Ya’ll want some sweet tea? Come to Honky Tonk BBQ. Award winning pulled pork, brisket, baby-back and St. Louis style ribs, smoked chicken, home-made cornbread, and the impeccable creamy and crunchy mac n cheese are just a few southern style items this Pilsen gem is slinging out to customers on a consistent basis. Even as a North-sider, I’ve made the trek down south, to 18th street and Racine, for this delicious fare. Twice. And you should too. I first heard of this place because my guitar guy (he has a name, it’s Matt, but he’s endlessly referred to as my guitar guy. I’m wondering if I’m the yoga chick or what he may call me.) plays with his two-man lefty band, the Northside Southpaws, every Friday night. A fellow foodie, he described the legitimate sounding dishes in a way in which I knew I’d have to make it down, someway somehow. At the time I did not have a car, and it was cold, so I elected not to take a 30 dollar cab ride but to wait, until it warmed up, and until my brother moved up here with his car. Much better.
Cut to my first visit. A good friend and another fellow food-whore came to visit (we are the quintessential Never Not Hungry girls) and we set our sights on the south, both in our culinary quest and our geographical route. Our group from the north side drove down to Pilsen and met some great yoga friends of mine, one in particular was a Pilsen resident and shares the same priorities in life, good food, good people. We walked in, gawked at the enormous ceilings and southern decor, making our way to the back, to an American sized table, big enough to fit our group and our appetites.
When I allow the desire and anticipation for a certain type of food to build, piling onto what is already a famously large appetite, I attack a restaurant like a junkyard dog, as if it may be my last meal for a while. Gnawing hunger in tact, I take what is mostly a psychological craving and order with my cohorts the equivalent of a last supper. I can barely remember that first time, except waddling out of there. Not the type of food I can eat every day, or even every week, if I want to maintain healthy cholesterol and insulin levels, and so I prepare for a 2-3 month digestion period and anxiously await my next visit.
Almost exactly two months later, the opportunity arises to return. Visiting relatives are already downtown, drenched in humidity, jaded from fellow tourists, ready to eat and drink in air conditioning. Conveniently leaving their car in my neighborhood gave me the opportunity to chauffeur them around, choosing today to take Lakeshore drive, a consistent reminder of why I love Chicago. I squeezed myself amongst a billion cabbies on the hectic Michigan avenue, a quick trigger as to why I hate driving in Chicago, picked up my dinner mates and continued south to 18th street.
Sitting at a round table, perfect for the 5 of us, I was pleased to see the Southpaws were both in house and playing that evening. I quickly ordered a trough of sweet tea, one of their delectable, home-made corn bread muffins, and some fried green tomatoes for the entire clan. I can vouch for the pulled pork, the ribs, brisket, rib tips and every single side available. I love when a restaurant surprises you, adding a few little gems to the menu you wouldn’t expect. On this occasion I opted for the green BLT, a sandwich consisting of fried green tomato, peppercorn bacon, fresh greens, and garlic mayo on two ciabatta rolls. It was the best BLT I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a few variations, even making my own on panini nights. This takes the cake. Scarfing it down with mac n cheese, slaw, greens or yams puts icing on that hickory smoked cake. Another little surprising delight, bacon candy. Unbelievable. Try it. I wish I lived closer.
The only thing I care for and appreciate more than food, is the people I choose to eat with. On both occasions we had great company, open-minded folks game for whatever slabs of meat or butter filled concoction you can imagine. It made the sweet tea even sweeter and the emergence of the inevitable food baby that much easier to take care of. It takes a village, and in our case loved ones from all over the globe join us for the sacred act of eating, and the following act of nurturing the aforementioned food fetus. Honky Tonk provides a great atmosphere, quality music, and heart challenging meals. I suggest wherever you’re from, you make the trip.
Whether you’re from the north or south, there is sustenance to be ingested. Fast food will always be there, make it an event, get pumped up for what you’re about to experience. Make the drive, make the room, enjoy.