5.03.2016

Porkchop

If you follow Diana on Instagram, you've probably already realized that she is the BBQ queen - she is always down for BBQ and loves introducing her friends and followers to new spots. While I've always enjoyed BBQ, I never had a high appreciation for it until Diana started dragging me along on her BBQ forays (I swear she's worked her way through at least 3/4 of the vast number of BBQ joints in the Chicago-area!). Through our various visits, I've grown to really appreciate the intricacies of various rubs and sauces (I'm currently all about Carolina mustard sauce), and have even developed preferences for the type of wood used to smoke the meat (maple, apple, and mesquite are my favorites). So of course, when the good folks at Porkchop invited me to stop by to check a few brunch favorites, I knew there was no better person to accompany me on my meaty mission than the BBQ queen herself.

Described as an "urban interpretation of a Southern backwoods experience," Porkchop offers diners a low-key and unpretentious environment with a menu filled with all sorts of Southern comfort food (including mac & cheese, fried pickles, fried okra, and seafood etoufee). Of course, the star of the show is its wide range of BBQ options, including a variety of ribs, sliders, brisket, burnt ends, and pulled pork. Not to be completely outdone by the meat, you'll also find up to 40 varieties of whiskey and a host of hearty bourbon cocktails.

This fun (and possibly lethal ;-)) curtain of saws separates the main dining area from the semi-private large party table.

How cute are the clusters of mason jar light scattered throughout the bar area?!


We kicked off our brunch with a round of cocktails (surprise, surprise, right?!). I chose the Porkchop Moonshine...

...while Diana ordered a classic Mint Julep. While both drinks were bold and paired perfectly with the heavy meats, we both particularly enjoyed the Mint Julep, thanks to the rich bourbon and extra fresh mint.

Diana and I both agreed that these tender, fall-off-the-bone Fried Ribs tossed in hickory BBQ sauce were the standout of our meal (and they're not something you'll find at every BBQ joint!). Bonus: watch Chef Kenny Robinson prepare these decadent ribs (and snag the recipe) here.

Sausage Lollipops: deep fried sausage on sticks, served with a spicy remoulade for dipping. I have to admit I would have been happier if these were sans breading (as the heavy breading overpowered the flavor of the sausage), but I will say that I loved the presentation. I mean, how can you not enjoy a hunk of meat on a stick?!

Porkchop offers four housemade BBQ sauces, including my personal favorite, the tangy Chicago sauce, infused with rosemary, olive, and Absolut. It's definitely worth sampling all four - if you want to get a little adventurous, try mixing the Chicago sauce with the Damn Good sauce.
 
While Rib Tips aren't necessarily super common in other parts of the country, they're widely popular in the Midwest. Porkchop's version are dry rubbed before they're sauced, which gives them an extra layer of flavor.


Pulled Pork Sandwich with grilled tomato and fried egg on a pretzel roll. Woooo-eeee! As I mentioned on Instagram, this seriously meat-tastic sandwich is not for the faint of heart (or those with the already partially full stomach!). If you love a substantial sandwich that is swimming in rich BBQ sauce, this is most definitely for you!


https://www.instagram.com/chicagofoodiegirl/
Meaty deliciousness!

We ended our meal with an order of Porkchop's version of Beignets with fresh fruit and vanilla ice cream. These beignets are definitely thicker/breadier than traditional beignets, but they still retain everything that's good about fried dough dusted in sugar.


You can try all this deliciousness and more at one of Porkchop's four Chicago-area locations (or track down their food truck via Twitter!). 

Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.  
Porkchop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

4.18.2016

Rojo Gusano

Happy spring! Yes, I realize spring technically started almost a month ago; however, it was still very much winter in these parts up until recently. Finally, the trees have sprouted tiny buds, the dreaded s-word (yes, that would be snow) hasn't been uttered in almost two weeks, and there's a telltale whiff of the new season (wet pavement, grass, and dirt) in the air. While fall is my favorite season, I have to say that I really cannot get enough of these gorgeous early spring days! Along with basking in the lovely weather and celebrating the birthday boy (yay, Mario!), I also spent the weekend exploring some new-to-us restaurants with Diana, including much lauded Rojo Gusano.


Tucked away in the heart of Albany Park amongst blocks of tiny family-owned stores and hookah lounges, Rojo Gusano is a simple 70-seat joint serving up a modern, unique, and utterly delicious take on Mexican food. Helmed by restaurant vet Chef Dudley Nieto, the space that formerly housed Mayan Sol Latin Grill has been completely reconceptualized - everything from the name (which refers to the red worm found at the bottom of mezcal bottles) to the decor (beach meets urban taco joint) to the food (with a focus on non-traditional, global ingredients) screams fresh, fun, and welcoming. It's no wonder that the restaurant has been getting tons of positive buzz from Albany Park dwellers and foodie visitors alike.

While some might be temped to categorize Rojo Gusano as just another taqueria in a neighborhood filled with a plethora of Mexican joints, what makes the restaurant stand out is Neito's heavily diverse menu. Drawing from the numerous cultures found in the neighborhood, along with his own rich background, Neito marries an assortment of techniques and ingredients; the result is a menu teeming with international dishes including a shrimp-and-octopus ceviche with leche de tigre, a charred butternut squash taco, and a charred chile morita salsa with tangy tomato.

Diana and I stopped by early on a Saturday morning to check out their new brunch menu. The moment we settled at our sunny table, we were greeted with a complimentary selection of Pan Dulce; the slightly sweet, fresh buns were a perfect way to kick off our meal (and keep our ravenous hunger at bay while we debated what to order).


While I was tempted by the wide selection of mezca-based drinks, I eventually chose the Bloody Maria, a south-of-the-border spin on the perennial brunch-favorite Bloody Mary. This tequila-heavy drink comes with an extra kick from a hefty dose of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce.

While brunch may not be the most popular time for tacos, of course we couldn't resist sampling just a few, especially seeing as the restaurant is known for their wide selection of specialty tacos. The tortillas are made in-house, which makes a world of difference - the fresh tortillas are thick enough to hold the nice amount of ingredients you get in each taco. As Diana mentioned, she hates when tacos are so overstuffed that you need two tortillas to hold everything (which throws the off the ratio of fillings to tortilla) or they're too flimsy and immediately fall apart. 

Arrachera Taco with mojo de ajo, relish, onions and mora salsa, and the Charred Butternut Squash Taco with kale, farmer's cheese, and cascabel tomatillo salsa. While we both enjoyed the skirt steak taco, it was the perfectly constructed butternut squash taco that really blew us away.

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For her entrée, Diana ordered a bowl of Pozole with chicken, hierba santa, serrano, pumpkin seeds, hominy corn, chicharron, and radishes. This hearty soup was super flavorful and satisfying; Diana even mentioned she felt like she was eating something her (everything-from-scratch/super-awesome-cook) mother would have made, which is obviously a massive compliment!


 
I chose the Huevos Sandwich with cochinita pibil, Nueske’s bacon, arugula, red onions, and a sunny-side up egg. Woooo-eee, this was one seriously porktastic sandwich... and I devoured every single bite of it!  The slow-roasted pork was tender, juicy, and incredibly delicious. If you stop by Rojo Gusano for brunch, this sandwich is definitely a must-order.

 Look at all of that meaty deliciousness!

I added a side of Patatas Bravas to my sandwich. Be forewarned, these little spicy potatoes are not the normal spicy that you may be used to from some other restaurants in the area - they are melt-your-face-off spicy potatoes!


We ended our meal with the Torrejas, the most dessert-y of their brunch offerings: brioche smothered in crème anglaise, and filled with local honey & mascarpone cheese. This dish was just sweet enough without being overwhelming and the perfect way to end our meal.


We both greatly enjoyed our meal at Rojo Gusano and can't wait to head back to check out their dinner menu; we're definitely planning to swing by on a Tuesday for their $2.50 taco special. Last week, they also announced a plans for a second location at Central and Belmont that will be about half the size of the original restaurant.  

You can try all this deliciousness and more at Rojo Gusano: 3830 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL.

Rojo Gusano Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.  

4.04.2016

Appellation Wine Bar & Restaurant

When I heard the news last year that Pastoral was opening not only a cheese shop, but also an adjacent wine bar/restaurant in my 'hood, I immediately began planning for the day in which I could roll out of bed and spend a leisurely morning munching my way through all sorts of cheesy deliciousness. Already being a bona fide fan of the renowned shop and a connoisseur of all things cheese (from mild, creamy goat cheeses to pungent blues, I'm always down for cheese!), I had high expectations for the newest location. While the shop and restaurant opened to great fanfare at the end of the year, it wasn't until a few months ago in which they finally kicked off their brunch service. Of course, the moment the words "new brunch menu" floated my way via email, I knew it was finally time to live out my cheese-filled brunchy daydreams at Appellation.
 

Headed by Jesse Williams (formerly of Birchwood Kitchen), the Andersonville spot is Pastoral's fifth (and in my opinion, best!) location. Not only is the shop a treasure trove for lovers of cheese, wine, and charcuterie (as is every incarnation of Pastoral), but also the cozy adjacent wine bar/restaurant contains sparkling wine on tap AND mustard on tap from Maille. Yes, you read that correctly... there's basically a nonstop flow of sparkling wine and draft mustard. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I love my fancy mustards (Diana and I even took a trip to a the National Mustard Museum a few summers ago!) almost as much as I love my cheese (and bubbly!), so you can bet I was a very happy girl upon learning of these fun offerings.

Fellow cheese and brunch lover Ashley and I stopped by on a bustling Saturday morning, and after ogling the rows and rows of available wines and cheeses, we finally tore ourselves away from the bar and settled at a sunny table in the front part of the dining room facing Clark St. (a prime spot for people-watching!) for a two-hour tour through some of the highlights of the newly minted brunch menu.

As Ashley and I firmly believe every good weekend brunch begins with cocktails, we kicked off our meal at Appellation with a Grapefruit Mimosa...

...and a Gin Rickey, made with Letherbee Gin.

Baked Eggs in squash-herb cream sauce with vinegar-braised onions and prosciutto di San Daniele. Ashley and I both agreed that this dish exemplifies everything that is good about brunch at Appellation. The runny sauce, creamy eggs, salty prosciutto, and sweet onions combine to create one fantastic way to start the morning. You'll definitely want to ask for more bread in order to soak up every last bit of creamy goodness!


Just look at that perfectly shaved prosciutto! 

Warm Mushroom and Kale Salad with fried bread, caramelized shallots, hazelnuts, poached eggs, and sherry vinaigrette. While I'm mostly over the kale craze, Ashley (aka mushroom lover extraordinaire) insisted we order this salad. I have to admit that she made a wonderful choice, as the slightly tart and bitter kale was nicely balanced by the woody mushrooms, eggs, and addictive chunks of fried bread.


Grilled Hanger Steak with sunny eggs, cheddar grits, and kohlrabi-Brussels sprout slaw. While the hanger steak was perfectly prepared, the sharp, creamy cheddar grits really took the starring role in this fun play on steak and eggs.


Croque Monsieur with poached pears, 1655 Gruyere, sage bechamel, and Prosciutto di Parma. For me, this flawlessly constructed sandwich was definitely the standout of our entrées... in fact, I'm even going to go as far as to say this was the best Croque Monsieur I've ever had! If the perfectly creamy Gruyere and sage bechamel (*swoon*) aren't enough, then it will most definitely be the addition of the poached pears that will finally steal your heart. Yes, yes, and YES!


Melty deliciousness!

Cornmeal and Sage Pancakes with orange butter and warm maple syrup. These savory pancakes were quite tasty on their own, but the orange butter took them to a new level. We both loved the pairing of the fresh orange with the earthy sage.

Ricotta Fritters with grapefruit curd. I'm usually not a huge fan of grapefruit (as it tends to be too acidic for me), but this grapefruit curd had just the right amount of sweetness to cut through the bitterness. Plus, who doesn't love a round of cute little doughnuts during brunch?!

Fluffy fritter happiness!

Needless to say (but I'm still going to say it anyway!), all of my expectations for the newest location of Pastoral were met... and them some. Not only is Appellation a fantastic addition to the mini-Pastoral empire, but also, it's seriously drool-worthy contender in a neighborhood already teeming with brunch options.

You can try all of this deliciousness and more at Appellation: 5212 N Clark. St., Chicago, IL.


Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.

3.31.2016

GreenRiver

*Tap, tap, tap* Is this thing on? Ahem. I'm finally poking my head out after an almost two-month blogging hiatus. I really didn't plan to vanish and while I don't want spend much time blogging about not blogging, I didn't want to completely pretend like it hasn't been forever since you last heard a peep out of me.

Basically, I was feeling a combination of overwhelmed, burned out, and uninspired... I was in a major writing slump, and despite what I recommend to my students, I simply didn't feel like working through it. That is, until I crossed the threshold of the fabulous GreenRiver. Yes, it's true - one amazing meal at GreenRiver was all it took to break my (self-imposed and slightly petulant) silence. This lovely spot with sweeping views of the city, chic vibe, and seriously drool-worthy food is, in a nutshell, a hella fantastic spot. Everything from the decor to the atmosphere to the drink menu to the food is just ridiculously on point. No wonder I finally got my inspiration back, right?!


Open since last September, this eighteenth floor gem in Streeterville pays homage to Chicago's Irish history through a vast drink menu composed of 32 cocktails inspired by the city's most famous (and infamous!) Irish-Americans. Of course, these cocktails aren't just your run-of-the-mill everyday drinks; they're carefully cultivated sips designed by Jack McGarry of The Dead Rabbit and Julia Momose of The Aviary. The drink menu alone is a work of art; separated into sections by the raw materials in the base spirit (e.g. "corn" for bourbon), each cocktail includes a biography for whom the cocktail is named. Not only are the cocktails unique (I guarantee you'll encounter something you've never tried before!), but also, the menu is chock full of fascinating tidbits, making it perfect for those of us who like a little dinnertime reading material.

Along with the spectacular cocktail offerings (and over 200 available whiskeys), GreenRiver also offers an equally impressive spread of interesting, well-prepared dishes (many of which were designed to complement individual cocktails). As much as I loved the cocktails, I have to say it's the elevated Midwestern-inspired fare that ultimately won me over. GreenRiver is truly the quintessential restaurant-meets-cocktail-bar in the best way possible; the food and cocktails are equally pleasurable, and whether you're popping by for a quick lunch or a full dinner with drinks, there's a little something for everyone.

Herbed Boursin Cheese topped with smoked paprika and served with black pepper crackers. This simple, but super flavorful snack was the perfect way to kick off our lunch; while you may be tempted to skip the cheese offerings for more exciting dishes, it's certainly worth checking out the cheese of the day (especially when paired with a cocktail!).


Apache: Aviation Western Style Gin, chocolate, pear, lemon, ginger, and black cardamom. Out of all of the cocktails I've sampled thus far (6 cocktails over 3 visits), this complex drink has remained my favorite of the lot. The Apache leads with the rich, smooth gin, then descends through the pear, chocolate, and lemon, and then finally ends with a touch of spiciness from the ginger and cardamon.

Cauliflower Soup with black cardamom, pickled grapes, and quinoa. While I typically wouldn't consider myself a fan of cauliflower (it's so bland and blah), this lovely soup with its sweet and tart elements was so delicious that it actually led me to temporarily declare myself to be pro-cauliflower.

I love a good tableside soup presentation!


Malted Cheddar-Dusted Frites. As I mentioned on Instagram, I officially declared myself in a relationship with these tangy, salty, cheesy fries... yes, they are really that good! I could not get enough of these perfectly cooked vinegary fries with the light coating of cheddar dust (my dining partners should consider themselves lucky I like them enough to share!). Again, you may be tempted to skip the fries for something more exciting, but trust me when I say that a side of these is an absolute must-order!



Lake Whiskey: Rittenhouse 100 Proof Kentucky Rye Whisky, port wine, cranberry, Zwack Unicum Plum, cinnamon, and GreenRiver Jamaican rum blend (in honor of Old Jim Gore, who famously rolled barrels of whiskey into the river to protect them during the Great Fire). I have to say that I was a bit hesitant about this drink, as I've only started to venture into whiskeys (and sometimes find whiskey cocktails to be a bit overwhelming), but I was pleasantly surprised by both its subtlety and depth.

Hamachi Crudo with hearts of palm, blood orange, black truffle sprinkles, and roasted macadamia nuts. I love a good hamachi crudo (in fact, I order it practically every time I find it on a menu) and this delicate little beauty is absolutely one of my favorite versions I've had in years. Again, my dining companions were lucky to get a single bite of this dish; needless to say, this perfectly composed dish is most definitely another must-order!



Whitefish Tartine with egg, radish, and celery. The star ingredient of this dish is definitely the super rich, but still delicate whitefish spread. While I'll admit to picking off the celery (it always tastes like pungent soap to me), I greatly enjoyed the combination of the smooth tartine with the crunchy, peppery radishes.


Winter Citrus with Chiboust, cranberry, and Agrumato ice cream. This is one of those desserts in which you'll want to get a bit of every ingredient with each bite, as it's so fantastically layered. The dessert menu does rotate fairly often, so I believe this is already off the menu; hopefully, they'll bring back this tart and tangy dish next winter.


Pears and Chestnuts with smoked vanilla and buttermilk ice cream. Of the three desserts we sampled, this one was my absolute favorite. Not only do I love pears, but also, I am slightly obsessed with chestnuts in desserts (why don't more restaurants here use chestnuts?!). This sweet, smoky, earthy dish met all of my expectations for the perfect chestnut dessert... and then some! Again, this is already out of the dessert rotation; I'm crossing my fingers that this dessert finds it way back on the menu because I can't imagine I will ever find a better done chestnut dessert in Chicago!


Chocolate Praline with feuilletine and passion fruit. This is one of those desserts that will catch you by surprise, as you'll first only taste the deep dark chocolate and crunchy bits from the feuilletine; then suddenly, the slight bitterness from the passion fruit will take over and give you an entirely new sensation. Depending on the chocolate to passion fruit ratio in each bite, I felt like I moved between two entirely different (but equally delicious) desserts. 


Needless to say, I loved my meal at GreenRiver - in fact, I loved it so much that I went back twice (for both lunch and dinner) within the following month! Thanks to the innovative cocktails and delicious bites, GreenRiver is an absolute must-visit for city-dwellers and visitors alike.

You can try all of this deliciousness and more at GreenRiver: 259 E Erie St (18th floor), Chicago, IL.

GreenRiver Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.