What are Chicagoan to do when we’re in the mood for barbecue? The options aren’t plentiful so we have to make do with what we’ve got, but fortunately we’ve got one really awesome joint—Smoque. I would visit the South just for my love of barbecue alone but I have not had that opportunity yet so I can’t truly compare our offerings to theirs. Nonetheless, there’s no need to despair because Smoque does everything it can to make us forget we live in Chicago and not Austin/Memphis/Kansas City/etc.
You might’ve already heard of Smoque since it’s received countless accolades but the short and quick of it is a few guys traveled the country learning about each region’s barbecue secrets and brought it back home. Since it’s opened, the place has rapidly gained in popularity and even been featured on national shows such as Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. And after having been to several of Chicago’s renowned barbecue spots (Fat Willy’s, Smoke Daddy, Lillie’s Q), I can confidently say the hype is warranted.
I happened to be in the neighborhood one afternoon so I decided to drop in. The dining area is pretty unassuming, a large room filled with long tables and hosts who direct you where to sit after you order because it tends to get crowded. I settled on my personal favorite—the St. Louis ribs. For others, their enjoyment of barbecue might hinge on other items but for me, it’s ribs and ribs only. In my opinion if you can pull off good ribs, then the rest should be a cinch. Now Chicago has always been a baby back kind of town but one taste of the bigger, meatier St. Louis ribs will have you changing your tune. Juicy and pull-apart tender with a smoky flavor and married to a tangy spice rub, these ribs don’t even need the accompanying sauce to taste great.
For sides I went with the brisket chili and cornbread. The chili was all right, and packed a bit of spice with its peppers, but ultimately did not live up to my admittedly high expectations. Likewise the cornbread was good, yet unspectacular, although I suppose there’s not much you can do with it, and I’m not a coleslaw fan so I can’t comment on that. On other occasions I’ve also had the fries, which were … fries, and the mac and cheese, which I would have to say is the winner between all the sides. Unbelievably rich and creamy and under a crust of breadcrumbs, the mac and cheese stands out above the rest.
As for the other items on the menu, I’ve tried the Memphis baby back ribs (good but not as good as the St. Louis), the Carolina pulled pork and their signature Texas brisket. The brisket is their most popular and is oh-so-tender and juicy with a dry rub of 13 spices. I actually oftentimes intend to order it but can’t pull myself away from those divine ribs. There’s also smoked chicken and Texas sausage that I’ve yet to try. So whatever your barbequing pleasure is, Smoque’s got it and I’m thankful I can get a taste of several different regional specialties without ever leaving Chicago.