City Scents

October 2018 View more

Photo Courtesy City Barbeque

When City Barbeque in Downers Grove first fired up its smokers ahead of its mid-August opening, people literally came knocking, lured by the smell of burning hickory wood alone.

The sense of smell is a powerful motivator, indeed.

With the smokers now stacked with meat, the scent is even more appealing. This location of City Barbeque—the fourth in the Chicago area from the Ohio-born restaurant group—is one of several restaurants in a new strip mall on the corner of Main Street and Ogden Avenue near Downers Grove North. The space has the convenience of counter service but feels more date-worthy than your average
barbecue shack, thanks to dangling string lights, a shady patio, and beers from Downers’ own Alter Brewing Company on hand.

The menu offers classic barbecue meats in combo plates or by the pound, plus a few sandwiches for good measure. Though not brazen enough to tackle the menu’s largest item—a tray-sized $60 sampler called The Motherload that feeds four to six people—I braced myself for an onslaught of meaty sustenance.


I suggest you prepare for a meal at City Barbeque like Joey Tribbiani of Friends at Thanksgiving: Wear stretchy pants and brace yourself for the meat sweats. There’s buttery brisket and tender pulled pork, both encrusted with the jet-black bark that results from a combination of spice rub and hours in the smoker. Of the often-overlooked white meats, I could take or leave the turkey, but the smoky, juicy half chicken is deserving of real estate on your tray.

For me, bellying up to a rack of ribs is the best way to judge a barbecue joint. Though many diners expect ribs to fall off the bone, that degree of tenderness is actually considered overdone by barbecue competition standards. Here, they call the St. Louis–cut pork ribs bite-off-the-bone, and they’re seriously succulent.

When I ask cofounder Frank Pizzo about the myriad sauces on hand, I expect him to wax philosophical about the proprietary recipes and flavor profiles. “They’re just condiments,” he says with a shrug, adding that he thinks good barbecue should stand on its own. If you prefer to get saucy, options range from the North Carolina–style vinegar-based Swine Wine to Peach Habanero, the spiciest option.


Though the meat is undoubtedly the main attraction, side dishes play a crucial supporting role. If you prefer your sides light and bright, don’t miss the crispy vinegar-based coleslaw or the snappy dill pickle chips. Hardcore carnivores will appreciate that even the veggie sides—collard greens and green beans—contain chewy, smoky chunks of slab bacon.

Potato salad is a polarizing side dish, with details being hotly debated, but City Barbeque’s recipe has a sweet finish and a creamy, almost whipped, texture, achieved by sending the potatoes through a french fry cutter after cooking. Though my favorite side dish—the rich corn pudding studded with kernels—could double as a dessert, that didn’t stop me from saving room for the caramel-drizzled banana pudding.