A barbecue spot from a pit master with fine dining experience is opening this weekend at One Eleven Food Hall in Pullman. Dominque Leach worked at Spiaggia with award-winning chef Tony Mantuano before opening her first restaurant, Lexington Betty Smokehouse in suburban Oak Park, in February 2019. Leach will officially unveil her second location on Saturday, joining three other black-owned restaurants inside the South Side food hall.
Leach smokes her meats using applewood and offers pork and turkey rib tips, smoked chicken, and brisket. She describes her barbecue style as a combo between Central Texas and Memphis, saying the brisket served at Austin, Texas’s acclaimed La Barbecue is a big influence. LeAnn Mueller’s woman-owned barbecue inspired Leach, and she wanted to emulate La Barbecue’s brisket in Chicago. It’s a two-woman show at Lexington Betty, as Leach’s wife, Tanisha Leach, left her corporate job to also work at the barbecue.
Leach will bring her smoked meats from Oak Park to Pullman using Lexington’s food truck, as her stall at One Eleven doesn’t have a ventilation hood for proper barbecuing on site. Barbecue, of course, is known for transporting well, so the quality should be good. The opening at One Eleven represents a return to the Far South Side for Leach. Her food truck would serve the area before she opened her Oak Park restaurant.
Chicago-style barbecue, at its best, is a combo of many culinary traditions, from the Mississippi Delta to Kansas City to Carolina. That’s best exemplified by Leach’s barbecue sauce. She uses one sauce for all her meats, which has a touch of tang from vinegar, an homage to North Carolina. It’s also thinner than most tomato-based sauces. That’s the influence from mild sauce, the legendary Chicago condiment often seen at South Side fried chicken shacks that’s also great for dipping fries.
“It works especially well with the ribs, it’s a little sweet,” Leach said of the sauce. “I just wanted to represent Chicago culture.”
Other dishes include corn bread muffins, candied yams, and macaroni.
A Humboldt Park native, Leach was the kitchen manager at the Art Institute of Chicago. She met Mantuano — the legendary chef who’s cooked for dignitaries and recently moved to Italy — when his restaurant, Terzo Piano, opened at the museum in 2009. She impressed Mantuano while working side by side with him on private events. He would request her aid in working the U.S. Open in New York City and even did an ABC TV segment with her. He eventually offered her a job at Spiaggia where she spent a little more than three years (2010-2013) before opening a catering company and restaurant.
The experience working at an Italian restaurant influences Leach’s cooking at Lexington Betty. Mantuano is known as a mentor, helping Top Chef champion Joe Flamm, Monteverde’s Sarah Gruenenberg, and more. Another Spiaggia alum, Brian Bruns, opened the non-traditional barbecue restaurant Flat & Point in Logan Square.
One Eleven opened in 2019 as part of a long-range plan to kickstart development in Pullman, which is about 15 miles south of Chicago’s downtown. Lexington Betty, named for Leach’s grandmother, Betty King, replaces Exquisite To Go and joins Laine’s Bake Shop and Majani vegan.
Leach is excited about the opportunity and would like to expand her brand. She’s hoping to open more locations in Garfield Park and suburban Waukegan.
“When you come to Lexington Betty’s and eat, it’s essentially as if I invited you into my home to my family’s barbecue,” she said.
Check out the smoked meats in a new location starting Saturday when Lexington Betty Smokehouse opens inside One Eleven Food Hall. Block Club Chicago first reported the story.
Lexington Betty Smokehouse, opening Saturday at One Eleven Food Hall, 712 E. 111th Street.