Editor's Note: Late last week I read on LTHForum that Uncle John's Barbeque closed, a fact that was confirmed on the restaurant's Facebook page. I'm a huge fan of the place—it won my rib tip combo roundup—but I knew that Joe had a particular connection. So I asked him to put together a little ode to Uncle John's.
I've never gotten choked up about a restaurant closing—until today, when I learned that Uncle John's BBQ on 69th closed its doors for good. I'm usually the last to the table when it comes to breaking restaurant news, and apparently the writing has been on the wall for some time. Still, no one was prepared for Mack's abrupt departure and the gaping hole it will leave in the Chicago barbecue scene.
Especially in retrospect, I can easily say that Uncle John's was my favorite restaurant in Chicago. It was just far enough away that making the drive down required a commitment—two and a half hours round trip, give or take. Since I couldn't go all too often, burnout was never an issue.
There was ritual in the whole process: clearing an afternoon to drive down, standing in line, waiting for the chipper counterwoman to call your number, accepting the plastic-bagged package through the bullet proof glassed lazy Susan, finding somewhere to eat (all too often standing at the trunk of my car, even in the winter), and of course, the process of actually consuming a Styrofoam shell's worth of meat heavily larded with cartilage. Uncle John's tips and links combo divided its fan (sauce on, hot, for the record) and required strategy: baby wipes in the glove compartment, a quick route to the Hyde Park Midway already planned out, and reminding myself that I would not, could not, be eating again for the rest of the day.
I consciously built on the ritual, too. Uncle John's was where I went after every major law school life event: taking the LSAT, passing the LSAT, getting into law school, the end of finals each semester, and finally, after I took the bar exam in July. Now that law school has come and gone, I guess I don't need the ritual anymore. But that doesn't stop me from wanting it.
Before I publicly drown myself in my own melodrama, I'll just say that Uncle John's will be missed. Deeply missed. Mack, on behalf of myself and the rest of Serious Eats Chicago, we wish you all the best in retirement—you certainly deserve it.