Belly Q Knows How to Throw a BBQ – West Loop

Wednesday night in Chicago, Tasting Table and Belly Q teamed up for a huge summer BBQ in the West Loop and it was what a BBQ should be. Great company, plenty of drinks, ridiculously delicious food and a really fun atmosphere.

Want to get a glimpse of more food and inside the BellyQ party? Check out my video!

Belly Q Alicia and Dana

We were greeted and given the low down on where to get our drinks, food and hang out. The crowd was lively, music was good and the smells from the kitchen were unbelievable. We grabbed a drink (Hendrick’s gin & tonic with cucumber and Prosecco) and proceeded to have appetizers of rice-paper rolls with cucumber, soba noodles and mint and crispy tofu with sweet-and-sour sauce. These had great flavor and were a perfect crisp and light start to the richer meat that was to come.

I didn’t get a chance to try the shrimp with curry sauce but it looked delicious and people were snatching it up quickly. Continue reading

Memphis – Elvis, BBQ and The Peabody Duck March

Graceland Elvis

What do you do when you find yourself with six hours to spend in Memphis? The first thing is to get yourself to Graceland the home of Elvis Presley. It will not win any awards from Architectural Digest but it is definitely something to see and has a lot of character. The house and property are across Elvis Presley Boulevard from the sprawling complex that houses gift shops, restaurants, RV Park & campground, Heartbreak Hotel, and chapel for weddings.

After taking the obligatory picture with a cheesy background places sell you, we board the bus to drive across the street (they won’t let you walk to the house, need to be on the bus to enter the property) we began a self-guided tour. The living and dining rooms are pretty tame in decoration. It is when you get to the kitchen, back of the house and basement the fun begins. Continue reading

Dinner & Brunch @ Chicago Q – Gold Coast

Image courtesy of Chicago Q Facebook page

Led by chef Lee Ann WhippenChicago Q offers comfort food in an “urban” BBQ setting. Think a crisp mint julep and the Kentucky Derby in the city. I have some Chicago favorites for BBQ including Lillie’s Q and Smoque BBQ but Chicago Q is unique in that it not only servers great BBQ but the space is more upscale with beautiful wood, great natural light and impressive service. My eye was drawn to the over-sized photograph of a country road that was framed to look like you were looking out of a window. It left me wondering where that truck was going.

This review is long over due with my first visit in May 2011. I went back earlier this year and just last weekend for brunch. One my second visit I was waiting for the rest of the party to arrive so went to the bar and was served an 88 Pimm’s that was delicious. In addition to the drink the bartender sporting a gingham shirt also served up butter pickles and house made chips. I asked how the butter pickles were made but they were keeping that a secret. If I left only eating the pickles and chips I would have been happy.

Since I was hogging the pickles and chips my dinner partner ordered the BBQ shrimp and lemon infused the grits. I am not a huge shrimp fan but was assured they were good. Also not always into grits but I tried these and it was very flavorful. If you like grits you will like this dish.

I can never decide what to order at a BBQ restaurant so the Q2 (One Pulled Meat + Half Chicken or Half Slab) and Q3 (Two Pulled Meats + Half Chicken or Half Slab) are great options for a commitment phobe like me. They are also great for sharing/family style eating. The Q2 we ordered had the pulled pork and baby back half slab and cornbread and bruleed macaroni and cheese. The downside of having great sides is you might not have enough room for the entrée. The corn bread was served warm with sweet butter and very moist. The macaroni and cheese was rich and creamy and enough to satisfy three people.

The pulled pork was juicy, full of flavor and very tender. Next decision to make was which of the house-made sauces to use: original mild, spicy, Eastern North Carolina vinegar and South Carolina Mustard Sauce. All of the sauces were tasty with my favorites being the spicy and Eastern North Carolina.

The baby back ribs fell off the bone and the sauce was amazing. I did add some of the house-made sauces only because I like ribs drenched in sauce. As you can guess there was no room for dessert.

This past weekend I was looking for a place close to downtown to go for brunch and Chicago Q popped up. I had no idea they served brunch but was sure it would be as good as dinner. I was right. If you don’t like the descriptions below then know they have $5 mimosas.

I did not order this dish but had a bite and will be back to order one for myself, the smoked chicken eggs Benedict: honey butter cornbread topped with smoked chicken, poached eggs, hollandaise sauce and served with home fries. The picture does not do it justice but please believe me when I tell you this is one of my favorite eggs Benedict. The honey butter on the cornbread provided an unexpected sweetness to the smoked chicken. The chicken was juicy and flavorful. We all know that hollandaise sauce is fabulous so I don’t need to go into detail on that.

I ordered the Niman Ranch hickory & apple smoked bacon sausage breakfast sandwich topped with cheddar and two eggs. Served with mesclun greens. This sandwich is big enough for at least two people. It’s more of a high-end sausage hot dog.

After brunch I wandered upstairs and found a cozy hang out area with leather couches and a flat screen TV. There are also two private dining rooms.

Crisp in Lakeview – Best Chicken Wings in Chicago

Last week I wrote about my second favorite wings in the city here. This brings me to my absolute, hands down favorite wings in Chicago, Crisp Buffalo Spicy Wings. People, these wings are amazing! Get out of your head any ideas of dry shriveled bar food that might have scared you off in the past. This Korean/American restaurants serves up for real wings that are huge and juicy. Trust me.

Crisp is fairly small with a sleek interior (chrome counters and wood communal tables) that caters to delivery and take-out. The vibe is laid back and friendly with the cyclist delivery guys/girls coming in and out along side a steady stream of pick-ups from a diverse looking crowd. The setup and atmosphere kind of remind me of Urbanbelly.

Crisp Dining Room

I am close enough to Crisp to have lightning fast delivery but far enough away that the walk is too long so I mostly order in.  If I lived closer I would eat there. Now is the moment I admit that I have ordered from Crisp at least 25 times. I haven’t branched out from some favorites but I am sure that everything on the menu is memorable.

The usual order is a Baby Buddha Bowl and 10 Buffalo Spicy Wings shared by two people and most of the time there are leftovers. Crisp has huge portions of quality food at very reasonable prices.

Crisp Buffalo Spicy Wings & Baby Buddha Bowl

I know I said it before but I want to reiterate, these wings are huge. I usually only eat two; if I am feeling extra hungry I go for three. The whole jumbo wings come with your choice of sauce and I am a fan of the Bud’s spicy buffalo sauce (comes in mild, spicy or suicide). Yes, these wings are very crisp and spicy with minimal grease. Once you try these you will become, as I have, a Crisp Addict. Due to the mess factor and compulsion to get every last piece of meat off the bone, probably not good idea for a first date or if you have a broken arm (I found that out first hand…sorry, no pun intended).

Crisp Buffalo Spicy Wings

The Buddha Bowl comes in small (Baby Buddha), medium (Original Bad Boy Buddha) and large (Big Boy Buddha). It’s their take on the Korean dish Bi Bim Bop with “an American twist.”

Crisp Buddha Bowl Selection

The Baby Buddha is surprisingly tasty for such a healthy dish. It comes with marinated spinach, bean sprouts, carrots and zucchini served over rice (you can order brown rice instead of white). Served with a perfectly cooked fried egg with sesame seeds and a side of Gochujang sauce. I alternate between this sauce and Sriracha sauce.

Crisp Baby Buddha Bowl

When I don’t feel like wings I get the Not So Common Crisp sandwich: Deep fried chicken breast fillet with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mayo and either Crisp BBQ, Seoul Sassy or Buffalo sauces. Comes in regular size and double with great bread, crisp tomatoes and of course phenomenal chicken.

I have also had the wings with the Seoul Sassy sauce – “…A subtly sweet sauce prepared with ginger, soy, garlic and other select spices make this a crowd favorite.”  I would also recommend this sauce. It’s not a spicy sauce but it has a very unique almost complex flavor going on.

So to sum it up, go to Crisp ASAP. It is also BYOB. OK?

Crisp 2940 N Broadway Ave Chicago, IL 60657

I Ate Alligator | Union Sushi + Barbeque – River North

I didn’t plan on it, it just happened one night in River North. So began my meal at Union Sushi + Barbeque. Seems to be the “it” thing this year in Chicago, sushi & BBQ.  Said alligator is pictured above on the right-hand side. Looks harmless, doesn’t it? Someone asked me if it was crispy, it was not. It had the consistency of chicken just a bit heartier tasting. I did go back and ordered the alligator again and they were out so it must be popular. My recommendation is to try it. It won’t hurt and the portion is so small you don’t have to commit to a full appetizer or entrée and you can feel adventurous.

From left to right:

PROSCIUTTO-WRAPPED SCALLOP | wasabi-avocado purée, sweet plum sauce, fried ginger – Very tasty and the most interesting item from the barbeque bar to me (including the alligator). Plum sauce and ginger were a good complement to the scallop.

CHICKEN THIGH | Japanese-curry – Good flavor but with so many other items on the menu I wouldn’t order again.

BEEF FILET | ginger-soy – I did not try this but my meat-loving dining partner really liked it.

ALLIGATOR | garlic-soy + Kirin Light  – You should try it just to try it. Heartier like a venison but not strong flavor.

WHOLE SQUID | tare-soy – Pictured below. I did not try it but was told it was good and it would be a repeat order.

Having the BBQ part out-of-the-way I moved on to the sushi/seafood. First up was the truffled tuna with truffle oil, avocado, parmesan, chile fresco + wonton chips. For some reason I couldn’t initially taste the truffle oil but once I did it made the dish worth ordering.

Next: OYSTERS ON THE HALF SHELL | (6) red tobiko, green onion, crispy shallot + jalapeno-cilantro ponzu. I’m not a huge oyster eater but the flavor combination was great. The green onion with the texture of the crispy shallot was really good. Bold but in a delicate way…if that makes any sense. These were ordered again on the second visit.

The Union Rolls look a lot more interesting than the classic rolls so we went for those and were not disappointed. You can order half-orders of all the rolls so it makes it easier to try more at one time.

OLD CITY MARKET | spicy tuna, seared salmon, spicy ponzu, cilantro, green onion, fried okra + wrapped in collard green. I really like the collard green wrap. The fish tasted fresh and did not seem hidden behind all the flavors. It was ordered on the second visit.

THE BELLY ROLL | hamachi, cucumber, orange tobiko, scallion, chili paste aioli, crispy tempura crumbs, fried pork belly strips + eel sauce. I loved this roll, yes there is pork belly on top and it seems weird but it worked. Another repeat order.

Besides the rolls my next favorite thing about Union Sushi + Barbeque  were the craft cocktails.

THE SPARROW BEE | El Dorado 5 year Rum, Lemon, Honey Syrup, Mint, Bittercube Jamaican #2 Bitters. This is the type of drink that if you are not careful you finish it in no time. Not because you want a buzz but because you don’t want the perfect taste to end. When you take the first sip and your eyes get bigger and you say, “Oh my god, this is so good, you have to try it.” Then the person with you is bummed because your drink is so much better.

That is unless you ordered the NIGHT SCENE | Sobieski Vodka, Rock Sake, Cocchi Americano, Combier Orange Liqueur, Bittercube Orange Bitters.  Another perfectly balanced drink and deceptively strong as the vodka is hardly tasted.

I did get a dessert but don’t necessarily recommend it. Tasted like prepackaged dessert: KILLER YUZU PIE | coconut biscuit crust, fresh whipped cream

Before the rolls and cocktails, my favorite thing about Union Sushi + BBQ is the space itself. It is nice and open, visually interesting and the music is great. The atmosphere makes it hard to leave and miss going to Up Bar that is you guessed it, upstairs to continue the night.