Adelle’s – Wheaton, IL

The other night Ample Bites was introduced to a great local restaurant. Adelle’s – Fine American Fare is located in an unassuming one-story building on the South side of the tracks in the heart of downtown Wheaton, Illinois. Adelle’s is highly acclaimed locally including an appearance on WTTW’s Check Please! TV program.

Adelle’s menu includes a number of comfort food items like meatloaf, parmesan-crusted chicken breast and braised short ribs but their approach to these items, and everything else on the menu, is to use excellent ingredients and bold flavors. The chef punches up the flavors with spices, sauces and fresh herbs in a way that is noticeable but not overpowering.

Adelle’s entree and small plates menu is solid from top-to-bottom, which makes selecting a meal difficult for the diner. Their nightly specials compound this pleasant problem. Our waiter was excellent. He described the specials in detail and helped us understand some of the subtleties of the main menu. He was also observant enough to notice that a birthday was being celebrated and made mention of it.

Our group started with glasses of wine from a well-balanced wine list that includes an impressive selection of domestic and imported varieties by the glass or bottle. Our group chose a 2011 Dark Horse Chardonnay, a couple 2011 Las Lajas Malbecs, and a 2011 Hybrid Petite Sirah to accompany our fish taco and mini-burger appetizers and entrees.

All of our entrees met or exceeded our expectations. The entrees included a traditional Pork Tenderloin Schnitzel with spatzle and red cabbage, a beautiful Pan-roasted Wild Pacific Cod with potato latke, grilled asparagus, Hollandaise and Tobiko caviar, a golden-brown Parmesan-crusted Chicken Breast with cheddar mashed potatoes, onion strings and grilled asparagus, and a medium-rare Hoisin Glazed Duck Breast with purple sticky rice.

Adelle’s service was excellent. The waiter and bus-staff were attentive but not overly so. Our meals were served in a timely manner and at the proper temperature.

Although we were too full for dessert we chose a Chocolate Truffle Brownie from a very strong dessert menu. The brownie was rich and suitably decadent.

Adelle’s was impressive on all levels and Ample Bites will certainly return to this fine restaurant.

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Willy’s – St. Pete Beach, FL

If you find yourself in beautiful St. Pete Beach, Florida you have to find your way to Willy’s for a burger, grouper sandwich, or one of their tasty and affordable specials.

Willy’s is about the smallest place on “the beach” with 6 tables in a covered open air area, a small covered bar, and an even smaller indoor dining room with 4 small tables and a half dozen bar seats. The small and unassuming appearance might cause a visitor to walk on past but the food is well worth the stop and the wait (during busier peak-season evening hours).

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During our many visits with family and friends we have seen and tasted the Grouper Sandwich, the Fried Dover Sole, the Big Blue Burger, the BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich, and the Blackened Sea Scallops (the priciest item at $8.95). We usually add an order of the Onion Rings (served with a spicy sauce) or the Tater Tots. Most dishes come with your choice of coleslaw or barbecued-baked beans.

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Willy’s offers an interesting array of appetizers, including Spam Fries – fried slices of Spam. Ample Bites particularly likes the Smoked Fish Spread which is smoked mackerel in a mayonnaise-based spread. It is not too smoky and the taste of the mackerel shines through. We were told that it is made in bulk by Ample Bites’ favorite area fish house, Shaner’s Land & Sea in Pass-A-Grille.

Ample Bites has tried most of the items above and my wife covets the Grouper Sandwich and must have it at least once during each visit to St. Pete Beach. During my last visit I tried the special, which was the BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich. It was outstanding. The beef was tender, smoky and the barbecue sauce was flavorful but did not overpower the beef. At $5.95, it was a bargain. This is true of all of the daily specials including a Spaghetti and Meatball Dinner for $4.95 – you cannot make most of this food at home for the price that Willy’s charges.

Willy’s also offers a food selection of cold beers. The Yuenling Lager is cold and goes well with all of their meals. The wine selection is limited and, I will admit, we haven’t tried the “beach drinks”.

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Willy’s is not right on the beach but it less than a block away from the Inter-coastal Waterway where it comes in from the Gulf of Mexico between Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach. If you walk to the public parking lot along the Inter-coastal you can see a great sunset and perhaps spot a dolphin or two.

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The Wharf: Pass-A-Grille, Florida

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It would be very easy to drive or walk past The Wharf without blinking an eye. Ample Bites happened to read an article in The Gabber, a free weekly paper, about this spot favored by locals. The article declared that The Wharf has the coldest beer on the beach, several Happy Hours each day, and daily specials that include Tacos on Wednesday and fresh oysters on the weekends. It turned out to be right across the street from Ample Bites’ favorite spot in the area to buy fresh seafood, Shaner’s Land & Sea.

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We choose a chilly winter evening to walk St. Pete Beach to the north end of Pass-A-Grille to arrive just in time for the latest Happy Hour of the day. Our journey took us past the legendary Don Cesar hotel, a coral-colored jewel that can be seen for miles along the Gulf coast. We also noticed a rustic beach house that was decorated with an attractive dolphin sculpture. The beach was pretty barren during our trek due to the strong and gusty north winds but we did see a lone windsurfer hugging the shoreline.

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The Yuenling lager was indeed cold and the house cabernet sauvignon was by all accounts pretty good.

We started our meal with a Sesame Tuna that was perfectly seared and crusted with white and black sesame seeds. The tuna was drizzled with a wasabi sauce and a tangy house sauce that appeared to be Sriracha-based. The tuna was garnished with a generous serving of pickled ginger and a less generous serving of seaweed salad (though additional seaweed salad could be purchased for an additional $1.00).

The Taco Wednesday specials included chicken, pork, shrimp, Mahi-Mahi and grouper tacos. Ample Bites enjoyed two of the blackened grouper tacos with sweet Thai chili sauce. The lettuce and tomato was fresh and the generous serving of grouper was perfectly cooked and warm, obviously fresh from the pan. The tacos were served with a small but very tasty serving of red beans and rice.

The Grouper Reuben also included a very large, perfectly prepared piece of grouper with the traditional Reuben ingredients. Served with coleslaw, french fries or the red beans and rice, the sandwich was a plentiful entree.

A return visit to The Wharf for the weekend fresh oysters is undoubtedly in the works for Ample Bites and our visitors.

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O’Maddy’s Bar and Grille – Gulfport, FL

O’Maddy’s Bar and Grille in Gulfport, Florida is a classic beachside pub that serves well-prepared, eclectic food along with more than a dozen draft beers, an extensive wine list, and the full variety of beach cocktails.

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Ample Bites visited on a Tuesday, which is the day that Gulfport holds their Fresh Market along Beach Drive. The market features local artists, handmade Florida trinkets, a few food tents, and fresh fruits and vegetables. The stores along Beach Drive are packed with art and souvenirs appealing to most any shopper. Because the market was being held O’Maddy’s was packed and we had about a 30 minute wait to be seated. The wait was worth it!

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Two of us enjoyed the Lobster BLT and we concurred that it was like a Lobster Roll on steriods. The sandwich had a ton of lobster in it. It had just enough mayonnaise on the lobster salad but not too much and the applewood smoked bacon was a perfect accompaniment for the ripe tomato slices. It was served with a side of perfectly crispy french fries.

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Others in our party enjoyed two different fish sandwiches. The Triple-Tail Sandwich featured a flaky white fish that was served on a hefty marble rye bread with a pesto aioli and provolone cheese. The other was the Florida classic Grouper Sandwich.

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While we dined we noticed that that burgers looked amazing and their was even a Lobster and Bacon Pizza, which is likely to be sampled by Ample Bites on a return visit.

If you ever venture to Gulfport make sure to walk down Beach Drive to the old casino on the end of the street, take a left and go the block and a half to O’Maddy’s and enjoy the experience. Finally, just a quick tip, make sure to bring a hat and sunglasses because most of the tables are right out in the beautiful, warm Florida sun.

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400 Beach Seafood and Tap House, St. Petersburg, FL

Ample Bites has visited 400 Beach Seafood and Tap House in St. Petersburg, Florida on a couple different occasions and the food and drink has been consistently good.

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This well-located restaurant sits adjacent to the beautiful and historic Vinoy Hotel just a few steps from the marina and just down the street from the Chihuly Gallery.

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This beautifully appointed modern restaurant has a full wine list, a large variety of draft beers, and a menu that includes great seafood choices. During our most recent cocktail hour visit we started with a dozen gulf oysters. These oysters where not too large, very fresh and suited us as the perfect appetizer. We then shared a seafood ceviche that was a mix of bay scallops and shrimp in an Asian mango-citrus marinade. The ceviche was topped with a dash of seaweed salad (an Ample Bites favorite). Finally, we enjoyed some smallish crab cakes with a spicy remoulade sauce.

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I chose a Left Hand Milk Stout from the extensive draft beer list and my wife enjoyed a glass of the Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon.

I highly recommend 400 Beach Seafood and Tap House to anyone who is planning to spend a day or evening in downtown St. Petersburg.

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Mexican Creamed Corn

When Ample Bites visited Bien Trucha, an amazing Mexican restaurant in Geneva, Illinois, a couple months ago I had the best corn dish I have ever experienced. This recipe for what I am calling Mexican Creamed Corn is as close as I have found to what I experienced that day. The dish is best served as soon as the corn is cooked. You simply combine the remaining ingredients, to the dish with Cotija cheese and serve it with lime wedges to garnish.

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Mexican Creamed Corn
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Muy Bueno by Yvette Marquez-Sharnack, Veronica Gonzalez-Smith, and Evangelina Soza, 2012)

Makes 12 servings

10 ears of corn
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups lime juice
2 cups crema Mexicana or sour cream
Chili powder to taste
Kosher salt to taste
Hot sauce
12 ounces crumbly salty white cheese (ideally Cotija but Parmesan is acceptable)
Lime wedges for garnish

Husk the corn, remove the silks, and slice the kernels from the cobs with a sharp knife. Place the corn in a saucepan with enough salted water to cover. Bring to a boil; let boil for 2 to 3 minutes, then drain. Turn off the heat and return corn to saucepan.

For each serving: Put ¾ cup corn in glass bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and stir to melt the butter. Mix in ¼ cup lime juice and ¼ cup crema. Sprinkle with a good heavy coating of chili powder and salt, if desired, though the cheese adds plenty of salt. If you like spicy then add a few drops of hot sauce. Mix well. Top with about 2 tablespoons of crumbled cheese.

Serve with lime wedges.

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Crab Risotto Cakes

Ample Bites saw this dish at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse and I decided to make my own version of Crab Risotto Cakes. The keys to this dish are making the risotto ahead of time and allowing it to cool in the refrigerator before broiling the cakes in the oven. The risotto cakes are rich and luxuriant and only a couple make a nice meal when accompanied with a remoulade sauce (see earlier post for my recipe) and a salad.

Shrimp, lobster, or even just vegetables like asparagus or mushrooms, can be substituted for the crab in this recipe and your choice of cheese can be used in place of the asiago cheese. The shrimp stock (see earlier post for my recipe) gives the dish a deeper flavor than a vegetable or chicken stock but either can be used to make the risotto.

Crab Risotto Cakes
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

Serves 6

1 1/2 cups arborio rice
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 Tbsp finely minced garlic
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups shrimp stock
1/2 cup shredded asiago cheese
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan over medium heat bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover the pan and continue to heat on simmer.

In a large dutch oven, melt the butter until foamy. Add the onions and garlic and sweat until soft and lightly browned. Add the rice and stir coating the rice with the butter. Continue to stir the rice for 5 minutes. Add the wine and continue stirring until most of the wine is absorbed. Using 1/2 cup of stock at a time ladle stock into the rice, stirring constantly, until the stock is absorbed. Add another 1/2 cup of stock and repeat, continuing until all of the stock is used and the rice becomes creamy, about 20 minutes.

Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the cheese and crab until fully incorporated. Spoon the risotto into a shallow glass dish and place the dish in the refrigerator to cool for at least an hour.

Heat oven to 400F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Spoon roughly 1/2 cup-sized balls of the risotto onto the baking sheet spacing them about 2-inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes, making sure not to burn the cakes and then finish them under the broiler for about 4 minutes to crisp the tops.

Serve 2-3 of the cakes on individual serving dishes over a spoonful of remoulade sauce.

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Frontier – West Town, Chicago

After a sunny and informative, architectural riverboat tour of Chicago, Ample Bites and family made our way to Frontier for an early dinner. This West Town restaurant had come highly recommended by our son and his friends. Frontier features a menu of “fished” and “hunted” items prepared by Executive Chef Brian Jupiter and his staff in a style defined as “farm to table”. The “fished” items include everything from escargot to a large selection of oysters on-the-half-shell along with several fish choices and specials. The “hunted” menu include duck, rabbit, boar and even gator ribs.

The drink selections were fairly typical for an urban restaurant including craft beers, a nice wine list, and an array of whiskeys and scotches. Frontier also featured a half dozen large format beers, which came in vessels as large as nine-liters, to be shared with a group.

The motif of Frontier is heavy-timber and brick loft with a western feel but more of an urban vibe. TV’s were showing a variety of sporting events but it did not scream “sports bar”. The outdoor seating area where we ate had a nice mix of high-top tables, lower couch-type seating, an outdoor fireplace and a translucent shelter to allow the natural light in and keep the rain (which was not a problem for us) away.

Frontier also offers whole animal roasts for large groups of diners.

We started our meal with a dozen oysters, most of which came from the Pacific Northwest. Each oyster was fresh and briny. The oysters were served with a catsup-based cocktail sauce, some minced horseradish and chopped Peppadew peppers. To accompany the oyster appetizer we ordered a White Bean Hummus with Rosemary Oil. The hummus was especially good. It was made to order and was still warm when it was served with grilled sourdough bread. The oysters and hummus were quickly devoured and thoroughly enjoyed by the Ample Bites crew.

We shared two orders of Duck Sliders, an Ahi Tuna Sandwich, and Smoked Rabbit Tostadas. The Duck Sliders accented the ground duck with avocado salsa, cheese and smoked bacon. The Ahi Tuna Sandwich was served on sourdough bread with sprouts, crispy shallots and wasabi mayo. The Smoked Rabbit Tostada incorporated a jicama-mandarin slaw and was served on hand-pressed tortillas. Our group also shared hand-cut rosemary fries that were simply good enough to be addictive.

We visited Frontier on an early Sunday evening and we were disappointed to be told that several menu items would not be available including Duck Tacos, Sweet Potato Fries and one of the oyster varieties that we had ordered. Service was also very slow even though the restaurant was not at all crowded when we arrived. Our waitress was very good once we had her attention and she made every effort to make-up for any deficiency in service.

All of our food was very good and we spotted menu items that we would try on a return visit to Frontier, which will undoubtedly happen sometime soon.

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An Evening Visit to Third Street in Geneva

Last night Ample Bites enjoyed an early dinner at Cotto A Legna in Geneva. This relatively new restaurant features wood-fired pizzas and a wide variety of Italian dishes. The wine list is excellent and features some very good Chianti Classico and Super Tuscans. This was Ample Bites second visit to Cotto A Legna and it did not disappoint.

We enjoyed a prosciutto-wrapped shrimp appetizer that was served with an Asian sweet and spicy glaze.

We then shared a salad of mixed greens, smoked salmon, beets and fresh goat cheese that was supposed to be dressed with a light lemon vinaigrette. The salad was very good but either dressing was so light we couldn’t taste it or it was missing entirely.

Finally, we split one of the wood-fire pizza’s for which Cotto A Legna is known. We chose the mushroom pizza to honor the upcoming National Mushroom Day (Monday, April 16th – check back for posts of some outstanding mushroom recipes). The pizza was as good as billed. The crust was thin but just thick enough to be chewy. The light application of sauce and cheese allowed the mushrooms to be the star of the dish.

After dinner we strolled Third Street feeling like Romans or Florentines. One of our stops was the The Spice House, which was located directly across the street from the restaurant. This small store has a huge assortment of dried spices from all over the world. After browsing for a good 15 to 20 minutes, we purchased some dried chanterelle and oyster mushrooms – some of which will undoubtedly be used this weekend. The clerks at the Spice House were very friendly and helpful and the store is well-designed with spice arranged by regions and classifications. Ample Bites will undoubtedly be returning to The Spice House again very soon.

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Rios D’Sudamerica – 2010 West Armitage, Chicago

The Ample Bites family had an early dinner at Rios D'Sudamerica on Saturday night. The restaurant, which is located in Bucktown, serves authentic Peruvian food in a beautifully decorated space with very high ceilings and tasteful murals of the sights and scenes of South America. Rios overs a large menu including a number of fish, poultry and meat entrees.

The stars of the menu are the ceviches. We enjoyed the Mixto Ceviche which featured white fish, squid and shrimp in a lime and coconut-based marinade that also included a touch of ginger and habanero pepper. The ceviche is served with a piece of boiled potato, sweet potato and some hominy. Our waiter explained that the purpose of the starches is to offset the acidity of the marinade. He, of course, was right – the balance of the starches with the ceviche was amazing.

The entrees were served with a basket of bread with a puree of smoked jalapeno peppers as a condiment. This spicy sauce was very powerful but it added a different and enjoyable flavor to the warm crusty bread. We enjoyed our appetizer with some Peruvian lager and the house Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our appetizer of Jalea de Mariscos en Salsa de Cebolla, a breaded fried calamari dish topped with a fresh tomato and onion salsa, was an interesting departure from the typical dish served with a marinara sauce.

The AmpleBites party enjoyed four different entrees which were all served with a hearty portion of rice. The Arroz con Pato was a dark beer marinated leg and breast of duck served over an aromatic cilantro rice. Pollo Relleno was a breaded chicken breast that was stuffed with a combination of spinach, ham and chihuahua cheese, pan-fried and then served with a white rice and cream sauce. The Arroz con Mariscos featured a combination of shrimp, clams, squid and mussels served paella-style with a brandy, white wine broth. The Moqueca de Pescado was a halibut steak which was steamed in coconut milk with garlic, tomatoes, onion, peppers and cilantro infused palm oil.

All of the servings were generous in size, especially the two Arroz dishes. The majority of the entrees were priced just under $20. The ceviche, at $14, was well worth the price, in fact, we all agreed that the ceviche with a cold beer and a basket of the bread with the pepper puree would be a nice light meal for about $20 plus gratuity.

As we were leaving, our waiter reminded us about the Sunday Brunch, priced at $13, which we were told featured a wide variety of dishes. I suspect that one of the Ample Bits party, a new resident of the Bucktown area, is likely to be back soon for the brunch.

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