President Obama has taught us that every once in awhile we need to take off the suit jacket, loosen the tie—maybe even the belt—and just be a regular guy, or girl, for a night.
There’s no better place to come down to earth than Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop, where you can enjoy Obama’s favorite down-home Southern cookin’ in a super-casual atmosphere that will charm you and captivate your kids.
In June, Chicago foodies mourned the closing of Dixie Kitchen in Hyde Park, but you can still find Obama’s favorites right here in our backyard in Evanston. If you really want to get into the spirit, we recommend donning cowboy boots if you got ’em, a torn jean skirt and a white T-shirt just waiting to get stained with barbeque sauce. That’s proper attire for attendance at a feast that will likely be messy, greasy, sloppy and completely over-the-top.
This food demands tucking a napkin into your collar; it’s food that’s not just fried but deep fried. Being bad on the North Shore is rarely this finger-lickin’ good. “It’s not gourmet cuisine, but that’s not why I go to Dixie Kitchen. What I’m looking for is food that tastes good for a good price,” said Obama, then an Illinois state-senator, on an unaired episode of the WTTW show “Check, please!” in which Chicagoans review their favorite restaurants.
The segment, taped in 2001, later found its way to YouTube. When you sit down at one of the tables covered in red- or green-checkered tablecloths, you’ll be welcomed by a basket of warm corn cakes with butter. Young kids will marvel at the kitschy, retro décor that literally represents a Dixie Kitchen—complete with old-fashioned skillets and lamps made out of Jay’s Potato Chips and malted milk cans—and a Bait shop with a rusty aluminum roof adorned with Christmas lights.
So, take a deep breath as you throw back a beer from the Louisiana brewer Abita (they also have Miller, Bud and Heineken), or sip a girly Georgia peach colada, made with rum blended with peaches, coconut and pineapple juice ($6.25). It comes in a tall glass and trust me, you will drink the whole thing.
The menu is extensive: Fish, burgers, salads, wings, pasta, sandwiches. You name it; they got it. For appetizers, don’t miss the ripe plantains deep fried and served with Montego Bay rum sauce ($4.95), a mixture of sour cream, rum and sugar—pretty much what I imagine the clouds in heaven taste like. I’ll never eat a plain plantain again.
The fried green tomatoes ($5.95) come in a simple, crispy jacket of yellow cornmeal. The service is speedy, so before you know it your entrées will have arrived. Like Obama, my best friend likes to cover all the bases with the Southern sampler: gumbo, jambalaya and red beans and rice with cole slaw and a cornbread muffin ($10.50). This isn’t Emeril-Lagasse-level New Orleans fare by any means, but it’s not bad.
I went for an even more decadent option: the oyster po’ boy—a half-pound of oysters breaded and fried with lettuce, tomato and rémoulade on a crispy French bun, accompanied by McDonald’s-esque thin and crispy French fries ($9.95). I’m betting the oysters came from a can, and the rémoulade (a spiced Creole spread) wasn’t reddish like it’s supposed to be and tasted just like regular mayo. But that didn’t stop me from eating most of the sandwich and placing the rest at the top of the heaping doggie bag.
If you’re not stuffed—which, let’s face it, you will be—Obama favors the peach cobbler ($4.75) for dessert. The key lime pie with graham cracker crust and whipped cream ($4.75) is also a solid choice, but our favorite was the enormous hunk of warm, whisky-drenched, raisin-studded vanilla-custard bread pudding ($4.75). It was a sweet ending, and a great beginning to the next day as my breakfast.
Given the chance to go back … say, for the deep-fried, powder-sugar-dusted beignets or banana bread French toast at weekend brunch … we’d take the bait.
825 Church St., Evanston