Revisit: Portillo’s / Barnelli’s Pasta BowlAuthor: indianapoliseater | Filed under: Food Reviews, Location: Chicago, IL, On The Road
Portillo’s / Barnelli’s Pasta Bowl
100 W. Ontario Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
If you look through our blog archives, you can see that we’ve made several visits to Portillo’s throughout the years (have even gotten food by mail) and in each review, we’ve reviewed the same thing, the Italian Beef sandwich. I’ve often lamented that Portillo’s is such a rare treat that I almost feel obligated to get the Italian Beef sandwich and have never tried anything else there, despite the fact that they have an extensive menu of all sort of appetizing options including ribs, hot dogs, burgers, pasta, pizza and even desserts. They are able to do this because Portillo’s is actually a restaurant group with several different brands under one roof (in some locations). In the locations I’ve been to, those brands are Portillo’s Hot Dogs and Barnelli’s Pasta Bowl.
On a recent visit to downtown Chicago, I finally decided to abandon tradition and get something other than my typical order and that leads to this review of something from the Barnelli’s Pasta Bowl menu.
What I Got: Half Slab of Baby Back Ribs; $11.99.
Now, I have no idea how barbecued ribs fall under the Italian/pasta bowl portion of the menu, but somehow in Portillo’s case, they do. They also dub these ribs that are served under an Italian name as being award winning. Again, very confusing, but I’ll play along. Regardless of the cuisine type and naming issues that I may have, it is important to know that each half (or full) slab is served with two sides (I chose fries and a side salad) and a roll.
When my ribs arrived, they were lathered in sauce and I personally like that. Of course, even if they are lathered in sauce, I’m still probably going to dip them in more sauce since I’m a big sauce guy, but when you cook sauce onto ribs, it adds another layer of sweetness to the ribs that I personally enjoy. As for the ribs themselves, they were baby back ribs, so they weren’t overwhelmingly large and/or meaty, but this was still a decent sized portion.
While “fall off the bone” is the most overused expression in all of barbecued ribs preparation since nothing should technically fall off the bone without a bit of prodding (it should just tear off from the bone easily), I will say that these were some of the most tender ribs that I’ve had in quite a while. With minimal prodding, the meat easily separated itself from the bone and was moist, soft and flavorful as I chewed my way through this. In fact, I really didn’t even need any additional sauce because Portillo’s/Barnelli’s sauced these perfectly. One thing that was not present was a smokey flavor and since I’ve started to grow tired of ribs that are overwhelmingly smokey, I very much appreciated that flavor’s absence. Another thing that I appreciated was that these were not overly oily/greasy as well as sometimes after eating ribs, you can have that oily feeling stuck on your tongue and in your mouth and after these ribs, I did not have that.
I’m not really going to spend any time on the sides as they were pretty much standard stuff. The only real thing of note was that the fries were of the crinkle cut variety, but who really cares?
Would I Buy It Again? Yes, I sure would. While I don’t deem these ribs deserving of the menu heading of “Award Winning”, I will say that they were above average and quite flavorful. Plus, for $11.99 for a half slab of ribs, two sides and a roll, this is actually a pretty good deal, especially considering that it was in downtown Chicago, which is not exactly the cheapest place in the world. If you are ever in the neighborhood of a Portillo’s/Barnelli’s and want to venture outside the Italian Beef sandwich, this is a pretty solid choice to make in lieu of that.