When I travel, I’m always on the lookout for exciting new places to eat and Chicago is one of my favorite cities to visit because there is lots of very good food there. On my last trip to the Windy City, I noticed that a new restaurant had opened up right next door to Rick Bayless’s Frontera and XOCO, two of my go-to restaurants (where I spotted Rick Bayless himself, on this last visit!). The name of the place definitely caught my eye, and after checking out the menu, I decided to come back the next day to give it a try.
Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ serves up classic American bbq with a bit of an Asian twist. I wouldn’t call it fusion, because the pulled pork and smoked brisket are clearly American classics, but the hint of Asian influence is easy to spot and pairs very well with the bbq. The menu consists of both small plates meant for sharing and larger plates where the barbecued meats really take the spotlight.
Macaroni and cheese is a favorite side dish at bbq places and this one is not like any mac and cheese that you’ll find anywhere else. The dish is served in a small cast iron skillet and is large enough for two to share as an appetizer (or three, in all honesty). It is made with jack, gouda, and both white and yellow cheddar, then topped with parmesan – and despite all of those cheeses, the sauce is light, smooth and stays creamy from start to finish. The best part of the dish isn’t the cheese, though. The star is the satisfyingly thick, slightly chewy, handmade pasta that serves as the base of the dish. That would be good with just butter and cheese alone.
But I came here the first time for bbq meat and it was the bbq meat that brought me back for another visit just days later.
The pulled pork, above, is smokey and tender, with a ton of barbecue flavor. The meat was very juicy and definitely lived up to my high hopes for it. The brisket was just as tender and well-smoked as the pork, and a deep pink smoke ring just under the surface crust was thick and clearly visible. The meat is all prepared in-house and as fresh as you can get.
You can get your meat with a couple of sides, but I think the best way to have it is with the steamed buns – my favorite element of Asian influence. The steamed buns are light and fluffy, freshly steamed in the kitchen for each and every order. I picked combination plates that included meat, buns, coleslaw and pickled veggies both visits. You eat them by packing the soft buns with the meat and veggies and slathering everything in your choice of sauces. I wouldn’t mind if more bbq places started serving steamed buns after this!
There were plenty of sauces – all homemade – to choose from. Take your pick: Spicy, Asian, Original or Mustard. I like an Original-Spicy blend, especially with the brisket.
The bar menu is heavy on the moonshine and whiskey, which ties in very well with the BBQ. I don’t know about you, but moonshine is not something I encounter too often, though I’m told that artisanal moonshine seem to be a growing trend. If I’m having a drink with dinner, I usually opt for wine over a cocktail, but I did give the fruity One Inch Punch – a drink made with koval rye, passionfruit, lime, apricot, peach bitters and prosecco, as well as with a nod to Bruce Lee – a taste to see how the moonshine worked with my meat. If that was anything to go by, I’d say that their moonshine cocktails are worth a taste just as much as the bbq is.
On top of the food and drinks being good, the service was excellent every time I went in, with a very friendly and very knowledgeable staff. And Chef Red Hauge, who took a moment to pose for a picture with me partway through my last visit, definitely knows what he is doing in the kitchen. I’m adding this to my list of go-to places in Chicago, especially if you’re in the mood for bbq.
Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ
441 N. Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654