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Smoking the Competition

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Howdy, partners!  I’d like to welcome y’all to Mastication Monologues where you’ll read some of the most unique and creative restaurant reviews in the world.  I’ve been around the world and eaten many interesting meals, but I have to say that American barbecue is one of the most comforting foods I’ve tried and enjoyed.  The word “barbecue” originates from the Taino Indian word “barabicu” that was adopted by the Spanish as “barbacoa” and eventually made it to English as the form we have now.  As for the origin of the cooking method, it was a Colombian exchange moment to thank for it.  First, the Spanish introduced the pig, the staple of American barbecue, to the Americas, and the Native Americans showed European settlers how to smoke the meat and slow roast it over different types of wood to get different flavors.  All of this slowly evolved as the barbecue we know today. However, if you go to different parts of the United States and ask for barbecue, you will encounter regional specialties that highlight the resources local cooks can utilize.  For example, Hawaiian barbecue does have pork, but it is served in a luau style with a full pig roast and tropical fruit based sauces.  While Midwestern sauces are tomato based and much sweeter than the spicier sauces from Texas.  The list goes on and on, but today’s restaurant, Green Street Smoked Meats, falls into the Texas category of barbecue.

We ended up at Green Street in the middle of the day of all days for a foodie:  Taste Talks.  While we were still reeling from meeting the famous and friendly Rick Bayless, we really were fading from hunger after talking about so much delicious food.  So we decided to go to Green Street Smoked Meats.  It was set back in a charming alley that would be hopping during the summer but not during our drizzly gray afternoon. IMG_4429IMG_4428 Upon walking in, we were greeted with the jazzy baseline of Jerry Lee Lewis and sawdust on the floor.IMG_4410  It was set up like a quirky Texas bbq roadhouse like you might find in the Lone Star state.  There were beers in old sinks filled with ice you could pick up before wandering up to the food board that was hanging in front of the all wood smoker.IMG_4414  We perused the menu as the chefs were expertly slicing ribs, pork belly, and this sweet sweet brisket.

A thing of beauty

A brisket beauty

IMG_4412 IMG_4413 IMG_4408  Eventually we decided on getting a half pound of pork belly ($12.50), a Frito pie ($6), spicy pickles ($4.95), and potato salad ($4.95).  Once they served it all to us on a tray, cafeteria style, we got a seat at one of the communal bench seats in the main dining area.  We also needed something to drink, so I bellied up to the bar to get Janice a beer she noticed at the bar due to its, shall we say, “distinctive” draft handle.

One of these things is not like the other...

One of these things is not like the other…

IMG_4409 IMG_4425I later found out that this beer was called a Morning Wood that was brewed in Chicago and was a lip-smacking, mildly malty red ale ($9). IMG_4422 As for me, I got a cheaper Lone Star beer ($4) which dates all the way back to 1884. IMG_4421 The price justified the flavor.  It was your typical American lager with roots in German pilsner traditions, i.e. light on taste and body.  However, it was clean and refreshing while sampling all of our food. IMG_4451 First, all of it was the perfect amount of food for the two of us.IMG_4452  Second, the pork belly was a meaty masterpiece.  IMG_4418Not only was it sliced to an ideal thickness to let it melt on your tongue, but the peppercorn crust combined with the smoke gave it a real bold flavor with a spicy afterbite that kicked its spurs into your palate.  The Frito pie has made many appearances on King of the Hill, including an episode where a Bostonian client’s wife was taken aback by this spicy Southern treat.  I think the best way to describe this unique Texan side would be corn chip nachos.IMG_4417  It was served up in the Frito bag, and the chips were covered with cheese, ground beef, beans, and jalapenos.  Unfortunately, taste-wise it wasn’t as big as the state it hails from.  The Fritos were too soggy due to the massive amount of toppings, so it just tasted more like a chili with a couple jalapenos on top with the occasional crunch.  The spicy pickles were not as disappointing but not spectacular. IMG_4419 True, they were sour and provided a fresh alternative to the heavier meat dishes, but I didn’t really understand where the “spicy” element was.  I just tasted a lot of vinegar and pickling brine coursing over the onions and pickles.  Finally, there was the potato salad that was actually the better of the two veggie sides.IMG_4420  It utilized small red potato segments coated in a semi-thick slathering of cumin-infused mayo that gave the tubers a funky zest with each forkful.

Overall, our trip to Green Street Smoked Meats was an enjoyable visit during a day all about food.  While I’m sure it doesn’t truly recreate the true Texas flavor like the home of the Cowboys and the Bush family, I’d recommend it as a fun and finger-licking good time and one of the best barbecue joints in Chicago.  Just remember to bring your wallet, buckaroo!
Green St Smoked Meats on Urbanspoon

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A Real Brew-Ha-Ha (Portland, Part 6)

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Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today is the penultimate installation of my Portland, Oregon adventures, and this post will finally touch on the craft brewing scene that Portland has to offer.

I met some new friends during one of the educational sessions on motivation in the classroom, and they seemed quite interested in inviting me out to dinner with them.  So after I had to do some schmoozing with some State Department representatives, I was on my way to Bridgeport Brewery located at 1313 NW Marshall Street Portland, OR 97209.  It was a bit of a pain for me to get there by the streetcar system, but it seemed to be no problem for the girls by car.  The exterior of the restaurant looked more like a Victorian factory where I half expected to find rows of women churning out textiles while small urchins scampered about fixing broken down weaving machines. IMG_2677 Thankfully, the interior is much classier than a sweatshop, and the service is quite cordial. IMG_2678 After roughly a 20 minutes wait, we were escorted to our table.  We started with some drinks which naturally were beers.  I first went for a pint of limited edition Old Knucklehead ($7) brewed at Bridgeport.IMG_2680  It’s a barley wine ale which is very aggressive in flavor initially but has a soft finish of oak, cherry, and a bit of vanilla.  I also tried their very rare cherry chocolate stout ($8) that also is brewed at the restaurant that lived up to it’s name.  Think Guinness mixed with a very hearty black forest cake.  Foodwise, they have all the basic gastropub foods like burgers, sandwiches, soups, and salads, but I wanted to try something different (go figure).  I looked down their “favorites” section of the menu, and I cast my bet with the chicken souvlaki ($10).  I know I could probably get much better back home in Chicago, but I decided to see the xeni (non-Greek people) take on this Mediterranean classic.  It came out with my beer, and it looked a lot better than the pasta and burgers people got. IMG_2679 The Greek dish was a solid meal.  The pita was warm and fluffy, and the tomatoes and lettuce were fresh.  The chicken pieces were succulent and not rubbery, a common pitfall for any chicken dish.  I personally think it could have used more tzatziki sauce and feta cheese, but it didn’t make that much of a difference.  The souvlaki also came with a side of vegetable couscous salad which was competently made but didn’t make me shout “Opa!”.

Overall, in regard to Bridgeport Brewery, I would follow the advice of my friend who is a native to Portland and was at dinner with us, “Come for the beer, stay for more beer.  Food is secondary or maybe tertiary in Portland gastropubs”.  Well put, sir.
Bridgeport Brewpub & Bakery on Urbanspoon

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