Moonshine and barbecue – a perfect combination in River North

For the past 10 years, Rockit Ranch Productions has been transforming the culinary and nightlife scenes in the River North area of Chicago.  Their newest venture, Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ, follows that trend of taking a new and unique twist on established concepts.  By exploring and combining food and culture from two very different parts of the world, Dragon Ranch delivers an entirely new experience by modernizing traditional American BBQ with an imaginative Asian influence.

Recently, I had the great pleasure to be invited to check out Dragon Ranch.  I called an equally intrepid foodie friend, and the two of us stopped by Billy Dec’s newest creation for an evening of whiskey and barbecue.  So, before we get to a more specific review of food and beverage, let me sum up our experience succinctly by saying, “Go! Call now for a reservation because you absolutely don’t want to wait to experience this restaurant.  A-ma-zing!”

 

We tried out a few appetizers to start the evening.  If you’re a fan of the concept of the “Scotch egg” then you have to try their unique take on that, called a Dragon Egg.  It’s a soft poached duck egg wrapped in house made spicy sausage, panko crusted over tossed greens in Chinese mustard vinaigrette.

As a native of the Deep South I am a hard sell on Southern comfort food, but Dragon Ranch converted me to their version of the good ol’ standard Mac N’ Cheese.  The handmade pasta was cooked al dente with a blend of jack, Gouda, sharp white, and cheddar cheese topped with parmesan and baked to a crisp.  I honestly asked the server if I could bathe in the stuff – it was that good.

The Roasted Sweet Potato Hash was a definite surprise.  The Japanese and American sweet potatoes were cooked until they were still slightly al dente, then mixed with shallots, chilies, edamame, and bacon and topped with a sunny side up duck egg.

The Glazed Crispy Carrots made my friend tweet, “This makes me want to eat my vegetables!”  They are sautéed in brown sugar and bourbon, finished with bourbon barrel aged fish sauce and sesame seeds.  These are a definite “must try.”

Finally, we got to the BBQ portion of the meal and were tremendously impressed (and fully satiated by the end of the meal).  The two of us opted to share a Combination Platter with three choices.  We sent for Smoked Brisket, Pulled Pork, and Spare Ribs.  The Smoked Brisket is rubbed with their special blend of American and Asian spices, and then smoked for 12 hours over hickory and oak.  Not to be outdone, the Pulled Pork shoulder is also rubbed with spices and smoked for 12 hours but this time over oak, cherry, and hickory.  The tender juicy pork spare ribs are rubbed with special spices then smoked over hickory, cherry, and applewood.  All of the BBQ entrees are served with their own crunchy version of coleslaw created from Brussels sprouts and red cabbage and with sweet cornbread, a cake-like version of the traditional side, served with bourbon honey butter.

Every table has a selection of four different barbecue sauces to accompany your entrée.  You can opt for a traditional Kansas City style sauce, a hot sauce, an Asian inspired sauce, or a central South Carolina style of mustard-based sauce.  FYI – as a SC native I have to tell you that Dragon Ranch has duplicated that famous Piggy Park sauce closer than any other restaurant I have ever tried.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Dragon Ranch, however, is their signature experience which they call the “Whiskey Bento Box.”  This is a tableside whiskey experience designed to allow guests to enjoy their own bottle of aged and white whiskeys on the rocks or neat, including Dragon Ranch’s proprietary White Dragon label. The 375 ml bottles are best enjoyed in groups between 2-4 people. Each Bento experience comes with a chef’s selection of paired accoutrements.  On our visit, these included homemade pickles, sharp white cheddar, dates, and salted caramel chocolates – all designed to enhance the whiskey adventure in a savory (and sweet) way.

By the way, if you order a Whiskey Bento Box, ask your server to tell you how to do a “pickleback.”  I promise you won’t be disappointed!

The décor is a perfect combination of slick urban and laid-back, family-style restaurant.  Despite the community table concept in most of the restaurant, the sound level was perfect for intimate conversation.  Service is fast, friendly and efficient and the management was tremendously attentive to all of the customers.  In short, they know how to do it right.

Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ is located at 441 North Clark Street in Chicago.  You can call them at 312-955-1900 or email them at BBQ@dragonranch.com.  They are very active on both Facebook (www.facebook.com/DragonRanchBBQ) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/DragonRanch).  They are open 6 days a week (closed on Mondays) for lunch and dinner.


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