Sunday, January 25, 2015

Carriage House - Dinner

When most people think of Southern food, there mind will go toward the Mississippi delta or Georgia, but the South also encompasses Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Virginias, the Carolinas, and possibly Florida.  While there are similarities in food from these areas, there are also distinct differences, barbecue styles being but one example.  There are several restaurants in Southern cuisine in the Chicago area.  The Carriage House, a restaurant where I dined recently,  is one that specializes in Low Country Cuisine, a branch of Southern cooking centered around the Carolina and Georgia coastlines, that uses a lot of seafood and rice, and brings in influences from Caribbean and African Cuisines.  It actually has some similarities to Cajun cuisine.  When I last came, the entrance was on a side street and opened into the dining room near the kitchen.  When I most recently, the entrance used was on the main road behind a wind shelter commonly seen around around Chicago bars and restaurants in the winter time.  The door from the street does not open directly into the dining room like the rear door does, with a second door further sheltering the dining room from cold and wind.  When I arrived, there weren't many people there, so I decided to sit at the bar in order to make things easier for service.  The bar sits in front of the entrance and runs back into the dining room, so if the door had opened directly into the dining room, the people at the bar would most noticeably feel the cold.  While I did come for dinner, I wasn't really in the mood for anything elaborate, so I started things off with a beer and a Kitchen Pickle Jar.  While the term pickle is commonly used to mean pickled cucumbers, I have noticed that many restaurants use the term generically to refer to any pickled vegetables.  This is what I expected in this case and I was not disappointed.  While there were many sliced pickled cucumbers, the jar also included Pickled Onions and was topped with halved Pickled Okra.  The pickled cucumbers were very good, as I expected them to be.  They were fresh with a nice sour flavor and a crispy crunch.  The okra was a bit of a surprise because I had never had it before other than in gumbos and jambalaya.  I had heard that it could be slimy so I didn't really know what to expect.  There was no sliminess with the pickled okra and it was pretty crisp, which to me, implied freshness, and under the expected spicy sourness coming from the pickling brine was a flavor similar to asparagus.  It was good and I enjoyed it.
For my main course, I went with a classic of Southern cuisine, Chicken and Dumplings.  The chicken was a Fried Chicken Thigh, with Buttermilk Dumplings, Winter Vegetables consisting of Potatoes, Carrots, and Radishes, and Rosemary Gravy.  The chicken was tender and juicy with a crispy skin and was very flavorful.  The Dumplings were small bites of pillowy goodness with a slightly sour buttermilk flavor and the vegetables were at that perfect space between the crisp and tender found in vegetables that are perfectly cooked.  The gravy was a brown chicken gravy liberally seasoned with rosemary which went well with everything and helped to tie things together.
For my dessert, I went with a classic of Southern cuisine, Pecan Pie, which was served with Vanilla Ice Cream and topped with Bourbon Caramel.  The pie was a personal sized pie instead of a slice and had a great crust.  The body of the pie was sweet and sticky as a good pecan pie should be and had a ton of pecans.  The vanilla ice cream topping the pie was good vanilla ice cream, creamy and sweet with a good vanilla flavor, but really not anything you couldn't find at any number of other places.  The bourbon caramel, though was something special.  It had a wealth of flavor and in addition to the sweet found in the pie and ice cream, added salt, butter, and a little smokiness from the bourbon.  It was all very good and I made a special point to get every bit off the plate.  If I thought I could have gotten away with it, I may very well have licked the plate clean.

I again enjoyed my dinner at Carriage House.  The food was very good, my bartender/waitress was very friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere was pretty low key.  While the space had few people there when I arrived, things picked up by the time I left.  The place is a lot of fun and I will return.          

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