Category Archives: dining

Restaurants, cafes, markets, specialty foods, chefs and other food related content. Vegetarian friendly restaurants and dining optiions preferred.

Big Bowl Restaurant in Schaumburg Hosts Summer Roll Class

Big Bowl in Schaumburg treated their best customers to a summer rolls making class. When we eat lunch at Big Bowl, we always order these appetizers. Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard taught the session, assisted by Schaumburg Big Bowl Executive Chef Eddie Gomez.

We sat in tables of four with prepared fresh vegetables in front of us. Marc described the seasonal ingredients Big Bowl uses and their mission to serve local, organic and eco-friendly foods when possible. Marc highlighted the vegetable choice for make your own stir fry meals and noted where each of these items came from.

Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard highlights local, organic and eco friendly produce

Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard highlights local, organic and eco-friendly produce

Big Bowl sources produce from four local farms and many of which use organic methods. Marc recently bought a five acre farm that he and his partner work. Some of the vegetables Big Bowl serves are grown at the farm. Big Bowl Schaumburg General Manager Sean Schorp told me the staff at Big Bowl leased a two acre farm and they work the land themselves for more local produce. “We are growing garlic, cilantro and other foods for our restaurant. The only time it is hard to get amazing fresh produce is the dead of winter,” he continued. “Some farms are installing hot houses.”

Big Bowl Schaumburg sources produce from local farms

Big Bowl Schaumburg sources produce from local farms

Marc described each summer roll ingredient beginning with the package of hard rice paper or spring roll skins. We also had seasoned noodles, pickled vegetables, carrots, bean sprouts, red bell peppers, seasonal lettuce and chopped peanuts at our tables. Marc combined flat rice noodles with sesame seed oil, peanut oil, lime juice and fresh herbs. We saw how salting the vegetables and letting them sit draws out water and condenses flavors.

Marc dipped the rice paper skins, a hard plastic like disk which softens up when dipped in water, and stretched the sheet out on the workspace. He layered the fresh produce in the center and demonstrated the rolling technique. He pulled the rice skin tightly over the food while compressing the rest of the roll.

Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard demonstrates summer roll making

Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard demonstrates summer roll making

Then it was our turn to make Big Bowl’s famous summer rolls. Each of us started with a rice paper skin and filled the sheet with noodles and veggies of our choice. We rolled the rice paper over the colorful mix with varying degrees of success.

Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard offers tips to Noel F. Williams

Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard offers tips to Noel F. Williams

At the end our class, Big Bowl treated us to their tasty summer rolls prepared by Big Bowl’s chefs and served with a variety of tasty homemade sauces. Big Bowl Schaumburg is part of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises with 31 restaurant concepts.

Big Bowl on Urbanspoon

Big Bowl Asian Kitchen on Foodio54

Cafe Firefly Coffee Shop Algonquin for Work or Relaxing

Cafe Firefly in the heart of historic downtown Algonquin is the perfect place for a few hours of work on your laptop or relaxing with friends over coffee. Owner and head baker Allie Gilberts ensures the customer favorites such as Hello Dolly bars, Strawberry – Lemonade cupcakes and biscotti are always plentiful. <Update: I understand the new owner is Wade Merritt.> Daily specials change and may include cupcakes, cookies, scones and bar cookies. Several sandwich choices are on the menu for those with a heartier appetite. Drink selections include a variety of coffees, smoothies and hot chocolate.

Service is friendly and attentive often remembering your previous order. Tables and chairs are perfect for working or informal meetings. Log in to your laptop or tablet with the free wi-fi.

Curl up with a thick book on the couches near a corner wall of windows and soak in the natural light. When the weather is temperate, take your order out on the patio and watch the downtown scene pass by.

Allies’s Cafe Firefly treats must spark creativity. Recently a guitarist quietly strummed as I reconnected with a friend. Open mic nights draws locals with various talents.

Follow Cafe Firefly on Twitter, Facebook and check in using FourSquare to earn loyalty bonuses.

Allie GIlbert's coconut lime cupcakes at Cafe Firefly

Allie GIlbert’s coconut lime cupcakes at Cafe Firefly

Cafe Firefly on Urbanspoon
Cafe Firefly on Foodio54

Papa G Restaurant Serves Greek Specialties in Elburn Illinois

Heading back from a trip to Sandwich, Illinois, we stopped at Papa G’s in Elburn for lunch. It was a Sunday morning and we has a short wait for a table. The restaurant is bright, clean and airy. The specials of the day were cheese or vegetable lasagna.

While perusing the menu, we ordered saganaki. The cheese appetizer arrived hot, though not flamed at the table, as is common at many Greek restaurants. Accompanying bread basket selections included raisin bread hearty French bread, crackers, bread sticks, butter and jelly.

Saganaki at Papa G's

Saganaki at Papa G’s Elburn, Illinois

Our server was friendly and helpful. Searching for a vegetarian choice, she offered to have the kitchen make a custom wrap using the veggies on hand and salad dressing. This was served with cottage cheese and French fries. Noel ordered fried chicken, mashed potatoes chicken gravy. The meal came with broccoli, tomato and orange slices.

Fried Chicken dinner at Papa G's Elburn, Illinois

Fried Chicken dinner at Papa G’s Elburn, Illinois

The large menu includes burgers, steak, Greek salads, pasta, chicken and Athenian steak includes some vegetarian items. A large party celebrated a family event in a separate room in the rear of the restaurant separated by glass doors.

Papa G’s is also located in Huntley, Illinois.
Papa G's on Urbanspoon

Papa G's on Foodio54

Saturday Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market

Early Saturday mornings the crowds begin to gather at the Saturday Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market. Vendors set up early for shoppers who arrive as early at 7 AM to select their fresh produce. Purchases can not be collected until the air horn goes off at 7:30, announcing the official opening.

Local farmers bring fresh tomatoes, papayas, greens, apples, oranges, pineapple, onions, potatoes, sweet corn, mangoes. Treat yourself to exotic foods like Dragon fruit, ramubtan, dragons eyes, purple potatoes, cherimoya.

Tables are covered with colorful orchids, tropical flowers and we see customers leave with huge bouquets. Other delicacies include honey, salsa, kettle corn, pastries and breads.

When you finish shopping, treat yourself to breakfast from one of the many food vendors. Crowd favorites include Kona coffee, heirloom tomato pizza, Egyptian chicken, fried green tomatoes, Portuguese sausage and eggs. The Hawaiian staple, loco moco plates include a scoop of rice, scoop of macaroni salad, eggs all smothered in gravy topped with meat, often hamburger.

Da Spot one of the Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market vendors

Da Spot one of the many vendors at K

There is but one picnic table in the park to sit and eat your meal. Best bet is to find a curb or a spot on the retaining wall to eat. Bring a straw mat and enjoy a picnic on the grass.

By 9:00, the crowds are so thick is hard to navigate. The KCC farmers market is popular with Japanese tourists who arrive by the busload.

Crowds at Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market

Crowds gather early at Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market

Bring your own reusable shopping bags for comfort carrying your purchases through the market. The small parking lot fills up quickly. KCC is a short walk from the Diamond Head side of Waikiki. The college is located across from the entrance to Diamond Head state park.

Convenient Public transportation via The Bus drops passengers off and picks up in front of the farmers market. Ask for a transfer and your return trip is free.

Homemade Food at Country Kettle in Hancock Wisconsin

Just north of Madison, Wisconsin is home to the Country Kettle Family Restaurant. Sisters Tina and Kristi opened the diner in June 2005. The pair built their business on an empty field at the intersection on County Road V at I39.

While the restaurant was built new, it captures the feel of a 50-60’s era small town diner.

Country Kettle in Hancock Wisconsin

Country Kettle in Hancock Wisconsin

The quaint location is a local favorite, known for hand-dipped fried chicken, fish fry and prime rib dinners. The dining area is divided into three areas plus counter service. Wait staff was friendly and helpful and our food came up quickly.

Lunch and dinner menus include Burgers and other sandwiches, shrimp, salads. We started with the mozzarella sticks with were served piping hot and golden brown with a side of marinade sauce. this is Wisconsin and cheese curds are also on the menu.

Breakfast menu items include pancakes, French toast, eggs, hash browns and more.

I tried the soup of the day, creamy vegetarian green bean casserole with carrots for color, Our patty melt and veggie cheeseburger came to our table fast and hot, cooked to order. The fries golden brown with a hint of seasoned salt.

The Country Kettle is known for their desserts. We could not leave without tasting the Cherry Crumble pie served warm with two scoops of rich vanilla ice cream.

Homemade pie ala mode served with a smile at Country Kettle in Hancock, Wisconsin

Homemade pie ala mode served with a smile at Country Kettle in Hancock, Wisconsin

Kristi is known for her custom cakes. One wall is covered with pictures of her whimsical creations.

While we dined, we heard another table send their kudos to the kitchen staff for a delicious meal.

Tina told us, “we are known for our homemade food. We make our our gravy, soups and peel potatoes for our mashed potatoes.”

Near the door is a sign asking “Where are you from?” and maps of the local area and the United States. It was surprising to see pins marking visits from diners from Alaska to Hawaii to Florida.
Country Kettle Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Downtown Dogs of Algonquin Hot Dogs, Fries and Soft Serve Cones

I stopped in at Downtown Dogs N More of Algonquin a couple of weeks ago. Turned around and abruptly left. Why? The place was jammed!

So last week I got there early enough to beat the crowd  and now I know why it was so busy. I had their special, 2 dogs fries and a drink for 4 bucks. The dogs were great.

The dogs were great. The home-made fries are excellent and we topped of the meal with chocolate dipped soft-serve cones. I’m looking forward to trying one of Downtown Dogs’ burgers.

Eat in the restaurant or take your order to go.

Downtown Dogs N More Algonquin, Illinois

Downtown Dogs N More Algonquin, Illinois

Downtown Dogs N More on Urbanspoon

Focus on Sustenance at Duke’s Alehouse and Kitchen Crystal Lake

Duke’s Alehouse in Crystal Lake features food and specialty beers while using local and organic products. One page of the menu lists local farmers Duke’s buys from and the items they provide for the restaurant. General Manager and Chef Zak Dolezal is committed to sustenance.

We dined on the outdoor patio just off Main Street and across from the train station in downtown Crystal Lake. The shade from the umbrellas, gentle breeze and greenery added to the pleasant atmosphere. Music played in the background and was not overwhelming. The lunchtime crowd included professionals dressed in office wear.

The beer menu includes an extensive list of microbrew beers grouped by varieties. Our server was well versed on the offerings and suggested specifics after asking about our tastes. We choose a Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen with an orange slice and Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.

Appetizers looked tempting though we took a pass this visit. The roasted beet salad with endive, blue cheese and candied pecans was a hit. We asked for the bacon dressing on the side making this a vegetarian salad.

Mac and Cheese with Beet Salad at Duke's Alehouse in Crystal Lake

Mac and Cheese with Beet Salad at Duke’s Alehouse in Crystal Lake

On to the vegetarian entrees. The baked mac and cheese was creamy and hot. The grilled eggplant Parmesan came stuffed with bulgar wheat and kale, topped with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese. Both were delicious.

Duke's Alehouse Grilled Eggplant Parmesan

Duke’s Alehouse Grilled Eggplant Parmesan

Stop at Duke’s to celebrate Meatless Monday’s where all vegetarian entrees are half price. Vegetarian and vegan items are clearly noted on the menu. Dolezal and Duke’s focus on sustainability includes hosting a monthly Green Drinks meet up.

Duke's Alehouse and Kitchen on Urbanspoon
Duke O'Briens on Foodio54

Rice Fusion Sushi Restaurant on Randall Road in Algonquin

Rice Fusion Sushi is an Asian fusion restaurant located in the Algonquin Commons shopping center along the Randall Road corridor. We stopped by for lunch on a recent Saturday afternoon. The menu includes fusion Chinese, Japanese and Thai specialties including many vegetarian items. They take special care to ensure all food is presented attractively.

Our server was attentive and helped us choose our food. The sushi was fresh and we liked all the dished we sampled.

Our meal started with a peanut and avocado maki roll, an interesting mix of creamy and crunchy textures. Miso soup and salad with house ginger dressing made daily was served next. Stacked pieces of Agedashi Tofu sat on a banana leaf accompanied by an orange slice and orchid blossom.

Agedashi Tofu at Rice on Randall Road in Algonquin

Agedashi Tofu at Rice Fusion Sushi Restaurant on Randall Road in Algonquin

Peanut and Avocado Maki Roll at Rice Restuarant

Peanut and Avocado Maki Roll at Rice Fusion Sushi Restaurant

Noel had the sashimi lunch; eight pieces of fish including salmon, tuna, crab and fluke.  This was served with a dollop of fine black masago.

Sashimi lunch at Rice Fusion Sushi Restaurant in Algonquin

Sashimi lunch at Rice Fusion Sushi Restaurant in Algonquin

My Hibachi Tofu came with a choice of white or brown rice and soup or salad.

Save room for dessert! We tried two items and they were both delicious. The chocolate caramel pyramid was cool and creamy as it melted in my mouth. The green tea and vanilla mochi balls were layered with whipped cream in a martini glass.

Green Tea and Vanilla Mochi in a Whipped Cream Cloud Next to Chocolate Caramel Pyramid

Green Tea and Vanilla Mochi in a Whipped Cream Cloud Next to Chocolate Caramel Pyramid at Rice Fusion Sushi Restaurant in Algonquin

There are many items our server recommended that we plan to try on our next visit, including Thai Coconut Soup and Sweet Potato Roll. Choose from three maki rolls from a special menu for $12.

Full bar service is includes a choice of Asian beers. The interior of the restaurant is red and black with a Chinese flavor. A smiling Buddha greats you as you enter the restaurant. For those who cannot make it to Rice, delivery is available.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Rice.

Rice Fusion Sushi | 2523 N. County Line Rd. Algonquin, IL 60102 | 847.658.5233

Rice on Urbanspoon

Aladdin Deli at Milwaukee Public Market

Aladdin Deli at Milwaukee Public Market Third District

We had lunch at Aladdin Deli while at the Milwaukee Public Market. Many Middle Eastern favorites are on the menu at this fast food location. Select your choices including vegetarian selections to prepared to eat there or packaged to go.

The deli counter offers portions for dinners or parties. Hummus, Egyptian Rice, Dolmas, Baklava and other specialties are available in the glass case.

We had the Vegetarian Combo and Gyros plates. Both were served with pita and hummus. The falafel was crisp and hot. The Egyptian rice had lentils, garbanzos, elbow noodles as well as rice. It was an delicious combination.

Aladdin Deli at Milwaukee Public Market

Aladdin Deli at Milwaukee Public Market

Aladdin Deli at Milwaukee Public Market on Urbanspoon

Milwaukee Public Market

Milwaukee Public Market in Third District

The Milwaukee Public Market in Third District is the place to be for an unique selection of artisan foods. There is a wide variety and a large selection of vegetarian items. My biggest struggle was narrowing my choices. The first floor of the market is packed with restaurants and stores offering local foods, drinks, flowers and kitchenware.

Select items either to go or eat in. Plenty of tables for dinig are available upstairs or outside. We purchased foods at one location and ate at another vendor where we purchased drinks. I found many vegetarian selections to choose from including items at Aladdin – Taste of the East, Pita Works, The Soup & Stock Pot, The Green Kitchen and Margarita Paradise.

Follow the Milwaukee Public Market on Twitter and Facebook.

Milwaukee Public Market
Milwaukee Public Market

Milwaukee Public Market on Urbanspoon