Real Urban Barbecue in Highland Park does a lot right.
The décor is beyond charming, a mix of Texas Roadhouse and backyard garage sale. Their collection of pigs is not to be believed, including a few stuffed varieties that fly from the ceiling.
This is not a table service restaurant. No white cloths, no real silverware. Face it; you are going to get messy.
There are substantial choices on the menu, and there’s a lot that’s good. But universally, nothing is quite hot enough. Turn up the heat on those steam tables!
Among the Signature Appetizers, you’ll be wanting those Sweet Potato Fries ($5/$3), crispy and delicious, especially dipped in one of the three house sauces. The Fresh-Cut Urban BBQ Garlic Fries ($5/$3) could use a little more of garlic flavor and time in the fryer.
Now to the Main Event: the BBQ meats. They’ve got ‘em all, from brisket to chicken to ribs, mostly smothered in their Kansas City-style Original or the sweet and spicy Texas BBQ sauce. And they’re doing them in quantity. Owner Jeff Shapiro told me that between catering, delivery and restaurant traffic, they’re going through nearly 2,000 pounds of brisket each week.
About that brisket: to my taste, it was a bit mushy. Shapiro tells me that he’s looking for a purveyor that can consistently deliver a 30-day age on the meat, and chances are our brisket was a casualty of that search. He assures me that they’re on the right track. In all fairness, two Highland Park friends raved about the brisket, so clearly I hit a rogue batch. The 14-Hour Smoked and Sliced Brisket is $12 as an entrée with two sides, or $7 in a sandwich.
The Ribs ($18 Full Slab/$12 Half-Slab) can be had wet (sauce on), dry (on the side) or “RUB”bed (Memphis-style). It’s a solid showing on the ribs, not the best I’ve ever had, but very tasty.
My fave: the Smoked Turkey ($10 entrée/$6 sandwich)—outrageously moist. Yummity yum. I had mine on a Hoe Cake (a large corn pancake, with or without jalapenos), which is billed as “Red Neck Tacos” ($7) and is also available with brisket or pulled pork.
A knowledgeable friend says not to miss the Burnt Ends Sandwich ($7), bite-sized chunks of double-smoked brisket. It sells out every day.
For the greens fans, never fear. Try the Garbage Salad ($8/$4.50), piled high with lettuce, roasted corn, tomatoes, onions, shredded carrots, diced sweet potatoes, bacon, avocado and bleu cheese croutons. Hey, it’s green. I didn’t say it was calorie free, did I?
Side dishes ($2/$3 per serving) are plentiful. We tried the Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes with gravy and Golden Corn Bake (both in the plus column); the Sweet Potato Souffle and the Flame-Roasted Fuji Apples (SO sweet, more like desserts, but we still managed to polish them off). The Mac and Cheese was a disappointment, with a mealy texture.
Desserts are sweet and calorie-filled, because that’s how they do it. Many come from Chicago’s Bleeding Heart Bakery, including the amazing Chocolate/Peanut Butter Whoopie Pie ($5). The big cookies are made in house.
We loved the Mason jars filled with iced teas (peach, sweet and regular) and the county fair-reminiscent lemon shakers. That felt right, like a real roadhouse would serve.
So when you think BBQ, you might not immediately think of Highland Park, Illinois. But maybe you should.
Real Urban Barbecue