Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta, Chicago, IL

Mario's Special Stuffed Pizza

Mario’s Special Stuffed Pizza

Many would expect that this Italian-American native Brooklynite would have a fundamental problem with Chicago pizza. Thankfully, I have an open mind and enjoy pizza in all of its forms.

There are plenty of big names in Chicago pizza, especially in and around the Loop and Magnificent Mile. None of these are particularly bad, but if you want to eat what the locals eat, you have to venture into the neighborhoods where they live.

One of the first places you’ll find on the way out of the downtown core is Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta. A true family business, Toni’s is run by Toni herself, her husband and their children out of a small corner space in River West. In warmer weather, there’s outdoor seating available. In the brutal cold of a Chicago winter, I’d advise delivery or takeout although if you’re lucky, you could find a spot at one of the two small counters inside.

Toni’s uses natural flour & tomatoes, low fat cheeses and locally made sausage to craft hearty pies loaded with flavor, yet maintain enough structural integrity to pick up a slice and eat it like a New Yorker.  While I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much cheese, that idea is stretched here much like the trails of cheese stretching from the pie all the way to your plate as you take the first slice.  Anyone with an Italian grandmother would feel nostalgic over the thick and hearty tomato sauce that tops Toni’s pies.

Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta is close enough for a short cab ride from, or delivery to, hotels in the Loop and Magnificent Mile areas. If you haven’t got the appetite for a whole pie, slices are available.

Find Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta at
457 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago IL 60654
☎ 312 243 1500

FAA Rules Electronics OK

Personal Electronic Devices OK

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta today announced that the FAA has determined that airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight, and is immediately providing the airlines with implementation guidance.

The FAA has lifted it’s requirement that airlines ban personal electronic use in certain phases of flight (full press release). Both Delta and JetBlue have committed to implementing a change in policy as soon as possible. This is great news for the traveling public. Until policy changes are implemented and communicated throughout each airline’s inflight workforce, please be kind and obedient to your inflight crews over the next several days or weeks. It is an FAA requirement that passengers comply with all crew instructions.  Note that cellular phones and any device with communication capabilities must still be put into flight/airplane mode for the duration of the flight.

In an official statement, the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority notes that “CASA currently has no specific regulations governing the use of electronic devices in aircraft.” and “Currently in Australia all airlines restrict the use of electronic devices during critical phases of flight – such as take-off and landing”. CASA does acknowledge that they are “examining the US Federal Aviation Administration’s announcement on the use of electronic devices on aircraft.”

At the time of this writing (2:30 a.m. GMT) the UK Civil Aviation Authority had not responded to a request for a statement. This article will be updated when a response is received.

Gilroy Garlic Festival, Gilroy, CA

Gilroy Garlic Festival

Gilroy Garlic Festival

The Gilroy Garlic Festival is a 35-year old county-fair-style event taking place each summer in Gilroy, CA – a place known as the “Garlic Capital of the World”.  Events include a garlic cook-off with finalists this year from 6 states and Canada, a Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival contest, concerts, and as much garlic-infused food as you can handle.

Here’s just a random sampling of the items available… pesto pasta, pepper steak, Italian sausage, garlic fries, crab garlic fries, garlic steak tacos, crawfish etouffee, garlic battered catfish & shrimp, Thai BBQ.

The festival is over for this year, but if you’re in California next summer, and you’re a lover of garlic, you’ll know where to go.

Noah’s New York Bagels – Cupertino, CA

Noah's New York Bagels, Cupertino, CA

Noah’s New York Bagels, Cupertino, CA

As I sit collecting my thoughts on Noah’s, I realize that I really don’t want to write a negative review, and honestly, if you’re not a New Yorker, you’ll probably think their product is as lovely as the friendly staff.  I think what really rubs me the wrong way is that they imply through their name that the bagels they serve are similar to the ones you’ll find in New York.  This is simply not true.  Noah’s bagels are round with a hole in the middle and are a bread-like product; the similarities to a New York bagel more or less end there.

According to Wikipedia, “The New York bagel contains salt and malt and is boiled in water prior to baking in a standard oven. The resulting New York bagel is puffy with a moist crust”.  I did not see a bagel boiling kettle in the shop, which partly accounts for the lack of New York-ness.  Noah’s bagels lack the thick, moist crust and are far less dense than a true New York bagel.  Their “schmears” also don’t stack up against New York cream cheese spreads.  Comparatively, Noah’s schmears are thin and watery. While one should never toast a true New York bagel, toasting improves the structure of Noah’s bagels.

The bagels at Noah’s are comparable to what you’ll find at other chains like Einstein Bros. or Dunkin’ Donuts.  They certainly make a good breakfast, and they have quite a bit of variety including things I’ve never seen before, like dutch apple bagels and caraway seeds on everything bagels.

If you’re a New Yorker and/or a New York bagel purist, you’ll be disappointed.  Otherwise, you can have quite a nice breakfast here.

20520 Stevens Creek Blvd Cupertino, CA 95014
Next to Starbucks and behind the Chevron on the corner of DeAnza Boulevard

New York Restaurant Week

NYC Restaurant Week is on now through Friday, August 16th. Participating restaurants, including some of New York’s best eateries, are offering set 3-course menus for lunch ($25) and dinner ($38). See the list of restaurants at Register your American Express card at to receive a $5 statement credit for every $25 or greater purchase at each participating restaurant through August 16th.

What’s All The Ruckus? JFK T4 Delta Sky Club

Over the past several months leading up to the opening of Delta’s new Terminal 4 Sky Club, travel blogs have been going nuts about it.  Reading some of these blogs, one might expect that this club would be the greatest thing to happen to air travel in New York City since the jet engine.

Today was my first flight leaving from terminal 4 since the Sky Club’s opening.  While it’s nice, I really don’t see what all the hubub is about. The club is much bigger than any Sky Club I’ve been in, except maybe in Atlanta.  While it has the fresh styling of recently-renovated Sky Clubs, such as the one at LAX, it offers nearly the same exact amenities that are already offered at every other Sky Club.

One item I’ve not seen in Sky Clubs elsewhere is the menu of for-purchase meals and snacks.  I’ve often complained about Delta’s “no outside food” policy seeing as how the don’t sell any food.  This offering is somewhat self-service.  There are iPad-powered stations where you make your selections, swipe your credit card, take a theme-restaurant-style pager, and then wait for a runner to bring your order.

The other differentiator, the Sky Deck, is an interesting novelty, but you can’t catch a breeze thanks to what I suspect are FAA-mandated solid barriers around the outdoor space.  If you could (which can be accomplished by standing near the small gaps between the barriers), that breeze would be (and is) pregnant with jet exhaust.

In short, the Delta Sky Club at JFK’s Terminal 4 is very nice when compared to other US domestic airline lounges, but pales in comparison to just about any non-US lounge, domestic or international.  The Air New Zealand lounge at SYD (which Delta is a client airline of), for example, blows this new Sky Club out of the water with plentiful power outlets more than adequate seating, complimentary bar and complimentary buffet-style full meal service.

JoeDough, New York, NY

JoeDough has closed, but Joe & Jill have started a new catering business in it’s place. See details here. If you’re craving Joe’s sandwiches, Tuesday nights are sandwich nights at Joe & Misses Doe.

Duck Egg SandwichJoeDough is an East Village sandwich shop offshoot of the JoeDoe restaurant a few blocks away.  Joe and Jill, the owner-operators of JoeDough, describe their cuisine as “Aggressive American,” combining Jewish, Italian, Asian and Irish influences.  I describe it as delicious and interesting.  While I have yet to have the pleasure of dining at the restaurant, if the sandwich shop is any indication of what to expect, I’m eager to book into JoeDoe.  If you’re a local looking for lunch or a tourist looking for some amazing NYC food, stop in at JoeDough.

At JoeDough, you can expect to find sandwiches that pay homage to classics you may remember from your youth, but update and tweak the ingredients to make them more interesting for a more sophisticated adult palate.  Here are a few of my personal favorites…

JoseDoe Cubano

Joe’s Cuban is toasted to a lovely flat, firm crispness.  American-made prosciutto adds a welcome smokiness.  Whole grain mustard adds extra depth of flavor.  I’m a huge fan of Cuban sandwiches, and this one is an instant favorite.

The Almighty Brisket

As cliché as it may sound, the brisket literally melts in your mouth.  Spicy mayo adds just enough kick to let you know it’s there but doesn’t overpower the other flavors.  This is easily the best beef sandwich I’ve ever eaten.

Brunch Special (pictured)

Early one Saturday, I stopped in and had the finest egg sandwich I’ve ever tasted.  This special was two duck eggs, shoulder bacon and queso blanco with sambal (a chile sauce popular in southeast Asia) on a brioche bun.  This was a fresh and flavorful twist on the classic bacon, egg and cheese roll.  The unique and unusual flavors of these variant ingredients make for an experience that is new and interesting, yet familiar at the same time.

Celery Soda

Celery soda was an old favorite in Jewish delis from around the turn of the 2oth century.  At some point between then and now, it lost it’s mass appeal.  I don’t know why that happened, but I don’t think it would have if Jill was in charge of making it.  JoeDough’s celery soda is light and refreshing.  It’s a perfect drink to refresh and cleanse the palate when enjoying one of the delicious sandwiches on offer.

Don’t Believe The Hype

JoeDough has received a few bad reviews on Yelp.  Those that complain about the food either don’t get it, or giving them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps just had some bad luck and timing when someone made a mistake in the kitchen.  I remain skeptical though; the shop has been immaculate and the staff very attentive whenever I’ve been in.  I have been to JoeDough often and never failed to have an amazing sandwich.  The flavors are often unusual.  The Cuban, for example, is an interpretation on the general theme of a Cuban sandwich.  A traditionalist might take offense, but if you have an open mind, you’re in for some interesting flavors.

I’ve also seen complaints about the prices.  Yes, ten dollars is more than I’d typically expect to pay for a sandwich.  Of course, I also wouldn’t get the exotic ingredients in perfectly complimentary combinations executed with an expert hand.  If you want to pay five bucks for a sandwich, go to subway and choke down that bland roll prepared according to a pictograph from mass-produced ingredients by someone with limited employability.

Some reviews accuse the owners and staff of being rude, crude or unhelpful.  I simply cannot believe this.  I have never had the staff treat me with anything but courtesy and good cheer.  I don’t know if I’ve ever met Joe, but I have met Jill, and she’s as cheerful and service-oriented as can be, and from what I’ve seen, the staff follows her lead.  Keep up the good work!

You can find JoeDough at 135 First Avenue between St. Mark’s and 9th Street.  A catering menu is available if you want truly amazing sandwiches for the guests at your gathering.


Char No. 4, Brooklyn, NY

The baconiest bacon ever.

While doing some business in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn, I quite accidentally stumbled across this restaurant that specializes in some of my favorite things.  Char No. 4 sits behind an unassuming storefront on Smith Street.  Once inside, the wood and leather interior foreshadows the experience to come.  The restaurant’s website describes Char No. 4 as “a whiskey bar and restaurant inspired by a passion for bourbon.”  While I enjoyed my meal, I counted no fewer than 157 different varieties of whiskey, with a clear emphasis on bourbon and other American forms, on display behind the bar.  In addition to theses whiskies, the staff also infuse bourbons with various flavors, including habanero peppers.  When I spoke with the bartender, who was very enthusiastic about his craft, he mentioned the barrel-aged cocktails they have on offer including Manhattans and mint juleps.

As my visit was an early one on a weekend, the brunch menu was being served.  I selected a chipotle bloody Mary and biscuits benedict.  Oddly enough, I had managed to make it this far in life without ever having a bloody mary, so while I don’t have anything to compare it to, I can say that the flavors were clean and distinct.  The smoky spiciness of the chipotle effectively disguised any alcohol flavors, and the drink was pleasant and refreshing.  The fresh, crunchy, house-made pickle was a nice touch.  I think the folks at Char may have ruined me for all other bloody Marys.  The benedict was a moist, buttery biscuit topped with ham smoked in-house, perfectly poached eggs, and a flavorful bacon gravy.  Everything tasted wonderful, although I left half of the biscuit behind.  While it was very tasty, it was also very dense.  I was offered some of their house-made hot sauce, which I immediately accepted.  The sauce is full of fruity pepper flavors with a heat that lingers in the back of the throat but doesn’t overload the taste buds.

Since I gave up part of my biscuit, I figured that it couldn’t hurt to try the house-cured thick-cut bacon.  Two roughly quarter-inch thick strips are served with a side of maple syrup.  Those who know me know I love bacon.  This was the most bacon-y tasting bacon I have ever had.  I cannot recommend it enough.  It is smoky, salty, sweet and sinfully fatty.

Finally, I sampled the cheese curds.  Having spent a lot of time in Wisconsin, I have come to appreciate the beauty of a good cheese curd, and these would stand up to the curds I’ve had in the badger state.  They’re not quite, but almost squeaky on the teeth.  At this point, I wished I could keep going and sample more of the gorgeous products the kitchen at Char No. 4 produces, but I could hear a little cardiologist in the back of my head clicking her tongue at me.  I’ll definitely have to come back another day.

Char No. 4 can be found at:

196 Smith Street
Brooklyn, New York 11201

…which is just a block away from the Bergen Street subway station (F and G trains).

Zum Schneider – Bavaria on the Lower East Side

Photo courtesy of

Zum Schneider has been a favorite of mine for quite a while.  It was only after I’d been to Bavaria that I realized just what a treasure this little corner of the Lower East Side really is.  If you’re looking for a little piece of Bavaria in New York City, you’ll find it here.

There are very few places in New York where you can get a Maß, which is a liter of good Bavarian beer and  pronounced “mass.”  It’s one of only a handful of places in the five boroughs of New York City where you’ll find proper weißwurst, served in the correct Bavarian style – heated in water and served with spicy & sweet mustard and a soft pretzel.  On busy nights, the dining room has the atmosphere of an Oktoberfest beer tent.  I’ve been to a few other German restaurants in NYC and none of them can hold a candle to Zum Schneider.  I’ve tried most of the menu, and I have yet to have a meal that is anything short of amazing.

One of my favorite dishes, and a frequent special, is the Schweinshaxe or “pork knuckle.”  The outside is crispy, and the meat inside is tender, juicy, and falls apart for your fork.  For a lover of pork, the Schweinshaxe is a must.  The sausage platter is another excellent choice.  Grilled sausages are served over sauerkraut with a side of mashed potatoes garnished with radish slices and grape tomatoes and two kinds of mustard – one is coarse & mild, the other fine & sharp.

The service is quick & friendly and the staff puts up with my terrible German pronunciation and generally makes an extra effort to make you feel welcome. With the communal table style, you can make new friends with every meal.

The apple strudel is excellent, but at least as of my last visit, they don’t serve coffee.  Maybe it’s just that I’m not German, but I’m not a fan of having my sweets with beer.  This is truly the only negative comment I can come up with about this wonderful restaurant.  If you like beer, German food, or are a fan of swine flesh, go to Zum Schneider.  You’ll be glad you did.

Zum Schneider is located at:

107 Ave C (corner of East 7th Street)
New York, NY 10009


Tolbert’s Restaurant, Grapevine, TX

Tolbert's Chili

It looks great!

A bit of web searching and chatting with locals led me to Tolbert’s Restaurant in Grapevine, Texas – a city just off the north end of DFW’s runway 13R-31L.  The buzz was that Tolbert’s had amazing, award-winning chili.  That’s enough to get me into the car, so off I went.

Arriving in Grapevine was a bit strange.  As my GPS ticked down the distance to within a half mile, I was still passing pawn shops, payday loan establishments and run-down fast food joints.  I mentally prepared myself to enter a rough roadhouse.  Once I made the last turn from Texas State Highway 114 onto Grapevine’s Main Street, the difference was like night and day.  Main Street is a busy entertainment district with several restaurants, shops, local businesses and a movie theater that shows classic films and children’s programming.  On the night I drove past, they were playing The Odd Couple (1968).  The restaurants were bustling, and all thoughts of rough-hewn tables, spilled beer and rowdy patrons left me.

To say the place was busy was an understatement.  I was lucky to get a seat at the bar.  As I reviewed the menu, I noted from fragments of overheard conversation and from looking around the room, that this was largely a local crowd.  A mix of date night couples and businessmen unwinding at the end of the week seemed to dominate the crowd.  On the stage in the back corner of the restaurant, a band was setting up their kit to play.  Seeing all of this, I felt I had made a good decision for my evening meal.  Having already had several steaks this week (it’s hard not to when in Texas), I opted instead to try a cup of the chili, some guacamole, and what Tolbert’s menu referred to as ‘donkey tails’.

The guacamole arrived quickly, accompanied by an ample basket of tortilla chips.  The chips were rustic and still warm.  If they’re not made in-house I would suspect they’re sourced very locally or Tolbert’s staff are masters of illusion.  In addition to the guacamole, I was given two bowls of salsa.  The first salsa I tried had a slight edge of heat, but was very watery.  The second bowl was just as watery, but didn’t provide very much at all in the way of flavor.  The guacamole, however, was good.  It had a faint heat at the end, but wasn’t anything unique or special.

To quote the menu, donkey tails are “two all-beef hot dogs stuffed with cheddar cheese, wrapped in flour tortillas, then lightly fried. served with Tolbert’s salsa and mustard sauce, and a shot of chili on the side.”  These, like the guacamole, were good, but nothing phenomenal.  They tasted pretty much as you’d expect them to taste, beefy & cheesy, and certainly not diet food.

Moving on to the main event, so to speak, I sampled the chili.  This cup of Texas red, garnished with chopped onions, shredded cheddar and a chile, looked just like I expect any good chili to look and my mouth literally started watering in anticipation.  I removed the chile from the top.  While I’ve been known to pop a pepper or two, I just didn’t want to assault my poor unsuspecting taste buds with a raw chile when they were expecting some beefy chili goodness.  When I put first cheese-dripping spoonful into my mouth, it felt as if I had just lit a dud of a firecracker.  Where was the flavor?  Where was the heat?  Rather than a spectacular explosion of beef and spices, I got a faint beefiness and some flat tomato flavor.  The raw chopped onions didn’t even wake up my mouth, which makes me suspect they were old.

Ultimately, I left Tolbert’s disappointed and feeling that the meal hadn’t been worth the time it took to get there.  Now, I’m not saying the food was bad.  It just failed to live up to it’s award-winning reputation.  The place seems to have a nice selection of standard Tex-Mex and American fare.  If I was staying at a hotel nearby, I wouldn’t shy away from stopping in for a bite, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit Tolbert’s a second time.

If you find yourself near Grapevine and want to try it out for yourself, you can find Tolbert’s at:

423 South Main Street
Grapevine, Texas 76051