Mini reviews: Friendly Pizza, Chili's, Hub's Clam Shack

With the summer comes time for another of the caloric adventures I like to call Some Stuff I Think You Should Eat - wherein I wax, in suitably drooly fashion, over a few intriguing meals I've sampled of late.

Ready? Herewith:

Shiner Bock BBQ Burger ($8.29) at Chili's

Not familiar with "Shiner Bock"? It's pretty much THE official beer of discriminating Texans - for all the right reasons. It's an amazingly flavorful brew, and that the Chili's folks thought to incorporate it into a barbecue sauce was a pretty cool idea - particularly up here where, let's face it, barbecue and attendant sauces are delicate commodities.

Throw the sauce into the Chili's burger recipe, and it's a very good thing. Of all the franchise fern bars, Chili's consistently throws down great burgers, anyway: fat, flavorful patties oozing juice, poppyseed buns, sharp carved cheddar, shredded fresh lettuce and slices of bread and butter pickles. All nicely meshing togther like gears on an exotic flying machine.

The sauce, though: Sweet and thick - but yet with a sneaky undercurrent of tingling fizz. Ha! Plus, you get an extra container of the sauce, and I strongly recommend you utilize it for dipping purposes with your excellent Chili's fries.

Philly Cheesesteak White Pizza ($8.95 small, $15.95 large) at Friendly Pizza, Montville

I assumed this would automatically be a red pie, and indeed it's available that way. But my savvy waiter said he preferred the Friendly white version - and I shrewdly trusted him.

Speaking of the waiter, this is an efficient, family-fueled spot. Very comfortable with a casual dining room that serves as a nice dinner spot as well as a quick turnaround place for a workingman's lunch.

Back to the pie. You get a thin crust effort, nicely toasty on the bottom and a bit chewier on the topside, with a hint of buttery garlic, and slathered with melted cheese. It's also liberally strewn with lean, piping steak-shreds and sauteed green pepper ribbons. (The official pie also includes sauteed onions, which I opted to avoid for reasons having to do with the fact that, well, onions hate me.)

The ingredients are arranged artfully, with concentrations of steak running in concentric heaps and the peppers draped in a sort of perpendicular fashion. This presents numerous opportunities for slight variations in textures and flavors.

I confess to adding a lot of red pepper flakes and salt, but I also like to torque up the spice content of most food more than the norm.

New York Systems-style Weiner ($1.95), Hub's Clam Shack

In the heartless grip of winter, my pals Peter Huoppi and Katie Warchut joined me as we headed to Providence to explore, for purposes of a video report, the famous New York Systems Weiner. They are indeed miraculous creations, and the biggest problem is that you sort of have to travel to get them.

At least that's what I was resigned to until I wandered into Hub's Clam Shack in Groton anxious for some fresh seafood. I'm sure there's plenty fresh seafood - there were glorious bins of shrimp and bisque and whole bellied clams and a substantive menu - but a chalked notation on the specials board stole my heart.

Yes, it was Hub's attempt to replicate the New York Systems weiner. What can I say? They pretty much pulled it off wonderfully. There's the actual wiener itself, with it lovably ghastly orange hue, the yellow mustard-coated bun, the celery salt, the chopped onions, and the spicy, dense ground meat sauce. For $1.95!

Can you say, "Let's eat 10!"? Of course you can.

Plus, it's not really a special. I was assured that the weiners are there every day. The only problem this presents is that Hub's really does have a cool and extensive list of sides, platters, rolls and chowders with all sorts of seafood possibilities. Hmm. Well, that'll be for another day.

Rick's recommendations

Philly Steak White Pizza
Friendly Pizza
321 Route 32, Montville
(860) 848-0338,

Shiner Bock BBQ Burger
369 North Frontage Road, New London
(860) 444-0335

New York Systems-Style Wiener
Hub's Clam Shack
928 Poquonnock Road, Groton
(860) 446-2526


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