On this Monday holiday and the unofficial last day of summer I wanted tell you a little bit more about some of our recent restaurant visits. Since we're celebrating one of America's favorite holidays today, one that usually centers around cookouts and beach barbecues, I thought it only appropriate that we honor some American classics in this edition of Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits. These restaurants are located all over Chicago, but they feature food that is quintessentially American: Southern comfort food, big juicy burgers, New England lobster rolls, and classic BBQ.
Happy Labor Day and happy eating!
I have been anxious to try Big Jones for a long time, but it's "far
away" Andersonville location has kept me away for many years. Recently
though, we joined a group for dinner there after a street festival in the neighborhood and
it was everything I had hoped it would be. The restaurant is super cute--
well done, but not pretentious and full of southern charm. They have fun southern-inspired cocktails and punches featuring whiskey, bourbon, and other southern staple ingredients. Oh, and the food
is great. The menu is upscale, but stays really true to southern
comfort cuisine. Our table started with the potato and goat cheese
croquettes and the pickle tasting plate, which was so much fun. Imagine
every kind of vegetable; pickled. Love it! I went with one of my
favorites for an entree: shrimp and grits. The portion was generous, the
grits were creamy and perfectly cooked, and the gravy was great. I
pretty much cleaned my plate. One of the highlights of the whole meal
for me was the plate of warm cornbread muffins with honey butter that
they bring to every table. They were so warm, moist (important for
cornbread), and delicious-- the perfect southern take on a bread basket.
As a food lover living in Chicago, it is pretty much a sin that it took me so long to finally eat at Kuma's for the first time. Kuma's is a heavy metal burger bar known as the spot for burgers in the city. It is very much off the beaten path, but burger fans are almost always waiting out on the street or in neighborhood bars for the hostess to find them a seat. It's legendary. We finally visited with some friends who are Kuma's devotees: in fact, she went to Kuma's for a burger and mac and cheese the day after her wedding for her first "real" meal after weeks of wedding dress dieting. That says something, right?
The first thing to know is that the portions here are all enormous. We started with a bowl of mac and cheese to share between the four of us and it could have easily served as dinner in and of itself. You can customize your own mac and cheese at Kuma's with a variety of add ins (an option that makes me super happy!) and we went with a combo of chicken, bacon, and broccoli. And now for the burgers... even as someone who is not a ground beef fan (I'm more of a turkey or bison burger kind of girl), these burgers were just amazing. Their topping/flavor combinations are really interesting and there is something for everyone here. I went with the Yob, which was topped with a roasted red pepper, garlic mayo, bacon, and smoked gouda. It was so rich, so tasty, and really just delicious. Our friends are big fans of the Led Zeppelin, which is topped with pulled pork shoulder, BBQ sauce, and bacon. Alex ordered the spicy Pantera topped with salsa, poblanos, and tortilla strips. I can't wait to go back.
For a New England girl like me, Da Lobsta was such a fun place to find in Chicago! It's a little east coast-style lobster shack tucked away in the swanky Gold Coast neighborhood. Da Lobsta's specialty is the traditional New England lobster roll and I have to say, they do a really nice job. Meaty chunks of fresh tasting lobster in a buttery bun with just enough mayo and a bag of Cape Cod potato chips on the side is the way to do a lobster roll right and that's what they serve up here. Da Lobsta also has a great selection of creative lobster rolls: Greek with feta and cucumber, Mexican with salsa and avocado, and Asian with soy sauce and slaw, to name a few. Alex and I decided that for our first trip we'd go with the traditional roll, but I definitely want to try something different next time. They have a variety of other New England-esque menu options too: Lobster dip, shrimp cocktail, clam chowder, and a really yummy lobster mac and cheese that we split. It was rich, cheesy, and included big chunks of lobster. I read recently that the Da Lobsta is also coming to the Chicago French Market next month-- can't wait for that! I see many more lobster rolls in my future...
Lillie's is one of a handful of go to restaurants for Alex and me. We love that they have a stall nearby in the French Market, but their flagship restaurant in Bucktown is one of our favorite places. The restaurant is always bustling and the atmosphere is energetic, but still very laidback. It is a barbecue joint, after all.
The food here is consistently good and Alex and I order pretty much the same thing every time we come here. That's a little boring, I know. But we know what we like. Here's the lowdown: We like to start by sharing an order of the fried pickles. The pickles are cut into thick diagonal slices (and not spears), so they get nice and crispy-- not soggy-- when breaded and fried. They are served with a buttermilk ranch dipping sauce and are definitely some of the best fried pickles that I have tried.
For entrees, I always order the pulled pork sandwich southern style (read: served with coleslaw on top) and Alex usually orders the tri-tip sandwich. And let's talk about sauce for a minute. Lillie's meats are dry rubbed, but each table is equipped with a selection of their homemade sauces so that you can customize your barbecue experience. I have tried several of their sauces, but my hands down favorite is their Carolina Gold: a Carolina-style mustard-based barbecue sauce. It has great tang. Alex usually goes for the Hot Smoky because his food motto is the hotter the better. It isn't a super spicy sauce, but the flavor is definitely the boldest of any they offer. Lillie's also sells their bottled sauces in their restaurants and online. I sent a few to my dad for Father's Day and he has had a great time experimenting with them on the grill at home.
Sides are served a la carte and are shareable here, which is fun since it gives you the opportunity to share a few things. We usually go for their mac and cheese and fries, which are always tasty. I really enjoy Lillie's baked beans, but Alex isn't a fan (of any baked beans) so this time around we tried the green beans. They're pretty simply prepared and served with crispy bacon pieces. It wasn't my favorite Lillie's side, but it also made me feel like I added a somewhat healthy element to my meal so there is an upside.
Normally we are too full for dessert after a meal at Lillie's, but this time around we were starving. All of the dessert options sounded great, but as soon as Alex heard that the seasonal shortcake they were serving included strawberries and a key lime curd (his favorite) he was sold on that. It was a really delicious combination paired with a crumbly shortcake and homemade whipped cream. Yum.
Lillie's is pretty affordable for a Bucktown restaurant with such good food, but I am not complaining. Also, they do not accept reservations so if you are coming in on a weekend (especially with a larger party) plan accordingly. As an aside, Lillie's Q experienced a major fire this past winter and was closed for several months to rebuild. They rebuilt and reopened in what seems like record time and we couldn't be happier that they are back open for business. Welcome back, Lillie's!