Food for Thought

Food for Thought Bloomington restaurants
My name is Andrew Litwiller, and I have a passion for good food. I currently live in Bloomington, IN and attend Indiana University. I've created this blog to share my passion for cuisine. I hope you enjoy.

Yogi’s Grill and Bar

Location: Bloomington, IN

Yogi’s may very well be my favorite restaurant of all-time. A bold statement, I know, but please allow me to elaborate.

Yogi’s offers the perfect blend of great food, welcoming atmosphere, and quality service. It’s a good place for many occasions. You can go to Yogi’s to watch a game, enjoy a casual lunch, or meet friends for a late night drink. During the four years I lived in Bloomington, I can honestly say I never left Yogi’s disappointed.

Where to begin? In my opinion, the best thing on the menu is the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. That thing is on the money. It’s drenched in a tangy buffalo sauce, and topped with lettuce, tomato, and onion. Served with a side of ranch, a pickle spear, and your choice of kettle chips, fries, or buffalo chips, this sandwich embraces what it means to be an American (and more importantly, a HOOSIER).

Not feeling the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich? You’re in luck. The wings at Yogi’s are second to none. You can choose from a variety of flavors, including Hawaiian Fire, Jamaican Jerk, and Hot Garlic or your classic BBQ, Medium, and Hot. If you want to complement the wings with a few appetizers, try the Chips and Beer Cheese, the Mediterranean Dip, or the Ball Park Pretzel (served with Sierra Nevada Beer Cheese and Spicy Mustard). Some restaurants will serve quality entrees with subpar appetizers, but Yogi’s does it the right way. The appetizers are on par with the entrees, and are well worth the price.

Additional entrees include the Big Ten Burger, the Ribeye Steak Sandwich, and the Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwich. All quality dishes that will leave you satisfied.

As far as drinks go, Yogi’s has a beer menu that is admirable. I consider myself an amateur drinker, but it doesn’t take a connoisseur to recognize the quality of beer you can find at Yogi’s. They host a weekly “beer school” and have a plaque on the wall with the names of individuals who have tried over 100 beers in an 8-month period. My personal favorites are Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier and Three Floyds Gumballhead, although the menu is always evolving.

I hope I have done justice to Yogi’s by writing this blog post. During my time in Bloomington, Yogi’s was a reliable source of great food and entertainment. So much so, that my roommates and I would make weekly trips. It was worth it every time.  

Yogi's Grill & Bar on Urbanspoon

Toro Salao

Location: San Juan, Puerto Rico

This past week I was in Puerto Rico for Spring Break with a group of seven others. Our group took advantage of Puerto Rico’s unique cuisine, visiting several different restaurants throughout San Juan, Fajardo, and Vieques. Many of the restaurants we tried were excellent, but Toro Salao (located near Calle Fortaleza in Old San Juan) was one of our favorites.

Toro Salao is a Tapas restaurant known for its Croquetas, Empanadas, and Spanish Flatbread Pizzas. It’s located in the heart of Old San Juan near many other restaurants and shops. In my opinion, the best part of Toro Salao is the atmosphere. Housed in an old townhome, the restaurant has a homey feel to it that is both welcoming and charming. The restaurant also has great outdoor seating, ideal for a warm, 70° evening like the one we had on our visit.

In addition to the a great atmosphere, Toro Salao also has great food. After inspecting the menu, it was obvious to me there were an abundant number of good options to choose from. Since Toro Salao is know for its Tapas, I decided to order a few items from the appetizer menu. I ordered the Taquitos de Camarones al Ajillo (Crispy Shrimp Taco Rolls) and the Empanadillas de Pollo y Chorizo (Chicken and Sausage Empanadas). Both items were excellent and were served with dipping sauces that complemented the appetizers well. The taquitos were served with a citrus aioli sauce while the empanadas were served with a garlic aioli sauce. My only regret was that I didn’t order something with more variety. If I were to go back, I would probably order the fish tacos instead of the empanadas, so I wouldn’t have two dough-based appetizers.  

Admittedly, this was my first experience at a Tapas restaurant, but it was an excellent one. Toro Salao embraces Spanish cuisine in the heart of Old San Juan by combining great food with an amiable atmosphere. Our experience at Toro Salao was one of the best we had in Puerto Rico, and I highly recommend it!

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Nick’s English Hut

Location: Bloomington, IN

Nick’s English Hut (or “Nick’s” for short) has been a Bloomington classic since before I was born. Established in 1927, Nick’s has been a local favorite for over 85 years. The restaurant is known for its pub grub, IU memorabilia, and lively atmosphere. It’s one of the best restaurants to watch a sports game, and in particular, an IU basketball game. Just type in “iu kentucky nicks” in a YouTube search, and you’ll get a glimpse of what the atmosphere at Nick’s can be.

I’ve been to Nick’s many times to watch IU basketball games or to grab a drink with friends. Nick’s really does offer a unique experience, but surprisingly, the food does not live up to the restaurant’s reputation. Generally speaking, the food I’ve ordered at Nick’s has been very average and slightly overpriced. The pizza is average, the burgers are average, the stromboli is average, and the fish fillet is average. The sink the biz fries are one of the few items I really enjoy, and in my opinion the wings are really good too. It’s disappointing though, that Nick’s has such a great reputation in one of the nation’s best college towns, yet has such a limited selection of good food.

Another thing Nick’s is well known for is a drinking game called “Sink the biz.” Sink the biz is a popular game on Friday and Saturday nights for both college students and adults. The game is played with a bucket full of beer and a drinking glass floating in the beer. Each person playing the game has a glass of beer that they pour into the floating glass. The person that causes the glass to “sink” in the bucket has to drink the beer in that glass. It’s a very original game and one that adds character to Nick’s. It’s also another reason why Nick’s is so well known in town.

Overall, I am a fan of Nick’s. The restaurant/bar offers a unique experience and has been a Bloomington classic for years. However, since this is a food blog, I must be honest and critical of the establishment’s food. In my opinion, the food at Nick’s does not live up to the restaurant’s reputation. Nick’s will always be a great place to watch IU basketball (or other sporting events for that matter), but if you’re looking for a great dinner, you should look someplace else. Still, let’s give credit where credit is due. Nick’s is a great bar and a Bloomington classic.

Nick's English Hut on Urbanspoon

CREAM

Location: Berkeley, CA

Let me preface this post by clarifying that CREAM is not a restaurant. CREAM is a small shop that offers cookies, ice cream, shakes, malts, and brownies. It is truly a unique experience, and one worth writing about. The only thing comparable to CREAM that I’ve come across in my time is Diddy Riese - located near the UCLA campus in Westwood, CA.

CREAM shares several characteristics to Diddy Riese. Like Diddy Riese, CREAM is located near a campus (UC Berkeley in this case), and offers ice cream sandwiches at an affordable price. The sandwiches are made of two freshly baked cookies and a scoop of ice cream. There are a variety of flavors to choose from, so you can mix and match the type of ice cream sandwich you want. Also, similar to Diddy Riese, CREAM offers the ice cream sandwiches at a low price ($2 if you pay with cash, $2.50 with a card) and there is generally a long line out the door. The last time I went to CREAM, my group had to wait 30 minutes before we were able to order our ice cream sandwiches, but amazingly, it was worth it.

CREAM is a small place, but one with a good vibe. There are two small tables set up near the entrance, but given the length of the line, most people eat their ice cream sandwiches outside, or on-the-go. When you walk in, there is music bumpin’ on the sound system and it isn’t uncommon to see the customers and staff dancing while they order/prepare orders. Also when you walk in, you can smell the aroma of fresh cookies. There are generally between 5-10 customers inside the building itself, and at that time, they decide what type of cookies and ice cream they want. Sometimes, customers will order a dozen cookies or so, but generally people stick to ice cream sandwiches. On my visit, I ordered the M&M cookies with chocolate ice cream. It was an excellent combo. The cookies were warm and soft on the inside and the cold ice cream serves as a great contrast.

I generally consider myself to be a “dessert person,” and this is one place I would recommend to all other “dessert people.” Please do yourself a favor and check out CREAM - at least once! Also, don’t forget cash! It will be the best $2 you’ve spent in a long time!

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Cream on Urbanspoon

Great food editorial! 

Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers

Location: San Francisco, California

Pearl’s is a pleasant surprise in a neighborhood with a not-so-pleasant reputation. The Tenderloin District is generally seen as a place to avoid when in SF, but if you want a burger that will make you feel alive, you need to check out Pearl’s.

I was at the Westfield Mall near Market Street with a friend when we decided to look for a good and inexpensive restaurant nearby. After checking Yelp, Pearl’s immediately stood out to me because their burgers looked great at an affordable price. It was a good 15 minute walk to get to Pearl’s, but it was well worth it. At first, the restaurant seems rather plain. There’s nothing on the outside that catches the eye, and the inside seems simple. But the aroma of the restaurant is all you need to be convinced that they serve good food. Pearls’ list of specialty burgers is something to be admired. I had a hard time trying to decide on a burger, but I went with my gut and decided on the Phat Bob. This particular burger included BBQ sauce, bacon, mayo, onion rings, and jack cheese. I also ordered a chocolate milkshake on the side (not the most healthy meal ha).

The burger was unreal. In a world full of fast food, it’s sometimes hard to find a burger that really stands out, but this burger did just that. The milkshake was great too. Overall, the meal exceeded my expectations. My friend ordered the veggie burger with a side of frings (half french fries, half onion rings). He really enjoyed his meal as well. The fries were good and the onion rings were average, but the burgers overshadow any other part of the Pearl’s experience. I can’t wait to go back to try more burgers on the menu. If you are looking for a healthy option and a nice dining experience, then Pearl’s probably isn’t the best option for you. But if you want a burger that will leave you satisfied, look no further.

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Pearl's Deluxe Burgers on Urbanspoon

Bayou Burger

Location: New Orleans, Louisana

Bourbon Street may be one of the most unique streets in the United States. Well known as a party destination, there are also some great dining options throughout the street. Last week, the group and I stopped in Bayou Burger & Sports Company before heading to see the musical Wicked. Bayou Burger has a great selection of burgers, but on this particular evening I decided to order the BBQ Shrimp - “jumbo gulf shrimp bubbling in a classic BBQ shrimp sauce served with french bread.”

The dish was excellent but it was also a bit more work than I had bargained for. Not only were the jumbo shrimp still in their shells, they were also very hot, which made it difficult to peel the shells off (and incredibly messy since they were covered in BBQ sauce). Still, it was all part of the experience and the food was excellent. Most of the others in our group ordered burgers including The Peanut - “A burger twist on the PB&J…two burger patties loaded with seasoned bacon and our own honey peanut butter spread on a toasted pumpernickel bun with green tomatoes and a fresh berry spread” and The Bourbon- “Two burger patties smothered with washtub chili, cheddar cheese, grilled onions and pickles on a brioche bun.” I really wish I could go back and try one of the burgers sometime, so that will be my next choice when I am in New Orleans again!

Overall, I would highly recommend this restaurant. If you choose to eat on the patio upstairs, you have a nice view of Bourbon street below you and you can watch tourists passing by. Also, like most restaurants in New Orleans, the service was excellent. The waiter went out of his way to make sure we were taken care of and it really helped to make the meal more enjoyable! If you love burgers, please check out this restaurant!

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Bayou Burger on Urbanspoon

Gumbo Shop

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

This past week I was in New Orleans for a conference. After trying a few different restaurants throughout the week, I have been convinced that New Orleans is my new favorite “restaurant city” or “favorite city to go to restaurants.” There are a few staples in the New Orleans diet, but each restaurant is unique in its own right. There is spicy food, seafood, creole food, and french food, but if I had to sum up New Orleans cuisine in one word it would be flavorful.

The first night I was in New Orleans our group went to the Gumbo Shop. The Gumbo Shop is located in the French Quarter and is well known for its creole food. We stopped in on a Monday night and the place was happenin. Our group of eleven was seated in a back room that had an older New Orleans vibe to it. You could feel the energy in the restaurant and made for a pleasant first evening in the city.

Trying to decide on a dish was a difficult task as many of the options looked really good. Personally, I am partial to seafood, so I knew I had to start my week off right by ordering some fish. After a few minutes of looking at the menu I decided on the Fresh Fish Florentine - Catfish served with spinach covered in a warm hollandaise sauce with a lemon garnish on the side. Since this was my first meal in New Orleans, I had high expectations going in and this particular dish delivered in the clutch. The flavors mixed beautifully and the hollandaise sauce was particularly flavorful. Our table was also provided with several loaves of fresh bread, which added a nice touch. Others at the table ordered things like crawfish, red beans and rice, gumbo, and jambalaya. I think everyone was pretty satisfied with the food and the service was excellent.

One thing I would like to point out is that New Orleans has some of the nicest people you will ever meet. This makes the restaurant experience even better because you can expect quality service. Our group went to over a dozen restaurants and not once did we receive poor service (just a side note on New Orleans in general). As for the Gumbo Shop, you can expect great food, amazing service, and a pleasant atmosphere. Definitely check it out if you find yourself in the French Quarter!

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Gumbo Shop on Urbanspoon

Village Deli

Location: Bloomington, Indiana

Village Deli is a Bloomington classic. When it comes to breakfast, I think most would agree Village Deli is second to none. Nestled in the heart of Kirkwood, this restaurant is centrally located between downtown Bloomington and the IU campus, making it an ideal destination for both students and locals alike.

I’ve been to Village Deli numerous times during my three years in Bloomington and I can honestly say I’ve never left disappointed. They serve great food at reasonable prices in a welcoming atmosphere. I would even recommend visiting for lunch sometime. My personal favorite non-breakfast item on the menu is the “Croissant of My Dreams” - a grilled ham and swiss croissant sandwich. Village Deli is most well known for their pancakes though, appropriately dubbed “Our Famous, Colossal, Huge, Ginormous, Fresh Buttermilk Pancakes.”

During my last visit to Village Deli I ordered the “Jimmy the Greek” scrambler. It was a late Saturday morning and I was accompanied by four colleagues of mine from the business school. The scrambler was very good. It was a mixture of spinach, tomatoes, onions, feta cheese, and olives mixed with scrambled eggs. I am not particularly fond of olives, so I plucked them out, but that’s a matter of personal preference. The scrambler was served with home fries and whole wheat toast. Toast is toast in my opinion, but the home fries were particularly noteworthy. They were seasoned well and had a good potato-to-potato skin ratio. I would recommend the fries with ketchup, but they are good enough to be eaten by themselves too. I think the rest of the group enjoyed their food as much as I did. It’s been a few weeks since this particular visit, so I can’t remember exactly what everyone ordered, but I do know we all left satisfied (as I always do at Village Deli).

If you’re looking for a great breakfast/brunch destination, look no further than Village Deli. If the weather is nice out, consider dining at the picnic tables located just outside the front of the restaurant. You can watch the activity of all the people on Kirkwood while enjoying your breakfast. I recommend the pancakes, the Hoosier Scramble, or anything on the menu really! Bon Appétit!

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Village Deli on Urbanspoon

Chow Bar

Location: Bloomington, Indiana

In my opinion, Chow Bar is one of the better Chinese restaurants in Bloomington. Of the seven different Chinese restaurants I’ve been to in B-town, Chow Bar has the best mix of good food, quality service, and pleasant atmosphere. Bloomington has a diverse population, with many international students from China and surrounding areas. Many of these students frequent the local Chinese restaurants, and I have heard several students speak highly of Chow Bar. To this extent, I think Chow Bar can be recommended as a restaurant that is more authentic, and appeals to both Americans and non-Americans alike.

During my last visit to Chow Bar, I went with two of my future roommates and another good friend of ours. We ordered four dishes to share amongst the four of us. The dishes included a plate of green beans, a plate of chicken and peppers, a beef stew with mushrooms and kale, and a plate of duck with onions and peppers. I don’t ordinarily eat “communal” dishes for dinner, but I’ve been told by my good friend from Hong Kong that it is part of the Chinese culture. After trying it out a few times, I think it’s a nice change of pace from a traditional American dinner and it’s something I think should become more a part of American culture.

There are many parts of the world I’ve never been to (China included), but when I go to Chow Bar, I feel like I can get a small taste of Chinese culture. You can hear Mandarin being spoken, you can enjoy great Chinese food, and you can eat the way Chinese people eat (both by sharing dishes and by using chopsticks). I’m not so naive to believe that this experience is just like a meal in China, but I do believe it is as close as you can get in Bloomington, IN! I would recommend Chow Bar to anyone who likes Chinese food or anyone looking to try something new (if you are not a regular at Chinese restaurants). One thing I neglected to mention is that Chow Bar also has a great selection of bubble teas. Try one with your meal next time you find yourself at Chow Bar!

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Chow Bar on Urbanspoon

Smokin’ Jack’s Rib Shack

Location: Bloomington, Indiana

If you’ve never been to Smokin’ Jack’s before, it’s important to remember seven words - “don’t judge a book by its cover.” From the outside, the restaurant isn’t the most visually appealing establishment. In my opinion though, the character of a restaurant is much more important. Smokin’ Jack’s has a reputation as a hometown favorite. From the perspective of a college student, it isn’t your “typical college town restaurant.” Most of the customers walking in the doors are not college students, but I think this adds to the charm of the place. Smokin’ Jack’s is one of those classic hole-in-the-wall establishments that may be hard to find, but offers some of the best food in town. I would put Smokin’ Jack’s in an elite group of hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Bloomington including the Azteca Market, Lucky Express, and Wee Willie’s (Note: be on the lookout for future blog posts about these places!).

During my visit to Smokin’ Jack’s this weekend, I was accompanied with two of my roommates. The special for the day was a pulled pork sandwich with one side for $6. I ordered the special with macaroni and cheese as the side and my roommates ordered a full rack of ribs to share, along with a side of potato salad and green beans. I’ve had the ribs at Smokin’ Jack’s before, and they are amazing, but I was equally impressed with the pulled pork sandwich. It comes with pickles and onion (I think the pickles are a great compliment, however I don’t really care for the onion) and the macaroni was a perfect side for the sandwich. My roommates said they would prefer baby back ribs to the type of ribs Smokin’ Jacks has to offer because baby back ribs are smaller and not as tender, but it’s all a matter of personal preference!

In summary, I think Smokin’ Jacks is a place all residents of Bloomington should try at least once in their life. The food is great, the staff is friendly, and its a nice change of pace from most restaurants near campus. If you find yourself at Smokin’ Jacks, I would recommend the ribs or the pulled pork. But before you walk in, just remember - “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

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Smokin' Jack's Rib Shack on Urbanspoon

Cheesecake Factory

Location: Greenwood, Indiana

The Cheesecake Factory has been on my “list-of-restaurants-to-go-to” for a long time. I am proud to say I was finally able to cross it off my list today. I must admit, I had high expectations going in but the Cheesecake Factory exceeded all of my expectations. The restaurant chain has locations spread throughout the U.S. and today I visited the Greenwood location for an Easter afternoon lunch with my lovely parents. Upon walking into the restaurant, my first thoughts were that the place was very nice and that it had an almost “high-end” feel to it. When I was presented the menu, I was a bit confused though. What was said to be the “menu” looked more like a short novel. It especially felt this way when the waitress instructed us to turn to page 8 for a list of lunch specials (page 8 was about half way through this “menu”). It was a bit overwhelming at first.

After navigating through the menu for about 15 minutes, we finally decided on our orders. I ordered the Crispy Chicken Costoletta and my parents ordered the Chicken Madeira and the Carlton Salad, respectively. The Chicken Costoletta was lightly breaded, served over a creamy, white sauce and garnished with finely sliced lemon peels. It was accompanied with a side of mashed potatoes and asparagus. Honestly, this may have been the best meal I’ve had in the year 2013. It was that good. All of the flavors complemented each other very well and the chef prepared the food perfectly. My only regret is that I didn’t save room for cheesecake, but luckily I was able to take a piece to go.

Given the fact that the place is called “Cheesecake Factory” it shouldn’t come as a surprise that their cheesecake is really, really good. I ordered the Chocolate Tuxedo Cream Cheesecake and it was one of the best pieces of cheesecake I have ever had (the best cheesecake I ever had was at One Market Restaurant in San Francisco). It was a combination of fudge, chocolate cheesecake and vanilla mouse, and yes, it’s as good as it sounds. I am greatly anticipating my next visit to the Cheesecake Factory and I look forward to trying new things from their voluminous menu. I would encourage anyone to go and try one of the many cheesecake flavors they have, in addition to any of the main course options. You can’t go wrong at the Cheesecake Factory.

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Cheesecake Factory on Urbanspoon

Runcible Spoon

Location: Bloomington, Indiana

Tonight I enjoyed a nice meal at Runcible Spoon with three dear friends of mine. The meal was fantastic. I have eaten at Runcible Spoon two other times, but it’s been at least a year since my last visit. The food was as good as I remember though. I ordered two chocolate chip pancakes that were legitimately the size of my face and I also had scrambled eggs on the side. The pancakes are as good as it gets. I don’t often eat breakfast for dinner, but Runcible Spoon does breakfast right and should be enjoyed at any time of the day. My friends ordered the egg benedict, the smoked salmon omelet, and the gypsy chicken. Each dish was well prepared and looked delicious. My friend Caio, who ordered the gypsy chicken could not fathom the idea of eating breakfast for dinner, but his dish looked as good as any of ours. I think I am convinced I will order the smoked salmon on my next visit to Runcible Spoon though. The salmon looked great, and I think it would complement a bagel and cream cheese very nicely.

I highly recommend Runcible to anyone, not just for the great food, but also for an outstanding atmosphere. The inside of the restaurant feels very homey and welcoming. The outdoor seating is always lovely for a warm summer night (tonight was a bit too chilly for us). Either way, Runcible Spoon is great place to eat with friends whether it be for breakfast, lunch, or dinner - they should have something you will find appealing! Happy eating Bloomington!

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Runcible Spoon on Urbanspoon

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