'Urban barbeque' joint has Southern style

October 6, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The term we're hearing a lot is "urban barbeque;" that is, the food is prepared in the same, well-worn tradition of a southern pitmaster, but it's served in a decidedly more urbane atmosphere. It's a main course of slow-smoked barbeque, with a side order of class.

Charlie McKenna knows plenty about barbeque. He and his dad own a restaurant in Florida, and they both travel around the country, on the barbeque competition circuit, where they routinely smoke whole pork butts and baby back ribs. McKenna recently opened his second location - along North Avenue - naming it after his grandmother, Lillie.

"All my stuff is based on the competition circuit - how we do it there and how we plan it there. Which is based a lot on dry rub, injections, glazing, that sort of process," McKenna said.

McKenna has different dry rubs for just about all of his items, then smokes his ribs for about four hours, chicken a little less than that and pork butts anywhere from eight to 10 hours.

Part of the appeal in this "urban" barbeque joint are the modern touches - well-chosen beers, homemade "moonshine" and bloody marys garnished with homemade Slim Jims.

Sauces are excellent, leaning toward Eastern North Carolina in style, and complement - rather than overwhelm - the slow-cooked beef, pork and chicken.

"The majority of the crowd that goes out to eat in Chicago is very well-knowledgeable, very into food, so we wanted to create an atmosphere where, one, they walked into my house, or my grandmother's house, Lillie," said McKenna.

Lillie's house would obviously contain a number of Southern touches, not found in every barbeque joint: assertive pimento cheese with crisp toast points, homemade pickles that are gently-fried and served with a creamy dressing; even Low Country-style shrimp and grits, which are both creamy and satisfying.

Desserts are simple, but occasionally gussied-up, like a meringue-topped banana pudding.

McKenna credits the menu's creation with years of living in the South and cooking side-by-side with family members who have those traditions in their blood.

"There are some things you can't just learn at a culinary school or learn at a restaurant; you need to actually be there doing it and getting through it," McKenna said.

McKenna knows what he's talking about. He and his father have won the prestigious "Memphis-in-May" competition. His other location, incidentally, is located in Florida.

Lillie's Q
1856 W. North Ave.

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