Saturday, November 12, 2016


On the surface, it may not have made a lot of sense to visit a new restaurant on the day that Game 7 of the World Series is happening, but when you consider that the place has gotten a lot of buzz and might seat 32 people at most, it makes a bit more sense.  Dixie is located in Wicker Park in the same place as the former popular and successful restaurants, Scylla (Stephanie Izard's first restaurant) and Takashi (Chef Takashi Nagahashi's (Slurping Turtle) namesake fine dining restaurant).  While I was sad to see Scylla close, I was happy with Takashi.  I am hoping that Dixie follows that pattern.  As far as design is concerned, there was very little change between Scylla and Takashi.  With Dixie, however, they made many changes, the primary being to move the entrance to the gangway on the side of the building.  There is a new front porch with rocking chairs and a door, but the door has a sign that says, "In the south, we always enter a restaurant from the side." with an arrow pointing to the gangway.  The new entrance is toward the rear of the building under a stairway to the cocktail lounge 1952 1/2 which occupies the space that the upstairs dining room once did.  The entrance is where the kitchen once was.  In it's place is a bar and lounge.  The original dining room is similar in shape to what it was, but the kitchen has been moved to an area formerly occupied by a bar (widened and lengthened) and there is counter seating looking into the windowed kitchen.  In the old restaurant, there was a stairway in front of the bar leading to an upstairs dining room and banquette seating on the opposite wall.  In the new restaurant, the stairway is still there, leading to the previously mentioned cocktail lounge, 1952 1/2, but the banquette seating has been shortened and small 2 person booths have been added.  There has been a table underneath the stairs and that still remains.  There are many knick knacks and pictures hanging on the walls.  My booth had several old newspaper ads which were interesting to look at.  Looking at the menu, I saw a lot of stuff that looked really interesting and good, so I decided to start with a cocktail (which is made by 1952 1/2).  As this is a Southern inspired restaurant, the cocktail list leans toward whiskey and they have a pretty extensive whiskey list.  While I will drink and enjoy whiskey cocktails, I prefer gin and they did have a nice looking gin cocktail on the menu, so that is the way that I went.  The drink I ordered was called James River (which is a major river in Virginia, starting in the Appalachians and ending in Chesapeake) and it had Hayman's Navy Strength Gin, Manzanilla (a sherry with the flavor of Chamomile (also mazanilla), a hop cordial (white liquor infused with hops), pineapple, and lime.  It was strong with a pronounced floral and botanical flavor which fit well with the hop flavor.  The pineapple and lime gave it a tart and tropical flavor and it all came together very well.
While I enjoyed my first cocktail, I decided on my dinner.  I started with a Deviled Crab Beignet which was Deviled Snow Crab in a light and crispy Bun with Collard Greens, Hidalgo Peppers, lots of Butter, and a Scallion garnish.  This was one of my favorite dishes this year.  The beignet was light, crisp, and buttery, with a very airy interior filled with plenty of shredded snow crab.  Hidalgo peppers are a close cousin to a Habanero  and while they are spicy, they aren't nearly as spicy as a regular habanero.  Spread around the beignet, they provided both color and a little spice which enhanced the overall flavor.  the collards and scallions provided some vegetal flavors to add to the bitter side of the dish.
My second appetizer I had previously tasted at the Meals on Wheels Celebrity Chef Ball and wanted to try it again.  It was a Southern spin on a very popular Mediterranean dish and was very good itself.  It was a Boiled Peanut Hummus with Boiled Peanuts (obviously), Carrots, Baby Cilantro, and Chicory.  Boiled Peanuts definitely have a different texture than roasted peanuts, but they also have a different flavor which is kind of a cross between chickpeas and peanuts.  The carrots were fresh cut and were to be eaten with the hummus like a dip (like they are with regular hummus) and the chicory and cilantro add some depth of flavor with some bitterness.

Before I continued with my entree, I ordered another cocktail.  I generally do not repeat cocktails and I wasn't in the mood for whiskey, so I explored the menu.  There was another gin drink, but I decided to do something different and ordered a drink called Grounds for Divorce.  It started with Aged Apple Brandy, Rojo Vermut (Spanish Red Vermouth), Bitters de Torino, Cream Sherry, Fig Bitters, and a Maraschino Cherry skewer as a garnish.  I will say that while it wasn't bad, there was too much of the wrong type of bitter.  I did finish it, although I probably will not order it again.
The chef behind this restaurant, Charlie McKenna, is originally from Charleston South Carolina, which gives him bonafides in the world of Southern Cuisine.  He has also been the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest Grand Champion at Memphis in May as well as finishing in the top five several years in a row, and running Lillie's Q so he also knows his barbecue.  I had no problem ordering the Barbecued Ribs on the menu here.  The ribs at Dixie were pretty different from other ribs I have had in the past, but they were still very good.  The ribs were smoked (as good ribs should be) were topped with Ground Peanuts and Scallions, coated with a light Persimmon Barbecue, and sat on top thinly sliced Persimmons.  The meat was tender and flavorful with a little resistance coming off the bone.  The persimmon gave it light sweet and tart flavor and the and the peanuts complemented the pork flavor. 
For dessert, I went with a Southern classic:  The Chocolate Chess Pie.  It had a Saltine Crust, used Sorghum Molasses, and had plenty of Whipped Cream on the side.  It was dense and sweet with a little saltiness from the Saltines and provided for a great finish to the meal.  While I am sad that takashi closed.  Dixie is a very good replacement.  I am very happy to have gone here and would gladly return.     

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