Wow, where has all the time gone? My first quarter in grad school has come and gone. I came out on the other side of stats class a little older due to stress, but overall I’m ready to go into quarter numero dos starting January 3rd. The holidays are currently upon us in Chicagoland, and the weather is definitely playing its part. We have it all: -30 F temperatures, icy streets, and snow covered sidewalks. Luckily, these bleak conditions are ideal for writing some wonderful Mastication Monologues posts that I’m sure you have all been clamoring for due to my prolonged hiatus. Today’s post involves the Peckish Pig, Evanston’s first brewpub.
Chicago has always been a city that has enjoyed its adult beverages. My parents have always told me about how many bars there were in the old neighborhoods they would frequent, and how now most have them have gone away due to changing regulations and consumer tastes, among other influences. However, the rise of craft beers has been seized upon by many purveyors of food, and they have been reaping the benefits ever since. Case in point, the Peckish Pig which is always overflowing with patrons come rain or shine, so I would recommend making a reservation ahead of time if you’re not willing to wait. Janice and I tried this eatery when it was a bit warmer this year, but the laid-back, gastropub ambiance is a warm welcome for most diners even in the dead of a Chicago winter.
We started our meal with some libations to cool ourselves off. The Peckish Pig had an extensive drink list, both alcoholic and non alcoholic. I was interested in their beers given we were in a brewery while Janice was naturally drawn to the mixed drinks. She went with the shoemaker ($11), and I got a cherry beer. The shoemaker was toe-tappingly good with a mix of Belle Meade bourbon, amaretto, amaro, and walnut bitters to cut through the sweetness with an ever-so-slight earthiness. My cherry beer was not as elating since it seemed to only be “cherry” in terms of hue. They could take some notes from the Belgian Kriek makers if they are looking for a refreshing beer that is both colored and flavored nearly exactly like the sundae toppers. I would not recommend this beer if you are a fan of fruit beers that are bursting with flavor. At least it looked pretty if that was any consolation. Moving on to the appetizer round, we let our grumbling stomachs lead the way. After looking over their options (there are vegetarian options, by the way!), we decided to try their selection of European meats and cheeses ($15 for a medium and $20 for a large plank) as well as their Brussels sprouts ($7). When both arrived at our table, we could see why the name of the establishment was the Peckish Pig. The portions for the price were gigantic, so we were quite excited to tuck into the wonderful repast in front of us. First, there were the Brussels sprouts. The typical scourge of kids’ palates at dinnertime is actually one of Janice and my favorite foods. Therefore, we expected this version with bacon and brown butter to be a highlight of the meal, but similar to my cherry beer, it did not live up to the hype. Yes, it contained all of the aforementioned ingredients on the same plate; however, together they did not taste like anything. It only tasted like some more well done pieces of bacon along with the bitter, almost burnt flavor of the roasted Brussels sprouts. We were not impressed. Thank the culinary gods the charcuterie version of Noah’s Ark came ashore on our table. Where to begin? At the top left, there was the Manchego cheese that was a bit better than your typical Manchego which is known for being crumbly and moderately grainy. It was a bit part player to the other elements on the chopping block. Next, there was the Gloucester cheddar with chives; the very same of the famous Cotswold Games where they roll a wheel of the delicious dairy down a hill while people give chase and try to catch it. Don’t believe me? Check it out here (Fast forward to 2:09 for the rolling). This was the double variety of the cheddar which meant that it had a very sharp cheddar tang to it which was enhanced by the chives. Definitely one of my favorites. To the right of the cheddar was the Stilton blue cheese that was the standout favorite of mine. It paired particularly well with the apricot jam because the potent funk of the cheese was soothed by the dulcet tones of the fruit spread. Finally, there was the ash-cured goat cheese that had a hint of smoke to its flavor profile but was not much different from the run-of-the-mill spreadable cheese. Following the cheese top half, there were the meats. The salami on the left was slightly spicy which I enjoyed as I moved on to the Spanish chorizo. I personally prefer the peninsular sausage over its Mexican equivalent due to its low greasiness and high piquancy. Next to the red disks of chorizo was a fellow Spanish product: Serrano ham. It is Spain’s take on Italian prosciutto, and I highly recommend trying some in this lifetime. It is both delicate yet filling with a bold, peppery flavor. Finally, the Peckish Pig plank treated us to some duck meat which was rich but nothing of note.
We definitely overestimated how hungry we were and the portion sizes at the Peckish Pig when we ordered our food because we also got an order of the hog wings ($13). You’ll never see wings this big at another restaurant unless pigs fly.
These pork shanks were marinated in a hoisin sauce that was sweet and tangy with a soy base to represent its Far East roots. If you’re looking for an app that is gargantuan in size and flavor, I highly recommend this tribute to marinated meat.
For the entree, I got a duck sandwich ($14). Mind you, you might be wondering how I survived this marathon of delicious food, but I only ate half of the sandwich. Nevertheless, I greatly savored the meal that on paper should not have left the runway but in practice soared like a Concorde. The panini-style foccacia was fresh and crunchy and contained a true yin and yang of flavor profiles. First, the smoky duck was enhanced by the coffee bacon. You read that right. Coffee bacon.
Once more the Peckish Pig kitchen managed to finagle some coffee-cured piggy into a dish we tried, and it was executed to perfection. With all of these smoky and savory flavors swirling around my tongue, I appreciated the neutral brie that brought them under control and allowed for the sweet and spicy apricot spread to compliment the rest of the sandwich. It was a very unique sandwich that expertly balanced sweet, spicy, salty, bitter, and umami between two pieces of foccacia. Talk about a mouthful! At this point, we thought it wasn’t possible to finish another bite, dessert was calling our name. We found room for the English sticky toffee pudding ($7). It was a sumptuous feast for both our eyes and taste buds. The moist cake was studded with small chunks of delicious toffee and swimming in a thin pool of custard cream and caramel sauce. If anything, skip the meal and just have dessert. It is definitely worth it.
Overall, the Peckish Pig is a casual restaurant that would be ideal for catching up with old friends and family or perhaps you would like to try one of Chicagoland’s many brewpubs. I would also recommend it for its attention to both meat-lovers and vegetable fans as well as its extensive drink menu.