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Uninspired dishes at Porkchop are nothing to go hog wild over

Grilled corn cob Porkchop 941 W. Randolph Tuesday July 26 2011 Chicago | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Grilled corn on the cob at Porkchop, 941 W. Randolph, Tuesday, July 26, 2011, in Chicago | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Porkchop 1/2★

941 W. Randolph; (312) 733-9333;

Hours: Open at 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday for dinner and late-night dining.

Prices: Starters, $5-$9; entrees, $13-$21; desserts, $5-$6.

Try: Elotes, grilled pork chop

In a bite: Porkchop needs to live up to its name and come up with something more than a couple of pork-centric dishes, along with a menu that has more pizzazz. The atmosphere is urban do-over with brick walls and faux butcher shop blended with Kentucky still hut (whiskey barrels here and there). A divider this side of the exhibition kitchen is made up of a bunch of cleavers, meat saws and the like. The cozy bar just inside the entry door would be a pleasant place to hang out. The booze menu drops names like Jack (Daniels) and Jim (Beam), Wild Turkey and Elijah Craig (small-batch bourbon). If you can handle it, the Knob Creek single barrel reserve is 120 proof. Reservations accepted. Not good for children.

KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary;

★★★ Excellent; ★★ Very Good;

★ Good; Zero stars: Poor

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Updated: August 4, 2011 7:06PM

In four words or less. Gastropub. Southern & Soul. That’s what’s going on at the newly uncorked eatery called Porkchop on West Randolph Street. With such a name, the tendency would be to load up the menu with any dish in which pork plays a starring role. And up to a point, that does happen. But you can prod that idea only so far.

Of course there are pork dishes, and they fly at you from every direction. There are a couple of chops — grilled pork chop and chicken fried chop. And pork shows up in spaghetti and meatballs (veal meatballs with “a touch of pork”). And there are porkbelly sliders. What I found surprising is that there wasn’t any pork and beans, which to me is the ultimate comfort food — one that so much can be done with.

But Porkchop has a few ways of sneaking in a pork dish or two just to test your mettle. For example, the “trio of sausage lollipops.” Hunks of sausage, impaled on a stick, were wrapped in crunchy cornmeal batter that had been fried to a golden brown. If you have ever been to a state fair, I need explain no further about stick food. I laughed, I cried, I ate. The sausages were good, but I am not a big fan of fried cornmeal (unless it is done polenta-style).

A better starter choice was the elotes, which is the Mexican name for corn on the cob — grilled or not. These were not the whole ear of corn, so the husk part of the cob wasn’t there, which made the eating messy (using the husk end of the cob as a handle makes the eating easier). Elotes is a street food, but these elotes were slathered with chipotle, aioli and Parmesan, which, of course, contributed to the $5 price for some cut-up chunks — five of them — of corn on the cob.

The main pork event, however, is the grilled pork chop. It was a hefty chop that had been cooked to the new-and-approved temperature for pork (a shade of pink through the middle), which allowed for moisture and flavor. “Smashed” red potatoes and applesauce were the accompaniments. Good? Yes. Great? No. Porkchop needs to try a lot harder to live up to its name.

The chicken fried chop is an idea, but battering a thickly cut chop resulted in a ponderous affair that did nothing good for the pork. Have you considered a stuffed pork chop?

OK, so “Southern & Soul” is part of the culinary lineage that has to do with, for example, fried sweet-and-sour pickles, cornmeal “dusted” catfish, and sides like mustard greens and green beans.

And Southern fried chicken. This chicken looked good on the plate but in the end it didn’t eat all that well. First of all, it hit our table in no time flat, which gave the distinct possibility that it had not been fried from scratch. And to that end, the chicken flavor had pretty much flown the coop. To make matters worse, the meat on the bones was meager, at best. The good news is the half-chicken came with very good green beans and potatoes (the menu noted “mashed,” but they were really smashed).

About the spaghetti and meatballs. Why? If your angle is “Southern & Soul,” why this dish? Surely, you can come up with another pork dish that better relates to your concept. And in a city where meatballs abound, I would suggest going back to the drawing board. Several restaurants around town serve veal meatballs, but I find them to be lacking in flavor. The “touch of pork” in the meatballs at Porkchop doesn’t get the flavor job done. Better to use a combo of veal, pork and beef.

Porkchop needs to rethink its menu. There’s just not enough depth or “wow” to it .

When I asked what the “Pie of the Day” was, the answer was, “We don’t have any pie today.” OK. Cupcakes were suggested. Why not? One red velvet, one chocolate. A very boring way to end a meal, but then, until Porkchop puts together a “meatier” menu, the overall experience can be very boring.


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