Being from the embarrassing cousin to the south, Florida, I have a pretty strong appreciation for good barbecue. I grew up visiting my father in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia while visiting other loved ones in Tennessee and Alabama. I also lived in Texas for two years. I feel similar with BBQ as I do with Mexican food and pizza; I can eat pretty shitty BBQ and still enjoy myself, but I prefer the amazing stuff, of course. I’ve written about a couple BBQ joints here in Chicago which I enjoyed thoroughly, but nothing compares to my recent experience at Smoque. I left uttering those famous last words, “best barbecue ever.” Smoque is located on north Pulaski and Grace avenue, just south of the Irving Park blue line stop. This northwest side neighborhood is unchartered territory for me. This city is too huge for me to ever explore it all. The amount of restaurants I’ll never eat in is a soul-crushing reminder every day of my life, but I’ll do what I can, I’ll bite off as much as I can chew and afford and regurgitate my experience here if it’s worth it. And Smoque is unbelievably worth it. Holy hell in a hand basket.
We went fairly late in the evening on a Friday night. They close at 10 p.m. There’s almost always a line out the door. If this flummoxes you, turns you off or makes you hesitant to visit, don’t listen to your brain. Listen to your belly and your heart and go challenge them both with the most flavorful, tender meat you’ll ever consume. While you wait in line you can gawk at the people who’re already eating, try to figure out what they ordered and feel out what excites you the most. I went with mostly new visitors and one person who’d dined there once. He insisted we order certain items and given my indecisiveness when ordering food, I let him lead the way. He ordered for us both, 1950’s style, and the little lady that I am was relegated to my seat to anxiously await my succulent food.
For the longest time, I have been dry rub resistant. I’m not allergic. I don’t hate it. I just don’t love it. At times the ribs I’ve ingested in the past that were dry rub were just that, dry. I like me some juicy meat, so tender it’ll quench your thirst. I was astounded by the incredible flavor of Smoque’s dry rub ribs. Not only was the combination of spices interesting and wildly delicious, but the meat fell right off the bone and into my mouth with ease. Not to be outdone was the brisket, that easily shredded with a light amount of pressure from my plastic fork. Their two sauce options were each perfect additions. My fork ventured over to the spicy side more, but the sweet rocked my world as well.
I loved their coleslaw, a side item I’ve loathed for most of my life, in particular mayo based coleslaw. I love mayonnaise, don’t get me wrong, but the snotty consistency in most coleslaws left me underwhelmed and unimpressed. I enjoy a good NC style vinegar slaw and this was almost a Midwestern twist. No mayo, vinegar base, refreshing and satisfying. Their mac n’ cheese was pretty stellar. It looked, smelled and tasted homemade, made extra special with a bread crumb topping. Yum. I enjoyed my taste of their baked beans very much, as well as the peach cobbler we ordered in droves.
This place is an indulgence. I care very much about how my body runs and how consciously I’m eating. I love animals and I am very concerned not only with how this country processes meat, with how the animals are treated and therefore how the food we are consuming makes its way to my plate, but also with the quality of food I choose to digest. Eating BBQ everyday is most likely a one way ticket to diabetes and other health related issues, but treating yourself to a place like Smoque is something every human being deserves. I shared a rack of ribs, side of brisket, coleslaw, mac n cheese and peach cobbler with my love and it was more than enough. Savor every bite. Lick your fingers. When something is above average good, it doesn’t take much to satisfy. And that rule applies to more than just food.
With food, friends, beverages and daily choices, quality is always important and moderation is key. I genuinely believe we can enjoy all the fruits of this amazing existence healthily, by providing our own balance. Eat those greens and the nutritious offerings from nature and then pepper it with some treats, some tender meat, a small but satisfying portion of cheesey goodness, and maybe a little sweetness to top it off. Wash it down with plenty of water in between good craft beers and share the meal only with those deserving of your time and energy. Life’s too short to waste your senses on mediocrity. Eat and love well.