Serious Eats: Chicago
Bar Eats: Sheffield's Something of a Three-Headed Monster
Two things I often find myself pettily kvetching about with bars are either A) an utter lack of identity or B) an identity crisis. In the case of A, this is often a result of the place simply being too new, too shiny. Bars don't come character-ready with those deep stains and proud odors.
In the case of B, a lot of places try to cover too many bases. We're totally a heavy metal kind of place, dude (unless any sporting event under the sun is available on all of our 96 TVs, with surround sound). Or...we're more an upscale gastropub, but with $5 pitchers of Coors Light and waitstaff dressed to make Hooters girls blush. It's confusing, right?
So given all this, there's no logical reason Sheffield's should work for me, as it clearly has a lot going on. But it somehow works; it's like multiple personality order.
The self-sufficient front room, with the main bar, tables, blaring sports and/or music, lots of light, and some Wrigleyville spillover. The first time I came here, I thought this was the entire place.
But venture back, under the Beer School neon to the speakeasy-ish back room, and you'll find people huddled around candle-lit tables or the fireplace. This is also the home of the Beer School bar and the geeked-out Vintage Bottle Program fridge. Totally different vibe; personality number two. And the third is that of a legitimate, smoked barbecue joint, smack dab in the middle of Lakeview.
The Combo Platter ($22) is a great place to dive right in. Your choice of two meats (brisket and pork, please), served with corn bread, slaw, and hand-cut fries.
The pulled pork is bolstered with fourteen hours worth of smoky love. It is pulled to order, and it is just beautiful. A deep pink smoke ring is evident, and the meat is tender, not stringy. Boasting a great bark, it is moist and delicious.
The beef brisket is smoked for eighteen hours over hickory and apple wood, and also wears a great bark. It is lean, not as fall-apart as Smoque, but I'm okay with a little chew to my brisket. Sliced thin, that great smoke flavor comes through in every bite, as does a bit of heat from the rub.
The hand-cut fries were salty and expertly fried, and the corn bread was fluffy with just a hint of jalapeno to it. Sheffield's also makes its own sauces; while the cinnamon apple-tasting Carolina vinegar was a big whiff, the Texas Heat was right on point as a spicy tomato-based red sauce.
The Buffalo chicken rolls ($8) came highly recommended, and for good reason. Spicy smoked chicken, buffalo sauce, cheddar and jack cheeses fried in wontons. The chicken is smoked and has a nice heat of its own. The wontons are crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. They are fantastic just the way they are, but the Buffalo sauce and/or blue cheese make for tempting accompaniments.
The chili ($6) is a meaty quadfecta (that's a word, right?) of brisket, pork, chorizo, and bacon. The chiles won't dampen many collars, but they are present and accounted for. The beans were actually a little overdone, but it's a big, rich winter warmup.
The armadillo eggs ($6) were like my mail-order bride; I just knew they were going to be awesome once we got to know one another. They are pickled jalapeños filled with brisket, pepper jack, and Texas Heat barbecue sauce, covered in panko, fried, and served with barbecue ranch. What could possibly go wrong here? Well, too much breading, and they just kept falling apart.The breading overshadowed not only the brisket, but also the jalapeños; the ranch helped the panko medicine go down.
Yes, Sheffield's is essentially a three-headed monster of a bar. But with its serious 'que and Beer School events like Huge Ass Beer Night, it's more of a kindly monster, one who would save your seat on the leafy patio or give a lonesome child a pulled pork slider for company. Does it make sense? Nope. But neither do David Lynch movies. And sometimes different is good.