Chicago Patio and BBQ time at Porkchop

During May, National BBQ month, we were invited to give Porkchop West Loop a try.

This is one of those restaurants we always drove by on Randolph and thought, yup, someday we need to try that.  Of course, Chicago BBQ has tough competition compared to BBQ meccas like Memphis and Kansas City.  We do have a smattering of saucy spots like Porkchop, however, to tickle your taste buds.

Look and Feel

Think Austin mixed with Chicago mixed with Deliverance.  Rustic wood is the format for the space with saws dotting one wall (let’s do some DIY crafting), yet the bar space, snuggling cozily under a staircase, is hipster chic with mason jar hanging above.

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Superior Service

Melanie, our bartender/server, popped out from behind the bar counter to immediately seat us.  The vibe here won’t be killed as the atmosphere is warm and unfussy.  Paper towel roll napkins are ready to wipe BBQ coated finger tips, with cutlery and BBQ sauce options flanking both sides to convenience you.

Pretty Patio

If there is one thing Chicagoans are constantly searching for, it’s patios and rooftops.  The Holy Grail of the season, patio seating is in high demand.  Porkchop offers open air seating inside when weather is nice and a small patio for prime people watching.  Patio doggies are welcome as well.  We spotted 2 cute baby boxers at patio play during our dinner.

Food for the Masses

Portion sizes are Texas style, large so leftovers are an expectation.  We sampled the fried okra, mac and cheese and chicken tacos as starters. Stop judging ;).  The mac and cheese was rich and creamy and, good lawd, the noodles were nonstop.  The chicken taco meat was well seasoned and sprinkled with onions and cilantro and the fried okra breading was light, crispy and slightly addicting.

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For dinner, we were close to full but wanted an excuse to drizzle more foods with BBQ sauce.  We ordered the fried chicken sandwich and pulled pork sandwich.  Both come with hand cut fries, the yum kind with skins still on. The pulled pork was juicy but I prefer mine super saucy so I used the Chicago Style BBQ sauce, infused with rosemary and olive oil, to douse it. The chicken sandwich was pounded thin and had a peppery breading.  It didn’t disappoint either with it’s buttery bun and simple slice of red onion and crisp lettuce.

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Veg options are available including a handmade veggie burger and a wealth of sides. May we suggest an all sides meal?!

We would love to go back and gorge on their brunch, which features southern specialties like fat Elvis Waffles, shrimp and grits and Johnny Cakes.

So what’s our final Q-cision?  If you’re looking for a low key night, solid happy hour, portions for the whole fam, and a quaint patio, Porkchop can deliver with minimal Q mess and no stress.

 

*Porkchop offered a free meal for honest review.  We were not paid for these opinions and they are our own.*

 

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Oo La La: Fresh French Fare in Humboldt Park

You relax with an espresso in one hand and a flaky croissant at finger tips reach.  Sun beams on you as you slowly sip and watch the world go by.  If you got no money for Europe but want to take a lunch mini vacay, Cafe Marie Jeanne is a tiny escape for your hour.

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Only 6 months out of opening, Cafe Marie Jeanne is situated in a prime corner of Humboldt Park.  This Parisian inspired cafe is nestled in a quiet yet booming restaurant area so you still feel serene when visiting.

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Executive Chef Mike Simmons, part owner, is an import from nearby Rootstock wine bar and yummy Lula Cafe in nearby Logan Square.  The menu focuses on a la carte grab and go items mixed with more hearty lunch and dinner fare.  Vegan and veggie options are available and there is a smattering of seafood for pescatarian as well.  A small wine and cocktail menu make this an unharried bunch destination as well.  Don’t trust the menu online, however, as Cafe Marie Jeanne picks up local produce, thus switching up some of the offerings based on what is most fresh and seasonally tasty.

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We noshed on 3 different dishes to get a feel for their lunch service.

Curried Sweet Potato Soup

April, with snow and rain, and even the first day of May have not been too kind to us Chicagoan.  This steamy and creamy bowl of soup warms the soul with fragrant curry that tampers down the sometimes saccharine sweet potato.

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Raclette with Seasonal Roasted Vegetables

Our culinary pièce de résistance — Think of this as a fancy grilled cheese piled high with heart healthy veggies.  Roasted root vegetables give the sandwich a savory and filling profile.  The raclette, a semi-hard  cow’s milk cheese, is a magic melter, giving the crusty homemade bread a smattering of delicious fondue like goodness.

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White Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce

Funny story about white asparagus – many people don’t know it exists.  It’s like a ghost veggie.  Dig this weird veggie fact: white Asparagus lacks pigment because it is kept buried and deprived of sun, almost like it’s in a veg bomb shelter.  The lack of chlorophyll gives it a pale complexion in addition to it being more tender and mild than it’s hulk counterpart.  We liked the easy crunch of the asparagus but couldn’t taste anything outstanding in the hollandaise sauce.  Side note: it’ll still make your pee smell funny.

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Quick tip: Looking to explore more than one spot in the neighborhood?  Restaurant hop and grab a homemade piece of hibiscus key lime pie across the street at Spinning J, break out your cash and do a night cap at California Clipper or sip on more wine at Rootstock — all within walking distance!

 

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Brunch Bunch: Prairie Grass Cafe

You know when you ask people where they live, and they say some far off burb’ and you cancel the possibility of visiting?  Well, change your mind if they live in Northbrook and grab some brunch!

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Prairie Grass Cafe, conveniently located right off the expressway, will make you wanna visit your neighbor to the north.  Chef-Owner Sarah Stegner and Chef-Owner George Bumbaris, both formerly of the fancy pants Ritz Carleton, partnered to created a casual environment with local fresh food.  Stegner is also a 2 time winner of the ultra prestigious James Beard award so just think of the awesomeness of experiencing her cuisine without the abominable months’ wait of similar city joints.  Prairie Grass Cafe hosted us one lazy Sunday afternoon to see what all the fuss was about.

Family Friendly

Prairie Grass Cafe was popping with kiddos during Sunday brunch, illustrating its’ kid friendly appeal.  Stegner is a founding member of the Healthy Fare for Kids initiative which encourages restaurants to ditch the junk for children and provide them with nutritional sound menu items.  The brunch menu for kids was comprehensive and our lil’ guest of honor, Monica’s nephew, scarfed down a cheese, fruit and veggie plate.  Prairie Grass was able to work around his allergies with this dish.

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One small thing for improvement: as there were so many kids, there was no high chair available.  We made due with a booster seat instead thanks to the help of our friendly wait staff but this might not have worked for a littler dude or dudette.

Looking for more than just a meal? Check out “Make Your Own Pizza” Fridays where the toppings come to the table for a more active event for your tots.

Meatless Fare

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

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Pancakes can be a ho-hum or over the top in sugar at brunch.  We flipped, however, over Prairie Grass’ fluffy light Lemon Ricotta Pancakes.  The citrus flavor measured up to our preferences and added a delicate sparkle to the cakes.  Go for the gusto and add the berry flavorful rasberry sauce and creme anglaise for that WOW effect.  We also sampled the french toast and although it was decent, the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes take the taste award.

Chilaquiles

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The Chilaquiles will make any tummy happy with runny soft fried eggs melting over the top of a hearty pile of cheese, crispy beany tortilla chips, guacamole and pico de gallo.

Egg White Omelette

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The Egg White Omelette is chock b’gawk full of farm fresh eggs, seasonal produce and topped with avocado and pico de gallo.  We added a side of perfectly seasoned crispy potatoes to round out the meal.  This omelette is big enough for 2 people so feel free to split.

Dessert-a-thon

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Prairie Grass Cafe is a dessert lovers’ dream with their bountiful selection of fresh homemade treats.  Chef Sarah spoiled us sweetness with the Coconut Cream Pie (seasonal), Double Chocolate Cake, Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee, Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream with local berries, and Strawberry crepe with grand mariner sauce.

The standouts were the Coconut Cream Pie and Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee.  Luckily, we had a group of 6 to avoid sugar shock. 🙂

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Chicagoans, if there was ever a reason to meet your suburban friends half-way, this is a reason to venture beyond the borders of our city.  Not feelin’ the brunch buzz?  Get up later for lunch or dinner at your wake up whims.

Healthy Fast Food: Green Bean Chicago

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It’s not often that healthy and fast food share the same title but magic is possible.  Behold, we hath found a restaurant that aims to do both (oh and its yummy, princes and princesses).  We know there’s a few chain healthy alternatives in Chicago but none are 100% gluten free, GMO free and free of common allergins (no nuts, coconut or chickpeas) like the new Green Bean Chicago.

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It’s not often that you learn about the passion behind the restaurant you are eating in either.  Owners, Executive Chef Mike Watson, Aaron Bush and investor and dietary manager Srinivas Ravanam partnered on this daunting culinary adventure for many reasons. Mike thinks about the health of his children and how fast food often targets them.  Aaron works in the health and wellness industry across the state and sees how limited healthy food availability affect people throughout Illinois.  Both wanted an affordable fast healthy option for working families.  Both strive for a healthier tastier lifestyle for themselves.

We received free samples of their menu for review.

Menu Highlites:

Pick Your Protein: Chicken, Portabella Mushrooms (vegetarian) or Steak

Wrap it up: Choose a gluten free wrap, gluten free panini, or keep it simple with a salad

What’s Your Flavor? Choose Asian, Caesar, Caprese, Griller, Greek or Spanish style toppings

What we ate:

Gluten free Mushroom Griller Panini – pineapple, asparagus, mixed greens and spicy mango sauce

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Gluten free Chicken Caprese Panini – mozzarella, basil, tomatos, red onion with olive oil and balsamic vinegar

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Gluten Free Mushroom Caesar Wrap – croutons, parmesan, romaine and caesar dressing

Sides – Sweet Potato Fries, Tempura Green Beans, Black Bean Hummus

Dessert! – Gluten Free Caramel Cupcake with Italian Salted Caramel Gelato

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Loving the light life:

All meals (entree, a side and a drink) are balanced to run around 500-600 calories. There is NO soda at Green Bean but instead homemade stone fruit waters are provided for the combos.  Price point runs about the same as a Panera, Chipotle or chain greasy fast food meal, around $8-$9 for a meal.

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Who needs gluten?

Kate is sensitive to gluten and has tried gluten free wraps and breads before. Some good (Udis), some not so good (some kinda yucky wrap).  Chef Mike’s personal gluten free bread and wrap recipes (a mix of tapioca and rice flour with extra love) don’t seem “gluten free”.  Both were hearty and satisfying.

Take us to flavor town!

Monica noted the sweet potato fries were delightfully crispy.  Chef Mike explained they are made fresh 4-5 times a day…no preservatives here peeps.   She also adored the salted caramel melty creamy gelato.  Kate was stuffed to the brim by her chicken caprese panini and, although she doesn’t normally get the feels for mushrooms, these ones were garlicky, juicy and free of that sometimes unpleasantly earthy flava flav.  No complaints at the taste office here.

Final Tasting Notes:

We highly recommend Green Bean.  It’s health conscious, allergy friendly, and you get your monies worth.  Fun Foodie Fact: You can get breakfast or lunch/dinner ANY time (for you brunch cravers).  It’s also awesome if you have a social group with dietary needs.  You can bring your diabetic dad, celiac sister-in-law, and nut allergic nephew all to the same place!  Green Bean is expanding to Schaumburg (yaya suburbanites!) and plans to franchise in future locations.  So lighten up and head to Green Bean when you’re in the mood for a healthy and quick meal!

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Meatless Monday Review: Marley Spoon Recipe Box

Looking for some Meatless Monday Inspiration but short on time, ideas, cooking skills?  Switch it up with a recipe/meal delivery service, Marley Spoon!  We received 2 free recipe boxes from Marley Spoon to review for all you organic peeps out there.  Marley Spoon actually has a wide delivery area including the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Australia and ‘Murica (that’s layman for America).

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We Galentine’s Day-ed it up a little early and decided to have a cooking date night to try two recipes: Quinoa Burgers and Broccoli Coconut Soup.

Here’s how the service works:

It is a subscription service but you can pause the service when you like.  Your order is delivered on either a Tuesday or Friday in a cooler box so it keeps cook ready.  A variety of 7 chef created recipes are available each week catering to different culinary preferences (meaty, veggie, global inspired, vegan, dino..ok no dino but we are checking how closely you are reading).

You have a choice of a 2 person box or a family box to feed a small crowd with pricing that ranges between $48 (2x meals a week) to $139 for 4 family meals per week.  We actually spend more on groceries ourselves sometimes so the pricing seems pretty reasonable for the time you save.

What Rises to the Occasion:

Delivery: Delivery was on point and our boxes were waiting when we arrived.  Everything is pre-packaged so no need to measure.

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Recipes: Recipes come with gorgeous color photos of each step and outline exactly what you need to have on hand on your own (small staples like salt and olive oil).  Portions are more than what we would expect for 2 people.  For example, our Quinoa Burger recipe yielded 5 burgers and we had plenty extra couscous and soup from the Broccoli Soup recipe.  Depending on your appetite, you may be able to get 2 full meals for 2 out of each recipe (hooray leftovers!).

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Appearance: Both recipes looked like what was on the recipes cards when completed.  We felt like fancy french chefs.

Taste: The kale chips were crunchy and addictive…possibly the easiest part of the recipe box.  Our veggie burgers were hearty and filling.  The soup had a bi-partisan reaction…more on that below.

 

What Should Be on the Chopping Block:

Souper Spicy?:  With cooking, there is always room to grow!  With both of us being a level up from amateur kitchen goers, we think a few things could be improved.  The broccoli soup recipe was extra spicy for some reason and didn’t have the creamy consistency that appears in the picture.  We would have liked more of a coconut flavor and would have modified that spice to flavor ratio for some more depth.  It was possibly the green curry with ginger that could have been baby spiced to improve the other flavors in the soup.

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Time: It took us 2 hours to make everything.  For a busy person, this might not serve.  One suggestion would be for Marley Spoon to provide pre-chopped or diced ingredients but we aren’t sure how this would affect the freshness of produce.

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Final Course Thoughts?:

Taste your dishes throughout the cooking process and modify them if you like!  We added paprika and chili powder to our kale chips and were pleased with the results.  Don’t be afraid to be a kitchen rebel if you know how to cook to season items to your liking.

Bonding: We had a super fab time cooking together.  We could see this as a intimate date night, girls night out or bachelorette type experience, or just a way to liven up the ho hum experience of weekly cooking.

Overall, we loved the experience of learning to cook new recipes and spending time in the kitchen together. Ingredients are local sourced and grass fed animules, making you feel a bit at ease for what you are consuming.  Food waste is cut own bu the pre-packaged format as well.  If you’re looking for a culinary adventure with less effort, we suggest giving Marley Spoon a try! Use the Promo Code CHIORGANIC for $35 off your first box.

 

Hakka Bakka Kati Rolls Giveaway

It’s not often that you learn the origins of a specialty food when you’re checking out a new restaurant but Kati Rolls, although newer to Chicago, have a true history.  Conceptualized originally in Kolkata, India, the kati (meaning stick) roll … Continue reading

Bake 425º Pizza Review

For once the suburbs beat Chicago to something yummy.  New local business, Bake 425°, promises Farm-to-Crust Bake at Home pizza and operates in Highland Park, Hinsdale, Evanston, Glencoe, Winnetka and Lake Forest.  Bake 425° took over the hole left by HomeMade Pizza Kitchen but with a modified format.  Owner, Bill Borneman, decided to keep the ease of the pre-made ready to cook pizza but shift to locally sourced, small batch and organic ingredients.  Specialty diets are honored with gluten free crust and vegetarian pizza options.  For traditionalists, classic cheese, Margherita and “pick your own topping” choices begin the menu.  Adventurous pizza monsters (like us) will be pleased, however, by the unique menu items like Poblano and Chicken Sausage pizza or the Earth Lover pizza with truffle oil, Yukon Potatoes, Portabello mushrooms and Béchamel.

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Bake 425° gave us one pizza, one salad and a cookie to sample and review.  We chose the Go Green vegetarian pizza, Sunshine salad and chocolate chip cookie.

What we liked:

Pizza: The Go Green pizza comes with pistachio pesto sauce, brussel sprouts, quartered cherry tomatoes, garlic oil and mozzarella.  Pesto sauce on pizza is a total thumbs up and the brussel sprouts were (thankfully) roasted and crisp.  Crust is whole grain so some consumers may not be used to the dough’s heartier taste compared to white flour.

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Salad: The Sunshine salad was filled with spicy arugula greens, roasted butternut squash, pine nuts and shaved mozzarella.  Lemon oil dressing complimented the mix with a tart and bright flavor.  The salad did need a little bit of salt and pepper to balance the sour lemon.

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Ease of Cooking: Bake 425° gives you everything you need to cook your ‘za, except an oven of course.  Instructions are clear and you are provided with parchment paper for cooking, eliminating the need for any pans or clean up!

Serving Sizes: We fed three people, which averaged about $10 dollars a person…not bad for a quality take home meal.

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What we would change:

The Chocolate Chip Cookie: Nothing really against the taste of the cookie but after eating a pizza, maybe the gelato that Bake 425° offers would balance out the meal better than ending with more dough.  We were so stuffed from the pizza, we barely touched the chocolatey dude.

Why would you try it?

When you are having one of those “I wanna stay in my blankey and bake on my couch” kind of nights, Bake 425° can simplify your night without compromising your taste buds.

Seasons 52 New Winter Menu

Chicago had it’s first snow fall Saturday-officially pushing our glorious fall weather onto a slippery patch of ice and out the door.  As the nights become darker earlier, we find ourselves seeking toasty dishes to fulfill our need for warmth … Continue reading

Farmhouse Chicago: A ChiOrganic Girls Review

Whaaa…we found a place that embodies our blog namesake.  River North is hiding a gem of a restaurant, Farmhouse Chicago, right underneath our CTA riding noses, literally.  Farmhouse partners with local Midwestern farms in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin to provide us city slickers with farmtastic vittles.  We were treated to a VIP 5 course tasting event recently to check out new menu creations and learn about Farmhouse’s holistic approach to restaurateur-ing.  The first thing we noticed about Farmhouse was the rustic and cozy decor.  Co-owners, Ferdia Doherty and TJ Callahan, explained that even the furnishings promote local moods with reclaimed art touches from retired Chicago bars and restaurants and salvaged furniture from the south side.

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Chef, Eric Mansavage, detailed each course’s farm connection and ingredient alchemy as we nibbled our way through the Midwest.

Note* No Monicas were hurt during this dinner.  Her vegetarian ideals remained intact as Kate took one for team meat!  Rest assured, Farmhouse has plenty of farmiliar vegetarian options on their everyday menu.

Course 1: Ellis Farms Green Grapes and Ham Market Amuse

First, don’t act like you know what an amuse is…unless you’re a foodie.  Just in case, an amuse is bite-sized hors d’œuvre.  We were amused by this fancy PBJ with on a crostini.  Tasting notes: Crunchy, yummy, grapey, give us moree than bite sized, please!

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Course 2: Green Acres Farm Chilled Melon Soup, Summer Bread Salad, Spiced Yogurt, Crispy Njuda, Mint

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This is like a food dictionary lesson!  Njuda is a spicy spreadable pork sausage, like pig pate, hahaha.  Although we weren’t big fans of the chilled cantaloupe soup (maybe too sweet?), the summer bread salad with crisp radish and tart yogurt tickled the tongue.

Course 3: Grilled Rushing Waters Rainbow Trout, Black Garlic Roasted Tomatillos, Black Bean Relish, Swan Creek Bacon Lardon

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So, normally, seafood fans we are not (as Yoda would say) but hey, the force was strong with this fish.  The skin was on but, shocker, it was actually smoky and delicious with a flavor reminiscent of bacon.  The fish was not “fishy” but freshy.  It was mild with a melty texture.  The black bean relish on its own would have been a crowd pleaser as well.

Course 4: BBQ Short Ribs, Butter Poached Indiana Shrimp, Hazzard Free Farms Pimento Cheese Popcorn Grits, Sweet Corn

Chef, Eric Mansavage, described this cornucopia (aha!) as Farmhouse’s version of surf and turf.  Full disclosure, not a shrimp fan, but the short ribs were tender and surrounded by a delicate moat of popcorn grits.  It’s like going to the movies and bringing a rib in your popcorn box.

Course 5: Peaches and Cream Ice Cream Sandwich, Mick Klug Farm Michigan Marmalade, Milk Jam and Ice Cream, Vanilla Bean Shortcake20150901_193928

If you know the Peaches and Cream song sing along….peaches and creaaam.  Juicy Michigan peaches, peach marmalade that was almost like carmamel-ade, and sweet cream ice cream nestled between 2 pillowy cookies.  Ob-vs we love dessert.  Even Monica could chow down on this soon to be farmous goodie.

Farmhouse owners are expanding their acres with the new Farmbar in Lincoln Park, set to open in October.  They can also subsidize your love of cider as they own Brown Dog Farm and its filled to the bushel with apple, pear, peach and cherry trees.  Can we get a Yum Yum?  We love their down to (the) earth mentality and will definitely root our way back to try their veggie options.

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Are you a Farmhouse Fan?  Tell us your favorite dish!

Chicago, Lettuce Eat Healthy with Just Salad

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Just Salad…the restaurant title explains some of the genius of Chicago’s brand new salad eatery chain, a transport from the NYC.  It also makes us think of “Just Jack” and believe us, these salads will make you wanna do the same Will and Grace character Jazz Hands!

The first Just Salad location, placed conveniently for the downtown business set or tourists/culture lovers is just steps away from Grant Park at 20 E. Jackson.  Vibrant orange and lime green accent walls add energy to Just Salad‘s design and the Chicago location is situated in the historic Gibbons building which adds to the charm of the atmosphere.  Just Salad separates itself from the downtown munch bunch by providing quality healthy food with affordability.

These key points will make other eateries green with envy:

  • Just Salad‘s menu is created by a registered dietitian and nutrition info is readily available.
  • Protein offerings range from grass fed meats, sustainable creatures of the sea (aka seafood), organic tofu, & humanely raised antibiotic free cluckers.
  • Many produce options are GMO-free, organic and even local when possible.  Veggies are baked, raw or steamed and never canned (hey hey no BPA!)
  • Just Salad encourages us to reduce, reuse, recycle and be rewarded!  You can purchase a reusable ultra cute salad bowl and every time you bring it back for a salad refill you score extra toppings or CHEESE.

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So what did the Chiorganicgirls (royal we) think of it?  Well dang, who doesn’t love a good fresh salad.  As you walk in, you enter into a world of your salad imagination.  Like Chipotle x2, there’s a long topping assembly like starting with a bevvy of green choices.  Romaine, kale, mixed greens, spinach, and other lettuces start you off and then your head begins to spin (salad spin, ha) with the possible salad combinations.  The produce was very fresh, colorful and crunchy.  The portion size for the price was superb and the reusable salad bowl held about 2 servings of salad=only about 4-5 bucks for a big serving of salad with primo toppings.

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If you are feeling a little overwhelmed, you can start with a signature salad recipe.  Our favorites were the Thai Chicken Crunch with romaine, red cabbage, celery and crispy wonton pieces, and the (what did you like Monical?).  There’s even a Chicago inspired salad, the Windy City Kicker, with Italian sausage, giardiniera,red onions and celery.  If you wanna get really jazzy, get your Dr. Frankenstein on and create your own crazy salad (butternut squash, falafel, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, horseradish chive dressing…you monster!).  We also really loved the menu because it’s colored coded to help you avoid allergy or even preference snafus.  You can easily tease out sneaky hiding seafood, gluten, or dairy.  Finally, don’t let the name fool ya.  Wait for it!  SURPRISE, there is more than just salads at Just Salad.  Wraps, juices and smoothies are available too.  We def need to go back after some sweaty warrior II poses at the Millennium Park summer yoga to try the Peanut Butter Chia Warrior with almond milk, chia seeds, PB, agave nectar and banana.  Doesn’t that recipe make you want to do Just Salad Jazz Hands now?

No?  Well how about a Kale Yeah (sorry had to!)

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JUST SALAD is open!

20 East Jackson Blvd

S State St & S Wabash Ave

Hours:

Mon – Fri: 10:30am – 9pm
Sat – Sun: 11am -8 pm

*We were not compensated for our opinions but did get to try some yummy free salad.