A Burger That’s More Than OK

Much more than ok. Exceptional, in fact. One of the best I’ve had. Ever.
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After scheduling a trip to visit friends in Pampa, TX, I immediately started planning the route, and more importantly, where we would eat along the way. Knowing we’d be hitting Oklahoma City around lunch time, I quickly honed in on Nic’s Grill.

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Guy Fieri introduced me to this dive on a past episode of DDD. A man. A grill. And thick, juicy burgers.

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Nic runs the show, with one server taking drink orders. And it’s a good thing too, because saying space is at a premium is an understatement. There is seating at the counter and couple two-top tables. We showed up at 10:50am, snagged the last tables and ordered. By 11, it was standing room only with people waiting outside.

The menu is simple: burgers, fresh curly fries, and a daily special. If you’re hungry, don’t worry that burgers only come in one size. That size is approximately the same as your head.

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The simplicity doesn’t stop there. A loaded burger has American cheese, ketchup, mustard, mayo, loads of grilled onion, lettuce and tomato. The classic American cheeseburger. If any of that isn’t to your liking, don’t worry because Nic asks each patron what they want on their burger prior to dressing it. A great personal touch. Oh yeah, and you can (and should) add bacon.

The curly fries are also perfectly crispy, and way more fun than a plain old straight cut. Good call Nic.

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If you live in OKC and haven’t been to Nic’s, change that. If you’re driving through OKC, take the time for a tasty burger. Just get there early. You can thank me later.

Rustle Up Some Grub @ Chuck Wagon

Driving home this evening, I saw a few cars parked at Chuck Wagon Burgers & BBQ. I popped in, hoping to catch someone outside and confirm an opening date. To my welcome surprise, I was invited inside right then. I had happened upon their unannounced soft opening. And that was the beginning of a great evening.

Situated just west of Kansas Expressway on the south side of Kearney Street, Chuck Wagon is a welcome and delicious addition to the north side of SGF.

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Interior

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Menu

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Now let’s get to the food. We went with recommendations from the owners: Applewood Smoked Tenderloin with Potato Salad, Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork with Fries, Cheeseburger with Slaw, and Chicken Strips with BBQ Beans for the kids.

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All the food was great. The burgers are made from fresh meat delivered daily, juicy and served with the basics: ketchup, mustard, lettuce, pickle, onion. The fries are fresh cut. The potato salad tastes just like my aunt Janice’s (which is a good thing). The slaw is sweet, creamy and fresh with poppy seeds in the dressing. Barbecue meats are tender, flavorful, and have just the right amount of smoke. And the house made sauce is thick, sweet and tangy. The standout of the meal for me was the applewood smoked pork tenderloin sandwich. Throw on some onion, dill pickle slices and I’ve got what I think is my favorite BBQ sandwich in SGF. Oh, and the buns are outstanding. I would love to know where they get them. Buttered and toasted with a great mix of softness (not a word, I know) and chew–the perfect foundation for a great sandwich.

Overall Chuck Wagon made a great first impression. It is easily one of the best BBQ meals I’ve had in Springfield. And the burgers are fantastic as well. The two things they advertise, they excel at, and I hope they are here to stay. So hop in your cars, head over to the north side of town, support a great new local spot and fill your belly with some tasty grub. You can thank me in the comments section below.

PS
My 4-year old offered these thoughts: “They make healthy food and they have a drive-thru.” He also gave his chicken tenders two thumbs up noting “I like the frying”. Guess I may need to change his definition of healthy:)

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Dining Destin-ations, Part 1

Our annual road trip to Destin, FL was last week. This is our yearly recharge. A truly relaxing vacation where our most difficult decision is what to eat for dinner.

Destin is know for their powdery white beaches and emerald green ocean waters, not their food scene. But if you are willing to do a little looking, there are some hidden and not so hidden gems out there, including one of the 5-best pizzas I’ve ever eaten. Here are some of my favorites:

The Back Porch

Is this the best seafood you’ll ever eat? No. Is it crowded and “touristy”? Yes. Do they still serve their kid’s meals on souvenir frisbees? Yes (awesome since I forgot mine). But this is our stop every year on our first night in Destin.

The restaurant sits right on the beach and has the best view in town. The food is simple and appeals to the masses: grilled, blackened, fried seafoods of all types, the best being the local grouper, amberjack and Gulf shrimp. Crab claws are also in season. We like them broiled in garlic, butter and seasoning.

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They do a great traditional gumbo with a dark, rich roux and lots of seafood. It claims to be award winning for best gumbo on the Emerald Coast, and I believe it after tasting it.

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I was craving fried seafood this night and had the shrimp, crab cake & grouper combo. Everything was lightly breaded, perfectly crisp and not the slightest bit oily. The fried grouper was the standout on the plate. Sorry about the lighting it was getting dark at this point.

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We had a wonderful breakfast at Another Broken Egg thanks to a recommendation from @NomNomspgfd. Try the biscuit beignets, crab stack (think shrimp & grits with a crab cake) and omelette with bacon, chorizo, monterey jack and cream cheese. A breakfast worth paying for, which I hadn’t found before in Destin.

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A couple more to check out:

The softball-size Maryland crab cakes at Sarah K’s Gourmet are full of lump crab and almost nothing more, which is how a crab cake should be. This is gourmet take-out, so make sure you’ve got an oven and/or microwave available. This time around we dined on crab cakes, bacon spinach & parmesan polenta, teriyaki green beans and mushroom asparagus risotto cakes. Warmed it up according to instructions and dined on our condo balcony looking out at the ocean. A great way to spend an evening.

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McGuire’s of Destin
You can’t miss this place as you’re coming into the city. Green neon lines the sprawling rooftops. But don’t let the large size and crowds keep you away from some great burgers, steaks and Irish comfort food. The Reuben Egg Rolls (featured on The FoodNetwork show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”) were my favorite dish of the night. House cured corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese fried crisp in an egg roll wrapper and served with Thousand Island dressing. Thanks for the tip Robert Irvine.

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Shepherd’s Pie

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Stay tuned for Part 2. If you’re a pizza & BBQ fan, you’ll love the next post.

Black Market Dining

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It sits alone, unmarked and unassuming at the end of Massachusetts Ave in downtown Indy. You reach the door and it’s confirmed you’re in the right spot.

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Inside, a large chalkboard lists nightly specials. Communal tables invite you to sit down, share a meal and maybe make some new friends. The place has a very comfortable, cool atmosphere. It appears that most patrons are local, and many regulars. Once word gets out about this place, finding a seat will be difficult. The food is that good.

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Once seated we were handed clip boards with the current menu. The selections were limited, but varied and all sounded delicious.

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After quizzing our server, we decided to start with the Duck Buns and Tomato, Corn and Melon salad.

The Duck Buns consisted of house made yeast rolls topped with shredded duck tossed in a hoisin mustard sauce. We were blown away by these. The rolls were soft and light, the duck was moist and flavorful. Reminded me very much of a New American spin on dim sum. We were off to a great start.

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The salad was full of my favorite summer flavors: sweet corn, cantaloupe, and local tomatoes. And bacon, lots of bacon–a favorite for any season. The combination of sweet and savory was energized by a great sherry vinaigrette. A perfect (ending) summer salad, sure to be gone with the new fall menu. Did I mention the bacon?

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For entrees, I chose the Pork Schnitzel with a side of Lemon Poppyseed Spaetzle. This meal took me back to my trip in high school to Vienna, Austria. The pork was tender, well seasoned and fried to a perfect golden brown. It was accompanied by a slaw of cabbage, red onion and sweet corn and a wedge of lemon. Simple and comforting, yet sophisticated in it’s flavors. A great dish.

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And you can’t (or shouldn’t) eat schnitzel without spaetzle. The egg noodles were pan sautéed with nice crispy edges and pillowy interiors.

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My coworker went with the Black Market Burger: a fresh ground blend of beef and lamb, topped with goat cheese spread, grilled red onion and house pickles. It looked so good I had to try a bite. It did not disappoint. The meat blend was a great change of pace from an all beef burger. The goat cheese was creamy and tangy. The sweetness of the onion and acidity of the pickles helped cut through the richness. And I got all that out of one bite. One perfect bite. (I have to admit a slight case of burger envy)

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Black Market also does a mean side of fries with house mayo. Went great with the burger.

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Finished up with the lime curd and blueberries served over a shortbread cookie and topped with creme fraiche. This may have been favorite part of the meal. Only thing I’ll say, if it’s on the menu, order it. You. Will. Not. Regret. It. Oh, and I wish there was a little more of the micro basil. I love basil and blueberries.

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Black Market set the bar high and was not surpassed during my stay in Indy (and we ate some great food; stay tuned for another post).

If you’re local, make yourself a regular. If you’re visiting, make it a destination.

On The Moo-ve Burger Barn

With my business doing more and more work in Kansas City, my drive time on Highway 13 has increased drastically in the past few months. And every time I reach Osceola, I see this small cow-spotted burger barn beckoning to me.

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But the timing has never been right. Either it’s early morning or I’ve just eaten Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ on my way out of KC in the evening. That changed this past weekend.

On the way back from a weekend trip with my wife, and as a result of a late breakfast, we found ourselves in need of food right as we were pulling into Osceola.

It was late afternoon as we rolled into On The Moo-ve. We walked to the window and found the menu just what we expected: burgers (including a Taco Burger & 13-oz Barn Burger), hot dogs, grilled & fried pork tenderloin sandwiches, and a host of unfortunately frozen fried foods (shrimp, chicken strips, okra, corn fritters, etc).

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I asked if the fries, tots and onion rings were made in-house and received a no, but was assured the burgers were fresh. That being the case, I opted only for the single bacon cheeseburger with ketchup, mustard, pickle, onion – the classics. It was a hot day, so we retreated to the comfort of the car’s AC while we waited for our name to be called. A few minutes later, we retrieved our brown bag of burgers and began chowing down – but not before a couple pics were snapped.

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The bun was your standard grocer grade white that could have been greatly improved with a quick toasting on the grill. The patty itself was more done than I like, but still flavorful and juicy, and there was plenty of oozy American cheese, fresh chopped onion, pickles and of course crispy bacon to compliment the beef. It was homemade and tasted like it. A definite upgrade over your standard chain fare, although not up to the standards of 417 favorites like Casper’s or Taylor’s.

So the next time your passing through Osceola, MO, drop by and have a burger at the spotted barn (name idea free of charge). You’ll be supporting small local business and enjoying a tasty burger.

Go Grotto, Great Burgers

I was craving a great burger last night, didn’t feel like firing up the Big Green Egg, and the first place that popped into my head was The Grotto. They never fail to deliver a thick, juicy, perfectly cooked (medium for me) and well seasoned burger. That is exactly what I got last night.

My personal favorite is the Grotto Bleu, add bacon. If adding bacon is an option, it’s always a go for me.

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I would usually opt for the Bleu Cheese Chips as my side, but my wife wanted some as well (and I didn’t feel like sharing), so we went with an appetizer order. Quite possibly my favorite app in 417, the fresh chips, awesome on their own, are taken to new levels by the creamy, just-right tang of the bleu cheese sauce.

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And yes, I doubled up on my fried starches with a side of sweet potato fries with my burger. Lightly battered and crispy, they go perfect dipped in the house avocado lime ranch dressing. It’s an extra $.50, but well worth it. The flavors go great together.

Fresh, flavorful, California-inspired cuisine. Great burgers, sides and gourmet pizzas (try BBQ Chicken, add bacon of course, and yes I have a pic).

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Over the past few years, The Grotto has cemented itself as one of my top 5 favorites in SGF. Try it for yourself and find out why.

Blu Sesame – The Early Days

I’ve been waiting anxiously for this place to open. I’m a big fan of Asian food in it’s traditional and fusion forms. From cashew chicken (Springfield style of course) to sushi, you name it, I eat it. At first glance this place appeared to be a perfect match.
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After a brief deliberation we settled on Mozzarella Spring Rolls, White Pepper Crab Egg Drop Soup, Chicken Katsu w/ Asian Nachos, Start Your Night Off Roll and the Spicy Ramen w/ Chicken. Yes, I often over order when trying a new restaurant, but it’s a sacrifice I make to give you, the reader, a more thorough review.

The Mozzarella Spring Rolls were the first and best dish of the night. Perfectly crispy with melted cheese surrounding a crisp asparagus spear.

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Kai & Haruno sell a similar (and superior) dish, Asparagus Mozzarella Tempura, although I would definitely order this again.

Next out was the White Pepper Crab Egg Drop Soup. The actual egg drop soup was a good enough rendition. Didn’t detect the white pepper mentioned, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as too much of it can quickly overpower a dish. My biggest issue with the soup was the “crab”. Can we get a law passed that any restaurant selling the pink, rubbery, artificially sweet fish slurry, have to spell the word with a “k”? Crab is one of my favorite things in the whole world. The imitation stuff is an insult to the word. I’d rather pay $6 a bowl and have real crab meat. If not, leave it out of the dish and call it Egg Drop soup.

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The other winner of the night was the Chicken Katsu with Asian Nachos we ordered for the kids. The chicken was tender, flavorful and I love anything fried in panko. The Asian Nachos were also good, topped with teriyaki sauce, a creamy, spicy sauce, pico and black beans. The dish is very similar to the nachos aggressively sampled at Chomp Champ in the mall food court…so much so that we wonder if both are owned by the same team. Very tasty.

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The Start Your Night Off roll sounded interesting, topped with shrimp guacamole (there was very little shrimp present). The guacamole itself was good and fresh, but my nemesis “krab” made another unwelcome appearance in the Cali roll underneath.

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Spicy Ramen with Chicken was not very spicy and overall lacking in flavor. Had potential, but just didn’t quite deliver. The boy thought the noodles looked like Rapunzel’s hair. They love Tangled.

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All that being said, I will definitely be back. There are a lot of other items I would like to try on the menu. The staff was also fantastic, super friendly and service was amazingly fast. I also take into consideration that the place has only been open for just over a week. I will give the kitchen some time to get on the same page with the menu and recipes, then give it another shot. I really want this place to succeed. It’s a welcome, unique addition to downtown and the prices are reasonable enough for lunch or dinner. So give it a try and let me know of you have any recommendations. And beware of the krab.

BONUS REVIEW: SIDE-BY-SIDE
Blu Sesame is adjoined to another of the owners concepts, Side-by-Side dessert lounge. It has it’s own entrance or can be accessed from inside Blu Sesame.

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As you can see, the place looks great, as do the desserts. They get high marks for presentation. Staff recommendations included cupcakes (all of which include yogurt) and cheesecake. We were told that they make all their desserts. We decided on the tiramisu.

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Unfortunately the cake was dry, there was no discernible coffee flavor, and not nearly enough of the creamy mascarpone in between layers.

That was one choice out of a myriad of options. I am really hoping the others don’t follow suit in the “looks better than they taste” category.