A Squared: Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Southern-Style Dining

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Southern-Style Dining

As I mentioned earlier this week, I'm just back in Chicago after a long week away in St. Simon's Island and Charleston. I had a great time in the southeast and, of course, had some really great food. I'm looking forward to telling you all about my trip and what I ate, but I definitely need a moment to catch my breath and get back to real life. In the meantime though, I wanted to share some recent Chicago restaurant reviews with you. I've still got shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, and cornbread on the brain and I'm pretty sure I will be craving that food for a while to come... so, if you're in Chicago like me and need a southern food fix, here are two great places to satisfy that craving:

Carriage House
Wicker Park

I have been wanting to give Carriage House a try for a long time now and recently, we stopped in on a whim, managed to grab a few seats at their bar, and enjoyed a really delicious southern-style dinner. Carriage House specializes in modern versions of low country classic dishes with a menu designed for sharing. Part of the menu consists of heartier supper dishes that would make a very satisfying main course for a couple of people and the rest of the menu consists of small plates. We ordered strictly from the small plates menu (both the Traditional and Reimagined sides) and with four of us at dinner we tried several different items. To spare you the details of every single one of them, I wanted to highlight a few of our favorites here today.

There was a lot of shrimp involved in this dinner, but those dishes that included it happened to all be some of my favorites. First up, the peel and eat shrimp. The shrimp was seasoned really simply with just a little seasoned salt and was served in the shell with these amazing grilled lemon halves to squeeze over the top. They were served with two different dipping sauces-- a really cool spicy smoked cocktail sauce and in southern tradition, a dijonnaise. This was definitely a messy eat-with-your-hands kind of food, but totally worth it. The shrimp was super moist and flavorful after being cooked with the shells still on.

Another great shrimp-centric dish at Carriage House is the shrimp and grits. It's one that I have heard many other Chicago food bloggers rave about before coming here, so I was set on giving this one a try. As the name suggests, it' s a simple preparation of creamy southern-style grits topped with shrimp cooked and served in a thick and flavorful brown hunter gravy. A few chunks of thick chopped ham were included in the sauce too, giving it a great salty savory lowcountry flavor. This version of shrimp and grits is authentic and really delicious.

And while we're talking about shrimp, let's hit one more dish featuring this delicious seafood, shall we? The fried green tomatoes at Carriage House are some of the best that I have ever had. The breading is crunchy and flaky and the tomatoes are topped with a combination of really interesting ingredients: creamed red beans (weird, but good) and pickled shrimp in a tangy spicy hot sauce vinaigrette. I absolutely loved this combination and thought it was one of the best things that we tried all night. I'm also nut usually a ceviche fan, but the pickled shrimp was flavorful and a perfect addition to this dish.

On the non-shrimp side of things, we also really enjoyed the fried chicken thigh. I wouldn't have given it a second look, but Alex insisted and it was a good choice! I snagged a bite or two, but he devoured it pretty quickly. The chicken was perfectly fried: crispy seasoned breading and the meat was still tender and juicy. They topped it here with homemade bread and butter pickles with a drizzle of honey and some sweet potato hot sauce on the side. If there are more than two people dining at your table, consider ordering two of these guys-- it is really good!

As I mentioned, we tried a ton of different dishes off of the menu here and these are just a few of the highlights. Before I wrap up this review though, I did just want to give some quick praise to the sides on this menu too! Carriage House serves up this amazing little skillet of warm cornbread and the real kicker is that it is served topped with fresh sweet strawberry preserves and savory foie butter... I mean, wow! It's such an odd, but delicious flavor combination and the perfect marriage of savory, sweet, and rich.

And if you're a pickle lover, make sure you order the pickle jar! The jar presentation is adorable and the housemade pickles are completely addictive.

Carriage House's modern take on traditional lowcountry food is such a fun and different option on the Chicago restaurant scene. It's the perfect place for a casual date night or an evening out with friends!
Carriage House on Urbanspoon

Chicago Q
Gold Coast

Alex and I are big barbecue fans and-- lucky for us-- a great selection of BBQ joints have popped up all over the city in the last few years. Most of these places are casual and bordering on divey (exactly what you'd expect from a barbecue restaurant, right?), with the exception of Chicago Q. Chicago Q is a white tablecloth restaurant in Chicago's posh Gold Coast neighborhood, serving up really good southern BBQ. It seems like a bit of an oxymoron, but it works-- and our countless dinners there are certainly proof!

Nothing makes this diner happier than when a restaurant automatically starts you out with a good snack to keep your hunger at bay-- fresh bread, chips and salsa, or at Chicago Q, housemade pickles and BBQ-flavored chips. The pickles are thick slices with a great sweet and sour (think bread and butter pickles) flavor with big chunks of onion and mustard seeds throughout. I'm a huge pickle fan and these are definitely some of the best! The chips are fresh and crispy with the great flavor of their house barbecue rub. We never have an issue with polishing off these starters super fast!

Chicago Q also offers some great southern-style appetizers to share. The last time we were there I gave the fried green tomatoes a try. They're crispy and served with a delicious Green Goddess dressing for dipping. Our favorite appetizer and one that we always order at Q is the House Bacon Cheddar Hushpuppies. My southern husband hates all food made with cornmeal: cornbread, corn dogs, grits, polenta, etc. He does, however, love these hushpuppies which is why photo of them is so bad-- I had to quickly snap it before he dove in! They are smoky and a bit spicy and served with an even spicier chipotle dipping sauce.

While Alex will move between their Kobe brisket, and St. Louis or Baby Back Ribs, I am a total creature of habit here and always order the pulled pork platter. It's a generous portion of slow cooked pork and saucing it is totally up to you. Each table receives a selection of sauces to mix, match, and add to their meals: Original Mild, Spicy, Eastern North Carolina Vinegar, and South Carolina Mustard Sauce. The latter two are my hands down favorites. My husband prefers the Spicy, which has a really good kick to it.

Also worth mentioning here are the sides. Each entree is available with your choice of sides: Fries (Alex's usual pick), an enormous slice of honey butter cornbread, or a heaping portion of coleslaw. I'm something of a slaw snob (growing up with a German grandmother will do that to you), but I really love theirs. The dressing is tangy and sweet and just creamy enough. I hate a slaw that's coated in a super thick mayo-based dressing, but this one is balanced really nicely. The cabbage is still crunchy and it's a great complement to spicy and flavorful barbecue.

If you can still possibly find any room after all of that, you should definitely consider sharing a dessert with your dinner companions. Chicago Q offers some great southern staples like seasonal pies (we have had a really good Key Lime here before), carrot cake, or this amazing Espresso Brittle Ice Cream. Espresso ice cream is sliced up, coated in homemade peanut brittle and served with chocolate sauce.

This is definitely not your standard BBQ joint, but always worth a trip!
Chicago Q on Urbanspoon

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