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Tag Archives: italian food

REVIEW: BUCA di BEPPO

21 Mar


BUCA di BEPPO, oh how you have stuffed my belly and left me almost sleepy.

Ok first – Buca di Beppo means- “Joe’s Basement”.   Ok, actually it’s slang- Buca (basement) of Beppo- “Beppo” being a slang version of “Giuseppe”.

Ok, I am confused I think.  But I don’t care, this chain of Southern Italian style dishes has me under their command.

What you see in the pic is an elegant Chicken Parmesan.   It was SOOOO good (we were there for lunch and had lunch specials).    Also had the Lasagna, which was also, truly amazing.

The portions are large and are served “Family Style” which is large portion meant to be shared.   This is awesome and a bit of a drawback at the same time.   The normal table-bread you get at an Italian place has to be ordered separate, meaning you are paying for it.   Not free like some place like Olive Garden.    Also, if you wish to have a salad, that also is an extra charge.  So your bill can stack up quick.  Keep this in mind if you think you are gonna load up on salad and breadsticks.

I think this place is best visited for lunch when the portions are controlled or with a large group of people to celebrate a birthday or something.

The decor of the place is funky and cool.   It’s has a very “homey” feel to it.   Great atmosphere.

I would rate the food better than most chain Italian places you are likely to find.    So the next time you want to impress a date or get together with friends and have a bit of a blow-out dinner and drinks.  Check this joint out.

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The Tide Has Turned!!!

5 Sep

Around the DFW area, there is no shortage of places to get Italian food.   But when you think in terms of visibility and marketing it seems we have just two:   Olive Garden and Spaghetti Warehouse.

Both are usually packed during the weekends so I guess they do well.    Most people I know consider them great places.

The thing I hear most often is “I love O.G.’s breadsticks and salad”.

Olive Garden has always struck me as trying to be a classy place.  It’s not, but it tries, so I give them credit for that.   Back in the day their breadsticks DID indeed kick ass.  But today they don’t taste fresh.  They have a slight freezer burn taste to them more often than not.  The salad is still good though.  I will say that.  But most of their entrees just don’t drive me wild.   It’s rather bland.   Not bad.  Just generic.

Spaghetti Warehouse has always had the reputation of being the more casual, hang out kinda joint.   It’s decorated with crazy signs and junk and it’s just laid back.   I have always found their table bread and garlic butter to be MAGNIFICENT.   The rest of the menu I could take or leave.   It seemed just as generic as Olive Garden.  Only cheaper.

So the group think was (in my circles) was that OG was the nicer and better place.   I hadn’t been to either in several months.   I tend to make my own italian food at home now, but in a funny twist of fate, I ended up eating at OG and SW in the same weekend.   So they were both fresh on my mind:

OLIVE GARDEN – Still has some good salad.   The breadsticks are just as I remember them.  Not as good.  Their calamari appetizer was SURPRISINGLY good.  Tender and with a light crunch.  The decor in this new location is romantically lit and everything looks very nice and pretty.  I notice the prices seem higher than I remember.   Food is just generic and disappointing.

SPAGHETTI WAREHOUSE – Was still the crazy decorated place with the laid back atmosphere.   What I discovered in terms of food was noticeable.   The table bread/garlic butter was perfect as always.  I did notice a difference in the salad.  It seemed bigger, fresher, and with a zestier dressing.   The spaghetti, meatballs, chicken parm, and other things we were all eating tasted better in terms of quality.    Nice portions and rich sauces.

After years of Olive Garden holding the crown (such as it is) I think Spaghetti Warehouse has really stepped up its game and improved the ingredients they use for their recipes.   It’s no longer generic.  It’s rich and hearty southern italian food.

Spaghetti Warehouse leaps off the top rope and lands the 1-2-3, and takes the championship belt from Olive Garden!

WOO!

 

 

 

 

BK Chicken Parmesan Sandwich

3 Sep

I absolutely LOVE Chicken Parmesan.  It’s a fantastic marriage of Italian flavors and textures.

For YEARS I have been making my own Chicken Parm sammiches very easily.  So easily I often wondered why the big boys didn’t.   I mean seriously-  take a chicken sandwich, throw on some sauce and cheese and boom – a down and dirty version of the beloved dish.

So when I heard Burger King was bustin’ out a version I was STOKED.  It’s part of their new “post summer” menu which has an italian flair to it with a Basil Chicken Sandwich & wrap – plus popcorn chicken and a couple of other treats.    But I think this is the star of the show.

I polished that thing off just about an hour ago, so it’s all still fresh in my mind.   This is the kinda thing that could really turn into an ACE up the King’s sleeve.   It’s good.   To be able to get it anytime (24hr BKs around here) and under two minutes??  That makes it quite good.

At the order-board, I asked what comes on the sandwich.   I guessed it was chicken,sauce, and cheese – BUT-  sometimes a restaurant will take a GREAT idea and mess it up by throwing some weird ingredient into the mix.

ME:  So what comes on the Chicken Parm sammich?  (I say sammich even in-real-life)

BK:  Um let me look on the paperwork.   (This is actually cute because it’s SO new he doesn’t know and is taking the time to get it right-  I like this!)

BK:  Um… It is a wheat bun with grilled or crispy chicken that is …….tender and juicy …and mozzarella cheese …sauce and some more cheese …parmesan. 

(the tender and juicy part was funny to me – he must’ve been reading right from the promo info….fantastic!)

ME:  Great!  I will take it.  Crispy style please.

What I got had some heft to it.  I unwrapped what you see above.   It’s a sexy bun for starters.   Soft and firm.   The chicken is a typical fried chicken breast.   I didn’t taste any special italian spices on it.  Nor did I expect any.  This basic chicken could be used for ten different sandwiches so I forgive that pretty easily.

The sauce is very mild and that is the only weakness of this sandwich.   I love zesty and bold.  This isn’t.  BUT – This sandwich has to satisfy EVERYONE – not just me – despite what my inner voice tells me.  So I can totally accept this.

There is a slice of mozzarella, and what appears to be Parmesan shavings on top of that.

Shaved Parm?  If you are gonna shave parm on top, hopefully this is an indicator that the sammich is partially assembled fresh as you order it.   I like this.  A lot.

Again, I dig this whole thing.  I am super-surprised that nobody has done it before.  It’s really such an easy variation of a typical chicken sandwich.

Ever since that news story came out saying Burger King had lost its #2 slot to Wendy’s, BK has really made a serious effort to bring some interesting and tasty new treats to the table.

I like it King, keep it coming baby.

JFC can COOK!

23 May

I enjoy cooking, and I really love to try and recreate – or improve on – something I have had at a restaurant and make it my own.

So today – a bit of a departure–as I pull back the curtain a bit and let you inside the JFC kitchen and see what I am up to…when I am not sitting at the drive-thru.

I love toasted ravioli. I have had it at several Italian restaurants, and I make it quite often.

Everyone I have made it for loves it. Most of them can’t believe I can even cook. wow. thanks.

Now what you see pictured is my “cheat” recipe. I tend to make all my stuff from scratch but in a pinch these things ROCK and take less time.

What you see is store bought ravioli. I then make a blend of herbs,bread crumbs and cheese.

I dredge the the raviolis in egg white, then into the dry mix and then I place them on a rack.

I oven bake them until they turn golden brown and tend to “puff up”.

Yes, I know I could fry these, and they are really good fried – but I tend to use ALOT of seasoning in my cooking, and frying kills some of that taste in these. so I bake them.

But that is just my preference.

While they are cooking, I usually make my own marinara. Tomatoes, herbs, garlic, olive oil, cheese, salt and pepper. All to my tastes.

Roughly around 20 mins these babies are done and as stated earlier, they are always a hit when I make them. They are crispy, crunchy, and the filling is hot and tender.

I hope you have enjoyed cooking with me!

REVIEW: CARINO’s ITALIAN

28 Feb
carinos by Junk Food Critic
carinos, a photo by Junk Food Critic on Flickr.

Carino’s Italian seems to be in just about every neighborhood I visit lately. After passing one a couple of days ago, I was reminded that:

A: I haven’t been there in awhile.
and
B: I haven’t reviewed that joint either.

Once inside, I am reminded of how much I like the layout. The huge open kitchen takes up the back wall. The slightly darker color tones of the painted walls. The softer lighting. It’s got a nice familiar feel to it. I feel very comfortable in this place.

A brief wait, and I slide into a booth with a couple of friends……
….a few minutes later………we are ……
…..still waiting……

…..Now I have this RULE. If I am sitting somewhere and I don’t get a “hello” or any communication from a server in TEN MINUTES, then I leave.

It takes no more than 10 seconds to swing by and let me know you are “in the weeds”. You don’t have to take my drink or food order, but you must give me some sort sign that you are going to be coming to me at some point.

…..so….eleven minutes later….. I am still waiting. Mainly because I can not convince the people I am with to leave. They have no desire to try and find some other place. They are tired and just want some food.

I HATE this… but they are my ride…so…

15 minutes later we meet a server. By this time I am boiling, but for some reason, a manager is nowhere to be found. They aren’t THAT busy. The server was polite and apologized for the delay.

Even though I am upset at the wait, there is NO percentage in staring off my relationship with this server with me bitchin’ about the wait.

They DID apologize after all, but it’s at this point that I remember WHY I do not go to Carino’s more often…..

….the service is just HORRIBLE. CONSISTENTLY HORRIBLE.

And like a bad dream I also have a flashback to my last visit to this location (Grand Prairie). I had great food but a terribly neglectful server.

I walked by the manager on my way out after dinner, and told him of how disappointing my visit had been.

“Oh, sorry to hear that. Maybe next time will be better.”

I couldn’t believe my ears….

And here I am back in the exact same position. Isn’t insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

…..so ten minutes later we get our drinks and our order taken. A basked of fresh bread quickly arrives.

TWENTY MINUTES later our food arrives.

It’s bittersweet because the food is loaded with flavor and seasoning. My parm fries were great and the sammich was crisp,crunchy, and just about perfect.

My other friends dishes looked just as yummy and by the end of our meal we were completely stuffed and satisfied.

BUT – jeez…. our waitress couldn’t have been less interested in our table. At some point a manager passed and saw our empty bread basked AND empty drinks and stopped to scoop them up for refills.

What I notice is Carino’s, like most restaurants, have servers that are usually young twenty-somethings.

This is not a bad thing – but I do see a fair amount of servers that have this routine. They stop at their tables, then walk around the corner and draw their smartphones out of their aprons and spend the next few minutes responding to txt messages or checking their facebook pages.

Then they lose track of time and are startled back to reality and rush back over to pissed off tables.

It’s kinda sad really. I do find their dishes on the “pricey” side of most other casual italian restaurants BUT I absolutely have NO trouble going out of my way or paying for quality.

What I do NOT do is support bad behavior. So despite how much I like their food, I can see it being quite awhile before I feel like putting myself through the drama.
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I hope I am wrong

10 Oct
birra by Junk Food Critic
birra, a photo by Junk Food Critic on Flickr.

In Arlington TX, there is/ was this great little place called BIRRAPORETTI’s. It was quirky because it was an Italian restaurant with an Irish pub inside.

I say WAS because visit after visit, I notice that the place I once cherished and bragged about constantly is slipping away. And there is nothing I can do about it.

Birra’s was once of those out-of-the-way places that only Arlingtonians (?) knew about. After discovering it years ago I can say that I have, up until recently, never had a bad meal there.

Oh sure, I have had bad service. The place is know to most of my friends as the place with food so good that you will put up with the bad service.

Sunday Jazz Brunch was incredible. I even created a now classic dish of my own there – PINEAPPLE WAFFLES.

It was a place I would visit at least twice a week. It was THAT GOOD. Everyone I ever took there was knocked out.

Are you catching this yet? I loved this place. And I bet you can guess where I’m going……..

Birra’s is owned by Birra’s out of Houston. I am told they have decided to MAKE CHANGES — (NEVER GOOD) to make the Arlington one more like their main Birra’s in Houston.

The result???? Now it’s just…..not the same. The place was dark and moody so they finally got around to redecorating the joint to brighten it up. Trouble is, I liked dark and moody.

They had FANTASTIC table bread. A giant round loaf of bread with garlic butter. We would plow through that bread like we were starving. It was worth the drive just for the bread alone.

AND THEY STOPPED THE TABLE BREAD.

I have asked several staff members and they all rolled their eyes and reluctantly informed me that the powers that be had actually REMOVED table bread from their standard procedure.

Not only did they remove it, but they don’t even make it anymore. I would have been fine to PAY for a loaf with dinner, but sadly…no.

It’s a “cost saving measure”.

Which to me, is FUNNY because every Italian Restaurant I can think of offers bread. Olive Garden, Spaghetti Warehouse,…hell everyone…except now– Birra’s.

They have also revamped their menu, raised their prices and seemingly changed recipes on certain things.

Even the pizzas, which were probably one of the BEST pies in Arlington, is now a shell of it’s former self.

You can see from the picture it’s greasy and sparse in the meat toppings.

This has been going on for awhile now. These changes and the slow descent of quality and taste.

Having been there just recently something clicked. It was 1pm and the place was empty. Once we left, we drove to the other side of the shopping center to pass Olive Garden.

FULL PARKING LOT.

Oh yeah….and all the free breadsticks you can eat.

I have plans to revisit once more to see if the other favorites of mine are changed or lacking like the pizza was. The “meh” pizza was just like a slap in the face.

I mean this was my go-to place. I hate to even think it’s going downhill.

I hope I am wrong.