Erie St Autumn

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The fall has begun, and even in Chicago there is sometimes the hint of smoke in the air to remind us of autumn in more pastoral lands… In NYC, at the climate meeting, the point was made that by 2050 the warmest year currently on record would be considered their coldest. Detroit and Chicago are considered ideal cities at temperatures predicted for mid to late 21st century, along with beautiful climate from San Francisco up the northern west coast to Alaska.

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Meanwhile, the almanac and meteorologists predict cold winters in pairs, meaning winter 2015 in Chicago may be the evil twin of the polar vortex.

What does Targe+ think of me

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My friend Target, a far north Canadian who loves Quake 2 and is awesome at casting games, has been sharing his thoughts on various players of the game on an AcmeCTF forum thread. What he said meant a lot to me:

“Maybe you are forgetting that I have met Reefer (IRL). I went to the Buffalo Lan with the intention of hanging with friends, playing video games, and having a few drinks. But I think that Reefer went to the Lan with the intention of learning some things to make him a better Q2 player. He was always asking for tips and advice. His only other goal from the Lan (from what I could gather) was to try the fine foods of Buffalo and write up Yelp reviews (and take pictures for FB).

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When Reefer first arrived at the Lan he made me uncomfortable, but I’m not sure why. I feel like I am a good judge of character and can read people pretty quick. But not with Reefer. He would say something that sounded absurd and 100% ridiculous, and yet he was 100% serious. I could never tell if he was joking or not (and later determined he wasn’t) so I was always thrown off. I came to the conclusion that he is likely the funniest person I ever met, and tried my damnedest to convince him to write a book. Some of the stories he had (and the tattoos to remind him) are beyond hilarious.

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As a player, Reefer has gotten WAY better. At the Lan we were playing 2v2 with Me/Cartman vs Rusty/Reefer (so basically a 2v1) and we were still able to win. Now, I don’t even know if I could win 1v1 vs Reefer. I would say the MIP in the last couple years would be between him, HF, and Baccaco.”

Old School Frontera Strategy

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I have become obsessed with the financial picture painted at the last All Manager Meeting. All year the trend has been Xoco 2014 dinner nosediving versus Xoco 2013 dinner. In August, it was shocking to see that we actually did MORE COVERS at dinner in 2014, but still came up thirty thousand dollars short. In fact, the check average across the board, for both lunch and dinner, was $4 less in August 2014. Despite serving thousands more people in August this year, we came up ten of thousands of dollars short in sales.

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Unfortunately, I have no one to blame but myself. We changed the menu format completely in July, and I never trained the staff how to sell the new format. I take responsibility for that failure. We are going to tweak the format so that the Lunch / Dinner side is formulated to SELL. The first column will start with the Xoco margarita and seasonal margarita, and then list all the starters and guacamole bar. The middle three columns will be entrees: tortas, caldos and salads. The final column will be desserts.

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I am calling this money ball menu, and it will be a great training tool for the servers. We are going to old school Frontera the Xoco. I am 100% focused on getting this menu and my team to encourage every guest to have a starter, entrée and dessert. And margarita. And hot chocolate. Every guest, thirty dollars. The buck stops here.

Thoughts on Reports

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I often do my best thinking on my bike ride home from work when I’m really tired. One night I had a thought come to me that I wanted to share with the management group. When it comes to the daily reports, we all know the primary purpose is to give our bosses a picture of the day in terms of sales and service, as well as our team (FOH managers) and the BOH team (chefs) an idea of what the day was like and anything interesting that happened.

My thought was that the secondary purpose of the daily report is to create a record we can look back to next year. We are writing these reports for our future selves, so that next year we can better anticipate what will happen. When I write reports now I am trying to encode interesting information (what was the weather like, what times were the peak busy times, what causes (large orders) lead to what effects (traffic jam of to-go orders)… so that next year I will be able to have even more detailed information to make predictions.

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By using a consistent email subject line for these reports, it will help you access them easily next year. For example, I just used Xoco Wed 9-17-14. All I have to do is search my sent emails for “Xoco Wed” in quotes, and it will bring up all the reports I emailed out on Wednesdays, and then just scroll back to the day I want to look at.

The restaurant business is highly cyclical. For Xoco Wicker Park in particular, coming around the year for the first time, encoding in the reports information about what the weather was like, when the peaks were, what was selling, etc, will really help you next year. The better information you have, the better you will understand the numbers… and you will be able to make better pivots to ratchet up the sales!

Trattoria Stella

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We did a lot of reading about the dining scene in Traverse City and the greater Leelanlau Peninsula before our visit from Chicago. Maybe it was all the mentions of Chef Mario Batali that carried us towards Italian, or just the quantity and enthusiasm of recommendations to try Trattoria Stella: either way, this place is a gem.

Located in the basement of what was an insane asylum, and has been historically preserved, we ate at a private table, in a small, cave-like room, that used to house the asylum’s dry storage. The server assistant joked that when folks ask him what happen to the asylum’s patients, he says they are still here, working.

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The menu, printed daily, highlights so many fantastic local products, meat, vegetables, cheese, wine. This restaurant is practically a reason in itself to believe a transformation to the American food ways is well underway. Many of the small plates feature parts of animals rarely used, and for only four dollars, we elected for the Chef’s Choice, which that night was small empanadas of pig’s heart enhanced by the acidity of summer’s end tomato.

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Etta had a negroni-esque cocktail that was superbly made. The house-made soft cheese was fantastic and the entrees well seasoned. What really stood out for me was the best panna cotta I have ever had. The server complimented us with small (super small for me, the nondrinker, but a sucker for dessert wine) tasting portions of Moscato d’ Asti, which was the perfect pairing and really made the panna cotta, itself adorned with blackberry and adrift in lime, sing.

Van’s Beach

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Etta read me the story of a visitor to the Leelanau Peninsula who found the beauty of the setting sun over Lake Michigan so overwhelming they broke down in tears.

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I have seen a lot of beautiful sunsets over the lake in my days as a visitor, but I think they may be on to something. Of all the photos of Michigan sunsets, I took my favorite ones at Van’s Beach on the autumnal equinox.

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This public beach is located at the end of Cedar St., just off the main drag. Van’s Autobody is where you make the turn, but if you are parked in town, it is close enough to walk.

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There water is shallow and the sand is soft and fine. In one direction lies the natural vista of sand and water, and in other, Fishtown’s pier.

200 Year Old White Cedar

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I really felt far out there when I visited the Leelanau State Park.

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On the very tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, the historic Grand Traverse Lighthouse a beacon for many years to those entering the bay…

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…this is about as far from Chicago and the civilized world, about as far back in time, as its possible to journey on Lake Michigan.

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The light, mid transition summer to fall, was so dramatic…

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…Etta and I stayed out along the shore for over an hour taking photographs…

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of the seagrass and stones as they slowly turned colors.

Christmas Cove

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Etta and I arrived at the small town beach called Christmas Cove by complete mistake. GPS had gone down on my smart phone, and at a crucial fork in the road, I turned left, blindly following a sign promising 10,000 antique Coca Cola bottles. Instead of the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, we ended up at Christmas Cove, just south of Cat Head Point.\

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At the end of Island View Dr there is a parking lot and a 200 foot town beach. The waters of the lake were a color blue I have never seen before. The color seemed to permeate even the texture of the water.

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There is not much mention of this place on the internet. Christmas Cove must be one of the Leelanlau Peninsula’s many hidden gems.

Village Cheese Shanty

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I was reading about our trip to the Leelanlau Peninsula, and one story captivated me, probably because it was about eating. It said take the driving tour along the national park, and then head up to Fishtown for a sandwich at Village Cheese Shanty. After doing just that, I can’t think of a better combination.

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The sandwiches are amazingly fresh and feature house-made pretzel bread. My sandwich, the Fishtown, was the vegetarian option. The dill cheese was delicious. The selection of local craft beer in can and bottle, along with many nonalcoholic options, was on point.

On a sunny Monday in late September, there was no line, and we easily claimed one of the tables out front. I can’t believe my sandwich included avocado and was only $6!

Carlson’s Fishery

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Carlson’s Fishery has been in the hands of the Carlson family for generations. The owner, one of the brothers of the current generation, talked to me for a minute about the volume of fish that comes through their doors. He and his brother had been out on Lake Michigan that very morning at 4AM.

The fishery itself is spotless clean, and right behind the counter is where the action happens. Even though we were there in late afternoon, after any catch had come in, I could still feel the energy of the facility. I really like the idea of buying some fillets while fish are being filleted right there.

The products were top notch. I had never had whitefish pate before, but we ate a whole container in just a couple days. The smoked fish sausage was also a first for me, and it was delicious, a must-try. The beef jerky was really tasty too, although it gave Etta smoky jerky breath for a few hours.

On a nerdier, restaurant-business insider note, I appreciate the way Carlson’s has taken steps to modernize the family brand. The fish logo, and presence on instagram, shows that the owners get it.

I posted a photo of Fishtown online and my friend from growing up in CT, Dave Stender, who I haven’t really talked to in about a decade, commented, “Obviously you got the smoked salmon and white fish!” Carlon’s is legendary.

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