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Dinnertime was at hand so we debated on what we should eat - one of our established rituals. D wanted crawfish and a good ol' seafood boil seemed appetizing to me, therefore, we used D's iPhone to perform a search using the keyword 'crawfish'. Yelp! pointed us in several directions. It was on a whim that we chose Big Jones. (Maybe it was the name?) Now, D and I thought Big Jones would be something like a Hot N Juicy or The Boiling Crab - buckets of seafood on butcher paper and downright messy. When we got to Big Jones, however, the restaurant didn't look the part and we almost turned away. Thank God, we didn't!
According to the proprietors' website, Big Jones is all about "Southern heirloom cooking with a focus on sustainably grown heritage and heirloom crops and livestock, sustainable seafood, and contemporary American kitchen techniques."
What I ate:
1. Sweet Tea (3.50 USD). House brewed. My first impression of the sweet tea was that it had way too much sugar in it. The flavor was excellent and it had a clean taste but it was awfully sweet. Our server offered to fix it but I decided against it because I got used to drinking the tea as it was. Later on, the sweetness proved to play well with the courses the kitchen sent D and I.
2. Boucherie Plate (18 USD):
Andouille - house baked Abruzzi rye bread, chow-chow, garlic aioli
Tasso - house made benne crackers, pimiento cheese, piccalilli
Boudin Rouge - creamy egg salad, fresh baked Sally Lunn
Tête de Cochon - bourbon-brown sugar mustard, house made rye bread
Creamy Liver Paté - house baked Abruzzi rye bread, sour cherry mostarda, scallions
The Boucherie Plate was OFF THE HOOK! It definitely was the highlight of the meal. All the meats were prepared in house which showed off the talent and ability of the chefs at work. I especially enjoyed the Tête de Cochon and the house made breads. (The Abruzzi rye and Sally Lunn were heavenly!) I secretly regretted having to share the board with D! Also at this time, our server brought us complimentary house made cornbread which was out-of-this-world fantastic. I don't know who the baker at Big Jones is but he or she is a real star!
Next up for me was ...
3. Gumbo Ya-Ya (7 USD): Andouille sausage, chicken, pork, aromatic Arkansas rice. This was some intensely flavored gumbo! D said that it tasted like a Chinese medicine and I knew what he was referring to. (Filé consists of the dried and ground leaves from sassafras, which is an ornamental tree.) Regardless, I enjoyed the gumbo immensely and appreciated the sharp flavor from the filé powder, of which the kitchen provided an extra jar-full on the side. Deep and dark flavors long developed best characterized this gumbo.
4. Pecan Wood-fired Oyster Roast (17 USD): Creole mignonette, house Worcestershire, Dante cheese, bread crumbs. D generously shared this platter of roasted oysters with me. While they were hot, each half-shell was superb, combining the piquancy of mignonette and Worcestershire with the richness of Dante - an outstanding complement to the brininess of the oysters. To top it all off, the breadcrumbs added a delightfully crisp texture.
5. Fried Green Tomatoes (8 USD): Henry Moore cornmeal, petit mustard greens, creamy egg salad, pickled shrimp. (It seems I always order fried green tomatoes whenever I see it on a menu!) This version was one of the best I ever had. The tomatoes were masterfully fried - perfect crust. The egg salad and pickled shrimp provided a lot of interest and were a nice counterpoint to the main ingredient.
And for dessert ...
I wasn't going to order dessert in the name of maintaining my figure, but D convinced me to quit being a wuss and order some. (I'm glad he did!) Overall, I thought they were weaker than the savory courses, regardless, they were still very good - I enjoyed every bite!
6. Chocolate & Black Walnut Tart (8 USD): Smoked buttermilk ice cream, puffed sorghum marshmallow treats, salted caramel. The tart was absolutely fabulous. It was rich, had an incredible depth of flavor, and the warm temperature of the tart suited it very well. It was paired with a smoked buttermilk ice cream which went out of control: it would've been a lot better had the smoke flavor been toned down to just a hint. I didn't think too much of the marshmallow treat. It was too dull and chewy to enjoy - just a blob really. I didn't like the plating either. I wish the cook had put it together more tightly, with a stronger line and with more thoughtful composition. (Lousy looking quenelle, too.)
7. Buttermilk Pie, ca. 1928 (7 USD): Muddled raspberries, spearmint ice, cracked pepper candy. Served chilled. If I had to choose between the two, the Buttermilk Pie was better than the Chocolate & Black Walnut Tart because the composition of the plate was superior and the flavors melded together better. The overall flavor profile was bright, herbal, and fresh - evoking the season. This is the kind of dessert you'd want on a swelteringly hot day.
In addition to the great food at Big Jones, the service was downright top-notch. Our server did a great job of making us feel at home and she took good care of us while we were there. She was so sweet and unobtrusively attentive - just the kind of server you want every visit. Her look fit the bill too. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, Kat! I think you stole my heart away!)
The decor - inside and out - was handsomely Southern-ish, befitting the food served. It definitely created an atmosphere. I noticed the tableware was carefully selected. The forks, spoons, and knives had a certain Southern feel in their design.
The Bill: For two big eaters, 94.05 USD.
My Rating: out of four stars (excellent). I STRONGLY recommend that you spend your money liberally at Big Jones. (I gotta go back!) Open every day for brunch, lunch, and dinner: Monday through Thursday, 11 AM to 9 PM; Friday, 11 AM to 10 PM; Saturday, 9 AM to 10 PM; and Sunday, 9 AM to 9 PM. Dinner starts around 4 PM. Credit cards accepted. www.bigjoneschicago.com
Last Word: I wonder where my next great meal in Chicago will come from? I challenge all Chicago-area restaurants to step up!
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