"Order me the Korean BBQ beef, curried fries, and I think we should split the bacon chocolate chip frozen yogurt," Serena diligently instructed me via text message as I approached the popular Korean-fusion restaurant, which is cozily nestled underneath the Western Blue Line stop in Bucktown.
My co-BYOB blogger and life confidant, due to the light-headedness resulting from pre-BYO fasting, had unintentionally found herself disoriented at the other Western Blue Line stop.
Despite the setback, I dried the tears resulting from my first ever eyebrow threading experience and prepared myself to enter the FABE (Frenetic Asian Birthday Event) on my own, which, despite much experience with events of the sort, I was a bit nervous about.
Thankfully, my messenger bag doubled as an arsenal of liquid courage: Nestled inside were a bottle of Charles Shaw Merlot ($3) and a 22oz Weizen Bam farmhouse wheat beer ($14), which I had purchased at the cute nearby wine boutique, Red and White (1861 N. Milwaukee).
In a sense, I felt that the varying quality of these two beverages manifested the highbrow/lowbrow dichotomy inherent to the sport of BYOB -- or at least I told myself that to feel better about buying a $14 beer that "paired well with Korean food," despite the fact that it was a wheat beer adorned with a Dalmatian. I am so gullible.
I quickly settled in and was relieved to see a number of familiar faces. The small interior -- though a bit modern for my taste -- had a distinctly welcoming aura, despite the weird graffiti and abundance of cold stainless steel.
The enormous table at the center of the restaurant, likely intended for communal belly engourging, was perfect for our enormous group. Eventually, our size necessitated a satellite table, which thrived off of the mothership via an alcoholic umbilical cord.
We wasted no time -- booze was passed around freely, and an enterprising friend quickly ordered approximately 25 baskets of the Togarashi fries ($3) as appetizers, which came quickly. The fries themselves were delightfully crispy and well-seasoned, and I enjoyed the first few on their own.
However, the accompanying curry mayonnaise, while objectively "tasty," seemed concentrated to the point of radioactivity -- rather than a dipping sauce, it landed somewhere on the spectrum between potent ramen stock and the water contaminant in Erin Brockovich. (Update: the following day, I reeked of garlic, despite repeated brushing.)
When friends began eating entrées, I found myself wondering how, in my mild state of inebriation, I had completely missed the ordering process. I was made a fool: guests order at the front of the restaurant. While not my favorite style of service for a merry, drawn-out BYOB, it kept costs low (entrées were $9) without sacrificing service. And as obnoxious as we were, the staff was courteous and never kicked us out, even as our words slurred.
As the first entrées were served, Serena finally arrived and we argued about the fry sauce before strategically ordering (and mooching) as to try everything on the menu. I chose the pork meatball sandwich, and Serena went with the Korean BBQ Beef Sandwich, which seemed to be a popular choice.
The meatballs in my sandwich were flavorful and cooked to a faintly pink center, making for the perfect consistency (Serena, resident meat tenderness expert, was in agreement). However, I could have gone without the greasy tuft of noodles slathered on top -- I'm sorry, noodles don't belong in a pita unless there is a severe famine. My decision-making altered by the copious amounts of wine, I ate the whole thing and instantly felt kind of ill.
The other options, however, were pretty solid. Serena's beef was flavorful, albeit unexciting, and the Korean Hot Dog was awesome -- I was bitter about only being allotted a "half-bite."
By the time the candle-laden communal frozen yogurts arrived, I felt pretty awful. Because I'll eat anything involving bacon at any time or level of nausea, I gave each of them a try, though it was disappointing that they consisted of plain yogurt with gourmet toppings, as we expected the yogurt itself to be infused with the bacon. They were still pretty good, but in the words of Ron Burgundy, "[frozen] milk was a bad choice" given my condition.
Realizing that it was nearing 11pm, we fled the scene of our enormous table, which looked like the aftermath of a drunken restaurant shootout. My stomach improved as we bar hopped, though the next day, I was forced to return from a jog due to some loud belly shrieking. Not everyone (though some) had the same issue, but regardless, this Belly Shack could have been a bit more accommodating to its namesake.
Friendliness to Partying: 4.5/5
Belly Shack is located 1912 N. Western Avenue. With tasty, albeit greasy food and a laissez-faire BYOB atmosphere, Belly Shack is a great place to eat creatively and get trashed at a low cost. Just bring some antacids.