Monday, July 14, 2014

Chef Kevin's Table

Yeah, it has been a heck of a long time since I posted here.  Actually, I had shut it down for awhile due to all the spam, etc. I was getting.  Anyway, thought I would revitalize it for an announcement.

On October 11, 2014, I and a few friends will be hosting an event called Chef Kevin's Table.  A four course dinner paired with four wines.  It will be held at From The Field Cooking School in Morton.

Here is a link to all the details:

I've had a lot of requests to do this and have some people signed up and paid already even though it only hit Facebook an hour or so ago.  More advertising to come, so if you have an interest....

See You Around The Table.....

Friday, January 10, 2014

The new blog

Well, here it is, my new blog:  Livin' It Up In Hoodburbia

Don't know quite what to do with this blog.  It does get quite a few hits a day from people looking for things so I don't want to shut it down completely.  And I do have a selfish reason to keep it.  Yet, I don't want it to look like it is abandoned and unloved.

Decisions, Decisions.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

End of an era

As many other bloggers, I rarely post anymore.  Thusly, starting in a few days, I am going to take this blog down.  I hate going to a blog that hasn't had any posts in the last few weeks, months, years and don't want to be one of those bloggers.

However, it doesn't mean I'm going to stop blogging.

I started this blog for restaurant reviews and issues affecting the restaurant industry.  I have strayed from that intent and it just seems this blog is about everything but those things.  It just feels weird posting stuff sometimes and probably prevents me from doing so.

So, starting around January 1, look for my new blog.  I think I'm going to call it "Livin' It Up In Hoodburbia".

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


So, a week or so ago, I was sent a survey by The Peoria Chamber of Commerce asking if I was for or against the purchase of the water department and if it was in the best interest of the city.  Personally, I think we have much more pressing needs in this city than buying the water company (for lord knows how many millions).  So, of course I voted "NO".

Today, I get an e-mail with the results, which somehow do not surprise me:

Question asked:Should the City Council engage in the due diligence process to identify the benefits versus the challenges to determine if purchasing the water company is in the best interest of our City?
Chamber of Commerce Audience: A distribution list was created utilizing all company representatives listed in the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce database representing 4800 email addresses. 
YES:226 50%   
NO:172  38%  
Abstain 3 (Personally, I don't remember seeing the Abstain option)   
And is my math wrong or doesn't this equal 100%?
Total Responses:450 which is 9% of distribution
CEO COUNCIL Audience: A distribution list of 69 leading companies.
YES: 26   66%
NO: 11   28%
Abstain 2
Total Responses: 39  52% of distribution
Hmmm...guess once again, I'm in the minority.  It would be interesting to view the responses via zip code and council district.
I think more of the mover and shakers, city council members, etc. need to spend a little more time at a Westmoreland, E. Thrush, E. Kansas or W. Proctor address and I think their views of what this city needs would dramatically change.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Such A Sweet Deal

Congratulations!!  You are in the market for a newer car.  Let me show you some options.

Choice A.  3 years old, low miles, great gas mileage, one owner, all records of scheduled maintenance for $268 a month.

Choice B.  Same model, but 5 years old, high mileage, nice dent, lots of service issues, bald tires and no record of when the last time the oil was changed.  All for $316 a month.

Hmmmm.... which one will you choose?  But WAIT!!  There is more!  Choice A gets you free oil changes!!  Now, which one will you choose?  Of course, Choice A. 

Oh, sorry, but you can't have choice A.  The government says you have to have Choice B.  Not only do you have to have Choice B, but you will be fined if you don't.

Yeah, you got me; I'm not talking about cars.  I'm referring to the mandated health insurance.  Yep, the first amount is my current policy which includes dental and vision.  The cheapest policy I can buy ($316) Jan. 1 does not and will cost extra.  The new insurance almost triples my deductible and slightly more than doubles my maximum out of pocket expense.  Such a sweet deal

And this folks, is "The Affordable Healthcare Act".  It is an act alright that should be exited stage right..

And it also occurred to me that the people who named this, designed it, put it into motion are either in, or are far closer to the 1% we all despise, than most of us.  I guess they can consider, and call it affordable because they make more in a year than most of make in 10.  They can raise more money for their (re)election campaign than most of us will ever see.  So, to them "affordable".

Somehow, I think this is all fucked up.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

It Was An Awesome Day To Say The Least.

I've cooked for my fair share of banquets.  Most I can honestly say I was happy with the product I presented.  It is rare that I'm ever ecstatic.  However, last Saturday night I was.  The food, while not Michelin three star quality, was the best it could be for the simple preparations involved.  And that is good.  I'm kind of out of the whole pretentious food thing...simple, but done well, is usually better, anyway.  And while most of my staff won't see this, I thank them again for their efforts.

I'm not bragging.  I rarely do.  But this wedding reception had a guest unbeknown to me who has won some accolades in my profession...on the Food Network.  I knew the groom's father was a Chicago area Chef, but I had no idea he was Kevin Molidor.  He and his team won a Food Network Challenge for carving fruits and vegetables several years ago.  You can check his work out here:.  He also has a successful catering business (and one of the reasons my webpage is as he owns one of the chefkev(in) domains).
Chef Molidor's only regret of the evening is that he really wanted to cater his son's wedding, but claimed afterwards that we really knocked it out of the park and he (and the bride's father) joined part of my team for an after work toast of single cask bourbon.

But here is the coolest part:  Chef Kevin Molidor gave me this:

How unbelievable f-in' cool is this?!?!  I'm still beside myself!  I giggle like a small child getting a new toy every time I look at it.  He has one and said I needed to have the other.  They used to be on one of his catering vans.  But I messed up and should of had our picture taken together.

Chef Kevins simply rock!!!

Monday, July 15, 2013

George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin

I've read many blogs, news reports, Facebook posts and the like about the verdict surrounding the Zimmerman/Martin case.  As one Facebook post said:  It is amazing how millions of people got their law degrees overnight.  There are all sorts of quotes, etc. out there.  But the one that got me was (and I wish I could find it again) was to the effect of "the real tragedy of the Zimmerman/Martin case is that this is what America is becoming".  I thought about that for awhile and it is true.

I'm going to back up to a few years ago.  I came home from work one day and my now ex-neighbor Mike informs me that he chased a half dozen pre-teen/teen agers off my back yard who were messing with my landscaping and throwing rocks in my pond.  Initially, according to him, they just yelled expletives at him until he got loud with them, got out his cell and threatened to call the police.  (I'm going to stop here for a second and say if I got caught doing this at 13 years old, my ass would still be hurting for the spanking a would have got, would have had to mow the person's yard all summer and be grounded for the next month).  No respect for my property and no respect for an adult telling them to leave.

How many George Zimmerman's are there?  Why do we need them?  Why do we need civilian "police officers"?  Why do we need our neighbors like Mike to risk themselves throwing kids off of other people's property?  What if one of these kids decided to throw rocks, pull a knife or gun and "show Mike a thing or two"?  WTF is wrong with us?

I know now, there are some people looking for the comment section to rip me a new one.  Yes, I know Trayvon Martin wasn't doing anything wrong as far as we know.  There shouldn't have been an altercation.  I'm certainly not going to call Martin "the criminal element" as I have no proof of that.  What I am saying is that because our neighborhoods don't feel safe, we resort to the George Zimmermans because we don't feel the police are doing enough.  And not to condone what Zimmerman did, but I do feel he was probably doing what he thought he should be doing and what the neighborhood association wanted him to do...until he got his ass kicked.

Ask any Peoria resident who lives in the North Valley, East Bluff or South Side if they feel safe taking a walk after dark in their neighborhood.  I'm sure the resounding response is "NO!"  It shouldn't be this way.  We shouldn't be afraid to take a walk.  We huddle in our houses afraid that going out on our front porch could get us shot. We are afraid of our houses getting broken into, beatings, knifings, shooting, robberies, etc. so we elect "George Zimmerman" to help eyeball "the bad guys".

I also read that this verdict will increase the amount of people who will go on the offensive and there will be more people facing Trayvon Martin's fate.  On the other side of the coin, I fear that if the verdict was "guilty", we'd have less people willing to defend themselves and less people like Zimmerman willing to be a look-out.  Facebook has been loaded with the case of the Florida woman who got 20 years for just firing warning shots to ward off her abusive ex-husband whom she had a restraining order against and he had busted into her home.  If there were a guilty verdict for Zimmerman combined with this case, who'd want to defend themselves?

Unfortunately, Zimmerman and Martin are just pawns in a game of what our society has become and the game ended up badly.  You may say "not for Zimmerman", but I don't think Zimmerman has seen the worst of it yet.  Yet, in the meantime, I wonder what the guy taking his place in his community, wandering streets, looking for anything or anyone out of place, is thinking.

We, as a society, need to end the causes that find us feeling the need to have the George Zimmermans of the world cruising our streets so we don't end up with any more Trayvon Martins. 

In closing, of all people, I'm going to paraphrase Ted Nugent (and this was probably the only good part of the interview):  If everyone would conduct themselves in a responsible, civil manner, everything would be just fine. Yeah, Ted, that is true.  But why don't we?

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Lookin' for something to do?

Friday, June 14: 

Willett’s Winery & Cellar 


Blues & BBQ 

5:00 PM – 10:00 PM 

The “B” Side Blues Band 
 Four long-time Central Illinois musicians (Rusty Hall, Dave Plunk, Joe Metzka, Tim Lee) who have come together and formed their own band covering the music of B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Bill Withers, 
Jonny Lang, Howlin’ Wolf, Stevie Ray Vaughan and others. 

The Ironstone Room starts serving at 5:00 PM, outside service begins at 
6:00 PM and the “B” Side Blues starts at 7:00 PM 

The Menu: 
Fruitwood smoked pulled BBQ Pork Sandwiches 
Hardwood smoked BBQ Ribs 
Hushpuppy breaded Chicken Strips 
BBQ Pork Nachos 
All Beef Hot Dogs 
Shrimp Po’ Boys 

No outside food or beverages 
We will move inside in case of inclement weather

Monday, June 03, 2013

Does Anyone Else Find This Disrespectful?

Your parent, sibling, spouse or child dies. You pick out a plot in the cemetery or maybe it has already been done. You lay your loved one to rest. A short time later, the headstone is installed. Then you find out thousands of people a year will be jogging, biking, babystrolling, hiking or walking past your loved ones final resting place. How do you feel? Personally, I'd be upset. Yet that is exactly what is happening in Springdale Cemetery when the park district and cities of Peoria & Peoria Heights finish the portions of the Kellar Branch later this year in efforts to create a supertrail extending from Morton to Toulon. I've never been a fan of the way the Kellar Branch of the old Rock Island Railroad was transformed into a trail. And while I am fully aware there are many people who use Springdale for exercise purpose on their own accord, running part of an approximate 55 mile trail through it is different story. I have loved ones buried in many different cemeteries around the area, and while visiting, not only haven't I witnessed people using the place for exercising purposes, I certainly haven't noticed a trail running through it. I've cycled many trails that have bridges higher and longer than the one on the old Kellar Branch that crosses US 150. I'm guessing that it would cost too much money to re-vamp it to make it usable? Yet there is money to tunnel under Knoxville Avenue. Conversely, we are left to our own devices to get across Adams Street. Not even a traffic light. Not that state has any extra money, but I think the park district and the cities of Peoria and Peoria Heights should continue to look for grants and other funding to run the trail along the original path of the Kellar branch and not through Springdale Cemetery.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Because I Can.

Over the past few months, I've been reading various articles and Facebook comments about how various Amendments to Constitution are outdated and need to be revised. I think the two that are discussed the most are the first and second. We all know these two: Freedom of Speech and The Right to Bear Arms. I just read another one and it has compelled me to blog. I'm not going to debate either. My question is why? Is it because they are archaic in modern day society? No, I don't think so. I think it is due to the total lack of respect, self discipline, morals, honor and decency. I say this because we have progressed beyond the wildest dreams of our forefathers. And the one thing that has multiplied exponentially is the "because I can" attitude. I'm sure our forefathers meant for amendments to be non infringe-able rights and never intended them to be an excuse or a free pass for the "because I can" mentality that is thrown around so haphazardly. Thusly, we need to pass laws or want to amend the Amendments because people can't govern themselves. So, then, where is the line? Who now says what is appropriate and what is not? As technology, etc. progresses faster and faster, if we change the amendments/laws now, will they be outdated in 10 years? As this is Memorial Day, I thank those, especially those I know, who have protected those rights. One may argue I have a blog and am a huge supporter of the second amendment, so I should STFU; that I'm abusing the same right that I'm complaining about. But I don't feel I have abused those rights with a defiant "because I can" attitude. I am not naive enough to think that people will revert back to the true/intended meanings of the Amendments, especially those that are constantly tried and meanings pushed. Yet I don't see where the government has the right, or good enough sense in some cases, to determine, in this day and age, what is right and fair. This is complicated and there are no easy answers. However, I will say, whatever does transpire, needs to be across the board: for citizens, the government, business, reporting, bloggers....the list is endless.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pay Attention!

No, not you. Well, maybe you if you are doing this. I'm driving down Forrest Hill today through the East Bluff. For those who are unfamiliar with Peoria, it is a minor throughway through the city moving traffic mostly through residential areas. Not a small residential street, not a major route, either. Anyway, I'm traveling along at the 30 mph speed limit when I notice ahead a younger looking woman step out between two cars (dumbass maneuver 1) and start walking away from me. Her head was down and she appeared to be moving slowly. I edge over closer to the center lane and I observe her veering out in front of me still walking. I slow down and the veer gets worse; she is almost in the middle of the street. So, I gave the horn a tap. This startled her and she moved quickly back towards the edge. Then I see two things. The first, the reason for the veer: My guess she wasn't using that phone for a GPS. The second was the finger she flipped me. Really? A. Get your ass on the sidewalk. B. Walk TOWARD traffic is the law. C. Watch where the hell YOU are going. D. Go practice some proctology on yourself with that finger and then you can shove your phone there, too. Pretty soon all insurance companies will require you to have the braking system from a Bugatti Veyron installed on your vehicle to avoid lawsuits from running over errant texting pedestrians.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

What to do with the River Station Building

We have a new museum, and no, this isn't me bitching about it.  We have one of the coolest restaurants in Peoria with the Rhythm Kitchen.  The river itself.  A stunning bar in Martinis.  There is Kellehers, Rhodell's, Rizzi's, Beginets (Ok, and chains of Hooters and Joe's Crab Shack).

There needs to be something else....and I'm not talking about the Warehouse District.  Heck, there are still several buildings along Water Street that are vacant and we are starting something else?  That is for another blog post.

The Riverstation Building.  What a shame.  It, for one reason or another, can't hold restaurants anymore.  Personally, I think the overhead in such a large, old building has to be staggering which would take a huge amount of the profits away.  But it sits.  What an attraction it could be.  But for what?

Over the summer months, people FLOCK to the Riverfront Farmers Market.  I've been there when it is almost hard to get around.  And this is what I see for the Riverstation Building:  And indoor market.

Check out Washington DC's Eastern Market or Indianapolis' City Market  Local vendors, businesses, artists, etc.  And I'm not saying the whole thing (minus Martinis) unless it could warrant it.  In the warm months, sell monthly outside space.  In the summer, if space allows, move the Riverfront Market inside during bad weather.

If I'm not mistaken, the COP owns it.  Seriously, they have put money into far riskier ventures.  Charge enough rent to cover the utilities until it could hold its own financially.  Give financial incentives to longer lessees.  Charge a bit more for short term or monthly spaces.

It would be an attraction.  It would draw people to the Riverfront.  It would provide shopping for downtown and riverfront residents, current or future, a place to shop and not have to hop across the river or to ??? in Peoria.

Really Peoria, could it be a worse financial decision than Globe, Midtown, Gateway and several other bad, money losing fiascoes this city has financed?

Seriously, take a look at the above two links.  Understand that these are far larger cities than Peoria and I'm not suggesting anything of these places magnitude.

Come on' Peoria, you know you want to.....

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Wine, Art, Jazz & Balloon Festival 2013

The 5th annual Wine, Art, Balloon & Jazz (and food) Festival will be held from 12PM - 8PM at Manito's Memorial Park on Saturday ay 25, 2013.  Currently, there are going to be 12 Illinois wineries, artists displaying several different mediums of creativity, three jazz acts (Joe Metzka & Friends, Kevin Hart & The Vibe Tribe and David Hoffman (who was the trumpet player for Ray Charles) & Friends).  There are several hot air balloonist on board and we are waiting to hear back from others.  Food will be available from several different restaurants and caterers.  $10 admission gets you a souvenir wine glass and 5 tasting tickets.  You can buy additional tasting tickets or bottles of wine directly from the wineries.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

I'm sorry, we don't have Merlot.

As most of you know, I work for a small, Midwestern (heart of Illinois) winery.  As the executive chef of the restaurant located within our complex, my staff is frequently asked for wines which we do not sell.  "I'd like a Merlot." or "What Pinot Grigios do you have?"  Unfortunately, we have none of these as we are solely promoting the wines we make.

I have to assume a few things.  1. As we are next door to the winery itself, some may not know we are owned by the winery and do not sell their wines.  2.  People may think we sell other wines other than what we produce.  3.  People don't know that we do not produce wines if those grapes aren't grown in our vineyard or from growers within Illinois.  4. They just don't read the wine list.  Its all good; we are here to help and educate our customers about our wines.

Grapes like Merlot, Syrah (Shiraz), Pinot Grigio, Moscato, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and other French varietals (which the exception of Riesling and maybe Cabernet Franc which is showing some success) do not grow well in Illinois or in most places in the Midwest.  If you see these wines available at a local winery, you may want to ask of their origin if that matters to you. The winters are too cold and the summers not long enough for the successful bud break, formation and ripening of those grapes.   To adjust and be successful, we have to plant grapes that can survive and flourish in these conditions such as Frontenac, Chambourcin, St. Croix, Leon Millot, Noiret, Concord, Norton, Marechal Foch, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Chardonel (whose parentage is part Chardonnay), Vignoles, Traminette (related to Gewurztraminer) and LaCrosse to name several. 

Of course, some who have never tried wines from these grapes are going to have some reservations and questions as these grapes won't produce wines that taste like the more popular grape varieties.  There are a few ways of going about it.  Be adventurous and jump right in.  Some people, such as me, will go to a store's wine section (yes, I drink wine other than what wine the winery produces!), stand in front of the Spain or Argentina section, look for a grape varietal I've never seen before and snatch it up.  You may like it, you may not, but so be it either way, it was an adventure!  At our restaurant, our wine list gives descriptions of the wines and to which familiar wines they are somewhat comparable.  Tell a staff member what you like and we will be glad to recommend something.  We will do our best to get a you a light fruity white or big, dry red although it won't be the Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio or Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon you are used to.drinking.  Or you can try them.  By law, we can pour you three (3) one ounce samples to help you decide.

A minute part of the time, we both may have to make a compromise.  As we, as well as many smaller wineries, sometimes can't keep up with the demand (we keep planting more grapes!) and we may be out of a comparable wine to suit your tastes which means you will unfortunately have to settle on something a bit different.  We apologize.  And sometimes, we just may not have a style of wine.  Right now, the slightly bubbly, sweet Moscato is the rage, but we don't have the technology to produce something reasonably close to this.  Our winery does have something light, sweet and fruity, though...just no bubbles.

So, if you are heading out to try an Illinois or other Midwest winery, go with an open mind and palate to experience some different types of wine.  Who knows, you may end up with a new favorite!!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Four Restaurant Reviews


I know I haven't done these in an age yet it was one of the reasons I set up this blog.  But as with all of us, things change, interests change, available time seems at a premium, plus I've completely change my diet and now that I cook everyday, a.  I don't really need to go out to eat  b. kinda get sick of seeing food all day and most days off I'm content with fruit and popcorn.  And I have to complain about our government on several different levels and issues.  However, over that last month or so, I've hit a few places.  I'm not going into full blown reviews, just some observations, etc.  These are in no specific order of preference.

Sazani's Steak and Pasta House.  This is the old Jill's on Galena restaurant that is north of the IVY Club and south of where I 474 meets Route 29.  Couldn't believe how packed this place was on a Tuesday night in the winter.  Anyway, after a bit of a wait we were seated.  Very nice place and surroundings.  Never went here when it was Jill's but I'm going to assume it is the same except for all the Italian-esque pictures on the walls.  I had the veal roll special stuffed with proscuitto (I love spell check for this...wants to change proscuitto to prostitute) and cheese in a mushroom/marsala sauce.  My dining accomplice had the Farfalle with shrimp, scallops, sundried tomatoes in a pink vodka sauce.  The portions huge and hot.  The salad nothing fancy.  I ordered a glass of the house red wine and I think I got a third of a bottle for $6.  There was some wait for food, but I kind of expected that as when we got there, it appeared that a lot of people had just ordered or were starting to order plus there was a group in one of the banquet rooms.  I have nothing bad to say here.  The menu consists of mostly Italian fare, but you can find fried chicken and buffalo wings and the prices very reasonable.  But one v-e-r-y odd thing:  Nice surroundings.  Nice silverware.  Nice tablecloths.  Attentive staff.  Very good food.  Yet the water glasses were these 24 ounce plastic/pebbled Pepsi glasses that looked like they have seen better days at the local diner.  Huh?  Oh, well, definitely not a reason not to go back...just kinda found it hilarious/odd.

Hokkaido.  This is the former Chinese buffet near Walmart across from Childers (God, I'm jonsing for their Eggs Benedict) on North University.  If you go here for no other reason, you have to check out the remodel/decorating.  1. You'll never believe this was the old Chinese buffet it was  2. Wow.  Just simply Wow.  They offer Chinese, Japanese and  a bit of Thai food on a regular menu.  They also have a sushi bar and a Hibachi grill room and a bar.  There is no longer a buffet, which to the disappointment of one couple who came in about the same time as I, but were annoyed (for a nicer, better word) that it no longer existed and left.  I went for a late lunch and noticed an all you can eat sushi for $12.95.  That was the ticket.  Now, fair warning:  there are some stipulations to this all you can eat thing.  You don't eat all of what you ordered, they'll charge you for it (which is probably better than having to deal with my mother with her timer and paddle if I didn't eat my peas when I was a child).  From some of the waste I have seen at Chinese buffets, I completely understand this.  I had four different rolls: Sweet potato, Dragon, Mango Tango and an American Roll.  The Dragon and Mango rolls were HUGE.  All tasty but I thought (personal preference here) that the rice was a bit under seasoned. However, I'm a purist and don't drown them in soy sauce, wasabi, Ranch Dressing, A-1 or ketchup. Can't wait to go back, but who knows when that will be.

Candlelight Inn.  Another new restaurant in a former restaurant location, Candlelight Inn is situated in the former 3o9 space in Junction City.  While I was waiting for my Dining Accomplice to arrive, I ordered a Bourbon on the Rocks (I don't remember now what it was...something mid-shelf).  Holy God!  The thing was huge and $10.  I don't know if I'm complaining here or not, but I would have hated to see a double.  I know I didn't finish it all.  Anyway, my D.A. arrived from a going away party and wasn't overly hungry so it was soup and salad.  Nothing much to report there.  After looking over the menu and not finding anything overly exciting, I had the crab cakes with rice and a salad.  Salad was nothing to write home about, but I did enjoy the cucumber dressing.  The crab cakes were fairly good sized and three of them.  WOW!  While loaded with crab, it certainly wasn't jumbo lump (and I really didn't expect to be for the price) and looked more like special crab meat which is all white shredded body meat.  Not the best I've had; far from the worst.  Back to the menu for a bit.  Apparently, Candlelight is one of several Candlelights that hail from northern IL.  They seem pretty excited about an item called Chicken George which I have no clue to what it is.  But the menu looks more like something from 1970's items to which my parents are accustom.  Nothing trendy here....except for the bar.

El Nopal.  Well, I finally got here after furiously bitching that when some big name chain fried chicken sandwich joint opened they got a ton of free press from the PJ Star, but when a locally owned business opens, ya don't hear squat.  Then the PJ Star writes a mediocre review.  Kinda why I like to give a place a little time to get their bearings together before I write a review, but I understand Peoria's mentality is trying to be first to the new place and then gripe when things aren't perfect.  Sorry for the tirade and on to the review.  Located in a slightly hidden, nondescript mini strip mall sort of thing at 3127 North Prospect, just north of Forest Hill, it has also housed several ill fated restaurants as Maria's and most recently Off-The-Bone Smokehouse Restaurant.  The place hasn't changed much between different ownerships, but now has Mexican decorations/theme.  I was greeted with chips and salsa, which the chips were standard fare, but the salsa was different than anything I've seen.  It was the consistency of tomato soup with chunks of onions and cilantro floating about.  While kudos for something different and a nice flavor, it was a bit hard to eat with tortilla chips.  For the main course,  I had the Mole Rojo and a side of Guacamole.  My Dining Accomplice had the Chile Rellenos.  First, the guac...this had to be some of the richest flavored guac I've had.  A hint of sweetness, very creamy and little chunks of avocado, onion, bell pepper, tomato and cilantro.  The Mole.  This was a bone-in chicken thigh and leg that just was fall off the bone tender.  The mole sauce was, dark, flavorful and just a hint of heat.  Next trip, just bring me a bowl of this and chips and skip the salsa!  It came with the obligatory yellow-ish rice which, as with most Mexican restaurants around here, is pretty nondescript.  My D.A.'s two nice sized cheese stuffed polanos in a red sauce were fork tender and were given two thumbs up.  When served, I could smell these over my mole.  Now does El Nopal compare to El Mexicano and Mi Familia?  I think there are obvious differences.  The menus are somewhat different at all 3 places (well, they all have the usual tacos, etc.)  El Nopal seems more geared to sitting down and comfortably enjoying your meal at a leisurely pace while the other two just have more a "fast food" establishment feel (but definitely not crappy fast food food).  I'm obviously far more excited about this place than the PJ Star.

And something else to report.  Lately, I've acquired a taste for bourbon.  But, like Scotch, I can't take the cheap stuff (but unlike Scotch I don't have to have the uber expensive stuff like Glenroth's 18 year old or Balvanie 21 year old Port wood aged to be able to drink it). While at The Fat Fish Pub in Galesburg, a friend turned me on to Cody Road Bourbon and Cody Road Rye made by the Mississippi Distilling Company in Le Claire, Iowa which uses locally sourced grain for this.  While either are a bit smoother than my usual (10 year old Eagle Rare Single barrel, which is 90 proof compared to Cody Road's 80 proof), they lack the depth of the Eagle Rare.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, just a different style.  I like to support local business if I can and while it isn't exactly local, it is regional and does use some Illinois grain in their products.  And it sounds like a road trip!!

So, there you have it.  Hopefully, I can get back to doing this a leeeeettle more frequently.

See You Around The Table.....

Chef Kevin