At Embers, baked potato is the main course

January 4, 2013 8:26:47 PM PST
The regulars know that Embers Fire & Smoke in downtown Elmhurst is both a bar - where you can munch on wings - as well as a family-friendly grill. The menu is full of simple, approachable food, with an emphasis on barbecue.

"So everything on the menu somehow is based off of cooked by wood, whether it's my grill or my smoker," said Tom Eckert, the Chef at Embers Fire & Smoke.

But Eckert's "baked potato" entrée comes out of left field. It's essentially a side dish transformed into a main course.

"I wanted to make a potato that was just massive; kind of take people's breath away," he said.

He begins by brushing an enormous Idaho russett with butter and coats it in a dry spice rub, then places it into his smoker for about an hour. Then he gets to work on thinly-sliced red onions, which have been soaking overnight.

"Buttermilk-brined onion rings, which have been tossed in Parmigiano-Reggiano and a mixture of fresh herbs," he said.

He also pulls out a brisket that's been smoking for 14 hours, and proceeds to slice and then chop it up into bite-sized pieces. Same applies to an enormous pork shoulder, which he removes from the smoker after 14 hours, and pulls it apart into manageable pieces.

Once the potato is cooked, he adds a handful or so of cheese to the split-open spud, tossing it beneath a broiler for a minute or two.

"We add cheddar cheese from Sturgeon Bay, it's FedEx'd to me," said Eckert.

Once the cheese is melted, he builds upon it: the smoked brisket and pork.. Then a healthy ladle of homemade barbecue sauce.. Those buttermilk-brined-and-fried onions, and finally, a handful of chopped scallions. The dish can stand alone, or become the heartiest, most filling side dish ever. But Eckert recommends skipping the usual garnish of butter or sour cream.

"Some people ask, but we certainly recommend you try it first without the butter and sour cream because the barbecue sauce acts as the vessel of sauce or the tenderizer for that," he said.

Embers Fire & Smoke
122 S. York St., Elmhurst
(630) 834-5700