevard from a big, high-end outdoor shopping center with a Trader Joe's, Nordstrom's Rack, Steinway Piano Center, Sak's Off 5th, Starbucks and many others. And surrounded by a Cadillac, Bentley, and Rolls Royce dealership, a jewelry store, a few Italian restaurants, and, in fairness, some "everyday" places. This wonderful, charming, oasis of another time that doesn't feel remotely dated, thanks to its high standards, high quality and brusque friendliness. Brusque because they're really busy, but they never rush anyone. You just eat and enjoy yourself with the greatest pleasure.
I should have known to enjoy the balmy 12-degree weather yesterday when I arrived in Chicago. Today it dropped to 5 degrees. But at least it was a dry, sunny 5. That doesn't mean much -- 5 degrees is biting. But at least it wasn't...well, you know, like this...
Chilling weather aside, one of the pleasures of returning to Chicago is the chance to eat at favorite restaurants. And today was deep dish pizza day, a subject that can bring Chicagoans to blows.
(To those who haven't tried it, this isn't "thick crust." Chicago-style pizza has a fairly normal thin crust, but thick, tall sides that let you fill the pizza up deeply. And the crust is made with corn meal and flakier, more like a cake than bread. I understand that some people only prefer basic thin, Sicilian style. To each their own. For me, the richness of the tomatoes, abundance of ingredients, and flavor and texture of the crust make Chicago-style my favorite. Happily, I can enjoy both, though I know some thin-crust folks who are stuck in one-type-only land.)
One of my favorites is Edwardo's which introduced the now, oft-copied spinach pizza. The pizza is wonderful, though not universally appreciated. Though I don't think any pizza here is "universally" appreciated. People are simply too proprietary to their favorite. (It's like the food version of writers debating their screenwriting program.) One of the reasons I like going there though has nothing much to do with the pizza directly, but they give you baskets of pizza dough chips. Great stuff. I've been known to be full before the pizza even arrives.
In recent years, I've been introduced to Nancy's which I've come to like. Pizzaria Uno and Gino's East are the deserved legends, though I haven't been there in years. However, a relative of Gino's started Pizano's, which has a branch a few miles from where my dad lives. Oprah rated it "the best" in Chicago, and it's good -- but it's not close the best. (It's not even precisely deep dish, made with a low, mini-crust. Made straight forward, it's just okay, but if you pay extra and get the butter crust dough, it leaps up much higher.)
More recently I've begun eating at Viccino's, which is quite good. I slightly prefer others, but Viccono's has one huge thing going for it. They have two places each only about a mile from here. If they weren't as good as they were, I wouldn't go, but...sometimes convenience wins out.
Once upon a time, both Pizzaria Uno and Gino's East got into franchising, and bizarrely they each opened branches half a mile from me. It was a joy beyond joys. Alas, the ridiculous competition killed Gino's and a couple months after that -- because Uno's was in a horrible location on San Vicente where it curves in West L.A., a place where numerous restaurants have gone to die -- Pizzaria Uno's bit the dust. So, I was in pizza heaven for about three months, and then just a bitter, empty plate.
When companies use their CEO as corporate spokesman, it's usually to put a warm, human face on the Big Corporate Entity. And that's because their CEO is someone who actually comes across as a warm, human face. It's what happened with Wendy's and Dave Thomas. John McCann of 1-800-Flowers presents a reasonably personable public image for the company. (It's flowers, after all, the guy's got to be okay, you figure.) And it even made Lee Iacocca of Chrysler a major national figure -- and Mr. Iacocca was not likely a warm and fuzzy guy.
Which is all the more reason I can't figure Papa John's putting its John Schnatter in the forefront on all its TV ads. Even long before he came out whining about maybe having to raise the price of his large pizzas by 14-cents because of the Affordable Health Care Act, I got the creeps whenever a Papa John's ad would pop. For years, I've been scratching my head trying to think, "Who thought this was a good idea?" Far from seeing warm and fuzzy, he strikes me as the most tightly-wound CEO in America (which is an impressive competition to win), someone so anal that he has his secretary plan his coughs. A guy who if the slightest thing doesn't go the way he wants it will explode in anger. He's one of the few people I've ever seen whose body looks tense in a still photograph.
And this is who they think America will warm to as the friendly face of Papa John's? The only thing I can figure is that this has nothing to do with a PR company saying, "Hey, let's put the CEO on your ads because he comes across like such an amazingly nice guy." It seems more a case of John Schnatter saying, "I want to star in the TV ads for my company. Anyone disagree? Hunh?"
It came as no surprise to me when he went on his rant against health care and 14-cents. Yes, he walked it back when the story became a disaster, but to me, those ads are the face of a guy who meant to.
To be clear, none of this is meant as a complaint against Papa John's pizza or Mr. Schatter's politics, or a call to boycott. I've had their pizza in the past, and thought it was pretty good for home delivery. I'd personally be reticent to buy from them for the time being, but I'm not adamant about it. I can absolutely understand people going there for a pie. This only came about for one reason: because a Papa John's ad just ran on TV, and it gave me the creeps. Again. He had his arm around some kid, trying to look like just a regular guy, and all I could think of was yelling at the screen, "Run, kid! Run!! Run for your life before he snaps and strangles you!!!"
There are a few cities for which I've seen t-shirts that say, "[Name of City] isn't hell. But you can see it from here." One of those is Las Vegas, and it's the only one for which I think it's most true. It's such a "cold" city, even in the blistering summer. Everything you see there, everything, says "We want your money. C'mon in!"
That said, there two things I do love about Las Vegas. Free parking at hotels and buffets.
I absolutely understand the free parking -- hotel/casinos want to get bodies inside, and whatever the lose on parking, they gain at the gambling tables in spades. And in hearts, clubs and diamonds. There's one oddity, though, with buffets that I've never quite grasped. A lot of hotels offer "all-day" passes for their buffets. For an increased prices over their regular buffet, you can have all-you-can-eat all day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, and snack time.
Now, I love buffets, and have long been kidded for pigging out at them. But how much of a slob does someone have to be to eat one more crumb of food during a day when you've had a buffet? Let alone another buffet. I suppose you can just snack out at various times with your pass...but then what's the point of paying for a buffet? It defeats the whole, joyous pig-out experience...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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