Hannah’s Bretzel: Shouting “Pretzel Bread” Can and Will Render Any Opposing Argument Invalid

I have a little request - someone, anyone, give me an incurable disease so that I may have an excuse to have this sandwich for free out of pity.

131 S. Dearborn

Website

Comrades, aside from all the German-American imports of Christmas morning proportions, like supermodels and potato pancakes, there are a lot of terrible things that Germany has done to us. The events from about 1914-1945 come to mind, but why stop there? There’s also the catchiness of this song, the mediocre-but-popular volkswagen beetle, lederhosen, neo-nazis on American soil, and Rammstein (okay, a few songs of theirs are good, but you could level a city with those pyrotechnics).

But the decidedly German upscale joint downtown, Hannah’s Bretzel, came to my attention in a special on the morning news. I stopped in to see what this mysterious “über sandwich” that they advertise. Well, let’s think about this for a second: for a sandwich to truly be an übersandwich, it has to transcend the mortal ineptitude of a regular sandwich and realize its full potential as a foodstuff – right, Nietzche?

"Behold, I teach you the oversandwich! The oversandwich is the meaning of the culinary industry. Let your will say: the oversandwich shall be the meaning of the culinary industry! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the restaurants, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly seasonings! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, inedible and poisoned themselves, of whom the restaurant industry is weary: so let them go!" -Thus Spoke Sandwichthustra, Prologue

Wow, okay, that made no sense in retrospect. Anyway – how is the actual sandwich?

Well, first off, the majority of sandwich bread you will find there will be this wunderbar (insert Wonderbread joke here) stuff called pretzel bread. It’s salty, it’s soft, it’s like eating a sandwich with a soft pretzel but not as god-forsakenly fattening. And the sandwiches aren’t the only high point – the tomato bisque I had was mealy, tart, and everything tomato bisque should be.

The ingredients? They’re all natural. Hannah’s Bretzel prides themselves on not being McDonald’s. And it shows in the interior as well – the place looks like a homeless shelter soup kitchen from The Jetsons. This is a good thing, trust me.

You’d think this sort of thing would be expensive, wouldn’t you? Well, you’re kinda-sorta right. The meals are small in size compared to what you pay, and not terribly filling.

But let me tell you, that’s the only real downside. If you haven’t heard of this place,  and you haven’t gone here, you have no excuse. Go before I hit you with a pretzel stick. And it won’t be made out of pretzel bread, either.

So, for this wonderful place I will forgive Germany for the following atrocities:

  1. Lederhosen
  2. Rammstein and its fans
  3. One world war (but ONLY the first one)

Costello’s: Or, How I Met the Guardian Angel of Sick Customers

Scroll down; looking at this logo actively lowers your life expectancy.

4647 N. Lincoln

Website

Comrades, I’ll be honest with you (because let’s face it, if I were going to say “this statement is false,” I’d probably kill all the robots reading my blog. And – oh crap, I just did, didn’t I. Whatever, they were probably spambots). I’m a food critic with Addison’s Disease. Now, let’s not get all teary and Lifetime TV about it – I’m mostly recovered, the height of my problems was in 2006 and I’m doing great. So I’ll cut to the chase: if I throw up, I probably have to go to the ER.

Not a particularly appetizing way to begin a food review, is it? Well…

It all started when I was a little boy and my uncle Mortimer told me that God killed Santa Claus in a bar fight when I went on my bike to Costello’s in Lincoln Square. I live in Lakeview, so it’s a moderate ride away, but it seems longer with the crazy drivers.

I walk in and I have to weave around a mishmash of dancing kids in front of a live children’s singer on the podium near the entrance. It’s situations like this where you realize how much emotional, financial, and legal damage one wrong footstep of a non-skinny 23-year-old guy can create, so it was more than a little tense. Thankfully this was a one-day deal, and sometimes they get cool people from the nearby Old Town School of Folk Music.

I asked an employee if this was a kid’s birthday party or something, out of curiosity. My reply was a hateful “It’s everyone’s day.” Geez, just call me a capitalist pigdog if I am one, ma’am.

The decor relies on white, green, red, and yellow tile. It’s like if a McDonald’s had sex with a hot dog joint in Englewood – that’s the decor.

I ordered a ham sandwich with no tomatoes (I KILL TOMATO FANS I’m not a big fan of tomatoes unless they’re good), a bag of chips, and an orange juice. Should be fine, right? It looks better than the other options anyway (rule of thumb: it’s just a bad idea for your body to order any sandwich called “the mess.”) The dreary lady at the counter takes my $9.10 —

Let’s just stop right there. A GOOD MEAL AT A FAST FOOD PLACE SHOULD NOT COST NINE FUCKING DOLLARS. More than seven, and you’re getting screwed over. I didn’t know Marie Antoinette ran this place; you’d expect her to have a French thing on Michigan Avenue.

Relatively speaking, her severed head is probably 70% more appetizing than what I was served.

And after an unusually long wait where they had to bake my sandwich (not toast, mind you), I was given a steaming heap of a few pieces of something that resembled a ham sandwich if you thought hard enough. It smelled worse than anything I’d been served at Philly’s Best. In fact, that’s one thing I’ll give Philly’s Best: they aren’t this Cthulhu-forsaken place.

After two bites, I felt sick from how greasy and unhealthy it looked, smelled, tasted, felt, and even sounded like as I ate it. I had to throw the whole meal away. And this is where the Addison’s disease comes in: I staggered out the restaurant coughing, trying to find someplace to relax so that I don’t puke.

Then I remembered: oh crap, I have to ride my bike home. And this horrible sandwich shop drained my ten-dollar bill. I only had $1.50 (combined with some spare pocket change) for the CTA! So my only options were to beg the Western Brown Line stop people for 75 cents, or ride home and possibly end up in the ER.

Luckily, I chose the first option and walked my bike over to Western. I know my limits. Of course, soliciting is not welcome on the CTA, so I presented my problem straight to the CTA woman, who shall remain nameless for the sake of her job.

CTA woman: Whatchu need?

Me: Hi, I have a kind of embarrassing question – I got sick and I can’t ride my bike home, and I’m short 75 cents. don’tkickmeoutdon’tkickmeoutdon’tkickmeout

CTA woman: Come with me. Put in what you have.

So I did.

Then bless her rapid-transit heart, she put in 75 cents and told me not be embarrassed and  feel better.

Comrades, I have found the guardian angel of sick customers.

Where angels don't fear to work.

Cloud 9: What the Hell is Snow Ice and Why is it Awesome?

It tastes better than it looks, just bear with me on this.

604 W. Belmont

Website

All right, comrades, ready to eat something from Taiwan that looks like wax paper, feels like snow, and tastes like whoop-de-frickin’-doo? No? Then go away, no one likes you.

All cold, hard truth aside, here’s a conundrum for you: snow ice. It’s what happens when you freeze a block of flavored ice, and use an industrial ice-shaver to shave it into really thin sheets. I don’t like to use the word “shave” because that implies that my ice cream has hair, and that’s just wrong. In fact, this stuff is incredibly clean.

The good folks at Cloud 9 have, aside from free board games to play (what?), snow ice in four flavors: Original (it would help if I knew what original meant, but it just tastes… white icey creamy), Mango, Strawberry, and Chocolate. You can put some syrups and toppings on it, and it’ll end up looking something like the thing at the top of the page. And it tastes pretty damn good.

You’d think this would be in “the good,” but it’s in “the okayish” category. This is because I do have a few complaints with the place, but none of them are major. I think that would have been obvious based on the category it was in, but people are stupid.

First off – only four flavors? Seriously? If they add a pomegranate flavor, I will personally make a category called “Shaved ice is amazing” and put it up there. Because pomegranate shaved ice would taste like getting killed instantly in an enjoyable porn accident and going to kitty heaven to pet the softest of kitties for eternity. And at your funeral you get underwear of the opposite sex tossed on your casket.

See how many goats there are? That's their amount of flavors. That's it.

Second – it’s fun for like, one visit. Snow ice is an interesting treat that gets old fast. It’s in the middle from good to amazing – not exactly amazing. Like I said, if they add more flavors, like a shaved ice flavor of the week, it’ll probably shake things up and make it more interesting.

Third – I don’t know, I just think things come in threes, so I’ll make up that there’s an evil hamster that lives under the seats and steals your pants. WAIT, I KNOW! The furniture is weird to sit on, and kind of fragile.

So it’s worth a visit, that’s for sure, but because of the above factors, and because it’s more than a few blocks away from the nearest el station, not worth going out of your way to become a regular. If it gets better I’ll let you know here.

Ian’s – Cthulhu Raped my Dreams and Told Me to Eat Here

Damn right.

3463 N. Clark

Website

True story, comrades – I had a recurring dream about Ian’s Pizza. I had seen it on the way home from treks in the car, and for several days I went to sleep, and at the end of my dream I went to this place. Not knowing what it was like inside, I imagined Ian’s as the mecca of all pizza lovers, with god-spankingly amazing pizza that I couldn’t eat because I woke up at the end. Then I went there and I stopped having these dreams.

Apparently, some horrible brain-frying demon god – let’s say Cthulhu because he’s popular – really has taste in Pizza, and decided to do a similar thing to this food blog and recommend places to me, only he did it by invading my subconscious and risking my sanity in the process.

Thanks, Cthulhu!

Sometimes I really wish I was making this up. Some people have recurring dreams that tell them to make serious changes in their life. I have those dreams about pizza. I’m fat, aren’t I. Be right back, crying for the next few years.

Okay, I’m back. When you first walk in and you see their selection: you’ll see three things wrong with Ian’s:

  1. They put cheese tortellini on pizza.
  2. They put tortilla chips and salsa on pizza.
  3. The above two completely amazing items are NOT IN YOUR FUCKING MOUTH YET.

And believe me, once you are given your wondrous little slice or two of Ian’s pizza, you will required by the unwritten five millionth amendment to the Constitution to be a regular customer.

They are breaking the Geneva Convention by not shoving all of those slices in my mouth for free.

They also shake things up by having a weekly special, so that you don’t get the same thing every time. Sometimes it’s the Chicago Style Hot Dog pizza (want), sometimes it’s a lackluster flavor such as the Fish & Chips pizza (can’t win every time), but you never know what you’re going to get. Or, you can just check what the upcoming next flavor is, then you’ll know. So you’ll kinda know what you’re going to get. Whatever.

My only complaint with Ian’s is their weird hours. On weekends they’re normal, but on weekdays, they open at 5 PM. Unless it’s a Cubs game, in which case they’ll have weekend hours. But the Cubs don’t play year-round, and if you’re in the middle of January and you arrive at 1 PM with your ears falling off from frostbite and you NEED something warm… go to Einstein Bros. across the street. (And they suck.)

But it’s a small price to pay for what I claim to be the best frickin’ pizza in Chicago. (And that’s counting deep dish. Let’s face it, deep dish is great sometimes, but only when you don’t care about looking like a walrus.)

Subway: It Sucks.

"Yeah, fuck taste, you're supposed to be skinny!"

Website

You thought I was going to restrict my restaurant reviews to independent places and expensive little hard-to-hear-of joints? Yeah, well, sorry comrade, you should see a doctor if you thought that. A head doctor. They will take you to a nice little place where you get to eat insurance-provided healthy food that mean old Dave won’t say sucks. (Wow, I’m calling you crazy? Talk about black pots and kettles, why don’tcha.)

Yup, Dave’s gonna review some überpopular fast food. In this case, Subway, America’s favorite sub-parmarine sandwich source.

Now don’t get me wrong, if you’re a fan of Subway, I’m not going to go to your house and bash your head in. On the contrary: if you can stand this stuff, more power to ya! Your taste buds are obviously superior to mine, and I’m a frickin’ food blogger. That’s something to be proud of.

But let me put it this way: when I was a kid, I loved Subway. It was a treat to get a genuine sub, a sandwich synonymous with the ship which Captain Nemo used to smash the crap out of other people’s boats and fight giant squids. Can your sandwich do that? They were long, and tasty as hell.

Then the Grinch who stole Submas came: Jared Fogle.

"These are my fat pants. Now they provide shelter for one lucky homeless family!"

Oddly enough, I typed his name into Google and one of the suggestions was “Jared Fogle dead,” which upon further research turned out to be a hoax. Way to get up a guy’s hopes. (Just kidding, I’m glad he’s still alive [OR AM I?])

Anyway, Jared’s story ab out his weight loss became so popular that Subway made him the weight-loss industry equivalent of Mickey Mouse. They put his skin-and-bones stink all over the sandwiches to remove all possible ways that it could be fattening, so that there could be more people like Jared, and more worker Jareds could be created from the eggs of the Queen Jared.

"More Jareds! ARISE, MY CHILDREN!"

In doing so, Subway has created meats that taste like wet wrapping paper, chemical-tastic sauces, and iceberg lettuce that more than a few times I had to spit out because something was just not right. That and I felt like puking.

It’s not just the food I despise about this place. Everyone who works at Subway that I’ve come in customer contact with has a motto: “Get your shit and get out before I run away screaming because my life is hell.

It’s not bad in the sense that the “sandwich artists” (that’s what the signs actually call them) think they’re superior to you. They make your sandwich and take your money in such a hasty manner that you’d be convinced that their mother tried to sell them for food stamps at the age of five and their father is the HR guy for Al-Qaeda against his will. Now they’re at Subway with a teeny-tiny tip jar filled with a paperclip or two, and they HATE EVERYTHING. It’s not a fun experience to get a subway sandwich because you always feel so sorry for the guy or girl giving you your sandwich. You want to hop over the counter and give them a hug, but then they’ll kick you out because that’s creepy.

Avoid Subway if you can. I still go there to get a soda every now and then, because it’s close and Subway doesn’t make bottled cokes. And when you do, throw a five-dollar bill in the tip jar for the poor saps.

Forever Yogurt Red Line – Serve Yo Own Damn Self Mofo!

Concept art of the Red Line location

931 West Belmont

Website

When I go in and I go to the register to order my frozen yogurt, I’m doing it wrong and I’m a terrible person please someone kill me oh my God, I’ve got ugly all over my eyes. But thankfully the staff is very friendly about my status as a blight upon the living. Turns out I have to yank the lever on my own (oh shut up) and top the frozen yogurt all by myself. Because that’s what real Forever Yogurt customers do.

So comrades, does it sound like a recipe for disaster, or a recipe for chaos? I’ll give you a hint: chaos and disaster mean the same thing in this context.

Well, not really. I’ve been in Forever Yogurt Red Line several times, and I have never seen yet someone:

  • Licking the cake batter yogurt straight from the dispenser like a guinea pig
  • Poisoning the nozzles with something hard to pronounce
  • Trying to fill a water cooler bottle with every flavor to save it for when the Weasel King comes and destroys Chicago
  • Having a terrorist nose that sneezes all over the nozzles
  • Combining the cookies & cream with the plain tart, and causing a massive explosion in the process

I’m sure that the folks in the Wicker Park location have their own self-serve horror stories. But with a cop car directly outside at all times for the CTA, I’m sure if anyone’s asked to leave, it will be less of a question and more of an implied “yes.”

As for the froyo itself, I figure the best way to judge any frozen confection dealer is by their vanilla – because if you screw up the most basic flavor, then why are you in this business? It’s damn good vanilla, although usually they only have the French vanilla as opposed to the regular (but let’s not be too picky, Dave).

Sure, the decor might be a little overwhelming (subway trains do not dispense frozen yogurt. If you try attain froyo in this manner in real life you will die violently, and not by my hand for a change) and they might play the music a little loud. But dammit, this place is far better than that Tang Cups joint just down the street (yogurt cheescake? Really now, make up your mind), it even beats my previous dive, the Yogen Früz whatchamacallit (please stop compromising taste for health), and certainly it’s better than the Baskin-Robbins/Dunkin’ Donuts (does anyone even use the BR register, or is it just the DD?). All of these restaurants are on the same block. Wrap your head around that. But Forever Yogurt is THE place to go between Sheffield and Clark on Belmont.

Schubas – But How Good is the Food?

I am disappointed in your lack of apostrophe, Schubas.

3159 N. Southport

Website

Just about everyone that reviews this historic little bar and grill will tell you “the entertainment is fantastic” or “booze booze, baby” with no regard to how their Southern-style cooking stacks up. There’s a reason the waiter gives you a menu, and it’s not because the good people at Schubas want to provide a biting satire of the food industry and to prove solid food’s inferiority to music and alcohol, and possibly to revolutionize the digestive tract. That isn’t the case because that would be fucking silly.

So I went to Schubas, but for a very rogue and counterculture reason: to grab a snack for brunch. I could be biased since I’m not a gigantic breakfast food fanboy, but I will try to be somewhat impartial.

The decor is fine enough. They set up the back of the place where the music is played like an opera house you’d find in rural nebraska, with wood carvings and whatnot that make it seem very appropriate when folk music is played. But, rock? Prepare for clashing atmosphere.

After a mysterious 15-minute delay (although it was an isolated incident, being that those I were having brunch with had their meals at this point), I got my hands on some corncakes with eggs (not to be confused with corncrakes – they have eggs too), which are sort of like vegetable pancakes with cheese baked in. Unappetizing? Only slightly. But had they not put so much salsa and a dollop of sour cream on top of the eggs, I would have been rather satisfied with the dish. It would have been fine on the side. What I got was all the ingredients thrown together in a pile, and my tastebuds were too busy having arguments with each other over what to sense rather than to enjoy my meal.

The highlight of the food was really the beignets, which is the Southern equivalent of funnel cake. I hadn’t had those since I was very little. Had they not tasted exactly like funnel cake, I guess I would have felt more nostalgia.

I would have stayed to order something other than the corncakes, but I was quickly hurried out of my table to make way for a “school of rock” shindig where some emo-looking kids play in a group that their parents pour ridiculous money into. Kids, really now. When it comes down to it, which is more important: you expressing yourselves, or me having a decent meal? …I think I just answered my own question. Oh well, it was frustrating nonetheless.

If you’re into southern food, I’d recommend Wishbone over this. But if you want to hear good music and soak your stomach enough to swerve into a pole, then I highly recommend Schubas.