Smoke-Filled Rooms

These days, Chicago’s best barbecue comes from a legion of savvy new pit masters. Our man on the case digs in and gets his hands dirty.

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HONKY TONK BARBEQUE is in pilsen and BYO, so it seemed appropriate to hit a nearby liquor store for a six-pack of Negra Modelo before climbing the steep steps to the old building. Inside it looks like a movie set. There’s a barn door and a wagon wheel light fixture, and two rooms of mismatched tables and chairs, a row of which appears to have been salvaged from an old theatre. Sometimes a room is rented out for parties; country bands play live on weekends.

Willie Wagner, the owner, went to Memphis to learn the local style. He started out using a portable smoker at local street fairs; now he cooks on two smokers—a Southern Pride and a Southern Yankee—with apple and hickory woods. The stars of his small menu, augmented with a few chalkboard specials, are the St. Louis ribs (spareribs trimmed of bone, cartilage, and brisket flap) and baby backs, both smoked with a Memphis-style dry rub. I love them so much that adding the house-made sauces on the table (one dark and rich, one more vinegary) is almost beside the point. The ribs are smoky, well textured, and flavor-packed.

Pulled pork and sliced beef brisket sandwiches are also respectable, served on ciabatta loaves so tender they quickly collapse. I ordered a side of baked beans with pork and grainy corn bread and primed myself for good bluegrass by a duo called The Northside Southpaws. This is the life.

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6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I'd add Sheffield's to that list. They added a smoker last year and now have the best brisket I've tasted in Chicago.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Fireside in A-ville has great smoked pork chop!

5 years ago
Posted by BbqConnoisseur

BETTER THEN ALL OF THOSE IS THE NEW SPOT... BRAND BBQ MARKET. ITS at 2824 ARMITAGE. I'M FROM MEMPHIS AND THIS IS THE THE FIRST PLACE THAT REMINDS ME OF HOME. SO AWESOMEEEEEE!!! HUGE ARRAY OF SAUCES!!!! MUST TRY THE PULLED DUCK!!!

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