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Review

Big Jones

Written by

If you’ve ever been to a potluck or spent a holiday at someone’s home in the Midwest, you know we love making comfort food (the blown fuses from all the crockpots being plugged in are all the evidence you need). And while delicious, satisfying things can be created with slow-cookers and cream of mushroom soup, sometimes you want a change. Big Jones, a Southern restaurant in Andersonville, is a good place to make one.

The menu here features several of the usual suspects - like shrimp and grits with tasso gravy, gumbo made with a dark Cajun roux, and a boucherie board of house-cured meats - all of which are consistently delicious. But what makes a meal at Big Jones particularly interesting is the frequent use of old preparations and ingredients from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most breads are made with heritage grains, and the rye, for instance, is sweetened with molasses. There’s also well-made fried chicken cooked in leaf lard, and “chicken and dumplings circa 1920” - an old family recipe of the chef’s that uses a stewing hen (a.k.a. an old chicken) to give the soup a stronger taste.

Those things are staple menu items, and we like them a lot, but you shouldn’t overlook any seasonal specials that might be available. We’ve had a chestnut flour spaghetti (which is chewy in a really enjoyable way) with preserved kumquats, and a delicious curry peanut bisque that’s both creamy and spicy. These dishes are where Big Jones takes risks and experiments with new (but... old) recipes, and the results are always worth a try.

As good as most things are, you might encounter a few issues while eating here. For one thing, the service is hit or miss - some servers are knowledgeable and excited about the food, but some seem like they couldn’t care less about your experience. The open kitchen can make the restaurant uncomfortably hot, and while the old-fashioned food is probably not like anything else you’ve eaten recently, you might miss the taste of plain old processed sugar. Just know that that isn’t what this restaurant is about, and you shouldn’t come here if that’s what you want.

There’s something comforting about eating food with ingredients that don’t sound like they came out of a lab. The recipes Big Jones uses are exactly what we want when we’re tired of green bean casseroles made with condensed soup, but still want to eat something rich and delicious. Plus, this place has been around since 2008, making it practically a heritage grain in restaurant years. It’s a neighborhood classic that’s continuing to do its own thing, and we hope it sticks around.

Food Rundown

Sandy Noto
Bread

You need to get something from the bread section when you’re here. In particular, the molasses-sweetened rye bread, or the savory cornbread made with bacon fat.

Sandy Noto
Eugene Walters Vanishing Bread With Potlikker

Potlikker is the leftover juice from greens, and it’s incredibly good - a perfect combination of spicy and bitter. Use the pecorino-crusted baguette (basically like eating the edges of a slightly burned grilled cheese) as a vehicle to soak up all the potlikker you possibly can.

Flamin’ Hot Cheese Straws

A definite miss. These are very dry, and covered in so much Cajun spice that they are seriously hard to eat. We would much rather be eating actual Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

Curry Peanut Bisque

We love this soup. It’s smooth and creamy, and even though its base is a peanut broth, the peanut flavor is subtle. It’s more of a vehicle for the curry, and has a balance of sweetness from pickled peaches and spice from habanero pepper.

Gumbo Ya-Ya

Made with a super dark Cajun roux, housemade andouille sausage, chicken, pork, and a side of heritage rice from Arkansas. It’s rich and spicy, and we challenge anyone from New Orleans to an argument about how good it is.

Sandy Noto
Shrimp And Grits

That same person from New Orleans can also order the shrimp and grits here and be happy. The shrimp, in a mushroom and tasso ham gravy, are served on a bed of rich grits that are still so fluffy they might levitate off the plate. (You, on the other hand, can count on not levitating after eating this dish. But you won’t care.)

Sandy Noto
Chicken and dumplings Circa 1920

We’re pretty sure this is the kind of chicken soup that cures a cold. The chicken stock is flavorful and light, and there are a good number of dumplings. We submit it to replace the Dayquil you’ve been taking.

Chestnut Spaghetti

If there is something on the menu that sounds slightly unusual yet intriguing, order it. For example, the chestnut spaghetti (a special). The pasta is made from chestnut flour, and served with morels, ramps, candied pecans, and preserved kumquats in a brown butter sauce. It tastes fantastic - chestnut pasta is our new favorite gluten-free noodle.

Sandy Noto
The Fried Chicken Dinner

Big Jones’s fried chicken is really good, and we’re reasonably certain it has something to do with the fact that it’s fried in pig fat with ham drippings. The fried chicken dinner comes with your choice of light meat, dark meat, or half a chicken along with two sides (things like sweet potato hash, ham fat-fried potatoes, or grits). Plan on not needing to eat for a few days after this.

Sandy Noto
Pimento Cheeseburger

Yes, there’s a cheeseburger on the menu, and it’s worth getting if you really want a cheeseburger. It comes on a buttermilk roll with pimento cheese.

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