Wed. April 3, 2013 12:00 AM
by Rick Karlin
With the first hint of warmer weather, I'll be out there at my grill and smoker, making up for the barbecue missing from my life. I must have been a southerner in a previous life, seeing as how I miss my Q when I ain't getting it! As far as I'm concerned, lack of BBQ should be a misdemeanor, "the more I miss, de meaner I get."
I may be a carnivore, but I'm married to a vegetarian and I have to say that most barbecue spots fail when it comes to options for these folks. True, the menu isn't geared toward vegetarians, but as in our family, they dine out with meat eaters, and it wouldn't kill these restaurants to keep a few veggie burgers in the freezer. I've indicated vegetarian options when available.
You'll also notice no mention of BBQ sauce. True ‘cue aficionados know that it's all about the smoke. The sauce is secondary and a matter of taste. I prefer Texas style, but many opt for the vinegar or mustard based versions from the Carolinas. So, until I can make my own, here are a few of my favorite places.
Austin BBQ , 226 W. Front St., Wheaton, IL 60187 (630) 690-0526, austinbbq.net
A casual, reasonably priced and authentic suburban location. The meats have pink rings indicative of time spent in the custom-built smoker in back of this simple storefront. Supple, smoky brisket and tri-tip are my faves. Cheddar and jalapeño-spiced sausages are not made in-house, but are damned good. The baked beans and blue cheese slaw are your best bets for sides. No reason vegetarians can't enjoy a trip here; the fried mac and cheese bites, corned bread and fried okra are good enough to make into a meal.
Chicago q , 1160 N. Dearborn, (312) 642-1160, chicagoqrestaurant.com
This is the place if you're looking for something a little more upscale.: Dark wood, leather booths and dim lighting might lead you to think this is city slickers' Q. Don't judge a restaurant by its décor, the barbecue here is serious stuff. Lee Ann Whippen, Virginia gal and a fixture on the competitive barbecue scene, kills it with meats packed with flavor thanks to two on-site smokers, which utilize five types of wood. Chicago q shines with ribs (baby back or the leaner St. Louis style), Kobe beef brisket and pulled pork. Best bet for sides are the fluffy bacon-cheddar hush puppies and grilled shrimp with polenta. No entrée options for vegetarians, but side dishes include, Yukon Gold potato salad, poblano-cheddar cornbread, bruleèd macaroni and cheese, buttermilk mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
Pork Shoppe , 2755 W. Belmont, (773) 961-7654, porkshoppechicago.com
You wouldn't expect such down home casual goodness from the folks behind the trendy upscale (and now closed) Middle-Eastern Tizi Melloul. However, this simple storefront crafts a menu of hickory, oak and apple wood-smoked meats from local farms. The pulled pork, brisket and ribs are delish, but for something more unusual try the pork belly or beef pastrami, both served either hot or cold. The baked beans flavored with burnt ends are the best side. A pair of brisket tacos, served with fries, and a soda for $6 is a steal at lunch time, far less than you'd spend at a fast food joint. Vegetarians can enjoy sweet and spicy corn bread, mac and cheese, creamed corn, or green bean salad.
Smoque , 3800 N. Pulaski, (773) 545-7427, smoquebbq.com
Full disclosure, Smoque is owned by the cousin of one of my oldest childhood friends. I didn't know that, though, when I fell in love with the brisket at this Northwest side spot. Who knew Jews could create the a pulled pork sandwich (the meat is smoked for 15 hours) this good? The crisp-skinned chicken is juicy, but I'm not a fan of the dry rub ribs (although I have to say I'm in the minority, as its one of Smoque's most popular dishes).The brisket chili and burnt-end baked beans are good. Vegetarians are not served well here; the mac and cheese and cornbread are average and pricey, the fries are your best bet. A second spot is supposed to open in Lakeview soon, if it hasn't by the time you read this.
3555 N Broadway, (773) 472-1227, wrigleybbq.com
Finally, good ‘cue in the hood! Jack Jones, formerly owner of Jack's on Halsted, goes decidedly more cas' with his new spot. The slow cooking smoker uses a combination of fresh cut fruitwoods (cherry, apple and oak). The pork, chicken and burgers are hormone and antibiotic free and everything is made in-house. The rub combines15 spices and herbs for a deep, rich flavor. Best bets are the platters served with two sides for between $10 and $15. Sandwiches average $10. If you, like me, want it all, go for a combo platter, a few bucks more, but enough for two to share. My other faves include the smoked brisket chili and smoked wings. Vegetarians score here with a really good veggie burger, smoked vegetarian chili and a wide variety of side dishes, including; whole wheat pasta salad, jalapeño corn bread, maple whipped sweet potatoes, mac and cheese, fresh corn off the cob a terrific salad with apples and smoked cheddar. Even the desserts are awesome, triple chocolate chunk pecan pie and a Fuji-Granny Smith apple crisp.