Charlie McKenna, co-owner of Wicker Park's new Lillie's Q, has spent a decade on the competitive barbecue circuit.
His mastery of meat is apparent: On a recent visit, baby back ribs ($8 for four bones) were spiced and perfectly chewy, and smoked tri-tip ($17 per pound) was tender and moist. Four bold, house-made sauces line each table, ready to douse pulled chicken and pork; try mustardy Carolina Gold or a smoky version flavored with "liquid smoke," collected from the top of the restaurant's smokers.
But it's offerings beyond ‘cue that will lead us back to Lillie's. Start with a cast-iron cauldron of boiled green peanuts ($4), piquant after a bath in McKenna's spice-filled Carolina Dirt seasoning.
Fried pickles ($5) are exemplary: Kosher dills sliced ¼-inch thick, coated in a batter made with Lillie's Q Brew (brewed for the restaurant by Metropolitan), and deep fried. Don't hesitate to dunk them in the side of house-made buttermilk ranch dressing.
A skillet of shrimp and grits ($14)--cooked with heavy cream and McKenna's grandmother Lillie's punchy, cocktail sauce-based marinade--is so rich, sweet and creamy, it can double as dessert.
Keep a mason jar of house-made sweet tea or Lillie's Q Brew on hand to cool the burn.
Lillie's Q, 1856 W. North Ave.; 773-772-5500 or lilliesq.com