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Jonesing for Some Great Eats (Big Jones)

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Welcome one and all to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  It has been too long since my last post where I celebrated this blog’s five year anniversary in the most food-filled way possible.  Unfortunately, the little issue of being in a very intense graduate program for speech pathology has kept me from being the best blogger I can be, but that doesn’t mean that it has prevented me from sampling great meals across the currently chilly and snow-covered Chicago.  Today’s entry comes from another Andersonville staple establishment in the form of Big Jones.

In regard to Andersonville, I am well versed in both their traditional Swedish fare as well as the more colorful installations that reflect the more modern side of the neighborhood.  Janice had always played up the delicious plates the Southern American cuisine eatery offered, but I was skeptical they could truly recreate the funky, soulful, and simple nature of some of the original comfort food from our nation’s early history.  Southern American cuisine has an extremely diverse history based on the various ethnicities that came for a better life  or perhaps had been forced into slavery, contrary to Dr. Carson’s interpretation of that chapter in American history.  African slaves brought their cooking styles from Africa and made the most they could with the ingredients we were given.  This gave rise to such staples of Southern cuisine like collard greens, fried chicken, and barbecue in conjunction with the Native American’s lending some of their smokehouse know-how.  It also helped that the English and Scotch-Irish colonists brought their deep frying skills literally to the fledgling American dinner table.  As time went on and Southern Americans made their way north during the first half of the 20th Century looking for jobs or freedom from segregation, these Southern staples made themselves at home in the culinary fabric of cities north of the Mason-Dixon line, including my town Chicago.  Coming back to our dining experience, Big Jones can be reached either by public transportation or parking on the street.  The restaurant overall had a warm interior with a certain flair that reminded us of our trip to Charleston.  Looking over the menu for a drink, I saw that they stayed true to their Southern roots by having a wide variety of cocktails in addition to the Big Jones Bourbon Society.  Given that I’m not one for drinking early in the morning, I found another southern beverage that caught my fancy:  sweet tea.  Tea has always been a part of America’s history.  Boston Tea Party, anyone?  However, I never knew the history behind this drink.  According to Wikipedia, it was originally an expensive drink due to the then costly ingredients of sugar, ice, and obviously, tea.  What’s even more interesting is that pre-WWII, it was actually made with green tea, but due to anti-Japanese sentiments, the government forbade green tea imports.  Thus, Americans came back to the motherland by drinking English black tea after the war.  Either way, I was loving this refreshing glass to start my brunch off right. It was especially satisfying after having sweet teas at other establishments (read:  McDonalds) that boast a sweet tea which is actually unsweetened iced tea.  Big Jones does it right with plenty of sugar that indulged my sweet tooth.   Drink in hand, we were ready to sample the best Big Jones had to offer us Yankees.  First, they brought out some complimentary boiled peanuts as well as beignets.  This was definitely a nod to Southern cooking as well as a New Orleans staple.  The beignets were just as fluffy and powdered-covered as the treasures my parents and I destroyed at Cafe du Monde in NOLA.  The word “beignet” literally means “bump” in French, and I’m sure if we had enough of these rich pastries, we’d have a few more bumps than when we walked in.  While we were savoring the fried bread, we decided to split the andouille platter ($6).  Then I ordered the corn griddle cakes ($12), and Janice ordered the caramel apple French toast.  The andouille (pronounced “an-doo-ee”) sausage is a carry over from French immigrants who decided to make it part of Cajun culture.  Big Jones’ sausage is all hand-made on site, and this particular type consisted of pecan-smoked pork in beef casings.  These cold cuts were accompanied by warm rye bread, garlic aioli, and another southern staple, chow-chow.  This amusingly named condiment/side has a mysterious origin ranging from Acadian immigrants in Louisiana to Chinese rail workers in the 19th Century to even Indian immigrants.  The name is just as obscure with some contesting it comes from the French word for cabbage “chou” while others advocate for the Indian origin story since one of the ingredients, chayote, is known as chow-chow in India.  Wherever it is from, it wasn’t the highlight of the plate since it seemed to just consist of pickled cabbage and peppers.  Other varieties are more diverse including onions, cabbage, red beans, carrots, asparagus, and cauliflower.  The bread, on the other hand, was hearty, flavorful, and the perfect foundation for an open-face andouille sandwich.  The aioli spread had a good amount but not overpowering level of garlic, and then there was the actual sausage.  It was ok but not great.  I think that if it was smoked over a sweeter wood, it would bring a different dimension to the sausage beyond just the spiced pork flavor.  Before we knew it, our plates were being placed before us.  Janice’s place looked picture perfect complete with golden brown bread slices, cinnamon whipped cream, almond slivers, and a heavenly caramel sauce.  The exquisitely carved apple was the jewel on this crown of a dish.  Unfortunately, it isn’t there all the time due to their rotating seasonal menu, but if it is available, definitely give it a chance.  As for my choice, the corn griddle cakes, it was everything Janice made it out to be.  Their origins reach back to the Algonquin tribes on the East Coast and Cherokee and Choctaw tribes in the Southern USA, and they taught European settlers how to prepare cornbread.  As compared to its more plain Civil War counterpart, the Big Jones version also added Spanish and Mexican flair to it with black beans, salsa, avocado, and sour cream.  These savory pancakes were filling but not too much.  It was the best of both worlds since I love pancakes more than omelets, but the two individual elements combined to make one mouth-watering and appetite-pleasing plate.  I highly recommend them if you’re looking for something beyond shrimp and grits.

Overall, I would highly recommend Big Jones’ for great Cajun food.  It might not be as well known as Heaven on Seven or Pappadeaux, but the line out the door every Sunday would tell you otherwise.  This hidden gem provides generous portions of delectable Cajun fare for reasonable prices, especially if you’re Jonesin’ for just a great glass of sweet tea.  See you next time, y’all!

Big Jones Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Do the Deaux

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Bonjour, y’all!  Today’s post on Mastication Monologues is extra dirty and deep fried since I’m going to be talking about some of the most Southern cuisine there is in the United States:  Cajun cuisine.  Most people think of Mardi Gras or Hurricane Katrina when they hear anything to do with the state of Louisana, but the reality is that it is also home to one of the most unique cultures in our great nation.  The Cajun people are descendants of the Acadian (French colonists) settlers in Canada who were deported by the British in the mid-1700s en masse to the then unknown lands to the south including the original 13 colonies, i.e. America in utero.  If these French colonists weren’t imprisoned, killed, or passed away from diseases before or after the expulsion, they found themselves migrating to new and foreign places like the territory of Louisiana.  At that time, it was considered part of the Kingdom of Spain, and the Acadian refugees were welcomed by the Spanish government due to the French and Spanish governmental and Catholic links.  This new rapport led to the Acadians becoming the largest ethnic group in Louisiana, and their name slowly evolved from “Acadian” to “Cadien” to eventually “Cajun”.  With a new name for their culture, their Cajun French (however strange sounding it may be at times) and food became two pillars of local pride for these new settlers and still are going strong today.

Modern day Acadians

Modern day Acadians

Acadian food had to adapt to the new environments they found themselves in since it was a lot hotter than old frosty Canada, and the local flora and fauna were extremely different, especially in the bayou regions.  Therefore, they adapted their tastes to create dishes that emphasize the use of pork and shrimp for proteins, flavorful spices, and the “holy trinity” of green peppers, onions, and celery.  However, with the rise of New Orleans as the biggest and most important city of Louisiana also came the rise of creole cuisine.  While some may use them interchangeably, creole cuisine is more varied in ingredients and reflect the more cosmopolitan nature of the city versus the more rustic Cajun fare.  For example, a key difference is that creole cuisine uses tomatoes while Cajun dishes do not.  With the rise of celebrity chefs like Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse in the latter half of the 20th Century,

The man. The myth. The legend.

The man. The myth. The legend.

there came a regeneration of Cajun and creole cuisine that was spicier and adapted for modern tastes as the food spread out across the USA.  Enter Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen.

I had never been to this local restaurant, but one of my good friends worked there and said I should try the food.  I’m not a huge seafood fan (I’m more of a land animal lover), but Janice and I ended up going here on a double date since my friend David picked it.  The restaurant itself is like a typical seafood restaurant with a large, wraparound bar to greet you in case you wanted to eat some fish or drink like one.  We were more in the mood for a bite to eat, so we met up with David and Vivian who were waiting for us.  Looking over the menu, I could see that they definitely were trying to stay true to the Cajun and creole cuisine staples along with including more general American surf and turf options.  Price-wise, it’s not the cheapest eatery in town but reasonable for a seafood restaurant like in the $20-30 range for an entree.  We decided to focus more on the Big Easy specialties starting with our appetizers.  We got the shrimp and crawfish fondue and the crispy fried alligator. IMG_5648  The fondue was definitely worth it since it was warm, gooey, and filled with plenty of shrimp and crawfish chunks.  IMG_5651The crawfish/crayfish/crawdad/ecrevisse in Cajun French wasn’t really noticeable in this dish given that they often have a slightly muddy flavor given they live and eat whatever they can find in the muck at the bottom of streams.  Hence why some call them “mudbugs”.  The garlic bread isn’t very Cajun, but it mixes well with the creamy melted cheese.  What more could you ask for in an appetizer?  Oh wait, fried goodness!  That’s the last box that the alligator checked off.  Since the Acadians settled in the swampy bayous of Louisiana, obviously they needed to find protein sources.  Therefore, it only seemed natural they would try and find a way to eat the large and plentiful alligators prowling the waters.  At Pappadeaux it wasn’t like they were plucking them out of the water right outside the door, but they do promise the highest quality of alligator meat on their website.  It was served to us on a platter with a side of fried potato sticks and dipping sauce.  I would liken it to a plate of popcorn chicken with a dirty South twist.  The meat wasn’t exactly like chicken, but it did have a similar density and similar, but not identical, flavor.  The breading had a subtle, spicy hint to it with notes of paprika, and the dipping sauce had a thousand island/special sauce vibe going on.  Once we took down those tasty treats, I ordered my shrimp étouffée.  Before it came out, I got a complimentary cup of their gumbo.  This dish’s name originates from either the West African word for okra “ki ngombo” or the Native American Choctaw word for sassafras leaves “kombo“.  The reason why the name is linked to these plants is because this state dish of Louisiana is classified as African, Native American, or French depending on the thickening ingredient.  The first two were already defined with okra and sassafrass while French creole cooks used flour and fat to thicken their gumbos.  This was a lip-smacking good taster of Louisiana.IMG_5649  From the spicy andouille sausage to the rich brown base, chopped veggies, and shrimp,IMG_5650this small bowl could do no wrong.  I couldn’t wait for my étouffée to arrive.  Étouffée comes from the French verb “étoufféer” meaning “to smother” or “to suffocate”, and I could see that most of the ingredients in this creole dish were covered in the brown roux sauce. IMG_5652 Mixing the rice together with the rest of the dish made it resemble the fusion feijoada I had at Vermilion during Restaurant Week.  It showed the mixing of different cultures like with the use of rice from Spanish and African dishes, the local shrimp from the Cajun country, and the French sauce and spices.  It wasn’t a spicy entree, contrary to popular believe about creole and Cajun cooking, and it was the perfect dish for a cold night like when we visited Pappadeaux.  I really enjoyed the amount and quality of shrimp in this dish since they weren’t too chewy or undercooked.  Plus, the rice gave the étouffée the body to be filling but not too much so.  I always love meals that involve mixing meat and rice together, so it was a match made in Cajun heaven for me.  My fellow diners also seemed pretty pleased with their choices.

So if you don’t have enough money to take a trip down to NOLA, get yourself on down to Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen!  Seaing is believe, hear?
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Pigging Out In Hongdae

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Hello and bonjour everybody!  The summer is slowly but surely floating along as I’m struggling to cope with this unbearable heatwave that has struck Korea.  Energy-draining and lung-flattening humidity aside, I finally managed to make it out to a new restaurant in Hongdae in Seoul.  Now, I’ve been perusing a food blog or two trying to find newly opened places or niche cuisine eateries, but my friend’s birthday party turned me on to a pretty standard restaurant with some offbeat choices.  I’m talking about Beale St.  located at 363-28 Seokyo Dong Mapo Gu.  It’s right next to Burger B, the original establishment we were going to check out.

Their sign is like the sun.  If you look directly at it, you will go blind.

Their sign is like the sun. If you look directly at it, you will go blind.

When I saw the name of the restaurant, Beale St., I was brought back to one of my most enjoyable vacations to Memphis, Tennessee.  I went with my family to Memphis to see Elvis’ Graceland and of course, taste that delicious barbecue.  Beale St. is the main thoroughfare in downtown Memphis.  Check out my other post that I wrote about another burger joint in Memphis with absolutely mammoth, mouth-watering onion rings (Click Here For The Post).   Naturally, I saw that the walls in Beale St. were festooned with various types of American kitsch like old gas advertisements, instruments, and even a Graceland sign.IMG_0651  Anyway, to the food.  Looking over the menu, I saw that they were staying true to Memphis’ barbecue legacy with a laundry list of classics like a half/full rack of ribs (23,000 W/43,000 W, respectively), burnt ends (16,000 W), and their chicken “boobs” (10,000 W) that apparently are bbq chicken breasts (tee hee, you so funny, Beale St.). They have a great beer and liquor selection that would be rare to find in other restaurants in Korea.  They also have the menu from Burger B next door, so you can order a burger like almost everyone else in my party group did.  I heard they were pretty good based off their reactions, but I went for two off-beat choices from Beale St.:  chicharron popcorn (4,000 W) and boudin (pronounced “boo-dahn”) ball (5,000 W).  They were both washed down with a heavenly vanilla-caramel milkshake (7,000 W).

First, there was the chicharron popcorn.  Most people know what popcorn is, but I’m pretty sure no one at my table knew what the slightly bizarre items were on top of the popcorn.  Growing up in the Chicago area where we have the 4th highest population of Mexicans in the USA, I was exposed at an early age to the different foods of that culture like chicharrones.  While the chicharrones may look like some sort of puffy rice cake, they are actually pieces of pork skin that are seasoned and deep fried in order to make a tough, inedible piece of the pig edible.  So when they came out, it was a basket of popcorn loaded to the top with chicharrones.

Porky popcorn pleasure

Porky popcorn pleasure

Normally when eating chicharrones, you’d like to put some hot chili sauce on them to give them a bit of a flaming zing, but Beale St. thought of that for me.  They managed to put a semi-sweet glaze over each curled piece, and then doused them with a perfect amount of dry chili rub.  The popcorn was prepared in the same fashion that really was a change of pace from your typical butter laden bucket you’d find at your local movie theatre or at home.  As for my other mini-entree, I was intrigued to see how they interpreted the Cajun boudin balls.  For those who don’t really know that much or anything about Cajun cooking, let me explain.  The Cajun culture arose from French-speaking Acadians who immigrated from Canada to what is modern day Louisiana in the USA back in the 1700s during French and British hostilities in the Seven Years War.  The Acadians created their own ethnic and cultural enclave that has left an indelible mark on Louisiana especially on the music scene with zydeco, their own variety of French still spoken today, and especially the food realm with their rustic French inspired dishes.  This leads me to what boudin is.  It’s a pork sausage that can be made with blood (boudin rouge) or without (boudin blanc) and stuffed with ground pork, Cajun spices, and dirty rice (Cajun rice cooked with pieces of liver and gizzards).  The balls, however, were made by rolling this filling into small spheres and deep frying them.  Given this explanation, I was a bit confused that they had Cajun food like gumbo, jambalaya, and boudin in a restaurant focused on cuisine from Tennessee.  Maybe they mixed up Memphis’ Beale St. with New Orleans’ Bourbon St..  Either way, I was satisfied even though the balls really could have been bigger for the price.IMG_0655  The bread crumb shell was a beautiful golden brown while the inside was a bit too mildly seasoned for proper Cajun cuisine, but they tried to make up for it by using a spicy Korean gochujang-based sauce that was drizzled over these tasty nuggets.  The overall quality of the rice and pork melange was superb though.  I assumed the Korean owners would get right these parts of the boudin right since they’re two staples of the Korean diet. IMG_0656 On the side, there was a lovely clover salad that was gingerly dressed in a sweet vinaigrette that provided a light balance to the dense, meaty richness of the boudin.  Finally, there was the milkshake…lord, the milkshake. IMG_0652 It was simple in presentation, but flavor-wise it was quite elaborate.  Whilst the buttercream element of the vanilla started off each sip, there would be a lightning bolt of sugary caramel that would flash across my palate and hit my pleasure zone every time. I would recommend this twist on an ice cream shop classic to anyone.

Overall, Beale St. has a slight identity crisis with the items on their menu, and they are a bit on the expensive side.  Regardless of the price, if you want well made burgers, barbecue, and Cajun cuisine, you will not be disappointed.  To quote the immortal Cookin’ Cajun, Justin Wilson, “I guarantee!“.

Which Came First: The Chicken or the Hot Sauce?

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Howdy y’all!  It’s time for another edition of Mastication Monologues.  Today I am going to be writing about a certain restaurant chain that has a special, deep-fried spot in my heart (and no I’m not talking about Atherosclerosis) but rather that golden brown, Cajun breading that comes on Popeye’s’ Chicken.  My favorite Popeye’s is located at 5711 S. LaGrange Road in Countryside IL.  There is a closer location on Cass Ave., but I no longer patronize that location due to its lackluster biscuits that are more akin to hardtack than buttermilk pillows, and a bout of food poisoning they served to me with a side of bland chicken.  But I digress.

The actual establishment is nothing too extravagant as there are numerous Cajun knickknacks hanging about the entrance, and Mardi Gras related memorabilia festooning the wall space between each table.  Many are quite humorous such as the following pics:

A Little African-American Vernacular English Anyone?

Sadly No Beignets Here

I Don’t Get It

After taking in all of this colorful scenery (including the hot sauce case that contains a bottle that should not belong in there. See if you can figure out this riddle when you go there), I got down to business by ordering the five chicken strip meal (which comes in either mild or spicy varieties and then two sides which can be either a biscuit and Cajun fries, mashed potatoes, dirty rice, or cole slaw).

“Some Mashed Potaters…mmm hmmm” a la Slingblade

As far as side dish affinities go, I normally choose the biscuit and the extra biscuit side which is an approximation of what God would eat for dinner if he resided south of the Mason Dixon Line.

Chicken-wise, I usually go for the spicy variety which I would liken to a slightly hotter paprika that resides under the crispy breading that doesn’t get spicier than a standard jalapeno heat.  Plus, if you decide to order traditional, whole pieces of chicken, you can also get it in regular and spicy varieties (unlike the Colonel who just has one flavor that relies on a mysterious recipe which still tastes bland to me).

However, I always manage to douse these strips with some good ol’ fashioned Louisiana Hot Sauce that is  in ample supply on the table in bottles.  Even though there are some people who complain that after eating fried chicken they have an unsavory “stuffed with grease” feeling, I can assure you that Popeye’s chicken is fried lightly enough to not turn off even the most finicky eater.  The preparation is a world away from the Cass Avenue location where even their freshest chicken seems a day old in terms of succulence and overall flavor/aroma, and their breading seems as mediocre as the service.  Not only that, but they also only give out hot sauce in packets…this isn’t Taco Bell, people.  Anyway, moving on to the sweeter part of my meal:  the biscuits!

Even the food smiles back at you!

Biscuits have long been a part of Southern cuisine whether being served alone or smothered in artery clogging, chunktastic white sausage gravy.  At Popeye’s Chicken, they are merely served as a side to the savory chicken which can be complimented with some decadent squirts of honey as shown in the bottle on the right in the photo (also served in packets at the Cass Ave. location).  Once again, this is where the Countryside location outdoes the Cass Avenue Popeye’s.  The former manages to combine flour, shortening, and buttermilk to form a porous yet firm, buttery-rich mini-pillow of ecstasy that teeters on the edge of culinary perfection whilst adding honey to its warm interior.Biscuit Enhancement...Trust Me, I'm a Doctor  On the other hand, the biscuits at the Cass location nearly always seem to have the consistency of a saltine in terms of flakiness, dryness, and saltiness which leaves me with a general sense of regret having subjected my palate to such arid dreariness.   I also must comment on the other side dishes that I have tried with my chicken dinners.  First, there are the Cajun fries where are like normal French fries but are fried to a dark brown hue and covered in a pepper based seasoning that is not too overbearing in terms of spice (they can be hit or miss though so tread with caution).  Then there is the dirty rice which is not as unsanitary as it sounds because it merely is a white rice dish that mixes in either sausage or chicken liver to give the rice an alleged “dirty” look to it (with this dish, either you really like it or you really hate it kind of like Brussels sprouts).  The final side I’ve had is the mashed potatoes which is my mom’s favorite, but they are worth the price because the sausage gravy nicely compliments the finely mashed potatoes and does not drown out their flavor.

Overall, Popeye’s Chicken at Countryside is a restaurant everyone should try if you’re looking for some great fried chicken and sides for a good price if KFC/Chick-Fil-A/Church’s has you clucking for something different.  In the immortal phrase of the  Cajun chef Justin Wilson, “”I ga-ron-tee!” (J’vous garantis! for all the Francophones out there) that this restaurant will leave you satisfied as demonstrated by my love for their biscuits/chicken.

I Got Double Vision!

Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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