We'd picked a rainy weekday night when the Cubs were on the road, and we were off to an auspicious beginning, with ample parking and a dearth of drunken dudes. Still, we wondered why Sweet Baby Ray's had chosen this of all neighborhoods to settle in. It may not be a shithole these days, and obviously there are tourists and ticket holders to cater to, but what happens in the winter? Will a chain draw the rest of us, particularly with independents Wrigley BBQ and the kosher Milt's Barbecue for the Perplexed nearby?
The motto here is "Smokehouse, Bourbon & Beer," which sounds promising enough. Upon entering, you're greeted by the bartender, a "Wall of Bourbon," and multiple ribbons and trophies attesting to the prowess of the team manning the restaurant's Southern Pride smoker. They might as well have added "Sports Bar" to that tag line—the front is dominated by bar stools and hightops, and there are nine TVs inside, one on the patio, and one in the men's room (never miss a moment!)
Seated at a back table, we were presented with three menus: one for food, one for draft beers, and one for sauce alone—there are 17, including varieties modeled on Texas, Kansas City, Memphis, Alabama, and Carolina-style barbecue. A server hustled by carrying two enormous platters of appetizers; on the list, among the usual wings and nachos, a couple stood out. What's the Dill? (and what's the deal with that name?) Fried Pickles were much lighter than you'd expect, dredged in cornmeal, deep-fried, and served with a creamy chipotle-horseradish dipping sauce. And our favorite dish of the evening turned out to be the Eggs & Bacon, deviled eggs made with "Duces Wild" mustard sauce and topped with house-smoked bacon—sweet, tangy, rich, and uncomplicated all at once.We'd been warned that there were "only" eight in an order. We ate them all.
The meat of it all? Rocks pours of bourbons from said wall are Texas size and very decently priced at $11 for the Lexington, $13 for the High West Campfire. Service is still a little unsteady, but the staff is friendly and effusive about the products. And with the exception of a soupy side of mac 'n' cheese, most items we tried were decent—success for a chain. We might return for appetizers and drinks before a game. In winter, not likely.
*This is not a jet-engine smoker.
Sweet Baby Ray's Smokehouse, 3478 N. Clark, 773-975-7427, sbrbbq.com