County Barbeque | Little Italy, Chicago

Creative smoked meats at the new County Barbeque

The crispy pork shank at County Barbeque is a hulking sight.

It's a meaty statue that's meant to be torn apart, forks or fingers finding little resistance as the smoked, braised and fried meat ($18) falls away from the bone.

The shank is also a clue that the 'cue at County, the new Taylor St. barbecue joint from Michael Kornick and chef Erick Williams (both of MK), does not bow to tradition.

"There are things we love about [barbecue from] Memphis, Kansas City, Chicago and the Carolinas," says Williams. "We took inspiration from many and made our best interpretation."

"American heritage barbecue" is the term that Williams uses to describe his style. We'd nominate his corn pudding with scallions ($3) as worthy of preservation for posterity. It's a sweet, savory hybrid of cornbread and bread pudding, made with fresh corn and cornmeal–and we had difficulty keeping our spoons away from it.

County's brisket burnt ends

On our visit, the brisket burnt ends ($11) were so smoky, caramelized and flavorful that we felt no need to supplement them with sauce.

That said, Williams' sauces are unusual: The tomato-based sauce is scented with anise and the other, inspired by Carolina-style barbecue, gives a mustardy, vinegary kick. We favored the latter, scattering it liberally over that crispy shank while vowing to return soon for smoked bacon ($9) and hot links ($9).