It’s hard not to stroll down a well walked Chicago street without stumbling upon a celebrity chef’s post or nationally acclaimed restaurant. I am just as excited as the next person to try some recognized new flares, but sometimes the hype can lead a diner disappointed. Ambling down Clark Street in Andersonville with no particular cuisine in mind, my family and I saw the words “Southern heirloom cooking” on Big Jones’ menu and couldn’t pass it up. We could not have made a better decision.
An unassuming small spot with minimal, bright décor, the windows shed ample light onto our table early on a Monday morning. Walking in just at opening time, the kitchen staff was already buzzing and our hostess, who later turned out to be our waiter as well, led us to our table. With a quick glance at the menu, I knew my hard to please, Tennessee bred father would be pleased.
It was my 21st birthday, so my dad and I promptly ordered a George Dickle Tennessee Whiskey and a 3 Floyd’s brew respectively to accompany our pickle tasting and boucherie board. All four were brought out promptly, by our smiling waiter who explained each bite that we were about to devour. The pickle tasting included a lot more than traditional cucumbers, ranging from unripened strawberries, ramps, and cole slaw. The boucherie board, which featured blood sausage, head cheese, pimento cheese, and an assortment of other traditional charcuterie, wowed both my parents and Michael. With most of the board’s features being made in house, we were all shocked at the caliber of our simple appetizer.
I must admit I was a little disappointed when I realized one of my only options was roasted mushrooms served over creamy grits. My experience with that combination in the past has been less than desirable, but when my plate was placed in front of me, my fears were lifted. A heaping plate of steaming cheesy grits, with the classy touch of mixed mushrooms, garlic, and thyme was hard not to finish as fast as I could. The lunch was something I could eat again for days and not get tired of, and it made a delicious treat for any season. The grits were not overly cheesy or overly cooked as they often are. It took me a while to glance over at my companions’ plates, who were all munching silently with smiles on their faces. Michael loved his smoked and smothered pork shoulder, and my parents were happy with their pecan chicken salad and chicken dumplings. It isn’t often that restaurants in the North can hit such a high Southern note, but we were all pleasantly surprised with the home cooking we were enjoying.
Our waiter was a delight for the entirety of our visit and even hinted with a bit of pride that he helped prepare some of our dishes. Many people tend to say that Southern cookeries make them feel like they are at their Grandma’s house, but with the muted contemporary décor, bursting flavors, and wonderful list of beverages, it felt more like we were enjoying a lovely lunch out on a beautiful Southern fare.