The Other Critics

Sula Pokes at Big Bricks’ Smoker, Arnett Takes Shine To Dragon Ranch

Photo: courtesy Big Bricks via Facebook

Digging into barbecue arcana, Mike Sula explains that Big Bricks, the new North Center sibling to a longtime Lincoln Park pizza hangout, has a rare north-of-Dixie Oyler smoker, a barbecue pit with a rotisserie mechanism and a wood firebox off to the side. (Places like Smoque and Fat Willie’s use a similar oven that is mainly gasfired; the Oyler’s heat is all from wood.) Unfortunately, “the barbecue coming from his Oyler is unexceptional. It’s not a crime in the least, but the thickly rubbed ribs—which produce a nice spicy bark—are nonetheless very hammy, almost cured-tasting, and somewhat mealy, as if they’ve been overcooked, though they don’t seem to take on a terrific amount of smoke flavor. The pulled pork picks up none whatsoever, though it certainly is juicy, almost as if it’s been braised. Chicken, however, seemed to take to its massage pretty well, its relatively delicate flesh absorbing a nice amount of smoke, while still maintaining its juiciness.” [Reader]

Also on the BBQ beat, albeit a more Asian-influenced one, Lisa Arnett takes Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ’s food more seriously than its name: “Smoky spare ribs ($16 for half slab, $27 for a whole) are tender but have just enough chew to stay on the bone rather than falling into a wet heap on your plate. The meat in the pulled pork sandwich ($12) has flavor on its own, but acts as enough of a blank slate to slather on the house barbecue sauces.” She also admires the sides because “Asian-inspired sides (priced $4-$12 and meant to share) lean lighter and fresher than typically heavy sidekicks such as baked beans and buttered greens.” [Redeye]

Michael Nagrant is bewitched by the high-energy atmosphere at Balena, and equally so by Chris Pandel’s food— “His charred al dente rapini, astringent, smoky and lifted by a spritz of lemon, is as sexy as green vegetables come. Likewise the hefty meatiness of a grilled “Korean-cut” short rib is tempered by a burnt orange sauce that offers a bright bit of citrus and touches of caramel.” And making the inevitable comparison to Nellcôte, he says “The pastas at Balena, however, get the better of those at Nellcôte. The carbonara, a tangle of satisfyingly chewy linguine tossed with sharp pickled ramps, shimmers with the yolk of a freshly breached egg.” [CS]

Joe Campagna has mixed feelings about Pecking Order. He doesn’t see evidence of the marinade concocted by chef Kristine Subido’s mom— “The chicken is said to be marinated overnight in tamari, sugar, bay leaves and garlic. We ordered the grilled and fried varieties and neither half had the overnight flavors peeking through.” The frying is well done but “but would have been infinitely better if it had been salted after coming out of the fryer.” The unusual sides go a ways to make up for it— “the grilled sweet corn was one of the best bites of the afternoon - the lime and cotija cheese was a nice pairing. The last side ordered was the Potatoes and Lola’s gravy. The potatoes weren’t exactly smashed and fried but the gravy rivaled the PO sauce for dipability. If you gave me the fried or grilled chicken, with that gravy over the top or the PO sauce coating…I don’t think I would have missed the salt as much.” [Chicago Food Snob]

Ken Zuckerberg says that “while there are numerous Ecuadorian restaurants in Chicago,” Restaurant Ecuador near California and Diversey “is the one where Ecuadorian “foodies” congregate. One gentleman who teaches at a high school across town told me that he is here almost every day. When his coworkers chided him for never joining them, even when they go to an Ecuadorian place a few blocks from the school, he explained that ‘It’s easier to drive across town for food like this than it is to fly home.’” Seafood is the star, with praise for corvina with “a light coating of flour that had been pan-fried crisp, with juicy, fresh-tasting flesh under the surface.” [FOF]

Sula Pokes at Big Bricks’ Smoker, Arnett Takes Shine To Dragon Ranch