North Side Review: Smoque
By Laura Oppenheimer in Food on Jan 4, 2007 3:59PM
We were inclined to dislike Smoque, the new BBQ joint that just opened up off of the Irving Park Blue Line stop on 3800 N. Pulaski. The borderline idiotic name, the intensity of their BBQ manifesto and (for us) the long distance necessary to travel to get there, made us ready to dismiss the recently opened BBQ joint. Additionally, we didn't feel like it was "authentic." While we aren't sure what authentic really means, Smoque doesn't have it — it almost feels like a pre-fab restaurant, with the menu on the chalkboard and the french fries in a paper bag acting like what someone thinks a BBQ place should be. We were ready to hate it.
Until we took our first bite of food.
Smoque is good. Really good. The kind of good that if it was located in the heart of the Loop instead of all the way up on N. Pulaski, there would be lines out the doors at lunch and throughout the afternoon. From their website: "The natural flavors of the meat; the savory flavor of hardwood smoke; the spiciness of the rub; the sweetness or pungency of the sauce--when these elements are in balance, you have found BBQ heaven." And BBQ heaven it was.
Chicagoist ordered the half chicken for $9.95, which came with cole slaw and two sides. From the menu of sides, which includes cole slaw, french fries, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, cornbread and peach cobbler, we picked the french fries and cornbread. Our date for the evening opted for the pulled pork with cole slaw, mac and cheese and baked beans for $8.45. In addition, a side of the brisket was added for $3. The meals come out looking like they are from an airplane specializing in BBQ. A metal tray holds the meat and each side in its accompanying disposable aluminum dish.
The chicken came out black and shiny. We were a little concerned about the color, until we look our first bite of the meat and skin. Aha! This is what BBQ is all about. Meat so tender and flavorful that the accompanying sauce was rendered superfluous. The french fries were perfectly seasoned that, again, we found any ketchup unnecessary.
As for the other meats? The brisket was perfect — tender, flavorful, and with just the right amount of seasoning. While the pulled pork wasn't given the same laudatory praise as the chicken and brisket, it too was given high overall marks from Chicagoist. The mac and cheese was the only thing we tried that we found disappointing; an uninteresting cheese flavor combined with a somewhat gelatinous consistency made it the big loser of the night.
As we learned last night from our date (who once worked at a BBQ joint), there are two schools of thought concerning cole slaw. The first school believes it should have a mayo-based dressing. The second eschews mayo for a vinegar and celery salt dressing. Smoque's was of the latter variety, and we appreciated the crispy and tart slaw, as opposed to the mayo-drenched style we were expecting.
Smoque is BYOB; we didn't see any liquor stores nearby, but there is a 7-11 two blocks south on Pulaski.
Smoque is open Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. They can be reached at 773-545-RIBS.