Saturday, April 27, 2013

Woodman's Market

Place: Taco Tico
Lunch (actually also probably dinner): Four tacos (mild, plus meat, no tomato), cheese enchilada, Pepsi (easy on the ice)

Poor Taco Tico. The corporate stores in Kansas...about a third of what's left of the chain total...were all shut down by the state due to unpaid taxes last month.  The owner filed bankruptcy and was supposed to re-open some of them, but I don't know if any stores actually did.  Their website is dead.  What's left is maybe a couple dozen franchised outlets here and there, including this one, who does things so much better than they were doing in Wichita it isn't even funny.  The food at the Wichita stores had become crap in recent years.  If all Tico's did things the way this one does, there'd still be hundreds of locations all over the Midwest.  You have a hard time finding a table at lunch on the weekends here.

So I was sitting in my office the other day, laughing maniacally at the absurdity of it all, when it hit me..."You know where I haven't been in forever?  Woodman's Market."

Road trip.

Woodman's Market is a Wisconsin chain of fifteen ginormous supermarkets.  They're just huge.  How huge?  Most 'big' standalone supermarket buildings today are in the 60,000-80,000 square-foot range.  Woodman's?  Over 200,000 square feet.  The Kenosha store, at 252,345 square feet, is the largest supermarket in the United States.  That puts their stores in the size range of bigger Walmart supercenters.

But unlike Walmart, they're not devoting 3/4 of the store to clothes, electronics, and general merchandise.  It's still a grocery store.  A grocery store with one of the widest varieties of everything you've ever seen.  Especially sausage and cheese, being in Wisconsin and all.  That area of the store is just ridiculous. They carry a lot of regional favorites from regions other than the upper Midwest too.  The liquor "department" rivals smaller grocery stores in size.

I can spend a good hour wandering the store.  I always find new things to try, especially when it comes to sausage.  Got some locally produced smoked kielbasa to try this time.  And a bunch of new Mexican frozen items I haven't seen before.  Plus some soup bowls and stuff in the International aisle.

Spent about $90, all told.

Might have to get creative with freezer space.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Place: Abelardo's
Lunch: Two ground beef tacos, rice, beans, Coke

I figured when Abelardo's fourth local store opened (in an old Mission-style Taco Bell building), it would instantly become their best performer because it would be the only Mexican drive-thru within a two-mile radius.  But on the way over this morning, I noticed one end of a new strip mall under construction a block to the west is taking the distinct shape and color of Taco John's.

That won't exactly be an unfamiliar scenario.  The first Abelardo's in town opened right next to an extisting Taco John's.  You have to enter the same driveway to get to either restaurant.  And the second Abelardo's is not only a block away from a new Taco John's, Abelardo's is housed in the old Taco John's building the new Taco John's replaced.

Only the third Abelardo's in town isn't anywhere near a Taco John's, and that store doesn't do any business.

Go figure.

Made a quick road trip to Texas over the weekend.  Weather couldn't have been more perfect.  Beautiful drive.

On the way back Sunday morning, I had breakfast at Whataburger.  The young crew of three working had that "partied too much last night to be working on a Sunday morning" look about them.  They were grumpy, they were groggy, and in between store duties, they'd run out the side door to take drags off the cigarettes they had sitting on the window ledge.

And that got me thinking...

I don't smoke, but I've always been around smokers.  My parents smoked.  Most of my girlfriends smoked. My wife died from complications that started as lung cancer, as did her father. All of these people smoked regularly and routinely inside the home.  The point being...I've been around cigarette smoke all my life.  It was once a far more acceptable behavior in society than it is now.  Even my high school had an officially designated student smoking area.

In the last decade or so, smoking in restaurants or most publicly accessible businesses has become illegal.  About the only indoor business people can smoke at anymore is casinos.  Even bars in most states aren't allowed smokers.  And as the smoke has cleared, so to speak, I've noticed that I'm far more sensitive to smoke when I'm around a smoker or in a casino.  Suddenly, it annoys me.

So here's these kids going out and smoking, then running back in and making my food.  They're not washing their hands, and they're breathing their freshly smoked breath in the kitchen.  Ever kissed a smoker?  You KNOW they're a smoker instantly.  Ever made love to a smoker?  You can TASTE it in every pore in every part of their body.  Smokers think they can disguise the odor with mints or perfume.  They can't.  They're fooling themselves.

So I actually found the behavior of this crew to be kind of gross.  Seems silly, particularly with my history, but I found myself wondering...should smokers be banned from being food handlers completely?  Or be banned from smoking at the workplace?

My food was fine.  It was made perfectly and tasted great.  I have no reason to believe food made by a non-smoker would have been any different.

Still makes me wonder.

Friday, April 05, 2013

The Balcony is Closed

Place: Taco Bell
Lunch: Nacho cheese Doritos Locos Taco Supreme (no tomato), Nachos Supreme (no tomato), beef Enchrito, Mug Root Beer

I have, for the record, tried the new Cool Ranch Doritos Locos taco.  I was disappointed.  It just doesn't have the 'pop' the nacho cheese one has. 

I paid tribute to Roger Ebert last night the only way I knew how...I made a Steak n Shake run.

It was his (and is my) favorite restaurant, after all.  And even though the idiots who work the drive-thru at the closest one to me sent me off with the wrong burger...again...I ate the whole thing in his honor.

(Maybe they gave me his favorite burger instead.  I don't know.)

Nothing reminds you of growing old like watching your heroes pass, and with Ebert, my five biggest have left us in just a few short years.

There are lots of movie reviewers out there.  Even I have a (really silly) movie review blog.  But Ebert was my favorite.  The thing about his reviews was that even if I didn't agree with his star rating, he told the reader just enough about each movie that I could get a pretty good idea if I would like it or not.  He didn't say too little.  He didn't say too much.  He didn't fill his reviews with big words or over-elaborate descriptions.  He wrote sensibly, and witty.  For a guy like me who just starts to glaze over at crap like that, he was the perfect writer.  That was true about all of his writing, even unrelated to movies.  Still, my all-time favorite line of his was movie-related...his plot summary of 2001's "Pearl Harbor", where he described it as "a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on December 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle".

Ebert lost his ability to speak due to cancer in 2006, which ended his television career, but didn't stop him from writing and reviewing movies.  If you read him, you pictured the Roger Ebert of the television days.  It was a shocking contrast to SEE him in recent years, but his knew the man was still fully there.

Ebert hadn't been writing many reviews recently as he worked through his latest health issues.  Ironically, I've only seen two movies in theatres so far this year.  And there's nothing I want to see for the foreseeable future....maybe until Iron Man 3.

That's something Ebert could have changed.  Not even necessarily with a positive review...just a good description.

Monday, April 01, 2013


Place: Original Tommy's
Lunch: Cheeseburger (no tomato), chili fries, Pibb

I was reading some reviews on Yelp for something else when I ran across reviews for Original Tommy's, a So-Cal tradition that's been around since 1946, who just recently started opening outlets in Vegas.

It was immediately apparent that newcomers to Tommy's often suffered a case of what I call "White Castle Syndrome".  Everybody's heard of White Castle, but since they operate in limited markets, most people haven't actually tried them.  After years of buildup by the White Castle faithful, when the moment finally arrives, they're expecting the holy grail of hamburgers and are horribly disappointed with the actual product....something they see as a meat flavored dinner roll.

Such is the case with Tommy's.  Tommy's "cheeseburger", like all their burgers (and pretty much every hot food item on the menu), is topped with chili.  The chili is an unapologetically greasy thick meat paste with a texture more like refried beans.  It's applied generously along with onions, mustard, a thick tomato slice (hold on mine please) and the biggest pickle slices you've ever seen.  It may be the gutbomb to end all gutbombs.  A number of the negative reviews of this particular location joke that the fact it's next to St Rose Dominican Hospital is a matter of convenience.

Being the lover of low-rent old school fast food that I am, I had to try it.  So I did so Saturday night.

And it's awesome.

It's the best chili cheeseburger I've ever had.

Good lord it's good.

I also sampled other things.  Amazingly, I'm not all that impressed with their chili dog.  Mostly because of the dog.  Or the chili fries.  The fries work much better with ketchup.  They also have a chili covered tamale I'll reserve for a future visit.  I'd wondered where Wienerschnitzel got that idea when they LTO'd one last year.

Anyway, I'm back today to make sure the burger was as good as I thought it was initially.

It is.  But even I couldn't down more than one or two of these a month.  Jeepers.

Las Vegas has become home to a lot of low-rent old-school chili and coney-related outposts in recent years.  Pink's is here.  Nathan's is here.  American Coney Island (from Michigan) is here.  Even Steak n Shake (best chili ever) has a location in a casino now.

Now if we could just convince Skyline to get out here...