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Spice-Harmony at Chuck's
May 20, 2005 | 3 Comments

I recently had the distinct pleasure of joining a group of 20 for a massive feast at Chuck's Southern Comfort Cafe in Burbank, IL.

Chuck's is a family-friendly, unpretentious restaurant a few minutes south of Midway airport. The word "Southern" in their name is represented in their offerings in three totally different ways: BBQ (representing the area just south of us), Cajun-Creole (heading further south), and Mexican/Tex-Mex (heading south of the border). All Chuck's needs to do is throw in South American roast chicken and some penguin or whale meat to cover the whole hemisphere.

Chef/owner Chuck put together our whole meal as a tour of his menu. Most everything was served family style and it ran the gamut from gumbo to salad to ribs to yellow mole to bananas foster crepes. This was a pleasurably exhausting evening of over three hours and sixteen courses. Chuck and his fiancée dined with us for the whole affair.

Of the massive amount of food that I tasted, there are two dishes I'm highly likely to order again when I visit Chuck's. First, the "Bowl of Red", a moderately spicy beef and bean chili topped with crispy tortilla strips. Second was the Mexican pot roast (this was a special), also moderately spicy, tender meat in a chipotle-tomatillo sauce, served over a bed of cheesy mashed potatoes. Both of these dishes blended a nice little spicy kick without covering up the natural flavors of the rest of the dish.

At first, the idea of gumbo, mole, and BBQ ribs during the same meal seemed a little odd to me, but after tasting everything and listening to Chuck's descriptions, it all made sense. Almost everything we ate represented Chuck's love and understanding of chiles and heat. Whether it's the andouille sausage in the gumbo, the chile ancho in the pot roast, or the dry-rub on the ribs, Chuck knows how to bring a little heat to the party without kicking out all the other flavors. For me, this meal was an exercise in chile harmony. The spicy flavors played along very nicely with everything we ate, never going overboard, always in balance.

If you don't like spicy food, don't stop reading just yet. There's a lot more going on at Chuck's. I loved what I tasted of both the chicken-fried steak and the recursively-named chicken-fried chicken (although these came late in the meal so I didn't eat too much). Both the spare ribs and the baby-backs were tender enough to satisfy the "fall-off-the-bone" crowd, but tasty and toothy enough to please a BBQ-purist (go for the spare ribs). I was surprised to enjoyed my strawberry salad with caramelized pecans (who needs salad when there's ribs and pot roast?). Finally, the bananas foster crepe was a perfect ending to the meal. Just read Chuck's massive menu at his website. If you don't see ten things on the menu that you want to try, check your pulse.

If you live anywhere near Chuck's, it should be in your regular rotation. If you live far away like I do, get a group together for some beer and stick-to-your-ribs dining and make a pilgrimage. You'll have a great time, some great food, and you won't come close to breaking the bank.

You can read more about this meal and see more pics in this thread at LTHForum.com.

Check out Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe at 5557 W 79th St. in Burbank, 708-229-8700. www.chuckscafe.com. To help whet your appetite, I'll leave you with a picture of Chuck and his ribs:

Posted 04:11 PM
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