7 Questions for Willie Wagner, the self-taught pitmaster/owner at Pilsen’s new 60-seat BYO, Honky Tonk Barbeque (1213 W. 18th St.; 312-226-7427)
D: How did you get into barbecue?
WW: I was a salesman for 18 years and got tired of it. Always had fun throwing parties and cooking for my friends, so I started a mobile barbecue business, and did some catering, too. Got a really good response, and it just grew into this spot.
D: Is this your home?
WW: I live upstairs. Yeah.
D: Is your family involved in the business?
WW: My ten-year-old and seven-year-old are helping out a lot. So is my wife.
D: How would you describe the place?
WW: We have country/Western décor. A couple of barn doors. A thatched barn roof and all wood seating. Real warm and rustic and country.
D: What’s your specialty?
WW: We do St. Louis ribs, baby backs, slow-roasted beef brisket. But our specialty is pulled pork. I participated in Memphis in May (the world championship of barbecue) this year, finished 12th out of 74. Next year I want to be in the top ten. I have tiny pulled-pork sandwiches we are calling “dinky dunkers.”
D: How about desserts?
WW: Pecan pie and sweet potato pie and banana pudding. I have a pastry chef making my pies. She’s really good.
D: We understand you don’t serve french fries . . . ?
WW: No fries. I want to keep it more heart healthy. Everything here is fresh and clean. We have a special veggie side this week—shiitake mushroom with garlic.
Meat . . . And Lots Of It
La Brochette (1401 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-276-5650), a BYO Moroccan-Mediterranean spot coming soon in the former Stevie B’s space, is so dedicated to the carnivore’s lifestyle that it has two kitchens—one solely for displaying beef and chicken shawarma. The signature brochettes ($10 to $16) will include lamb, quail, chicken, and filet mignon. The Moroccan-born chef, Sidi Okhja, describes the menu as a mixture between French, Moroccan, and Italian. French: “Sauce dijonnaise, steak au poivre, that kind of stuff,” says Okhja. Moroccan: “Tagines and couscous.” Italian: “All kinds of pasta.” When is it opening? “It should be Friday,” says the owner, Salah Elkabache. “Just pray for me, please.”
“Those who give themselves indigestion or get drunk do not know how to eat or drink.” –Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), French gastronome
The golden fish and matsu apple salad at Thalia Spice (833 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-226-6020) comes from an unlikely source: co-owner Vincent Tan’s nanny. “She created this dish from nowhere,” says Tan. “It’s got golden fried tilapia chips over the top of it, and we ran out of cucumbers, so she substituted these apples.” Tan, a native Malaysian who opened his 100-seat small-plates Asian fusion spot on September 15th, was the man behind Vintage Wine Bar in Lincoln Park a few years back. “My wife told me not to do this again,” he says. “But I’m doing it again.” Thalia’s “modern Zen” space includes a 15-foot waterfall over the bar, exposed brick, and huge silk lanterns. And it’s BYO, for now.
Laos It Up
Sabai-Dee (5359 N. Broadway; 773-506-0880), the new Laotian spot in Edgewater, has opened strictly as a to-go place. “No seating yet,” says Kevin Wong, the Laotian-born owner. “We’re taking it step by step. Hopefully seating, and then delivery.” He describes Laotian cuisine as “more flavor” than Thai food. Take the ham salad (nam; $6): It’s got deep-fried rice, Laotian ham chunks, lettuce, cilantro, and roasted peanuts. And desserts? “A mixture of tropical fruits and a coconut base as the sauce, and you have it over crushed ice,” says Wong. “The temperature in Laos is warm, so people like that.” BTW: “Sabaidee” means “How are you?”
Locked and Loaded
Torpedo’s (5211 W. Diversey Ave.; 773-622-7060), a new Cragin sub shop, takes its peppers seriously. “I put three different types of peppers on the Italian beef,” says Carl Drase, the owner. “I have a friend who owns a farm in Michigan and he has these special jalapeños and banana peppers. They’re hybrid seeds from Hungary. Really spicy but full of flavor.” Drase, a restaurant veteran who has logged time at Cité, Harry Caray’s, and The Saloon, gets his bread fresh from Turano every morning, and makes his own soup and chili. “It took me four months of working every day [to open Torpedo’s]. I learned how to be an electrician, a carpenter, and a chef.”
One of our top FODs liked the new incarnation of Zócalo (358 W. Ontario St.; 312-302-9977) under peripatetic chef Dudley Nieto. “The guacamole trio was excellent,” she said. “It had a mango-avocado blend, an interesting spin on the original, and the plantain chips were a nice touch. But the crab appetizer had too much filler and not enough crab.” Where’s the crab, Dudley?
Things to Do
1. Celebrate with Saveur magazine (which you probably know called Chicago “America’s new culinary star” in its October issue) at The Chopping Block (Merchandise Mart, Suite 107; 312-644-6360) on October 10th. Saveur’s editors will be there, as will many of the people profiled in the issue. A portion of your $60 ticket, which includes much of the food that looked so good in the magazine, will go to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
2. Meet Sara Mair (from season three of Top Chef), who will dish and cook at Now We’re Cookin’ (1601 N. Payne St., Evanston) on October 5th. Tickets $50 ($25 for students); proceeds will also benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
3. Wonder why you didn’t see this on TV.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Our condolences to the family of Cesare D’Ortenzi, 55, the beloved owner of Pizza D.O.C. and La Bocca Della Verità, who passed away this week. . . Parlor (1745 W. North Ave.) has closed for the infamous “remodeling.” . . . Macello (1235 W. Lake St.; 312-850-9870), a 4,000-square-foot “peasant-style” Italian spot from Giovanni DeNigris (Trattoria Trullo), has opened in a former 1920s slaughterhouse west of the Loop. . . . Powerhouse Restaurant and Bar (215 N. Canal St.; 312-928-0800), opening soon in the West Loop, has named John Peters, a veteran of Naha and Alinea, as its chef.
2 days ago