By Greg Wahl
In the barbecue genre, smoked proteins are, and always will be, the big hog on the menu. In many cases, they are dominant to a fault. Other menu items become a distant afterthought, to the point where a side dish may consist of a single, sad slice of discount white bread. Thankfully, some of the best local ‘cue joints are wise to the importance of backing up the headliners with stellar supporting dishes, and adding a gourmet flair to the far corners of the menu. Here are some of the standouts.
Cornbread @ The Smoke Daddy
1804 W. Division St
Chicago, IL 60622
These days, you can’t throw a stick on Division Street without hitting at least three restaurant/bars. The Smoke Daddy has been there since, well, before most venues, and with such a solid menu, it’s no surprise they’ve survived and thrived. While it’s often a dry, simplistic affair at many barbecue restaurants, even the lowly cornbread here is given some kick, with the addition of jalapenos and spices. It’s a good way to balance out the entrée sauce, without having to settle for the usual bland, crumbly cornbread side.
Jalapeno Corn Fritters @ Fat Willy’s Rib Shack
2416 W. Schubert Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
A unique, yet close cousin to the Smoke Daddy cornbread can be found at Fat Willy’s Rib Shack in the form of the jalapeno corn fritters with Willy Sauce. Crispy, deep-fried balls of jalapeno and corn are served with a bbq-mayo blend for dipping. Logan Square is becoming quite the ‘cue hotspot, due in no small measure to fatty little goodies like these fritters.
Honey-Apple Slaw @ Harmony Grill
3159 N. Southport Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657
While the Harmony Grill menu is more generally “southern comfort” style than barbecue, they do smoke their own pork shoulder, as well as other meats for the occasional special. The kitchen also whips up from scratch a particularly sweet, smooth and crunchy honey-apple coleslaw to top the pulled pork. It’s not technically a side, but it should be. If you order the pulled pork sandwich, remember to ask for extra slaw, then just knock some off to the side–problem solved.
Chicken Tomatillo Soup @ Gale Street Inn
4914 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60630
Blue Line commuters lucky enough to have Jefferson Park as their stop should be quite familiar with the tortilla soup–and pretty much everything else–at Gale Street Inn. Soup in general is not your traditional barbecue side dish, but exceptions should be made upon visiting here. In fact, a light, spicy soup is probably the smartest way to leave room for a full slab. Consider indulging on a Monday night, when full rack dinners are just $19.
Burnt Ends Mac ‘n’ Cheese @ Brand BBQ Market
2824 W. Armitage
Chicago, IL 60647
The name itself makes it sound irresistible: Burnt Ends Mac ‘n’ Cheese. It could (and probably should) be more than just a side dish, just one endless bowl of crispy, caramelized smoked meat bark mixed with creamy cheese & mac. Lo and behold, on Mondays, at least, it is, for just $9.95!
Brisket Chili @ Smoque BBQ
3800 N. Pulaski Rd.
Chicago, IL 60641
The ubiquitous baked bean side is given new life at Smoque with the addition of their fantastic brisket, along with whatever genius spice mixture gets stirred in. Sizable meat nuggets mix with beans in a smoky sauce in the kind of combination that makes you wonder why barbecue beans aren’t always made this way. Order the large, which you’ll no doubt devour swiftly after having waited in that line.
Q-Puppies @ Q BBQ
70 S. LaGrange Rd.
La Grange, IL 60525
The city has strong contenders for barbecue excellence around the suburbs, and Q BBQ is one of them. There’s much to happily dig into on their menu, and the sides are generally star material, but where else can you get Q-Puppies (hush puppies cooked in peanut oil), and on nearly every plate? Only here—and presumably the new location in Naperville.
Greg Wahl, CBS Chicago