Two new barbecue joints open
Smalls and Blackwood, two new BBQ joints that opened this summer, prove that size doesn't matter.
New York can keep its ridiculous dessert hybrids—in Chicago, the biggest food trend of the summer is barbecue. I checked out County Barbeque earlier this week, then dropped in on two other newcomers on the smoked meat scene. Smalls Smoke Shack & More and Blackwood BBQ opened earlier this summer, and I dug into platters of brisket, dipped fries into banana ketchup and tasted lots and lots of sauces to determine the best dishes each place. Here's what to try.
Smalls Smoke Shack & More
My Twitter feed exploded in mid-July with photos of perfectly composed silver trays laden with slices of brisket, Texas toast with griddle marks and corn on the cob showered with microgreens. Everyone was eating at Smalls Smoke Shack & More, it seemed, and everyone wanted to share. And it took one visit for me to get it—Smalls is Chicago’s best new BBQ joint. And it’s also the smallest, so we can cease that discussion about size mattering once and for all.
Smalls, which opened in Irving Park in June, is a tiny, cerulean-painted restaurant with a few tall chairs placed along a narrow ledge, and that’s it. If you want to properly dive into trays of brisket, fried chicken, St. Louis ribs or pulled pork at the restaurant, you’ll need to stand up and hope that everyone else decided to take their orders to go. You can also head next door to eat at Lizard’s Liquid Lounge and get a beer, because barbecue is even better with beer. On our visit, there was also a couple on a date with a big bottle of red wine, but luckily they were winding down—this joint isn’t really big enough for four people to eat comfortably. This isn’t neat, fork and knife fare; this is stand-up, use-your-hands, get-messy food.
Joaquin Soler, who ran the Brown Bag Lunch Truck, and Dan Scesnewicz, a sommelier and former partner at Flemings Prime Steakhouse in Florida, are running the place, and Soler’s Filipino heritage is evident in some of the dishes. The BBQ has Asian tinges, such as the soy, banana ketchup, garlic and Mexican 7 Up glaze on the meaty ribs. There’s also the “tiger cry sauce,” a fish sauce-based dip for the beef brisket, which fell apart into tender shards when I touched it with my fork. The sauce isn’t even necessary when the brisket is this good—I eventually abandoned my fork and just used my hands to eat it. The fried chicken won’t get the attention the brisket does, but it’s brined in buttermilk and fried in cornstarch. It has a crackly exterior and perfectly cooked interior and comes with a pile of herbed fries and a container of mild banana ketchup. Sides come with each meat dish, and the toasted garlic rice is nutty and garlicky, while the charred corn on the cob, topped with herbs and cheese and served with spicy Japanese mayo, is an Asian twist on elotes.
Smalls has biscuit and egg sandwiches and bacon waffles during breakfast hours, and I can’t wait to go try them. The only downside to breakfast, though, is that I can’t even imagine a visit to Smalls without diving into a platter of brisket.