Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chicago Brauhaus Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives

Okay, I'll admit it, I am a Guy Fieri, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (triple D) fanatic. A couple of years ago I was able to visit Guy's Johnny Garlic's restaurant in Santa Rosa, California. Much to my disappointment Guy was not there. I just loved their coconut shrimp. I loved it so much I just had to have it again. On my second visit I was given a very rough recipe for the coconut shrimp.
Coconut Shrimp with Sweet Chili Sauce
So one day, as I often do, I'm watching triple D when an episode comes on featuring the Chicago Brauhaus, located in Lincoln Square, in Chicago. In this episode (Coast to Coast Chow), Chef Harry Kempf makes his Sauerbraten and Rouladen. Two of my very favorite foods! The episode was so good that I began salivating immediately. Since I have never been to the Chicago Brauhaus, I called two of my sisters, made a reservation, and off we went a couple of days later. 
Lincoln Square
From the outside you don't get a real feel for the size of this restaurant. When we entered the front door I was pleasantly surprised with the size of this restaurant, or the fact that they had a band playing.
The hostess said that the restaurant seats about 180 guests. Within moments we were greeted by the chef himself. I explained that I saw him on triple D and just had to come. We were promptly shown to our reserved table and given menus. This was getting interesting. 
I opened the menu and immediately noticed something that you won't find on many menus these days. On the appetizer menu Hackepeter was on the menu. If you are unfamiliar with Hackepeter, it is non-other than Steak Tartare. The menu description was: "Steak tartar bowl - fresh ground lean beef accompanied by a farm fresh egg yolk, onions, capers, anchovies and paprika." I enquired about the portion size since nobody at my table was interested in trying, or sharing my Hackpeter.  The waitress said that it was a generous portion and we could share. I'll have to go back and try it some time. When we make Hackpeter  (once in 20 years) it just brings back memories of my father.
My Hackpeter
Our waitress took our order. The waitress offered a choice of soup or salad. The waitress said that they made their own house salad dressing. My sisters had the lentil soup and raved about it. My brother-in-law, my wife and I had the salad. The house salad dressing was so good that you could drink it.
What to order? I came for the sauerbraten and rouladen, but the gebackene ente (half crispy roasted young duckling) and the wiener schnitzel also looked good. These would just have to wait. I was on a mission. My wife ordered the rindsroulade (thin sliced sirloin of beef rolled with mustard, bacon, onions, and pickle) with spätzle, and red cabbage (rotkohl). I ordered the sauerbraten (marinated beef, served with potato dumplings (kartoffelklösse) and red cabbage. The plan was simple, my wife and I would each eat half of the Sauerbraten and Rouladen and then switch plates. 
When I was served the rouladen and spätzle the smell and the presentation reminded me of meals at my grandmother's house so many Sunday's ago.  Other than the addition of a dill pickle spear, this was almost exactly like our homemade version. 
Sauerbraten with potato dumplings
The sauerbraten, on the other hand was not at all like the one that we make. In Germany there are many sauerbraten recipes, each unique to a region, although not uncommon to vary in the same family. The Chicago Brauhaus uses cinnamon and cloves in their recipe, which is an acquired taste. In our family, the flavor of the sauerbraten comes from ginger snaps. The dumplings were not at all like our kartoffelklösse, but still very good. If you've never had German red cabbage (rotkohl), you're in for a real treat. They serve it family style and it is slightly tart. I loved it.
After dinner our waitress cleared our plates and while we were all very full, we decided to order two desserts.
Apple Strudel (Apfelstrudel) 
After dinner Chef Harry came to our table and asked how the food was. I told him that I was full. He said that was good because when you're full, you don't get wrinkles. The fact that an owner or chef takes the time to see that his guests are enjoying their meal, is often lacking in many restaurants. 
Upon our arrival the restaurant was about half filled. When we departed the restaurant was full and people waiting outside to walk in. How Lincoln Square and the Chicago Brauhaus escaped me for all of these years I'll never know. If you're looking for a German dining experience give it a try.

Guten Appetit!

© TMelle 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Ultimate Omelet Bar

If anyone is paying attention, I spent nearly 20 years of my life traveling for work, going from one hotel to another all over this great country of ours. I always felt safe ordering breakfast while on the road. How do you screw up breakfast? 
I quickly learned that the fixed price breakfast buffet was not always your best choice. How do you screw up scrambled eggs? Easy! There are commercial products on the market to use in place of butter. These products, their marketing claims aside, just don’t taste like butter. 
Real Butter
I just love omelets. They are, in my opinion the perfect breakfast food. The best part is that they’re made to order, or should be. Whenever I stayed in a hotel with an “omelet bar,” or “ultimate omelet bar” as part of their breakfast buffet, I just had to go. An omelet station requires a table, a portable cook top, non-stick 8” omelet pans, mixing bowls, small whisks or forks, a silicone spatula, room temperature eggs mixed with a little water or milk, butter, margarine, or cooking oil sprays, and an assortment of fillings. The choice of fillings really is unlimited by your imagination. Don’t forget the toaster. Making toasts keeps your guests busy while you prepare their omelet.
Some omelet ingredients
Chopped lobster would be nice

For an American omelet bar, individual ingredient bowls filled with cheeses like American, cheddar, and Swiss might be a good start. For the meat filling section of your omelet bar, precooked ham, bacon, and sausage might be good choices. Sliced mushrooms, diced tomatoes, onions, green, red, and yellow peppers, or spinach are great fillings as well. To raise the bar on your omelet bar you might consider adding cooked shrimp, crab, or lobster for that truly east coast theme. An assortment of fresh fruit slices make great garnishes for your breakfast omelet bar.
Got to have some bread
I recently went to a local restaurant and ordered a bacon and cheddar cheese omelet. When it was served to me it was the fluffiest omelet I had seen in a very long time. I approached the cook and inquired how they got their omelets to be so big and fluffy. I wondered if they added flour to give it some lift. “We use seven eggs in our omelet.”  He replied. OMG! I had just consumed a seven egg omelet with bacon and cheese! Please don’t tell my cardiologist that. You don’t need to use seven eggs to get great  fluffy omelet.  For the average person a 1, 2, or 3 egg omelet should do it.
Seven egg omelet with cheese
I think many people are intimidated when it comes to making omelets. You don’t need to be if you know some simple steps to making perfect, or nearly perfect omelet every time. Many people say an omelet should not be brown at all. The French come to mind. I prefer my omelet with some golden brown on it. My perfect omelet!      
My perfect omelet
So how, do tell, do you make the perfect omelet? I'm glad that you ask. There are many theory's on what ingredients to use when making an omelet. Obviously you need some room temperature eggs, some milk, cream, and/or a little bit of water, some salt, a fork or a whisk. 
Break some eggs
Melt some butter
Break your eggs into a glass bowl. Add a splash of milk, cream, or a little bit of water. Sprinkle a pinch of salt into the egg mixture. Whisk the eggs together for a couple of minutes to add some air to the eggs. Place an 8" inch skillet on the cook top and turn on the heat. Melt some butter in the pan. When the butter begins to bubble the pan is hot enough to start making an omelet. 
The omelet begins
A silicone spatula works well here. Pour the beaten egg mixture into the heated skillet. The minute the egg mixture hits the hot skillet, the eggs will begin cooking. Using the edge of the spatula push the eggs away from the sides towards the center of the skillet. You will notice the uncooked eggs from the top will immediately fill in the bottom of the skillet previously occupied by the cooked eggs with the uncooked eggs from the top. 
See the curds forming in the center?
Tilt the skillet to get more uncooked eggs

Continue using the edge of the spatula to push the eggs away from the sides towards the center of the skillet until the eggs no longer flow into the empty area. If you like your eggs soft and a little runny, then begin adding your favorite toppings now. 
Add crispy bacon now

You are now ready to flip your omelet.  You could simply flip your egg in the pan, or if you're not up to that, carefully slide the spatula under the egg, rock the skillet to loosen the egg from the pan, and in one swift motion flip the omelet over and then add your toppings.  Once the toppings are on your omelet you are ready for the fold. Some people roll them and some fold.
Crab meat filling

The fold
Back in the late 60's, I worked as a short order breakfast cook. Hey you've gotta eat right? It was here that I learned to decorate an omelet with good old fashioned American cheese. 
Cut the cheese diagonally into 3 or more pieces
Place the cheese on your omelet so that when it melts it will mold to the omelet. In a restaurant kitchen you would place this under a broiler  (salamander) until the cheese melts.
Ready to melt
One the cheese melts remove the omelet from the broiler, place it on a plate, add a garnish and serve. Fresh fruit, or grilled tomatoes make excellent garnishes. 
Your choice of omelets is endless. Omelet making is a skill that is not difficult to master and will certainly impress your family, or your guests.  

© TMelle 2012