Casual comfort food, fast, at Red Robin’s newest Chicago Burger Works

A burger with fries from Red Robin Go...
A burger with fries from Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Red Robin has just opened a new Burger Works location at Madison and Wells, and the place was already jumpin’ only 3 days later, in the middle of a workday afternoon. You can easily satisfy your hungry-man-woman appetite here with a nice selection of hefty, fire-grilled hamburger sandwiches, all in the $6.50 to $7.00 price range. The turkey burger is fat and juicy like a real burger, with the feel and texture of a piece of sausage. Try a Guacamole burger with guacamole, swiss, bacon, tomato, onion, and lettuce.  French fries, ordered a la carte, are crisp, salty and tasty. Sweet potato fries are delicious, though very thinly cut, and served with their signature Thai Chili Ketchup, a gently zingy mix (homemade chili sauce mixed with regular ketchup).

They offer cheeseburgers and chicken tenders for the kids anytime, and burritos and sandwiches and potatoes for breakfast, plus even oatmeal and orange juice.  And if you want a hamburger for breakfast, this is the place to get it.

Red Robin’s got 500 restaurants in the US and has been serving hungry folks for 40 years. At the Burger Works locations they take the most popular items from the full-serivce Red Robin locations and make the menu from those. The point is good food, served fast (under 5 minutes). The day we visited the average time from order to service was 3 minutes and 45 seconds.

To keep the menu fresh, RR rotates the regular menu with new items. The goal is to be great at a few items rather than just okay with a lot. They make some lovely shakes – soft serve whipped up with other flavors and ingredients. The Salted Caramel was very nice; the strawberry tasty. So thick and slow to melt, they’re more like dessert than a drink.
The new location plans to be open weekends for all the downtown denizens who live nearby and perhaps want to satisfy a craving for tasty, filling food at a cozy, comfortable corner shop instead of going out to a fancy restaurant. You will feel welcome here, and and their Red Robin Burger Works menu offers nice options to get yourself well-fed.

Surprising pleasures at Frontier Restaurant

Frontier's weathered front door
Frontier’s weathered front door

I’d been hearing about Frontier restaurant, 1072 N. Milwaukee, for quite a long time. I’d driven by it a few times and noticed it sat seemingly all by itself on an unprepossessing stretch of Milwaukee Ave. Guess that in itself made me tend not to want to rush over. But a friend liked the unusual menu they were featuring for Chicago Restaurant Week (CRW) so we decided to give it a try.

First, I was very surprised at the warm ambiance, the double-tall ceilings, the straight lines of handsome medium-toned wood columns and the generally spacious feel. But it felt cozy at the same time. I think the large, round chandeliers with straight-sided opaque hurricane glass conveyed a comfortable atmosphere and the carefully placed spotlights created pools of warm light rather than hotspots. Plus I think there was at least one fireplace. I liked the variety of seating options, too – long, tall tables where folks can face each other, bar seating, and regular tables.

The chef is New Orleans-born and you can see that influence in the regular menu. We both liked the same choices and wine pairings for the CRW menu, but also wanted to try their broiled oysters first. The oysters were fresh and the topping just crunchy and cheesy enough to satisfy.

The rabbit and frisee salad with fresh cranberries was set off nicely with delicate sprinklings of a balsamic reduction dressing. Just the right touch.

Next we tucked into a big haunch of smoked boar meat. I was delighted at how delicious it was. Seasoned with brown sugar and housemade spices, it had a beef-life texture but a darker flavor and came with a little bit of sauce-y juice underneath. I took some of the generous serving home, too, and I’d order it again anytime. The side of collard greens was nicely cooked and seasoned, and the little lardon-shaped chunks of chestnut gnocchi made a surprising and tasty side note.  When we asked our server about the lardons, she assumed we were asking about another item the chef uses often. So she went to the kitchen and brought us each a little terrine of their deep-fried bacon lardons. Nice.

Service was very friendly, if occasionally a bit lax. We had to ask the kitchen not to bring out the courses so quickly after each other so we could have time to enjoy the wine and savor the food. They graciously complied, and we were able to relax.

This is your grandma's version of Pineapple Upside Down Cake
NOT like this, your grandma’s version of Pineapple Upside Down Cake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sweets course of pineapple upside-down cake–a dessert that’s a throwback to the 50s–was another surprise: a big, thick disk of baked sweet dough, almost like a super-thick, soft and slightly chewy cookie–great mouth feel–and served in its own little skillet. It was sparked with a few pineapple bits inside and surrounded by a luscious pool of creamy sauce. This is definitely not your grandmother’s old standby. I’d order this again, too, any time.

The wine pairings were just right, and for beer lovers, it’s nice they’d laid out beer pairings as an option. I love the fact that the beverage menu also contains Frontier’s “whole animal service” menu. Yes, you can bring your whole family or work group or whoever and dine on things like smoked wild boar, alligator stuffed with chickens, goat leg, and more. You get family-style sides like 5-cheese mac, jalapeno & cheddar cornbread and other. Check it out.

The place was fairly busy for a Wednesday night, though it might have been extra diners taking advantage of the dying light of CRW. Anyway, it was a very comfortable place with very good food. Four stars all around. I’ll be back.


2 exciting developments on the cocktail/juice/mixers front


Cosmopolitan (cocktail)
Cosmopolitan (cocktail) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These days people, especially women, appreciate lower calories and sometimes even portability in their cocktails. Happily, we’ve had some experts working on those very concepts. Here are two unique ideas that fit the bill perfectly.

Let’s start with Slim Lizzy prepared light alcohol, low-calorie cocktails. I love the story behind the brand. Sean McGirr, CEO and Founder of Slim Lizzy’s, had over 35 years of experience in the juice beverage industry, including 19 years at the helm of North America’s largest bottler of store brand juices and drinks.

One night in early 2013 after he’d retired, Sean took his wife out to dinner. Without a thought, he ordered his usual beer, but his wife was having trouble choosingc. She knew beer would make her feel bloated, wine would make her sleepy, a strong cocktail would leave her feeling too tipsy, and a sugar-infusedy drink would make her feel full. It was that moment when Sean decided that if there was ever an industry in need of disruption, it was the alcoholic beverage industry. They needed to learn to cater to their female customers.

After two years, Slim Lizzy’s 80-calorie pre-made cocktails in cans went to market. The Margarita has 2% fresh lime juice (with just the tiniest bit of metallic aftertaste), but it’s my favorite. The Cosmopolitan has 2% white grape juice and is a delicate pink with cranberry flavor—sweet like a Cosmo should be. Extra sweetness comes from a modest dose of sucralose.

Compare the 80 calories in these drinks to the 150+++ in a typical Margarita or Cosmo. These little guys are also malt and gluten-free. These make good bases, too, for blending with other juices. A 5% alcohol cocktail alternative to high calorie, sugar-infused, bloat inducing beer and vodka drinks. What’s not to love?  Get ’em at select Binny’s or check with your local liquor store or favorite tavern. And see what fun you can have mixing with these Slim Lizzy cocktail recipes.


And here’s another fresh idea. LO!  Fruit Blend beverages are the perfect fix for a little sweetness and fruity flavor. Drink ’em simply as juice or mix with your favorite spirit. Either way you get great flavor but don’t have to load up on calories and sugar (only 35 to 40 calories per 10-ounce bottle). These non-alcoholic juice blends come in recyclable plastic bottles in four varieties: Mango Mojito, Pomegranate, Acai-Blue , and Pomegranate Mojito. What makes these special is that the calories are low because they’re made with agave nectar and stevia, both nature’s sweeteners that’ve been around for centuries. Plus, each variety has a low-glycemic index (great for diabetics and anyone else who likes to avoid sugar or artificial sweeteners). Get ’em at select Walgreen’s, Meijers and online.
Delicious juices with low-glycemic index and low calories
Delicious juices with low-glycemic index and low calories
The flavors are lively and fresh-tasting on their own, and they all make delicious cocktails. Here are simple recipes for a couple of delightful pre- (or during or post-!) Lenten cocktails:
LO! pomegranate juice makes the Scarlet Starlet tangy
LO! pomegranate juice makes the Scarlet Starlet tangy

Scarlet Starlet

  • 2 oz. white rum
  • 4 oz. LO Pomegranate Juice

Shake with ice and strain over fresh ice. Top with a slash of coconut milk and a few pomegranate arils.

LO Fat Tuesday refreshes with mango and lime
LO Fat Tuesday refreshes with mango and lime

LO Fat Tuesday

  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1/2 oz Mango Mojito Fruit Beverage
  • 1/4 oz fresh lime juice
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
Combine all in a glass with ice and garnish with lime wedge. You’ll be delighted.