1856 W. North Avenue
Chicago, IL 60606
Barbecue is a subject we’ve broached before on Spectrum Culture. One fateful day, the Spectrum editors asked us staffers to name our favorite local barbecue joints and much obliged, I went on about the love affair I’d been having with Smoke Daddy’s Sweet and Smokey sauce. Shortly after that list hit the web, a friend of a friend boasted about how amazing the newly opened Chicago location of Floridian barbecue bastion Lillie’s Q was. Having recently rediscovered my love for all things that tickle the more umami-inclined of my taste buds, I ventured out to Lillie’s Q in Wicker Park. I shared a similar confusion about Lillie’s choice of location as I did about Smoke Daddy’s, both barbecue places situated in the heart of vegan-hipster turf. Though, with vegetarian/vegan friendly places like Earwax just around the corner, I suppose a meat eater’s paradise is something the neighborhood needs. Regardless, any questions I had about what a barbecue place had to offer the reedy waifs residing around Damen & Milwaukee were answered within the first five minutes of sitting at a Lillie’s Q table. This corner location restaurant definitely taps into the “looking poor is cool” trend that dresses most Wicker Park residents with its deliberate simplicity. Exposed vintage bulbs, brick, and ventilation hoods give the space a blue-collar factory feel and the plain faced pine table/aluminum chair combo prevents any ill-conceived notions that this place is high brow. Beverages are served in lidless mason jars and silverware is handed to diners wrapped in a coarse utility rags. Lillie’s Q doesn’t even bother with china, let alone whip out their finest – all the entrées and appetizers are served on small metal baking pans lined with brown butcher paper.
The menu at Lillie’s is very simple, not taking up more than one laminated sheet and consisting of a handful of appetizers, a few salads/sides and 11 ways to have your barbecue. They offer a great selection of craft brews and other drinks, taking pride in their own specialty moonshine elixirs. Be it an Arnold Palmer style beverage or the Moonswine bacon concoction, patrons can choose from three proofs for about $10 a drink. I was a little perplexed that the menu lacked any listing for non-alcoholic beverages, but by the looks of the choices made by those dining around me; I may have been the only one who cared about whether or not I could order a soda. Beverages aside, I partook in the fried pickles, a treat I hadn’t indulged in since having them as a child in my family’s restaurant. The fried pickles at Lillie’s Q were definitely better than any I’ve had (sorry, Mom and Dad!). Beer battered and filled with cucumber slices they’d clearly pickled themselves, these heftily battered slices were thick and crisp, not at all sour or brine flavored.
Following the fried pickles was a pulled pork sandwich served on a brioche bun, which was exactly as it should be – ridiculously flaky and soft with just the right amount of puffiness to its volume. Heaped high enough that the brioche couldn’t complete its circuit as a closed sandwich, it was obvious that the tender shreds of pork in front of me had practically melted off the bone. The meat itself didn’t pack much of a special flavor on its own, but an array of Lillie’s Q brand sauces were made available at the table for my use (and on a shelf for me to purchase and take home, should I so choose). The flavor champion of the five sauces was definitely the “Hot Smoky,” though the “Carolina Gold” was definitely a close second. The “Ivory” was basically a dill-heavy ranch dressing and the others lacked any real kicker to make them stand out. Now, did the barbecue at Lillie’s change my feelings about Smoke Daddy’s being my favorite barbecue spot in Chicago? Not quite. But would I say that my barbecue joint of choice is better than Lille’s Q? Not necessarily. This is a situation where I have to take the cop out by making no choice and saying that one is not better than the other, they’re just different. For about $7-8 a sandwich you can’t really ask for much better quality in an upscale barbecue sandwich, though the $4 sides were pricey and lacked originality. Drink prices were also on the high end, but like my money-throwing beer snob friends say to justify their $20 six-packs, you pay for quality.
On the whole, Lillie’s Q is a nice addition to the growing restaurant scene in Wicker Park even if it isn’t the most impressive barbecue place I’ve enjoyed. Appealing décor, a knowledgeable staff and fluffy brioche are all reason enough for me to plan a return trip to Lillie’s Q.