Texas Territory

May 2023 View more

By Phil Vettel

Smokeshow BBQ bring more western flavor to downtown Naperville

The Pitmaster Feast at Smokeshow BBQ
Pitmaster Feast. Smokeshow BBQ, 22 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville

Scott Harris, who already has three restaurants in downtown Naperville (La Sorella di Francesca, Vasili’s, Fat Rosie’s Taco & Tequila Bar), added to his portfolio with the late-February opening of Smokeshow BBQ, a lively, country-cool barbecue concept.

Technically, the arrival of Smokeshow doesn’t change the number of Scott Harris properties, because it replaced Zade’s, a rock ’n’ roll-themed pub-food restaurant that had a brief run in 2022. “Zade’s was doing OK,” says Jaysen Euler, chief operating officer for Scott Harris Hospitality. “We thought it was a good concept but not necessarily great. From a business standpoint, we thought it was time to pivot, and barbecue was the clear favorite [concept] among the team.”

Inside Smokeshow BBQ

Which was just fine with Dan Moody, a veteran with the restaurant group and a barbecue enthusiast; the Kendall College Culinary Arts grad quickly became Smokeshow’s culinary director and pitmaster. “We’re smoking on the premises, using a Southern Pride smoker,” Moody says. “A lot of it is done overnight into the early morning.” Which is why, when Smokeshow opens its doors at 11:30 a.m. every day, the full menu is ready to go.

Moody’s work is most closely identified with Texas barbecue, in which dry-rubbed meat and slow smoking are the rule, sauces are generally a consumer add-on, and beef brisket is king. True to that emphasis, the brisket is tender, the glistening meat rich with smoky flavor. (Brisket can be ordered sliced or chopped, but for the full effect, sliced is the way to go.)

Pastrami and pulled pork also are available; like the brisket, they arrive as half-pound platters served with Hawaiian rolls. Spare ribs (more of a St. Louis–style inclusion) are offered in one- and two-pound racks; the ribs are meaty, smoky, and satisfyingly chewy (I dislike ribs that slide off the bone).

Smoked chicken wings in Alabama white sauce
Smoked chicken wings in Alabama white sauce

Chicken is something the kitchen does especially well, whether it’s the smoked chicken wings tossed in Alabama white sauce (a tangy, mayo-based sauce) or the supremely moist smoked half-chicken. Moody brines his whole chickens for 24 hours before air-drying them and smoking them for four hours; the wings, more delicate, are marinated in a dry rub and smoked gently.


The menu lists a half-dozen sandwiches, notably a very good, crispy catfish po’ boy, a smoked-meat sandwich (choose brisket, pulled pork, or pastrami), a spicy Nashville hot chicken sandwich, and something called a “quadruple bypass,” which combines pork, brisket, spicy sausage, and mac and cheese, all on Texas toast (cardiologist consult sold separately). Secret menu tip: The BTXM (bacon, tomato, slaw, Muenster cheese, fried pickles on Texas toast) isn’t listed but often is available on request.

If you’re all about the meat, the Pitmaster Platter ($42) and Pitmaster Feast ($85) combine ribs, pork, brisket, and more, feeding two to four people. Bigger group? Smokeshow sells its smoked meats by the pound and offers sides in full- and half-pan portions. (Euler expects carryout and catering to be a substantial part of Smokeshow’s business.)

Beef brisket
Beef brisket

Speaking of sides, worthwhile extras include the skillet cornbread (as is my preference, it isn’t overly sweet), waffle fries, a well-dressed romaine wedge salad, fried green tomatoes (with spicy ranch dressing), and “cowboy caviar,” a Texas term for bean salad (black beans, black-eyed peas, corn, and more).

As I mentioned, sauces don’t play a big role in Moody’s cooking. But along a far counter (where you’ll also find napkins, flatware, and to-go boxes in this self-serve layout), there are a half-dozen sauces, including Carolina Q (vinegary, mild spice), Texas Mop (tart, spicy), and Mustard Q (think spicy honey mustard). The best strategy is to squeeze a bit of each on a spare plate and decide which sauces best match your order (I suggest Carolina Q with pork, OG sauce with ribs, Mustard Q with pastrami, and Texas Mop with brisket).

“The idea is to let the meat shine on its own, and let the consumer finish it how they want,” Euler says. “All the meats work perfectly well without any sauce, but for sure we’re looking eventually into offering bottled sauce on a retail format.”

Smokeshow features counter service, so you order at the register, find a table, and wait for your food and drinks to arrive. That will give you time to take in the dining space, consisting of high-top and picnic tables arranged around a central bar. One wall boasts a mural of Dolly Parton; another holds a series of framed country album covers. A third bears the slogan “Cowboys make better lovers,” which, given the lack of actual cowboys among the clientele, has to be a little intimidating. Family-friendly touches include games and a trio of stuffed ponies for kids to ride.

Drunk on a Plane
Drunk on a Plane

Country music plays throughout, albeit at enjoyable (not deafening) levels. The theme is carried through to the beverage list; cocktails are named after country songs, such as Brad Paisley’s “Whiskey Lullaby” and Zac Brown Band’s “Knee Deep,” with at least three drinks based on George Strait tunes. I can recommend the “Drunk on a Plane,” a strong blend of bourbon, amaro, Aperol, and lemon, which takes its name from a Dierks Bentley hit. Not surprisingly, Smokeshow intends to offer live music regularly (its first live-music night was in late March, featuring a Chris Stapleton cover band), especially on Saturday nights.

If you’d rather skip the crowds, carryout is a good option; you can order and pay online, roll up to the counter, and be in and out in minutes. Most dishes on the menu travel well.

As you enter Smokeshow, you might be taken aback by the oversize floor mat, which indicates that the restaurant was “Est. 1992.” The early date is a nod to Scott Harris’s very first restaurant, Mia Francesca, and the year it debuted in Wrigleyville. I reviewed Mia Francesca for the Chicago Tribune that year, further evidence (as though any were needed) that I’ve been around awhile.


Photos courtesy of Scott Harris Hospitality