Go big and go home full at Chicago's Ribs
Finger lickin’ good
By Allison Costa 05/24/2012
692 E. Main St.,
$4.99 - $22.99
Sometimes it feels really good to roll up your sleeves and get messy. One such place — where you’ll fit right in with your napkin tucked into your shirt — is Chicago’s Ribs in the heart of downtown Ventura.
Located in the historic Ventura Mutual Fire Insurance Company building on the corner of Main and Fir streets, this Chicago-centric restaurant has become known over the years for, not surprisingly, its ribs. Though there have been changes in management and slight tweaks to the restaurant’s name, service is always friendly and prompt, and the menu has been consistently focused on large helpings of Chicago-style food like ribs, steaks, barbecued chicken and more.
The menu at Chicago’s is as hearty as the portion sizes, so be forewarned that it may take a while to make up your mind. We always start our meal with a few of the handmade appetizers to munch on.
One of the specialties is the zucchini wedges, which are dipped in a beer batter before being fried to a crisp golden brows, finished with a dusting of parmesan cheese, and served with tangy ranch dressing. There is also the “world famous” Chicago onion rings — thinly cut onions fried together in a large cluster and served with a tangy barbecue sauce for dipping. (Take heed: a half-order is plenty for a table of four to share.)
Another winner among the appetizer options is the chicken wings. Now, these aren’t your typical buffalo wings. Instead, they are battered, fried and slathered in its signature barbecue sauce. The wings are hearty in size, crunchy from the batter, and sweet from the sauce … one of those dishes that we order every time we go. You can order them as an appetizer or as part of one of the entree combos.
Though the menu offers seafood options like fried shrimp and grilled fish, salads topped with barbecued chicken and tri-tip, and sandwiches like the grilled kielbasa sandwich, we are always drawn to anything slathered in that tangy barbecue sauce.
There are three options when it comes to ribs: the smaller baby back pork ribs, St. Louis-style pork spare ribs, and the larger beef back ribs. Though some may stick with the baby backs, the most common, it is fun to get a combo platter and try all three. The beef ribs are about as long as your dinner plate is wide — and though the meat is tougher than that on the pork ribs, the flavor is unique and they make for a fun, Neanderthal-style eating experience, one where you’re likely to get some sauce on the far reaches of your face.
Whichever ribs you choose, you will surely need a few extra napkins and some Handiwipes (which will be brought to you) after all is said and done.
If you are looking for a sandwich, the pulled pork is a good choice. As anyone who has experience with pulled pork sandwiches knows, the roll can make or break the experience. At Chicago’s Ribs, the sandwiches come on sweet, soft rolls that give perfectly when you bite into them. When filled with tender, juicy pulled pork, it’s a combo that just may make you swoon.
Another fun aspect of the combo platters is getting to choose from the list of sides, all of which are comforting in their simplicity. The macaroni and cheese is a standout with my family, as are the sweet baked beans, which clearly have some of that barbecue sauce mixed in. The creamed spinach and mashed sweet potatoes are a personal favorite, though the jambalaya rice and french fries might be tempting to others.
If, after all that eating, you have an inch of room left, the desserts here are just as grand as you would expect: Chicago-style cheesecake, the Windy City Sundae, and the Lake Michigan Mud Pie, a towering ice cream pie built on a chocolate wafer-cookie crust.
The beverage options at Chicago’s Ribs include a selection of house cocktails, a handful of beers on tap and a fairly good selection of wines. If you happen to stop by during happy hour (4-7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday) you’ll find wines by the glass for $3, draft beers for $3.75 and a selection of appetizers for $3.50.
Though the specialty is barbecue, there is something for everyone at Chicago’s Ribs. Just be ready to roll up those sleeves and loosen your belt before you go.
*Note: Chicago’s Ribs is also open for breakfast on the weekends, when you’ll find such stick-to-your-ribs goodies as country-fried steak, omelets filled with that juicy pulled pork, and an egg scramble packed with tri-tip and St. Louis rib meat.
Check out my food tasting tours at www.venturafoodtours.com where you’ll find information on our new Eating Ojai Tour, gift certificates, and info on upcoming special events.