Sunday, August 16, 2015

Big Jones, Chicago

The Whiskey Bar
I go to Chicago frequently for business but I always stay in the suburbs which makes it very difficult to get downtown to go to some of the best restaurants in the US.  But this evening I found a restaurant that was a James Beard semi-finalist just north of Chicago, Big Jones.  Big Jones serves southern comfort food with it's roots from Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and Appalachia.  The restaurant is on Clark Street north of downtown among food establishments both old and new.  I was very surprised to walk in at 7pm and not see it bustling but it is the summer and it was a Wednesday but I could see it on a Friday night, filled with both families and single hipsters alike.
Fried Green Tomates
Big Jones is all about the food experience they stick with their theme from the alcohol all the way to the desserts.  The cocktails are unique and many are built around their featured liquor Whiskey but not just limited to.  I am not a big drinker but do like a citrus cocktail from time to time so after some convincing that my Hurricane would not be the same as Pat O'Briens sugary concoction I went with it.  Good way to start the dinner not a featured Whiskey drink but a great drink all the same.
Pickled Vegetables and Fruit
Benne Crusted Crab Cakes
We started out with several Appetizers including Fried Green Tomatoes, Benne Crusted Crab Cakes  and Pickled Vegetables and Fruit.  The Pickled dish included some really unique vegetables and fruit, including Sally Lunn Bread and Sweet Butter. Yep I said Fruit, in fact a Green Strawberry, the veggies included Fiddlehead Ferns, Yellow Beans, Pea Stems, Hearts of Palm and Cucumber (I thought that was called a Pickle).  This dish even though it sounds simple it is very different and from the reception at the table it was a big favorite.  The Fried Green Tomatoes were great and were topped spicy Remoulade and pickled Shrimp,  Very tasty, crunchy coating and well cooked. The Crab Cakes were coated in Benne sitting on an Acorn Squash Puree topped with a light Curry Sauce.  The Crab Cakes were loaded with Crab and the unique Benne coating was crunchy and light the Curry Sauce created a great unexpected taste.

Shrimp and Grits
Famous Fried Chicken
Chicken and Dumplings
The main course was as Southern Home Cooking as possible.  Fried Chicken, Shrimp and Grits annd Chicken and Dumplings.  I picked the Fried Chicken because it is their specialty, the dish comes with Butter Beans and Voodoo Greens (Whatever they are they are good).  the Fried Chicken is dredged in Cornmeal and Fried in Leaf Lard, Ham Drippings and Clarified Butter.  Talk about a Fried Chicken with a great tasty crunchy crust and moist inside, this chicken was great.  By the way the half chicken is a very large serving so you can share.  The veggies that accompanied it were savory and dripping with all things fat and tasty.  My Colleagues had Shrimp and Grits and Chicken and Dumplings.  When I grew up one of my favorite dishes I would make with my mom was Chicken and Dumplings, I would take Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup lots of white meat from a boiled chicken and dumplings made with Bisquick.  Big Jones does not use my recipe, theirs is really home made, their stock is not as creamy, their egg dumplings were not like the baseball size I used to make and the Chicken was accompanied with Butter Beans and Carrots.  Overall lighter than expected and worth trying.  Last but not least the Shrimp and Grits (which was my second choice looked great and my colleagues said it tasted great.  they said the shrimp was perfect and just a slight amount of heat to give it that Gulf Coast experience.
Sinful Dessert
If you feel full do not look at the dessert menu because you will definitely break down and partake, like we did.  We picked the home made butter pecan with donuts which was slathered with a whiskey syrup.  I try to avoid desserts but this one was fantastic just a lot of good flavors.
Next time you are in Chicago I would recommend if you want to try great Southern home cooking come to Big Jones