Earlier this year, one of my dealers in the Chicago area was telling me about a Christmas party they had for their staff at a barbecue place that had opened last year. I wasn't familiar with the place - Pork Shoppe - but I soon found that it was the second location of a highly acclaimed barbecue place in Chicagoland. One afternoon when I was in the area, I stopped into Pork Shoppe in the Andersonville neighborhood for lunch.
The thing about it - I should have been familiar with Pork Shoppe. They've been heralded as one of the top barbecue places since they opened the first Pork Shoppe in 2010 in Chicago's Avondale neighborhood. Co-owners Steven Ford and Mike Schimmel have been in the restaurant business for a number of years, teaming up when Ford hired Schimmel to work at the hip Moroccan restaurant Tizi Melloul on N. Wells St. in downtown Chicago.
Ford started in the restaurant business when he was just 12 years old washing dishes and at 15 he was bussing tables. He worked at a series of restaurant jobs over the years rising through the ranks, and by 1996 he was the maitre d' at the upscale Vietnamese restaurant Le Colonial. He left Le Colonial in 1999 to open Tizi Melloul. Schimmel, who also got his start in the restaurant business at an early age, went to work at Tizi Melloul not long after it opened and eventually partnered with Ford in the restaurant. They closed Tizi Melloul after a nearly 11 year run to open the first Pork Shoppe location in 2010. Jason Heiman, a Culinary Institute of America graduate and the longtime chef at Tizi Melloul, was brought along to run the kitchen at the new restaurant.
In Andersonville, the Kingfisher Restaurant closed its doors in 2011 and the building sat vacant for a couple three years. A couple of possible restaurants looked hard at the space, but never pulled the trigger. Sensing a need for barbecue in the neighborhood, Ford and Schimmel thought the building would be a good place for a second Pork Shoppe location. But they needed help in the venture, so they approached Ford's mentor Joe King whom Ford worked for at Le Colonial. King - who founded the upscale King Cafe, and who is the owner of Rockit Bar and Grill - partnered up with Ford and Schimmel to make the Andersonville Pork Shoppe happen. They opened the doors in May of 2015.
The Pork Shoppe in Andersonville is located on N. Clark near where Clark breaks off as a diagonal and Ashland heads straight south. (see map) There is a parking lot off to the side of the building that makes it easy to get into Pork Shoppe quickly without having to search for parking along the street.
While the original Pork Shoppe is a small counter-serve place with an emphasis on take-out, the second location in Andersonville is a much larger space with a full service bar, and two larger dining rooms. Barn-boards adorned part of the walls of the dining rooms, interesting wooden half-barrels were used as light fixtures, plaid-covered seating in corner booths, and some playful murals that depicted three wolves chasing a pig as a take from the old children's story/fable The Three Little Pigs.
It was around 1:30 when I got into Pork Shoppe and it was nearly deserted after the lunch crowd departed. I was told I could sit anywhere and I took a booth across from the bar. A pleasant young woman by the name of Molly came over to greet me and drop off a menu. I ordered up a Lagunitas IPA from a long list of locally brewed beers they offered and enjoyed music playing in the background by the likes of Glass Animals, Phantogram, BØRNS, and Peter, Bjorn and John while I looked through the menu.
They had a number of lunch specials on the menu including brisket tacos, a pulled pork sandwich, and an interesting pork belly pastrami sandwich. But I was more interested in getting the meats to try. In addition to the meaty St. Louis-style and tender baby-back ribs on the menu, they also had chopped brisket, pulled pork, pulled chicken, a mustard and spice rubbed beef try-tip, and the aforementioned pork belly pastrami that brined and spiced in house.
I ended up getting an a la carte platter of a quarter pound each of the beef brisket and the pulled pork with a side of the baked beans. The baked beans were mustard-based and it was a healthy sized bowl that was served to me. The meats came in basic paper boats and the meal was served on a small cooking tray - the new hip thing that I'm seeing at a number of restaurants. (I have to admit - last year we went out and bought four of these smaller metal trays to have at home because they're easy to handle, especially when we're taking food out to the deck for meals outdoors.)
The beef brisket was moist and tender, as was the pulled pork. I liked the flavor of the brisket a tad more than the pulled pork, but both were very good in their flavor. I wasn't sure that I liked the taste of the baked beans with the mustard-base, so I added some one of the three barbecue sauces they had on the table to get them more to my liking.
The three sauces - a Kansas City-style thick sweet sauce, a Southwest-style spicy sauce, and a Carolina-style tangy vinegar-based sauce - were all very interesting. The spicy sauce had a noticeable bite that was sneaky hot on the back end. The tangy Carolina sauce was fine with smooth taste, but the sweet Kansas City sauce - I thought - was the best of all three. Mixed with the spicy sauce, the taste of both had that sweet and spicy combination that I like in a good barbecue sauce.
But the meat was truly the star of my meal at Pork Shoppe. The brisket was very good, as was the pulled pork. I want to go back at some point and try the pork belly pastrami. I liked the baked beans well enough, but I wasn't quite sold on the mustard-base they use. Adding some of the very good sweet sauce and the sneaky hot spicy sauce to the beans made them more to my liking. The atmosphere at the Andersonville Pork Shoppe was fresh and inviting, and the service I received from Molly was top-notch. For my first visit to Pork Shoppe, I was sort of kicking myself that I hadn't tried the original location before this. There will definitely be more visits to Pork Shoppe in my immediate future.