Dani Raes Gulf Coast Kitchen – Denton, Texas

Jan 15

When I found out I was going to have an entire day off in Denton, Texas, I promptly opened my YELP app to see what the town had to offer I was was elated to see that there is a Gulf coast restaurant just off the Interstate 35W at the intersection of loop 288. Dani Rae’s, though a little hard to find and a smidge tough to get to, serves seafood in a place where BBQ & Mexican food is the norm, and is exactly the place to go when you want to break from the norm! It is so much a break from the norm that I ended up back at Dani Rae’s 3 more times after that fateful day I spent in their parking lot. So sit back fellow foodies and enjoy a my seafood escape.

I started my first meal off with a Bloody Mary and crab claws served in a lemon & herbs infused white wine sauce. Dani Rae’s has 2 types of Bloody Mary drinks. I ordered the spicy and is lined with cajun seasoning. I prefer the spiced version and the seasoning adds a nice kick with my Bloody Mary and loved the drink. It is one of those drinks that someone can take their time with, a sipping tea if you will. The crab fingers are simply shelled crab claws served in a white wine sauce. They are absolutely fabulous! The flavor of of the dish is so rich and I was really sad to see when I had finished the dish. Fortunately it is served with a 1/2 baguette cut into slices. I am not ashamed that after the claws were devoured, the white wine became a dipping sauce for the baguette chips. A really delicious pairing for the spiced and tomato heavy drink and crabs in a light sauce.

For lunch I would prefer something a little heavier, yet small in size so I went with the home made mac & cheese with sautéed crawfish. To balance out the heavy dish they have $1 Coors on draft. I originally ordered the Coors just in case I needed to pour a little beer into the mac & cheese because it is a restaurant dish that is really hard to keep moist and sometimes you just have to order a splash of beer. Nothing could be further than the truth with Dani Rae’s mac & cheese. The macaroni was spot on, the cheese was rich and creamy and there were several perfectly sautéed crawfish in every bite. There were no softies letting me know that there is NO cutting culinary corners at Dani Rae’s! As I said I ordered a few $1 Coors to go with the meal and for dessert I ordered the Texas Beignet. Dani Rae’s describes as a cross between a Louisiana beignet and a sopapilla. I will call it a sweet roll coated in cinnamon sugar and drizzled with agave nectar. You get 3 in an order. 1 is par, 2 is over-kill and the 3rd makes this a dessert for 2 or a triple dog dare for 1 person.

Getting off into the lunch-dinner menu and happy hour (3-6pm Mon-Sat & all day Sun) specials I had to try the Shrimp Brochette. This is bacon wrapped gulf with a jalapeño wedge stuffed into a butterfly cut. You receive 6 for lunch and 8 for the dinner portion. There are several side dishes that you can pair with the shrimp brochette, the staff and I recommend the dirty rice. Prepared in house, it is a brown rice blend with cajun spices and corn, this is a delicious side! I mentioned the happy hour and Sun special because Dani Rae’s also has $.75 gulf oysters served raw on the 1/2 shell. They are served with cocktail and ground horse radish so you can add to make the level to your choosing. I have no shame in saying I devour these little guys by the tray. My tray count for 6 meals in 3 days was 7.5 trays. Yeah, they’re good! They remind me of Chesapeake Bay oysters that I grew up with.

I have saved the best for last. When dining out a Gulf coast restaurant, one must have blackened catfish or etouffe. So having both in the same dish, I had to place an order. The catfish is simply prepared but pan seer and blacking with creole seasoning and pepper. The etouffe was unbelievable. The roux was perfect constancy, packed with peppers, celery, onions and with just a hint of rice. It is just spectacular and loaded with sautéed crawfish. I loved it! Super delicious dish and it is on both the lunch and dinner menu! To go with this powerfully flavor packed dish I went bold and ordered the key lime pie. Key Lime pie is a personal favorite of mine. It is best described as a art cheesecake. Dani Rae’s serves theirs with a whip and key lime drizzle that added that extra bit of tart to the dessert. I loved it! It was a great way to finish a delicious dish.

Any and everywhere you look at Dani Rae’s is a reminder that you are somewhere fun and even though you are 100′s of miles from the gulf coast, you are eating gulf coast cuisine. I was so happy that I chose Dani Rae’s as my first review of 2014. This place is fun and the staff is super friendly. I am looking forward to going back to sit down or grab another blackened catfish & etouffe to go. Logistically it is a little difficult to get a big truck to, fortunately it is next to a Tractor Supply Co., so parking and walking 100 steps make it easily accessible to you truckers. Don’t miss this gem. In fact, coming soon in Feb. the crawfish season is starting so mud bugs will be on the menu. I can’t wait to grab a steaming tray! In this and every other way, I am calling Dani Rae’s A DEFINITE DO AND DO AGAIN!

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Sam and Louie’s New York Style Pizza & Pasta – Alliance, Nebraska

Oct 15

Today my travels have brought me to the small town of Alliance, Nebraska. Located on the far wester side of the state at the cross-roads of US385 and NE2, Alliance is one of those quaint little American small towns with not much more than a truck stop, 1/2 dozen hotel/motels and a dozen restaurants. I was brought to Alliance, Nebraska by an alternator issue with my tractor. After checking into the my hotel, I asked the front desk where I could find a descent meal. I was promptly shown Sam and Louie’s in the adjoining parking lot.

Sam and Louie’s is a New York style Pizza & Pasta joint. So I found it fitting that my first meal at Sam and Louie’s Pizza & Pasta would be pizza and a beer. Not only did I order a New York style pizza, but a pizza with New York toppings. I am of course talking about one of my favorite pizza toppings, the Buffalo chicken pizza with blue cheese. Sam and Louie’s offers a variety of pie sizes from by the slice to a 12″,16″ and 18″ pie. Sam and Louie’s also serves gluten free pizza along with the grocery list of toppings to choose from. The pizza is great! Though a little too thick in the crust for a NYC style pizza, it did adhere to the criteria of soft dough and crisp crust that I would recognize as a NY style pizza. Pairing my NY pizza with my favorite beer from NYC’s neighboring Boston. My beer of choice to go with my New York pizza is a cold bottle of Sam Adams Octoberfest. It was delicious! I want to say that the drinks are 1/2 price from 3-6pm and oddly the Sam Adams costs less than most of the beers on tap.

After trying the Pizza first, I found it only fitting that now it would be time for Pasta. So for lunch I opted for the lasagna. After hearing that Sam and Louie’s has an in-hose prepared tomato sauce that tastes great on pizza but I wanted to try it on pasta. The lasagna is delicious! The sauce really works well. The layers of pasta are fresh and light. Sam and Louie’s also adds some of their sausage from the sausage pizza’s into the layers of lasagna, giving the lasagna a nice spice if you like. The piece of lasagna is super delicious and super massive and definitely not for 1 sitting. Between the salad and homemade roll, it would be best to have 1/2 boxed up because it is very easy to over-eat this delicious dish. The lasagna dish comes with choice of salads. I chose the Cesar which didn’t photograph well but it was delicious.

After trying the delicious homemade red sauce on pizza and lasagna, I thought it would a nice change to actually eat the tomato sauce on what one would typically use tomato sauce. My dinner is spaghetti and meatballs with a dinner roll with the center injected with butter. I want to say that I am not a fan of linguini or spaghetti. In my mind, the thinner the noodle the better. I loved the sauce but i found the spaghetti too over cooked and a slight bit rubbery BUT that is my thought on most noodles over angel hair. Too each their own I say. The meatballs are not only fresh and flavorful, but they are huge and can easily support a meaty bite with every fork full of spaghetti. Again, this dish is a great portion size. I again had 1/2 the meal boxed up before starting to eat. The Spaghetti and meatballs also comes with your choice of salad. At this point in my day, I was so full from the pizza, beer, Cesar salad, 1/2 lasagna portion and lunch time beer. Because of my food intake earlier, I did not have an adult beverage with my dinner. Instead I chose to finish my meal with a homemade double chocolate chipped brownie. This awesome chocolate treat is a great way to end dinner. With an option of having the brownie heated and served al a mode, it is easy to have a meal and dessert for 2.

I would like to thank the friendly staff of Sam and Louie’s for their great meals and choice of sports on any of their more than 1/2 dozen televisions. I had a great visit and positive experience in all my meals here. After enquiring, I found that Sam and Louie’s is a chain with several dozen restaurants. Most of the restaurants are in the Omaha and Lincoln areas of Nebraska with a few satellite stores in Scottsbluff, Sidney and Alliance. Sam and Louie’s also has locations in Des Moines, Iowa and Iola, Kansas. If you are in the mood for a great meal and tired of usual, come into a Sam and Louie’s and try any of their delicious pizzas or pastas. I am certainly glad Sam and Louie’s was so close to my hotel. I am calling Sam and Louie’s a Definite Do!

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Star 66 Cafe – Springfield, Illinois

Sep 30

Todays travels have brought me to Star 66 Cafe in Springfield, Illinois. Let me start by saying that Star 66 Cafe is a personal favorite roadside cafe that I found more than 6 years ago. I cant tell you how happy I was to find out that I was going to be in Springfield and that I can do a full review. I am not ashamed to say that I not only have been coming back religiously since, but I actually have driven more that an hour out route many times to dine here. Roadside cafe opened more than 12 years ago and fortunate for me, I found Star 66 Cafe more than 6 years ago because it is situated inside/next to the Pilot fueling station at the intersection of I55 and I72.

Whats great about Star 66 Cafe is that they are open 24 hours, so you can always get a great meal any time of day. For breakfast I decided to go for the Triple Berry Crepe plate. I do so love these thin little pancakes! After not being able to decide between the Apple Cinnamon, Cherry or Peach, so I decided to go for the triple berry to sample a few different tastes on 1 plate. The triple berry is made of cherry, blueberry and strawberry. I did enjoy the triple berry crepes very much. The 3 flavors are a great pair and played well together. You get the choice of sweet strawberry, playful blueberry or tart cherry. To top it off, you can top the crepes off with whipped cream. I decided to pairing the playful flavors of the crepes with the spicy zest of a chorizo sausage link. Yes, I did just say chorizo sausage. I didn’t think that you could find a good chorizo this side of the Mississippi river but Star 66 Cafe does has them and it is tasty! Super packed with spice, this chorizo is certainly on par with the southwest.

For lunch I am dining on the Greek Style Pork Chops. These are a plate of 3 boneless chops and are available in 6…yes 6 different styles. You can have your pork chops in any way from: Plain, Cajun, BBQ, Sweet & Sour, Country Fried and with Greek seasoning (the way I chose). As you can see from the pics, the pork chops not only look delicious but are succulent. The Greek seasoning added a great flavor. The pork was pull apart with a fork tender and grilled to perfection. The dinner comes with choice of soup or salad, vegetable, choice of potato and a diner roll. I opted for the salad and mashed up potatoes. Yes, in true great diner style, the potatoes here are real mashed up potatoes. The potatoes are served with a great brown gravy. This was truly a great meal with far too much food for 1.

For dinner this evening I left it up to the waitress to chose either the pan seared parmesan encrusted tilapia (which is a personal favorite and I have had dozens of times) or to go with the homemade lasagna. The waitress chose the lasagna and I am so glad she did. This dinner I chose to go with the soup, which tonight was a delicious French Onion. The onions were great, the au jus was amazing and the breading was that of soft croutons making the bowl a delight to begin the meal. I was very happy with the French Onion soup! As I had said that the waitress chose the lasagna and I was so happy she did. The lasagna engulfed the entire plate and was super delicious. The lasagna is super delicious and a great dinner. I only wish that there was much more garlic bread to dip into and sop up the lasagnas red sauce. The dessert I went to go with the lasagna dinner is the homemade coconut pie. The coconut pie is to die for! There are so many home made pies to choose from. Star 66 Cafe has so many home made pies to try. You can choose from: apple, peach, blueberry, chocolate and even a homemade rhubarb. I was super happy to have the coconut pie. The pie was light, creamy and full of coconut. It was truly the end of a great meal.

I would like to thank Star 66 Cafe for being much more than a coffee and pie cafe. The food here is really great and the people are super friendly. I was really happy when I found this place more than 6 years ago. This cafe in the heat of Illinois is just as good as any north east diner you can find and that is saying a lot. Especially when you are reading the writing of a truck driver. Because if there is anyone who knows good food, it is a truck driver. I strongly recommend anyone who going to be in the Springfield, Illinois area to stop into Star 66 Cafe. You are sure to get good service and a great meal no matter if it is morning, noon or night. I am calling Star 66 Cafe a Definite Do! You can always expect a spectacular meal here.

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Original Pancake House –

Sep 15

My weekend has been spent sitting just outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the parking lot of an unassuming building known to many locals and out-of-towners as The Original Pancake House. Original Pancake House is located off I94 at MM301 and round the corner on HWY18 in Brookfield. Brookfield is a quiet little suburb just west of downtown Milwaukee. I coundlnt think of a better place to have a layover weekend. The weather is just turning cold and this weekend has been full of rain. I ask you, What goes better with comfort food than the beginning of autumn? Where else could you feel more comfortable on a cold and rainy day than a Zagat reviewed pancake house that boasts “Best Breakfast this side of Sturgis”

I am starting my review with the dish that originally brought me to the Original Pancake House. While being the mood for corned beef and hash, I enquired a local receiver where I might find a good homemade dish. Turns out I was just down the road. There are certain things that different parts of the country just do better and it seems that the comfort dish of corned beef and hash is just done better up here in the Wisconsin area.

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Fred’s World Famous Burgers – Burlington, Wisconsin

Sep 01

This Labor Day weekend my travels have brought me to the intersection of rt.11 and rt.36. to the quite little town of Burlington, Wisconsin. Honestly, I cant think of a better way to spend an American holiday for food, than eating a burger from Fred’s. I found Fred’s about 5 years ago when searching a back-way to get from Chicago to Madison. While trekking this route, I had become hungry for a quick bite at a burger joint and thanks to YELP, I saw that I was nearing one. That is what led me to Fred’s. It was the sign boasting “World Famous Burgers that lured me into Fred’s. I love a good burger. If you have a great burger, a full bar and artesian root beer…you have a customer for life.

I am going to start this review with a Wisconsin favorite and a personal favorite. I don’t think that you can get any more Wisconsin than fried cheese curds. Though some of you might be apprehensive of trying the cheese curd, either fried or not, on its name alone. Let me put your mind at ease by telling you that a cheese curd is simply a nib of cheese byproduct that is of a more chewy texture and seem in some cases to be on the saltier side. Now add in some breading and deep fry those bad boys and dip

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Snack Bar – Austin, Texas

Aug 15

My travels have taken me to the city closest to my birthplace and closest to my heart. I am of course talking about the the beautiful gem, Texas, Austin. Austin is the live music capital of the world and home to one of the greatest music festivals, South by South West. Not only is Austin a city of live music but its motto “Keep Austin Weird” ties to everything it holds near to its heart. I am happy to say that this is extended into Austin’s culinary world. Being here in Austin, there are no shortage of interesting places to eat. Austin has the largest local food-cart restaurant concentrations I have ever seen. Airstream trailers can be seen at almost every intersection. Those food carts who have earned their grapes become restaurants. Restaurants who become staples of the city get the grand locations and Snack Bar is about as grand in location you can get. Location being key, Snack Bar is located just a few blocks south of Austin on South Congress and as the sign says, Snack Bar boasts the absolute best of Austin’s local organic and indie.

Snack Bar is not open for breakfast hours, but does have a great first meal menu. I did not try breakfast this vacation so I will start this food odyssey by beginning with brunch. For brunch I am beginning with Snack Bar’s great take on bagels with lox and cream cheese. Starting with an everything bagel, my favorite bagel, there is a generous shmeer of cream cheese and salmon. If that

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