I struggle to think of any positive outcome from going to the DMV, other than I’ve successfully allowed the government to track me, I can vote for the next shitty politician, I can drive legally (operative word being LEGALLY), and I can proudly proclaim my residency in the wide-assed, corn-filled stretch of land that is the Midwest. Go me. I’m so thankful and excited to write about a little piece of magic the DMV indirectly bestowed upon me the other day. Naturally, it’s food. Even more obvious is the type of food it was. In the grand tradition of being American, we trekked west, thankfully in a car, to Northwest Chicago, past the safe neighborhoods, the dangerous ones, back into safety, finally to cozy up to the brink of hostile where the ugly bureaucracy sits, dormant and inefficient, like most government institutions. Similar to previous ventures into federally run establishments, this was largely unsuccessful, as soon as we stepped in the door. Depression set in immediately as we saw the no less than 131 people waiting their turn. Eff this noise. How can we get out of this? We waited in a long line to get to the longer line only to be told we forgot a 2nd form of ID. Well, truthfully, I didn’t, but the half-wit man-children I choose to share my life with did, so, much to our dismay we were forced to leave that cramped warehouse where dreams go to die and moved on to our own fantasies, for full bellies and satisfied taste-buds. We left, quickly, happily, back to the car, back on the road through the roller-coaster of security that is Chicago streets, to find our next meal. We set our minds on a specific neighborhood, searching the interweb for suggestions. And then, like the parting of the Red Sea, we saw just where we needed to go. The place was Smokey Bear BBQ.
Located on West Foster, near the Kimball brown-line stop (always makes me think of the Fugitive), Smokey Bear is wedged between a slew of other store-fronts, unassuming yet inviting, doors and windows open, you had us at BBQ. We parked, for free (bonus to being off the beaten path), followed the smell of butter and pork to what is sure to be heaven on Earth. Walking in I was immediately transported back to my childhood, back to Little Italy pizza and other lunch favorites, with the menu written on the wall, the cook calling out orders, and a nice older woman running the register. The selection was small, including just a few classics and some of their own specialties, the perfect amount to execute effectively and efficiently. We parked our sure to be expanding gluts in front of their big screen and anxiously awaited our feast.
Some meals require a clearing of the schedule. This was a Monday, my day off, so I was able to put down some major chow without suffering too many consequences (see: Kuma’s Corner). I was fully prepared to hibernate this away later, sleeping through digestion and any other process this food would take in my body. I knew it’d be worth it. And it was.
We each went for their half and half sandwiches. I’d never seen this before. Half pulled pork, half brisket sandwich. Their counter proudly boasts a variety of BBQ sauces, sweet, savory, smokey, spicy. I elected none of those options. The meat in my sandwich was so flavorful, so tender and juicy, a sauce would have simply masked it’s natural beauty and wonder, like putting a loin cloth over the sculpture of David, pointless, disrespectful even. Accompanying our barbarian sandwich was a side of slaw, North Carolina style, thank you St. Lorenzo, patron saint of chefs! Nothing better than vinegar slaw in my mind, my heart will always belong to NC BBQ, even though I have much love for Memphis and Texas as well. In addition to the 2 lb sandwich and slaw, we each received an additional side, two of us going for sweet potato fries, hand-cut, thick, crunchy, salty and sweet, and I, being a champion of mastication, went for mac ‘n’ cheese. The mac was made with small shell pasta and was so damn creamy and cheesy, I almost died. Not to be outdone was our “appetizer,” the Bear Paw. A coaster shaped disk of fried southern goodness. Mashed potatoes, meat, cheese, sour cream and something else I can’t recall. It doesn’t matter, just put it in your mouth, chew, swallow, repeat.
Food is absolutely a drug for me. If I had an allergy to vegetables or whole grains, a sedentary lifestyle, or a genetic predisposition for weight gain, I may not be able to enjoy the kaleidoscope of eats I currently do. I’m grateful I enjoy every single type of food there is and relish the opportunities to stuff myself in a memorable way. Normally, I eat like a standard human being, never like a lady, but like something resembling a homo-sapien at 27. On occasion, when I deserve it, I eat big and I go home, to reminisce and sleep it off. Then I write about it. There’s nothing more I appreciate in this experience we call life than happening upon truly incredible food, by surprise. That was exactly the case with Smokey Bear. We spent very little and in turn received so much. I will be back.
Walk. Stretch. Move. Then eat. Sleep while you digest. Enjoy.