Where the heck is Kennebec?

I was visiting Northwestern Medicine downtown today and a nurse recommended a nearby restaurant called, “Beatrix“, which turned out to be part of the Lettuce Entertain You chain. It’s a combination carry out salad and soup bar market with a sit down dining room. Their motto is “Taste before Trend.”

The menu has a modest selection of entrees, appetizers, and such, along with a trendy wine, beer, and signature juice cocktail list. With this being a weeknight, we kept the drinks soft and the choices modest. My wife had a turkey, sweet potato, and greens “Neatloaf” that was quite flavorful. I opted for the Prime Burger topped with mixed greens, tomato, and my choice cheese, havarti. It came with house-made giardiniera (tangy and mild) and kennebec fries. I asked the server about those because I hadn’t heard of them before. She told me the kennebec potato comes from Maine and is considered a great french fry potato. I was intrigued.

The burger had great flavor. The cheese was nicely melted over the patty, the tomato and greens were fresh, and the overall flavor was delicious. While the style was gourmet, the burger did not disappoint. The big surprise were the fries. They completely lived up to the promise of being crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. They tend toward a darker color, and these were prepared skin-on. Seasoned perfectly, they needed nothing else. A few lay too close to the burger and were tagged by the melty havarti for a delightful bonus cheese fry surprise. Had I not filled up too much on my ginger beer I’m sure I would have cleared the plate of the generous portion.

I would recommend a visit to Beatrix. I will give it another try when the opportunity knocks. However, I highly recommend kennebec fries if you find them anywhere at all. If they’re half as good as these were, they’ll be a treat for sure. Enjoy!

I have seen the future…

… and it is dull and sterile.

Our local McDonald’s has had quite a challenging couple of years. This particular location has been there for decades. A few years ago, the last building was closed due to mold issues. Unable to resolve them, either the corporation or the franchisee decided to tear it down and build a brand new building. Months later, it opened with the new design, blending kiosks with a single register behind the counter.

Throughout all of this, this location struggled to turn customers around in a timely manner and had a reputation for always taking longer than expected. After being open just a few months, the 24 hour location closed a couple times, and rumors swirled about staffing issues. Then unexpectedly, near the holiday season last year it closed again for additional renovations. I heard new rumors about the dining room switching to a kiosk-only option. I wondered what that would look like, but wasn’t in any hurry to find out.

Recently I decided to grab a quick breakfast on my way to work and took a gamble on a Sunday morning run. I do enjoy their steak breakfast burritos so a 2-for-$4 promotion seemed like a good deal. I approached the property, noted the long drive thru lines, and opted to go inside. This is what greeted me.

The very first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. No one said, “Welcome to McDonald’s.” The sounds of the kitchen were distant and muffled. The overall energy was subdued and foreign. It felt dark and stark and uninviting.

The kiosk is easy enough to use, although I’ve learned from past experiences that these things can’t anticipate all the possible special requests a patron may have. Also, I’m not sure how I would get a real person’s attention if I needed something I couldn’t get from the kiosk. One employee came in and out of the back to clean the dining room, and a couple more brought the orders out from the back as they were completed. It felt strange on several levels.

This design feels offputting. It’s impersonal. It’s very transactional. The closed off kitchen does not inspire confidence because I cannot see the cleanliness of the line or the bustling of employees. Open kitchens are a hallmark of quality. This feels cheaper than usual. The lack of large menu board is very off-brand and the words “Delicious Burger” are meaningless to me. If this is the future, I’m not looking forward to it.

Since I was taking my food to go, once I was in my car the experience was consistent with my previous McD’s history. So the end result may have been the same, but getting there was new and different in all the wrong ways. I would end here with “Enjoy”, but I’m not confident anyone would.


My wife, Cathy, loves crab boils. For those who don’t know what that is, (and I was one of them up till two years ago,) a crab boil is crab or other seafood boiled and served in bags. Basically, load a pound of shellfish of choice in a big plastic bag, add a sauce of choice, and boil. Then open said bag at the table and dig in.

Two years ago, Cathy was in Northern California on a special work project. During my visit one weekend, she took me to a local crab boil joint near her apartment. I was not brave, so I ordered some rice dish and some sausage and let her make a mess of her meal. Fast forward to recently, when we visited a local place called, “Crab & Spice“. She had been craving it for quite a while and this date night seemed as good as any to go for it.

Now, let me clarify that I love seafood, but I hate the effort. I usually only tackle seafood that is already exhumed from its skeletal surroundings. Crab out of the shell, shrimp peeled, deveined and tailless, lobster, mussels, oysters (cooked, please), as long as someone’s already done the dirty work, I’m there. It’s a small part squeamishness and a large part I have no idea what’s edible.

So on this night, I was a bit nervous looking at the limited menu and seeing little in the way of safe bets. I didn’t trust myself to handle the stuff, but I did trust my wife, so I decided to just go for it. I knew she had the experience to teach me what I needed to know and I’m reaching that age where it’s getting easier and easier to suppress my reluctance and cut loose.

We went on a weeknight. The place is simple, with picnic-style tables, a chalkboard menu with the market prices listed to supplement the printed menus, and paper towel rolls standing by. One side of the menu is the limited options and the other is the drink list. Their offerings included shrimp, crab, mussels, crawfish, and lobster. We ordered the shellfish medley to share, springing for the peeled and deveined shrimp, mussels, and snow crab legs. Crab & Spice has a signature Ultimate sauce, which is just a blend of the their garlic butter, lemon pepper, and simply Cajun sauces. We went for the mild version of the Ultimate on recommendation of our server.

Being only slightly braver than usual, I added a side of kielbasa sausage in case I wasn’t up to all the stuff in the bag. We got a side of sweet potato fries, steamed rice, and I ordered a cup of lobster bisque. The bag came out big and steaming, with the bottom full of sauce. Cathy, bless her heart, grabbed the crackers and went to town on the crab legs, offering me bite-sized portions of deliciously tender crab as she extracted them from the shells. I found the shrimp easily consumed. The mussels were all in shell, but easier to extract than I’d expected. The sauce was complex without any one flavor overpowering, although the garlic may have stood out the most. The soup was good, and made a good dip for the fries. The restaurant offers a powdered sugar for the fries, but we passed. After we’d finished every last bit of seafood, we spooned some sauce over the rice. That combination was almost too rich, something we hadn’t noticed with the seafood.

All in all, it was well done and delicious. I left very satisfied, not only with the meal, but with my willingness to step out a bit from my comfort zone. Thankfully, I was rewarded for it. The bill came out to around $50 dollars, including the two soft drinks. It’s not something we’d do often, but I do look forward to doing it again soon, and for those who love a good crab boil, I highly recommend the place. Enjoy!