Thursday, November 29, 2012

Steak 'n Shake: One of My Personal Favorties!

Going to a Steak 'n Shake is like stepping into a 1950's diner.  Steak 'n Shake also has a reasonably priced menu, with meals that start at $3.99.  Another perk of Steak 'n Shake is, they are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week!  So, if you're craving chili and a shake at 2:00 in the morning, you have somewhere to go!
I have a couple items on the menu that I get on a regular basis.  They serve Coke Zero, which is one of my usual drinks.  At Steak 'n Shake, you can at a shot of cherry or vanilla flavoring to your drink.  I get a shot of cherry in my Coke Zero often.  I also love the chili, whether it's just a cup with my meal, or a Chili Five Way, which is Spaghetti, Chili, Chili Sauce, Onions, and Cheese.
Ian with our Shakes
I usually skip the shakes at Steak 'n Shake, because I'm lactose intolerant.  But because I decided to review the restaurant, I thought I better try one of it's name sakes.  I got the White Chocolate Milk Shake, and Ian got the Cookie Dough Milk Shake. The White Chocolate Milk Shake was pretty amazing!  It's one of their specialty milk shakes for the Christmas season. They also must use quality milk/dairy products, because I didn't end up with the head ache or sickness I expected to suffer for choosing to have one. 
Cup of Chili
I started my meal with a cup of Chili.  I got it loaded with cheese and onions.  The Steak 'n Shake chili has a more of a sharp taste, not exactly spicy, but not a sweet flavor.  You can get the chili with or without beans, or just get the beans.  Getting the cup of chili was right amount of food to kick off my meal.  
Chicken Fingers Meal
I got the Chicken Fingers meal as my dinner.  It starts at $3.99.  I added cheese and the chili to the meal, which makes it more expensive.  Honey Mustard sauce or BBQ sauce is available for the chicken fingers.  Sometimes, the size of the chicken fingers is hit and miss.  This evening, they are a bit on the small size.  I commented on this one time to one of the servers, and she basically laughed in my face, and said, "What did you expect for $3.99?"  Well, I just expect something worth eating. That's all.  The fries are shoe string fries, or really skinny.  I get the cheese sauce to dip them in.  It's a normal cheddar cheese sauce.  When I realized, the chicken fingers being served were not going to get any bigger, is when I started always getting a cup of chili to go with this meal.  
The Santa Fe Steak Burger and Fries
Every month or two, Steak 'n Shake has a specialty burger.  This month, they served the Santa Fe Steak Burger.  
As described by the Steak 'n Shake web site: Inspired by the flavors of the Southwest, we’ve topped our Double Steakburger with melted Monterey Jack cheese and pico de gallo, jalapenos, crispy red tortilla strips and our guacamole ranch sauce!
Ian said, he liked the Santa Fe Burger.  It had some spice, but it wasn't too spicy.  
Ian also likes the season salt that is available on the table on his french fries. 
I didn't start going to Steak 'n Shake until college.  After that, going there became almost a weekly event.  As an adult, I've grown to love the casualness of the restaurant, and I always know the food that is served will probably be exactly the same, no matter which location I go to.  
I'm sad for my friends and family out west that don't have Steak 'n Shakes to eat at!  At the moment, the furthest west location is in Las Vegas, NV.   There are any north or west of there.  
If you are visiting from the west or have never been to a Steak 'n Shake, I would recommend trying it. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Spring Mill Inn Buffet: Mitchell, IN

Ian and I needed to get away for a couple days.  We decided to visit Spring Mill State Park in Mitchell, Indiana.  They have a little Inn there with a restaurant that contains a buffet.  We ate at the buffet Four times!
When I asked people on Facebook what to do in Mitchell, IN, most of them said, "Eat at the buffet at Spring Mill!"
We ate breakfast, lunch, and two dinners at the Spring Mill Buffet. Every time we walked in, they would ask if we wanted to sit next to the fire place.  The fireplace wasn't every really burning, because the days we stayed there, it was always almost sixty degrees.  The dining room has a nice welcoming appeal to it.  The last day, we ate breakfast in front of a window with bird feeders.  That was more interesting to me.
The Buffet
This is the salad and hot food side of the buffet.  The salad bar had an OK selection.  The first night we ate there, I did get food from the salad end of the bar, but I didn't take pictures of the food that night.  I got some pasta salad, another random salad, and a green salad with lots of veggies.  They had bacon bits and little packages of croutons.  The salad bar was pretty good. 
Fresh Bread with Butter
For lunch and dinner meals, bread was always offered by the server.  It was usually warm when it came from the kitchen. The butter was also melted and easy to spread on the bread.  The fresh bread was always awesome.  It made the table feel welcoming!
Ham and Bean Soup
On the lunch and dinner buffet, there was usually a soup available, sometimes two. The ham and bean soup was pretty good.  It tasted like something my mother would make or the kind I get from Campbells.  Either way, it had a nice flavor to it.  The only problem was, I got too much!  Those mugs are probably hold two or three servings in them. 
The Spring Mill Inn mugs were always available to put the soup. I love chili!  I had to try this one.  It was OK.  It had a hearty flavor to it.  I only took a couple bites of it.  There were other things I wanted to save room for on the buffet.
Ian and his Plate
When I got the Ham and Bean Soup, I didn't realize there was corn bread available right next to it.  Ian had some on his plate, so, I tried it with my soup. The corn bread was normal corn bread.  There wasn't anything special about it.
Bread, Corn Bread, and Butter
The day they had the chili on the buffet, they actually served the corn bread in our bread basket. For some reason, the corn bread that came in the basket actually tasted better, than the corn bread the day before.
The dinner buffet changes some what every night. The mash potatoes and gravy were a staple, and so was the fried chicken.  They usually had a good assortment of vegetables. This plate has corn, green beans, roasted potatoes, and spinach.  Every night, the had fried chicken on the buffet.  I tried the fried chicken the first night, when I didn't take pictures, and it was pretty good.  They always have a second meat with the fried chicken.  The first night, they had beef roast in gravy.  The second time we had dinner, they had ribs.  I wasn't impressed with the ribs.  It's one of those situations where, I make them better at home.  The flavor of the ribs was very blah. 
This was lunch one day.  It was mash potatoes with beef noodles, green beans, and tater tots.  I think that the beef roast they had on the first night, which was pretty good, was turned into the beef and noodles.  The beef and noodles were really good!  I think putting noodles, beef or chicken, over the potatoes, is a northern Indiana thing. Not everyone does that! You haven't have tried it, you should!  It's my favorite way to eat noodles!
Dessert Buffet
The other side of the buffet is a dessert buffet.  It always had at least four pies, one type of cake, and one type of cobbler.  
Mississippi Mud Cake and Whip Cream
This is the Mississippi Mud Cake.  I didn't realize that it had coconut in it, until I sat down to eat it.  I'm not a huge fan of coconut, but this chocolate cake with icing still stood on it's own.  It had a sweet chocolate flavor that made the cake.  
Walnut Pie with Whip Cream
The walnut pie was really different for me.  I was expecting something like a pecan pie.  Under the layer of walnuts, was a layer of chocolate chips!  This piece reminded me of eating a chocolate chip cookie with walnuts.  I'm not big on pie, but I really enjoyed this! 
Breakfast, also Buffet Style
The breakfast buffet looked good in the beginning, but to me ended up being a little disappointing.  The white gravy that is on my biscuits, is the same white gravy that is next to the mash potatoes at every other meal.  The cook brought out a fresh batch of bacon, and I almost told the guy I was in love with him.  That he was my favorite person in the whole world, at that moment!  But I didn't.  The bacon was pretty good.  The sausage made me sad.  It didn't have any flavor at all!  I put it on my biscuits and gravy to add to the gravy, but the sausage didn't help.  The eggs were the normal powdered eggs that you find on a buffet or a college dorm cafeteria.  The "Home Fries" or potatoes tasted like they had been sitting on the buffet for a long time. 
For the one place to eat in this city that everyone recommended, by the fourth day eating there, I was over it.  My theory is: if I make it better at home, I don't go out to eat for it! 
By the last day, we figured out, we could have just gotten soup and salad, and not paid full price for the buffet.  Nobody ever explained this to us in the beginning.  I could have just done that some nights, but I didn't realize that I could.  The soft drinks were always a $2 extra per drink.  Even the coffee was almost an extra $2!  Every day, we only ate one meal at the hotel.  We tried two other restaurants in Mitchell.  One was a KFC/A&W and a Mexican restaurant that I will blog about later.  One night, we got down to the dining room at 7:15pm when they close at 7:30pm.  As soon as we sat down to eat, the server was asking if we were going to utilize the entire bar.  Not realization, I could get just soup and salad, I said, "Yes."  She seemed a little put out by that, like she was ready to clear the place. 
Eating at the same place for four days in a row can either be great, because it's your favorite thing in the world, or overwhelming because you're starting to feel over it.  By the fourth meal, which was breakfast, I was ready to be cooking my own food.  In general, the place was clean, the service was king, and if you like "home cooked" food that you didn't make yourself, the Spring Mill Inn Buffet was pretty good.  If you're like me, and refuse to eat at places like the Cracker Barrel, because "I can make this better at home," then, skip it.  
I give this restaurant 2 pizza pies out of 4.  If you're staying at the Inn, definitely try it!  Try it twice even!  But after that, make plans to eat other places. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mother Bear's Pizza: A Bloomington, IN Favorite

Eating at Mother Bear's Pizza in Bloomington, IN is stepping into a bit of Indiana University's history.  The atmosphere is warm and cozy, even though it screams college restaurant.  Everyone I knew that knew anything about Bloomington and pizza insisted I go to Mother Bear's and review the pizza.
The Menu
The menu is colored by hand. This doesn't really impress me, but I guess it gives more to the home town feel of the place. 
Ian and Pepsi
One plus of Mother Bear's is they serve Pepsi products!  I was super excited to get to drink Mountain Dew: Milk of the Gods! 
Stuffed Mushrooms
We ordered stuffed mushrooms for one of our appetizers.  They are listed on the menu as: 
Champignon a la Bear- Large button mushrooms stuff with a mix of four different cheeses and special spices baked to a golden brown. 
These were really tasty.  The four cheeses blended together in the mushroom, with the nice broiled effect of the cheeses, gave the mushrooms a really nice flavor. 
French Fry Basket
We also ordered a basket of french fries for an appetizer.  These had a nice crispy, golden outside and warm white center.  The french fries were a good choice!
Our Pizza
Half of this pizza was "The Divine Swine."  It had on it pepperoni, sausage, ham, and bacon. My favorite part, as always, was the bacon!  The other half of the pizza was the "Treasure of Monte Cristo."  The Monte Cristo has white sauce, mozzarella, spinach, bacon, tomatoes, and fontina cheese. My favorite part of the Monte Cristo was also the bacon!  I'm not a huge white sauce fan, and this one was pretty much the same as others I've had.  The crust just held the toppings, it wasn't anything I would scream from the roof tops about.  It needed something more.  The toppings seem to be the more important part of the Mother Bear's Pizza.  I liked The Divine Swine.  It was the better half of this pizza.  
The Wall and Booth Graffiti 
All of the walls and booths were covered in people's names and graffiti.  This is supposed to add to the college feel of the restaurant.  I personally find it a little offensive and tacky, but all of the students love it. 
Fire Place
There's a room that has a fire place.  We didn't sit in that room.  I bet it's a nice place to sit after a cold IU football game.  The fire wasn't going when we were there, because it was probably about 60 degrees that day. 
I've only been to Mother Bear's Pizza twice.  It has not impressed me either time.  This time, it seemed like the server had too many tables, and couldn't keep our drinks filled.  There was a girl doing food prep at the counter with long blonde curly hair that was not tied back, and she kept touching that.  That's a health violation in Indiana.  
The atmosphere is geared more towards college students that want to hang out.  Maybe I'm just too old for that atmosphere.  
I give Mother Bear's Pizza 2 pizzas pies out of 4.  I would have scored it higher if the crust was better, the server was more attentive, and the girl working at the counter had tied her hair back appropriately. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Rathskeller: An Indianapolis Favorite

The Rathskeller has been an Indianapolis favorite for many years!  Located in the Mass Avenue area, this restaurant brings it's Bavarian charm to the neighborhood.
How many Deer can you put on a wall?
Ian and I sat in the bar area.  This restaurant is huge, yet, the bar was crammed full of people that night.  You can order from the full dinner menu or the sandwiches menu in the bar. If you sit in other areas in the restaurant, you can only order from the dinner menu in the evening ours. 
Ice Tea in a Beer Glass
I ordered ice tea.  It came in this gigantic beer glass.  Ian ordered water, and it came in a plastic disposable cup.  I just thought these were interesting ways to receive drinks in a restaurant. 
Pretzel Appetizer with Spicy Mustard
We ordered the soft pretzel with spicy mustard for out appetizer. It was awesome!  When they say spicy mustard, they mean it!  It must be full of horse radish. You can't just go shove a bunch of it in your mouth!  The spicy mustard cleans out your sinuses! At $2.50, the Pretzel is like one you would get at a carnival or fair.  It's had a really nice soft texture and a good pretzel taste.
French Onion Soup
I'll admit it. I've had a small obsession with French Onion Soup lately. The Rathskeller did not disappoint!  This soup had the cheese baked on top and the bread under the cheese.  It had a great flavor for such a common soup.  Also, since French Onion Soup is French, I didn't expect to be able to get it at a German themed restaurant.  It was a nice warm item to eat before going on the Ghost Walk in the cold!
Grilled Tenderloin with Corn
Ian got the grilled tenderloin sandwich. It came with a side, and he chose corn with bell peppers. The tenderloin can also come breaded, which is the normal way to get it in Indiana.  Ian said, he was trying to get a healthier meal.  This tasted really good!
Brat with Sour Kraut and German Potato Salad
I ordered the brat with sour kraut and German potato salad.  The brat was pretty normal.  Something you would expect to get at a German themed restaurant.  It was served on a French bread bun, Saur Kraut, and the spicy mustard.  I actually requested regular mustard to eat on this, because of the spiciness of the other mustard.  I ended up eating the brat with a knife and fork.  I only ate half of the bun, because it's hard to pick this up and eat it the normal way.  The French bread bun was pretty good, but with both pieces, it was too much bread for me.
The item I was most impressed with on this plate was, the potato salad.  It was warm.  It had a creamy texture with a vinegar flavor to it.  I loved it!  I think I need to find a good German Potato Salad recipe like this!
The sandwiches are also served with a pickle spear.
The bar was packed!  It was a Saturday night, and they had a band in the beer garden.  They had three or four private parties and wedding receptions going on at the same time in this building.  The server was kind and efficient.  If she couldn't get to our drinks to refill them, another server or the busser would even check on them.  The food felt comforting, especially the soup and the pretzel.  We will definitely be going back the the Rathskeller to eat again! 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Maggiano's Little Italy: Comfortable Italian

Maggiano's Little Italy is actually a really good restaurant.
He's my secret: I hate going out to eat for Italian food.  OK, maybe that's not really a secret, because I try to tell people this often!  I can definitely make Italian food better at home!
I really like Maggiano's though.  It's a mix of ambiance, the kind service, and the food that makes me want to go to this Italian restaurant.  All of the food is served Family Style.  That means, large dishes of food are served to the table, and then, passed around for everyone to try.  If you don't know the people you are sitting with, you will get to know them pretty quick, by the time the food is passed around! 
This is a chain restaurant, but it started a a little family owned place in Chicago.  A company that my business distributes, takes us out to dinner every year when we are at Midwest Conference.  The first year, the nice people of the company kept saying, "We're going to Little Italy!  This place is great!"  When the limo dropped us off at "Little Italy," I quickly figured out that it was a Maggiano's.  I was actually a little bit disappointed. I had been to the restaurant in Indianapolis, and really wasn't impressed.  The charm of the Chicago location, which is actually the original location grew on me, and I really enjoyed it!
Since I had been to the original location, when I got back to Indy, I decided to try it again.  The first time I had gone, it was with a group of women for a Girls' Night Out with some women I didn't know or hadn't met before.  Not that I don't like hanging out with the Girls, but eating Family Style with people you've never met before, can be kind of awkward.  I decided to give it another try!  Plus, Maggiano's had sent me a coupon via email for $10 off.  That gave me some encouragement to try it again!  Ian and I have gone a few more times since then.  We usually go when we receive a coupon or have an event to celebrate. 
Maggiano's serves a dinner for two for $39.95.  This dinner includes an appetizer, side salad, or flatbread, two main dishes chosen from the Classic Pastas, and a full size dessert to share.
This restaurant averages $20 a person before buying drinks. 
My Strawberry Ice Tea
I started with the Strawberry Ice Tea.  There are other flavors of tea, like blue berry and peach.  Maggiano's also has soda and a full bar.  As you can see from my tea picture, it is really dark in the restaurant.  It creates a romantic feel for the customers, but it's a pain to take pictures on my phone in there! We were shining a light from Ian's phone on the food, while I was taking the pictures.  I had a flash light in my purse, and we tried to use that, but I was slightly embarrassed that people were watching us! I usually don't tell the server or the restaurant that I'm going to be reviewing the restaurant.
Bread and Olive Oil
They always bring out this amazing bread that can be dunked in olive oil. I won't lie, this is one of the things I absolutely love about this place!  As you can see, I dump a bunch of olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and freshly ground pepper on to my plate and start dunking away.  This time, the Parmesan cheese was in a shaker, when it is normally in a bowl and it can be spooned out.  I didn't know if this was a money saving measure, or just a random thing.  The table next to ours had a bowl of cheese.  Ian and I can usually devour at least two baskets of bread before the regular meal gets to our table. 

Sausage and Peppers Appetizer
Normally, we like to get the Stuffed Mushroom Appetizer, but this time, we decided to go with the Sausage and Peppers Appetizer. The sausages had a really nice spicy kick to them.  The peppers were sweet bell peppers that complemented the sausages really well.  I definitely will be getting this appetizer again!

Baked Rigatoni Pomodoro
 Ian ordered the Baked Rigatoni Pomodoro for his dinner.  This is Rigatoni pasta in pomodoro sauce with sliced Calabrian chicken sausage, roasted peppers and smoked mozzarella.  He really likes this dish.  Sometimes, we get this dishes and share them.  When he's got this before, I've tried it.  I'm not big on baked pasta in general.
Four Cheese Ravioli
The Four Cheese Ravioli is the dish I get pretty much every time Ian and I go.  This is Ravioli stuffed with Ricotta cheese, cream cheese, mozzarella and Provolone. Served in a pesto-alfredo cream sauce with a touch of marinara.  I love this ravioli, and it is something I don't make at home!  When it's fresh from the kitchen, the cheese and sauce are amazing!  I've never made a creamy pesto sauce at home.  This dish is baked just enough after it is made to get the pretty brown spots on the top.  I am a meat eater, so, for me to pick a main course that is mostly cheese and sauce is very weird for me!  I would recommend this to anyone who likes a good cheese ravioli.  The weird thing about Maggiono's is, they serve Bartoli Sauce.  It can be bought in just about any grocery store.  I just don't make Ravioli at home!
Creme Brule
For our dessert, we often get the Tiramasu, but this time, I decided to get the Creme Brule.  I love creme brule!  It's a dish I have not accomplished making at home.  This dish was beautiful!  The creme brule had a little bit more of an egg flavor than I expected, but it wasn't enough to hurt the dessert.  One thing I don't like is a custard that tastes like eggs and sugar cooked together, and not custard.  Even though I was already full when the dessert came out, I know I consumed more than half of this dish!
 One of the awesome things about Maggiano's is, you get a full main course to take home, and it doesn't have to be the exact same thing you ordered for dinner! I took home Four Cheese Ravioli and Ian took home Taylor Street Baked Ziti and Sausage.  I'll have to admit, I was over eating pasta by the fourth day of eating these dishes!  We make a meal of these, and cook a Pillsbury French Bread (It's crustier than the Italian.) to eat with the pasta for dinner.
This restaurant is one of the more costly ones that Ian and I eat at.  By the time we've ordered dinner and our drinks and added a tip, it's pretty close to $55-$60 for two people! We do get to eat lunches and dinners for a few days afterward, which cuts down on the grocery budget.
The atmosphere is really nice, and George, or server was really pretty good.  We always try to make a reservation before we go.  This doesn't always mean you get in as soon as you get there.  We still end up waiting an average of 15-30 minutes with reservations.
Things I like about Maggiono's are: I love the bread and oil.  I would choose this any day over bread sticks.  The service is usually on point.  I love the choices of appetizers and desserts that are part of the meal.
I guess that we could eat here cheaper, but getting the meal deal is part of the experience for me.  Knowing that the appetizer and dessert are coming no matter what, is awesome!  Remember, I can eat pasta at home any time.  Trying the appetizers and desserts are part of the fun! Even if you don't get the meal deal and just get main dishes, you still get to take a main course home for later.  (Olive Garden has been doing this lately to compete!)
The restaurant can feel a little dark in the evening, which can be considered romantic, but eating in close proximity with 100 or more strangers isn't that romantic to me. It can also be a bit loud at times, with entire families and groups having parties in the same room as you having your date night.
I give Maggiano's Little Italy 3 pizza pies out of 4.  It's a comfortable restaurant with good food.  If you ever get a chance, visit the original Chicago location.  It has an awesome atmosphere and a great history!