Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop….A taste of the South, north of Chicago
This past weekend, my friend @thefarmerslife (Brian) and his family came to Chicago from Indiana to visit and take their 2 year old son to the Shedd Aquarium. One night during their visit, my wife and I took them to Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop. This place has been one of our favorites in Evanston for years. Yet, somehow we don’t go that often. It has become tradition to take them to Lou Malnati’s during their visits so on this night we wanted to go somewhere a little different. For me, it’s somewhat agonizing to take friends to a restaurant that you really enjoy. I build up the experience and brag about the food so much, that when we get there, I am always worried that my friends’ or family’s experiences won’t live up to the hype. Or we may go on one of those dreaded days were the kitchen or server is having an “off” day and the place doesn’t live up to my own expectations. This was especially true during this trip because we had their 2 year old son, Matthew with us. Would his highly developed palate be able to find something on the menu that would satisfy his taste buds?
Tiffany and I have been to Dixie Kitchen maybe…half a dozen times. Every time we have gone, I have ordered the same dish. The country fried steak. It may be the best fried steak I have had the pleasure of ingesting. However, on this visit, Brian and Tiffany got to experience this very satisfying dish. This steak is pounded thin, then hand breaded and fried. The breading is not the thick batter-like breading that you may see in many restaurants or even in frozen, store-bought country fried steaks. It is a thin, flakey compliment to the steak and seasonings, rather than a thick, crunchy blanket, that hides the flavor of the meat. It is served with a side of white gravy that seems to be seasoned with tarragon. Although this twist on white pan gravy is not for everyone, personally, I like the complexity of this gravy. Both Brian and Tiffany both enjoyed their country fried steaks very much. Tiffany mentioned that she like this dish better than the fried catfish that she usually orders.
Although I love the country fried steak, I opted to try something different. On this trip I decided to order the half slab of ribs. Usually, I am hesitant to order ribs at a “non-ribs place.” A lot of places can serve you ribs, however, they can’t always deliver edible ribs. I asked the server if the ribs were good. He gave a look of pure pleasure while saying, “Oh yeah.” He didn’t hesitate with his reaction and that was enough to sell me on them. When the ribs came I was not disappointed. The meat pulled away from the bone cleanly without any effort. Nothing on these ribs was overpowering. The spice rub and the sauce let the pork and it’s preparation speak for itself. The seasoning and sauce played the perfect supporting roll. The sauce was not sweet, and it was not spicy. It had a very balanced flavor. For a non-ribs place, I was pleasantly surprised with the baby-back ribs.
All of the entrees are served with cornbread, coleslaw, and your choice of two sides. With choices like mashed potatoes, collard greens, black-eyed peas, cheese grits, fried plantains, and many more Southern favorites, everyone is able to find something that will tickle the taste buds with Southern delight. With my ribs, I ordered the cheese grits and mashed potatoes. The grits (from a northerner’s perspective) were phenomenal. They were creamy with no grittiness, and had just the right amount of cheese incorporated. Every bite left me wanting more. The mashed potatoes were maybe the weakest part of the dish. They were good, but just did not stand up to the same level as the rest of the dish. Everything there tastes homemade (or close to it). However, even though the mashed potatoes tasted like they were fresh and homemade, the gravy tasted like it came from a jar or can. Granted, the best jar of gravy I have had, but it still had the consistency and taste of “fake” gravy. I could be very wrong on this. If I am, I hope that someone from the Dixie Kitchen family of restaurants can correct me.
Brian’s wife, Nicole order the BBQ chicken sandwich. A pulled, smoked, chicken dressed in the same BBQ sauce as the ribs and served on a very substantial bun. Nicole was kind enough to allow me a taste of her sandwich and it was very desirable. The pulled chicken had pieces big enough to allow you to actually taste the chicken. The smokiness of the chicken broke through the BBQ sauce to add to the complexity and depth of flavor. The chicken was not smothered and drowning in sauce either. At times, when you order a BBQ pork or chicken sandwich, there is so much sauce between the buns that it tastes like you are just eating chunky BBQ sauce. The sweetness or bit of vinegar is so great that it almost hurts your teeth to finish the dish. Again, the balance of flavors in the sauce matched with the chicken quite nicely.
Overall, other than the suspect gravy, Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop has always served up solid food. Their take on Southern comfort food deviates from traditional fare just a skosh without over re-inventing the culture. Dixie Kitchen’s delicious menu choices and relatively low prices rates them towards the top of the list.
P.S. Little Matthew enjoyed his chicken nuggets and fries.
You can follow Dixie Kitchen in Evanston on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/w8gKqg
You can follow The Farmer’s Life on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheFarmersLife
You can follow The Farmer’s Life on Twitter: @thefarmerslife