A Celebration of Thanksgiving

October 6th, 2014

Of all the holidays we work in the hospitality business, Thanksgiving is a special one that we look forward to each year. It’s a chance for us to share our hospitality on an important family holiday, but even more significantly for us, we can share our gifts with you on this most symbolic of days – our wondrous network of family farms, our passion and commitment for traditional cooking in the most intimate way, straight from the ground to our kitchen to your table. Speaking for myself as a chef, from my earliest memories the simple idea of that first harvest feast in Plymouth in 1621 was the most supreme inspiration – families and friends and complete strangers from different parts of the world coming together to make the best they could from what the land and sea had to offer. It’s such a simple idea, with such grand possibilities.

I can say with confidence that few restaurants will offer a menu of such abundance made in the traditional way. Perhaps I don’t say this often enough but I like to think that eating at Big Jones is much like eating was in my great-great grandparents’ farm kitchen in that old farmstead on the Buffalo Trace – we may be all dressed up for the modern day in a world-class city, but when it comes down to it, we’re just cooking good, pure, honest food as it always was – grown and raised by friends and family, and processed and cooked in small batches, here at home, with our own hands. If you’re not cooking at home this Thanksgiving, please join us for a seat at our table. We’d love to share our traditions with you.

Reservations are now being accepted. The day will be booked well in advance, so please call as soon as you can make plans. 773-275-5725

A Celebration of Thanksgiving

Relishes

Kentucky Beer Cheese, Heirloom Radishes, Olives, House Pickles: Seedling Peaches, Stolzfus Watermelon Rind, Genesis Cucumbers, Sour Gherkins

Bread Service

Home-baked Salt Rising Bread with Sweet Cream Butter
and Homemade Wild Elderberry Jelly

choice of Soup

Navy Pea Soup with Potato Knefles, Pearl Onions, and Crispy Sage

Cajun Beef and Collard Green Gumbo with Crackling and Delta Rice

Benne Oyster Stew with Tasso, Garlic Toast, and Frisee Salad

choice of Entrée

Deep-fried Turkey with Onion Sage Dressing, Giblet Gravy, Cranberry Sauce

Cornbread-stuffed Rushing Waters Trout with Speckled Butterbeans and Bacon

Sauerkraut and Rutabaga Pie with Horseradish Cream

Tidewater Crab Cakes with Acorn Squash Puree and Curry Sauce

vegetables, served family-style

Cast Iron-Charred Brussels Sprouts with Shallots, Stewed Green Beans with Mushrooms, Hearts of Palm with Pineapple, Baby Lettuce, and Peanut Dressing

choice of Dessert

Coconut Cream Cake with Bitter Chocolate Sauce & Satsuma Conserves

Bourbon Bread Pudding with Cinnamon Streusel, Homemade Apple Butter,
and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Sweet Potato Pie with Spiced Pecan Granola & Cinnamon Ice Cream

 

Forty-nine dollars per person, twenty per person under age twelve

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Stagg, Jr. is our October Whiskey of the Month!

October 6th, 2014

STAGGjr_0This month, we travel back to Frankfort, Kentucky to one of our absolute favorite distilleries in the world, Buffalo Trace, for a taste of one of the most powerful whiskey releases of the year.

Stagg, Jr. is drawn from barrels aged 8-9 years and bottled uncut, and unfiltered. This brings it in at around 128 proof (a little lower than the 140+ of George T. Stagg, which is aged 14-15 years) and huge body like only master distiller Harlen Wheatley can coax from grains and a barrel. The mash bill is high-rye so spice is prevalent, a welcome characteristic in such a potent spirit.

Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley describes the taste as “rich, sweet, chocolate and brown sugar flavors mingled in perfect balance with a bold, rye spiciness. The boundless finish lingers with hints of cherries, cloves and smokiness.”

Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley describes that taste as, “rich, sweet, chocolate and brown sugar flavors mingled in perfect balance with a bold, rye spiciness. The boundless finish lingers with hints of cherries, cloves and smokiness.” – See more at: http://drinkwire.liquor.com/post/stagg-jr-bourbon-review#.
Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley describes that taste as, “rich, sweet, chocolate and brown sugar flavors mingled in perfect balance with a bold, rye spiciness. The boundless finish lingers with hints of cherries, cloves and smokiness.” – See more at: http://drinkwire.liquor.com/post/stagg-jr-bourbon-review#.
Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley describes that taste as, “rich, sweet, chocolate and brown sugar flavors mingled in perfect balance with a bold, rye spiciness. The boundless finish lingers with hints of cherries, cloves and smokiness.” – See more at: http://drinkwire.liquor.com/post/stagg-jr-bourbon-review#.

Bring your Bourbon Society passport in for a complimentary pour anytime during October!

***

It’s free to join the Big Jones Bourbon Society, just ask your server or bartender to sign up on your next visit. You’ll receive a passport to forty of our more than sixty whiskeys. On each visit, members are welcome to one complimentary pour of the Whiskey of the Month (WOM) which will usually (but not always) be a straight Kentucky bourbon whiskey. Big Jones Bourbon Society members will also receive invitations to members-only events such as whiskey tastings and whiskey socials.

Of course you’re welcome to enjoy any whiskey on our list at any time. We’ll mark off your passport as you taste each of the forty whiskeys, and once you’ve tasted them all, you will earn the distinction of Master Taster, and win tickets for two to a one-of-a-kind all-out whiskey dinner. As the ranks of Master Tasters grows, we will host a series of dinners for Master Tasters.

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September Whiskey of the Month: Ezra Brooks

September 9th, 2014

Now announcing our Whiskey of the Month for September 2014: Ezra Brooks!

Ezra Brooks

Ezra Brooks was first produced in the 1950s by the Medley Distillery, which was first established in Owensboro, Kentucky in 1901. Like many bourbon brands, it has been bought and sold many times over the years. This is a good smooth bourbon for mixing or for enjoying simply with a little ice on a late summer evening. Many reviewers enjoy this straight bourbon whiskey as one of the better inexpensive whiskeys available.

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Edna Lewis, cooking farm to table before it had a name

August 28th, 2014

I’ve been given the special opportunity to travel to Savannah, one of the South’s, and America’s, jewels to participate in a panel discussion on the topic of Edna Lewis, one of the 20th century’s most influential chefs and cook book authors, and a towering figure in the history of Southern cooking. She also happens to be the single most important influence on my own cooking and philosophy of food, so I’m over the moon with excitement to get a chance to be at Savannah Food & Wine Festival with some of the best culinary and literary talent in Southern food. Since I’m excited to talk about farm to table cooking and Miss Edna Lewis, I thought I’d share some thoughts on why you should be interested in her story, and why so many great chefs count her as a key figure of inspiration.

Edna Lewis was born in 1916 in a little town called Freetown in the Virginia Piedmont, not far from the famous Jeffersonian landmark, Monticello. Freetown was a different kind of settlement, in that is was settled by freed slaves including Miss Lewis’ grandfather, hence the name. This small, agrarian community was one in which food was central to daily life in a way we can scarcely understand today – everyone in the family was, by necessity, involved in the process of getting food on the table in one way or another. This might be by growing crops, vegetables, or foraging for wild fruits, vegetables, or mushrooms, going fishing or tending the dairy cows, and helping with the annual hog killing each winter. Once food was procured, it had to be processed or preserved and eventually cooked; peas had to be shelled, beans snapped and strung, corn shucked and put up in the crib, bacon salted and smoked, and all the other daily tasks that kept every member of the family busy in the pursuit of eating.

It was a way of life that Edna Lewis wrote about in her landmark book The Taste of Country Cooking (Knopf, 1976) which, while it wasn’t her first or her last cookbook, has become her signature work as the book resembles a “memoirs of the table” as much as it does a cookbook. Throughout its pages she memorializes the way of eating she knew growing up in Freetown, and what engrosses me every time I pick it up is how clearly she was blessed with a loving family and community that had the kind of dedication required to take the time to eat the way they did. Sure, by necessity they had to feed themselves, but to feed themselves as well as they did required a tremendous work ethic and commitment to one another to make the table a special place, one not just of sustenance but also of celebration, both of the Earth’s gifts but also of the repast taken after the labors of getting the food to the table.

The Taste of Country Cooking, published in 1976, is remarkable in another important way: it is laid out in seasonal menus, this long before any big city chefs had any pretension of seasonal cooking, much less buying from local farms. It would be several years before the idea started to take hold in some elite California restaurants before the trend became nationwide. It was revolutionary. To Miss Lewis, this was just how to eat.

The book is even what some chefs might now call hyper-seasonal, whereby a menu might change daily to reflect the local produce available right now, today, rather than in a more diluted spirit of what’s more generally “in season.” You learn when to get the shad and why that early spring day means certain accompaniments will be on the table, or why there’s bacon grease around in which to fry it. The first time I read the book, I became obsessed with the simple dish of creamed scallions because of her elegant explanation of the reasoning behind it – as the cows in the field are feasting on the lush, first-of-the-year green growth, they make the most delicious cream of the whole year, and what better to do with it than sauce the fresh green shoots of my favorite vegetable? Once we were lucky enough to find a small local pasture-based dairy to supply my restaurant with non-homogenized milk and cream much like that Edna Lewis had known, I began to notice the seasonality of the dairy, and the cream is by far at its most delicious at the beginning of Spring, when the pastures are as lush and green as they will be all year. And, each Spring you’re likely to find that simple dish on my menu, just for a few weeks.

There’s so much wisdom in her writing I could list examples until this blog is a mile long, but I also learned to appreciate the intimacy in the way she conveys her stories about food. She tells you the story in such well-crafted literary pictures that you are there, right next to her, on the farm, next to the stream, or in the kitchen. It’s as if she’s holding your hand.

For me personally, as a child of a German-American mountain farming family on one side, and a Ulster-Black Dutch Appalachian hillbilly family on the other side, one of the most important aspects of Edna Lewis’ cooking is how it transcends race. I’ve read the book so many times, I’m often able to close my eyes and listen to her tell me the stories in my mind, and it’s easy to dream and imagine it as my own family’s cooking. We had a strong work ethic too, and my family ate seasonally and close to the land as well, by necessity. We haven’t been blessed with such a gifted culinary writer as Miss Edna Lewis, but I think her writing is a gift to all of us, and since most of us Americans at one time lived in the country on farms and ate very much the same way, you might find some of your own family’s history within the pages of The Taste of Country Cooking. But, whether you are able to take the book so personally as I have, there is no question that through her stories of life on the farm, our common humanity emerges as we are able to feel the love and warmth of family and community. It’s the most human, compassionate cook book I’ve ever read.

Edna Lewis was able to take this upbringing with her throughout her life and forged a brilliant career first as a chef, then as an author. In many ways you could describe her life as magical, to be born the granddaughter of freed slaves and go on to be the chef of one of New York’s most celebrated restaurants in the early 1950’s, when women chefs we unheard of and African American women chefs, even less so. She penned what could easily be called the first, farm-to-table seasonal cookbook in the United States. The funny thing about it is, I don’t think she was trying to prove anything, or even trying to make a bold statement. She simply wrote, and cooked as, what food meant to her. In many ways, however, this was a bold statement in and of itself.

Through her writings, I came to realize that the real joys of cooking and eating come not from pushing the envelope needlessly while trying to come up with newer or novel versions of dishes as we big city chefs are endlessly pressured to do. The true joys of cooking and eating come from having the confidence to let a pot of peas be a pot of peas, or a chocolate soufflé be a chocolate soufflé. To me, that is more liberating than all of the ideas in all of the other chef-driven cookbooks of the last generation. To each chef, his or her own. I happened to find much of my voice through Edna Lewis.

A strange thing has happened over the last generation, as restaurants have become part of the fabric of everyday life and chefs seem to be the new celebrities du jour: African American talent has been overlooked, underserved, and underutilized. On recent trip to a Southern food mecca for a food and wine festival, I was perusing a publication by the city’s tourism bureau that is part of the hotel room literature package. On the back page of said publication, there was a photo montage of the city’s top chefs, about fifty of them. One was African American, in a city where they comprise 30% of the population.

We don’t often talk about race in our business unless it’s about immigration, but it’s a topic we should visit more often because it can tell us a lot about ourselves and the society we live in. Why are African Americans so underrepresented in our top culinary ranks today when more than 50 years ago, an African American woman blasted through the ceiling as if it was made of crepe paper? These are important questions that not only need answers, the underlying problems need real solutions. It’s hard to imagine Southern food today without the influence of Edna Lewis, but with each passing year it’s hard for me not to wonder what other talent and wisdom are we missing as African Americans, whose contribution to our culinary history is enormous, continue to be overlooked as talent today. Surely we are all poorer for the status quo.

I’m proud of my friend, Chef Joe Randall of Savannah, for uniting many of his colleagues and launching the Edna Lewis Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the cultivation and preservation of African American culinary heritage. One of the key missions of this organization will be promoting and advancing young African American culinary talent in an industry that is dominated by Caucasians. It’s my sincerest hope that by working with the foundation toward its goals, the future for all of us will look much more like the vision Edna Lewis’ dinner table lit up in my mind: a reflection of people at their best, and celebration of the many wants and needs we have in common; family, community, respect, love, and a beautiful, home-cooked meal.

edna lewis headshot

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WGN TV: Paul makes Carolina Shrimp Burgers

August 22nd, 2014

Check out Paul on WGN Lunchbreak — with the recipe — making one of our lunch sandwich favorites: Carolina Shrimp Burgers!

http://wgntv.com/2014/08/21/lunchbreak-big-jones-chef-paul-fehribach-makes-carolina-shrimp-burgers/

 

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