Last year we went to New Orleans and had some pretty decent Louisiana Southern Cooking, including some of that gumbo. I had heard from some local NOLA alumni that the place to get Southern Food in Chicago was at Big Jones in Andersonville. So I booked it for lunch to see what their gumbo was like and try some more of that Southern Food.
When I perused the menu I just could not really decide what to get, I wanted to try the gumbo, but I also wanted rice and beans, and I wanted the chicken and dumpling soup, and also I really fancied getting my hands and mouth around their butcher’s platter. I kind of figured that was not realistic, so we settled on sharing the ‘Butchers block’, and a small gumbo each.
I wasn’t going to mention it as on the face of it, this is just cornbread. But I cannot lie, I have never had corn bread like this before. It arrived warm straight from the oven, it was savoury and sweet at the same time. The soft bread was interspersed with chunks of fresh sweetcorn. If this was anything to go by, then I had a feeling that we were going to be in for a good meal.
The Butchers Block is listed as ‘Authentic Cajun charcuterie made in house’. On the face of it the board does not look that big or overwhelming, but we were pretty full by the end of eating it, and we had not even got the gumbo yet. But lets get back to that board.
Left to Right we had
On the top left some ‘Potted Guinea Hen’ which was “Local guinea fowl preserved in its own aspic with Madeira and herbs, served with sweet quince pickle, bourbon-brown sugar mustard” I was really quite taken with this one. The guinea fowl meat was nice and gamey, the aspic was well flavoured kept the whole piece quite juicy. It came with slices of sweet quince which really added light sweetness to each mouthful.
On the bottom left was the Tête de Cochon, a hog’s head pâté, made with brandy and peppercorns. This was accompanied with bourbon-brown sugar mustard. You really needed to use the mustard to cut through the strong flavour. I enjoyed this one the least, it was good but the strong flavour from my initial bite, became stronger with the next bite.
Top Middle was the black pudding or rather the official name was Boudin Rouge. This was a cajun blood sausage, I am not sure exactly what was in it, but it did have a mild cinnamon flavour which I thought was a bit unusual. I really liked it.
Bottom Middle was the Andouille sausage which is Slow-smoked over pecan wood, quite nice but this had the least distinctive flavour of all the charcuterie items on the board.
Top right was my favourite item of all the board. This was the Tasso Ham, the menu describes this as ‘Heavily spiced, dry cured and smoked for two days’, it had a really good mild curry flavour, it went well with the pimiento cheese, and piccalilli. There were also some house made benne crackers which also were good with the cheese.
Overall this was a really good butcher’s board. I would have liked a little more explanation of everything on it, but that was just a minor thing. I had taken a picture of that section of the menu on my phone, so we just kept referring back to that to see what we were eating.
After all that a nice warm bowl of the Gumbo Ya-Ya arrived, the menu describes this as a ‘Traditional Cajun chicken & sausage gumbo in dark, smoky roux, with buttered aromatic rice from Arkansas’ It was a little different from the gumbo that I had in New Orleans, it certainly had the right dark colour for the roux which showed me that it had been cooked down for the right amount of time, it was however a little bit more bitter tasting than I remembered. I still enjoyed it, but the bitterness and the deep richness of the sauce made me glad I had only got the starter size.
I quite liked Big Jones, but it made me realise that some of that food I got down in New Orleans may not have been quite the same, maybe I was just getting the stuff they give to tourists. I may not go back to Big Jones, but I have a resolve to go back down South to see if I can get some better local cajun food.
Check out the menu and the details at http://www.bigjoneschicago.com