Chicago has several major douche vortices. It’s important to map them out because many innocent people stumble onto them by accident. Recent Chicago transplants and tourists are the most common victims. They’re drawn in by some of the traps in the vortices, which range from hip bars to music venues, and then they find themselves stuck in a zombie-like horde of belligerent drunks.
Wrigleyville is on this list and, vortices aside, this sports-focused hood is not the quadrant I’d usually pick for dinner…but I was invited to a media event at Old Crow Smokehouse at 3506 N. Clark (they also have another outpost in Schaumburg), and we went to check it out.
Though I’m not much of a BBQ aficionado, I did train on the smoker at the feet (actually, under the jack-booted foot) of the imperious BBQ Dr. Gary Wiviott, and I’ve been to most of the old-line and new wave BBQ joints around Chicago.
I fully expect many to doubt me (based on Douche Vortex location alone), but I found the BBQ at Old Crow to be quite good. The rubs are excellent, and in the style of great pit masters, Old Crow’s Tony Scruggs foregoes saucing the ribs before serving. Scruggs puts squeeze bottles of sauce on the tables, he explains, “because I have to. People expect it.” My recommendation is to appreciate the rubbed meat without the sauce, which adds nothing and easily overwhelms.
Like so many pit masters before him, Scruggs has no formal training. He cooked in his backyard on weekends (he spent much of his adult life as a truck driver) and eventually proved he had the chops to serve a larger dining audience.
The short ribs have a delicate patina of carbonized skin (yes, it’s burnt, deliciously). The night we were there, they were served with a bowl of salsa made from ramps Scruggs had harvested in a wooded area near his home in Kankakee. The meat was a range of textures, some parts pleasingly chewy, others delicate and lush, moderately smoked so the flavor of burning wood came through without obscuring the flavor of deliciously fatty meat.
The rack of ribs had very good tooth, smoky meat and the aforementioned rub, which I thought was excellent. Like all the q here, the ribs were cooked on a Southern Pride, and I think the quality of this meat reflects how good meat can be even when it comes off this high volume industrial smoker. How much did I like the ribs? When I woke up the following morning, the ribs were all I was thinking about; I had them for breakfast.
The beer can chicken was pleasingly moist, with crisp skin, presented sitting on the beer can, which somewhat thwarts cutting apart with knife and fork. “Release your inner barbarian,” suggested Scruggs, and so I tore the bird apart with my hands and served my tablemates big fistfuls of fowl flesh.
Carolyn really liked the sides, particularly the sweet potatoes which had been tossed with blue cheese: “best I’ve ever had,” she cooed on the way home. She really liked the beans too, and they were fine, but I really only had eyes for meat.
I had a few bourbon-based drinks that I liked, and though they do serve several moonshine cocktails here, I can’t say I’m much of a fan of those.
This place is all country music, and they have a stage for live bands, one of which performed while I was there. I thought the music was pretty good, relying largely on classics like Ring of Fire, etc.
It’s going to be easy to find targets to shoot at here: tables of dudebros and pixies, and the servers wear cute cowgirl outfits, which cry out for snide commentary from food cognoscenti. But I had a good time at Old Crow; I thought the BBQ was good, so if you’re in the neighborhood (like, say, before or after a game), this place is a good bet for a bite.
Old Crow Smokehouse
3506 N. Clark