Chicago restaurants are switching to stylish barbecue menus to survive the COVID-19 pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) — The pandemic has forced every chef and restaurateur in Chicago to make changes. These pivots can be found in how menus are written and what items are cooked and served. For some, what’s currently on the menu has absolutely nothing to do with the initial business plan. But two chefs are hoping the barbecue will get them through the first half of the year.

The past few months have been tough for restaurants like Smyth and the Loyalist in the West Loop. Smyth is known for its elegant tasting menus designed by married chefs John and Karen Shields. But these days, they focus on barbecue.

“We made a huge pivot, actually,” John Shields said.

“We fitted our own fire pit with a rolling stand that we removed the wheels from and created little slots and trays and we are able to smoke that way. So we just pulled it off. Our Sous Chef – Brian Barker – is from North Carolina, he’s the one who has all the experience, he kind of inspired the whole script.

Barker smokes whole breasts, ribs and chicken, creating a beautiful mahogany exterior that’s as black as charcoal.

“A brining, then a slow cook, then we glaze with our initial glaze which is more of a sugary glaze on the outside, then from there it’s more of a classic barbecue that we paint lightly as it smokes all day “, he mentioned.

RELATED: Lexington Betty Smokehouse Offers Southern-Style BBQ with a Chicago Flair

Outstanding sides like potato salad, not-too-creamy coleslaw, and even cornbread are all worth adding to your order, along with a stellar banana puddin.

“We fell in love with a barbecue,” said Akiko Moorman.

In Little Village, Moorman and her husband, chef Phillip Foss, had to rethink El Ideas, the small, intimate, tasting-menu-guided diner, and reinvent it as Boxcar Barbecue.

“So El Ideas is this star chef tasting menu while Boxcar is very simple barbecue,” she said. “The biggest issue is that we don’t have any outdoor space or a bar. So in terms of pivoting, we were pretty limited in terms of options.”

At least he’s got a Southern Pride smoker, which he stuffs with chicken, for starters.

“We have a chicken that’s really, really moist and barbecued, which is kind of hard to come by,” Moorman said.

He also smokes huge pork ribs, as well as a unicorn in local barbecue circles: a whole prime rib. Seen mostly in Texas, this big boy is doused in black pepper, smoked until tender.

“We also offer a shredded beef, we call the Messy Jesse in honor of Foss’s sister. You know at this point we need something durable to survive. We had no relief. passion, but I won’t deny it, the other part is really out of necessity,” Moorman said.

Many businesses that have pivoted during the pandemic will eventually go back to doing things the way they used to, like Smyth – they’ll have a tasting menu at some point. Same here at El Ideas, however, with the uncertainty going forward, they plan to keep Boxcar Barbecue going year round.

Smyth (Johnny Good Times Smoked Meats)
177 N. Ada Street


El Ideas/Barbecue Boxcar
2419 West 14th St.

Some of Steve’s other barbecue favourites:

Smoked BBQ
3800 N. Pulaski Rd.

Lillie’s Q
417 N. Ashland Ave.

Oak Park
Schererville, IN

Uncle John’s BBQ
17947 S. Halsted Street, Homewood

Honey 1 BBQ
746 E. 43rd Street

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