Slow cooking for the entire month of January has been incredible, and probably will continue well into February but at some point, a girl needs a break. Through a rare stroke of genius this summer, I discovered about 10 different emailed subscription newsletters that send me a little somethin, somethin on food, new restaurants or new ingredient trends every day. Daily Candy, Thrillist, and Tasting Table are my absolute favorites and if you are new to Chicago, or sick of going to the same 4 bars around the corner from you since moving to Chicago 6 years ago, it's TIME! Time to expand horizons, go to grand opening parties and socialize with the 70 year olds who are hotter on the scene than you are (true story, met the cutest couple at Branch 27's opening night- she was a hard core Daily Candy supporter and loved dragging her husband to all the new restaurants on opening night).
Recently TT has pulled solidly into the first place spot. They have sent me pieces on Eco-tourism, farm-to-table meals and most recently a delightful, albeit hair-brained, suggestion for a 'Day Trip to the Bayou.' Just what the doctor ordered. We drove 130 miles deep into the flatlands of Illinois, out into the fields where all those plants are labored over, cared for, processed and rapidly fill my grocery aisles. It's good to get out there and remember where all this food is coming from. On I-55 about 30 miles outside of Chicago, the highway lights disappear and there's little between you and the earth again. We coasted through some thick fog, with about 50 feet visibility for 45 miles on I-55 and 45 miles on I-80 to the Uttica exit.
About a mile south, and a mile east of the exit, there arose from the thick mist Ron's Cajun Connection.
The sign for restaurant hours tells you how good the food is: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday- CLOSED. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, OPEN 4-9. That's a 20 hour work week my friends. I'm instantly jealous.
We stroll into the Louisiana kitch bedazzled dining room, and the white board reads: Dungeness Crab, Shrimp Etouffee & Crawfish Jumbalaya $18,95 as the main special. I can hardly believe my eyes. It's the middle of January and we're in the middle of the dark fields of Illinois and they have fresh crab here? A wheat Abita, Boudin sausage, Boudin balls and four quarters in the jukebox and I'm already starting to slur my words, just enough to sound southern-ish, but these locals take one look at my boots and know I'm not from around here. Everything, including the hot sauce on the table Ron has made himself. Boudin balls were to die for. I think I'd make the 2 hour trip just for that warm cosy blend of rice, boudin sausage and cajun spices all rolled up and fried. Delish. My trusty frosted mug helps cool down the heat that's building in my mouth and my ears are humming with creole. I love this kind of music. Bluegrass mixed with French folk music and a little Afro-Caribbean rhythm thrown in? What's not to love.
For main courses I headed straight to frog legs and gator. I swear I haven't had frog legs since I was 13 at my uncle's house in France so I'm feeling justly overdue. We dragged along someone who was hungry for the taste of home and so our resident NOLA judge (born and raised) was my true benchmark for authenticity. Ron strolls into the dining room, takes one look at us and starts narrowing in on NOLA "how'd you like that etouffe, son??" "and those Boudain Balls?" NOLA ranks Ron's place a solidy 7, maybe even an 8 against his local favorites. Not all bad man. We tried the gumbo, jumbalaya, crawfish etouffee, fried gator, shrimp creole, french fries, Christmas, Wheat & Lager Abita. Oh! and every plate comes with Ron's raspberry barbecue sauce for dipping, or drinking cause damn it's that good. Next time, I'm gunning for some blackened catfish.
We polished off the meal with one piece of pecan pie with cinnamon ice cream to split between the three of us. The pecans are unbelievably fresh, crust is delicately buttery and hmmm what IS that? The cinnamon in the pie seems more forward-- not that he's used more, it's just...louder... What'd you do Ron?? "You want to know dear? You want to know my secret ingredient in that pecan pie? It's right there on that table girlie." He picks up the tiny red bottle on the table and slams it back down on the table, "TOBASCO!?!?"
Next time we GO, I'm planning on making it an all day affair, running around the lovely little state park nearby and then treating myself to a delightfully spicy fried dinner to appropriately balance the day.