Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hot Dogs in the Windy City

Chicago is famous for its hot dogs. Unlike Toronto, there are perhaps dozens of establishments in the Chicago area where the humble wiener is the #1 item on the menu. This year, I decided to do a bit of Tuber Research and track down some of the better-known hot dog spots.

Well, first up was Hot Doug's at the corner of N. California and Roscoe.

Yikes! I arrived at 10:45 am to find a lineup around the corner and down the street. I got in line, didn't move during a ten-minute wait, and decided that was enough time to spend on a hot dog, no matter how highly-rated it is. And it is, from what I've read. Hot Doug's offers a variety of sausages, including "duck-fat fried french fries" on Fridays and Saturdays. Well, lets see if I get lucky at a spot up the road a bit.

Next stop: Chubby Wieners on North Western at Leland.

Yikes again! Chubby's couldn't be more conveniently located, right under the Western stop on the Brown Line, but here we are, after 11am on a Saturday, and it's closed! I'm not doing so well, am I? I do have another back-up location to try, though.

It's on to U Lucky Dawg, further up N. Western, north of Pratt Avenue.

Bingo! It's Open, we have a nice Iconic Sign praising Vienna Beef products, and I'm hungry. I ordered a hot dog and a polish sausage. I preferred the latter, although they were both good. My dogs come with mustard, onions and sport peppers (something I've only seen in Chicago, they're these little green things of variable texture and heat). One sport pepper exploded over my t-shirt - this is a fine spot for a great dog. I did feel lucky!

So lucky, that I was ready to try one more location in Chicago's north side.

It's back down the street and around the corner to Wolfy's on W. Peterson at Fairfield.

Open...check! Iconic sign out front...check! Vienna beef served here...check! A generous parking lot, and time for a Char-Polish all-beef sausage. Yum! By this time, I had learned to add celery salt to the ingredients, although I want no part of the traditional "Chicago dog" makeup of neon green relish, slice of dill, and tomato slice. And one thing about hot dogs in Chicago. No. Ketchup. Ever. Ever! Fine by me, I don't like ketchup. My sport pepper on this dog was kind of wrinkled, not juicy at all, and not particularly spicy. But the sausage itself was delicious and perhaps edges out U Lucky Dawg by a nosehair. Well, I'd like to return to both spots, maybe in reverse order, to try 'em both one more time.

Another day, another visit, another dog. Let's hit the south side for a couple of Maxwell Street legends. First, we have the Express Grill.

The Express Grill is open 24/7, and since its move from Maxwell Street (a block over, now dominated by buildings owned by the University of Illinois), it sits on Union Street, eye to eye with the Dan Ryan Expressway, and next door to its great competitor, Original Jim's. The Express Grill was opened and operated by family members that broke away from Jim. The building features a counter, built along the outside wall (there is no indoor dining) for folks to eat standing up. You can get a Polish sausage...or a Polish BEEF sausage for ten cents' extra. I guess that latter offers less snout? Well, you can't knock the hours, and there certainly wasn't a lineup to worry about...but you can walk for thirty seconds and find a better sausage over at...

...none other than Jim's Original Maxwell St. Polish! Lots of photos showing the old location from back in the day, another counter helpfully provided along the outside wall for stand-up diners, and similar prices and menu concept to the Express next door. I chomped into one of the beef polish sausages. I found it a bit tastier than the Express, until I bit into one of the atomic-strength sport peppers. Wow! By far the hottest pepper I've ever tasted in a sausage. I think that's what makes Jim's Original so memorable - well that, and having an expressway less than 50 feet away across the street. Jim's is also open all day, every day. Are you listening, Hot Doug?

There's time for one more dog, so I thought I'd make it a double.

I've landed west of O'Hare Airport to Gene & Jude's Red Hots on Des Plaines River Road near Grand. You can see that they offer "double" dogs, and toss a fistful of tasty fries over the finished product. Ahh...that's a nice hot dog!
This is just a small sampling of the many, many hot dog stands you can find in Chicago. Trying them out is lots of fun. Best wishes to you for your next visit, and for your stomach's health!
UPDATE: "U LUCKY DAWG" ain't so lucky anymore....IT'S CLOSED!!!

NEXT: Trains!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Raise Your Glasses!!

It's getting into late October as I write this - months after my wonderful European holiday - but a late-night stein of Hofbrau Oktoberfest beer (thank you, Binny's of Chicago!) has me in the mood to wax nostalgic on a wonderful August visit to Munich, Germany. I've never been there for their Oktoberfest festivities (actually held late-September to early-October), but the beergardens of this lovely city are usually open and ready for customers throughout the year. When the sun is shining, there is usually beer somewhere to be enjoyed!

So....the year 2008 saw me visiting Munich TWICE! I took advantage and visited no less than 8 of the city's famous beergardens. Here's is a rundown of some of my favourites:

Any list of Munich's best spots for delicious beer must include a place run by the fine folks at the Augustiner brewery. The Augustiner Keller, just west of Munich's main railway station or Hauptbanhof, offers a magnificent beergarden as well as an indoor beerhall for when the weather looks less than kindly upon the visitor. The Helles, or lager, is wonderful. The Edelstoff is fantastic. Locals will tell you this is THE best place in Munich for a liter of beer.

So...where do the TOURISTS go?? Well, I've waxed on about the Hofbrauhaus in an earlier post, but for Hofbrau fans there is a special treat in store if you visit Munich's Englischer Garten. It's the Chinescher Turm (or Chinese Tower) beergarden. Both locals and out of towners love to visit this special spot in the middle of the park. A Bavarian brass band often appears at the Tower to offer local drinking songs on weekends. And the beer...well, sublime is a good word! And the food isn't bad either!

Ahhh...Spaten! When it's good, it's REALLY great. I visited one highly-rated beergarden in Munich's southern suburbs in August, and found the local Spaten Helles to be...well, Stale! Very unusual for such a wonderful product. But I remember happier times and better Spatens, such as this May 2008 visit to the Hirschau beergarden, in the northern section of the Englischer Garten. In addition to the beer, you can enjoy ribs, chicken, or (in my case) a delicious pretzel with your choice of mustard. Weekends at the Hirschau feature some fine jazz music if it's sunny outside. It's a bit of a trek from the city centre, but well worth the Metro ride and walk, and a great way of starting a southbound Beer Walk in the Englischer Garten. After hoisting a liter at the Hirschau, perhaps you'll have time to wander south, on a convenient pedestrian bridge across a busy road, to.....

....the SEEHAUS, one of Munich's truly beloved beergardens. It's run by the folks from Paulaner and is located along the shore of a beautiful little lake. You can rent a boat there (not while drinking!), watch the ducks, or just settle into a nice glass of Paulaner's fine Helles and do some serious people-watching. Adjacent to the Seehaus is a fancy indoor restaurant, but if the weather permits then outdoors by the lake is the place to be.

There are many other fine places in Munich to relax over a Maß (that should be "Mass" or a liter of beer). If you're stuck downtown, then I recommend the Viktualienmarkt beergarden, which has the added attraction of "rotating" its beer offerings. If you're lucky (as I was) and arrived on a day when Augustiner was being served....well, RAISE YOUR GLASSES!!


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Birth Of A River

If you were to simply show up in the village of Mürren, Switzerland and hang out for a few days, you would pretty much be guaranteed a wonderful visit regardless of the weather. It's a postcard-perfect Swiss Alps experience, perched on the top of an impressive massif overlooking the Lauterbrunnen valley, and framed in the background with the Jungfrau mountain range. The village itself is very small, with a permanent population of perhaps 300. I've enjoyed some wonderful meals, ranging from the Asian delights of Tham's Chinese Snacks, to Thai Curry Soup, the best lamb I've ever tasted, a Gorgonzola Cheeseburger, röstis galore, and fresh, C O L D milk. The local beer is Rugenbrau, brewed just down the hill outside Interlaken. Feldschlossen is another regional favourite. I wouldn't make a detour for the suds in this area, to be honest, but since my next destination was to be Munich, Germany, I wasn't too worried about the quality of the local brew. Especially when the water, from a pipe straight out of the ground, was so good!

There's much more to Mürren for the summer visitor than the view and the food. It's a natural launching pad for a series of spectacular hikes and gentle walks that will take the lucky traveller to some truly special spots. One of them is a meadow in a dead-end valley called Kilchbalm, which requires a fairly steady march of perhaps an hour or 90 minutes to access. Once there, however, you're in for a treat. A glacier, plus a series of waterfalls, gives birth to a river that eventually roars its way into the Lauterbrunnen valley. Here is a tiny video clip of the area, featuring sounds from the Swiss Alps!

To sum up, I highly recommend a visit to Mürren for anyone who wants to experience the Swiss Alps without paying St. Moritz prices.

NEXT: Maßes in München!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Hills Are Alive...

...with the sound of Cowbells!

It's been a month now since I returned from Europe, and I'm slowly getting around to arranging and displaying the images from my adventures overseas. Nine days in Mürren, Switzerland delivered a powerful sense of peace and calmness. The sound of cowbells could be heard for miles, along with waterfalls from miles away across the Lauterbrunnen valley. The air was fresh enough to practically drink, and the water itself? Wow! This spot, just across from my bed & breakfast, had the best tap in town.

NEXT: Sounds from the Alps!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mürren: A Swiss Slice of Paradise

My first visit to Mürren, Switzerland was in 2002. I was keen to enjoy some authentic Alpine scenery, and had read about this little village that was perched high atop a cliff in the Jungrau Region of Switzerland's Berner Oberland canton. Well...I fell in love with the place. I was back in 2003, and again in 2004 and again...

Now, in late July of 2008, I'm preparing to return to what has become something of a second home. I keep in touch with a few of the residents of Mürren via e-mail during the winter months (er, September to May!), anticipating a happy reunion with this beautiful hamlet. This year's trip is the latest visit for me in the calendar year - I arrive in Mürren on July 31 and stay until August 9th. I'm looking forward to renewing friendships with Denise the B&B manager, Tham and Ruth at the restaurant, Barbara at the train station, and Jeannette, the erstwhile tour guide. Then there are folks at the various dairies, shops and other parts of the village to say Hi to once again. Cablecars to ride. Cats to pat. Paths to walk. Water to drink. Future entries in this blog will focus on some of the highlights of my visit to Switzerland, plus my return to the beergardens of Munich.
NEXT: More from Mürren from Mooncattie, the Happy Wanderer!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

rrrrrAISE Your Glasses!!

Ready for a taste of summertime? Ahhh...sweet, sweet beer! The liquid that sets us apart and above all those other lifeforms in the galaxy. You can keep your ray guns, Green Guts -- we've got beer here.

Yes, Mooncattie, but beer can be found practically everywhere on this planet! How can we tell the good from the bleh?

Fortunately, thanks to the advent of internet search engines, it's easier than ever to experience a satisfying Beergasm. All you have to do is look, and experiment. And if you are especially fond of low-carb Lite beer, you're in luck. There's plenty of it out there!

For me, the hunt for the elusive B-Spot ended on a steamy May afternoon in Bavaria, Germany in 2000, long before I had access to those handy internet search engines. In short, I got lucky. In Munich. At the Augustiner Keller beergarden. A lifetime of wincing back preservative-laden beer product was washed away by a liter of fresh Augustiner Edelstoff, and the knowledge that there were at least six breweries in Munich alone that had been pouring out this sort of high-quality stuff from barrels for centuries - in the case of Augustiner, since 1328!! Although the No. 17 Tram stop outside the beergarden is a relatively recent addition.

It was a revelation to find this terrific beergarden, and further delights awaited over subsequent visits to Munich with the discovery of more wonderful places to relax with a brew or two. If by now you are wondering why you haven't yet booked a holiday to Germany, allow me to point you towards a great website at for further incentives. You can even order their book online, which contains coupons for free beer. Free. Beer.

I shall close out this entry with a few images from my merry memories of Beers Past. First, here's a photo of Professor Beer straining to smile as he hoists a liter of Hofbräu (another one of the Munich Big Six), NOT in Munich, but at Resi's Bierstube on West Irving Park Rd. in Chicago. Resi's boasts lots and lots of wonderful imports on tap and in the bottle, and they have a super little beergarden (well, tiny backyard to be fair). In the foreground stands two weissbiers (wheat beers), a Franziskaner (owned by Spaten, yet another of the Big Six...OK OK, the others are Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr and Löwenbräu, and technically Spaten and Löwenbräu sort of own each other, so it's really only a Big Five, and on that note I'll shut up about this Big Six stuff) and a Weihenstephan (who have allegedly been in business nearly three centuries before Augustiner).

Still with me in Chicago? Then let's head around the corner from Resi's and up North Lincoln Ave. for a couple of blocks to the Glunz Bavarian Haus.
The Glunz Bavarian Haus lives up to their name by offering delicious Spaten and Hofbräu on tap, along with a cool oompah band that will encourage you to "RAISE your glasses!" to the Ein Prosit anthem. One noteworthy difference to the beergarden experience in Chicago is that you aren't obligated to order an entire liter of suds - especially worth remembering if you are anywhere near a steering wheel. There's no problem in settling for a Half. Meanwhile, in, best buy a transit day pass before your Mass!

Finally, let's end our appreciation of Munich beer at the Hofbräuhaus! Yes, I know, it's full of kids from America having their first beer far away from Mom's watchful eyes, and there are Japanese tourists lining up to photograph the lederhosen guys in the band before rushing out to grab the tour coach. Oh, what a cynic I am. However, it's still a Can't Miss for any visitor to Munich, you're guaranteed a few laughs to go with the Helles and Pretzel, and I'm sure more than a few locals turn up there to take in the atmosphere while hoping like hell that nobody they know recognizes them there. Actually, from what I can tell in the first few seconds of this video clip, I do believe I've crashed a Hen-Party....Ein, Swei, Drei, g'suffa!
NEXT: The Paradise that is Mürren!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Yikes! July already!

First off, a belated Happy Fourth to my American friends! Our own national holiday, Canada Day, was gloriously sunny and hot, and we finally saw a break from the June weather of thundershower after shower. I'm just about ready to get out there and start some summer walking without having to bring along an unbrella.

This entry continues the theme of Great Meals in America with a salute to the wonderful Lou Malnati's pizza empire of Chicago. The Windy City is famous for its deep-dish style of pizza, first presented there by Pizzaria Uno and imitated but rarely improved upon by many others since. I gather that Mr. Malnati was associated with Uno's before starting up his own restaurant, and after visiting the downtown location for the first time in 2002 I was well and truly converted. It's now a must-chow for me each time I visit Chicago. Thick, cheesy, and filled with wonderful ingredients, this just may be getting stuffed at its best! Here is the arrival of a Medium pizza at the Lou Malnati's Schaumburg, IL location in 2007. Yes, life is good! NEXT: Bavarian suds from Munich and...Chicago?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Chicken Wings - Instant Replay

Not every post is going to be about chicken wings from the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY. But it's as good a start as I can think of for a blog that is supposed to be about happy things, and a double-order of Hot Wings at the Anchor, with extra blue-cheese dressing on the side, rates fairly high for me on the Happy Meter. Here's a quick clip of some wings showing up at my table sometime last year. I have to make plans to return sometime soon! NEXT: The joys of Lou Malnati's Pizza!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

My First Wing

Deep-fat fried to perfection, lovingly laced with hot sauce, pleasingly plopped in a vat of high-cal blue cheese dressing...Welcome to the first entry of an attempt at happy writing, featuring Mooncattie. That's me!

I'm aiming to put together a little diary filled with photos and comments about people, places, and activities with an accent on the positive. If you've nothing better to do (and I mean really nothing, and you have my sympathies), then come along and watch me GETTING STUFFED with good food and drink, the happy company of pleasant folk, and scenes from the wonderful travels that I've been fortunate to make over the years.