As soon as we heard that Chef Charlie McKenna a true competition Pit Master, a winner at Memphis in May, was opening a BBQ place in Chicago we were very intrigued and we made a point of getting to it the first couple of weeks Lillie’s Q was open. I have been there three different times and each time I have been very impressed with the quality of the food, the service and especially the atmosphere.
Named after his Grandmother, Lillie, McKenna brings real BBQ to the Chicago food scene in a great little space on North Ave, on the edge of Bucktown/Wicker Park. The place has great beers on tap and all sorts of specialty drinks with Moonshine at the heart of most of them. Moonshine is to BBQ as Saki is to Sushi! They have a wide open space, cool wood tables and some booths with a huge slop sink at the back for cleaning the BBQ sauce off.
We started with the fried pickles, which are a quality dill pickle fried in a very light and delicious almost tempura batter. This is served with a ranch dressing that has to be homemade. In looking over the menu, brisket is missing, and I asked Charlie straight up, “Why no brisket?” He stated that he wanted to put Tri Tip on the menu instead and being that he competes Memphis BBQ Association, makes sense to me. (Tri tip is done perfectly by the way.) So for our tasting, we tried a slab of
ribs, pulled chicken, pulled pork and of course slices of tri tip. The sides, we went with Mac and Cheese, Bacon Green Beans, Baked Beans, “Carolina Dirt Dusted” Fries and Sweet Potato Fries.
The ribs had an awesome smoke flavor as did all of the meats because you will not find a gas line on Lillie’s Q smoker. McKenna has two custom built, gravity fed, charcoal fueled smokers under a hood in the kitchen. Best part, a BBQ Guru fuels the fire so it was about as close as you could get to true competition BBQ in a restaurant setting. The pork was tender with a nice smokey pink appearance, as was the chicken, a surprise as far as pulled chicken goes, tender and flavorful. The tri
tip was something special, a great appearance of smoke lined the outside with a great rub flavor and tender as all get out. In subsequent visits I have had all of these as a sandwich, highly recommended as he serves them on a soft buttered brioche roll that is divine!
As for sauce, he serves everything dry, another sign that this guy knows BBQ. On the table are five different sauces from all over the BBQ spectrum. Smoky, Hot Smoky (My Favorite), Carolina Gold, Carolina and Ivory. The Ivory is a mayonnaise based sauce which with all of these sauces, you can really sauce it up any way you want. The presentation is on trays, and we have never even gotten into all the other specialties that they have like Shrimp and Grits or the Low Country Boil. This is the real deal, food has been consistently good and the service is awesome too. Have made this a dinner standard before we go to see the Chicago Blackhawks and they get us in and out within 30 minutes or they let you dine and enjoy! Make it a point to check it out if you are in Chicago, or are looking for some authentic BBQ in Chicago.