Smoque BBQ, the Eater 38-ranked barbecue spot that opened in December 2006 in Old Irving Park, has never been very good about celebrating anniversaries. Years went by, the two smokers continued to turn out ribs, pulled pork, and brisket, and Smoque’s reputation grew beyond Chicago — barbecue maven Steven Raichlen pronounced its brisket “world class” in the New York Times — but it never occurred to anyone to celebrate the passage of time. Until now.
This Saturday, January 15, Smoque will celebrate its 15th birthday with a special prime rib sandwich, smoked to medium rare and served on a toasted French roll with roasted shallots, red wine reduction, and horseradish cream. “It felt special occasion-ish,” says co-owner Barry Sorkin. “We’ve done smoked prime rib for more upscale events before. I keep patting myself on the back, but it’s really good.”
The sandwich costs $15 and will be available in limited quantities: 100 for lunch and 150 for dinner, with a maximum of two per person. Customers can only order at the restaurant or over the phone, not online.
But Smoque will not only celebrating its own continued survival, Sorkin says: it will also salute the customers who have continued to support it through its various pivots during the pandemic, which included commandeering a side street to serve as a curbside pickup lane and turning a parking lot into a patio.
“We’ve seen the same faces,” he says. “Granted, we’re seeing them through car windows now. But we’ve had it better than a lot of restaurants. Barbecue is not something people had to be persuaded to order through takeout.”
Will Smoque survive another 15 years? Sorkin doesn’t want to think about that right now. In an environment where everything changes week to week, and even day to day, with new mandates from the city and workers who have contracted or been exposed to COVID-19, it’s impossible to plan even 15 days ahead. “It’s an exercise in futility,” he says. “But we love what we do and we’re grateful that every day we get to get up and make barbecue for a living.”
Smoque BBQ, 3800 N. Pulaski Avenue, Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.