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Ribfest for the Non-Rib Eater (and the People Who Love Them)

By Patty Wetli | Sunday, June 10, 2012

Malasada at Sola. Credit: Patty Wetli

What’s a vegetarian like me doing at Ribfest? Well, for starters, it’s my job to cover the event. But my husband is also a major carnivore and I vowed for better or pork.

The challenge at Ribfest, like pretty much every other outlet that doesn’t cater specifically to vegetarians, is not so much finding meatless options as it is finding decent meatless options. Curly fries, funnel cakes and corn-on-a-stick abound–”carnival food” as one festival-goer referred to it–and I confess I’m not immune to the charms of such grub. My mouth is still watering over the deep-fried Oreo I inhaled at last year’s fest (on the menu again at Lee’s Concessions): it was like a pocket of molten chocolate wrapped in a beignet, which was as perfect as it sounds.

This year, I was determined to eat an actual meal. So naturally we kicked things off with another variation on fried batter, sharing an amuse-bouche of sorts from Sola (3868 N. Lincoln Ave.). Turns out that Malasada is just a fancy way of saying “doughnut” in Portuguese or “yum” in English.

Ribs and Guinness ice cream. Credit: Patty Wetli

Next stop, Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro (3905 N. Lincoln Ave.). My Better Half (BH) ordered a rib sampler, which he judged “fall-off-the-bone good.” He also bragged that he could’ve been a contender in Thursday night’s amateur rib-eating contest and, considering his sauce-covered face, I had to admit he at least looked the part. I went with the Guinness ice cream, chocolate variety, because I wanted to try it and knew that I wasn’t about to fight the crowds for a return trip later in the evening. Can’t say I detected any Guinness, so if it’s ice cream you want, you might as well go with the gargantuan portions scooped elsewhere.

Having checked off appetizer and dessert, I finally found an entree at BrownTrout (4111 N. Lincoln Ave.), where chef Sean Sanders was not only serving up a BBQ Hog Roasted Sandwich for the BH but a Chicago Falafel Dog for me. The dog was pretty much what it sounded like: falafel shaped like a weiner, with cucumber, tomato and tahini wrapped in a pillow-soft poppyseed bun. We both left pretty satisfied.

Normally, when I hit up a rib joint with the BH, I resort to ordering side dishes, making a meal out of sweet potatoes and mac ‘n’ cheese. A number of Ribfest vendors offer sides a la carte, including Blue Bayou (3734 N. Southport Ave.), where I stopped for cornbread. I was bummed to find it came studded with peppers–I prefer my cornbread sweet and unadulterated–and found it a bit spongy. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve gone with the mac ‘n’ cheese at Real Urban Barbecue.

Suppli at Ripasso. Credit: Patty Wetli

The folks at Ripasso (1619 N. Damen Ave.) were advertising something called “Suppli”; I had no idea what this meant but it had “veggie” written in parentheses next to it, so I stopped and asked the staff. Their description: fried balls of risotto and cheese, topped with tomato sauce. I gave it a whirl and was pleasantly surprised–the dish earned two forks up from me and the BH. The risotto was creamy, the cheese and sauce added flavor and the fried crust delivered texture.

Overall, I’d say I fared pretty well if a bit heavy on the carbs, though I was vaguely disappointed that I hadn’t hit a home run. While the BH raved all night about his ribs–this was Ribfest after all–everything I’d eaten had been good, but nothing had left me craving more.

Should’ve stuck with the deep-fried Oreo.

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