Don’t Overanalyze the Barbecue at Smalls Smoke Shack

Smalls, a new smoke shack in Irving Park, makes its barbecue a little differently.

Photo: Courtesy of Smalls

Fried chicken picks up Asian flavors at Smalls, where a special five-spice mix includes sour anise, cinnamon, and clove.

“Everything is made from scratch daily. Everything is meticulous,” says Dan Scesnewicz, the manager at Smalls (4009 N. Albany Ave., 312-857-4221), a teensy barbecue spot behind Lizard’s Liquid Lounge in Irving Park. “The idea is to have people come here and eat, grab and go, eat in the tavern. Just sustenance. Not creative. Not artisanal. Really really good food.”

We’re guessing Scesnewicz meant “not precious” when he said “not creative,” because the menu bears minute but important differences from the standard barbecue lineup. For example, the brisket is served with a Thai-style Tiger Cry sauce, made from lime juice, palm sugar, chili flakes, garlic, and sometimes tomato or scallions. The elotes come with spicy Japanese mayonnaise. The fried chicken includes sour anise, cinnamon, and coriander.

The chef, Joaquin Soler, worked at Rambutan and Ohba before igniting the Brown Bag Lunch Truck, which sold his brisket and pulled pork. “I have an affinity for southeast Asian and Asian cuisine,” says Soler, who was born in the Philippines. “I thought what was missing from the barbecue scene here was a little more depth.”

Depth, meticulousness, creativity, artisanality—whatever it is or isn’t, the foodiesphere has been abuzz over Smalls during its first three weeks. Apologies for the self-contradiction, but here’s our analysis of Smalls’ approach: Stop analyzing and just eat.

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