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.

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.

Blanc Burgers + Bottles = Delicious

During a recent trip to KC for meeting w/ the extremely talented folks at Hufft Projects and Baldwin Denim, I took the opportunity to hit up one of my favorite burger spots: Blanc Burgers + Bottles.
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For me, there are two types of burger joints, of which I love both: 1) Greasy (in a good way), traditional dive 2) Fine dining between a bun. Blanc is the latter.

All the following culinary buzzwords apply: locally sourced, organic, grass fed, house made. All these ingredients come together in an inspired menu of appetizers (standout: Shatto cheese curds), salads and of course burgers.

A variety of gourmet bottled beverages are also available. Do yourself a favor and enjoy your favorite burger with a locally made Soda Vie next time.

This visit we went with some old favorites and found some new ones.

Started off with the Gouda Cheese Fries. Perfectly thin, crispy fries topped with a velvety gouda cheese sauce and awesomely crisp, thick bacon. These were out of this world and devoured within minutes of them hitting the table. Quite possibly the best plate of cheese fries I’ve ever had.
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For my burger, I went back to my old standby (and best burger on the menu) – The Inside Out. This masterpiece comes packed with creamy, tangy blue cheese inside the burger, then is topped with crisp bacon, lettuce, a battered onion ring and scratch made ketchup. All served up on a buttery grilled brioche bun that is sturdy enough to hold up to the substantial burger. The meat was perfectly cooked to my desired medium, extremely juicy and well seasoned. Most importantly, melted cheese oozed out with every bite. You have to try this burger.
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Classic – Aged white cheddar, lettuce, tomatoe, house made pickles, ketchup and mustard.
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For sides, we had my wife @iAmNotAFoodie’s favorite: Truffle Fries. Still love the mini shopping cart.
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Soda Vie. Flavors like Thai Basil, Mojito, etc. All very natural (yes those herbs were in the bottle), all very tasty. Not too sweet. And the coolest bottling ever for a soda.
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BLT salad w/ black mustard seed ranch
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This was another stellar meal @blancburgers. Chef Josh Eans and his team have put together an amazing upscale burger concept. Now they just need to bring one to 417-land.

Blanc Burgers + Bottles
http://www.blancburgers.com

Dinner @ DiGiacinto

Wife’s only requirement for dinner tonight, regardless of location, was garlic cheese bread. This was great. Melty cheese, plenty of fresh garlic, tasty housemade Italian bread. Served with a great warm marinara sauce.


House salad came out next. Loved the addition of salami and provolone. I like my Italian vinaigrette dressing a little sweeter, but all in all a good salad.


Went with the traditional lasagna for my entree. It came out topped with marinara sauce instead of the bolognese sauce mentioned on the menu, but they were quick to bring out a side dish of the meat sauce. Glad they did. The sauce was made with a great tasting Italian sausage and really added to the dish. Everything’s better with sausage.


My wife went with the ravioli trio: spinach artichoke, cheese and seafood–2 each. My favorite was the spinach. Hers was the cheese. The alfredo sauce had just a touch of marinara which we both enjoy.

I also tried one of their scratch made meatballs. Great flavor, but I like my meatball to have a slightly lighter texture. They’d be great on a sub sandwich.


Overall really enjoyed the meal. Place had a great atmosphere. Seems like it has a large following of regulars, which I really appreciate. Kind of like an Italian “Cheers”, except not a bar. We’ll be back. Maybe one of these days they’ll know our name.