A hearty glimpse of the Babygold Barbecue menu. credit: Melissa Elsmo

Babygold Barbecue, 6615 W. Roosevelt Rd., helmed by notable Chicago chef and Berwyn resident John Manion opened to the public in early May. Folks in the area appear to be thrilled to have chef-driven fare on the Veltway in Berwyn. Heck, the Chicago Tribune just named Fitzgerald’s “patio with live music and mouthwatering brisket” among the 45 patios “tailored to meet your outdoor dining needs.” 

As a longtime south Oak Park resident, I share the enthusiasm surrounding the arrival of Babygold Barbecue — it is valuable to have buzzworthy fare in the neighborhood. Eager to share the love, I met up with food writer, David Hammond to experience Chef Manion’s unfussy fare at Babygold. 

What ensued was nothing short of smoked meat madness — you name it we ate it! Here’s what we thought of our #berwynstyle meal.

The Appetizers: Char-grilled oysters, smoked shrimp and a trio of dips

“With oysters, I usually prefer to go commando, raw, without sauces or even lemon squeezes,” said Hammond. “At a restaurant like Babygold, however, and in the hands of a more-than-capable chef like John Manion, a cooked oyster can be a beautiful thing.” 

Hammond’s feedback validated my opinion. Raw oysters are culinary kryptonite for me, but Babygold’s char-grilled offering makes for pretty perfect patio fare. Fun fact –Will Duncan, owner of FitzGerald’s, has these morsels on the menu because his wife, Jessica King, counts them among her favorite foods.

I love peel-and-eat smoked shrimp to the point where it can be hard for me to stop eating it. Calumet Fisheries in Chicago holds a little piece of my heart thanks to their shrimp smoking prowess, but Babygold is running a very close second. Hammond agreed with me saying, “the shrimp at Babygold are gently caressed by the smoke, so that the flavor of both crustacean and burning wood are balanced, and the shrimps remain juicy…succulent, even.” 

It turns out that Chef Manion feels the same way about onion dip as I do about smoked shrimp. He has some serious opinions about chips and dip — they need to do what they are supposed to do, and his goal is to make them seriously addictive. Ritz, Ruffles and Club Crackers are paired with onion, whitefish and pimento cheese dips on a whimsically arranged tray. The smoked whitefish dip is a menu standout in my opinion and Hammond qualified the “rich, creamy and slightly tart trio” as “excellent drinking food.” 

The entrees: Turkey, wings, brisket, pork belly, cauliflower and more

A platter full of smoked turkey and chicken wings proved to be a highlight for both of us. Manion considers Babygold’s thick-sliced smoked turkey to be a “menu workhorse.” Thanks to its subtlety, lighter feel and Thanksgiving vibe, the turkey was my favorite protein on the menu. However, Hammond commented, “the deliciousness of the turkey was slightly eclipsed by the uber-deliciousness of the chicken wings.” And Hammond was clear he almost never orders wings but would gladly order them at Babygold again and again. 

From there we cracked a couple of Babygold beers produced for the restaurant by Kinslahgher in Oak Park and the protein parade continued with ribs, pork belly, and brisket. Both Hammond and I felt the chopped brisket and pulled pork got lost in the shuffle of assertively seasoned smoked meats, but both were well prepared. Though some of the meats came sauced, Hammond and I agreed they were not being used to cover up cooking errors and served to enhance the eating experience. 

Babygold partners with Whittingham Meats which sources top quality Creekstone Farms black angus brisket. Hammond liked it sliced because the fat was so “luscious and velvety.” For the same reason, I picked the Babygold Pork Belly as the standout among the bolder meats. Heavily seasoned, crisp and tender, the indulgent offering was made all the more enjoyable thanks to a smattering of mustard spiked sauce.

A combination of BBQ spiced cauliflower, potato salad and coleslaw make for a memorable vegetarian offering on an otherwise meat-heavy menu. “The roasted, sauced cauliflower will get the meatless members of your group in the mood,” said Hammond who noted the dish shares similar flavors with many of the meats on the menu.

There is a lot of local chatter about the exceptional onion rings at Babygold and they more than lived up to the hype. They were so crispy and crunchy they brought an instant smile to my face and Hammond chimed in to say they were “the best examples of this side we could remember eating.” I was also a fan of the piquant collard greens for the ability to cut through the smoke and richness of the entrees. Hammond appreciated the potato chip topped mac n’ cheese because Manion used rotini rather than elbows saying, “the corkscrew pasta holds the cheese very well.”

We rounded out our meal with a duo of hyper-local Spilt Milk pies and a cup of soft serve ice cream before our buttons popped and we rolled out onto Roosevelt Road. If we are ever hungry again, we’ll head right back to FitzGerald’s for a Babygold burger!

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David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...