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Posts Tagged ‘slaw’

There are two good reasons to drive out to Naperville: Ribfest and……… well, if anyone can think of another reason let me know. At the ripe old age of just over 2 months, Yuki and I thought it was high time that Otis experience the finer pleasures in gastronomy. So, off to Naperville we went.

Being a veteran of Naperville Ribfest I remember two pitmasters providing ribs that are a cut above the rest. Pigfoot is one of them, but the line to get their swine popsicles was insane! The other was Mojo’s, and their line was much shorter, only 5 people in front of me. Still, the line took about 20 minutes to get my ribs! They really cut back on the hired hands this year, and it really hurt the overall experience.

However, once we got our Mojo on things were all right! Juicy and tender with a nice amount of hickory, Mojo’s does a really nice job with their ribs. To make sure we got a little something extra in our stomachs I got the beans and slaw as well. Standard beans and slaw, but let’s be honest here, it’s not the Naperville Beans and Slaw Fest!

As we were Mojo all over our faces our friends Tony and Sandra found us. They headed off to get some ribs as well. Sandra got her Mojo on while Tony braved the line at Pigfoot. When he finally got back with those ribs I remembered why they have the longest line. Their ribs are fantastic! I’m not sure I’d call them light-years ahead of Mojo’s, but they do have a certain joie de vivre about them.

Ready for another flavor of ribs I set out to find my calling. Not quite sure where to wait in line, I noticed behind Sgt Oinks a short, stout woman with a mullet ponytail working amongst the pitmasters. That, to me, says BBQ! Mullet ponytail it is. I’m glad I went there too as I don’t remember eating their ribs at past fests, but I do remember seeing their booth. Their ribs themselves were the meatiest of the bunch, which was nice. Their sauce was very cuminy, which is not a bad thing at all. I also got one of their sweet cornbread muffins as they were advertised as “The best north of the Mason-Dixon Line”. I wouldn’t put them above Mojo’s or Pigfoot, but they weren’t far behind either. Ideally I’d put Sgt Oink’s ribs with Mojo’s hickory smoke and Pigfoot’s sauce. Now that would be a Naperville Ribfest champion!

A fresh squeezed lemonade (all for the low low price of $6!) to wash it all down and we were ready to head back to the City. I only wish they had a different music schedule because Bruce Hornsby is playing today. We were stuck with some pretty awful and loud music. I think they were called  “The Sweetwater Band”. Honestly, they’re no better than the bands I was in back in college! That’s not saying much.

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Let’s be honest here…is there anything more fun that getting up at the crack of dawn, driving down to Mt Vernon with your younger bro, picking up a 16 foot truck, driving it to Carbondale, spending the weekend going through boxes and boxes of storage while trying to convince your step-father that he doesn’t really need all of those Oriental Rugs, driving the truck back to Chicago loaded up with furniture and dishes, and unloading everything into an empty garage? Obviously, this is a facetious question. There is one saving grace to the whole journey though…17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro! If you are a fan of slow smoked, meaty swine lollipops like myself then this is your Mecca! Ode to Mike Mills and his grandma’s BBQ recipes!

Mike Mills has won numerous Memphis-in-May BBQ contests and is now a judge since no one seems able to beat his ribs. I blogged a while back about one of the outposts he opened up in Vegas, but this is the real deal. This is the place that happy dreams are made of. I’d walk on my hands and knees in 5 feet of snow all the way to 17th Street just to get a taste of these ribs!

Since I’m not a huge man (except where it counts!) my mom and I split a full rack but got extra sides. She loves their sweet potatoes baked with butter and cinnamon. Really, who wouldn’t? I love his BBQ baked beans. Again, who wouldn’t?

We also got some slaw to help push the meal through our entrails as well as some french fries to give me my carbs. Dr Atkins is an idiot! A meal without carbs is no meal at all.

It’s hard to tell from my phone pic, but just look at how juicy, pink, and tender that meat-stick is! It’s things like this that makes me proud to be an atheist with no nonsensical dietary laws written 3,000 years ago to live my life by. We are but animals, why deprive us of life’s simple pleasures like being atop the food-chain with the ability to season, sauce, and smoke? Ah, the philosophy of ribs, truly a religion worthwhile!

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Last night we finally got to try Ruxbin Kitchen. It was our third attempt, and I guess it’s true what they say, the third time’s the charm. You see, Ruxbin Kitchen is a new restaurant just down the street from us that opened up this past summer. They don’t take reservations and word must have gotten out quick about how good it is because the first two times Yuki and I went there the wait was 1.5 hours. Yesterday we planned on going early, at 6pm, to ensure a table. We got our table, and while I don’t think there was a wait after we got there, the restaurant was full, for good reason.

It’s a small space, only about a 40 person capacity maybe. It’s real kitschy inside. Comfortable seats, wood tables and fixtures, cookbooks displayed on the walls, and pages from cookbooks plastered all over the ceiling.

Service was good. Not the fastest, not the slowest, but a nice pace. Our server was knowledgable of the menu and didn’t push us in any direction. It is BYOB, so be prepared. They do offer the proper glasses and openers. They also brought out popcorn sprinkled with ground nori to nosh on while perusing the menu. That replaced bread service.

We started off with the Crispy Eggplant. It’s sliced, quartered eggplant coating in bread crumbs and deep-fried. Served with roasted beets, sticks of cucumber, frisee, and honey-cardamom yogurt. There’s also some pepper sprinkled around one edge of the plate for you own pleasure. I have to say, as much as I love the classic beet salad with mixed greens, walnuts, and fried goat cheese that everyone serves, this was a really nice change of pace. Even though it’s called Crispy Eggplant, for me, the beets were the dominant flavor. Very nice salad to start with.

Next, we shared the K-Town Empanadas. Two empanadas stuffed with masa, kimchee, Oaxaca cheese, and covered with a chimichurri creme fraiche. Who on earth would put cheese and kimchee together? Chef Ed Kim, that’s who. What a stroke of genius! The kimchee took center stage while the cheese added a subtle sweetness and the masa some texture. definitely a winner.

We split two entrees. One was a perfectly cooked piece of trout with nice crispy skin and moist flesh. It was served on top of a bulgur wheat tabbouleh with black sesame seeds and dates, asparagus spears on top, and basil pesto drizzled around the plate. I’m not usually impressed by trout, but this dish was fantastic. The sweet dates, bitter asparagus, earthy bulgur wheat and sesame seeds, and herby basil all worked really well together.

The other entrée we got was their play on chicken and waffles. There was roasted breast with crispy skin along one side of the plate. That came with a citrus sauce of some kind. Then was a cumin cheddar waffle with dark meat carnitas and apple walnut compote. The waffle was sliced in half with the carnitas sandwiched in between and the compote on top. The rest of the plate was a slaw with arugula. The waffle was outstanding. The most creative take on chicken and waffles I’ve ever eaten and another home run by Chef Kim. My only gripe with the plate was that the breast was a little over salted, not so much that it was bad though. That’s something that most chefs do and I’ll never understand. I like salt, but chefs almost always put a little too much on chicken. Oh well, the entire dish was great.

We didn’t have any room in our guts for dessert so I can’t comment on them. Next time we go back we’ll keep it to one appetizer so that we have room for dessert. And believe me, we’ll definitely go back! Not sure it’s worth a 1.5 hour wait (I don’t think any restaurant is worth that) but it’s definitely worth waiting for a while if you get there and it’s full. I love having a joint like this so close to my place. A great place to take out-of-town friends who want something hip that’s off the beaten path.

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Last night my buddy Nick wanted to meet up for a happy hour drink. In the morning he suggested either grabbing a beer or trying a new taco joint or something, he’s a taco eating freak of nature who would hook La Pasadita up to an IV bag if he could. I had read about Lillie’s Q and was very intrigued by a BBQ place whose chef had logged time at places like Tru and Avenues and who used his grandma’s Memphis In May winning BBQ sauces. When I noticed that they served fried pickles I knew I could get Nick on board as he’s from The Muthaland, better known as Louisville, KY, where a place called Genny’s serves up frickled pickles, a dish near and dear to his tracts.

We got a table quickly as it wasn’t full yet, it did fill up shortly after we got there. The space is nice, simple, and clean. Brick walls and a nice bar, very typical of a Bucktown storefront. On the tables are the various in-house BBQ sauces. There’s the Hot Smokey, Smokey, Carolina, Carolina Gold, and Ivory. They’re all pretty self-explanatory, but we both agreed that they should tell a little about the flavor profiles. We opted to taste little dabs of each. They were all pretty solid sauces.

Of course, we started withe the fried pickles. I’m not a big pickle fan (I think my younger brother and I are the only two Jews in the world who wouldn’t slather ourselves in pickles if it were socially acceptable) but these weren’t too bad. The frickled pickles at Genny’s are thinly sliced while these were big chunks. Having been to Genny’s myself I think I agree with Nick that thin slices are better because you get a better ratio of coating to pickle. Also, these were served with their Ivory Sauce, a variation of Ranch Dressing. The proper sauce for a fried pickle should be a mixture of ranch with ketchup. All in all though, not too bad.

As we looked further into the menu we noticed a 4 bone option for the ribs. Since we wanted to try a bunch of things that seemed like a great second appetizer to share. The ribs were really good. Very tender, moist, nice subtle smokey flavor, and just the right amount of BBQ sauce caramelized on the surface. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying they are the best ribs I’ve ever had, I will say that they were damn good. Nick claims that Honey 1 has a better rib, but I’ve never tried them so I can’t comment. I will say that the ribs at Smoque are a little better than these. So, the verdict is that these are very good ribs, but not the best ribs.

For the main event we decided to try the pulled pork sandwich, tri-tip sandwich, and seasoned sweet potato fries and split everything. We got the sandwiches with the “Carolina-style” option, which is basically a pile of slaw thrown on top of the meat. The pulled pork was excellent. Very tender and juicy meat. The tri-tip, not the best. The meat was cooked properly, it just didn’t have any flavor. The brioche they use for buns had a much stronger flavor than the meat, something that should never happen with BBQ’d beef. If you take the meat out of the bun and squirt some of the Carolina Gold, a vinegary mustard sauce, all over it the meat becomes a great vessel to enjoy the sauce. Otherwise, it has no real purpose in life. Neither of the sandwiches came sauced, which is nice because you have the option of choosing the sauce that best fits your style. I thought the Smokey on the pulled pork was a great sandwich. As for the sweet potato fries, they were just your regular sweet potato fries. I will say that they were perfectly cooked, crisp on the outside and soft in the middle.

While the food was well above average I kind of expected a little more considering Chef McKenna’s background. I actually think his background was a bit of a hinderance on the food. Real BBQ is not served on brioche, and last night I found out why. The sweetness of the bread was too much for these sandwiches. A regular bun would take these sandwiches from really good all the way up to great on my scale of good to great. What do the French know about southern BBQ anyway?

We didn’t try any of their “Moonshine” cocktails, instead opted for jars of beer. They have a decent little beer list that washed all of the food down nicely.

As for the service, I thought it was fantastic. Timely, professional, not pushy at all. The place is run very smoothly.

Overall, Lillie’s Q is a really good BBQ joint but by no means a must go. If I’m walking around the area and get the craving for some BBQ I have no problems stopping in and filling my belly with their grub. However, if heading to BBQ is something planned ahead of time I’d rather meander over to Smoque. But, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Lillie’s Q, it’s just not an out-of-this-world BBQ experience.

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My buddy Nimah has been in town and finally made a little time to see Yuki and I Sunday night for dinner. His wife and brother were supposed to join us, but they both backed out. It’s nice to know where we stand on their totem pole (I’ll remember this Lora and Ramin!). At any rate, for the past couple of weeks all he’s been talking about was Smoque. “Yo Twig”. He’s been calling me Twig since high school. “How’s Smoque?” I just kept telling him that it’s hands down the best BBQ in Chicago, maybe even the best BBQ north of Mason-Dixon Line. It’s at least the best BBQ Brisket north of Texas. Honestly, I haven’t even eaten it’s equal in Texas, although I’ve only had a couple of BBQ Briskets there.

So he got there early, which is quite amazing. He’s notoriously late (no, he’s not pregnant, but he does have three testicles…all Iranians have three testicles, just ask him) and I’m notoriously punctual. We were supposed to meet at 7 and he got there at 6:40. I was just about to hop on the highway and he called. “Twig, there’s a friggin line down the street!”. That should have been a sign to him that I’m not the only one who thinks Smoque is the best. That worked well for us since he got to wait in line for us. When we showed up, it wasn’t too bad. They do a pretty good job of keeping the line moving.

He kept asking me what to order, and I kept telling him to get the sliced brisket sandwich. Honestly, that’s all I’ve ever gotten there other than the chili made with their brisket. I have to imagine that their ribs are pretty damn good too, but I’ve never had them. Always skeptical he asked one of the guys who works there. Of course, he said, “Get the brisket”. Just goes to show that I’m always right.

After about a half hour wait, not too bad, we ordered our food and got our seats. Besides sliced brisket they also do a chopped brisket. Yuki and I decided to try the chopped, so we got one of each and split them. I have to say, I think the chopped may even be better! You get more of the charred outside, and that has a ton of flavor. But, the sliced has more of the fat. You really can’t go wrong either way. All sandwiches come with a side of slaw. Theirs is nice because it’s just vinegar, no mayonnaise. That helps keep it light and helps you digest all of the delicious smoked carcass. I’m a mac’n’cheese guy, so I usually get that for my side. They have a great mac’n’cheese. Yuki got the fries. They cut their own potatoes and they keep the oil hot enough to cook them properly. Nimah got the baked beans. Simple BBQ beans, but their sauce makes them stand above the rest.

Oh, I should back up a bit in the story. While we were waiting for our food to be called at our seats one of the owners brought the people next to us some fresh made ginger cookies. I didn’t know why at the time (turns out they wanted some cobbler but Smoque was out, so they brought them some complimentary cookies) but anyone who knows me knows that I’m not shy. I said to the owner, “We have some problems with our food too, do we get cookies?” I was completely joking because we haven’t gotten our food yet. He said, “Sure, I’ll get you some cookies”. I told him I was just kidding, but he said they had more and it was no problem. Moral of that story, it pays to be an obnoxious extrovert with no shame!

Wanting to try their pulled pork, but only having one stomach each, Yuki and I brought a couple of sandwiches home for lunch today. Beautiful! Absolutely lovely. Every bit the brisket’s equal. Well, I think I’d still get the chopped brisket over the pulled pork, but there isn’t a better tasting pig-which in town! The cornbread also held up to a night in the fridge. It was relatively moist all things considered.

All in all, if you haven’t made it to Smoque yet then you really need to. That is unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan. In which case you and I must have a sit down. Vegetarian meals are important, but only on Meatless Monday. Every other day of the week Smoque makes a tasty and inexpensive option to fill your guts.

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