Which do you want first—the good news or the bad news? I wouldn't be the self-flagellating grump I am if I didn't seek out whatever new barbecue joints have popped up from month to month
. So it's time to catch up with two newer entrants into the field, and an older one that only recently pinged on my bar-b-dar.
First the good news. If you make your way on Chicago Avenue to the far-western end of Humboldt Park, you'll find the rather forbidding Bro-N-Law's Bar-B-Que. It's been around a few years, starting a half mile or so east before settling into its current spot, which looks not unlike most south- and west-side barbecue fortresses that protect their most valuable asset behind bullet-proof glass—a functioning aquarium smoker, that is. Bro-N-Law's sells all sorts of things, from fried chicken to turkey tips to catfish to something called a "steak plate." But the unmistakable aroma of wood smoke on pig wafting over Chicago narrows things down to a few obvious choices. It's hard to see what's going on in the kitchen, but place an order for rib tips and listen for the furious thwacking of cleaver on meat and cartilage, which leads to some tips of unusually thin shape, enjoyably chewy and full of smoke. I'd show you a picture but they messed up my order and doused them with a thin, too sweet, mild sauce. The ribs are good too, as you can see, with a thin, shellacked bark and the narrowest of smoke rings girding a lot of juicy, chewy meat.
Bro-N-Law's Bar-B-Que, 3820 W. Chicago, 773-227-8344
Things only get worse from there . . .
Husky Hog Bar-B-Que graduated from a food truck to a small corner spot in Bridgeport with a few picnic tables inside and a small kitchen dominated by a Southern Pride offset smoker, which, when I visited, wasn't giving off even a hint of aroma. Husky Hog smokes a trinity of pulled pork, pulled chicken, and brisket, only smoking ribs on weekends or by special order. I've always argued that this sort of dilettantism rarely leads to anything good, and everything on my sampler platter supported my case.
It was all bone-dry, leaving me only to guess how long ago this stuff had seen the inside of that smoker. You could choke a chicken with the shredded chicken. The pulled pork tasted like finely shredded sweet jerky. The brisket was made up of tepid, thin, superlean slices that give cardboard a good name. The only thing my sidekick and I could finish were the burnt ends, which while meaty and juicy weren't the crusty, fatty bits that exemplify the prized morsels of beefy detritus, but rather some lean, irregularly chopped interior brisket. Husky Hog features a bunch of sides: bacon baked beans, mac 'n' cheese, collards, smoked corn on the cob, fried Oreos, pickles, and hush puppies, any one of which is preferable to the barbecue.Husky Hog Bar-B-Que, 335 W. 31st, 773-442-2769, huskyhogbbq.com
Last and least . . .
The recent opening of Ravenwood's Last Pit Stop Barbecue heralded the return of Calvin Woods, the former pitmaster at nearby Smokin' Woody's
. The storefront, which used to be a great place to get Balkan-style cured meats
, now has been scrubbed clean of any defining personality. Again, discouragingly, no wood smoke in the air, and when I asked a server what sort of smoker they were using, she didn't know, and returned from the kitchen with the ominous news that nobody back there knew either. Our order took an inordinately long time to deliver, and it was piping hot when it made it to the table, leading me to believe it had been reheated, which did nothing for the desiccated ribs that practically cracked apart, or the leathery strips of turkey and brisket that arrived drowned in ketchupy sauce.
- Mike Sula
- Oh come on. The Last Pit Stop Barbecue
It was a real achievement: engraving itself in my memory as the worst barbecue I've ever eaten in Chicago. Until next time, anyway.The Last Pit Stop Barbecue, 1964 W. Lawrence, 773-654-3977
This post has been corrected to reflect that Bro-N-Laws is on Chicago Avenue.