Monday, May 7, 2012

Smokey Barque

I wouldn't consider myself to be a barbecue aficionado, but I'm starting to get to the point where I am a little dangerous. I've become aware that there are regional versions of it here in the U.S. (3 of which - Texas, Kansas City, and Carolina - I've had the opportunity to sample) and that Chicago has a sort of minor barbecue scene of its own that's evolved from new residents making their way up from the South, primarily the Mississippi Delta country. Thanks to a great documentary produced by local food writer Michael Gebert (who goes by the handle Sky Full of Bacon), I learned that Chicago's preferred meat cuts for barbecuing are ribs/rib tips and hot links (a type of spicy sausage) and that many pitmasters in town use a glass-enclosed smoker (referred to as an aquarium smoker) that appears to be unique to this part of country (if I'm incorrect about this, please forgive my naivete). I also discovered from said documentary (and a few other media sources) that we actually have some award-worthy barbecue joints in the south suburbs, such as Exsenator's in Markham, Cole's in Robbins, George's in Harvey, and Uncle John's in Sauk Village (a branch of the original on the city's South Side). I plan to visit all of these places at some point, but, until then, we now have our own local barbecue place a scant 10 minutes from the Commissary, that being Smokey Barque in downtown Frankfort. We had heard via some friends that Smokey Barque had moved into the old Jenny's Steakhouse location on Kansas Street and was worth a visit, so one evening when Hackknifette and I were solo, I took her there for a little daddy-daughter meal.

We arrived at 5pm, right as the doors were opening for dinner, and were the first ones to be seated in dining room (which, not surprisingly, had a honky tonk vibe and decor). Our server helpfully pointed out the four squeeze bottles at each table containing the house-made sauces to accompany the meat: the spicy-tomato Texas, sweet Memphis, tangy mustard South Carolina (my favorite), and also tangy mustard (but with tomato) North Carolina. What I had somehow missed is that the plate of homemade seasoned potato chips brought to the table (they were complimentary) were intended to be sauce-testers (which was fine, since by themselves they were just mediocre). I ordered a kid barbecue pizza for Hackknifette and chose a 2-meat platter for myself, containing beef brisket, pulled pork, and sides of fried pickles and the house baked beans with burnt ends (see photo above). I thought that both sides were great: the rich, tangy pickles nicely contrasted with the spicy dipping sauce and I could probably have eaten a tub of the beans, made even better when washing them down with a Humboldt Brown Hemp Ale. As far as the meats....well, not so much. The pulled pork was moist, but lacked any spice/flavor and really needed the sauce to amp it up. The brisket was the opposite - it came sauced and well-seasoned (I enjoyed whatever spice rub that was used), but was a little on the dry side. Hackknifette turned her nose up at the pizza (barbecue not being her cup of tea) and didn't really touch her fries. For the sake of posterity, I snatched one off her plate to try and found it to be soggy, like it had only been fried once instead of a second time to crisp up the exterior.

Obviously, we didn't have the greatest experience here our first time out. I overheard our server telling another table that management had decided to stop offering cornbread on the menu after finding it difficult to achieve "consistent quality", which makes me wonder if that problem is extending to some of the other dishes as well. There really aren't a lot of restaurants like this in the southwest suburbs, so were they to iron out the kinks, I think Smokey Barque could be very successful in the quest to satisfy the locals' craving for smoked meats. There are enough interesting dishes on the menu that I'd be willing to give them another try sometime, maybe with a larger group...

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