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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 08:01 AM

Well another year has come and gone and Pop Culture Cuisine is officially a two years old!  This year our lives have changed dramatically in many ways, including the addition of a new family member.  We also may not have traveled as far as in the past, but Adam and I still love finding new ways to seek out culinary hot spots wherever our travels take us.  We have compiled a list of some of our favorite and not so favorite spots to share with you with links so you can read our reviews for yourself.  We STILL love food and hope to continue to share lots of great finds with you all along the way.

Signature Dish:


1. Al’s Beef’s “Italian Beef Sandwich” – Chicago, IL

2. Kim & Scott’s Café Twist’s “Twist Your Own” – Chicago, IL

3. The Varsity’s “Chili Dog” – Atlanta, GA




1. Hot Doug’s – Chicago, IL

2. Al’s Beef – Chicago, IL

3. The Depot American Diner – Chicago, IL




1. The Walnut Room – Chicago, IL

2. Slow’s Bar-BQ – Detroit, MI

3. Lynn’s Paradise Café – Louisville, KY



1. Tufano’s Vernon Park TapJoe and his staff – Chicago, IL

2. KouzzinaJohn – Orlando, FL

3. Emeril’sSpencer – Orlando, FL




1. The Varsity – Atlanta, GA

2. Al’s Beef – Chicago, IL

3. South Side Soda Shop – Goshen, IN


Overall Top 5:


1. Al’s Beef – Chicago, IL

2. Hot Doug’s – Chicago, IL (A VERY close 2nd place)

3. The Walnut Room – Chicago, IL

4. Kouzzina – Orlando, FL

5. Emeril’s – Orlando, FL

Top 5 Biggest Letdowns…Not worth the Hype:


1. The Whale’s Rib – Deerfield Beach, FL

2. Brennan’s – New Orleans, LA

3. Camp Washington – Cincinnati, OH

4. Graeter’s – Cincinnati, OH

5. The Loveless Café – Nashville, TN

Best of the Rest…Honorable Mention:


Most Fun Kim & Scott’s Café Twist – Chicago, IL


Most Memorable Kouzzina – Orlando, FL


Most Worth the Wait Hot Doug’s – Chicago, IL


Most Outrageous Dish Bub’s Burgers – Carmel, IN


Best Excursion Epcot International Food and Wine Festival – Orlando. FL


Best Sandwich (Burgers Included) The Depot American Diner – Chicago, IL


Best Sweet Treat Emeril’s – Orlando, FL

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Monday, March 21, 2011 @ 08:03 AM

124Last week we hit 65 degrees in Northern Indiana, and if you are a mid-westerner like me, you know how joyful that was.  This winter has been particularly harsh and I was hoping the warmth was around to stay, even though my husband (being a local) said it was sure to get cold again and even snow at least one more time. Alas…although I hate to admit it…he was right, and this past weekend has been freezing and even started to flurry a little.

Still, my mind remains fixed on those nice days last week which let me know that Spring & Summer are just around the corner. I can’t help but let my mind wander and I start daydream about those lovely events that mark the warm months, particularly as it pertains to the foods I start to crave once again.  There is something about warmer weather that begins that yearly itch of wanting to head out to baseball games and family barbecues.  I just crave those American past-times and that #1 food I associate with them…HOT DOGS!

Now I know for some, hotdogs are an item that you turn your nose up at. I mean…what ARE THEY exactly?  To be honest…I’m really not sure either, but I choose to look beyond that, and figure in my relatively healthy life, I’ve decided I can fit in a hotdog every now and then. Heck….I think everyone needs a little hotdog in their life every once in awhile. Smile I don’t care what you say…, they taste good so don’t even try to tell yourself they don’t! LOL

Hot dogs have been around for ages and seem to be making quite the comeback amongst trendy foodies out there, with all sorts of spots centered around fancy artisan encased meats.  In fact, hot dogs are so synonymous with our culture, the Travel Channel dedicated a whole program to featuring the best and most unique dogs out there on their "Food Heavens" series, "Hot Dog Paradise." That would be one of the places where we first noticed this next famous eatery.

The Varsity, located in the heart of Atlanta, GA, has been serving up thousands a day at their large drive-in since 1928.  What makes them so unique is really how large of a place this truly is! They are the largest hot dog stand in the country and cover an entire city block of downtown Atlanta.  It all started when, fed up with the unpalatable cafeteria food, a young Georgia Tech student decided to start up his own restaurant down the street, and with that…The Varsity was born.  It is so popular nowadays, that on any given day you better be prepared to know what you want as you move through the line until you reach the front to hear “What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have?” loud and clear from every cashier down the mega line…and you best be prepared to place that order and quick, because they have to feed A LOT of people…Some 600 cars outside and 800 inside to be exact.  Also, this isn’t just a place where you can say "hotdog" and get what you want. No Sir. There is a lingo at The Varsity and you must read in correctly!

Yeah…they ain’t lyin’ when they say this place is big! We actually drove right by it when we passed through Atlanta on our way to Florida and it was easily noticeable from the freeway.  We knew we would be coming back through and figured it would be a perfect lunch stop on the Saturday we were headed home.  Well, we were right in thinking that…and evidently weren’t the only ones. It seems that everyone headed to the Georgia Tech-Wake Forest football game that afternoon had the same idea, so let’s just say they aren’t kidding when 30,000 people might pass through there on a game day. But we didn’t let that deter us.  We just drove around until we found a spot and headed on in to survey the scene.


This place is NUTS! I couldn’t believe how many people were crowded in that building and around the car hop stations. But what was so odd was it didn’t appear to be moving slow.  They really move through the crowds quickly. Still, with that many people, we figured the best option would be to have Adam order and I would go stake out a seat.  So we looked over the menu so I could let him know what sounded good, and although they do have burgers and other sandwiches like a drive-in would, we wanted to stick to what they were known for… their dogs, particularly the chili dog.  So Adam went ahead and ordered us two 2-dog combos, 2 chili-cheese dogs (one with mustard), a slaw dog, and a chili-cheese slaw dog.  And for our sides we opted for both the fries and onion rings. Hey…this meal wasn’t going to be healthy in any way, so we might as well enjoy it.


We each dug in and tried bites of each, but oddly enough the ones each of us thought we would like the best was actually the opposite.  I thought I would really enjoy the chili but wasn’t a huge fan, while Adam thought he would like the slaw and instead preferred the chili.  He also both really liked the chili-cheese slaw dog…one of the most interesting dogs we’ve ever had. I highly recommend it. We also both agreed the fries and onion rings were particularly good, but let’s be real…those are always up my alley.  We had no problem finishing off our meal in record time!  However, after we were done we realized one thing we had forgotten to order was their famous Varsity Orange…, a creamy slushy type drink that tastes just like a dreamsicle.  So we grabbed one to go and boy was it refreshing! It really hit the spot after such a heavy meal.


I realize those pictures don’t do it justice, but I’m sure you get the idea.  For how many people were in and around the restaurant, I think we were maybe inside for a grand total of 30-45 minutes.  I could hardly believe how quickly we moved through, so I guess they truly still operate at a fast food level, even though they still accommodate a ton of people.  And what is also so lovely is just how nostalgic the whole experience felt. It is rare that places have remained true to their original building, location, or décor, and even more rare is finding an old time drive-in that is still in operation; and this one is not only still running, but they can hardly breathe they have so many people coming through.

SIGNATURE DISH: “What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have?” Hot Dogs, Hot Dogs, Hot Dogs! Although this is an old time drive-in that serves up all sorts of dishes, they are truly known for their hot dogs and the variety of ways from naked, to chili, to cole slawed; and their chili is so popular, in fact, that it can be purchased in cans for your own use at home.

TASTE: Adam and I were both quite impressed with these dogs.  Both having had a lot of dogs in our day, it is sometimes hard to distinguish what really makes a dog stand out above the rest.  But as dogs go, these were truly good as far as taste, bun texture, and condiments.  They just cook up a fantastic no frills dog; and it is no wonder they have been in business for 75 years.

AMBIANCE: I really loved the entire experience of The Varsity, most of all for its old time feel and originality.  You would be hard pressed to find a lot of original drive-ins still open, much less ones that take up an entire city block, but this one is still going strong.  And not really having made seemingly too many modern changes I think is what gives this place such charm.

SERVICE: They seriously are not lying when they say you better know what you want, because trying to get 30,000 patrons through on any given day is work!  Still…, they do it and are nice, just with a very don’t mess around attitude, which for an impatient hungry patron like me is always appreciated. Winking smile And better yet, although the service is fast, the food is as good as if they took their sweet time….always nice.

PRICE: This is another thing I liked.  They have clearly raised their prices over the years, but not so much that they are offensive.  At $6.99 for a 2-dog combo plus your choice of fries or rings, and a drink…, I would say that is a great deal.  Often Adam and I overspend in wanting to try as much as possible, but here we were able to try all that we wanted for under $20, which I consider a deal!

So even though we were just passing through and only stayed a short time, I really enjoyed my experience at The Varsity.  This was a meal we were able to get quickly and still get back on the road in a decent amount of time, while still being able to do something fun and adventurous, rather than just your old McDonalds quick-trip.  And the bonus…we really enjoyed our meal, and I would say that if we are ever driving through Atlanta again, we would likely have to make a little pit stop.  "What’ll They Get? What’ll They Get? What’ll They Get?… 4 ½ ‘Little Piggies.’


Monday, December 13, 2010 @ 12:12 PM

065It has been snowing what feels like non-stop up here in Indiana, and I knew we would have to deal with this reality eventually when we decided to move back to the Midwest, however, I am not sure I was quite prepared for it.  You know God has a sense of humor when he doesn’t let you inch your way back into dealing with the cold and snow! :)  The reason I mention this is because I have noticed that since having to “brave the cold” has become a mandatory part of life these days, I seem to be craving a lot of warmer dishes. You know…comfort food.  Comfort food has for sure been on the brain and I don’t know how many times I have mentioned to Adam lately that I want fried chicken.

Now if you know me, you know the words "fried" do not come leaping across my lips all that often, but when I think comfort food, this is usually a dish that comes to mind.  Now don’t get me wrong, I like fried dishes of a lot of varieties, but any type of chicken in fried form is good in my book…Fingers, Wings, Legs, etc. I’m not picky and am willing to give it all a try; and when you pair those yummy fried treats with anything else I love, you got yourself a deal.  That would be exactly why this next place caught my eye on an episode of Travel Channel’s "Man vs. Food." It paired of the best yummy comfort foods….Chicken and….wait for it…..WAFFLES!

Glady’s Knight and Ron Winan’s Chicken & Waffles has been serving up this unique combination to its Atlanta patrons for many years, but the idea has been around since the 30’s.  Chicken and waffles began being served in Harlem, New York when many celebrities would hang out into the wee hours of the morning.  Often, they would get hungry and couldn’t decide if they wanted breakfast or dinner, so they gave them both!  Gladys Knight decided to continue the tradition in Atlanta and along with Ron Winan and Shanga Hankerson, developed this famed spot that still gathers crowds to this day.

Although it is definitely different, I was very intrigued when I first heard of the combination a few years ago. What’s not to like? Salty fried chicken wings and sweet waffles…yum! But I still wasn’t completely sold, and it wasn’t until I saw the following clip that I knew I had to get me a taste of this combination at some point in my lifetime, and the sooner the better…



Sure…it still sounds like an odd combination, but after seeing that clip it is hard not to want to give them a try, right?  Luckily for us, on our anniversary trip to Orlando, we planned it so we would make it to Atlanta on our first night and right about dinner time.  So sure enough, we arrived that evening and maneuvered through the streets of downtown Atlanta and found this spot very easily.  We were both a little road weary by this point and not sure if fried and heavy food was really what our stomachs wanted, but who knows when we would be able to visit again, so for the sake of the blog, we sucked it up…I know our lives are rough 😉

Like I said…this place is very popular, so we had to wait a little for a table. So while we were waiting, I decided to look around a little bit.  I was very impressed with both the decor and our surroundings.  This is not some old timey or worn out joint. It actually has the feel of a higher end restaurant with tall booths, nicely upholstered and decorated walls, and great lighting.  The walls were decked out with photos and albums from over the years of Gladys and the Pips, which definitely added to the class and appeal. 



Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long, and as we were walking to our table, we passed some dishes on other tables, and my mouth began to water. I did not need to peruse the menu long if at all.  I’d known for a long time exactly what I was going to be ordering…the Midnight Train.  That would be 4 fried jumbo chicken wings and an original waffle. Adam, on the other hand, knew he would likely get to try many bites of my plate, so he opted to try another dish, a traditional southern classic, Smothered Chicken.  We also got a few sides…collard greens, their house potatoes, and the macaroni and cheese (I mean duh…a given when Adam is ordering), and we didn’t have to wait long at all!





Yeah… it definitely was a lot of food; and looking back, we likely could have just shared my chicken & waffles with sides and still been plenty stuffed.  The wings themselves were massive and I was barely able to eat 2. Still, they were extremely good!  The flavor of the wings was very unique, not one I had ever had before.  They were crispy and juicy like a wing should be, but the batter had a unique ingredient that provided a bit of sweetness.  Adam was convinced it was maple syrup or molasses. Dunno, but whatever it is, it was good. 

The waffle itself was pretty standard…not the best I’ve ever had, but still good, and I did enjoy how its simple flavors and texture paired with the fried chicken.  Adam loved the smothered chicken. I didn’t much care for it, but I’m also not a big fan of food with gravy. We also both agreed that the Macaroni was AWESOME! As of the other side dishes, I have found that I do no particularly like collard greens 🙂 and the potato casserole….ehh. Still, overall it was a very tasty meal.

SIGNATURE DISH:  I would say that the name of the restaurant makes it pretty clear.  Their midnight train of chicken & waffles is what made this place famous.  However, they have a wide array of other classic soul food favorites as well that they have given their own flair too.

TASTE: The wings were extremely impressive…some of the best I’ve ever had. They are large and meaty and definitely a hearty portion.  At first, I wasn’t convinced 4 wings was going to cut it, but when I could barely make it through two, I knew these wings were something special.  What made them so great was their unique sweet flavor and the fact that although fried they were not overly greasy.  The other dishes we tried were equally good and definitely filling, but the wings were definitely the superstar here.

AMBIANCE: As I mentioned above, I was impressed with the decor and overall appearance of this spot.  It reminded me of a swanky or upscale crooner bar with its deep wood tones and rich colors.  And because their typical dishes are down home soul food, you honestly would expect a much different looking place, but instead it is much more upscale than you would think.

PRICE: Although these are down home meals, their prices do not necessarily reflect that.  I think to match their higher end look, their prices are a bit high too.  The midnight train is fairly reasonable at $10.50, but some of their other entrees like the smothered chicken are $14.50.  In the grand scheme of things, these prices are not exorbitant, but I would think that simple soul food is not typically priced as high. 

SERVICE: Our service was not great.  Our waiter was nice, but not very jovial or patient. I’m not sure if it was just us or that he didn’t really want to be there.  Either way, he just seemed a little short. Perhaps he could tell we were not from those parts…:) Regardless, I felt we were treated as outsiders.

We were exhausted and hungry by the time we arrived at Gladys Knight and Ron Winans‘, but outside of that, we really did enjoy ourselves for dinner.  It was nice to have a warm home cooked meal; and although filling, it didn’t leave you feeling gross or heavy when you left.  I loved the sweet and salty combination of my chicken & waffles. Heck…for the chicken wings alone, I’d be "Goin’ Back to Find…" ;)  I give this soul food hot spot 3 1/2 ‘Little Piggies.’

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