"For every great barbecue restaurant, there are approximately 200 bad ones plying customers with meat that has been baked, braised, boiled, and cloaked in a sickly sweet sauce."
The question, that I asked myself as I headed to a soft opening at City Barbeque (spelled with a "q" not a "c") in Vernon Hills (887 N. Milwaukee Ave.) last Thursday was, "Is this going to be the one in 200?"
Being a bit of a food snob, barbecue not withstanding, I had my doubts. First off, I noticed that a string of City Barbeque restaurants had opened up recently in the Chicago area. There's one in Berwyn, another in Deerfield and more in Downers Grove and Orland Park. Now there's one in Vernon Hills--the fifth Illinois location--with a sixth location opening soon in Park Ridge .
All of these were opened in less than a year.
That, I thought, was not a good sign. But I was pleasantly surprised. Here's why:
First off, City Barbeque is not a fly-by-night operation
The chain didn't just spring up overnight. It's been around since 1999.
The first City Barbeque was located in a former doughnut shop in Columbus, OH.
Today there are 38 company-owned restaurants (and growing) in 11 markets: Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, Cincinnati, Louisville, Lexington, Indianapolis, Charlotte, Raleigh, Atlanta, and Chicago.
Second they take their smoking seriously
Their three on-site smokers work round the clock with the brisket smoked for 12 to 14 hours and the pork smoked 14 to 16 hours.
Third, they don't drown their meat in sauce
The meat is served without any sauce. Then customers can choose from an authentic collection of sauces or none at all.
The sauce line-up includes many of the country's most popular regional BBQ sauces, such as:
- There's Lo Co--a mustard-based sauce of the type popular in South Carolina.
- Swine Wine (maybe my fav) is a vinegar-based sauce, you'll find in eastern North Carolina.
- Sweet City sauce takes its tomato-based flavors from the Midwest
- And a sauce with fire but not too much--don't be afraid to try it (my second fav).
Fourth, the menu features authentic BBQ styles
The menu features barbecue from around the country. There's a Texas-style smoked sausage, Memphis/Midwest-flavored ribs and pork and "More Cowbell"--a brisket sandwich that takes its name from the classic “Saturday Night Live” sketch.
Their barbecue turkey salad, pictured above, features large chunks of meat and fresh crispy greens.
The chicken sandwich with an extra side of chicken is flavorful and juicy.
Two sides are included with each entree. Customers can choose from French fries, baked beans, corn pudding, mac and cheese, two slaws (both crispy and delicious), hush puppies, green beans, potato salad and fresh collard greens.
It you're still hungry, the dessert menu is very good--especially the peach cobbler.
There is also a large selection of beverages including beer.
Check out my other food blog, "A Bite of Chicago" for restaurant reviews and weekly specials.
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