Foodie: Northside Dairy Haven

In a region where frozen custard is king, there are still a few places to get good old-fashioned ice cream in bizarre combinations, and Northside Dairy Haven has a long tradition of serving it up.

At the north end of Edwardsville’s Main Street – thus the name – you can find the roadside food stand that goes back to 1961 with a snarky comment on the message board and a lot of cars lined up for the small drive-through. While the diner-type charco-burgers and pulled pork get a lot of attention, the ice cream is what makes it special.

Northside Dairy Haven makes its ice cream fresh every day, including the orange sherbet that made them famous. Concretes, shakes, sundaes and twisted cones are just part of the offerings, and they have a wide variety of combinations for the weirdest tastes. 

While I’m always partial to the turtle sundae with extra hot fudge and pecans, for the purposes of Metro-East Eats I opted for their newest experiment: the Cherry Bomb, a twisted ice cream cone dipped in chocolate shell and then in cherry shell. 

As posted on Facebook, Northside suddenly declared that cherry dip is superior to chocolate dip and threatened to ban anyone who said otherwise. A customer then challenged them to do both, and the Cherry Bomb was born. Naturally I had to try one, and as a confirmed chocolate fan I opted for chocolate ice cream inside the double shell.

A word to the wise: order small. My husband’s large cone is close to the size of his head. I ordered the small and it still took me a while to scarf it down. The chocolate-cherry dip mix worked well, but the chocolate kind of overpowers the cherry, more than you might expect. For a cherry aficionado, you might order it alone, or perhaps get the more bland vanilla ice cream instead of my preferred chocolate.

Be aware that Northside is an outdoor venue and bench seating is limited, so you might end up eating your ice cream in your car. They also charge a 50-cent fee for using a credit card, so try to remember to bring cash and tip your workers. 

The prices make them very college-student friendly: my small cone was a grand $1.95 plus 60 cents for the dip. The large is $2.95 and the concretes are $4.45, so you won’t need to break the bank here. 

Food is made to order, so don’t mistake it for fast food; it was a good 25 minutes from order to eating when we were there on a Friday. It was absolutely worth it.

Note: This review was originally published by the SIUE Alestle.

Foodie: La Casa Mexicana is great food when it isn’t Sunday

Note: This review was originally published in the SIUE Alestle.

La Casa Mexicana has a wide menu of the kind of restaurant Mexican food we’ve all come to love, but you might pick a less busy time to go.

La Casa bills itself as a fusion of Indigenous Meso-American cooking with European elements such as Spanish staples. As a longtime consumer of “Americanized” Mexican food – heavy on the sour cream and cheese that real Mexican food often doesn’t include – I’ve always enjoyed the fare there.

We visited La Casa Mexicana on a Sunday at lunchtime, and the servers were speeding about at a high pace. No one could argue they weren’t working hard, but it was pretty difficult to flag them down for soda and chip refills.

And we needed those refills, as both the mild queso and guacamole we ordered as appetizers were delicious and flavorful. I usually require a chunky, chewable guac and my husband prefers very spicy queso and salsa, but these were terrific enough that we were happy outside our usual preferences.

The menu has an enormous variety, with 11 types of burritos, six enchiladas, 10 platters of street tacos and a variety of quesadillas, fajitas and other entrees, including 15 fish dishes. 

We both ordered beef chimichangas, which come with a platter of rice, beans and a square of sweet cornbread. Again we ran into the crowd issue – the server misheard my husband and brought us both the lunch plates when my husband ordered the full size. We didn’t mention it, though, because the place was so busy and the servers so rushed that it seemed futile. The chimichanga was delicious, though the lunch size will be a bit small for husband-sized appetites, and if you want guacamole on your chimichanga you’ll need to order it special.

Lunch plates run about $8-10, drinks not included. Entrees start at $12 and some items run as high as $20, so it’s not quite as cheap as a college student budget might prefer. 

La Casa Mexicana has locations in Edwardsville and O’Fallon (Ill.), and I’d definitely recommend it as solid mid-range Mexican fare – but not on a Sunday. 

Foodie: Grasshopper Brownies

My dear friends the Koppenhofers throw KooperBowl every year as a cooking contest centered on a particular ingredient while we watch the silly commercials. There’s also rumors of some football game going on, but no one pays attention to it except my son.

I won second place this year despite the bizarre theme of “bugs.” Now, nobody actually wants to eat bugs. Except that one guy, we don’t talk to him. But honey counts – it’s made by bees. So did the cake made to look like a ladybug and “dirt” trifle with gummy earthworms.

My entry was “grasshopper brownies,” for which I reviewed dozens of recipes. Many of them required a frozen layer or were for the actual grasshopper drink, and while I’m not opposed to buying a bottle of creme de menthe just for this experiment, I did not have time as last weekend was also our first quarterly book sale at St. Andrews.

Some folks requested it, so here is the grasshopper brownie recipe using Andes Mints that came in second place for the KooperBowl contest. I used a half-teaspoon of peppermint extract in the ganache; I would have preferred to use a sweeter spearmint, but did not have any on hand. Note that when mixed, the batter barely seems like enough cover the bottom of the pan, but made a decent if narrow layer. Next time I might use Andes chopped bits to save Jim the trial of unwrapping all those little candies and snapping them in half, especially since he engaged in a little quality control.

Also note that I chilled the brownies to make the ganache set faster, but they do not have to be refrigerated and the chilling made the mints temporarily turn a chalky color (but did not influence taste). The brownie layer turned out sufficiently moist, aided by the Andes mints throughout, and the ganache was thick and rich. Andes chopped bits rather than snapped candies might also have improved the presentation of the final brownie.

Grasshopper Brownies

Note: my brownie spatula was sufficient for cutting these brownies. This is always a concern ever since some horrid Philistine completely ruined one of my good aluminum cake pans by using a metal spatula with enough force to destroy Wolverine’s claws. Do not mess with a baker and her pans.

The recipe I had intended to make would have taken many more hours or overnight, and that wasn’t happening on a book sale weekend. It intrigued me as a brownie recipe with both cocoa powder and solid chocolate, as well as the use of brown sugar, which I have not seen in a brownie recipe before. Note that it uses a butter-and-chocolate layer in place of the ganache for the top, and does not use Andes Mints but relies on extracts for the mint flavor.

Finally, the other rejected dessert waiting in the wings is a grasshopper cake with layers of chocolate cake, a chocolate ganache filling and layers of mint frosting flavored with creme de menthe and peppermint extract. It also incorporates dark brown sugar and uses black cocoa powder, which I acquired some time ago and have been searching for a proper use. This is much too complex for a quick dessert, but I very well may make it for myself on my birthday!