Restaurant Review: Green Street Smoked Meats
By Erika Kubick in Food on Apr 25, 2014 7:00PM
It’s been four years since restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff opened his first restaurant, Gilt Bar. Since then, he’s dominated the dining scene with a foodie empire, which includes Au Cheval, Maude’s Liquor Bar, Doughnut Vault and other venues with endless lines and cult followings. In early February, Sodikoff opened Green Street Smoked Meats, a Texas-style barbecue meat emporium located just barely off the beaten restaurant row.
The restaurant space is nothing more than a revamped warehouse; the entrance is located in an obscure alley with a graffiti sign and valet attendants ensuring that you find your way to barbecue bliss. Inside, the sprawling space is adorned with corrugated metal, chipping paint and string lights. The chic vibe is akin to Sodikoff’s other establishments, but with a hipster hillbilly aesthetic. The communal tables are huge but comfortable, though a little too wide to share across the table. Everyone is wearing a beanie.
The entrance hits the line just as it’s approaching the food, so expect to walk right into an eager crowd of drooling faces, excited by the wafting scent of smoked meats. When it’s busy (which is almost always the case) the line cuts through the dining space, situated between the door and the longest communal table in the place. You can order your beer while waiting in line, but you’ll feel a little claustrophobic. The draft lines are well stocked with craft brews from Local Option. If you’re feeling a little more casual, dig into the self-serve troughs filled with ice and PBR cans and other beers. If beer isn't your thing, they have a small cocktail menu.
The ordering process is cafeteria-like, an authentic Texas barbecue experience: once past the long line made sluggish by indecisive diners, you place your order with a friendly man who fires out a couple commands and hand carves whatever you’re aching for in front of you. From there, sides are scooped out onto your tray and it’s all counted up at the register. Only after you’ve gathered your grub are you allowed to score a table, at this point tray-wielding and unsteady, which is a tad daunting in the large, crowded space.
I timed my first visit on a Saturday night, with full knowledge of the chaos that was sure to ensue in a warehouse filled with drunk, meat-craving Chicagoans. This place has the potential to become just as rowdy as Big Star, but in a dark, enclosed warehouse. When it’s packed, it feels a little like an apocalyptic prison. My next visit, earlier in the evening on a Thursday night, was a little less obtrusive and more laid back.
Now, for the most important part: the food. It’s good, damn good, but perhaps not quite in the ranks of what you may find in Texas. The priciest menu items are the seafood, with a hefty portion of smoked salmon coming in at $20. Succulent and tender with the consistency of butter, this fish is totally worth it if you want to spend that much. Grilled oysters are also available, $18 for the ½ dozen. The Frito pie, a variant of the New Mexico specialty, is an open Frito bag stuffed with cheese and chili. It's less of a pie and more like nachos you’d make while drunk in your dorm room. While it’s certainly a better way to eat Frito’s, it doesn’t quite make it to the rank of Big Star’s Walking Taco, a similar concoction.
Green Street truly shines with their more commonplace fair. The brisket is dolled out in thick, melt-in-your-mouth slabs, some fatty some lean. A half-pound was more meat than I could ever hope to finish alone. It’s almost a sin to add any sauce to the meat, already so packed with flavor. Another fantastic treat is the pork belly, with a blackened pastrami-style crust and a smooth, unctuous interior. The pork ribs also have an addicting amount of flavor, though a little on the dry side. I found the serving size on those bad boys a little inconsistent as well.
The hot link, which is $6 per sausage, has a nice pepper flavor, but I prefer a bit more snap to the casing. The chicken leg, which consists of the drumstick attached to the thigh, is a pretty good deal. The flavor is nice and it’s tender albeit a tad dry. The problem, however, is the rubber, soggy skin, which should be avoided. One of the best things I ate at Green Street is the Thunderbird. It’s piled high with pork rib meat and sauce on a sturdy bun with a side of pickles. It’s definitely a steal for just under $10 and it is insanely good. The sauce is nice but without overpowering the natural flavor of the wonderfully tender meat.
The sides and sauces are the least impressive element at Green Street. The sides are a little meager considering their $4 price point, and they’re just OK. The beans are tasty but a tad too sugary, the broccoli salad is refreshing and decent and the coleslaw is fresh but too delicate for most of the entrees. My favorite sauce was the spiciest one, though I didn’t find any of them particularly impressive. The coffee one had a very slight coffee flavor but it was a nice addition to the brisket.
To my surprise, my second favorite dish at Green Street was the soft serve, which comes in vanilla, coffee or a swirl. I went for a swirl of vanilla and coffee topped with a hardened chocolate, pecan-flecked shell. The coffee flavor is very pure and the ice cream is silky and fluffy. While I was expecting the simple soft serve to be an after thought, I’d come back for it.
Overall, Green Street Smoked Meats is a solid addition to Sodikoff’s empire. It’s decently affordable, compared to the rest of restaurant row, and pays a lot of respect and authenticity to real Texan barbecue. While it holds up against Chicago’s other nearby barbecue joints, if this place was actually located in Texas I’m not sure it would stand up to legendary establishments like Franklin Barbecue. Still, come summer, Green Street is going to be swarmed with meat-loving Chicagoans. Will I return to check out High Five Ramen? Absolutely, it’s worth a shot.
Green Street Smoked Meats is open 5 p.m. - 2 a.m., Tuesday - Saturday.