CHICAGO (WLS) -- Barbecue owners and pitmasters in Chicago are frequently men, usually inspired by Texas- or Carolina-style slow-smoking. But as our Hungry Hound tells us, a unique barbecue operation with three locations in town is combining southern soul food with its smoked meat, and it's led by a woman with some impressive kitchen experience.
Few, if any barbecue folks in Chicago have spent time in the kitchens at Spiaggia and the Four Seasons, or worked for a caterer. All of that experience has led to a thriving business, now with two locations in food halls, and a third on the far western edge of the city.
Dominique Leach is combining her southern roots with her Chicago barbecue knowledge at Lexington Betty Smokehouse in the Galewood neighborhood on the far West Side. But don't make the mistake of thinking it's based on Lexington, North Carolina barbecue.
"My grandmother and grandfather are from Lexington, Mississippi, born and raised there. This is my way of paying homage to my grandmother, Betty King," she said.
That would mean traditional southern side dishes, including vinegary collards; candied yams, sweet and starchy -- no more begging kids to eat their vegetables -- plus a mac and cheese that would get the nod of approval from pretty much any southern grandmother. Leach makes a rich cheese sauce, combines it with her macaroni, then tops it off with another layer of shredded cheese before baking until the entire mess comes together in a glorious ode to cheese and pasta.
"What we've done is combine the culture from Lexington, which is soul food cooking, with the smoking techniques I've learned here in Chicago," said Leach.
Slow-smoking happens here every day. Entire pork shoulders, easily pulled apart, are either stacked between brioche buns or on their own. Whole briskets, peppery bark and all, is sliced against the grain with a fat cap intact. Ribs are there too - mostly baby backs - and her homemade sauce is intended mostly as an accent.
"Tangy, has some vinegar in it. A lot of smokiness," she said.
There's chicken too, but again, like everything else on the menu, it's done her way, rather than trying to adhere closely to a particular region's style.
"The greatest part about the food scene here in Chicago is the individuality that we bring to the table. My idea is to not be like anyone else. I want you to sit down and feel like I just cooked for you at home," said Leach.
Leach also offers catering services for larger groups.
Lexington Betty Smokehouse
6954 W. North Ave.
Dr. Murphy's Food Hall
1811 W. Harrison St.
One Eleven Food Hall
756 E. 111th St.