Friday, March 25, 2011

Dine the Windy City At Uno's

It's been over thirty years  since I had my first taste of deep dish Chicago style pizza-in Chicago.  Hubby was on a business trip and I tagged along, leaving two wild kidlets with frazzled grandparents while I tramped thru all the historic haunts of the "Windy City". Two things I brought away with me: a  early morning waterfront run as the sun came up was breathtaking and reflective AND you won't find better pizza anywhere, at anytime, ever!

Cheese Dippers
Sadly Chicago is half a day away by car, so that is a bit far for a sunrise run or a pizza run . So I have spent many a weekend trying to find a perfect pie that would make me forget Chicago deep dish. I think I lucked out. One place isn't all that close-altho if you are in Oakland County or south into the Detroit limits and don't visit a Buddy's, shame on you! But if you want a closer dining experience, look no farther than Birch Run Outlets at exit 136 off I75 . Uno's, (all the way towards the back of the mall complex-map at site) now with locations in at least 22 states and Puerto Rico-most east of the Mississippi and into the Northeast, has managed to satisfy many with both deep dish and thin crusted pizzas for almost 70 years. I am delighted to say vegetarians and vegans can find something delicious to dine on while enjoying the family friendly atmosphere.

Farmer's Market Deep Dish
On a recent visit, my entree was a Farmer's Market Deep Dish style pie, with caramelized onions, sun-dried  tomatoes, spinach, pesto and a combo of three cheeses, including Feta. But what sets this pizza off is the addition of eggplant!  I know of no other pizza joint near Flint offering eggplant as a topping.  There is a smokiness to this particular pie that is so enjoyable. I have the chef go very light on the cheese-I am only using it for the glue to hold the veggies to the crust. But you can go sans cheese as I have seen others do this. The deep dish pies come in single serving and full size. The single was more than enough, when accompanied by a  salad or appetizer, for a shared dish. I took half home and it's wonderful cold for breakfast. The crust is, well..crusty! Crunchy on the outside and almost bread-like on the inside.  This may be my favorite part of the dish! Options for deep dish include construct your own pie-perfect for vegans and those who want something more traditional.

The pizza crusts can be made with 5 grain crust or traditional. I prefer the deep dish but many like the thinner, local style of crust so I would recommend the 5 grain as a nutty flavored and more healthy selection. I also believe a gluten free crust is available upon request.
Deep Dish Serving for One

There are many side dishes available at Uno's that go from healthy to indulgent. Hubby ordered a selection from the sea and added skinless baked potatoes topped with several items-all that is missing is skin. The skin is my favorite part of a potato, especially if it's crusty from an olive oil and salt rub. I wish Uno's offered plain baked simply because the health factor is something we all should consider, but if you leave off the toppings, a dish of smashed taters is not the worst choice-there is a side of red skins mashed to lumpiness that I have enjoyed. But they have better choices at Uno's such as steamed broccoli, steamed or roasted veggies in season (zucchini, red peppers, yellow squash and cauliflower) a dish I have to fight to keep to myself, brown rice with sweetened cranberries (one of my favorites), rice pilaf, and what has turned out to be my all time favorite in recent years-farro salad.
Skinless Bake
Mashed Cauliflower

Farro Salad
When I ordered this side dish, I expected it to be warm like the other sides I had previously enjoyed.  All the other grain based side dishes are served hot or warm. But farro salad, which is also known in the US as spelt or  emmer wheat, is served chilled with diced tomatoes, diced cucumbers and a hint of balsamic vinegar. These items are inside the molded farro and are there for a pleasant discovery both when you find the salad is chilled and when your fork breaks the mold. I certainly know what my go-to dish will be on subsequent visits!

Other sides I have ordered in recent months include vegetarian veggie soup of which I wasn't particularly impressed. I felt it was canned flavored-almost a metallic taste and much too salty for my taste buds. Avocado egg rolls are a good "share" appetizer or when paired with a larger salad, could be an excellent vegan meal along with the cashew/tamarind dipping sauce for a tangy and salty addition to the flavorful finger food. The egg rolls were a "test" dish last year, something Uno's does seasonally. Obviously, the test went well as they made the main menu.

Uno's has a diverse selection of entrees to please all paletes. A complete bar is available, and drinks can be served in the bar with large screen televisions or in the dining area. Desserts are sharable and often include chocolate but new to the menu is bread pudding so I certainly know what my next sweet dish will be. A children's menu is available, and one item lets kids build their own pizza, completed at the table with an apron to bring  smiles to the little chefs. Healthy sides are available for kids, too. 

I do wish Uno's would try to regulate the temperature of the dining room better. A big complaint for me is how cold it is year round. The air conditioning is brutal in the summer, and maybe that is what shoppers like. But the winter temps inside, no matter where I have sat, are too cold. So much heat escapes out the front entrance due to no buffer zone between the door and waiting area. It then pushes right to the back and it can be painfully cold.

Be sure to sign up for email announcements from Uno's. This can be done either in the restaurant or online. Recent coupons have been for a free entree with purchase, $10 dollars off your final bill over $25 and tastings of new menu items before they hit the public announcment boards or new menus. Uno's can be very crowded on weekends especially during high shopping times like summer, back to school and pre-holiday, so prepare for a wait during those times.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Red Eyes and Guilt

Something smelled horrible in my refrigerator. This was a new odor, as I had  previously cleaned out the entire cooling side when I returned from Iowa a few weeks ago in early March  . The necessity of the clean out and scrub down was a container of apple/cherry cider that exploded inside, spraying fermented sticky juice all over the inside, down the door and then what had nowhere to run, out the bottom of the door. As I entered the kitchen from the 11 hour road trip home, it was dark. I flipped the lights on (fluorescent take their good time warming up to brightness) and little by little I saw something on the floor and at first I panicked and thought it was dried blood! I immediately went looking to make sure I still had a cat, who proceeded to cuss me out, berate me and I think I learned a few feral words from her!  It took her another week to forgive me for going away and she having to sleep alone, but granddaughter is growing too fast and I wanted to see some of those changes.

The fridge clean-out from exploding cider forced me to sort thru the sauces, jellies, mustard and other condiments I so readily collect and spring on the hub, so anything that was a total bomb, went thru the composter and the bottles were recycled last night. Anything remotely fresh when I left was covered in sticky residue and either had to be immediately cooked or washed to preserve it. I managed to cut up celery, carrots and placed those in containers of water that hubby could munch on instead of his usual granola bars. He is the kind of retiree who grabs what is in front of his face, not what might need a bit of prep.  That makes for a junk type diet at times, so I do try to have something he only has to reheat as prepared and frozen or ready to eat in the fridge.

Stupidly, I forgot I had purchased large bulk bags of broccoli, red potatoes and spinach, which if I had thought about it, I could have taken to Iowa and shared. I did remember the cashews and jelly beans, however. I guess somewhere someone is making a fabulous trail mix! But the potato bag was staring me in the face all this week, so tonight I said I would make some smashed taters and freeze them up for a hunger pang that was sure to come some night at 2AM.

I suppose when I purchased my yummy reds in late February from Costco (bulk crack for me), my taters looked healthy and ready  to be sliced, diced and sauteed with garlic, skins included (like above). But in reality, several weeks later they now look  like those below. Most of you would do what? Throw them away, right? A few might look thru and poke and squeeze to salvage a panful for a quick veggie stir fry? What if they looked worse than this? To the composter, maybe down the garbage disposal and for some, slopped out to pigs, horses, other farm critters? I didn't do that. And some of mine looked far worse than these below.
Tossing them would have been so easy as a bag of 10 pounds of these redskins runs about 6 or 7 dollars. Not the end of the world for most of us here in the States or other so-called Westernized countries where veggies are easy to obtain year round, often organic and just trucked in  straight from the farms. We don't know what it is to be hungry and I mean the painful gnawing hunger that comes from going without palpable food for days or even  weeks at a time. The pain of hunger where your brain no longer can make decisions, your body no longer instinctively knows what to do. The kind of hunger where you might want to kill for something to eat. I personally went without any substantial solid food for 5 months due to an illness but once in a while I got something solid down and when I couldn't, I lived on Gatorade. At least I had some calories but my entire body was sent on a strange journey , and I suffer the repercussions of that illness even today, 13 years later.

Americans waste so much, myself included. What we throw away in food alone in one week would sustain a refugee and family for a month. Have you ever looked back at the table before leaving a restaurant and felt guilty because you didn't take a "doggie bag"?  You could take it home for the dog and he would greatly love you for about 3 minute but you might be able to construct a light lunch the next day from the leftovers.  Do you order more than you can possibly eat and feel uncomfortable upon leaving or do you suffer pain and hate yourself for gorging or over-indulging? We all do that, either when dining out, at holiday reunions with family or to impress others with us.

Tonight as I peeled those ugly and almost non-salvageable redskins, I thought of my grandparents during the Depression of the 1930's, going without so much so they could feed and clothe their tiny sole surviving daughter.  I heard many a story of rationing during the War that shook the world and today is a popular topic for movies, books and discussions as we see many who served, both men and women turning old, losing their ability to remember and dying while we, the baby boomers and X generations and whatever moniker the press puts on us, act as if we are entitled to whatever we had yesterday and today, that is should always be as we want it, even to the point of waste.

I have read two books recently that  had passages of desperation for food that you and I and everyone I have personally met  would not survive. Unbroken , a story of survival and redemption during World War II and the years and life that bookend a young Olympic caliber athlete's capture and torture   in a Japanese war camp, often reflects on food as entitlement and as lifesaving. The chapters of giving up your soul to have a rotten scrap of maggot covered  potato often made me close the book and cry myself to sleep, only to churn back into that abyss the next day as I hoped for prisoners' survival and berated myself for complaining about soggy pizza.  The other book, Nureyev recounts a desperate mother walking 5 hours ONE WAY in the Siberian cold of January Russia during  WW2, and digging in fields, often stealing rotten potatoes and turnips so her children could eat. Often her only son would turn his nose up at the meager spread accompanied by  stale flour and water flatten bread while he, showing signs of incredible talent would push himself into families where food was a more normal and tasteful part of the family day.

The peelings I left behind as I salvaged some of the potatoes were far better than anything either person portrayed in the books above ate during the durations of desperation they faced as young children and young adults.  I will compost those peels and in a few months, the fermented remains will have decomposed enough to nourish what I will plant in my garden or pots to supply my family with healthy organically grown veggies and grace my deck with bursts of colorful blooms. Yet for some, those scraps would be a meal even today, as we watch the world and the travesties that nature and humans do to each other and so many go hungry and search for what little sustenance can be found. They would gladly take the doggie bags. They would gladly take the scraps. They would gladly take the garbage. But would you?