Finding great barbecue in Downtown Chicago is a challenge. No, it’s not paranoia from the Great Chicago Fire — it’s just hard with all those tall buildings to create a ventilation system to deal with the combustion from smoking meats. Engineers worked diligently with Smoque BBQ at Revival Food Hall and Kindling at the Willis Tower to accommodate those kitchens.
The management behind Clumsy Cow BBQ, an upcoming restaurant at 234 S. Wabash Avenue, hasn’t encountered any ventilation challenges in the Loop. In early June, Clumsy Cow hopes to give downtown a taste of true barbecue. From the same team of Dan Rook, Zack Blazek, and Matt Wiegers behind Industry Ales — an upcoming brewpub next to the legendary Central Camera store — comes Clumsy Cow, a combination of various barbecue styles. Chef Alexander Willis has worked with D’Andre Carter and Soul & Smoke and spent time at Hog & Hominy in Memphis, Tennessee. He calls his approach, which mostly uses hickory, “new age smoke”: “We’re definitely doing rib tips, they’re a South Side Chicago staple,” Willis says.
But instead of being committed to Central Texas or a specific region, Willis is fusing his favorites. Brisket and pulled pork will have unique spice rubs; it won’t be a universal salt and pepper mix for all the meats. He’s reminded of Memphis’ Cozy Corner BBQ and its smoked bologna sandwich. At Clumsy Cow, the bologna inspires a smoked mortadella sandwich served on a torpedo roll with a smoked pistachio barbecue sauce made with jalapeños. Willis compares it to an Alabama white sauce.
Like his mentor at Soul & Smoke, which serves a delicious smoked link, Willis is giving encased meats some love. This time, he’s developed a special Polish sausage. The description makes it sound like a cross between a classic Kielbasa and a Maxwell Street version. He’s also serving a southern-friend lion’s mane mushroom sandwich. Dry-rubbed mushrooms — supplied by Chicago’s fungus darlings, Four Star Mushrooms — will be available by the pound. Fried hand pies are the big desserts and are made in-house. Look for seasonal stuffings like strawberries and rhubarb.
They won’t serve Industry Ale’s beer at Clumsy Cow, which taps into Chicago’s sports culture with a black and red logo. Yes, the owners are winking at Mrs. O’Leary’s chastized cow, but co-owner Rook also points out most barbecues focus on pork. They don’t want to leave lovers of brisket and beef ribs behind. And if it goes well, Clumsy Cow will have siblings in other locations.
Clumsy Cow BBQ, 234 S. Wabash, planned for an early June opening.