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Living High on the Hog (Peckish Pig)

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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.img_9872

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. img_9870

There's always one person creeping on me when I take pictures.

There’s always one person creeping on me when I take pictures.

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. img_9849 My cherry beer was not as elating since it seemed to only be “cherry” in terms of hue.  img_9850They 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.  img_9852The 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?img_9851  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). img_9859 You’ll never see wings this big at another restaurant unless pigs fly.

Slightly intimidating

Slightly intimidating

img_9862 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.

Good all the way to the bone

Good all the way to the bone

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.  img_9853img_9854Nevertheless, 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.img_9858  First, the smoky duck was enhanced by the coffee bacon.  You read that right.  Coffee bacon.

Grounds for imprisonment...in my stomach

Grounds for imprisonment…in my stomach

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.img_9868  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.
Peckish Pig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Buffalo Joe’s Fo’ Sho

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Nothing says, “Fall is here!” better than pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks, football, and chicken wings, right?  Well, actually that last one is always good year round, but it could make the terrible Bears season we’re experiencing a bit less sucktacular.  Am I right?  So today I’d like to recommend a little slice of comfort food heaven in Evanston called Buffalo Joe’s.

We went to this small eatery on a balmy summer night, and it was simply furnished inside and outside.  IMG_4227This no-frills diner translated to a walk up and order type of restaurant.  IMG_4226Their menu consists of plenty of bar food even though it’s not a bar per se, so expect plenty of burgers, hot dogs, Italian beef sammiches, salads, gourmet baked potatoes, chili, and of course, the wings.  I love my chicken in general and the spicier the better.  So, we got a double order of wings ($14.59), half tossed in mild sauce and the other half in the suicide sauce.  We also got an order of the Buffalo Chips ($2.89).IMG_4223  After a bit of waiting, they shouted our order was ready, so we grabbed the grub and found an open booth.  It was like a fast food restaurant that somehow wasn’t one since they had the signature mid-90’s Burger King seats made with thick slats of wood, but there wasn’t a paper crown in sight.  Buffalo Joe’s made up for the decor with the Simpsons on the tv along with some delectable looking food.  I started on my wings which I got at least 10 to my order. IMG_4224 While they were neither as enormous as the wings at Hooters nor as hellish as the ones at Jake Melnick’s, they were good pieces of chicken.  There was ample meat on bony wings that could have had next to nothing, but I thought they had a fair amount of meat for the price.  As for the “suicide” sauce, I think it might have been hazardous to most diners’ health, but my taste buds and stomach are far from new to consuming fiery meals.  Ergo, I found their suicide sauce to be almost like a typical buffalo sauce with a vinegar kick and a bit more spice than normal that was amped up with the sauce-slathered jalapeno pepper slices.  I think the mild wings were a bit better since the vinegar tinged flames gave way to a more buttery/savory/smoky flavor that was enhanced with the ranch dressing on the side.  Then there were the buffalo chips.  Even though their name means something a bit more repugnant than some fried potatoes (buffalo poo), the flavor and appearance were much more appeasing to the senses.  I can never say no to waffle fries, and the super fake nacho cheese were the icing on the cake (or perhaps the dairy on the tater). There were only two downsides to this side.  First, there was the soggy factor that happens in any sort of nacho cheese situation.  While the top chips were crisp and coated, but bottom ones were drowned beneath the yellow waves.  That was the other bad part of the side was the cheese itself.  I think that they overdid it a bit because I felt like I was swimming in a squeeze cheese pool by the end of of the meal.

So if you’re tired of scantily clad waitresses or ten billion tvs blaring sports stats at you STAT!, check out the laid back atmosphere of Buffalo Joe’s!
Buffalo Joe's on Urbanspoon

Something Old, Something New, Something Fried, Something Brewed

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Ah what a summer this is turning out to be.  The weather is warming up, and the festival season is in full swing.  Not only that, but the World Cup has lit up Chicago like I’ve never seen before as futbol fever is sweeping over the city.  I’ve got a fever myself for not only the beautiful game but wonderful food.  Sorry, no cowbell here.  Today’s post on Mastication Monologues takes us to George Street Pub in Lakeview.

The exterior of the bar was quite average looking as it blended into the genteel surroundings common to the northside.  Upon stepping into the establishment, it was designed like any other sports bar sans memorabilia on the wall:  exposed brick, plenty of tvs showing World Cup matches and baseball games, leather booths, and dark wood furniture.  There is indoor and outdoor seating, and we opted for the latter option.  That proved to be our downfall as the temperature dropped it like it was hot as a chilly wind descended upon us on the exposed patio.  They had a few heat lamps but way too few to warm up such a large space.  Unless, it’s perfect weather out there, I’d recommend sitting inside.  Upon sitting down, we ordered some drinks, and I picked a Midas Touch Golden Elixir beer ($6).IMG_3484  I picked it since it was described as “spiced” on the menu which naturally piqued my interest as it was nestled among the porters, IPAs, and lagers.  After doing a bit of research, this “beer” is somewhat between wine and mead as it is derived from residue  found in clay vessels from 8th Century B.C. in the tomb of the legendary King Midas.  At the time I didn’t know this, but now I know that I sampled the beer of the king who turned everything he touched into gold made me feel like I was getting a bargain.  Once it came out, I was greatly intrigued to see what I actually looked like, and it was imbued with a rich, golden hue.

A drink fit for a king

A drink fit for a king

It wasn’t carbonated, and the taste was unlike anything I’ve ever had.  It had a sweet aroma due to the honey and a slightly herbal scent compliments of the extravagant saffron.  The beer was light and clean with dulcet tones of the muscat grapes that were tempered with the spices.  I’d highly recommend it, and the bartender there said it was his favorite beer out of the hundreds on the beer menu.  I now know why the Midas Touch was a hidden gem.  Since Janice and I were a pair of Hungry Hungry Hippos, we decided to get some of the chicken wings ($7) while waiting for her friends to finally arrive.  Diners have the option of mild, medium, or hot wings along with ranch and blue cheese for dipping.  We got mild ones with extra hot sauce and blue cheese on the side.  The different levels of spice depends only on how much of the sauce they put on the chicken pieces.  They came out, and they looked a bit underwhelming. IMG_3487 While we got plenty for the price, they were on the smaller end with semi-adequate amounts of meat on the bone.  I really liked the buffalo-style sauce on the skin that had a real hot punch that jived with the reinvented blue cheese sauce that had oregano and garlic in it.  Eventually, her friends arrived, and they picked the pesto bruschetta ($6.95).  When it came out, it would have made nonna say “Mama mia!”.  It was a much more simplified yet modified version on this Italian antipasto.  While the crispy bread was surprisingly warm and semi-soft, it was rubbed with a little bit of garlic and pesto.IMG_3489  The toppings were a departure from the typical minced tomato and basil mix, and instead it was like a caprese salad fusion complete with a slice of buffalo mozzarella and tomato.  It was a refreshing remix covered with a hefty helping of creamy and rich pesto.  I’d recommend this appetizer over the chicken wings.  When it came time to order, I got the George Street Pub burger ($10) along with a Smuttynose Robust Porter.  They both came out at the same time, and both complimented each other perfectly.  The Smuttynose doesn’t get it’s name from that creepy guy snooping around the dirty magazine section in the supermarket but rather the name of an island off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. IMG_3490 It was a smooth pour and taste with hints of chocolate and coffee that brought big flavors to match the gargantuan burger in front of me.

Excalibur got a new home

Excalibur got a new home

The George Street Pub burger was a half pound patty sandwiched between two pretzel bun halves and topped with a thick slab of smoked cheddar.IMG_3492IMG_3493  When I bit into the sandwich of kings, I was greeted with a patty bursting with flavor and bacon bits, caramelized onion, and chorizo within the bulging beef cocoon. IMG_3494 It was a ton of meat spiced up with the mish-mash of chorizo and the pungent onions.  By the time I finished the burger, I thought I wouldn’t be able to pass one waffle fry past my lips, but I was wrong.  These bad boys were delicious, but unfortunately I couldn’t enjoy all of them due to my struggling stomach.

Overall, George Street Pub is like many gastropubs that can be found around the Chicagoland area, but I’d recommend it if you’re just looking for a relaxed place to catch a game or stuff yourself silly with good food and great beers.

George Street Pub on Urbanspoon

Man’s Stomach’s Best Friend

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Today’s entry on Mastication Monologues is a short one and the penultimate in my Florida food chronicle.  My final lunch on vacation took place in an eatery called Dune Dog Cafe located at 775 N. Alt A1A  Jupiter, Florida.  I didn’t know what really to expect in terms of food, but my parents were raving about it.

So when we arrived, it was a small, tropical shack of sorts that was all open air dining which once again made me wonder what they did when the winds and rain picked up as they always seemed to do in the afternoon in Florida?IMG_2972IMG_2968IMG_2737  Pondering aside, it looked like the natives were quite restless as a line streamed out the front of the hut as we attempted to find a spot in their meager parking lot.  After about 45 minutes of leaning up against our rental car, baking in the noon sun, and watching crowds of urchins wrestle with each other as their mothers attempted to corral them, our reservation name was called.  We made our way around to the back part of the restaurant.  It was more relaxing since we didn’t have hordes of hungry diners giving us the evil eye for not eating quickly enough.  After looking over the menu that had mainly American food like burgers, salads, hot dogs, and chicken wings, I went for the last option.  Ten wings with half barbecue sauce and half sesame sauce.  The prices were very reasonable (5-12 dollars for a meal.  Apparently, one of the waiter’s mom’s worked with my mom’s friend who we were eating with, so we got a free appetizer called “Yankee nachos”.IMG_2969  Being Yankees ourselves, we found it interesting that they see us as people who only eat potatoes instead of tortilla chips.  Regional differences aside, this was one tasty platter.  It consisted of waffle fries piled high with all the classic nacho toppings like two types of cheddar, olives, guacamole, onions, tomatoes, and jalapenos.  Once we all polished that off, my wings came out, and they looked like a smaller version of Hooter’s wings that I am ever so fond of. IMG_2970 As for the taste, I was greatly satisfied.  Not only was there plenty of meat, but the crisp batter, smoky barbecue sauce, and slightly aromatic sesame sauce really made me think that something this great for the cheap price was fowl.  Actually, the only thing that ruffled my feathers was the bleu cheese dressing that seemed oddly acidic.  Nevertheless, as I wiped the sticky saucy aftermath from my fingers and mouth, I could see that Dune Dog truly did live up to the hype.

So if you want to check out a great family restaurant that has a beach vibe far from any sandy shore, hit up Dune Dog Cafe.

Dune Dog Cafe on Urbanspoon

A Dirty South (Korean) Classic

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Hello to everyone out there and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today’s review partially comes from curiosity but also from an urge to get out of my apartment and check out what is actually in the building I live in.  I’m kind of cooped up right now due to a foot injury from soccer, but here’s to hoping it heals fast!  Anyway, everyday I walk into my building and see a chicken and beer restaurant right across from my elevators.  Not only is this combo a great Ludacris album, but these restaurants are all over Incheon and South Korea metropolis’ in general.  However, one of the key elements of this restaurant in terms of decor is the fact that they use the Hooters owl logo but have changed the name to Boors.  Nevertheless, I hobbled downstairs to see whether this place could measure up to the classic Southern staple I know and love back home.boor

The actual restaurant wasn’t too big, but the guy running it was quite friendly.  He didn’t really speak much English, but I was able to tell him that I wanted four pieces.  He fried them up in front of me which was a nice change from the mass-produced fried chicken that is sitting under heat lamps all day.  Eventually I got my four piece box and a mystery item in a pojang pongtu (to-go bag) for the low low price of 5000 won or roughly 4 bucks.

It says, "Health food" on the box.  Good one

It says, “Health food” on the box. Good one

When I opened up the box, I was greeted with two breasts and two wings.  Plus, I found he put a small packet that I didn’t initally see him put in the bag.  When I opened it up, it was salt…as if fried chicken wasn’t more unhealthy for you, they want to just amp up the possibility of you getting atherosclerosis.  Oh Korea.  Health concerns aside, I tucked into the first piece, and I was pleasantly surprised at the breading and quality of the chicken.  There was a certain lightness and absence of grease in the skin that made it taste different from KFC or Popeyes.  The chicken was all white meat, but  like most things in Korea, not hulking in size in comparison to food portions in the USA.  The wings were a bit of a let down since they were mostly bones and cartilage, but then again, when aren’t they a letdown unless they’re the real Hooters wings?  I even added a little gochujang (red pepper sauce) I had in my fridge, and it provided a nice, semi-bbq flavor to the crispy fried skin.  Once I finished the chicken, I opened the mystery container which looked like it contained some sort of white, translucent cubes.

Some pickled veggies with your deep fried meat?

Some pickled veggies with your deep fried meat?

Upon closer inspection, I thought they were rice cakes, but they were floating in a thin, clear liquid which is odd for rice cakes.  Once I ate a cube, I realized it was some sort of pickled radish that had a slightly sour aftertaste and a semi-crunchy texture.  It was an interesting compliment to fried chicken.  Perhaps they think people who eat this food need to get some sort of vegetable into their diets even if they are pickled.

Overall, I would recommend Boors to anyone in Korea who’s craving a little deep-fried, American goodness if you’re getting tired of tonkatsu (even though that’s impossible).  It makes up for the lack of scantily clad waitresses with quality service and a delicious recipe for fried chicken.

Everytime a Cowbell Rings a Devil Gets His Wings

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WARNING:  If you think jalapenos are spicy or if this (see 0:40 and on)happens to you when eating dry chili flakes or do not have a stomach for spicy food in general, do not try this eating challenge!!

Hello to everyone out there in the blogosphere!  I am writing this post after a very eventful and historic day in my eating adventures.  Now for those who know me/read my (amazing) blog, they can tell you that I am not one to shy away from eating spicy foods.  In fact, I seem to revel in the challenge to see how much fire I can eat in one sitting.  One day a certain Man vs. Food host in conjunction with the Travel Channel highlighted a Chicago hot-spot for getting some of the fieriest chicken wings in the nation which I will be reviewing today.  The place in question is Jake Melnick’s located on 41 East Superior Street  Chicago, IL 60611.

I checked out their website to see what exactly these XXX wings were made of, and I found out that they used both the Ghost Chili and the Red Divina which is an extremely spicy strain of Habanero.  Now, the actual heat level of the peppers can vary depending on where they’re grown due to various factors such as rainfall, elevation, and sun exposure.  However, I did the Scoville unit math according to Wikipedia’s page, and their combined spiciness is equivalent to standard issue law enforcement pepper spray.  Somehow this didn’t stop me, so I went there to test my mettle.

The waitress was wary at my request of the XXX wings, and they even make you sign a legal waver containing fun phrases like, “you’re an adventurous spirit who eats chilis for fun” alongside the more litigious “you won’t sue us in case of bodily harm”.  However, since I ordered the wings, I got a free fireman hat that stated I tried the XXX wing challenge along with a cowbell that I could ring if the heat became unbearable.

My bell and my brew (IPA, fyi)

This action would lead to the staff bringing out a “cool off” tray which consisted of a glass of milk, a cup of sour cream, and some white bread.  Little did they know I had the eye of the tiger to finish off the wings.

Hell in a hand basket

When they were presented to me, I was intrigued by how they looked since they weren’t glowing or smouldering or looking like pure evil.  However, I did notice a particular pungent aroma when I moved my face closer to them lying upon each other like eight little red smouldering coals nestled in a little hibachi.  I also got a side of blue cheese just in case I couldn’t handle the heat, and the celery was complimentary.  So I started off with the first wing, and I was expecting to get punched in the face with a fireball of spice.  Surprisingly, I was greeted instead with a savory and slightly garlicky heatwave that just spread the proverbial gasoline on the inside of my mouth.

The first wing goes down for the count

The next four to six wings decided to have a firework party while playing in the aforementioned gasoline a la Zoolander.  At this point, the back of my throat was quite scratchy and almost numb.  My lips and the surrounding area on my face just felt like it was touched up by a flamethrower, and I had a good sweat going on the whole time.  Plus, I kept in mind a key element to eating any sort of spicy food with your hands:  don’t rub your eyes even if you have an itch anywhere around them. I did try a wing or two in the superbly made blue cheese sauce that had whole blue cheese crumbles in it which was so much better than the blue cheese sauces I’ve sampled at Hooters and Buffalo Wild Wings.  While all of this was going on, my waitress kept coming by expecting the cowbell to be ringing out for mercy, but I just kept on truckin’ (like I’d ever stop truckin’ in the first place).  By the last wing, I downed it with gusto as my nose began to run slightly.  Perspiration aside, I knew that I had done something impressive especially judging by the shocked reaction from our waitress.  So I ended up getting my picture up on the digital Wall of Flame and the knowledge knowing that I had survived one hell of a challenge.  Unfortunately, they did not let me celebrate in true Will Ferrell fashion with adding more cowbell to the victory.

So for all of those thrill seekers/chili-heads out there, definitely try the XXX wing challenge at Jake Melnicks.  If spicy food isn’t for you, they also have a great variety of  delicious burgers (including an eight pound burger challenge), barbecue dishes with in-house smoked meats, hearty soups, savory sandwiches, and satisfying salads you can chow down on.

All done and it feels like I’ve smeared lava on my face

Jake Melnick's Corner Tap on Urbanspoon

Jake Melnick's Corner Tap on Foodio54

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