I should have posted this much sooner, but what with this, that, and the other thing, I am finally posting and letting you know that the City Barbeque in Downers Grove (1034 W. Odgen Ave.) is opening to the public today, August 13. The first 50 guests will receive at $10 gift card, T-shirt and a free sandwich on their next visit.
The Grand Opening is Saturday, August 18, featuring a 26" kettle charcoal grill giveaway, live music, face painting, and temporary tattoos. Ten percent of sales will go to the West Suburban Humane Society.
I again got to visit and write about a new place or menu item. And this time there's beer involved.
City Barbeque is a recent restaurant chain to the Chicago area, with stores already in Berwyn, Orland Park, and Deerfield. They are opening in Downers Grove on Monday, August 13, with a Grand Opening celebration Saturday the 18th. I got to visit for a media preview on Sunday, hosted by the chain's co-founder, Frank Pizzo and store manager Ronnie Omott.
Pizzo and the staff greeted Mrs. 'Naut and me with mini-loafs of corn bread. "I'm already breaking one of our two rules for tonight," he said. "One, don't fill up on bread, and two, eat through the pain. You'll understand what we mean later."
We found some reps from Alter Brewing on hand, pouring samples from cans. Frank would later note that they have a policy of seeking out local brewers: "We don't like the idea of this being 'just another City Barbeque' when this opens. There will be some [national] beers we will want to carry, but we will encourage the local managers to find what local beers they like."
They also offered their house-made lemonade, muddled with berries, and besides the usual soda fountain, a tub of "vintage sodas:" the Nehis, the Cheerwines, etc.
We took a table along with a writer from Naperville magazine, and Nkosio White of ChicagoBeerGeeks, and his wife Chalonda, the Afro.Beer.Chick blogger. Frank described how City Barbeque was started in Columbus, OH 19 years ago. In the past few years, they began expanding into other markets, building restaurants in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Downers Grove in their fourth Chicago restaurant, with another scheduled for Park Ridge later in the year. "We open several restaurants in a market at once, to help 'build infrastructure,'" Pizzo explained. "We can better support each other and get better deals with local suppliers. Chicago is the first really big market we've gone into."
In keeping with their idea of local involvement, Frank pointed to a blank wall facing the dining room. "We'll be having an art teacher come in this week from Downers Grove North High School to paint a mural for us."
After that introduction, we were given the tour. It's not easy to lead a group of people through a small restaurant space, but we managed. Like many BBQ places, meats like pork and brisket are given a house dry rub, then smoked for 12 to 14 hours, starting early in the day. The smoker was a gas-fired affair, vented to send the barbeque odors out into the street, the standard way to lure people driving by to stop in. The chain prefers hickory exclusively for smoking. And while a lot of prep goes into the meats, the French fries are cut fresh and cooked to order.
Finally we got down to sampling. The first round was easy enough, platters of the brisket and pulled pork. Both were very tender, and only lightly smoky, and the brisket showed the traditional pink smoke ring. The blackened outer surface was not burnt meat, Frank explained, but the dry rub getting a bit of char. We also, of course, sampled the sauces, which included a traditional house sauce, a Bourbon sauce, the hot "Brushfire," and specialties like "Swine Wine:" an eastern North Carolina vinegar base, a Montreal-style sauce, and a sweet but hot peach habañero. We got a taste of their sides, including some baked beans with brisket, and green beans with house bacon, which Mrs. 'Naut declared was just like the green beans her aunt used to make.
Round two was another serving, this time of smoked turkey breast (again, lightly smoked, and kept moist) and smoked natural casing beef & pork sausage. Sides here were collard greens and potato salad. I am still getting to know our leafy friends, so I tried the collard greens for the first time. I'm still not going to try potato salad, but everyone liked it. By this point, the crew was passing out take-home boxes and small cardboard containers.
For round three, Frank explained, "this is what I mean by 'eat through the pain.'" As our hosts set before each of of a larger tray, with a 2-1/2 pound half chicken. For each of us. Frank explained that they give the chicken a finishing ride in the charbroiler so the skin will get crispy, since it won't do that in a smoker. And the chicken was notably more smoky. I should not here that the menu also features pulled chicken so you don't have to deal with a carcass. Now the servers passed out foil-lined paper doggie bags for the chicken, which could be re-heated in the oven afterwards. By now, most of us just took a bite or two out of the chicken, and packed it away for later.
Round four. A full slab of ribs. Frank called it Kansas City style ribs, cooked to "bite off the bone" instead of "fall off the bone." Personally, I've never ordered a full slab before. Like many of the other attendees, I cut off just one rib to gnaw on, and we all stuffed the rest into a larger foil bag that turned up at the same time.
We finally caught a breather for round five. Their banana pudding dessert, already packed in a take-home cup. It's an indulgent little thing, with caramel-dipped 'Nilla cookies on the bottom and plenty of whipped cream on top. They also offer peach cobbler and a no doubt indulgent chocolate cake on the regular dessert menu.
My visit was continually rounded out with samples from Alter's canned offerings: Hopular Kid pale ale, Center Line golden ale, King Balaton cherry wheat, and ALTERior Motive IPA.
What else have I got on my notes? Oh, yes, besides their regular menus, they will offer ham or turkey for holidays, special rib packages for Valentines Day, and catfish and smoked salmon for Lent. And each store works with local food pantries to distribute unsold meals.
City Barbeque has two more Chicago area locations coming, in Park Ridge and Vernon Hills. The current location is part of a string of new restaurants and shops at one of the main intersections of Ogden, that previously held a small used car dealership and some half filled offices. So most people here are happy to see new development.