South African cuisine can be tough to find in Chicago, but at least our options are slowly increasing. In February, Bunny Chow (6979 N. Sheridan Rd., Rogers Park) started serving its eponymous curry-filled bread loafs—a South African street food staple with Indian roots. Now, coming soon to Ravenswood is Baobab BBQ (2301 W. Foster Ave.), a restaurant focused on barbecue dishes with South African flavors.
Owner Andrew Dunlop, who grew up in Johannesburg before settling in Chicago two decades ago, is quick to clarify that Baobab BBQ isn't offering South African barbecue. “In South Africa, we don't barbecue, we braai," he says, referring to the social grilling custom that everyone in his home country participates in, regardless of background. "Baobab BBQ has no allegiance to any regional barbecue; we take the best of everywhere and serve that."
On the menu are meats available on a platter or in sandwich form, from pulled pork to beef brisket. But Baobab BBQ also offers a boerewors sandwich, packed with the traditional South African sausage that's made with toasted coriander seeds and red wine vinegar. It's accompanied by a side of chakalaka, a spicy vegetable relish. Served in a spinach salad is another regional favorite: biltong, a jerky-like meat that Dunlop will marinate overnight then hang to age for three days.
"I’ve always wanted enjoyed working with large pieces of meat, and I wanted to incorporate South Africa, somehow, into it," Dunlop says. "We hardly have any South African restaurants here, and we have a large population of South Africans. My idea was to give them the comfort foods of South Africa."
One item that South Africans will instantly recognize is the monkey gland sauce, one of five meat dressings the menu offers. "It's a bit of a joke," Dunlop says. "It's a fruity barbecue sauce with chutney, tomato sauce, vinegar, onions, and garlic. Everybody in South Africa eats it growing up." Other traditional dishes include melktert, a milky tart with cinnamon on top, a spongy malva pudding, and koeksusters—a column of braided dough fried to a crisp.
Dunlop created Baobab BBQ with community in mind and wants to give back to the area, specifically to local schools. He plans to keep a chalkboard on the sidewalk that lists a handful of schools to which he'll donate a portion of his sales. "You say I’m eating for such and such school," he says. "We’ll take a percent and that will go straight to teachers. My mother was a teacher, so I think giving back is important."
The 48-seat space, which is BYOB, will be Dunlop's first restaurant, although he has spent decades working in the hospitality and restaurant industries across the world. Most recently, he was a chef-partner at LM Restaurant Group before leaving in February to devote himself to his personal project. He expects to open Baobab BBQ within the next two weeks.