Posts Tagged ‘restaurants’

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Hey guys and gals! Tomorrow night marks the 5th Annual Wicker Park Bucktown Fall Dinner Crawl! Main Squeeze and I are super stoked to be going for the first time this year, and for all of our fellow Chicago neighbors, come join the fun! It’s a great excuse to bust out your good spandex as you make your way from restaurant to restaurant, stuffing your face with all sorts of delicious goodies. There are still tickets left for the Knife and Spoon routes – listen to this amazing lineup of restaurants:

Knife Route:

The Pasta Bowl

Urbanbelly

Dove’s Luncheonette

Dimo’s Pizza

Feast Restaurant

Goddess & Grocer

Urban Icing

Coast Sushi Bar

Red Door

Club Lucky

Spoon Route:

5411 Empanadas

Smoke Daddy

Harvest Moon

Taus Authentic

Fatpour Tap Works

Takito Kitchen

The Fifty/50

Mr. Kite’s Chocolate Shop

 

Tickets are $35 and are available in limited quantities, and can be purchased here. In addition to all the awesome food you’ll get to try, if you’re a social media aficionado, get your Instagram on along your designated route and tag #BestBiteWPB for your chance to win a $150 gift card to the restaurant that served the best bite in the winning picture!

Looking forward to making new friends and gaining 5 pounds! (ps – if you’re wondering, we’ll be on the Knife route, and I’ll be posting Instagram updates along the way!)

 

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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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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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Raise your hand if you’ve eaten at Portillo’s. (All of Chicagoland raises their hands…). Yep, it’s awesome. Delicious dogs, burgers and fries, and the infamous chocolate cake. Portillo’s has been a C-family favorite since I was but a young pup in college. See, we didn’t grow up in or around the ‘burbs, so we kind of didn’t know what it was, and our first experience was the Sycamore, Illinois location, just up the road from good ol’ NIU (Go Huskies!!). So it was kind of a Christmas miracle that we tried the chocolate cake, because trust me, if there has ever been a group of people who are NOT in the know, it’s the C-family. We don’t know what’s going on. Truly.

But somehow we managed to love dessert enough to try the chocolate cake, and OMG. Life-changing.

Portillos Famous Chocolate Cake RecipeThe Portillo’s Famous Chocolate Cake must be something from another dimension it’s so good. But, apparently, no, it’s actually made with a very American, er, French ingredient. Perhaps you best read the list of ingredients before I reveal what it is, but I ASSURE YOU, this is the BEST chocolate cake you will ever eat. Oh, and you want to talk easy – it’s incredibly simple. I mean, look, even I did it, and I make almost everything from a box. Oh yeah, boxed cake mix is one of the ingredients.

Ok, ok, let’s just give you all the recipe. Oh, and btw, I made this cake for a very special someone who loves me enough to let me eat almost all of his special birthday Portillo’s Chocolate Cake. He doesn’t know that’s my plan…yet.

Portillos Chocolate Cake Recipe

 

Portillo’s Chocolate Cake Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 box Betty Crocker Devil’s Food Cake (hey, I used Aldi, and it was just as delicious)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup ice cold water
  • 1 cup mayonnaise (O la, la – no, this cake doesn’t taste like mayo, it tastes amazing because of the mayo)
  • 2 cans Betty Crocker chocolate frosting (again, Aldi’s will be just dandy, and somehow I only used one can, though I bought two, and do I seem like the kind of person who’d skimp on frosting? One really is probably fine)

Instructions:

    1. Preheat the over to 350 degrees.
    2. Mix all the ingredients together – I did it by hand, because I really didn’t feel like trying to track down my beaters. It was fine.
    3. Pour batter into two 9 inch round cake pans, or one round springform pan if you don’t own two 9 inch round cake pans, and you enjoy cutting a cake.
    4. Bake at 350 for approx 30 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife comes out clean. Note – if you are using one pan, it will need to bake longer. I think we were right around 40 mins.
    5. Cool cake(s) completely. If you’ve got one cake, cut it in half (it’s easy to score a line all around the cake, then cut through with a large knife). If you’ve got two, slather a bunch of frosting on the top of one, then set the other on top. If you’ve now got two cakes because you cut it in half, same drill. Frost liberally, trying not to lick the knife along the way. It grosses your guests out.
    6. Enjoy your Portillo’s Chocolate Cake.
    7. Share. (I’m admittedly bad at step 7).

Portillos Chocolate Cake Recipe

 

 

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I have turned over a new leaf in my life – being more spontaneous, and embracing a personal journey of enrichment and awesomeness. You may have noticed I’ve been rather quiet this summer…and not in my normal manner of “Oh, kinda forgot I was a blogger there for a second.” This summer has been one of the strangest on record for me, personally. In a life lived in a fairly stable (not completely unshakable, but fairly earthquake-proof) way, there have been some big shake-ups, with strange feelings and emotions attached. Doubt, uncertainty and general sads aren’t welcome feelings in my personal house (unless I’m eating a sad late-night gyro, which I guess is a different denotation of sad), so I’m cleaning them out and shaking things up on my own terms. It feels good, and I’ll end it here with a particularly favorite and apropos movie quote:

With this new journey of personal enrichment, I’m looking at ways to get out of my comfort zone, which means getting out of my comfy pants and off the couch. For those of you who know me, you know how much I love my comfy pants. Nothing equals happiness quite like walking through the door at the end of the workday and going straight for pants without buttons, but for this personal journey, enriching my life means making some comfort sacrifices – and let’s be honest, it’s still dress season, so the dreaded buttons and zippers aren’t yet in full effect.

So what opportunity of afforded awesomeness lay in wait for me this week? Well, it was the chance for spontaneous Margarita Monday, a gift-horse I wasn’t about to look in the mouth, since margaritas are neck-in-neck with comfy pants on the love scale. BUT! Not only margaritas, but tacos – TAAAACCCCCCOOOOSSSSS!!!!!! ANNNNNDDDD – GUACAMOOOOOOLLLLLLEEEEE! Cue the mental happy dance; physical happy dance curtailed only because my new office has low cubicle walls and I’m just not sure everyone would appreciate such a spectacle.

Moe’s Cantina in River North extended a dinner invitation to a great group of food-minded folks to test out some new taco creations and margarita options, sponsored by Grand Mayan Tequila. It was a last-minute invite, the kind I might have passed over in a previous life, but spontaneity embraced, invite accepted, and an obviously excellent decision all-around.

Please note, the pictures I’m about to post are a mix of some of the professional dinner shots and some personal pics, snapped on what is obviously the best way to capture great moments in food – an iPhone 5S. I’m almost positive you’ll be able to tell which are my originals. Additionally, there were a few extremely unflattering photos of myself and my blogger pal mauling the tacos. As a matter of good taste, I have strategically left these photos to your imagination.

Let’s begin with the work of the art that is the Grand Mayan tequila bottle – it’s so pretty! Beside it is a cucumber margarita, which was a flavor I wasn’t expecting in a margarita, but was an exciting change of pace. I’m still more of a traditional rocks and (lots) of salt girl, but I had no problem branching out with this tequila treat.

Grand Mayan Tequila

Next up we have Moe’s special flour tortillas, which they import directly from Mexico. They come in raw, and are cooked to perfection. The chef said the most common way they ate these tortillas growing up was cooked on the stove and topped with butter…clearly a man after my own heart.

Los Garcias Raw Flour Tortillas

Moe's Cantina Flour Tortillas

I settled for nature’s butter – avocados in guacamole form. I can’t even tell you how amazing these tortillas are. They came in a nicely wrapped package, like a present, and smelled to me like French toast. They tasted incredible with or without the guacamole – which, by the way, was also excellent. We sampled three different kinds of guacamole with our chips and tortillas and my favorite was the first and simplest – made only with avocados, serrano pepper and salt. The tortillas were the perfect vehicle for guacamole consumption with the ideal amount of bite and tear – I could have happily made a meal solely on the tortillas. Asked if anyone wanted any additional of these terrific tortillas, can you guess who raised her hand?!

Let’s have some taco talk. Moe’s treated us to four different kinds of tacos, resplendent in their taco terrificness. The first we sampled, and consquently, my favorite, was the Chicken Mole with orange citrus slaw, red onion, cilantro, sesame seeds, served in a corn tortilla. The mole was the standout, rich, with a definite sweet flavor. I’m a big fan of sweet meats, so this was right up my alley.

Moe's Cantina Chicken Mole Tacos

The evening’s second taco was a crispy duck option with Sichuan peppercorn marinated duck, pickled red onions, habanero, radish and jalapeno slaw and hoisin sauce. This was the host’s favorite and another complete hit in my book. I don’t often eat duck, but when I do – well, let’s put it on a taco.

Moe's Cantina Chicago

Third taco – by this point I was feeling full to quite full, but not full enough that I wasn’t going to eat the next taco, because this taco was STEAK. Mmmm, steak – oh, and this one came on those amazing flour tortillas from earlier in the evening. Behold the Taco al Carbon: chopped sirloin, yellow onion and cilantro. Simple, but flavorful. This was my blogger friend’s favorite of the evening.

Moe's Cantina Tacos

Rounding out the last of the tacos was the Italian Brick Chicken – marinated chicken in thyme, rosemary and olive oil, pico de gallo, nopales, chilie morita sauce and heavy cream in a corn tortilla. As you can well imagine, at this point I was stuffed, and this poor taco only got eaten halfway. It obviously veered from traditional Mexican flavors, and it was either that or the fact that we were all full that no one picked it as their favorite taco of the evening.

Italian Chicken Tacos

And just when you think you’re so full you can’t possibly eat another morsel, the chef comes out with some churros. And then you think to yourself, “Well, self, looks like you saved justenough room for these churros.” And then you eat the churros, dipping them into the over-21 Nescafe and Grand Mayan tequila dipping sauce, happily lapping up the extra whipped cream and, duh, there’s always going to be room for churros and booze sauce.

Churros at Moe's Cantina

So what did I take away from this journey of spontaneity? I had an absolutely fantastic dinner courtesy of the gracious, welcoming and utterly hospitable folks at Moe’s Cantina in River North and Grand Mayan Tequila. I learned about cooking and mixology, I met new and interesting people, had a lot of laughs and a great deal of fun. All in all, it was an evening totally worthy of uncomfortable pants, though I have to admit and was very happy because of it, the ones I was wearing that evening didn’t have buttons.

If you’re planning to eat tacos in Chicago soon, go to Moe’s Cantina. They have locations in River North and Wrigleyville. Visit them on the web at www.moescantina.com. While you’re at it, order a margarita the way I would – on the rocks with lots of salt – and try it with Grand Mayan Tequila.

 

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