Saturday, December 30, 2017


Place: Portillo's
Lunch (and dinner, really): Italian beef sandwich w/mozzarella dipped in gravy, cup of chili, chocolate cake shake

Chicago may have its fair share of high-end luxury eateries, but ask the local working class where to dine out and they will send you to Portillo's almost every time.

Founded by Dick Portillo (who could have walked right off the set of SNL's old "Daah Bears" skits) as a hot dog stand in a portable trailer, they specialize in Chicago dogs and Italian beef sandwiches.  But you can also get burgers, salads, ribs, chili, tamales, and more, and they do most everything pretty well.  Their chocolate cake is legendary.  Their chocolate cake shake, which is a very Dairy Queen-like chocolate shake with a slice of the chocolate cake mixed in, is a must try.  I'd put it in my top three all-time shakes (behind Steak n Shake's seasonal Caramel Apple and Winter White Chocolate shakes).  To say they do volume is an understatement.  This is a fast food with a drive-thru format with most menu items in the under $10 range, yet average store sales are around $8 million a year.  That's astounding.  That's not only well over triple what the average Chipotle or Applebee's does, it's approaching Cheesecake Factory-level sales.  Their drive-thru system is something to see at peak hours when they have staff standing outside to take your order and even deliver the food before you ever get to the window.

Another year of reflection is here.  Think of this as my annual holiday family letter home.  Your home, specifically, where I secretly live in your attic.

Who Needs Paper Anymore of the Year Pt 1 - I realized the other day that my kitchen calendar was still set to October.  And although I remember to change the month on my office calendar, I never use it.  So I guess my New Year's resolution is no more paper calendars.

Who Needs Paper Anymore of the Year Pt 2 - My sister visited for the first time in nearly 40 years and I hauled her around the Midwest to visit all the relatives.  Most of them noted that they hadn't managed to send out Christmas cards this year but said to me "I got yours, of course."  That was true for a lot of people...I sent out a couple dozen and got just four.

Random Compliment of the Year - "Excuse me, sir, but they should use you in their commercials.  The way you eat that chicken is passionate, slow, and inviting."  Said to me by a random customer in a Popeye's.

Dream of the Year - Dreamed I was at a gas station that was on fire.  Called 911, but the operator just wanted to talk about her kids.

Tacky Joke of the Year - Aristocrat Slots launched a Madonna-themed slot machine.  I don't even want to know where you drop the quarters.

Coal in Stocking of the Year - Another year of the so-called health care industry finding a cure for nothing, while pharmaceutical companies continued their path of turning the world into obscenely profitable prescription drug addicts, and health insurance companies skyrocketed rates while cutting benefits and outright eliminating coverage of certain drugs.  How any of these scumbags consider themselves human beings I'll never know.

Local Restaurant Debut of the Year - We got an R-Taco, a Texas fresh-Mex chain that makes cheap but very nice tacos of a wide variety.  Their breakfast brisket taco instantly won me over and put them in my regular breakfast rotation.

Fast Food LTO of the Year - Arby's Smokehouse Pork Belly sandwich.  Basically a slab of salted pork fat on a bun with bacon, cheese, and sauces.  SO tender.  SO tasty.  It was almost disappointing when you bit into an actual piece of meat.

Fast Food Fish Season LTO of the Year - White Castle enhanced their Lent offerings with Crab Cake Sliders, and they were excellent.  I actually went to a White Castle and had some with Shrimp Nibblers and no original Sliders.  Pretty sure that was the first time I ever ate at a White Castle without having original Sliders.

Fast Food Fail of the Year - When Steak n Shake';s big promotion is a variety of bacon cheeseburgers, but your location is out of bacon...

Fast Food Advertising of the Year - Fresh off a research study that more Burger Kings burn down than any other fast food chain, BK took out print ads touting flame broiling by featuring actual pictures of Burger King restaurant fires.

Pretty much sums up this year AND last, doesn't it.

Fast Food Flip of the Year - Hardee's started an expansion into New York in 2016 that apparently didn't go quite as planned, so this year they converted the stores to their sister brand Carl's Jr.

Ice Cream LTO of the Year - Braum's came out with a Mother's Circus Animal Cookie ice cream they used in a special sundae at their stores.  It was a pink ice cream with a nice yet indescribable flavor with chunks (basically halves) of the famous cookies throughout.  Scoops on little bundt cakes and topped in marshmallow topping, whipped cream, and a cherry.  So sweet and rich.

M&M's Flavor of the Year - Among the bajillion seasonal flavors M&M's rolled out for fall and Halloween was "Cookies & SCREEEM", dark chocolate with a white chocolate core in a purple speckled shell.  The official M&M of goth chicks everywhere.  They were also one of the most delicious M&M flavors ever.  They actually sort of tasted like hot chocolate.

Oreo of the Year - Oreo is just throwing away money by not making Cookie Butter a permanent offering.  They have done SO MANY FLAVORS well that they should open a dedicated retail store where they sell dozens of flavors year-round somewhere on the Las Vegas strip.  Maybe near the Coca Cola and M&M's stores.  Hershey World is right across the street.

Ill-Advised LTO of the Year - Fudge-covered Ritz crackers?  They were exactly as weird as you're thinking.

Drink of the Year - Gatorade Flow Smooth Blackberry.  Like drinking blackberry jam.  Better at room temperature than cold, oddly.  Or maybe not because that's actually true about a lot of Gatorade flavors.

Appliance Discovery of the Year - How did I live this long without knowing about hot dog toasters?

Movie of the Year - Lady Bird.  A GREAT high school coming-of-age dark comedy with a TON of scenes shot rapid fire with not a piece of dialogue wasted.

Television Show of the Year - We finally got the new Twin Peaks.  And it was so beyond what anybody expected it to be.  I will argue till my dying day that it was the greatest television ever made.  It was better than any MOVIE that came out this year.  I feel sorry for those of you who don't understand.

Sheep of the Year - You know how they run TV commercials at the movies before the feature?  You know those DirecTV ads where they compare liking cable to things like bumping your head that you see on TV a hundred times a day?  People still ACTUALLY LAUGH at those when they play in the theatre.

Dumb Commercial of the Year - Is there a more disturbing ad campaign than Charmin?: "It helps keep your underwear cleaner."  Said by animated bears who NEVER WEAR UNDERWEAR.

Album of the Year - The debut album by Charly Bliss, "Guppy", is loud and raw and weird and wonderful.  "DQ" is about as crazy as any song ever recorded.

Twitter Account of the Year - Whoever is behind the Las Vegas @GoldenKnights Twitter account is worth their weight

Retweet of the Year - "Be yourself (as if you had some choice in the matter)" - @NightValeRadio

Podcast Episode of the Year - Alice Isn't Dead: Part 2, Chapter 2: Mouth of the Water - Aside from being one of the most brilliantly written things I've ever heard, it hit me on a very personal level.  It vividly brought back a memory from my childhood of an encounter I had with a forbidden ship I can't believe I'd forgotten about.

Feeling Old of the Year - "The Lost Boys" turned 30 this year.  I still remember seeing it in the theatre.  Ex-Girlfriend-From-Hell #1 hated it.

Overheard Family Drama in a Wienerschnitzel of the Year - Girl 1: "I'd still be the same person even if I had a father."

Girl 2: "You HAVE a father."

Girl 1: "A TANGIBLE one."