While visitors to our city may have hot dogs and deep dish pizza on their minds, Chicagoans are well aware of our city’s rich, if not complicated, barbecue scene. There’s not exactly one specific Chicago-style barbecue with many rich traditions divided by region, ethnic background, and economic class ranging from South Side rib tips to European-influenced smokeless roasts.
More recently, the downtown and north side of the city have developed a major craving for barbecue with a ton of restaurants opening up that cherry pick from different southern specialties. One of which is Blackwood BBQ, which has seen massive popularity at its two Loop locations (a Lakeview brand and third downtown location are reportedly on the way).
For this review, we visited their shop at
28 South Clinton Street.
Atmosphere – A Mix of Southern and Chicago
Blackwood BBQ falls into the ‘fast casual’ assembly line style of fast food, popularized by Chipotle, where you’re getting higher quality ingredients, choose what you want as your barbecue moves down a line, and get everything in just a couple of minutes without having to question if what you’re actually eating is meat or just rehydrated pink goo.
Blackwood BBQ in the loop full of peopleIn terms of style, Blackwood Barbecue looks like a mix of industrial and rural covered with a sleek big city shine. There’s a mix of painted white and black woods adorning the walls, along with metal and the exposed air ducts and lighting wires above. There’s no Famous Dave’s kitsch here or overly desperate attempts to make you feel like you’re in South Carolina. The style shows off the southern influence while recognizing you’re in the middle of one of the biggest American cities and work in a massively tall work of modern engineering.
Don’t be Afraid of the Line
While the Clinton Street location is open for dinner, the Lake Street one is not, both mainly cater to a lunch crowd filled with voracious business people. I overheard one middle-aged guy tell his coworker he’s been to Blackwood everyday that week and couldn’t get enough, and I did not get paid to write that.
The line was long when I got there, but Blackwood BBQ definitely has the assembly line rolling. It only took a few minutes to get from back by the door to ordering and only about a minute from that to the cashier.
Blackwood Barbecue keeps it simple. You can choose from pulled pork, pulled chicken, or beef brisket. From there, you can decide to put your meat on a bun, salad, or piled high on a platter and choose your sauce. These are regionally influenced like a Chicago style made with Old Style lager, a tomato-based Memphis style sauce, and a spicy Kansas City style sauce. Lastly, you can add on some sides or a fancy soda.
Pulled Pork Sandwich
During my visit, I tried a pulled pork sandwich with the semi-spicy blend Kansas City style sauce. The pork has been hand rubbed and mustard brined and raised without antibiotics or extra hormones. It’s very tender meat with an authentic smoky flavor that may seem surprising how tasty it is considering you’re in the heart of Chicago and not a barbecue shack in the south.
Unlike a lot of pulled pork sandwiches, this one wasn’t too messy (a good thing if you’ve worn a suit to the office). There was a good amount of sauce’the meat wasn’t at all dry’though I would have liked if there was extra sauce available on the tables. You might want to ask for extra at the front if you like your barbecue really saucy.
Corn bread fans will enjoy their honey cheddar corn bread muffin, but I’m putting my money on the three cheese mac ‘n cheese. These are served in little cups, rather than slopped on the side, with a crunch breadcrumb crust on the top that seals in the heat. Breakthrough and you’ll find a creamy mix of aged gruyere and two cheddars topping the soft macaroni noodles. It’s mac ‘n cheese that doesn’t just trade on childhood nostalgia, but crafted for the adult palette.
Blackwood BBQ is a welcome addition to Chicago’s ever growing and diverse barbecue scene that downtown business people already love for its reasonable prices and high quality product. If you don’t work downtown, don’t worry because Blackwood’s popularity seems to ensure one is headed for your neighborhood. While visitors to the city interested in barbecue should certainly make a venture to sample some classic south side Chicago style barbecue, Blackwood is definitely a worthy sauce if you’re downtown.
28 S Clinton St, Chicago, IL 60661