Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
I took last week off of Lunch in the Loop to take a mind-clearing road trip. It was the impromptu road trip everyone fantasizes about; I simply packed a few changes of clothes, grabbed a few bucks, and just took off. I didn't (and still don't) even have a wallet since it got pickpocketed off me the other week. On one leg of my trip, I even asked a stranger about where he thought I should go next; he gave me a suggestion, and I headed straight in that direction, no questions asked.
I'd like to say it was an uplifting tale of epic proportions, where I found my soul, Eat, Pray, Love, style, but I don't make a very good Julia Roberts (I look creepy in a dress), and there was no serendipitous romantic kismet (I hate that word and I want to punch myself in the ass for using it) either. I did, however, see a cat riding a dog, and I came back with a knee injury. The first thing I craved when I got back, was barbecue, and that's how I found myself at the brand spankin' new Blackwood BBQ, which opened up a few weeks ago near the Clark and Lake public transit hub.
Many people have likened the streamlined ordering system at Blackwood BBQ to that of Chipotle, where you pick a meat, pick a sauce, and pick a side. The brisket platter ($7.49) is as simple as it gets; it's a fair serving of smoked, salty, fork-tender brisket covered in a powerfully flavorful black bark. The bark is salty, so getting a bite of bark and center meat is key for the perfect bite, and the best bites also have a layer of fat in them, so see if you can ask for a serving with some fat left on it.
The pulled pork sandwich ($6.49 includes one side) is killer, especially topped with cole slaw. It's tender and porky, without being too soft, and the cole slaw is a must; it adds fresh tangy cabbage crunch, and the best part is that it's not overdressed, so the freshness of the vegetables genuinely comes through.
The pulled chicken sandwich ($6.49, includes one side) is covertly smoky, meaning the smoke flavor comes on faintly towards the end. It's also moist and tender. I chose the sweet yellow-mustardy South Carolina sauce to dress it, but I think a tomato-based sauce might have been a better pairing. Out of the three meats, the chicken is my least favorite, but only because I'm a sucker for pork or beef barbecue.
The baked beans ($0.99 a la carte, or included in combo meal) are sweet and homey, with a few pieces of pulled pork tossed in. Rather than being cooked to a baby food bean paste, the beans still have some starchy texture, which I really appreciate—no canned mush here.
The cornbread ($0.99) is the sweet, cake-like variety that we tend to like here in the Midwest, and whole corn kernels are mixed into the batter, adding chewy nuggets to every other bite.
The mac and cheese ($1.49 a la carte, or included in combo meal) is fairly mild in cheese flavor, which is actually a good thing, considering the barbecue is so flavorful already. The longer it sits, the chewier it gets, so dig in quickly.
There's five sauces: Chicago style, which is a thick and sweet sauce with a lot of cumin, Memphis style, a thick and tangy tomato-based sauce, Kansas City style, which is tangy and has a pretty good spice kick to it, a vinegar based North Carolina style sauce, and a sweet yellow mustard South Carolina style sauce.
Blackwood BBQ is the first barbecue joint to show up in the Loop, and they're serving some of the best lunch downtown, especially for those surprisingly low prices. I highly recommend you lunch monsters to give it a shot, and I highly recommend against you imagining me in a dress.
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.