The steakhouse from the owners behind one of Chicago’s finest barbecue restaurants, Smoque BBQ, should finally open this week after months of delays.
Smoque Steak is an idea Barry Sorkin and company have held onto since early 2020 but progress paused during the pandemic’s start. Finally, the team will unveil their restaurant to the general public on Thursday, May 18 at 3310 N. Elston Avenue in Avondale.
The restaurant is reservation-only, but uncooked steaks are available to go in a butcher shop that greets vistors near the doors. Opening day appears to be fully booked. The retail component includes cast-iron cookware and sous vide equipment for the home cook.
The steakhouse takes a different approach to chops compared to other Chicago steakhouses, including these popular ones that bait corporate customers with expensive beef and a business atmosphere that sometimes comes off as stuffy.
The kitchen happily deploys sous vide, a French method of cooking that immerses seasoned food sealed in a plastic bag into precisely heated water that’s regulated throughout the cook. The goal is to more evenly cook beef which makes it more tender when properly utilized. After the cook, the beef resembles jelly and doesn’t exactly look appetizing. That’s why it’s important to briefly sear the chop — either over a pan or grill — to create a charred crust.
Sous vide requires space for the immersion tanks and time. It’s quasi-controversial in some kitchens. Some chefs say cooking over an open fire is superior because that imparts smoke. Some barbecue zealots feel sous vide takes the fun out of smoking meat low and slow for hours. Often, at least for the home cook, a chop will be smoked at the end to add a little sweet flavor. At Smoque Steak the meats will go into a smoker (they’ll be kissed with a little red oak) before being sealed and dunked into water tanks. The final step for Smoque is to seer using a cast-iron pan and clarified butter.
The method is used for more than beef; Smoque’s also cooking up smoked salmon and chicken. A cauliflower steak aimed at vegetarians is cooked with butter — sorry, vegans. Sorkin proved what he could do without meat for his special collaborative pie at Piece Pizza in Wicker Park where he used smoked portobello mushrooms and basil. The method can make a cheaper cut of meat, say a hanger steak, taste more like a pricier dry-aged tenderloin, the kind of steak a chophouse would list for $100.
And that’s Smoque’s value proposition: to give diners a steak worthy of a downtown chop house but without the need to try to find downtown parking or pay downtown prices. That’s not to say Smoque Steak’s beef will be cheap. A 16-ounce USDA Prime rib-eye is probably the most decadent item on the menu and costs $53. The steak frites use skirt steak, one of the many cuts that saw its price soar during the pandemic. It costs $29.
Another large difference between Sorkin’s first restaurant and his newest is there’s a full-fledged beverage program with big red wines and more. This is no ragtag neighborhood affair. But management wants to avoid steakhouse cliches, press release even mentions how they want to avoid “opulence” and “values of excess” in describing the 100-seat restaurant. Cocktails are divided into three sections: Traditional steakhouse martinis; a classics section with negronis, Paper Planes, and sours; and a “curated” section aimed more at cocktail snobs. Every restaurant has to have an espresso martini, right? Smoque’s adds a little nitro for some smoothness. They’re even smoking pineapple for the Smoqued Pineapple, a spicy mezcal drink.
Smoque BBQ opened in 2006 in Irving Park and helped elevate the city’s barbecue scene. Seventeen years later, the crew’s ready to give Avondale a different take on steakhouses. After a nine-month delay, the city is primed for it. Read the menu below.