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Review Tue Aug 24 2010

McKenna's Q

Back in July, having recently made a trip to one of the country's barbeque capitals (Austin), my boyfriend Paul and I were looking forward to trying Lillie's Q, former Tru and Avenues sous chef Charlie McKenna's new place on North Avenue. The menu borrows mostly from southern-style, east-of-the-Mississippi BBQ -- Carolina, Memphis, Alabama.

pork.jpgThe star of the Texas BBQ scene, brisket, was nowhere to be found on the menu. Instead, it features pulled pork, pulled chicken, and tri-trip, all of which are also available in sandwich form, as well as a quarter chicken smoked in McKenna's 15-ingredient Carolina Dirt rub and baby back ribs.

We went the day before the July 29 opening to try the menu as well as its craft beers and specialty drinks made with Virginia Lightning corn whiskey (aka: moonshine). Not everything on the menu was available for the preview -- including its fried pickles (blast!) or the non-Q items like shrimp and grits.

McKenna is obviously a Southern boy -- his maternal grandmother, Lillie, who lived in Greenville, SC, taught him how to cook Southern favorites when he was a kid. And he and his parents, who co-own the first Lillie's Q location in Florida, have won awards on the competition BBQ circuit for the past five years, including a 2007 first-place finish at Memphis in May in the pork-shoulder category.

Walking into the Chicago Lillie's (which we had walked by days earlier when the former Aberdeen space was still totally gutted), Paul and I were seated at one of the booths close to the kitchen and right by the door to the outside patio. The interior was casual: white-tiled walls decorated with black-and-white photos, wooden tables, gun-metal silver chairs. And in case you forgot about the main event, the light fixtures were made from butcher meat hooks.

Our server started off by explaining the different sauces to us -- there were four available that night, but the fifth, the Hot Smoky wasn't ready for serving yet (double blast!). The two that really stood out were the mustard-based Carolina Gold, which tasted a bit like a non-creamy honey mustard, and the Ivory, which was essentially ranch dressing. The other two were relatively traditional: the sweet Smoky sauce and the vinegar- and tomato-based Carolina.

beerlilliesq.jpgThe server seemed confused when we asked him about the moonshine drinks, so Paul ordered the Lillie's Q Brew, a creamy, copper-colored beer, and I got a dirty martini with vodka -- both served in Mason jars (which I love, because I always, always spill from martini glasses). But the bartender came over to us later to explain that, even though they weren't technically serving the specialty drinks that night, they could still bring us some moonshine-based drinks. Oh, and then they brought us shots of straight moonshine. No chaser necessary, actually. It was surprisingly smooth going down, although you could feel the burn. Something to keep in mind for those cold winter months that are so easy to forget right now.

macandcheese.jpgFoodwise, Paul and I started with two apps, the chunky pimento cheese spread with crostini and sautéed green beans with crispy bacon (hey, you don't come for barbeque for the health-factor). They were both good and salty, but we didn't want to fill up too much...because then came the MEAT. Specifically the quarter chicken and the pulled pork, straight, no bread, which we got with sides of vinegar-based cole slaw and cavatappi mac and cheese with crunchy bread crumbs. The meat came served on metal trays covered in butcher paper (which annoyingly ripped and got stuck on my knife when I tried to cut the chicken). The chicken was tasty -- it was a little dry, and it didn't really taste like it had been smoked, but the Carolina-dirt seasoning added some good flavor that mixed well with all four of the sauces. At one point, McKenna's father, Quito, walked by our table, and told me that the Ivory sauce was perfect for my choice of meat. Apparently, girls from Georgia love it with their chicken?

triptip.jpgTri-tip was the one thing on the menu I had never heard of. McKenna's friend and partner in Lillie's Q, Ted, who adopted our table, confidently told us that, once we try the tri-tip, we'd never go back to brisket. Cut from the sirloin part of the cow, tri-tip has a better flavor and lower fat content than brisket, McKenna explained. Unconvinced, Paul responded, "I'm a Texas boy." But the tri-tip, smoked for 2.5 hours over peach wood, was delicious. Tender and juicy, it paired really well with the Memphis-style Smoky sauce. But it wasn't better than brisket, Paul said later. Just different.

We were stuffed when we left -- we only barely had room for the banana pudding, made with layers of the fruit, Nilla Wafers, vanilla pudding, and whipped peaks of meringue, which we finished even though neither Paul nor I like bananas. But we do love Nilla Wafers. I think fullness-to-the-point-of-stomach-pain is the sign of good food in the South, right?

Lillie's Q
1856 W. North Ave.
773-772-5500

NOTE: A quick update from when we went: the full moonshine cocktail list is now available for ordering. Apparently the liquor lends itself to particularly good Bloody Marys. Go for brunch and try the $10 Morning Lillie, a Bloody Mary topped with a housemade "Slim Jim," a smoked pork and beef sausage.

Photos by Paul Meister.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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