Thursday, March 27, 2008


A friend of mine is married to a vegetarian. She says it doesn't bother her at all; she has no problem cooking up hippie hash or testing the latest eggplant recipe. She's down with tofu, garden burgers and she's well versed in the language of seitan. But every now and again she gets the primal urge to sink her teeth into the real thing and when this happens, she knows the only fix is barbecue.

Lately she's been hankering for the stuff and yeah, she knows a handful of places in the city where she can dine in peace with her meat-shunning man-- but not for barbecue. No, if she's going to roll-up her sleeves and relish in a tender slab of beef, she wants to be in the company of someone who gets it. Not someone who's going to be left ordering from a side menu of cobbler and coleslaw. So she left the leaf-eater behind and asked me to meet her for some southern fueled fare at Smoque in Albany Park. Lip-curled and appetite in tow, I happily agreed.

The two of us, famished and ready to sling back some brisket, headed over to the restaurant's small (seats about 50) corner location. I knew nothing about the place so my expectations were nil. Upon walking in I was greeted by a staff person who, rather forcefully, told me to get in line. Lucky for him, I'm down with this kind of demanding behavior, so I followed suit and took stance amidst the seemingly starving mess of people. Every table was full when I arrived, but the turnover rate here is ridiculously fast. Maybe it's because of the order-at-the-counter and then cross-your-fingers-that-there's-an-empty-seat dining style. By the time I ordered (about 12 minutes later) a few spots had already been cleared. Now all I had to do was sit and wait for the husky cook to call number 75.

It was only a matter of minutes before I was walking back over to the counter to grab a metal tray full of sliced brisket, barbecued baked beans, cornbread and coleslaw (just under $12 after tax). The beans were a notch above that canned guy's "secret recipe" and were doctored up with hearty bits of pork and onion. The dried out cornbread served in a small aluminum ramekin almost smacked the smile off my face. I love cornbread and I didn't even want another bite after the first taste (dipping it in the soupy red barbecue sauce didn't help either). But the pile of sliced brisket brought me back to a happy place. It was tender and fell apart effortlessly when I stabbed a hunk with my fork. Thank God I only went with the half order; by the time I finished it didn't even look like I made a dent. My friend had the brisket sandwich and left nothing but the bread behind.

The restaurant's website boasts some schpeal about rivaling the smoky staples of Texas, which I'd say (at least for someone with her roots in the sticks) is a little far-fetched. But as far as Midwestern barbecue is concerned, Smoque definitely holds its own. Maybe next time we'll head a little farther South. After all, nothing--not even marriage--should come between a girl and her barbecue.

3800 N. Pulaski Rd.
(773) 545-RIBS

No comments: