During the pandemic, El Ideas chef Phillip Foss and his wife, Akiko Moorman, had an idea: Why not dust off the boxy old smoker he’d been using occasionally at his idle restaurant and launch a barbecue spot? And so Boxcar BBQ in Douglas Park (2419 W. 14th St.) was born. As you might expect from a Michelin-starred chef, this carryout-only concept serves some dizzyingly good ’cue. The St. Louis spareribs ($24) are pure porky bliss and come with an übersavory sauce that adds depth to every bite. “I wanted the sauce to be full of umami, so I use black garlic and coffee extract,” Foss says. That sauce also works perfectly on El Boxcar ($32), a beef rib fit for a caveman; it’s super tender and studded with peppercorns. Noncarnivores are welcome too: Foss smokes seitan, then braises it with pickled jackfruit, tossing it into Hawaiian rolls to make a pair of vegan sandwiches ($16).
Foss isn’t the only fine-dining chef going low and slow. In May, El Che Bar’s John Manion opened Babygold Barbecue at FitzGerald’s, the Berwyn music venue (6615 Roosevelt Rd.). His barbecue has a Cajun accent: Get slices of smoked brisket with Texas toast ($14), or have it shredded and tucked into a po’ boy ($15). D’Andre Carter, the former Moto executive sous chef, runs Soul & Smoke, which focused on catering after its launch in 2015 but has grown massively in the past year. A food truck hit the road in September, and Carter opened pickup and delivery locations in Evanston, Avondale, and the South Loop. His menu (“the food I grew up eating on the South Side with my grandma”) combines barbecue and soul food; think fat-streaked brisket ($30 a pound) and creamy mac and cheese ($5).
Other new barbecue spots offer regional and international takes. Offset BBQ (1720 N. California Ave.) in Logan Square serves smoked lamb gyros ($24); Diamond Head BBQ, a Hawaiian-influenced virtual kitchen from Arami, offers a pecan-wood-smoked pork shoulder sandwich ($13); and Ravenswood’s ATX Bodega (2301 W. Foster Ave.) smokes brisket ($18 a pound) that wouldn’t be out of place in Austin. Then there’s Dhuaan BBQ Company, which barbecue enthusiast Sheal Patel launched over the winter. In his Bridgeport backyard and rented kitchens, he’s smoking and grilling mash-ups of American classics and Mumbai and Old Delhi street foods: garlicky chicken legs ($11 a pound), lamb kebabs with roti and chutney ($14 a pound), a cheese steak with tandoori-spiced rib eye and Amul cheese ($13), and more. Order on Instagram at @dhuaanbbq for pickup.
These spots may have been born of pandemic necessity, but the chefs plan to keep smoking even after the dining scene fully reopens. And that’s good news for ’cue fans. Because these are offerings worth digging into again and again.