We arrived starving. It was finally Friday night in one of those long, nose-to-the-grindstone workweeks, the kind exacerbated by perpetually gloomy, freezing weather (side note – what’s up with the wind lately?!) and an adherence to a strict diet, a reminder that your soon-to-be 35 year-old metabolism finally called it quits and broke up with you, leaving you with the bittersweet memories of better days where you didn’t have to spend all of your free time tediously tracking every last living calorie into MyFitnessPal, and hell to pay on the scale if you dare surpass your paltry 1200 cal threshold.

porkchop chicago

Photo courtesy of Dish Destination

Carbs and calories be damned, we were going to eat some bbq. And while we were going to blog about it, we were not going to track it…or at least I wasn’t. I don’t know what Chrissy did.

Like I said, I was starving, and we (Chrissy, my blog wife and author of the incomparable Hungary Buddha Eats the World and I) arrived per the wonderful world of super famous food blogger networking to interview the restaurateur behind Porkchop Chicago, and dig in to some meats.

Now, when I say “proprietor of barbecue restaurants” what sort of mental picture do you conjure up? I, for one, think of someone perhaps Southern, someone who’s grown up on the stuff, with recipes passed down through the generations, guarded more closely than Bush’s secret family recipe for baked beans. I do not, however, think of a charming, pasta-loving Frenchman, with a soft spot for his former career in the mortgage and real estate industries, but that’s exactly who’s bringing you the incredible barbecue at Porkchop Chicago.

Jovanis Bouargoub moved to the U.S. and upon arriving, held almost every job possible in the restaurant industry. Having spent some time at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Bouragoub knew his way around the kitchen, and when he came to Chicago, knew after first driving down Chicago’s Restaurant Row

Jovanis Bouragoub

Photo courtesy of Yelp

on Randolph, that he would open his own restaurant there one day. After talking to him, he made it sound as easy as “I wanted to, so I did.” This was a common theme throughout the interview, and this line of thinking gave rise to Porkchop, established in 2011, the Frenchman’s take on a deeply enshrined American food tradition.

This was Chrissy and I’s first tag-team interview, and I’ve gotta say, we’re obviously destined for great things in this arena. As you’ll remember, I was STARVING, but the time flew by with Jovanis – he’s one of those people who genuinely loves what he does, with a warm, infectious spirit that is synonymous with the connotations of a good barbecue meal.

We learned a lot about the restaurateur during our sit-down, with Bouragoub speaking in memorable bytes such as “The food should look good, smell good, and taste better,” and “I’d double park for Stan’s Donuts” (PREACH). Here a few other things that are good to know about the man behind the meats.

C&K: Coming from a French background, what attracted you to barbecue? Is there a certain type of barbecue you’re serving at Porkchop, and how did you decide on the type to serve?

Bouragoub: I loved eating barbecue when I got to the U.S. Barbecue seemed like a challenge, because there are so many different styles, but I didn’t want to do one style or another – I wanted to start with a base, and then come up with my own recipes. What we do here is unique to this restaurant, and because I’m French, I did feel like I had something to prove.

C&K: What are some of the new trends in cooking and bbq that you hope to capitalize on at Porkchop?

Bouragoub: We do things a little differently around here – we experiment frequently with menu items, and we’re not afraid to have a wide menu selection, as long as it all tastes good and is obviously high quality. This has led to certain things you’re not going to find in every barbecue joint, including fried ribs, rib tips, bbq short rib and smoked fish. A few years ago we were challenged by Absolut Vodka to use their Chicago vodka [with olive and rosemary flavors] in a recipe or dish. It actually led to our Chicago sauce.

C&K: Well, that all sounds delicious, but what is your FAVORITE thing on the menu?

At this point it became clear that, like a father with his children, he wasn’t going to play favorites with his menu items, but we did get the marketing director’s opinion – hers is the fried chicken and cornbread with honey butter.

C&K: Ok, so you love all the food here, we get it, but what’s the best thing to drink with barbecue?

Bouragoub: Whiskey. Without a doubt. Porkchop is a whiskey bar with great barbecue. It doesn’t have to be your favorite drink, but it just goes really well with the menu. [Porkchop also teamed up with Angel’s Envy to create their own signature batch of bourbon.]

Porkchop Food Truck

Photo Courtesy of Rachelle Smiles

C&K: We know you’ve taken your food to the streets with a food truck. What’s happening with the truck, and what are some of the highlights?

Bouragoub: We’ve had the truck now for three years, and it was one of the first trucks that was licensed to be able to cook on-board. We’ve taken it to The Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza, we do weddings, graduations and private events. We have a lot of fun with it.

C&K: When you’re out of your restaurants, do you cook much for yourself at home?

Bouragoub: Sometimes. I think everyone should cook and know how to do the basics. For me, I love pasta, it’s something we grew up eating regularly, and can be difficult to get right. If you make a dish and can eat it even when you’re not hungry, then you know you’ve created something good. [More on the pasta at the end, keep reading!]

C&K: Besides your own, what are some of the other restaurants in Chicago you love?

Bouragoub: I love breakfast and brunch, especially French toast. Sometimes we’ll go to Marmalade [a considerable hike, considering he lives in Hyde Park], we like Yolk and pancake houses in general.

C&K: So you like the sweet stuff. What are your junk foods of choice?

Bouragoub: Listen, no one in America is safe from junk food. It’s everywhere, and I’ve got small kids, we eat it. But I’ll tell you what – donuts, especially Stan’s, the Nutella one. The first time I drove by Stan’s, I thought “what is this?” and I double parked to go inside and check it out. I got the Nutella donut, and I thought “this isn’t going to be good, this isn’t going to be the real deal,” but let me tell you something – do yourself a favor and just get two of them right away. One to eat now, and the other to eat…right after.

C&K: And finally, if you could eat dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would you pick and what you have?

Bouragoub: Pasta. With bread. With Obama. I mean, he’s the President of the United States, you can’t really beat that.

And there you have it, folks. A guy from France, creating what I dare say is Chicago-style barbecue.

So, how did the barbecue stack up? Well, I whole-heartedly admit that this is one of my new favorite bbq places in the city, and having been around for 5 years, it’s not exactly new on the scene. How have I missed this?!

We started with the fried pickles and mac & cheese with pulled pork. Beers in hand (sorry, I’m not a whiskey lady, or maybe even a “lady” in general #notalady), we dug in.

Fried Pickles

Mac & Cheese Porkchop Chicago

Oh, yeah. This was not going in MyFitnessPal. It was DELICIOUS. Truly the best thing I’d eaten all week, which wasn’t exactly hard to top, but the mac & cheese hit all the right notes – creamy and cheesy, delicious smoked meat, perfect to be sauced. Oh, and the sauces at Porkchop?  They’re all thick, which is just how I like my sauces. Chrissy and I both loved the aforementioned Chicago sauce – the one made with vodka. Figures. The fried pickle slices were just a tad too thick for my liking, but the ranch that came with them was quite excellent.

For the main event, we chose the fried chicken sandwich and bbq short rib. I wasn’t expecting what showed up on our table.

BBQ Short Rib - Porkchop

That is a prehistoric chunk of man meat right there, but since we’ve already established that we’re not the “lady” type of ladies, we tore into it, with true devour power. So insanely good. The meat had more chew than I was expecting for a short rib, but in a most-excellent way, and the fried chicken was about as perfect as you could imagine. Obviously we were no longer starving, and decided to skip dessert, which for C and I, is practically unheard of. A restaurant that leaves me too full for dessert is a true winner.

Basically, I can’t wait to go back, and with six locations and a food truck, it’s likely that I’ll be able to find a Porkchop to satisfy my need for amazing Chicago bbq just around the corner.

Porkchop’s flagship restaurant is located at 941 W Randolph | Chicago, Illinois, with locations in the Loop, South Loop, Hyde Park & Navy Pier, and their newest location in Glenwood. Porkchop Chicago | 312.733.9333

Hey, hey, remember when I told you earlier that Jovanis’s favorite thing to make is pasta? Well, he was nice enough to share his recipe for Cajun Fettuccine with Chrissy, who nailed it in her kitchen, AND I got to eat it with her last night, and I can assure you, it’s super scrumptious.

CAJUN FETTUCCINECajun Pasta

Visit Chrissy over at The Hungary Buddha for the Cajun Fettuccine recipe!

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Sometimes you just have to admit when you’re wrong, and for years I’ve been dead wrong about biscotti. You see, I previously thought I did not like it at all – who wants to eat an explosion-of-crumbs, dry cookie-stick? I know I didn’t. And then, as sometimes happens when you’re a tremendously famous food blogger, I got sent two boxes of Nonni’s biscotti, and was suggested to try them with coffee. So I did, AND MY WORLD HAS NEVER BEEN THE SAME!!!!!!!!!!!

Nonni's Biscotti

You guys! Biscotti and coffee is SO GOOD. It’s SO good. When you dunk the biscotti into the coffee, the chocolate on the bottom gets a bit melty, the cookie stick gets soft, and there are no crumbs. And it tastes amazing. Biscotti without coffee is like trying to eat an Oreo without milk. So much better together.

Biscotti

So now I’ve got these boxes of biscotti on my desk at work, and I basically can’t stop thinking “Is it time for a biscotti?”, “Should I eat a biscotti now, or should I eat a biscotti later?”, and “This biscotti only has 110 calories, that’s hardly anything, I’m going to eat a biscotti.”

I sampled two flavors, the Cioccolati and the (LIFE CHANGING) Salted Caramel. Unfortunately, my photo shoot with the Salted Caramel was a complete disaster, but since you’ve been good and you  promise not to tell anyone, I’ll share some of those horrible shots with you for a laugh. 

Ok, so there’s this one – arguably not completely horrid, but that mug…while very cute IRL, is just not all that great in a photo. It looks…crazy. It’s got crazy eyes.

Biscotti on mug

But then, oh boy, there’s THIS ONE:

IMG_7948

Hahahahaha. Literally laughing out loud at that. Alright, I’m gonna go eat some biscotti. 

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I’ve been meaning to tell you something. I’m kind of on a low-calorie, but more importantly, low-carb(ish) diet. I’ve been making just TONS of zoodles, and making Main Squeeze eat quite reasonable, healthy dinners. Don’t worry, he’s lost 5 pounds, and wasn’t even on this low carb train. Unsure of my exact scale progress, I’d call it infinitesimally slow to quite infinitesimally slow. Ughhhh.

Naturally welcoming any opportunity to stuff face with carbs for heaps of internet fame, I gleefully accepted Giovanni Rana’s offer to participate for the second year in their annual Ravioli Challenge – you know, the one where they send the blogger crew amazing, delicious ravioli, and for every time we (and our adoring fans – hi, Mom!) use the hashtag #RanaRavioliChallenge, they’ll donate a pound of pasta to our local food bank, in my case, the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

Due solely to the fact that I am on low-carb(ish) diet, I decided I couldn’t eat all four bags of ravioli they sent me by myself, so Main Squeeze and I hosted a ravioli dinner party. We dinner party quite well.

Rana Ravioli Party

Rana Ravioli Party

And, oh yeah, it was kind of a St. Patty’s Day party as well.

So, onto the ravioli. IT’S SO GOOD. It has REAL CARBS in it. And CHEESE, GLORIOUS CHEESE. And, dude, the PESTO SAUCE. Pesto sauce is what 97.6% of what my dreams are made of.

Rana Pesto Sauce

Rana Ravioli Pesto

We tried the mushroom ravioli, spinach and cheese, and just cheese. We also made homemade Bolognese, which I’ll be revealing as a recipe sometime soon(ish) on this very blog.

Ravioli with Bolognese

It was a triumph. Additionally, we left the cheese ravioli alone for those who wanted to choose their own sauce adventure, and I have to add, it was just as delicious sans sauce, as with, which I believe is a true testament to how top notch those carbs are.

I’m not the only super famous blogger who participated in this challenge. Take a look at some of the other blogger babes (lots of cool ladies from the Chicago blogger crew, too, yay!) who rocked this ravioli challenge, and don’t forget to give ravioli the righteous attention it deserves on its name day, and get your hashtag on – #RanaRavioliChallenge.

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Ok, ok, confession time – every time I say the word “Meatball Hero,” “Jukebox Hero” plays in my mind and I naturally replace jukebox with meatball. It’s great, try it!

Meat. Ball. Hero with stars in my eyes! She took one bite, had stars in her eyes! Yes.

Stars in my eyes (and cartoon hearts popping above my head) pretty much accurately describes the way I felt about my visit to Meatball Hero in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. We were excited to get the chef’s tasting and inside scoop from owner and chef, Atif. I was with my main squeeze, and we pulled up two stools at the counter and watched Chef Atif go to work,  preparing a plethora of menu items for us in his scratch kitchen – aka, a kitchen where everything is made from scratch. That’s right, sorry Subway, this meatball sub is a real hero.

First on the agenda, we had these little dandies:
Mushroom Risotto Balls - Meatball Hero

Those little guys are mushroom risotto balls with homemade marinara, and yes, they are fabulous – particularly for mushroom lovers like myself and the main squeeze. Just the right amount of creamy and fried, and the marinara sauce is the perfect accompaniment.

Mushroom Risotto Balls - Meatball HeroMushroom Risotto Balls - Meatball Hero

Up next were the Polenta Fries. Now, normally I like my fries to be…fries. You know:

Poh Tay Toes

Perhaps I’ve changed my mind, or at least when in Rome. Polenta fries – definitely worth a try. The texture is definitely different than a traditional fried potato, but could also be addicting, especially when dipped in the marinara.

Polenta Fries

Polenta Fries Chicago

At this point in time, Chef Atif started to prepare pasta for us, and I was crossing my fingers that what was heating in the skillet was the starter for alfredo sauce, and as luck would have it, I was totally right. AND THE FETTUCINI ALFREDO IS SO INCREDIBLY DELICIOUS. Made from scratch pasta – check. Made from scratch sauce – check. 30’s-something girl who is pasta starved and hasn’t had fettucini alfredo (other than of the crappy Lean Cuisine variety) in God knows when – check!

Fettucini Alfredo

Sorry, main squeeze, you’re getting, like, two bites. Eat that other one with the red sauce, this one is MINE.

Meatball Hero - Fettucini Alfredo

Disclaimer, the other one with the red sauce was delicious as well, but FETTUCINI ALFREDO. Oh, and the homemade focaccia is the best side to soak up any leftover pasta sauce.

Just when you think we’d be getting full (and we were), Chef Atif brings out the main event, the meatball heroes! We opted for the Red and Winged Hero, aka, beef and chicken meatballs. At this point, I need to let you all in on a little secret: Main Squeeze has worked in kitchens for a long time, and currently works in a pretty fancy schmancy one downtown. What I’m trying to say is that when I’m eating, I tend to bust out phrases like “OMG, THIS IS DELICIOUS and “Mmm, that’s sooo good” or the ever-popular “Give me more of that right now!!!!”, while Main Squeeze appreciates the finer points in dining, and was impressed with all the fresh herbs and quality of the ingredients. He pointed out the smoked mozzarella made the Red Hero much more interesting than a regular meatball sub (he was right), and that they were using really good quality olive oil in their dressings.

Meatball Hero Chicago

We were both really impressed with the homemade rolls the subs are served in, and Chef Atif let us know that in order to hollow out the bread, they developed their own special tool, after first using a few different kitchen items, including a folded and mangled baking pan. They’ve got it down now, and these hollowed out breads are the perfect vessel for holding in all the meatball deliciousness.

The meatballs themselves were outstanding – both were unique and tasted different than any meatball I’d ever had before.

Meatball Sub Chicago

A few important notes about Meatball Hero:

1. everything is homemade using really fresh, high-quality ingredients, and it makes a delicious difference.

2. It’s BYOB, so bring a bottle of red wine or tall boy, and devour a meatball sub with your love.

3. It’s pretty close to Wrigley, so if you’ve perhaps had a few brews and are stumbling home from a Cub’s game, stop in here on your way home instead of eating McDonalds or Taco Bell. 

4. They deliver.

5. You should try it – I would imagine it’s hard to be disappointed when everything we tried was fantastic.

 

Meatball Hero & Pasta is located at 3037 N. Clark Street in Chicago. 

Meatball Hero & Pasta | 773-348-3037

 

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Weight Watchers Simple Start List of Power Foods

Oh….boy. Ever step on the scale after a LONG hiatus of not going near the god-forsaken thing (other than to trip over it) and are just utterly SHOCKED at the 3 numbers staring you in the face? Me either. Just kidding, nope, that was me just a few Get in my bellydays ago, after the December HOLIDAZE and month before of new love LaLaLand caught up to me and suctioned a spare tire to the body that just over the summer had been the least of me anyone’s seen in QUITE awhile. Let’s guesstimate a fun-ish 25ish lbs? Some of it water weight (hahaha, we all know better), some of it Homemade Portillo’s Chocolate Cake, most of it just an ocean of booze and fields of Christmas cookies. My entire lifestyle since Labor Day has basically been that of Austin Powers’ “Fat Bastard.”

One time, in grad school, I got really fat, then I moved to Chicago and decided to lose weight. I used Weight Watchers, and I went to meetings, and it really worked. I stayed motivated, I lost over 30 pounds, and it’s been a lifestyle I’ve been living at least 75% of the time since. I just…it’s just that I’ve been 25% really horrible in eating the last 25% of 2015. Oh, and remember when I used to get 10,000 steps everyday, obsessively, with my Fitbit for over a year and a half EVERY DAY?! I stopped doing that, and it was shockingly easy to just sit around and eat instead of side step like a lunatic while having conversations with people while checking my Fitbit every two seconds. Who would have thought? Ah, well, you win some, you lose some. 

It’s time to lose some. 

I’m going back on Weight Watchers, using the Simply Filling program, which a) works and b) is awesome for people like me, who somewhere along the way just get flat out resentful and tired of having to count the points of every little thing I eat. That shiz is tedious, yo. On the Simply Filling “lifestyle”, you get to eat foods off a list, as many as you want until you’re full, which coincidentally is probably not the entire box of whole wheat ziti. There’s protein, grains, fruits, veggies, light breads, and ooo, frankencheese, also known as fat free cheese, of which the only remotely acceptable kinds are cottage, cream and ricotta. Fat free shredded cheese is….well, it’s just awful, but when your cheese-starved mind and body are whispering devilish things to you regarding sneakily stuffing most of a full bag of regular fat shredded cheese into your mouth, just substitute it with fat free and you’ll magically eat about an 1/10 of the amount of cheese you were going to force down your gullet. Read on »

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Mmmmm, Cuban Sandwiches. The perfect sandwich? One might think so. Roasted pork, ham, pickles, swiss cheese, mustard. Yum. Ok, so turning that into a dip is clearly the best idea ever. Thanks, Dad What’s 4 Dinner, you’re officially the best Dad of the year!!

Hot Cuban Dip

Hot Cuban Dip

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