To end my month of barbecue feasting (check out my pulled pork and barbecue sandwich coverage), I wanted to schedule an event so monumental and ridiculous, I wouldn't want to eat smoked meat again for the near future (or at least a week or two). The obvious answer was to eat every single item at a barbecue joint, à la Hot Doug's. But the thing is, I didn't want to eat everything at most barbecue joints, because most don't serve a uniformly excellent menu.
It's no great secret that most barbecue restaurants specialize in one category. A place may serve great ribs or pulled pork, but also dish out dry and tough brisket. And don't even get me started on sides, which are almost always an afterthought. Sure, there is something oddly appealing about frozen french fries bathed in sauce and white bread served on rib tips, but it's quite clear that they aren't given much thought.
Smoque BBQ is the exception. Everything on the menu, from the ribs and brisket to the beans and corn bread, is worth ordering. At least, that was my hunch after trying most of the menu over a half dozen visits. But to make absolutely certain, I met some fellow writers at the Irving Park restaurant to test this theory out.
Everything you want to know about Smoque BBQ can be found in the restaurant's manifesto. While most barbecue joints are content with a short and snappy catchphrase or motto, owner Barry Sorkin penned a four page treatise on what goes into a great barbecue restaurant. It covers, among many things, his opinions on each individual meat, the purpose of sauce, and what makes a great barbecue side.
The writing is passionate and incisive. (For example: coleslaw should cut "through the fat and savory character of the meat with a bracing freshness.") He has opinions, but he usually backs them up with reasons, so instead of defiantly declaring that "fall off the bone ribs" are bad, he notes that "by the time rib meat falls off of the bone, the ribs have lost the texture that makes eating them so pleasurable." I also love his opinion that fries are "not necessarily a great pair with BBQ," because they "offer too little in the way of flavor to stand up to great BBQ." Still, realizing that people will want them, he feels the need to not only offer them, but make them well.
Most of the big barbecue staples are covered here, but instead of trying to recreate "authentic" North Carolina pulled pork or Texas brisket, Smoque instead draws inspiration from those locales while offering its own unique vision. This isn't one of those places with a dozen sauces on the table. In fact, you won't find any sauce on the table. Sauces are instead paired with a specific meat, and dished out in small cups with each tray. Don't worry, it's more than enough.
I'm just going to copy straight from the manifesto here, because Sorkin sums it up better than I ever could: "Side dishes should complement good BBQ and set it off by means of contrast. But more often than not, they seem like an afterthought. Not here."
- BBQ Beans
- Brisket Chili
- Macaroni & Cheese
- Fresh Cut Fries
- Cole Slaw
- Small Salad
- Mini Peach Cobbler
To check out all of the options, click on the slideshow!
Big thanks to owner Barry Sorkin and his crew for accommodating us. Unlike some of these food adventures, feeding a group of eight is actually a completely normal occurrence at Smoque. I don't know how they maintain such high standards along the way, but they definitely do.