Tuesday, July 31, 2012

big jones - chicago, il

bigjoneschicago.com
5347 north clark street
chicago, il 60640

for those who know me or read this blog regularly, seeing a restaurant specializing in "southern heirloom cooking" appear on my site may be somewhat surprising. i first became aware of big jones while browsing through lthforum's list of great neighborhood restaurant's and decided to take a calculated risk based on the forum's high praises along with the restaurant's admirable business ethics rooted in sustainability and the humane treatment of animals. located in andersonville, big jones was our first stop on a one night trip that would also include visits to goosefoot, tru, topolobampo, and great lake.
as always, our drive from st. louis was a breeze as we arrived in andersonville around 11:30am, right on schedule. with pay box parking being plentiful we found a spot two blocks from the restaurant and with our appetites ready we entered the small storefront restaurant which at the time was completely empty. after taking our seats in the window and ordering a pair of cocktails it was quickly determined that narrowing down our order would be quite difficult. aside from the al a carte menu which boasts a nice assortment of authentic cajun charcuterie, several appetizers, lunch platters, and sandwiches, there is also something called the boarding house lunch. for just $16 per person, the boarding house lunch includes biscuits, cornbread, fried chicken, a variety of sides, and dessert. after thinking long and hard we decided to go al a carte as we figured the boarding house lunch would likely be too much food.
sazerac - old overholt rye, house cane syrup, peychaud's bitters, absinthe
moscow mule - vodka, ginger, lime, soda
to begin, carrie and i shared an order of potato and goat cheese croquettes. the crispy breaded potato balls were topped with a bright and punchy anchovy dressing and filled with a mixture of goat cheese and herbs.
following the croquettes was a complimentary plate of cornbread. as a rule cornbread is something i will eat but rarely does it do much for me. this, however, was different. served piping hot, the cornbread was crisp on the outside, light and springy on the inside, and contained several whole kernels of corn which added a pop of sweetness along with some textural nuance.
for my main dish, i had my selection narrowed down to two southern classics, chicken and dumplings and shrimp and grits. being that i was really unsure if i had ever actually had shrimp and grits before, i decided to go that route and was not let down. at big jones, the dish is made with gulf coast white "gumbo" shrimp, creamy antebellum heirloom grits, mushroom and tasso gravy with house made worcestershire, and scallions.
carrie knew right away that she wanted to try the gumbo made with andouille sausage, chicken, and aromatic rice from arkansas. however what she received was not quite what was anticipated. when we were placing our orders the server made sure to let us know that the gumbo was a "dark roux" and without asking questions we consented. when the dish arrived at the table and we each tried a bite it became very clear why it came with a slight warning. this was not like any other gumbo we had ever tasted as the flavor was so incredibly deep and bold that i wouldn't hesitate to use the word bitter to describe it. even though it wasn't a perfect match for our palettes it was far from inedible, and we decided that the more we tasted it and became used to the flavor the more we liked it.
i only had to look at the dessert menu for a brief moment to decide how to end my meal. pictured above is the peanut gooey butter cake with buttermilk ice cream, coffee crunch, sorghum molasses, and banana anglaise. without exaggeration, this was one of the most satisfying desserts i have had in recent memory. the way the hot and gooey cake mixed with the cold and tart buttermilk ice cream was fabulous.
while not quite on the level of the peanut gooey butter cake, carrie's selection of buttermilk pie with muddled raspberries, spearmint ice cream, and cracked pepper candy was not far behind. feeling rather stuffed after finishing my entire helping, i only intended to try a bite of the portion carrie couldn't finish but ended up clearing the plate. while the pie (served cold) was excellent, it is the spearmint ice cream that really stood out to me as there was no subtlety to its flavor whatsoever.

aside from the gumbo which if nothing can be considered a valuable learning experience, carrie and i absolutely loved big jones. all the other food was excellent and i really cannot say enough about the desserts. later that night we did a dessert tasting at michelin starred tru and based on taste alone nothing came close to topping big jones' $7 peanut gooey butter cake. andersonville is very lucky to have big jones, and based on both the dinner and weekend brunch menus if we lived in the neighborhood it would be very difficult to stay away.
Big Jones on Urbanspoon

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