A few days ago, Minneapolis hosted the 52nd SUPER BOWL.

And I am PLEASED…PROUD…(VERY PROUD) not to mention SHOCKED AND AWED (as well as SURPRISED and ASTOUNDED) at the number of celebrities in town for the event – and by how SO MANY OF THEM seemed to adopt MANNY’S STEAKHOUSE as their “go-to” dinner hangout.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, on radio and TV as well as in the newspaper, said….”I went to the famous Manny’s Steakhouse last night and had a steak that was bigger than me. Then I went to bed and slept for 12 hours.”

My Dad always told me that “SELF-PRAISE STINKS”…

… but I can’t help myself. I am IN AWE of our MANNY’S STAFF and the care, quality and efficiency they displayed during the biggest week in our 30-year history.

I’m reminded of what the management guru, Tom Peters, said about how “your customers will never be happier than your staff.” Well, at Manny’s last week, there were smiles all over the place – not just from our guests, but also from servers, cooks, managers, supervisors, bartenders, hosts, dishwashers, cocktailers and wait assistants. Manny’s was one NON-STOP “buzzy” and happy place.

In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, we got a call from our friend and colleague from Indianapolis, Craig Huse, owner of ST. ELMO’S STEAKHOUSE (listed with Manny’s as one of the Top 10 Steakhouses in America). His city hosted the Super Bowl a few years ago, and he told us, “It will be the most electric and rewarding week you’ll ever have in the restaurant business – one you’ll remember for the rest of your life.” HOW TRUE!


Just check out the images below (especially those “KICK-ASS” SERVERS). I’m sure you’ll see some of the heart and soul of MANNY’S and why it’s managed to become a celebrity magnet.

Which prompts me to mention a couple of principles at the heart of MANNY’S.


We’re in this for the long run. That’s why we did not take advantage of the situation and raise prices during Super Bowl Week.


That’s why we turned down the Philadelphia Eagles when they requested A TOTAL BUY-OUT of the restaurant. Instead we “busted our butts” to do our best to make room for the local folks that support Manny’s day in and day out.


That’s why we don’t call the paparazzi or plant stories about sports figures, film stars, entertainers and socialites who dine with us. Manny’s needs to be their “safe place” in Minneapolis (and also where they can get a BIG HUNK OF COW!). That’s not to say we’re not proud that they’ve chosen our restaurant. In fact, we’ll often ask them if we can take their photo and put it on our wall. But if they say no, we respect that.

I’ll be honest: I’M A SUCKER FOR CELEBS. Maybe because I grew up in an isolated farm town in fly-over country, I’m tickled and grateful for their patronage.

But here’s one other secret to Manny’s success: We don’t treat celebrities any differently from our other guests. Yeah, we’ll help them enter and exit discreetly if that’s what they want, but their dining experience is the same as everyone else’s. They don’t get fawned over (or cordoned off); they just get taken care of. Because all of us – even celebrities – need a “night off” once in a while. And there’s no better place to kick back, enjoy life (and eat your weight in steak) than MANNY’S.

And speaking of gratitude: I’m REALLY GRATEFUL TO EVERYONE who made SUPER BOWL 52 such a SUCCESS for our city.

Thank you, Minnesota!



Stewing on Seafood

Joanne and I both grew up in downstate Illinois – far, far from either coast both geographically and, even more so, mentally.

Typical meals ranged from pork chops and fried chicken to roast beef and meatloaf.

Pasta? I didn’t know the word.

Chinese? That meant Chung King in a can.

Hell, we didn’t even have pizza back then (eventually a Pizza Hut opened and promptly became the Best Italian restaurant in Kewanee, Illinois).

It wasn’t until I moved away that I realized how isolated we were culinarily – particularly in regard to seafood. Sure, my dad caught crappies, blue gills and the occasional perch in the nearby canal. Otherwise, we were limited to the occasional Friday Night Fish Fry and platters of frozen cod and catfish. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Fish Fry!).

How much of that Midwestern culinary deprivation still exists? Plenty. I recently had dinner with an old friend from Ohio. Not only had he never eaten lobster, he had no plans ever to go near it.

There but for the grace of God go I. Fortunately, my first jobs involved business travel to places like New York City – and that set me off on a whole different trajectory.

Thinking about my first encounters with exotic fare like lobster and shellfish, I thought it might be fun to examine seafood soups, stews and other concoctions from places far away from the Midwest.

Let’s start with Clam Chowder – sorry, CHOWDAAHH – thick and creamy and buttery with diced potatoes, and best with clam bellies rather than clam strips. For a less caloric version, there’s Manhattan Clam Chowder, a tomato-based “brothy” iteration made with chopped vegetables. It’s plenty good, of course, but nothing compares to the delicious decadence of a true New England Clam Chowder.

Hop to San Francisco and the chowder’s just as good, but you might enjoy it in one of their famous sourdough bread boules, hollowed out and filled to the brim with this tummy stuffer.

Then there are fish stews – often creamy, but also tomato and broth-based. They allow for most any kind of fish or shellfish, and most always include potatoes, occasionally smoked bacon, and typically come with sopping bread on the side. Lobster Stew is special for obvious reasons – and the more claw meat, the better.

A variation is Lobster Bisque, which is velvety, delicate and elegant compared to its lusty big brother, Lobster Stew.

My first encounter with fish soup in France was a simple Soupe de Poisson, always served in a French Tete de Lion porcelain bowl and accompanied by toast rounds and a rouille (garlic mayo with “bite”). Shredded gruyere cheese sits alongside for sprinkling. As a starter, I LOVED this soup.

Which brings me back to the whole Midwestern thing. When we opened Salut, I had Fish Soup on the menu. Prepared with slavish devotion to the French recipes and techniques, it was utterly delicious. We sautéed the fresh fish bones in olive oil, added the mirepoix (onions, celery, carrots and fennel) and white wine, tomato paste and tomato sauce. Then came thyme, bay leaves and rosemary as well as garlic, juice from orange wedges and orange zest. (If we included shellfish in the broth, we went lighter on the sodium, as shellfish is salty all by itself.) And then we let it simmer – for a good two hours.

After the simmer, it was off to the food mill and pulverized into a smooth, rich and aromatic soup. The final touch: a dash of Pernod to give it a very slight and subtle licorice edge. We served it with the requisite toast rounds, a “bracing” rouille and the shredded gruyere (not the Wisconsin imitation, but the real thing, from the town of Gruyere, Switzerland, just across the French border).


And it didn’t sell worth a DAMN.

Eventually we took it off the menu. (Do you think it might have been the name – “fish soup”?) But we didn’t give up on seafood soups. Instead we introduced the mother of them all: BOUILLABAISSE!

Allegedly created by fishermen in the southern port of Marseille, Bouillabaisse has become emblematic of French coastal cuisine and its recipe must adhere to a strict code. For example, only certain fish may be used, including St. Pierre, Rascasse (a certain kind of eel), galinette and a host of others that swim primarily in the waters off Marseille. Today, I think those rules have been relaxed, probably quite a bit, but the dish remains a powerful point of pride. If you find yourself in Marseille, numerous restaurants around the Vieux Port specialize in Bouillabaisse. The most notable of these is FONFON, but I’m certain others do just as great a job, especially on a warm summer afternoon, accompanied by a glass or two or three or four of French Rosé.

Something to be aware of when ordering a Bouillabaisse in or around Marseille: it may well be presented in two parts. First comes the broth, typically served in a large shallow bowl with slices of bread and rouille. Next comes the fish portion, sometimes presented on a large platter of its own or ladled into another soup bowl, accompanied by more broth. Diners unaware of this two-phase presentation risk filling up on broth before they even get to the fish.

Then there’s CIOPPINO. Word is that it was invented by Italian fishermen from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco who, when they were out to sea (with no refrigeration) would toss various species of cleaned fish and shellfish into a heated community soup pot with canned tomatoes, garlic and wine, plus various vegetables and spices. That sounds plausible to me.

The fish they used depended on the daily catch – no rules. And being Italian, the recipe is certainly less tightly wound than the rule-governed French version. Oh, and instead of toast rounds, Cioppino usually comes with olive oil-laced salty garlic bread.

Italy, of course, offers its own version of Bouillabaisse: ZUPPA DI PESCE. Based on my experiences with it, it’s similar – if not identical – to a good Cioppino, with two exceptions: First, it’s occasionally served over bread (big deal); and it’s often available in a spicy-hot version called FRA DIAVOLO (which means “of the devil”). And oh yeah, they use real San Marzano tomatoes.

And then there is SALUT’s Boullabaisse: We select the fish that were swimming yesterday, so the composition varies. But the flavor profile hews faithfully to the French tradition, so we call it Bouillabaisse anyway. Yeah, yeah – we’re taking liberties. But DAMN it’s GOOD!



A Not Entirely Welcoming Habitat

I love Miami Beach in the winter – the vibe…the energy…obviously the warm weather…and, of course, the restaurant scene; there’s always someplace new to try.

The constant stream of openings, however, represents part of the problem with Miami: No sooner do you fall in love with a place than it closes and gets replaced with a new one.

That’s the case at a restaurant Joanne and I recently visited at the swank 1 Hotel South Beach, which opened a couple of years ago in the heart of South Beach at 23rd and Collins Avenue.

Their flagship restaurant, BEACHCRAFT, created by world renowned restauranteur and James Beard award winner Tom Colicchio, created a buzzy vibe throughout the area. Joanne and I, of course, needed to try it out. Not only was it a good-looking place in an ultra-chic hotel, but we really enjoyed it. The fare was rather simple and straightforward with just enough twists and turns to make every dish engaging.

So you can imagine my surprise and disappointment last week when we learned that it had folded and had been replaced by HABITAT, led by Jose Mendin and Angel Palacois of the highly successful Miami-based PUBBELLY GROUP. The geometry of the dining room has not changed, so if there are two of you, be sure to request the corner table, #72.

Now, HABITAT is nice. Although it didn’t seem that very much was done to change the interior décor (what I call “washing the cat and putting up new fly paper”), the menu was different – sort of MODERN SPANISH, with an emphasis on fresh seafood, much of it prepared in their wood-fired oven.

Due to economic headwinds largely imposed by city and state governments, it seems that the whole restaurant world has begun charging for bread. And HABITAT was no exception. The difference is that they offer CATALAN TOMATO BREAD – and charge $14 for it!!!

I liked the Kale Tempura with Kimchi Mayo as an appetizer, also $14.

Check out the image of the Margarita Flatbread – loaded, and I mean LOADED, with fresh mozzarella, sundried tomatoes and fresh basil. It’s really good, and fairly priced at $14.

Ceviches, oysters and sea urchin form a seafood core of the appetizers, while Paté de Compagne ($22), Salt-Cured Foie Gras with Tomato Chutney, and Bone Marrow Stuffed with Steak Tartare (and crowned with a quail egg), at $21, will satisfy any carnivores in your party.

A starter of Iberico and Serrano Ham ran about $40 for a table -size platter, but was worth it. These hams – which come from pigs that eat acorns and other healthy forageables – rival the best Prosciutto di Parma from Italy. If you’re looking for drama, go for the Lionfish ($34, pictured below). It’s a predatory species, so you’ll feel like you’re doing your part for the environment by eating it. Plus, it’s accompanied by chicharonnes (delicious, crunchy deep fried pork skin), so how can you go wrong? And if its comfort food that you have in mind, the Black Angus New York Strip ($42) will do just fine.

For dessert, we had the Barba-Papa. I had absolutely no idea what that was, but it’s a sort of spun sugar/cotton candy pear-shaped confection accompanied by fresh ginger, pineapple and coconut. Apparently the name refers to the shape of the dessert as well as a French cartoon character.

I have included the image of the Dessert Cheese Plate from the previous restaurant, Beachcraft, as it was one of the better that I’ve ever had. I wish it were on the menu at Habitat.

Some other things that I wish…

I wish never, ever again to be told by my server that “the food comes out when it’s ready.” That’s what Habitat does. I HATE THAT. So when I’m in a party of 4 or 6 and my hamburger arrives before everyone else’s food, do I sit there politely as its juices congeal? Or should I be an impolite ass and start gorping down my burger while the other guests twiddle their thumbs?

I also wish Habitat would come to their senses about wine. While the food is good – really good – the wine list must have been put together by a “wine nut” who reads every page of Wine Spectator and doesn’t give a damn about wine purchasers. The offerings here are CRAZY NUTS EXPENSIVE.

I did a “back of the napkin” calculation and said to our server, “I can’t afford to dine here.” The French whites averaged $226 a bottle – with the lowest priced offering at $72 and the highest priced wine at $565.

The U.S. Cabs averaged $115 a bottle, and the least expensive Pinot Noir was $90 (for a section average of $225).

Adding insult to financial injury, our server couldn’t answer the simplest questions about the offerings. My every query sent her running to the manager. So….was I given the Captain’s Wine List by mistake? When I asked that question, she just stared at me like a goat.

I hope I WAS looking at the Captain’s List. I’d like for this place to succeed, but in my opinion they won’t stand a chance unless they include some approachable and affordable “safe harbor” wines. We ordered the cheapest one on the menu: an Italian Rosé for $57. It tasted liked pink water.



RAKU: Our Neighborhood Japanese Joint

Joanne and I live in the downtown Edina area, within walking distance of the movie theater, the grocery and liquor store, and of course SALUT and the other restaurants that populate the neighborhood – Edina Grill, Arezzo, Beaujo’s, Coconut Thai, and D’Amico.

We frequent them all, but the one we dine at the most often (other than SALUT) is RAKU…tucked between Lunds’ parking lot and the Edina Movie Theater, at 3939 W. 50th Street.

“Why?”, you ask.

Well, it’s a cozy space – stylish but not chic, with a muted color palate, and just plain comfortable. Now, I’m not a HUGE fan of Japanese cuisine…but I do like it from time to time. It’s a refreshing change of pace.

RAKU feels REAL, not contrived. In fact, the restaurant has a pronounced home-spun quality that suggests it’s family-run – and, by and large, run well. Even the occasional slips are endearing; a reminder that this isn’t a well-oiled corporate chain (“Hi, my name’s Sally and I’m going to be your server tonight…”). A few weeks back, Mama (who doesn’t speak English) gave away our coveted (and reserved) window booth, but who cares? It’s obvious they mean well.

Since we don’t dine often at Japanese restaurants during our travels, I can’t really judge how their food compares to other Japanese restaurants around the country. Raku calls itself “MODERN JAPANESE.” And I suppose that the closest I’ve come to a restaurant along those lines is MORIMOTO in Honolulu.

All I know is that I like it.

Joanne and I always start with a $5 order of well-salted Edamame Beans and frequently Miso Soup ($3. Yes, just $3). On occasion our entire evening meal will consist of appetizers, including Shumai, Steamed Shrimp Dumplings with a little Asian slaw and Ponzu dipping sauce ($6). Don’t miss the pork-filled Gyoza Dumplings, either. They can be ordered either steamed or fried (also $6).

Duck Springs Rolls are a treat for me, though not for Joanne; she prefers the sushi Ginza Roll (rock shrimp tempura and asparagus topped with a crab mix) or the Captain Crunch Roll, stuffed with shrimp tempura, avocado, cucumber and crab, all rolled in crunchy tempura flakes and served with a slightly sweet sesame sauce.

Joanne basically loves the Alaska Sushi Roll, packed with salmon and avocado, rolled up in brown rice (right up her alley), and touched with tobiko (flying fish eggs, which definitely AREN’T up her alley).

It’s about now that we start washing down our food with a chilled bottle of white wine…usually Ferrari Carano Fumé Blanc – reasonably priced at $45.

Salads are not a Raku strong suit. They’re frequently over-dressed, but that’s easily remedied by ordering your dressing on the side. Our 12-year-old grandson recently had their Steak Salad, which is quite good with sliced filet mignon and – at $14 – a real bargain. Our favorite starter salad, by far, is the Seaweed Salad ($6).

Sashimi Plates are pristinely fresh. Expensive? Yes, but who wants to eat cheap raw fish?

Here are some other favorites, in no particular order:

Rock Shrimp Tempura, Veggie Tempura, Sesame Shrimp and Sesame Chicken, and the Chicken-Fried Rice (a highly complementary side dish). I recently tried the Crispy Tuna atop crispy eggplant with smoked eel sauce and spicy mayo. I’ll have that again.

If you find yourself up for a main course, by all means try the Toban Yaki. The name means “cooked on a ceramic plate” and this dish arrives HOT, so be careful. A while back Joanne had the mixed Seafood Toban Yaki, redolent with scallops, shrimp and other seafood stuff. I’m not sure if they still do this dish; it might only come in a beef version now.

Finish up with Green Tea Tempura Ice Cream – deep-fried and full of antioxidants. Healthy? Uh, sure.

Well, this posting probably won’t mean much to readers outside of the Twin Cities, but WTF – Raku deserves a shout-out!



Remember the TV commercial that told us, “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup”?

Whoever wrote that never ate at my favorite breakfast places. Here’s just a sampling of can’t-miss destinations for your morning meal.

There’s no better place to start than with New York’s world-famous iconic delis. The king of them all, the CARNEGIE DELI, is no longer in business, so if you haven’t had their legendary Eggs & Corned Beef Hash by now, you’re SOL. But you can still go KATZ’S for lox and bagels, BARNEY GREENGRASS for Eggs with Sturgeon or a Salami Omelette, and RUSS & DAUGHTERS in Soho for Shakshouka, a concoction of red peppers, tomatoes, onions, paprika and cumin topped with fried eggs and accompanied by thick-sliced Challah Toast.

Also in New York: the incomparable NORMA’S in Le Parker Meridien hotel. This Midtown hotspot serves breakfast and lunch only, and yes, you WILL need a reservation. But you’ll also be rewarded with gargantuan plates and platters of beautiful, witty, and delicious morning treats.

Next time you’re in Los Angeles, head to ROSCOE’S in Pasadena, where I first encountered Chicken & Waffles. For a complete write-up on it, read my April, 2016 blog post about Roscoe’s.

Once in San Francisco, a colleague told me that I needed to try SEARS for its Silver Dollar Pancakes. At the time, I was designing commercial interiors for department stores (including Sears), so I figured, why not? Sears was an institution, right downtown, and packed to the gills every morning. In fact, we had to wait 30 minutes for a table. So were San Francisco’s breakfast cognoscenti onto something? Not really. But here we are nearly half a century later, and I’m talking about it, so they must have been doing something right.

In Germany, we had to make do with hard bread, cold cuts and cheese. However, it was pretty good hard bread, cold cuts and cheese.

In Sweden, and recently in Reykjavik, Iceland, breakfasts are quite similar. Hotels offer smorgasbords – sometimes quite lavish spreads – while restaurants and cafes lean toward simpler offerings like open-face breakfast sandwiches, often featuring clever combinations of ingredients – probably an ode to the famous OSKAR DAVIDSEN restaurant in Copenhagen.

In Italy, on the other hand, breakfast is almost always simple and traditional. You’ll enjoy sweet rolls with your espresso every morning, and in the South, around Naples, SFOGLIATELLE. Italy’s answer to the croissant, it features layers and layers of puff pastry formed into a clamshell shape, and it can be loaded with all sorts of fillings, like ricotta, honey, prosciutto, figs, you name it. A couple of those with a glass of blood orange juice? I like starting my day that way.

Paris? Here you have your choice of simple or spectacular. At the upscale hotels, things can get pretty fancy. Eggs Benedict isn’t just carefully composed, the Hollandaise is formally napped tableside with a flourish unique to the French. Ever had Baked Eggs in Truffle Cream? Me neither. But if someone else is paying, you can try them for breakfast at the Plaza Athenée.

Sophisticated folks, I’m told, have breakfast radishes. Hmmm?

I’ll take a pass, though. Just give me some steaming coffee, fresh squeezed juice, and freshly baked overnight croissants, slathered with butter and apricot jam. Check out Joanne at L’Avenue on Rue Montaigne with the Herald Tribune “havin’ fun now.”

And then, of course, there’s England…

Now, England has the distinction (some would call it dubious) of some internationally renowned meals ranging from Shepherd’s Pie and Bangers & Mash (sausages and potatoes), to Fish & Chips and Sunday Roast. But perhaps they’re best known for their hearty, rib-sticking English Breakfasts.

To quote W. Somerset Maugham: “To eat well in England, one should have breakfast three times a day.”

A place that we love for breakfast is THE WOLSELEY, right on Picadilly, near Green Park and the Ritz. It’s crowded and it’s good.

Hotel breakfasts in London can be delightful. Smoked Scottish Salmon and Blini…or Smoked Haddock (Finnin Haddie) (a favorite of mine, not Joanne’s) with Poached Eggs … or Avocado Toast … or Baked Beans and Chorizo Toast. Joanne had a Dosa once, a southern Indian sort of thin pancake made from a fermented batter of rice and lentils, served with a chutney or sambar (tamarind dip). It was okay, just okay.

A basic English breakfast of poached eggs and back bacon (Canadian bacon) is hard to beat. And hotels can be very accommodating. For example, my 10-year-old granddaughter does not tolerate gluten very well. When we mentioned that to our waiter, he immediately went to the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with gluten free croissants. Okay, okay, I know: Gluten free frequently doesn’t taste so hot. However, with the amount of butter and marmalade that she lathered on…well, I think they tasted pretty good, after all.

Here’s a couple of English touches that I love: the toast caddies with the diagonal half slices standing at attention. Also the miniature jars of marmalade, honey, jam and jellies. How many of those little “cuties” find their way into people’s purses?

At any rate, I’m told that the origin of the proper English breakfast dates back to the 1300s and eventually morphed into a favorite of the wealthy British gentry, always as a breakfast feast before a hunt. It’s been interpreted by the Irish with the addition/substitution of white sausage and fried soda bread, and by the Scots with Scotch eggs and often haggis (sheep’s liver and lungs along with oatmeal encased in the sheep’s stomach). Yuck and double yuck. (Ever wonder why you never hear much about Scottish cuisine?).

But then there’s this: the “mother of all English breakfasts”….the Full Monty.

Think about The Whole Enchilada.

The Whole Shebang.

The Whole Nine Yards (said to refer to the length of ammunition belts in the war).

No, the Full Monty refers to World War II British General Bernard Montgomery, Monty, who in battles against the German General, Erwin Rommel, in North Africa, was reported to start his day with a Full English Breakfast, including blood sausage, baked beans, mushrooms, back bacon (not the streaky bacon we’re used to), grilled tomatoes, hash browns and occasionally Bubble & Squeak (fried cabbage, bacon fat, potatoes and onion).

Take a look at HAWKSMOOR STEAKHOUSE in London (listed with Manny’s as one of the world’s Top 10 Steakhouses). They serve up the best Full Monty Brunch I’ve ever seen. They even add pork chops.

I’ve always said, “If you’re going to fire a gun, fire BOTH barrels.”

HAWKSMOOR fires both barrels.




Joanne and I have been to GASTHAUS BAVARIAN HUNTER on about four occasions in the last few years, mostly recently with our grandkids to introduce them to one of Minnesota’s foundational cuisines. I’d always teased the kids about how bad German food is, and how I, being of mongrel ancestry and therefore not “contaminated” by German food, have a much keener palate than their grandmother – who, according to, is 87% German.

Our son, David, from Boston, was in town a few weeks ago and along with our daughter, Jennifer, we made the trip to Stillwater for lunch at the GASTHAUS.

So what is it that I like about this place?

GASTHAUS BAVARIAN HUNTER is over 50 years old…The place is REAL. It’s a “pure play” – no German tacos or burritos here. The Pine Forest wood-veneer setting is evocative and believable for a Bavarian gasthaus, too. David, who travels to Germany often, said this place feels like it could actually be in southern Germany. They even raise goats out back of the restaurant, something APPLEBEE’S and RED LOBSTER do not do.

We settled in for what became about a two-hour lunch – starting, of course, with German beer…even had a second glass.

Breads were dense, dark and chewy, and we followed up with a Herring Sampler Trio – all pickled: one plain, one in red wine, and one bathed in mustard ¬– complete with raw veggies, which provided a nice counterpoint crunch. It came with a half-dozen Ritz Crackers, which actually worked quite nicely ($11.95).

Jennifer ordered the Kaese Spaetzle – sort of a German Mac & Cheese with caramelized onions; so big and so rich that we ended up sharing it ($ 8.95.)

Although I’ve always thought of Goulash as Hungarian, I guess it isn’t too big of a step to imagine it migrating to Germany. David had the Goulash Soup, delicious and loaded with paprika.

Two classifications seem to rule the menu: sausages of all stripes, and a variety of schnitzel – veal, chicken and pork; the latter, called Jaegerschnitzel, served with a mushroom gravy. My favorite, however, is the simple and wonderful classic veal preparation of wiener schnitzel, served with a squeeze of lemon.

All are accompanied by side dish choices typical of a Bavarian restaurant – red cabbage, potato dumplings, spaetzle, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and German potato salad. I don’t think you could make a bad pairing. All are authentic, all are good.

We didn’t try the sauerbraten on this trip. That’s simply German for “potroast.” Gasthaus marinates theirs for a couple of days before cooking and makes a gravy from the marinade. It has a peculiar, delicious flavor sensation that you can’t quite put your finger on…….GINGER SNAP COOKIES!

I took the German peasant route and ordered the football-sized “schweinshaxe” – the pork knuckle. It’s the part of the pig’s leg just above the ankle. This, too, is marinated for days, then roasted for 2-3 hours until the meat falls off the bone. Served with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut, it’s a Teutonic bargain at $12.75.

You really need to finish off your feast with the Apple Strudel. You really, really do.

And if you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on your tolerance for tableside serenades), your server will pull out an accordion and play for you…. ….which brings me back to the public perception of German cuisine. Is it really cuisine? Or is it an oxymoron, like “accordion music?”

I was just wondering…



Not so much anymore, but in past years Joanne and I always planned some sort of festivity for New Year’s Day – usually a party centered around the Rose Bowl game, with “hair of the dog” concoctions central to the offerings.

The full phrase, actually, is “The hair of the dog that bit you” – meaning that if you over-imbibed the previous night, a wee dram of the same drink in the morning will soothe the nerves and calm the soul.

Originally, however, the phrase supposedly had nothing to do with alcohol. It’s thought to date back to ancient times in England or Scotland, where people believed that you could speed the healing of a dog bite by putting some of the animal’s hair on the wound.

Could be a bunch of hooey. But I told Joanne that if she ever gets bit by a dog on one of our walks around the lake, we’re going to give it a try.

I’m also reminded of Homer Simpson’s favorite toast: “Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

No truer words were ever spoken to someone nursing a New Year’s Eve hangover. And no better drink has ever been served on New Year’s Day than a BLOODY MARY.

Where and how the world’s most famous brunch drink was born is subject to some dispute. But there seem to be a few prevailing opinions, none of which – or any of which – may be true.

One view is that in the 1920s, at HARRY’S BAR in Paris, Ernest “Papa” Hemingway took to drinking a simple concoction of vodka and tomato juice – nothing more. Such was his fame that it became an instant classic.

Others say that in New York City a decade or so later, the 21 CLUB and the KING COLE BAR in the St. Regis Hotel prepared Bloody Marys for the comedian George Jessel, who requested his with a celery stalk garnish and, some say, a dash of Worcestershire Sauce.

Garnishes, of course, are THE distinguishing feature of Bloody Marys, even though the spiciness of the mix itself can vary widely.

So this posting is going to be different from my others: It’s a “visual feast” of outrageous Bloody Mary garnish ideas for your New Year’s Day celebrations. Look at the pictures, read the captions, and seize the opportunity to knock out your guests with your creativity even as you nurse them back to health with your cocktail.

We’ll start with the simple foundations of the Ernest Hemingway and George Jessel iterations and proceed to the more bizarre and clever possibilities.

Somewhere along the journey, you’ll need to figure out just where the garnishes end and the buffet begins.

Enjoy – and Happy New Year!



Over the years, we’ve opened a number of restaurants in the Indianapolis area, including Buca di Beppos and an Oceanaire Seafood Room.

In the beginning, I wasn’t particularly familiar with Indy, but I quickly became acquainted with local fixtures like the Indianapolis Colts…the Indiana War Memorial Plaza Historic District…and of course the Indianapolis 500, with its roster of legendary drivers like A.J. Foyt Sr. and Jr., the Unsers, and Mario Andretti.

But the legend that resonated with me most closely had to do with food: ST. ELMO’S STEAK HOUSE, an Indianapolis institution since 1902. Located downtown on Illinois Street near the 248-foot-tall Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, it’s named after the patron saint of sailors.

Full disclosure: We know the St. Elmo people well. We’re both members of the National Retail Cattlemen’s Association (You may have seen our “Top 10 Steakhouses in America” ad in the Delta inflight magazine). The St. Elmo’s folks are great people, with a TERRIFIC steakhouse, one that has so much in common with Manny’s DNA that it’s scary. Their commitment to quality, their service standards and dining room experience are strikingly similar to ours, as reflected by Zagat ratings that are nearly identical – 4.7 and 4.8. That’s in the stratosphere for steakhouses. Zagat says of St. Elmo: “Steak the way God intended.”

Joanne and I have been there on numerous occasions and feel very much at home and cozy in St. Elmo’s clubby, masculine surroundings, rich with wood and exposed brick.

The tuxedo-clad servers, like Manny’s less formally attired staff, are not part timers. No, this is their “main event” and their professionalism shines at every level…respectful of the restaurant’s 115-year history…attentive but not overbearing, unfailingly polite and, if the occasion is celebratory, plenty fun.

As with Manny’s, St. Elmo’s features all the iconic steakhouse menu offerings – generous and expertly executed. Other than the steaks, the “star of the show” here is the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, served with a sinus-clearing cocktail sauce.

The beef is what you’d expect from a place like St. Elmo’s – the highest quality, perfectly prepared and expertly served. Porterhouses…New York Strips…Filets…Rib-eyes. They’re all world-class.

Prime Rib is also excellent here, as is the Surf & Turf. Lobster Mac & Cheese is a “must have” side dish. You’ll also find Indiana Pork Chops and Amish Chicken on the menu.

Desserts include Cheesecake, Crème Brulée, a decadent Chocolate Layer Cake, and my personal favorite: St. Elmo’s Bread Pudding.

No wonder this place was recognized by the James Beard Foundation in 2012 as an “American Classic.”

Take it from me: If you find yourself in Indy, don’t even bother with the other steakhouses (We’ve tried them all!). St. Elmo’s reigns supreme.




The first time I posted about chicken was in my May 20th, 2016 blog on Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Pasadena. A later post covered another mecca for chicken lovers: Le Coq Roti, near Montmartre in Paris (there’s also a branch in NYC). Truth be told, I really love chicken – roasted, rotisserie, grilled, barbequed…even poached.

But nothing compares to FRIED CHICKEN. Maybe it’s because, growing up in central Illinois in the years following the Depression, chicken was a fixture on our dinner table – affordable, plentiful and, the way my mom prepared it, delicious. And the leftovers were just as good, eaten cold on Sunday afternoon picnics, accompanied by potato salad loaded with sweet, smooth Miracle Whip.

Back then, we didn’t think about chicken in “farm to table” terms. All I knew was fork-to-mouth, and the more the better.

Fast forward to my college courtship with Joanne. She invited me home for spring break, and I vividly remember her mother awakening me to her simple and delicious rendition of fried chicken. Lillie was a farm lady living in southern, Illinois. No grocery store-bought birds for her. She just picked and plucked the unlucky creature out in the barnyard; cut it up; dredged the pieces in flour, salt and pepper; amped-up her Sunbeam Electric Skillet to HIGH; loaded it with lard (no Canola); and away she went. I had never, ever tasted fried chicken like that.

(I remember thinking, My mom has to UP HER GAME.)

Since that epiphany, I’ve had the good fortune of sampling fried chicken from coast to coast. And all I can say is, “The worst I’ve had was delicious.”

I have some favorites in addition to Roscoe’s, among them YARDBIRD’S chicken and waffles, which rivals Roscoe’s and sports little chunks of watermelon alongside. Not to be missed are its little Fried Chicken Breast Drop Biscuit Sliders, and its MAC & CHEESE.

A great place that I’ve never been to, but have heard nothing but good things about is PANNIE-GEORGE’S in Auburn, Alabama, near the university. It’s sort of cafeteria-style and celebrates its Deep South roots with the side dishes like black-eyed peas, deep-fried okra, white rice & gravy…

A place that Joanne and I have been to on numerous occasions is ZEHNDER’S in Frankenmuth, Michigan. What the hell were we doing in Frankenmuth, Michigan, you might ask. Well, we had the “pleasure” of living for a few months in Flint, Michigan, the home of Michael Moore, Buick, and famous tap water while opening a FIGLIO restaurant there. (Don’t even ask!)

At any rate, we needed to escape that wretched city, so on weekends we’d motor up to Frankenmuth for Sunday Brunch at Zehnder’s, which is reported to be the largest family-owned restaurant in the United States – with 1,400 seats, as I recall. The most impressive thing about Zehnder’s, however, was the brunch itself – a massive, all-you-can-eat affair that included all the fixin’s, plus dessert, for $21.95 at last report. The star of the show here? You guessed it: Superbly fried chicken, crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, perfectly complemented by my favorite Zehender’s side dish: buttered noodles. So simple, and so good.

Rounding out the list is ROOT AND BONE, located in New York City’s once dangerous Alphabet blocks on the lower East Side. Two chefs from Yardbird in Miami provide the pedigree here. ROOT AND BONE isn’t a Deep South “dive-y” joint – far from it. Their fried chicken is sweet tea-brined, “lemon-dusted,” and comes with Honey Tabasco Sauce. Miniature Buckwheat Cheddar Waffles and Whiskey Maple Syrup are clever adds, and taste really good. A side dish with a nod to the South is the Grits with Pimento Cheese and Chives. There’s also a giant nod to France: Macarons that rival those of Ladurée in Paris.

To be sure, great fried chicken joints abound in America. Shucks, even KFC is great! But one place just might stand above them all: STROUD’S in Kansas City. I’m reminded of it because our son Steven and friend Tim dined there recently on a road trip from Minneapolis to Miami. Now, I haven’t been there in years, but from their reports, it appears that absolutely nothing has changed except its location. We remember it as a charming “tumble-down” joint at 85th and Troost. Now it has multiple locations, including one in Omaha.

Back in the day, Joanne and I spent several weeks in Kansas City, building yet another Figlio in the Plaza development (this one lasted quite a bit longer than the one in Flint). At least once a week we ate at Stroud’s.

What’s the big deal about this place? It’s REAL. It’s eccentric. It’s impervious to time. And its chicken rivals Joanne’s mother’s. Instead of using a Sunbeam electric skillet, however, they fry in giant Lodge cast iron skillets – 8 or 10 lined up in a row, each large enough to fry 16 pieces of chicken at once (Each piece, by the way, gets turned only once). I don’t know where they source their chickens, but I can tell you, they are big, fat, juicy birds.

Something else I can’t tell you: what precisely Stroud’s means when they say, “We Choke Our Own Chickens.” Emblazoned on servers’ t-shirts, the menus and the walls, it’s a great line – intriguing, but at the same time telling you more than you want to know.

As you sit down, you’re greeted with a plastic basket of cellophane-wrapped crackers of various stripes. Dinners come with a nice House Salad with grated cheese and crispy croutons. There’s a good house-made Chicken Noodle Soup, too.

But why waste your time with those when you could be sharing a platter of Deep Fried Chicken Livers – or, better yet, a platter of Deep Fried Gizzards? Can’t make up your mind? Stroud’s will do a combo.

All the meats are decent here, including the Chicken Fried Steak with Pepper Gravy. But that’s not why you’ve come to Stroud’s.

I’ve since learned – but was not surprised – that Stroud’s is a James Beard Award winner…in the “Homestyle” category. Also, Zagat gives them a 4.6 rating – that’s really high. And to quote Zagat, Stroud’s is “fit for a king…affordable for a family.” (A full chicken dinner runs you $17.95). On top of that, Jane and Michael Stern of Road Food Fame say “Stroud’s makes the most delicious fried chicken in America.”

One other thing I love about Stroud’s: There’s no dessert menu here – because all dinners conclude with a basket of homemade, sticky, gooey, unbelievably heavy CINNAMON ROLLS! What restaurant today would do this? What diner would even want a dessert like that after polishing off a family platter of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, a mess of gravy, salad, and a big bowl of bacon-laden green beans. It makes no sense whatsoever – from a cost standpoint, from a health standpoint, from a 21st century eating trends standpoint. But that’s part of the beauty of this time capsule of a restaurant.

If you ever have the chance, eat at STROUD’S. And bring the family. It’ll be a particular treat for your teenage boys, who know a thing or two about choking chickens.