If you're not careful, Chicago has a way of shrinking. Especially as it gets colder outside.
In the summertime, you're happy to bounce around from Wicker Park to Logan Square to the West Loop. But when it's 30 degrees, 20 degrees, single digits, the big city becomes just your home neighborhood. The neighborhood becomes one street. One street becomes one couch and a Netflix account.
My wife and I have lived in Lakeview for six years but, for whatever reason, like a dog with an electric fence we've had this invisible barrier in place at Broadway and Belmont. Rarely had we stepped across it. I've eaten a few times at the Chicken Hut right there on the corner, the restaurant where you walk by their main window and they've got dozens of whole golden brown chickens sizzling on an open grill, but that's about it. Any time we've gone north to Wrigley, we've taken Clark Street.
Video by Mike Q on Yelp.
The Art of BBQ
Back in September, the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce held its annual Festival of the Arts. The event starts at Belmont and they block off Broadway all the way up to Hawthorne. If you're going to this Festival, it's time to venture north of the Belmont and Broadway barrier.
What you'll find with the shops located on this stretch of Broadway from Belmont up to Addison, is any of the regulars walking out of these stores will tell you, "This is the best place in the city." Like the guy walking out of the Coffee & Tea Exchange on the corner of Broadway and Aldine. "Best coffee grounds in the city. Hands down." Unabridged Bookstore: "Best bookstore in the city. I love this place." Ann Sather: Best cinnamon rolls. You gotta try 'em. Windy City Sweets: Best candy store.
And, perfect for this series, you'll also find Milt's BBQ for the Perplexed and Wrigley BBQ on this stretch of Broadway; two places that can hold their own as some of the best bbq spots in the entire city.
Oddly enough, my first introduction to Wrigley BBQ was a bbq sauce demonstration at the Lakeview East Festival of the Arts. Does BBQ count as art? Absolutely. It's a craft that Wrigley BBQ's Owner and Pitmaster, Mitch Liebovich, has been working on his entire life. He made his first brisket at age three.
Mitch was standing on a stage behind a table with a bunch of seasonings, bottles of sauces, and a couple of pans on top of a makeshift stovetop. He was showing the crowd how they make their annual fall classic, the "Angry Pumpkin" sauce. Mitch would cut up the habaneros and it seemed like the Chicago wind waited for these exact moments to send in a new gust. This was like an extreme version of a Food Network show. Can you stay on top of your game with habanero blowing into your eyes?
But he powered through, gave everyone in the crowd a free bottle of the Angry Pumpkin sauce. It lasted maybe a week in our house. We went back to buy two more bottles. It will become a fall staple in our house.
And then, on Sunday, October 20th, we went to the physical restaurant to tackle one epic Sunday BBQ brunch.
Start the Day with some BBQ
Ashley and I arrived five minutes before Wrigley BBQ was scheduled to open. We were like the BBQ equivalents of Black Friday shoppers or hardcore iPhone fans. We went over to the Jewel Osco just to kill some time. Try to look less like BBQ junkies itching for our pre-noon fix.
You know you're ready for a feast when prior to getting to the restaurant you've already scouted out the menu like a couple of head coaches breaking down film. Alright, so we'll go with this and this. Third-quarter we'll do this... We established a pre-meal ground rule: There will be to-go boxes.
"Can we have the beef brisket hash, the bourbon bread pudding French toast," Ashley said, reading over the menu. "The chicken and waffles. And then the, sorry, one more."
"Wait, this is for two people?" the employee behind the counter asked us.
We committed to the fourth dish, arguably the heaviest of them all. Biscuits and gravy with a homemade brisket gravy. She rang up the order, handed the ticket back to Mitch in the kitchen.
"This is for two people?" he called out.
Ashley and I were going Spanish Tapas style but with large portions of Bar-b-q. Each dish was plenty of food for one person.
First course: Bourbon bread pudding French toast. The little cup of blueberries made it feel kind of like we were eating healthy.
Second course: beef brisket hash. A mix of brisket, potatoes, onions, cheese, and sauce. For an overall perspective of the serving size here, Ashley and I were able to eat a decent appetizer amount at the restaurant and still have enough left over that I had it for breakfast on Monday and Tuesday. It's a great reheat option in a cast-iron skillet with a couple of scrambled eggs added in.
Third course: Chicken and waffles. Again, another blueberry cup. Double the health points.
A lot of bar-b-q places will have limits to their expertise. A great ribs place might not have great brisket. Great pulled pork sandwich shop can't do ribs very well. It's hard enough to be great at two similar things (like brisket and pulled pork), so even rarer is for a bbq spot to venture outside of the pork and beef space and make a truly great piece of fried chicken. Wrigley BBQ is one of those rare places. Their fried chicken had the overall quality and would fit right in at Chicago fried chicken staples like Honey Butter Fried Chicken or Harold's.
Last and heaviest of them all were the biscuits with brisket worked into the gravy.
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That you need to get off to a great start, get the metabolism going, build up your energy for the rest of the day. Well, biscuits and gravy are the ultimate day stopper. I don't think anyone has ever done anything active after a plate of biscuits and gravy. Take down a plate and you have about 30 minutes tops before you will be sound asleep, no matter where. Have you ever seen somebody asleep standing up waiting for a bus in Chicago? Chances are pretty high they had biscuits and gravy.
So when you have biscuits and gravy as Dish #4, and there's brisket worked into the gravy, and more added on top, and prior to that you've had fried chicken, waffles, beef brisket hash, and bourbon bread pudding French toast, a Sunday football nap is inevitable. We hopped on the 36 bus - easily could have walked home, but nobody walks after biscuits and gravy - took out Crash and then lights out.
Wake up a few hours later feeling somewhat refreshed.
Time to reheat the chicken.
You know those Russian nesting dolls? One doll inside the next inside the next? That's what this post is like, just picture the nesting dolls covered in BBQ sauce.
This post on Wrigley BBQ is part of a series showcasing the best BBQ restaurants in Chicago. That series is part of a larger series showcasing the best BBQ in the entire Midwest. And that series is part of an even larger series celebrating the Midwest as if it were a foreign country. A way to travel around our great states and experience awesome local spots.
And, since I'm just one man, I'd love your help writing these chapters as well. If there's a local BBQ joint in your town/city or a place you remember stopping at on a trip, or maybe you own a restaurant, this series is totally open to guest contributors.
Email - email@example.com and we'll get your chapter in here.