Friday, November 10, 2017

Wrigley BBQ or Smoke Gets in Your (Pork) Belly

The Slow and Savory Review

"It used to be funny when Hawk would talk about selling everything we own and buying a food truck, but I think he might be serious this time. The other day I caught him looking at listings for mobile smokers on eBay and he keeps dropping hints about an industrial deeper fryer he wants for Christmas!" Brandy's friend Bailey was explaining about her husband. "Well, life on the road has its advantages. But why has he come down with wanderlust all of the sudden?" "He's been watching a ton of barbecue shows and he thinks he needs to go South to brush up his skills." "Well, that's nonsense. There's wonderful barbecue right here in Chicago!" "But it's better in the South, isn't it?" "Tell you what. Get your coat and we'll go get some barbecue for brunch. Then you can tell me if you need to cross the Mason Dixon line to eat real meat."

Brandy took her friend along to check out the recently revamped Wrigley BBQ in the heart of East Lakeview. Since being taken over by Mitch Liebovich (who previous ran a successful barbecue restaurant in Pittsburgh), the entire menu has been renewed to focus on smoked meats (as opposed the previous menu, which put more focus on the sauces) and barbecue classics tweaked for the Midwestern palate. Mitch himself actually met with Brandy and Bailey, letting his passion for great food shine as he explained the changes he'd implemented so far and what he hoped to do in the future, including additions to some of the pre-existing restaurant design.

Getting themselves a glass of Cheerwine from the soda fountain (Brandy was over joyed to see the North Carolina favorite soft drink), they started in with an appetizer of fresh made Jalapeno Cornbread. Ever spice shy, Brandy was a little concerned, but the peppers just ended up lending more of smokey flavor than any heat. The bread texture was utterly perfect, being moist and bouncy without crumbling to pieces, and it had just the right amount of sweetness and grit to it.


Next up, the ladies decided to dive into an order of Chicken Nachos. The gigantic portion was more than a little intimidating, especially considering they still had more food coming in the pipeline, but they were both so happy after taking their first bite that they had decided to indulge. The nachos were deeply satisfying on every level, having been loaded with sour cream, shredded cheese, sweet corn, BBQ beans, succulent pulled chicken meat, and cool shredded lettuce. "There is no being delicate with a plate of food like this," Brandy commented, BBQ sauce penetrating the crevices between her fingernails and sour cream clinging to her lips. The biggest surprise was just how juicy and flavorful the chicken meat was. "I thought getting chicken would be a cop out, but this is amazing!" said Bailey.


Unable to decide between the Brisket Hash and the Biscuits and Gravy, Bailey compromised by ordering the hash with a side of gravy and a single biscuit. "I would have been happy with just the hash but once Mitch explained how he makes the gravy to order and actually puts his barbecued brisket into it, I knew I had to try some." Bailey, the ultimate gravy connoisseur, was not disappointed in the least; the gravy was hearty enough to be a meal in itself, and when combined with the surprisingly light and buttery biscuit, it was pure heaven. The hash wasn't anything to be sneezed at either, with a creamy cap of cheese covering a very generous helping of melt-in-the-mouth brisket, crispy potatoes, and topped by a perfectly fried egg.


Brandy picked the BELT, a take on a BLT with smoked and crisped pork belly in place of the bacon as well as sharp cheddar and avocado joining the party. The pork belly had a really unique texture from first having been smoked and then slightly crisped up, which Brandy rather enjoyed as a textural contrast next to the soft veggies and the Texas Toast. "It speaks to how well balanced this is that even with a rather large slab of meat in here, this sandwich isn't overly rich or greasy. That's a rare thing to find in a breakfast sandwich," she pointed out.


Finally, they decided to round out their meal with something sweet; the Bourbon Bread Pudding French Toast, which had a seasonal variation prepared with pumpkin bread. Instead of being presented in slices, this french toast came in thick cut sticks ("That's what we Brits call 'Soldiers.' Perfect for dipping into egg yolks," as Brandy explained to her friend). The result of having cut the toast in such a fashion was a very crispy exterior and a pure custard interior, and with this version having been made with real pumpkin puree, it gave the impression of being the filling of creamy pumpkin pie. Pouring the homemade bourbon syrup over that French toast was the single most satisfying experience Brandy had that day, possibly even that week. "I've never had a French toast like this!" Bailey exclaimed, "I'd say I want to bring some of this home so Hawk can try it, but I don't know if I'm going to be able to share."


Thoroughly stuffed, Brandy and Bailey finally began to pack up their things. Mitch's hospitality was certainly something that stuck with both of them, and the passion he so clearly put into his food impressed Bailey to such an extent that she was already planning to bring Hawk for a return visit before they had even left the restaurant. "I guess there really is good barbecue to be found in Chicago, if you know where to look," said Bailey. "I know where to look; under my finger nails. Next time, I'm bringing gloves," said Brandy.

The writers of this blog were invited to dine at the restaurant free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

The Short and Sweet Review



Friday, November 3, 2017

Bake or Brandy in Wonderland

The Slow and Savory Review

Once, long ago, Brandy dreamed of having her own bakery. She could picture it so clearly; she, standing behind the counter, smiling wistfully at the delighted children as they pointed at the brightly decorated cookies or the stoic adults who quietly tried to contain their excitement about buying themselves a slice of cake. In her fantasy, she'd start every day covered in flour and end every day smelling of coffee and butter. Sadly, once she finally began to learn the baker's trade, she found that she didn't have much patience for it. "I went a little crazy rolling out dough every morning. It just got everywhere! Under my finger nails, in my hair, on my face. And I could never get the macarons to bake with proper feet. My buttercreams always separated. And to this day whenever I see a piping bag, I get a slight shiver down my spine. I was just simply terrible at baking in a professional kitchen. It was then that I decided I would much rather be a spectator in the world of food rather than an athlete." Never the less, Brandy has always carried a soft spot for bakeries, and she often will wile away her mornings at such places, snacking on a variety of sweet and savory pastries while sipping on a smooth and frothy cup of coffee.

Always on the lookout, Brandy recently stumbled upon BAKE in Wicker Park. Their colorful decor was the first thing that attracted her attention; from the vibrant paper lanterns in the window to the creative art displays inside the shop (like a wall covered in tiny paper wrapped canvases and another spot where the word "BAKE" had been replicated in a variety of colors and fonts, to the chandelier in the middle of the ceiling that seemed to be made from a large tree branch painted silver and hung with crystals).


Stepping up to the counter, Brandy instantly became overwhelmed by the sight of all the beautiful baked goods, so she asked the lady behind it for some recommendations on the bakery's best offerings. With hands full of delectable treats, Brandy settled herself into a table by the window and started in.



Her drink of choice was a simple mocha, but it had been prepared very skillfully, which gave it an thick, foamy top. Though the chocolate was present, Brandy mostly tasted coffee in the drink, which she very much appreciated. It also had a very subtle sweetness, making it the perfect accompaniment to the variety of sugary delights before her.


Brandy started out with the Morning Bun, which the lovely girl behind the counter had pointed out as one of the bakery's top sellers. The bun had several layers of crispy dough on the outside and a wonderful chewy interior. It seemed to have been flavored with honey and just a touch of cinnamon, which put it somewhere in the family of a croissant and a cinnamon roll. "Oh, this kind of thing can be very dangerous," she said to herself.

Next, she moved on to her savory selection for the day, a slice of Bacon Quiche. The texture was incredibly silky and smooth with a prominent eggy flavor that some other quiches don't always get right. It did seem to be a little on the greasy side, though whether that was because of the bacon or from the copious amount of butter in the crust, she wasn't quite sure. Regardless, the bacon did add an excellent smokey flavor that permeated the quiche, but didn't overwhelm it.

Finally, she ended with a dessert, a Chocolate Cream Cheese Cupcake. The cake was very spongy and moist with a lovely dark chocolate flavor that wasn't too sweet. The frosting was an absolute dream of fluffy cream cheese and butter sprinkled in shredded coconut. "Simple, but delightful," Brandy concluded, "Just how everything in life should be."

Quite happy with what she had experienced so far, Brandy grabbed a second round of treats to take back home with her. Among her favorites were the house made chocolate croissants with lots of flaky layers, the chocolate chip scone, which was so enormous that she had to eat it across two different mornings, and the pear and cranberry pie, which resembled more of a crumble, but had a lovely sweet and tart flavor with just a hint of baking spices. But her favorite take away from BAKE was the Oatmeal Sandwich Cookie, which was positively bursting with buttercream filling. The texture of it was crisp, yet soft, and the flavor was pure brown sugar, yet it was never cloying. "Toss those chocolate sandwich cookies in the trash and give me a box full of these!" she loudly declared after taking a bite of the amazing cookie.




All in all, BAKE had many of the things Brandy likes to see in a bakery; a whimsical atmosphere, a handful of savory options, great control when it comes to sweeter foods, wonderful coffee drinks, and a real sense of joy behind it all. "If I had ever opened my own bakery, it most certainly would have looked a lot like that place," she commented to no one in particular, "But I think at this point in my life I'd much rather get up early to eat those morning buns rather than getting up early to make them!"

The writers of this blog were invited to dine at the restaurant free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

The Short and Sweet Review