I think it’s interesting to look at what things may have influenced my writing or even my thinking about restaurants. During my post on Smoke Daddy, I happened to be taking a course called Medical Decision Making (MDM). For those of you not at the Feinberg School of Medicine, one of the things we learn in MDM is how to use statistics to judge a new treatment or medication. In order to judge the new method you have to compare it to the “gold standard” test (the test that has been tried and true for the medical profession for some time). Well, while writing my post on Smoke Daddy I found myself looking for a gold standard to compare it to. When you’re looking for a gold standard of BBQ in Chicago, the clear choice is Smoque (pronounced like “smoke”). So last Tuesday for a birthday present, my buddy Marc Kovarsky took me to get some top of the line BBQ.
Smoque is located on Pulaski and Grace right near the Irving Park/Pulaski highway exit of 94 (pretty easy access). It’s not really easy to get to by public transportation, but there’s lots of street parking and a small lot near the restaurant. As far as getting your food, you order at the counter and a host will find you a seat (much like Milk and Honey). You might think that eventually this might be a problem that there just wouldn’t be a seat, but magically the line kind of moves at a similar pace to table availability. I haven’t had a problem getting a table in any of the 6 times I’ve been to Smoque, and this time was no exception.
The line may be a problem though. The worst I’ve ever seen it was about 45 minutes, but if you consider that your food and table come soon after, then it’s not really that bad a wait for such a good meal. Most of the time it’s been about 10 to 15 minutes of waiting in line. Once you place your order it takes less than 10 minutes to get your food. The one time this may be a logistical problem is when it’s winter and the line goes outside a bit at busy time.
Smoque happens to be BYOB. There’s a cheap liquor store down the block too. It’s pretty nice that if you wanted to, you could bring a pretty big group of friends here. Think about it. You could have your own beer, automatically pay separate checks at the counter, and you won’t need a reservation (because you can’t even make one). One thing is you might feel bad sitting at a table for a long time because it will probably be in high demand (although I’ve never had anyone approach me or try to rush me out). Also, you can drink while you’re in line to pass the time if you go when they’re really busy.
One of the greatest things is the price. A platter that includes a meat and 2 sides is usually around $10. If you get a sandwich with cornbread and a side it’s around $8. You get a ton of food no matter what you order, and it really won’t cost you too much at all.
The last logistical point I’d like to make is that very soon you’ll be able to enjoy Smoque at US Cellular Field. So in case the fajitas, calzones, and paella weren’t diverse enough of options, you can now get ribs, chicken, pulled pork, and brisket.
At Smoque, it’s all about the meat. I’ve tried different things, but now I’ve settled on a regular order. I like to get the Brisket Sandwich (sliced, not chopped) with French Fries and Cornbread instead of Coleslaw (this is the essential move, since the coleslaw is just average and they let you switch it out for free). Marc got the Sliced Brisket Platter with Baked Beans and Mac N Cheese. The Brisket is the best thing at Smoque. They have an interesting dry rub that incorporates Coke as their not so secret ingredient. The meat is ultra tender and not too fatty or chewy. In a sandwich it comes on a big white bread bun that perfectly soaks up all of the juices and sauce. It comes with a side of their Carolina style BBQ sauce in case you need more of that delicious goodness.
Sliced Brisket Sandwich with French Fries and Cornbread
The French Fries are spot on at Smoque. They’re hand cut and have a real nice crispy outside while maintaining a soft inside. You get a large bag of them too, so this may be the side that gives you the most bang for your buck. The coleslaw is vinegar based, which I personally don’t prefer, so I always switch it out for the Cornbread. It’s not as good as the Cornbread at Smoke Daddy, but it’s still pretty good with a moist center and slightly sweet flavor. The baked beans could use a little improvement. They’re special in that they cook them in the smoker with all the meat, but I feel like the sauce could be sweeter and thicker, and the beans could be a little more cooked. The Mac N Cheese isn’t as smooth of a texture as I’m used to and has somewhat of a grainy feel. It’s still very rich, hot, and tasty.
Sliced Brisket Platter with Cornbread, Mac N Cheese, and Baked Beans
In past visits I’ve gotten the Chicken which is fantastic. It comes out juicy and covered in a tasty rub. I’ve heard great things about the ribs as well although I’ve never gotten them. Really though, the Brisket is why it’s worth making the trip to Smoque in my opinion.
The Brisket (Check out that smoke ring!)
Smoque, as far as I can tell, is still the gold standard of BBQ in Chicago. They’re putting out some fantastic meats and some pretty sweet sides. The sides may have a slight step up at Smoke Daddy, but the meats are just far and beyond at Smoque (which is the real reason you go for BBQ right?). Logistically this place is great, especially if you don’t have a reservation or want to drink a lot for a low cost (or if you need a place for a bday dinner, thanks Marc). I’m giving Smoque 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.