Thursday, April 18, 2013

Big Jones

Location: 5347 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60640
Big Jones on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
Big Jones definitely offers one of the most authentic Southern style, soul food meals I have ever eaten (outside of being in the south).  Their boarding house lunch special is easily one of the greatest values in Chicago, and I believe everyone should try it!  They offer southern classics like fried chicken and greens and they do it all for a great price.  The sheer amount of food is unreal and the atmosphere of the restaurant is very comforting.  It would have received a perfect rating if it wasn't for the dry biscuit... yes a dry biscuit can ruin perfection. Anyway, I can't rate the other food outside of this lunch special at the moment; but from what I have eaten, I will definitely come back and recommend everyone to come try the place!

UPDATE 4/18/13:
Big Jones also offers an incredible menu for weekend brunch.  They take reservations and can accommodate larger parties (we had 8).  I like to say they put twists on traditional breakfast entrees like using popovers instead of english muffins for eggs benedict.  I was only able to snag a picture of my meal but definitely check it out below.

What We Ate:

Eugene's Breakfast in Mobile, circa 1930 (Update 4/18/13)

No one can probably guess what makes up this dish from its name... I couldn't either.  But after reading the description, I was sold.  This dish is made up of a huge farm-raised catfish filet that has been breaded and fried in a gold rice and flour mixture.  It is served with a side of black beans, a side of buttered rice, and of course, fried plantains for sweetness.  The meal was excellent.  All of the sides played a key role in the dish, adding additional depths in flavors and also overall portion size.  The catfish was fried to perfection, but I did find it lacking a little salt.  I was hoping for a saltier filet that would be balanced out by the plantains, but instead needed to add a little hot sauce to help with the taste.  Regardless, it wasn't fishy, it was a perfect meal, and a great breakfast.  Maybe they could offer a fried egg as an option?  Just a thought...

This is the lunch special Big Jones offers from M-F 11am till 3pm.  It costs $16 per person, minimum 2 people and the entire table is requested to participate in the special.  Everything I list below is included and trust me... there is nothing else you should order if you come for weekday lunch.  
Without question, you will bring enough food home for dinner!

Cornbread Muffins with Honey Butter

These muffins were incredible.  I really love corn bread that actually has whole corn kernels in it.  And, these did.  They were extremely moist and when you add the honey butter, it was the perfect mix of sweet and salty.  Only bad part was it only came with three muffins.  I wanted so many more.

Fried Chicken 

Without question, this is some of the best fried chicken I have ever eaten.  Each platter comes with a minimum of a whole chicken for two people and just increases depending on how many people are in your party.  The chicken comes out piping hot because it is made to order (taking around 20 - 25 minutes).  The recipe includes an incredible breading that is not too thick, and has a great blend of spices.  I did wish it had a little kick to it.  Also, the chicken is deep fried in a cast iron kettle with fresh leaf lard, butter, and of course, a ham hock!  The chicken is extremely moist and doesn't need anything else... no gravy, no extra sauce.  It is perfect by itself.  It is hard to find fried chicken these days that follow old time recipes; Big Jones does an amazing job by bringing back the past.

(see Fried Chicken picture above)

I was excited to have homemade biscuits... unfortunately, they were awful.  The best way to describe them were DRY.  Honestly, two bites of this biscuit would coat your entire mouth just like peanut butter would.  I suggest adding a lot of the honey butter from the cornbread to make them a little better.

Mashed Potatoes with Gumbo Gravy

These aren't any ordinary mashed potatoes.  These are rich in butter and have nice chunks which make people forget those pitiful instant ones that every eats last minute.  The gumbo gravy was also something I had never really tried.  I assume it is some of their gumbo that is thickened a little.  Whatever they did, it was excellent. 

Voodoo Greens

On my first bite, I was a little overwhelmed with the way they cooked their greens.  It seemed like a lot of vinegar was used.  But, after expecting the vinegary taste, the greens got better with each bite until I couldn't stop eating them.  Their recipe calls for greens with smoked mushrooms, onions, vinegar, chiles, and black pepper.  There was also small chunks of bacon or ham hock throughout... so this is not a vegetarian option.  The vinegary greens broke up all the oily and buttery parts of the meal and was definitely a nice touch.

Red Beans and Rice

Such a simple recipe, but so much flavor.  This was by far my favorite side that came with the lunch.  It was sort of a play on hoppin' john, a classic southern dish using black-eyed peas and rice.  Instead, the chef did the red beans and rice classic with a little bit of crunchy bacon sprinkled over the top.  The rice was perfectly cooked (unlike other places I have tried).  I could eat bowls and bowls of this rice with some of their chicken.  A must try!


This was an interesting way to end the meal...  I was confused because we were eating an amazing southern style dinner but eating a random cookie.  Luckily, they were great cookies;  a nice soft center with enough of a crust to give it a crunch.  The cinnamon was nice and strong too.  I did wish they gave us some sweet potato pie or some other southern dessert, but, I guess, this worked.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Come during the specified time and enjoy this amazing lunch.  You will not be disappointed.
- Do limit your table size to 2 people or 3 if you want to maximize the amount of food per person.  I found that the bowl sizes for the sides didn't really increase for tables of 4 even though the amount of chicken definitely doubled.
- Plenty of parking around the area... $1.75 an hour for street parking or a bunch of free parking one block west on Ashland.

- Don't order anything else of the menu if you meet the criteria for the Lunch Special.  I swear, the lunch is enough for two people's lunch and dinner and probably more.

How far would I walk for this food?

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