Thursday, June 21, 2012

What a Day!

It’s been a busy few weeks at work and at home, so I haven’t had much time to post.  But I was having a not so hot start to my day today and decided,  I was going to update you all on some of the things we’ve been doing as of late.

The Husband’s Extravaganza week went off without a hitch. We had tons and tons of fun with so many wonderful friends. I’d like to thank them all for coming out in the hot hot heat and spending about 13 hours celebrating all over Chicago.

The Husband and I have had a tradition for a few years. In honor if his birthday, once a year we go to Hoosier Mama Pie Company on Ashland and Chicago for some pie before spending five or six hours wandering around The Brookfield Zoo and then heading out to dinner and drinks at varying locations.  Each year we’ve added more and more people to the mix. This year was our biggest year yet.
The morning started a little rough, the night before we spent over six hours at The Kitchen Table at Aviary (that post is to follow) and The Husband had a little too much fun with some super rare beers. So we got a later start than he had initially wanted, 10:15am. For those people who know me, after being out until 1am any place, the idea of waking up and being dressed and ready to go someplace by 10:15 the following morning, is tantamount to torture. The Husband’s Partner in Residency Crime can tell you many a mornings he’s watched The Husband literally drag me out of bed so we can go someplace. However, because I am madly in love with this man, I dragged myself out of bed much earlier than normal on a weekend (recently I’ve been averaging an 11:30am wake up…pretty fantastic if you ask me).

So, six of us walked into Hoosier Mama on a Saturday morning at 10:30am, and ordered a mass amount of pie, that sounds like the start of a joke. It isn’t.  If you’ve never been Hoosier Mama is this deliciously wonderful little, and I do mean little, shop.  Inside there’s probably about space to seat 10 people, in this teeny tiny shop and six of those seats are in a recessed bay window and when the line forms, the place feels like the El at 8am on a Monday morning.   The Husband loves their Apple Rhubarb Pie; he’s a huge fan of Rhubarb pies and hasn’t ever seen another with that combination. It is fantastic, a little sweet, a little tart, with a delicious crumble on the top.  What makes her pie so amazing is not only the ingredients inside, but also her crusts. People forget the importance of a deliciously flaky crust, especially in open pies. I ordered her Chocolate Chess pie, it’s my favorite and reminds me of a slightly undercooked light brownie. One friend ordered the Hoosier Mama Sugar Pie, HOLY COW! Fantastic. It tasted like a light whipped caramel pie. As I just said, I’m normally a chocolate lover, but her Sugar Pie gave the Chess Pie a run for its money. We also had the Boston Crème Pie, amazing chocolate pudding with fresh and perfectly whipped whip cream and another slice of the Apple Rhubarb, because it was that good.  Hoosier Mama also has savory pies that we dug into (because you’ve got to mix the sweet with something) so we had the BBQ Pork Pie which was a huge heaping of perfectly pulled pork with a flaky crust that I could not figure out what was in it, but I think cheese and a side of pickled ramps. Oh wow.  And we finished the pie bonanza off with a Chicken Tomatillo Pie.  Perfectly cooked chicken with a delicious Salsa Verde. It was an awesome way to start the day.

A view from the bay window booth at Hoosier Mama

After stuffing ourselves with Pie, we headed to the Zoo. Because obviously that is what you do after you eat mass amounts of sugar. Many hours of sun and fun, we all went our separate ways to shower off the sweat from the day and meet up in Andersonville at Big Jones, a restaurant that focuses on “Southern Heirloom Cooking from New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and the Carolina’s Low Country”. The space is warm and inviting and while our waitress was a little….odd….she had spot on service and didn’t miss a thing. 

There were seven of us at dinner, and between us we ordered most of the menu.  We started with the Hot and Spicy Boiled Peanuts which were just perfect. I had never had boiled green peanuts before and there were perfect. Soft, salty a bit of a kick, we spent a good portion of the night munching on these.

Sorry, these are all dark. But you can see the messy deliciousness
From there we ordered the Acadian Andouille. The sausage was soft and wonderful. We added to that Potato & Goat Cheese Croquettes, huge fried balls filled with creamy goat cheese and potato. Honestly, they were good, but compared to everything else we had, my least favorite.  We followed that with a large bowl of Gumbo Ya-Ya. Their gumbo is a deep dark coffee colored brown, which I’ve learned isn’t my favorite gumbo, I like it a little lighter, but even still this was delicious. The chicken and pork were so tender. We finished off the Appetizers with the Crawfish Boudin Balls, rice, sausage, crawfish rolled together, breaded and fried with a side of a spicy mayo. Boudin Balls are one of my favorite New Orleanais delicacies. The juxtaposition of the crispy warm fried outside and the soft rice and meat inside is always a winning combination. These were darn near close to flawless. The crawfish were sweet and not overpowering or fishy, the sausage rice was salty and perfect.

The Gumbo Ya-Ya, see how dark it is?!

The inside of the Boudin Ball
We followed out bang up appetizers with some Main Courses. Three of the seven people got the  Farmhouse Chicken and Dumpling, two of us got the Crawfish Etouffee, one got the Shrimp and Grits and another got the Chicken Fried Mushroom.

I had initially looked at the Chicken and Dumplings, but because I’m not a huge cream-based fan, I decided against it. I was pleasantly surprised when it came out that the dumplings were surrounded by perfectly cooked juicy chunks of chicken in a light chicken broth.  All three of the people who ordered this dish were southern, and were a little surprised, because they all expected a thicker soup. However, even though it wasn’t what they expected, everyone was happy and I had a moment of second guessing my order. Normally I’m a fan of pork, but this time I decided to step out of my box and get the crawfish. Fish is generally hit or miss with me, I really don’t like super fishy fish. I normally go more towards mahi-mahi or swordfish over salmon, but when in Rome.
The surprising Chicken and Dumplings

 The Husband’s Partner in Residency Crime also ordered the Crawfish, and our dinners came out late, like, everyone else had finished their food late. However we didn’t really notice because we were all having a great time chatting and tasting everyone else’s food.  Our waitress apologized and informed us that they had just brought on a new sauciere and thought that starting him that night would be good, because it was going to be slow due to the street festival. As he was making our dinner, the sauce broke two different times. So in our case, third time was a charm and what a win it was. It was totally worth the wait. The Etouffee came out and the smell alone was amazing. The white wine and butter sauce was delicate and complemented the sweetness of the crawfish well. The Cajun spices were wonderful and super aromatic. Whatever second guesses I had initially had about not getting the Chicken and Dumplings were totally washed away after the first bite. And because of how late it was, the restaurant gave us both our dinners on the house; which was very nice of them (because I would have paid for this without even questioning). 

The Etouffee

The Husband ordered the Shrimp and Grits (as it is one of his favorite southern dinners) and was happy as a clam. He kindly shared bites of his dinner with everyone, but I knew that secretly he was thinking “I’m coming back and getting this again and not sharing with anyone else.” He also had the look of "Yeah, this is pretty fantastic and the rest of you decided to order things NOT this? Silly fools." Obviously this dish was a hit.

And finally the Chicken Fried Mushroom.  So if you are not from the south, the idea of Chicken Frying anything is confusing. We’ve had friends come down and visit us while in college and see “Chicken Fried Steak” on the menu and ask if it was chicken AND steak? How did it work?  It’s  a little confusing, but you can pretty much Chicken Fry anything.  It’s similar to Wiener Schnitzel, in that it’s a piece of meat or in this case Hen of the Woods mushroom (Big Jones currently has Chicken Fried Morel Mushrooms on the menu…may have to go back sooner rather than later) that is immersed in egg wash and/or dredged in seasoned flower and then fried in a skillet. Country frying something is the same idea, but without the egg wash. So the Chicken Fried Mushroom comes out and ooooh man, it’s wonderful. As noted from my previous post, I do love me some Hen of the Woods mushrooms, so this was pretty much amazing. Salty, earthy, crispy, crunchy and warm; bliss.
Chicken Fried Mushroom

We thought we were over for the night, but one of our friends saw the dessert list and decided we needed some. So instead of ordering one, we ordered three.  The Peanut Gooey Butter Cake, The Chocolate and Black Walnut Tart and the Strawberry Shortcake. I mean, why not bookend your day with sweets for breakfast and dessert.

Everything was delicious. The Peanut Butter Cake was described as a slice of childhood, and it was. It came with a grape sorbet that complemented the gooeyness of the cake wonderfully. The Chocolate tart was warm and rich and the buttermilk ice cream was smoked and tasted a bit like bacon. However my favorite was the Strawberry Shortcake. After all of the sweets we had all day, THIS was my favorite. The strawberries were so fresh, the Shortcake so flaky. Heaven.

I should also add, that the beverage service at Big Jones is really excellent. If you’re looking for a good southern drink, this is the place to go. The Gin Julep, the Sazerac, The Moscow Mule and their punches were all spot on.

After finishing our dinner, which for seven people cost next to nothing we strolled down the block to Hop Leaf for a night cap. Exhausted and satiated, we each had a Belgium beer before calling it a night. 

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