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Better Than Your Mother’s Brisket at Ritual Tavern

September 1, 2011

If I tell you this, you have to promise not to tell my mother. Do you promise? Okay. Here it is. I may have had the best brisket of my life last night. To be more specific: perhaps better than my mother’s homemade brisket that I’ve been raving about since childhood. This amazing brisket was had last night at Ritual Tavern on 30th and Polk in North Park (just two blocks north of University Ave). From the outside, it looks more like a house than a restaurant; small and warm, with a large front porch. The inside is definitely cozy, with a bar to your left and an intimate dining room to the right. The most accurate and succinct description I can provide is an upscale European pub.

The fare follows the decorative trend, providing traditional pub eats like fish and chips and shepherd’s pie, but also other home-style dishes like fried chicken, burgers and my beloved brisket. The list of libations was surprisingly thorough, and included some of my personal favorites like Speedway Stout and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. The list is broken down by each type of beer (or wine), but also goes into further detail with a few descriptive words for the possible beer novice. For example, ‘Porter/Stout: very dark, chocolatey, coffee-ish, carmelized, hoppy’. Both thirst-inducing, and helpful! But, given that our food was likely to be salty and heavy, I shied away from my usual stout and opted for a light and sweet Fox Barrel Black Currant cider.

The first course fulfilled my prediction. An order of house onion rings, battered in ale of course, is definitely not for those wishing to eat light. They were a delicious heap of very crunchy and golden brown rings. The next course, the delicious dry rubbed brisket, arrived soon after. My dining companions- my usual accompanying gentleman caller and our favorite date night couple- ordered the fried chicken with cheddar jalapeno cornbread and the mussels, respectively. The fried chicken with cheddar jalapeno cornbread, which both the gentleman ordered, begged for me to ask to try a taste. Two boneless fried chicken pieces, plus a slice of cheddar jalapeno cornbread, and assorted sautéed vegetables, proved to be the best fried chicken I have had in a restaurant to date (my gentleman rated it up there next to the fried chicken of Craft & Commerce). The chicken was juicy, but the breading may have been my favorite part! It had a great flavor, and was crunchy throughout. The cornbread was curious; it had the flavor of jalapeno without actually being spicy, and had the texture of a regular piece of bread, rather than cornmeal. It was tasty, but not what I expect cornbread to be.

But I digress, back to my brisket. It arrived in the center of my plate, sitting triumphantly atop a pile of mashed potatoes and assorted sautéed vegetables. It looked more like a hunk of steak than the delicately sliced brisket I’ve normally encountered. I grabbed my fork and prepared for my personal test of good brisket. Could I stick the fork in the corner of the brisket, and would the meat just fall away gracefully? Ah, yes, it most certainly could. The subsequent test of taste was immediately passed with flying colors. The meat was truly succulent and flavorful- I believe the absolute worst experience you can have is a dry brisket. Brisket should also be able to stand alone, without a strong barbeque sauce to mask the lack of natural flavor. Ritual’s brisket did just that. The dry rub gave the meat just the right amount of flavor; perhaps just a hint of salt. The accompanying mashed potatoes were a bit lumpy, which I never mind, but had a good creamy homemade taste. We spent those first few minutes with our food in front of us, raving about each of our meals, and asking to try the others. The meal ended with all members of our dining party satisfied, and looking forward to our next dining adventure!