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Big Jones--"Contemporary coastal Southern cuisine"

Big Jones--"Contemporary coastal Southern cuisine"
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  • Post #61 - October 25th, 2009, 12:04 am
    Post #61 - October 25th, 2009, 12:04 am Post #61 - October 25th, 2009, 12:04 am
    BR wrote:
    earthlydesire wrote:Everytime I go here I want to really love it. I go in hopeful and I leave very deflated.
    I'm sorry to hear that . . . I knew they got a new chef a month or so ago, and I was really hoping that would be the kick Big Jones needed. But from your descriptions it sounds like the same place that has also left me deflated. I'd be shocked if I waste my time with another visit.

    Paul Fehribach is out?

    =R=
    There are many things that are legal that are not a great idea --Nick Shabazz

    Every human interaction is an opportunity for disappointment --RS

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #62 - October 25th, 2009, 12:20 am
    Post #62 - October 25th, 2009, 12:20 am Post #62 - October 25th, 2009, 12:20 am
    ronnie_suburban wrote:
    BR wrote:
    earthlydesire wrote:Everytime I go here I want to really love it. I go in hopeful and I leave very deflated.
    I'm sorry to hear that . . . I knew they got a new chef a month or so ago, and I was really hoping that would be the kick Big Jones needed. But from your descriptions it sounds like the same place that has also left me deflated. I'd be shocked if I waste my time with another visit.

    Paul Fehribach is out?

    =R=

    I can't find anything on the internet right now to confirm, but I was certain I read a couple of months ago that a new chef was joining the team and that they would be introducing new menu items after Labor Day . . . but now I can't recall where I read it and I certainly can't find it now.
  • Post #63 - October 25th, 2009, 12:28 am
    Post #63 - October 25th, 2009, 12:28 am Post #63 - October 25th, 2009, 12:28 am
    From Dish:

    Paul Fehribach, who has been working without a sous-chef at Big Jones (5347 N. Clark St.; 773-275-5725) since last fall, has landed Corey Fuller, an alum of Alinea. "We are collaborating. We’re pushing the envelope a little more than we wanted to in the beginning,” says Fehribach. “I’m finding old dishes that we want to reinvent and he tosses the ideas at me.” For example, the “inverted” country-fried steak, a grilled Niman Ranch New York strip with a deep-fried mashed potato crust and red wine demi-glace. “We are not looking to be avant-garde,” Fehribach says.“But like [Heston] Blumenthal at Fat Duck, [Fuller] takes old recipes and turns them into space-age creations.” Expect Big Jones to close for a few days around Labor Day and reopen with the new menu.
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #64 - October 25th, 2009, 12:38 am
    Post #64 - October 25th, 2009, 12:38 am Post #64 - October 25th, 2009, 12:38 am
    gleam wrote:From Dish:

    Paul Fehribach, who has been working without a sous-chef at Big Jones (5347 N. Clark St.; 773-275-5725) since last fall, has landed Corey Fuller, an alum of Alinea. "We are collaborating. We’re pushing the envelope a little more than we wanted to in the beginning,” says Fehribach. “I’m finding old dishes that we want to reinvent and he tosses the ideas at me.” For example, the “inverted” country-fried steak, a grilled Niman Ranch New York strip with a deep-fried mashed potato crust and red wine demi-glace. “We are not looking to be avant-garde,” Fehribach says.“But like [Heston] Blumenthal at Fat Duck, [Fuller] takes old recipes and turns them into space-age creations.” Expect Big Jones to close for a few days around Labor Day and reopen with the new menu.

    Thank you for finding that item.
  • Post #65 - October 25th, 2009, 11:38 am
    Post #65 - October 25th, 2009, 11:38 am Post #65 - October 25th, 2009, 11:38 am
    So Paul Fehribach isn't out. They just have a new sous.

    =R=
    There are many things that are legal that are not a great idea --Nick Shabazz

    Every human interaction is an opportunity for disappointment --RS

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #66 - October 25th, 2009, 1:51 pm
    Post #66 - October 25th, 2009, 1:51 pm Post #66 - October 25th, 2009, 1:51 pm
    ronnie_suburban wrote:So Paul Fehribach isn't out. They just have a new sous.

    =R=

    Yes . . . sorry . . . my post was misleading and based on somewhat faulty memory. I mostly recall reading the Dish note and thinking that it would be nice to try Big Jones again after the introduction of some new blood and new menu items. But earthlydesire's description of the tasso gravy is similar to how I described it about six months ago. I still might give it another shot, but someone's going to have to give me a good reason.
  • Post #67 - October 25th, 2009, 2:33 pm
    Post #67 - October 25th, 2009, 2:33 pm Post #67 - October 25th, 2009, 2:33 pm
    BR wrote:
    ronnie_suburban wrote:So Paul Fehribach isn't out. They just have a new sous.

    =R=

    Yes . . . sorry . . . my post was misleading and based on somewhat faulty memory. I mostly recall reading the Dish note and thinking that it would be nice to try Big Jones again after the introduction of some new blood and new menu items. But earthlydesire's description of the tasso gravy is similar to how I described it about six months ago. I still might give it another shot, but someone's going to have to give me a good reason.

    Well, the quote mentions some new collaborations, so it makes sense that some of the food has changed.

    I've never been to Big Jones but I've eaten Chef Fehribach's food at several charity/food events and have always enjoyed it. Most recently, back in August at a benefit for 3 Sisters Garden, he made a succotash with bacon and a peach cobbler with toasted benne ice cream that were both stellar. I still really want to check it out, even though these more recent posts haven't been favorable.

    =R=
    There are many things that are legal that are not a great idea --Nick Shabazz

    Every human interaction is an opportunity for disappointment --RS

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #68 - October 25th, 2009, 11:42 pm
    Post #68 - October 25th, 2009, 11:42 pm Post #68 - October 25th, 2009, 11:42 pm
    Hi Folks,

    This is Paul Fehribach, Chef and owner of Big Jones. I signed up for LTHForum so I could offer a different perspective - not even my own - about my restaurant. We have been very, very successful thus far, especially given the economic environment. It has been heartbreaking to read the comments on LTHForum, which while often positive, have been disproportionately negative relative to every other metric we look at. It's most heartbreaking because I know we're not perfect, and every day I wake up with perfect as my goal.

    We have spent most of the last year at or near #1 on OpenTable.com's Brunch ratings, as of today are the #3 rated neighborhood spot, and have generally great feedback there from people who eat out often and write about it. We have had countless great blog writeups without solicitation from a publicist. We made Chicago Magazine & the Reader's best new restaurants lists. We have several regulars who happen to be chefs and owners of restaurants that are darlings of this forum, and they love Big Jones.

    What strikes me hard is the postings where people say *mostly* good things and then conclude that there is something wrong or they are "done" with Big Jones. Well, fine, I guess. We have received hundreds of emails from people thanking us for what we do, who communicate directly with us rather than telling everyone online what they found wrong with my restaurant. I would appreciate the opportunity to talk with anyone who has a problem with their experience at my restaurant, and learn how I can make it better. My personal email is paul@bigjoneschicago.com and I will take anyone's call any time at the restaurant, 773-275-5725.

    I will close with a very small sampling of emails we have received from our guests:

    "Hi! My wife & I had dinner at your restaurant last night and I wanted
    to send you a note telling you what a fantastic time we had.

    I have never tried a Sazerac but always heard of them. Great fun. I
    spoke to your bartender to see what exactly she put in there. She was
    very nice & we discussed the Absinthe.

    We ordered a table dinner (chicken) and sampled the gumbo. All of the
    food was special and authentic. We often travel to N'awlins and really
    enjoy good southern food. Your meal made us feel like we were back
    there.

    Our server was Laura. I cannot express how nice & attentive she was.
    She was "The Best!"

    You make things very comfortable. We will return. Thanks for a great night!"

    "Hello-
    Wanted to drop a note to say thank you so much for taking care of my party this Sunday. Mark greeted us at the door and despite the obvious ridiculousness of our request (7 grownups, one infant, 10AM on a Sunday, no reservation), the first thing he said was, "We can do that." That made a big difference to a disorganized and generally unruly party - a lot of restaurants in Chicago and where i live in Washington would have laughed at us. We really enjoyed our visit and I can't thank you enough. Particular compliments on the fried green tomatoes and the omelette lafourche. Will look forward to seeing you again on my next visit to Chicago."

    "Hi Mark. We met earlier today (the party of 15 ;). I wanted to thank you again for your help - and for the wonderful brunch..."

    "Chef Fehribach and Mr. Armantrout:

    Recently, after visits to numerous other establishments, I resigned myself to believing that in trying to find truly good Southern food in Chicago, I might as well have been searching for the Holy Grail. Happily, I was wrong. I discovered last night that Big Jones is everything I wanted and more. From the exceptional crawfish fritters and perfect execution of grits with andouille sausage, to the tastiest preparation of beets I've ever had, everything placed on my table delighted me--and all at a reasonable price. I'm sold.

    Thank you for a wonderful dinner.

    Best wishes for continued success,"

    "To the manager that was working the front door on Saturday (5/16)... I think your name was Mark.

    I don't normally write to restaurants, ever. I have been in the restaurant industry myself for 12 years, and I find that too often good product, service and overall quality go unnoticed in this business and therefore I have decided to let you know that my experience on Saturday night was fantastic, easily one of the best dining experiences I have had in quite some time in the city of Chicago.

    I was sitting at the table next to the bar and the service station. It was a 2top, the sun was in my eyes... but it was not a bother at all. Everyone was so accommodating. The reccommendations were fantastic and the ambience is great. Not only will I return, but I will also tell everyone I know about this experience and make sure they visit as well.

    Thank you for understanding that people choose where they want to spend their money, and they deserve to be treated like guests in a home. Keep up all the amazing work and best wishes for continued success.

    Best,"

    "hi, paul:
    it was so nice to meet you friday at your restaurant. i am glad we had the opportunity to chat with you.
    our dining experience was wonderful---from the warm, attentive, friendly service to our outstanding meal--everything was wonderful--the margaritas, the crab cakes, the fried green tomatoes, the tea and oh, that most amazing beet salad! i am still talking about that!
    we are looking forward to sampling other delicious items from your menu on our next visit. and, we will definitely save room for dessert!
    thanks again!"

    People tell us in the restaurant every day how much they enjoy it, especially people from the south coast. By golly, I know we screw up sometimes but like any successful restaurant, we have people we have seen every single week since we opened. Many more people see the good than these few who see the bad.

    Paul Fehribach
    Chef, Owner
    Big Jones
    paul@bigjoneschicago.com
  • Post #69 - October 26th, 2009, 7:35 am
    Post #69 - October 26th, 2009, 7:35 am Post #69 - October 26th, 2009, 7:35 am
    Paul,

    FWIW, I agree with you. The recent posts have seemed strange to me, describing things as "best thing I've ever tasted...," "awesome," and "really well prepared," then concluding that the place isn't worth a return visit.

    Like ronnie_suburban, I haven't been to Big Jones, but have had many excellent tastes of your food at local events. A visit to the restaurant is in order soon.

    Kennyz
    ...defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

    Fuckerberg on Food
  • Post #70 - October 26th, 2009, 8:22 am
    Post #70 - October 26th, 2009, 8:22 am Post #70 - October 26th, 2009, 8:22 am
    I've been meaning to try this place for a long time, but the mixed reviews here have always given me pause. I do have a $10 coupon from A La Card, so that will give me a little impetus to try it.

    Kenny, one of the lines you are referring to by earthlydesire is "My dining partner had a really well prepared pork chop over sweet potatoes that was probably the best thing I had ever tasted at this place. I had entree envy." In the context of the whole post, I can understand the conclusion that this poster isn't likely to return, despite this one entree.

    Paul Fehribach, thank you for writing in. Please realize that not every customer that is dissatisfied with their meal will speak directly to someone at the restaurant. Sometimes this isn't comfortable to do. This is especially so when there isn't anything specifically wrong with the food (like a piece of chicken being raw in the middle, for example), it just isn't as good as one hoped for. I'm sure you would like feedback from each customer, but the reality is that not everyone will give a blow by blow to their server or contact the restaurant after the fact. (In fact, about half the time I contact a restaurant after a meal, I don't receive a response. This makes me less inclined to spend my time giving feedback to a restaurant.)

    You write "We have received hundreds of emails from people thanking us for what we do, who communicate directly with us rather than telling everyone online what they found wrong with my restaurant". I realize you would like to know directly when someone is not satisfied with their experience. But, you can't have it both ways, enjoying word of mouth publicity from people who love your restaurant, but being disappointed that people who didn't like it also choose to talk about it.

    I don't think it is accurate to characterize earthlydesire's post as saying the food was mostly good, but the person is nevertheless "done" with Big Jones. This person has clearly had multiple meals at Big Jones and described the food as being less than what they hoped it to be each time. I have eaten at many restaurants where there were some good things but overall I wasn't impressed enough to be motivated to return.

    Finally, you gave us a lot of quotes from people who enjoyed Big Jones. I have no doubt that many people do enjoy it, whether you supplied those quotes or not. I am sure you know that these quotes do not imply that those who wrote here that they didn't enjoy their meal are somehow wrong. People can disagree about a restaurant (happens fairly often here!) and we tend not to keep score. But I would hope that when I write words of complement to a restaurant after a particularly good meal, those words won't then be used by the restaurant to respond to negative feedback by another customer.

    edited to fix a quote that should be attributed to earthlydesire, not to BR.
    Last edited by Darren72 on October 26th, 2009, 8:39 am, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #71 - October 26th, 2009, 8:36 am
    Post #71 - October 26th, 2009, 8:36 am Post #71 - October 26th, 2009, 8:36 am
    I appreciate Paul taking the time to post, and I assume Kennyz that you are not referring to my earlier review or comments above since I did not offer any of the glowing praise you suggest, but let me offer my perspective. Paul, I specifically recall trying your food at one event - the Green City Market event - and was impressed . . . sorghum glazed pork belly if I recall correctly? So I don't doubt that Paul is talented.

    And I'll add that I don't take any joy in criticizing a restaurant because I know that the people behind a restaurant - investors, chefs, service staff - are working long hours and pouring their hearts into their businesses. As I've noted above, the restaurant's concept and the menu really appeal to me and I want to like it. And the service on both of my visits (once for dinner with a group of 8 for a friend's 40th birthday, the other just with one friend for brunch) has been very good if not excellent . . . from the moment I walked through the door. My dinner visit was quite a while ago and I can't recall the specifics other than to say that I was underwhelmed. The brunch I do recall (see my post on prior page). That brunch visit featured severely undercooked eggs (which my friend should have mentioned to the staff but did not), undercooked beignets and what I thought was a bland sauce on otherwise nicely cooked shrimp. Maybe Paul wasn't responsible for these errors, but that was the food we were served.

    My comments are based on only two visits and perhaps a third would yield very different results. Maybe my two visits were on days when the restaurant had issues - who knows. I'm not sure but my reluctance to visit restaurants where I've had mediocre or poor experiences is simply based upon the fact that there are so many restaurants in this city I have never visited. And of course, others on this board are free to disagree with me, and probably will. There's negative feedback even with respect to GNRs. But my criticism is honest and I will let those who have enjoyed their meals at Big Jones to post and convince me that a third visit is warranted.
  • Post #72 - October 26th, 2009, 8:37 am
    Post #72 - October 26th, 2009, 8:37 am Post #72 - October 26th, 2009, 8:37 am
    Darren72 wrote:Kenny, one of the lines you are referring to by BR is "My dining partner had a really well prepared pork chop over sweet potatoes that was probably the best thing I had ever tasted at this place. I had entree envy." In the context of the whole post, I can understand the conclusion that this poster isn't likely to return, despite this one entree.

    Darren72, would you kindly let me know where I offered this comment or edit your post appropriately.
  • Post #73 - October 26th, 2009, 8:52 am
    Post #73 - October 26th, 2009, 8:52 am Post #73 - October 26th, 2009, 8:52 am
    BR,

    I believe that was earthlydesire's quote, not yours. Either way, I did leave out what is probably some important context: sorry about that. I appreciate the detail that both of you put in to your posts. They help to create what is certainly a mixed picture of the restaurant in my mind. It's a picture that doesn't turn me off from wanting to try Big Jones, but I agree with you (of course) that it's fine for everyone to make their own judgments.

    I think it was also earthlydesire that maligned a corn bread at Big Jones that used what he/ she thought was canned corn. FWIW, there are some fine chefs who actually think canned corn makes far superior bread than does fresh corn. Jean-George, for example, insists that fresh corn isn't nearly as good as canned for his cornbread.

    Kennyz
    ...defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

    Fuckerberg on Food
  • Post #74 - October 26th, 2009, 8:58 am
    Post #74 - October 26th, 2009, 8:58 am Post #74 - October 26th, 2009, 8:58 am
    BR wrote:
    Darren72 wrote:Kenny, one of the lines you are referring to by BR is "My dining partner had a really well prepared pork chop over sweet potatoes that was probably the best thing I had ever tasted at this place. I had entree envy." In the context of the whole post, I can understand the conclusion that this poster isn't likely to return, despite this one entree.

    Darren72, would you kindly let me know where I offered this comment or edit your post appropriately.


    Sorry about that - I meant to attribute it to earthlydesire and corrected it. The quote in question is from this one.
  • Post #75 - October 26th, 2009, 9:06 am
    Post #75 - October 26th, 2009, 9:06 am Post #75 - October 26th, 2009, 9:06 am
    I, too, appreciate Paul's willingness to engage in a dialogue with this group. I read over my post, and found it represented my perspective. In these posts, one tries to point to what is successful and what is not (in my view, of course), and then provide any overall perspective. This allows a motivated reader to weigh the good and the bad differently from the writer.

    What I am struck by is the fact that chef Paul basically is defending his restaurant (aside from the general claim that they are not perfect - a claim that Chef Achatz would surely make as well). That is understandable, but I couldn't find any area in which he has indicated that he has learned from his more critical reviewers. I, for one, would like every restaurant to succeed, but I would also like for each restaurant to be at the top of its game. If Big Jones has found its niche, bravo, and I hope that the praise keeps coming. If Big Jones, would like me to return, given the wealth of astonishing restaurants in this town, it needs to improve. (It is not a "bad" restaurant, just not a remarkable one - yet).

    It should be obvious that when one is having dinner, one is not going to drag the chef from the kitchen and point to this and that, which the diner feels is wanting. A forum like this in which lovers of a restaurant and those who are less satisfied can dialogue seems useful for our community. And, in fact, a string of strong posts that indicate improvement is the best advertisement there is.

    So, Chef, thank you for participating. Let us know what you have learned, and bountiful rain from heaven will surely fall.
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #76 - October 26th, 2009, 9:15 am
    Post #76 - October 26th, 2009, 9:15 am Post #76 - October 26th, 2009, 9:15 am
    Darren72 wrote:Sorry about that - I meant to attribute it to earthlydesire and corrected it. The quote in question is from this one.

    No problem - thanks.
  • Post #77 - October 26th, 2009, 10:54 am
    Post #77 - October 26th, 2009, 10:54 am Post #77 - October 26th, 2009, 10:54 am
    I don't know what to tell you Paul. I live right around the corner from Big Jones, was super excited to have a NOLA restaurant so close to us, have been to NOLA and know the food down there - and every time I give BJ's another chance, it just always seems really overpriced for a very average meal that really doesn't seem NOLA to me much at all. The only thing I look forward to every time have been the sides, the beignets which are passable and free, and the cheese grits which are quite good. Everything else has been unmemorable or has left me with sticker shock.
    Last edited by Chitown B on October 26th, 2009, 12:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #78 - October 26th, 2009, 12:47 pm
    Post #78 - October 26th, 2009, 12:47 pm Post #78 - October 26th, 2009, 12:47 pm
    Chef Paul,

    As long as we have your attention, perhaps you can tell us a little about the changes which have occurred since Labor Day or thereabouts. What have you changed about the menu? Have you changed the focus of the restaurant at all? I notice you are currently carrying about 17 appetizers and 10 main courses on the dinner menu - is that more/less than before the changes? How many are carryovers?

    And I'd be curious about whether there are any particular dishes (dinner/brunch) that you believe are must haves. Thanks,

    BR
  • Post #79 - October 26th, 2009, 11:38 pm
    Post #79 - October 26th, 2009, 11:38 pm Post #79 - October 26th, 2009, 11:38 pm
    Please realize that not every customer that is dissatisfied with their meal will speak directly to someone at the restaurant. Sometimes this isn't comfortable to do. This is especially so when there isn't anything specifically wrong with the food (like a piece of chicken being raw in the middle, for example), it just isn't as good as one hoped for. I'm sure you would like feedback from each customer, but the reality is that not everyone will give a blow by blow to their server or contact the restaurant after the fact. (In fact, about half the time I contact a restaurant after a meal, I don't receive a response. This makes me less inclined to spend my time giving feedback to a restaurant.)


    One thing I can assure you of, Kenny, is that if you ever contact me with a complaint, however big or small, you would get a response from me and I would do whatever it takes to set things right with you. We receive complaints by phone and email too - not just compliments, but the compliments far far far outweigh the complaints as they do on every other web site - but this one. That's why I'm here, to figure out what's going on. I look at complaints as a favor: someone is telling me what I am doing wrong. I learn every day. I change recipes. I do what it takes. That's why our feedback is overwhelmingly positive everywhere - but this site.

    I signed on here to open a dialogue and find out what I'm missing with LTHers, but also to hopefully change the direction of discussion here. I want people who read here and are wondering about my restaurant to know that it's ok, the overwhelming majority of people love Big Jones, come on and try us, and make up your own mind. There just seems to have been an echo chamber here of negativity, and I feel it is important for someone to show the other side of the story. The quotations might not have changed your opinion, but I wanted to show some positive comments here.

    You can look around and see what I am talking about - our reputation is very good, and we guard it carefully. We address complaints, we give back through charity whenever we can, we work our asses off, we please people. I think the criticism is disproportionate here and I'd like to find out why, and what we need to do to change that.
  • Post #80 - October 26th, 2009, 11:48 pm
    Post #80 - October 26th, 2009, 11:48 pm Post #80 - October 26th, 2009, 11:48 pm
    The brunch I do recall (see my post on prior page). That brunch visit featured severely undercooked eggs (which my friend should have mentioned to the staff but did not), undercooked beignets and what I thought was a bland sauce on otherwise nicely cooked shrimp. Maybe Paul wasn't responsible for these errors, but that was the food we were served.

    But my criticism is honest and I will let those who have enjoyed their meals at Big Jones to post and convince me that a third visit is warranted.


    I am ultimately responsible for everything that is served at Big Jones, I am the chef and owner. We have had a cook that regularly served improperly poached eggs, and that cook has been dealt with. beignets are tricky, the dough is a live organism, and as much as you don't want to undercook them, you also don't want to overcook them. We're still not perfect, but I suspect if you tried them today, you'd find them to be quite different from the ones you had.

    I have no doubt your criticism is honest, but part of the point of my posting customer emails was to show that there are many people who praise us effusively. For some reason, they don't find themselves on this forum. I'd be happy to post more emails if it helps, I have tons. Or, like I said, look at endorsements from Chicago Magazine, the Reader, OpenTable Diners, and hundreds of web 2.0 reviewers on other sites. I wish I knew why this site is so negative when feedback is so positive (but not exclusively so by any means) elsewhere.
  • Post #81 - October 26th, 2009, 11:51 pm
    Post #81 - October 26th, 2009, 11:51 pm Post #81 - October 26th, 2009, 11:51 pm
    Kennyz wrote:BR,

    I think it was also earthlydesire that maligned a corn bread at Big Jones that used what he/ she thought was canned corn. FWIW, there are some fine chefs who actually think canned corn makes far superior bread than does fresh corn. Jean-George, for example, insists that fresh corn isn't nearly as good as canned for his cornbread.

    Kennyz


    Thanks for the referral to Jean-George, but I have *never* purchased canned or even frozen corn for Big Jones. That comment was a mystery to me :)
  • Post #82 - October 27th, 2009, 12:27 am
    Post #82 - October 27th, 2009, 12:27 am Post #82 - October 27th, 2009, 12:27 am
    GAF wrote:What I am struck by is the fact that chef Paul basically is defending his restaurant (aside from the general claim that they are not perfect - a claim that Chef Achatz would surely make as well). That is understandable, but I couldn't find any area in which he has indicated that he has learned from his more critical reviewers. I, for one, would like every restaurant to succeed, but I would also like for each restaurant to be at the top of its game. If Big Jones has found its niche, bravo, and I hope that the praise keeps coming. If Big Jones, would like me to return, given the wealth of astonishing restaurants in this town, it needs to improve. (It is not a "bad" restaurant, just not a remarkable one - yet).

    It should be obvious that when one is having dinner, one is not going to drag the chef from the kitchen and point to this and that, which the diner feels is wanting. A forum like this in which lovers of a restaurant and those who are less satisfied can dialogue seems useful for our community. And, in fact, a string of strong posts that indicate improvement is the best advertisement there is.

    So, Chef, thank you for participating. Let us know what you have learned, and bountiful rain from heaven will surely fall.


    I expected we would get to this, so here are a very few:
    -someone on this forum complained about the fact that we didn't offer Splenda as a sweetener. We offered prepared stevia syrup. We tried it. We couldn't get the concentration to a level where every guest was satisfied. We picked up Splenda, even though it runs counter to our values of serving food from natural sources.
    -someone also complained about simple syrup for coffee. That turned out to be a lazy waiter, who no longer works at Big Jones. Still, as part of that discussion, someone mentioned sugar cubes would be cool in a retro sort of way. Now we offer sugar cubes.
    -by reading feedback about many, many different menu items, I decided it was necessary to change leadership from my original sous. I also decided to take as long as necessary to find the right person for the job. I put out seven brunches and seven dinners a week, including holiday menus, without a sous chef, for several months. Corey is doing a great job, and is the help I need, but you can't move a mountain in a day, and I feel very good about the direction of the restaurant at this time, and the quality of the food in general, even though we still have our moments.
    -the original Tallgrass sirloin was changed, and ultimately we settled on a Niman Ranch strip as our steak, again a major concession for me to go grain-finished on the beef, but it was clear that that's what is wanted.
    -the red velvet cake recipe changed three times, and then the presentation did.
    -in the beginning, people criticized the gumbo for not being spicy. Well, gumbo isn't necessarily supposed to be spicy, that's what hot sauce and pepper sauce are for. Still, they wanted spicy, we gave them spicy. our original thought was to let people heat it up as much as they want. You learn.
    -i can provide probably dozens more of examples if you'd like to hear. Shrimp and Grits is a tough one. Some folks swear it's the best thing they've ever eaten, some think it doesn't taste like anything. For that, the right to salt and pepper is on our Guest's Bill of Rights. Cooks who can't temp out the shrimp are dealt with very promptly, but we will not ever overcook shrimp.

    I would say the biggest problem overall we've had is people seeing "Coastal Southern Cooking" and getting a picture in their heads of what we are supposed to be, and what our food should be like. I had a conversation with my Grandmother a few years back. I always used to put okra in my gumbo no matter what, because grandma always did (never mind that she was from Florida/Georgia and not LA.) One day, someone from Louisiana complained that there was okra in our gumbo ya-ya, and insisted you only put okra in seafood gumbos. I looked into it, and gave them props by removing okra from my gumbo ya-ya. We still get the occasional person complaining about the lack of okra in our gumbo ya-ya. I asked my Grandma about it, and why she always put okra in her gumbo. She was a big fishing fanatic, and ate tons of fish, but her gumbo was almost always bird and sausage. Her reply? "I like it."

    So the biggest lesson I have learned by reading folks' feedback (including someone thanking us for pimiento cheese but then saying it just wasn't right because as home they mike it like this...) is that people take these foods very, very personally. Unfortunately, there are more recipes for etouffee than there are cooks in Acadia. Sadly, if you have it at Big Jones, chances are it will not be just like the one you had in Thibodaux on the Gumbo Trail. Yes, we get tons and tons of people from South LA and SC and FL who thank us and rave and thank us some more. We also get people who just don't like it because it's not like home. When I was a kid, i didn't like having dinner at the neighbor's because her fried chicken wasn't like Mom's, and that was just next door. More later on where this is leading...
  • Post #83 - October 27th, 2009, 12:47 am
    Post #83 - October 27th, 2009, 12:47 am Post #83 - October 27th, 2009, 12:47 am
    Chitown B wrote:I don't know what to tell you Paul. I live right around the corner from Big Jones, was super excited to have a NOLA restaurant so close to us, have been to NOLA and know the food down there - and every time I give BJ's another chance, it just always seems really overpriced for a very average meal that really doesn't seem NOLA to me much at all. The only thing I look forward to every time have been the sides, the beignets which are passable and free, and the cheese grits which are quite good. Everything else has been unmemorable or has left me with sticker shock.


    I don't know what to tell you either, ChitownB, except thanks for trying my restaurant, and if you ever do want to try it again, give me a call or email, I'll buy you a turbo dog and a bowl of gumbo, and you can tell me where you're coming from, because I'd love to talk gumbo and boudin and whatnot, and see if we can figure out what's going on here.

    I do have to say this - we are not, and have never tried to be, a NOLA restaurant. We are coastal southern, which is quite a bit more broad, but we are also in Chicago, Illinois, and have a die-hard local/sustainable purchasing ethic. When we opened, we used the work "Contemporary" which some people took the wrong way, but what we wanted to do was signal that this was not going to be old-school Charleston or New Orleans, even as those roots provide the foundation for our cooking and our pantry includes organic and heirloom South Carolina grits, sea island red peas, Carolina gold rice, Arkansas popcorn rice, organic cane syrup, etc. In New Orleans, if you venture outside the French Quarter, and explore some of the hipper restaurants on Magazine Street, for instance, Big Jones might seem less off the mark.

    As far as price goes, that's not an unheard comment, and again, I don't know what to say, except that for our milk, cream, and butter alone, using Kilgus and Kalona, we pay out $600 more a month than if we were using feedlot, manure-lagoon, hormone-injected dairy. We do not judge anyone who chooses not to live by this ethic, but we choose to live this way. Our eggs have cost us an extra $800 every single month. Pork, $400. Beef, same. Not to mention all the local produce. We know for a fact our food is better for the environment, and that's why we use it. unfortunately, it costs alot more. We run our food costs around 31%, average for fine dining/non-steakhouse, and very high for a casual restaurant at our price point. You can make your own judgement call on whether it's worth it, but for price paid/price sold, we are providing a value I'd put up against anyone's.

    Thanks again for your comments. If you'd like to cash in your gumbo/turbo dog chips sometime (in return for lettin me pick your brain,) my email is paul@bigjoneschicago.com or call me at 773-275-5725
  • Post #84 - October 27th, 2009, 4:29 am
    Post #84 - October 27th, 2009, 4:29 am Post #84 - October 27th, 2009, 4:29 am
    rochambeau wrote:
    Please realize that not every customer that is dissatisfied with their meal will speak directly to someone at the restaurant. Sometimes this isn't comfortable to do. This is especially so when there isn't anything specifically wrong with the food (like a piece of chicken being raw in the middle, for example), it just isn't as good as one hoped for. I'm sure you would like feedback from each customer, but the reality is that not everyone will give a blow by blow to their server or contact the restaurant after the fact. (In fact, about half the time I contact a restaurant after a meal, I don't receive a response. This makes me less inclined to spend my time giving feedback to a restaurant.)


    One thing I can assure you of, Kenny,...

    that quote is not from anyone named Kenny
    ...defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

    Fuckerberg on Food
  • Post #85 - October 27th, 2009, 4:48 am
    Post #85 - October 27th, 2009, 4:48 am Post #85 - October 27th, 2009, 4:48 am
    rochambeau wrote:I signed on here to open a dialogue and find out what I'm missing with LTHers, but also to hopefully change the direction of discussion here. I want people who read here and are wondering about my restaurant to know that it's ok, the overwhelming majority of people love Big Jones, come on and try us, and make up your own mind. There just seems to have been an echo chamber here of negativity, ...

    Chef,

    I can understand why a passionate business owner might be overly sensitive to negative comments, but I think you are doing yourself a disservice by filtering away the positive, and overreacting while drawing even more attention to the negativity. This thread is chock full of praise for Big Jones to balance out the negative comments. Quite a few respected, long time LTHForum members have written some very nice things about your restaurant here. There is no need for you to go through your emails and post a dozen more positive quotes, because we can all find those kinds of quotes right here. This is a discussion forum where people sometimes disagree about things. A few people don't care for Big Jones, and quite a few really do. This is not the "Praise" section of the Big Jones website.

    Kennyz
    ...defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

    Fuckerberg on Food
  • Post #86 - October 27th, 2009, 7:20 am
    Post #86 - October 27th, 2009, 7:20 am Post #86 - October 27th, 2009, 7:20 am
    When Big Jones opened, I was looking forward to a restaurant similar to one I've eaten at several times in Winston Salem, NC, Sweet Potatoes, where I have enjoyed several outstanding meals . I'm willing to stop back at some point because I'm hoping to find that experience much closer to home. Paul, I'm curious if there are a couple or few dishes you specifically recommend above everything else on the menu.
  • Post #87 - October 27th, 2009, 9:17 am
    Post #87 - October 27th, 2009, 9:17 am Post #87 - October 27th, 2009, 9:17 am
    rochambeau wrote:
    Chitown B wrote:I don't know what to tell you Paul. I live right around the corner from Big Jones, was super excited to have a NOLA restaurant so close to us, have been to NOLA and know the food down there - and every time I give BJ's another chance, it just always seems really overpriced for a very average meal that really doesn't seem NOLA to me much at all. The only thing I look forward to every time have been the sides, the beignets which are passable and free, and the cheese grits which are quite good. Everything else has been unmemorable or has left me with sticker shock.


    I don't know what to tell you either, ChitownB, except thanks for trying my restaurant, and if you ever do want to try it again, give me a call or email, I'll buy you a turbo dog and a bowl of gumbo, and you can tell me where you're coming from, because I'd love to talk gumbo and boudin and whatnot, and see if we can figure out what's going on here.


    I understand where you're coming from Paul, I know that everything you're trying to do costs extra. And that's all great, I appreciate you sticking to your mission statement. I think it just comes down to cost/benefit to me. It's probably just a personal feeling, and some people have loads of cash to spend.

    I wouldn't feel right accepting a free meal considering I am far from an expert in food. I didn't mean to come off that way, I'd feel like I was cheating you, and I can't live with that. I will however give you guys another chance soon. I know my wife has also been underwhelmed and probably not thrilled about going again, but I would push her in the past because I truly do enjoy "coastal Southern" and want to keep giving BJ's another shot. We've been maybe 5-6 times since the day you opened - I think we went the day or two after that. I know you're not supposed to necessarily be a NOLA restaurant, but you have to admit they are part of the coast and seem to be at least in some part an area of inspiration for some of your dishes.

    I remember getting a pulled pork breakfast dish that I thought was decent yet wasn't filling enough for the $14 or so that it cost. My favorite brunch place in the area is probably M. Henry, and the best dish there IMO is the Fried Egg Sandwich which is huge, and very high quality. Also, it's about $9. Unless you know something I don't, I'm pretty sure M. Henry tries to use locally grown if possible, though probably not to the extent that you do. I guess I don't mind paying more for a quality dish, but if I'm paying dinner prices for breakfast I like to leave full. And I know that I haven't usually had that experience at BJ's. I'm not a small guy, but I'm not a giant.

    Take the Country Breakfast breakfast on your menu for instance. Pan-fried Amish eggs, Niman Ranch applewood smoked ham, cheese grits, greens, lowcountry cornbread, redeye gravy - $14

    In essence, this is ham and eggs, with some grits and a biscuit w/some gravy - for $14. I sounds appealing in the description, and I'm sure that those ingredients cost more than everyday eggs and ham, but I'd never order it because to me $14 is too much for a breakfast entree, unless after I eat it I think to myself "that was the best ham and eggs I've ever had." Odds are, that probably won't happen - and I'm a little gun-shy anyway. If the portion ended up being large enough that I was satisfied and/or was even able to take some home, that might be a different story, but again I'd think that probably is not the case. I'm not sure what your cost is of course, but I can't take that into account just being a patron. I have to choose with my wallet in mind, and there are so many other brunch places within just the few block radius, that I'd probably never try something so expensive for what I'd call "normal" breakfast faire.

    This past week we were in San Francisco for our honeymoon and dropped into Brenda's French Soul Food, which is this tiny little hole in the wall with a big fanbase - and for good reason. I would recommend dropping by there if you ever get a chance someday. It may not be exactly your style, but it's definitely in the vein of what you're trying to do, I feel. Here's what we had:

    http://www.frenchsoulfood.com/brunch.htm

    Brenda's French Soul Food - San Fran, CA
    Image
    Stuffed Beignet flight - $8

    Image
    Chocolate, Crawfish, Apple, Plain

    Image
    Seafood Frittata, Grits, Biscuit - $11

    Image
    Egg and Bacon Tartine - Bacon, scrambled egg, Gruyère and tomato-bacon relish
    on toasted French roll, grits
    - $9.50

    for under $30 for both, I was stuffed and it was amazingly seasoned food. The stuffed beignets made it, I think. Great stuff.


    Anyway, I will write more later. Thanks for the replies Paul!
    Last edited by Chitown B on October 27th, 2009, 9:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #88 - October 27th, 2009, 9:34 am
    Post #88 - October 27th, 2009, 9:34 am Post #88 - October 27th, 2009, 9:34 am
    This thread is revealing different models of how the comments on the board might be taken: are we customers or critics? Well, we are both with different ones of us seeing our role differently. I primarily post as a critic (others can judge if I am a good one), but I don't write to be placated or to discuss food that may be imperfect with the restaurant staff. I go to a restaurant, have an experience, compose my thoughts on the meal, and then post on it to an audience. Perhaps this is not the same as Bruno, Vittel, or Wheaton, but the underlying principle is similar. While I am sure that I would enjoy talking with the Chef (and on the right occasion would not mind doing so), that is not the point of my writing. I hope that customers and cooks read what I say and learn from it, but very, very rarely would I have the chef come out of the kitchen to see what is wrong, and then only if what is wrong is truly WRONG (e.g. inedible) - and this dramatic failure was certainly not the case at Big Jones.
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #89 - October 27th, 2009, 2:04 pm
    Post #89 - October 27th, 2009, 2:04 pm Post #89 - October 27th, 2009, 2:04 pm
    BR wrote:Chef Paul,

    As long as we have your attention, perhaps you can tell us a little about the changes which have occurred since Labor Day or thereabouts. What have you changed about the menu? Have you changed the focus of the restaurant at all? I notice you are currently carrying about 17 appetizers and 10 main courses on the dinner menu - is that more/less than before the changes? How many are carryovers?

    And I'd be curious about whether there are any particular dishes (dinner/brunch) that you believe are must haves. Thanks,

    BR


    Thanks for that question, I appreciate it.

    As I've said in a round-about way in a previous post, we've learned that the more familiar a food is, the more likely people are to compare it to some very personal history, and it's very difficult to stack up a chicken fried steak against one's grandma's especially if I've never had it as a reference. Even then, it's impossible to customize such items when we are serving nearly 1000 meals a week during busy seasons. The one exception we found is mac & cheese, because there are now so many versions of it people expect it to be unique in a good restaurant. We even get people trashing our grits as "supermarket instant crap" when we buy strictly organic, true hominy grits from Carolina Gourdseed White Corn, an 17th century heirloom corn that was always grown for grits. Our grits are grown, nixtamalized, dried, and ground fresh for us by Anson Mills in Columbia, SC. Still, people love trashing them. If they don't taste like the ones they had at home, disappointment is inevitable. Still, our gumbo gets overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) great feedback after we have made some changes to the recipe. I think this is because most people don't make it at home, and if you eat it out in restaurants, it's different everywhere. Not to mention, if you make gumbo often at home, you know how difficult it is to make it come out exactly the same every time. Gumbo is part science, part art, and part alchemy. Making ten or mare gallons of it every week for two years, I still find it kind of mystical.

    So, we have really fought expectations in a way we never anticipated. This put us in a new direction: We've learned (actually are still learning) which "traditional" dishes are well-received and don't dash people's expectations when they don't taste like mom's. gumbo is safe. Jambalaya at lunch is safe. Grits are safe, only because we know they are the best available anywhere, and screw anyone who doesn't like them. If someone wants grits prepared without dairy or cheese, we do that happily, but we simply don't care if people don't like them. Anson Mills is the best, period.

    Chicken Fried Steak had to go. It's been reinvented and inverted, so no-one can compare it to their family's or their favorite Waffle Steak. We bread and deep fry the mashed potatoes in a chop so it actually looks like a chicken fried steak. Cut into it? Mashed Potatoes! People have fun with that one. Also, we are able to grill and temp a steak. A lot of people freaked out when they were served a bloody fried steak, but we use top-quality beef and had trouble making peace with well done. When someone asked for it well done, well, grass fed beef doesn't eat well when cooked well. This is a dish I'd love to hear thought on - we serve it with a red wine jus (50 lbs of bones and two bottles of wine down to two quarts.)

    Shrimp and grits will be recreated in a similar vein at some point here, we are working on it. Crab cakes have been fine, people love them. Cornbread's another tough one, every family has their own, but we're sticking to it for now. In the deep south, it's all white corn, as is ours (Three Sisters Garden!) but they make it without any sugar. We found we have to use a little to satisfy Midwestern palates, but it's not so sweet that the folks from Biloxi can't enjoy it.

    Mostly, we are getting away from the very personal foods where it is difficult to satisfy people's cravings. I just can't make everyone's gramma's food. So, we don't make anything people might try to compare to Grandma's, except the handful of things that from some reason have gone safe, like crab cakes and Jambalaya. When we do a dish like fried steak, it will be reinvented so that it is familiar, hopefully amusing, and safe from unfavorable comparisons to memories.

    Lunch has been left very traditional, as has been brunch. People are less adventurous at those times, and our brunch particularly, in spite of intermittent execution problems, has gone extremely well. There, we continue to work on execution daily. Eggs New Orleans is the tried and true crowd pleaser, but don't skip the mushroom & leek omelet with Prairie Fruit Farm Chevre. Look for buckwheat pancakes soon with antebellum rustic aromatic buckwheat flour. Seriously the best milled product I have ever worked with. People also love the omelet Lafourche, and you can opt for Fried green tomatoes on your eggs benedict. People love the SC-style pulled pork, but be warned the sauce is tart! If we are offering a special with hominy in it, get it. It's nixtamilized in house from Three Sisters Garden corn, and unlike any hominy you have had - sweet, flowery & fragrant, and chewy, but in a good way.

    Business has been good enough, although like everyone else these days, we'd like it to be better. Still, after a very hard winter economically, we are doing well enough now that we are doing a lot of things we've wanted to do for a long time - we're offering more finfish and oysters (not usually just one like we used to,) shipping fresh hearts of palm in direct, moving into a strictly local farmstead cheese program, making our own head cheese, abundant morels, chanterelles, and maitakes in season, we had pawpaws for the first time a few weeks ago, etc. Our cooking at dinner is definitely becoming more interesting. Within the next couple of months, we will begin producing our own andouille and boudin, so I will definitely let you know when that is happening. Planning is in the final stages.

    Must-trys:
    *The sugar-cane cured pork belly with Johnny cakes and house plum ketchup has been a huge hit.
    *As have the frog legs with market mushroom and Creole Meuniere
    *Crab Cakes with Remoulde and Sweet Corn Relish - our remoulade includes house pickles, house worcestershire, and house mayo. rich! They are made with regular lump though, so don't expect the jumbo. We'd have to sell them for twenty bucks!
    *Sweet-tea Brined Niman ranch Pork Chop, baked bean puree, sweet potato hash - this will change soon with the seasons, but this has been a super hit
    *The Niman Ranch Strips often come in graded prime, so you can ask your server, and occasionally get a prime New York strip for twenty four bucks
    *If there is a pasta special, get it
    *ditto with red snapper or pompano. We have hooked up with the Shareholder's Alliance and are one of only a few restaurants in Chicago serving sustainably fished snapper and pompano endorsed by the Ocean Concervancy and NRDC. It's not cheap, but it's the right thing to do for the ocean, and it's AWESOME!
    *desserts are uniformly pretty sweet these days
    *there are more, these are the ones coming to mind right now.

    Lastly, folks have looked at us as a more upscale choice than we really wanted initially, but we've had to embrace it, since we are not interested in cheapening our product to lower prices. Thus, we've dressed up the dining room a bit.
  • Post #90 - October 27th, 2009, 3:37 pm
    Post #90 - October 27th, 2009, 3:37 pm Post #90 - October 27th, 2009, 3:37 pm
    Paul, thanks for the insight-intended or not--into how a regionally-focused restaurant situates itself in a, er, "post-regional" era. Fighting against a very visceral sort of nostalgia must be an interesting challenge.

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