Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: The stakes were a little higher than usual at this recent meal: I was challenged to prove to a skeptical Memphian that there’s good barbecue to be found in Chicago. With my reputation on the line, I had faith that two restaurants in particular would meet the lofty standards of someone who hails from a BBQ capital: Lillie’s Q and Smoque (which will be phase two). After our party secured a window table at Lillie’s, we started with two preparations of pickles. The fried pickles came in substantial beer-battered slices – they almost looked more like fried oysters – alongside a thin ranch dipping sauce. While they were a solid snack, what really earned the seal of Southern authenticity was the jar of fiery red kool-aid pickles, sweet from a cherry kool-aid marinade and spicy on the finish. As conversation turned to tales of childhood nostalgia, I knew we were already on the right track.
The real test, of course, was the meat. The half-pound portion of pulled pork was as smoky and perfect on its own as I’d remembered, but I couldn’t resist splashing bites with almost every one of the diverse sauces (it also reminded me to replenish my own fridge, where I consistently stock either the Smoky or Carolina retail varieties). My generous side of greens provided a welcome vinegary contrast, and the potent moonshine cocktails were a fitting libation. I’m proud (and relieved) to report that Lillie’s Q passed the test, so my credibility remains intact.
The details:Lillie’s Q, 1856 W. North Ave., Chicago.
Last night, I was thrilled to attend the kick-off event for Fête, the first food and design festival of its kind in Chicago. Fête is also distinctive in its curation: Fête’s founders, which represent past and present editors at Tasting Table, Daily Candy, and Time Out Chicago, are well-positioned to understand what’s really trending in the city’s dining and cultural realms, and it showed immediately when the creative four-day line-up of tastings, seminars, and tours was announced. A night market was a great way to open the festival, with an impressive list of chefs and artisans offering both edible and non-edible wares.
However, when you pack a market with that many outstanding vendors – including pop-ups from two not-yet-open-but-already-buzzed-about restaurants – you should expect a lot of people. With a line around the block to get into the building and attendees squeezing shoulder-to-shoulder between booths once inside, I don’t think the space was quite equipped for such a barrage, even with two floors. But, inconvenience aside, there was so much to savor. I loved my chicken sandwich from Pecking Order, with juicy, Filipino-style fried chicken and slaw, and was talked into buying their homemade banana ketchup as well (I have a soft spot for artisanal condiments). I was also able to support Lillie’s Q, who recently suffered a fire in their main Bucktown location, by picking up another bottle of their matchless barbecue sauce. And Firecakes, one of the newcomers to Chicago’s gourmet donut scene, definitely delivered with its butterscotch praline donut, creamy in the center with crunchy praline bits atop its sticky glaze. I’m a little sad I didn’t get to try anything from Mott Street or Parson’s Chicken and Fish, the two aforementioned pop-ups, but I’m planning to get the full experience of both restaurants once they open. My ticket also included two cocktails from Longman & Eagle and a glass of Virtue Cider, all of which were lovely to sip as I walked around.
I’m attending two more Fête events this weekend, and will share those on the blog soon as well. But for now, check out more photos of the night market below.