Editor's note: The Over 21 Club series features Chicago restaurants that have been around for over 21 years. They must be doing something right, so we'll visit them and see why.
Booby's Charcoal Rib
8161 North Milwaukee Avenue, Niles, IL 60714; (map); 773-486-6655;
Open Since: 1961
Cost: Big Boob ($4.75); Half Slab Ribs ($9.25); Steak Sandwich ($10.45), Rice Pudding ($0.90)
If you give me an inch of editorial freedom, I'm going to take it, hurdle over that line, and run as far as a naked guy on a football field can get before he gets tazed in the ass. As soon as I learned that a place called Booby's Charcoal Rib existed, I've been scheming for a way to get it onto Serious Eats as soon as possible, you know, before I get fired for my shenanigans.
Booby's (hee hee) has been around since 1961, and it's located in Niles, a suburb just northwest of Chicago. My girlfriend grew up in Niles, and she told me that it was a place her family frequented every now and then. If a place has been around over 50 years, something's got to be going for it.
When a place proudly advertises their steak sandwich and their ribs on a giant sign out front, you know you need to give them a try. But when I saw something called the "Big Boob" on the menu, I had to order it too. Because I'm 12 years old.
And this, my friends, is the Big Boob. It's a 1/2 lb hamburger. If you want cheese, you have to order The Big C. If you order it with everything, it comes topped with their special barbecue sauce, cole slaw, pickles, and grilled onions.
As you can see, it comes on a giant sesame bun with coleslaw and pickles on the bottom, grilled onions and barbecue sauce on top. The coleslaw and pickles on the bottom bun are a structural mistake, as the bottom bun practically disintegrates if you don't eat it fast enough.
Overall, the Big Boob is a disappointment. Bigger isn't always better. The char-grilled patty is dry, without a lot of beef flavor, and the only other flavor I could really get was the thick slice of pickle. In theory, this would make for an interesting burger, but it just didn't happen. I really wanted to like putting this particular Big Boob in my mouth, too.
Here's their famous steak sandwich, as advertised on their sign out front. It's a really simple sandwich—just a grilled skirt steak on an Italian roll. The bread has a good chew to it, and unfortunately, so does the steak. The char-grilled skirt steak has a great grilled beefy flavor to it, but some parts of it were tough. The tender sections of steak and chewy (in a good way) bread made for a flavorful and refreshingly straightforward sandwich, however. The fries were crinkle-cut, and nothing you haven't had before.
And here are their famous ribs. These were actually pretty good, considering they aren't smoked. They tasted like backyard barbecue ribs, with the right balance of chewiness and tenderness. The grill marks add that familiar, somehow comforting, burnt flavor, but without any smoke.
There's a squeeze bottle of barbecue sauce on every table, which is remarkably plain—it's sweet and sharply tangy with a lot less tomato than we're used to in Chicago, but there's no discernible spice to it. It reminded me of sweet and sour sauce with a little ketchup in it.
The rice pudding was the sleeper hit. I had no idea I could like rice pudding. Having grown up with rice as a savory staple, I've always had a hard time enjoying rice pudding, because the rice tastes particularly out of context for me. However, this pudding was delicious and simple. It was custard-like and silky, and the rice was cooked well, adding a ton of starchy texture, without being overcooked.
I feel like I'm not quite done with Booby's. Their menu is huge, and their whole roasted chicken also looked tempting. There's even a hot dog on the menu called the Fat Boob. Where else could I put a Fat Boob in my mouth repeatedly without having it slapped out of my face by my girlfriend?
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.