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