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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

The Fattest Steak in the West

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Howdy, y’all!!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues.  Today I bring you an entry that truly lives up to its culinary heritage and more.  This week I went to Longhorn Steakhouse out in the Chicago suburbs located at 708 North Janes Avenue  Bolingbrook, IL 60440.

Roy Rogers’ home away from home

I didn’t really have much of an opinion of this restaurant before visiting it due to the fact that the number of steakhouses we have in Chicago/the Chicagoland area is simply a reflection of our long-term infatuation with the perfect slice of meat.  At one point, Chi-town was known more colorfully as the “Butcher for the World” where according to the Chicago Tribune, “At the (stock)yards’ peak in 1924, more than 18.6 million cattle, hogs and sheep passed through that labyrinth.”  However, even though our abattoirs have long left the city limits, Longhorn Steakhouse is an homage to meat, Texas-style.  Upon walking into the door, I felt like I walked into Rattlesnakes steakhouse on King of the Hill.  There was plenty of country music pumping through the sound system and half a head of cattle festooning the walls alongside beautiful landscape oil paintings of Texas.  While our waiter mumbled his way through a standard greeting, he supplied us with a complimentary bread basket.  It seemed to be a wheat, possibly honey wheat, boule that was pre-sliced and served with butter.  I wished they’d give us warmer butter than the cold sphere nestled in its black cup, but the hot bread melted it in a jiffy.  For my main meal, I ordered the Parmesan crusted chicken which came with a side salad and a side.

This is your heart on cholesterol

The salad was pretty tasty especially since they had chipotle ranch.  It added a great zing to a classic dressing, and the greens were a mix of lettuce, purple cabbage, kale, and peppers.  I’m not a huge crouton fan, so I was somewhat annoyed with their prodigious numbers inhabiting the bowl.  I think I already had my fill of bread with the aforementioned basket, thank you.  Anyway, when my main course came out, I was definitely intimidated.  The common phrase about Texas is that everything’s bigger, and this plate was no different.  Instead of tucking into the chicken straight away, I decided to sample a bit of the mashed potatoes first.  I’m surprised they weren’t rocking a questionable haircut and an Armani suit because they were richer than Donald Trump.  The texture was creamy yet maintained some tasty chunks of potato, and butter cascaded down these gentle white slopes.  As for the chicken, it made my heart race…for the wrong reason.  From the very first mouthful, I could not get over the intensely rich Parmesan crust and cheese sauce which blotted out any trace of the chicken.  However, the actual chicken was quite tender even though it tasted like I was gnawing on a block of cheese.  If you have high cholesterol, avoid this dish, and if you don’t and really really love the taste of cheese, only then I’d recommend this meal.  Next time, I’d probably just get a lean steak to avoid this fatty conundrum.

So if you’re looking for a small piece of stereotypical Texas, mosey on down to Longhorn Steakhouse.  Happy Trails!

Longhorn Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

LongHorn Steakhouse on Foodio54

High Steaks Dining (Somehow I Survived)

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A quick turnaround for my dear old blog, but here is another entry in the Mastication Monologues saga.  Today was no ordinary day since I actually didn’t feel like reverting back to my old tried and true haunts and ethnic cuisines.  Perhaps it was the sudden change in the weather which can only be likened to a drop from a blazing furnace to a sudden chill like a cold soda can to the back of your neck, or maybe I just wanted some STEAK being the natural carnivore that I am.  Luckily, I didn’t have to look any further than Al’s Charhouse located at 32 S. LaGrange Rd.  La Grange, IL 60525. which is right in the heart of bustling downtown LaGrange.

Upon arriving, I realized that I had been in this building many times before, but I had only visited Al’s latino counterpart on the upper level, Casa Margarita (another delicious Mexican eatery, fyi).  This time would be quite different as we descended the very large staircase to the entrance (I’m not quite sure how this would work out for those who are handicapped).  Immediately I knew they were going to play up their ties to the Wild West with plenty of cowboy and rancher paraphernalia adorning the walls.  The staff was quite cheerful, and we were waited upon right away.

People are really helpful around here

Yes, that is a rifle for a door handle.

Plus, there didn’t seem to be a strict dress code which was a nice change for a steak house.  As soon as we sat down, I realized this steakhouse was immediately different because the booths  actually had pillows for backrests which definitely made the dinner extra relaxing, and I later found out that their menus were called billboards because they literally covered up the width of the table when placed flat (cue an “everything’s bigger in Texas” joke haw haw)

We started off by ordering the spinach and artichoke dip that was accompanied by tortilla chips for dipping.  Due to my extreme hunger, I ended up finishing it all, but it was not anything special.  The cheese was quite bland, and the artichokes were a bit overdone.  On the plus side, the tortilla chips were very fresh, crisp, and not overly salty.  However, I just wasn’t wowed by it.  Luckily, the next course quickly changed my mind.

They soon brought out my mom’s French onion soup that I sampled along with my standard complimentary salad which comes with any sandwich or burger. The soup was a clear improvement on the aforementioned appetizer because it was adorned with a corona of ample, gooey cheese, a thoroughly soaked crust of bread lurked within the bowl, and a savory broth that melded these two different textures together into a semi-salty ambrosia.  Another noteworthy complimentary feature that stood out during this culinary interlude was the bread they provided:  a loaf of dark rye sans caraway seeds that were instead replaced by raisins and almonds.  It seemed like an odd concept at first, but the fact that they had cinnamon butter finally put the whole concept in perspective (almost like one of those 3-D pictures you can see once you step back and cross your eyes a bit).  Anyway, that loaf did not last long as the warm, expertly crafted bread was pulled apart faster than a pack of ravenous dogs attacking a giant Snausage.   Thus set the stage for the final act…the mega sandwich.

French Onion or Freedom Onion?

This Filet Bleu sandwich had four of my many favorite food elements for any meal:  steak (can never go wrong), garlic, cheese, and bread.  Unfortunately, all of the other previous food had filled me up to question whether or not I could finish off this monstrous plate of food.  Naturally, I said, “Damn, stomach integrity!”

and went straight into this mini-hubcap of a sandwich, au jus and all.  Best decision ever.  The bun, which is actually garlic bread on the inside, was very fresh and did not have either the overpowering buttery/garlicky taste or the crumb shower that normally accompanies typical garlic bread.  Instead, the garlic from the bun transitioned smoothly to the sultry blue cheese which whispered sweet nothings into my ear as I headed straight for the good stuff, the steak.

A platter for the Steak Gods

This very liberal helping of superbly grilled and seasoned steak medallions were succulent and tender enough to allow a clean bite all the way though.  The understated au jus also served as a culinary foil for the steak to shout its full flavor out to the world on the top of my taste-buds.  I also tried some of the fry wedges that came with the sandwich, and they were expertly made with a crunchy exterior that led to an oh-so creamy center.  Sadly, I could only make it half-way through the sandwich before I had to throw in the towel after this gastronomic decathlon, but I can’t help thinking that I was happy to have made the journey.

So if you’re looking for a lot of great, down home cuisine and want to feel like you’re in the middle of Texas while doing it, come down to Al’s Charhouse.  Believe me, Southern comfort and scrumptious cooking are not dead at this establishment.

Al's Char-house Steak House on Urbanspoon

Al's Char-House Banquets on Foodio54

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