barbecue combo, Old Crow Smokehouse
  • Mike Sula
  • Barbecue combo, Old Crow Smokehouse

Wrigleyville, Lakeview, and Lincoln Park have been saturated with new barbecue spots in recent times, a few of them sporting the sort of ersatz hillbilly shtick that would make Larry the Cable Guy grimace, and even fewer delivering on acceptable barbecue. It’s incredible to me that we haven’t reached a tipping point—but they just keep coming. One of the more ambitious of these recent projects is Old Crow Smokehouse in Wrigleyville, 10,500 square feet of kountry-roadhouse kitsch, featuring 20 TVs, a soundtrack of the worst commercial country music Nashville is capable of producing, and a posse of indolent waitresses in short skirts and cowboy boots serving drinks in plastic glasses—because, presumably, the patrons can’t be trusted not to smash them over each other’s heads on game day. Wrigleyville gets what it deserves.

The figurehead here is Tony Scruggs, a handlebar-‘stached barbecue-competition-circuit vet who made a respectable run on MasterChef season two, making it up to number 16 before packing his knives. Scruggs is a likable fellow who works the room, pressing the flesh, and he’s churning out the usual suspects on a large Southern Pride offset smoker that turns out—like a lot of places where it’s used—smoked meat that varies in consistency depending on your order. Both the brisket and the pulled pork have a braised quality that doesn’t carry much smoked flavor, and though the pork remains winningly fatty and juicy, the brisket just can’t take that treatment and comes out dry as a bone. The chicken is also dry, but smoky, and a beef-and-pork-blend sausage hits all the right notes: juicy, snappy, and saturated with wood smoke. Baby back ribs seem to weather this treatment best, their fat absorbing the smoke while they maintain a certain amount of chewability. All of these are served on wax paper screened with fake newsprint.

pork rinds, Old Crow Smokehouse

Old Crow is also pushing “Asian BBQ” from a robata grill. The charred Chinese-style lamb skewers I tried were bland and chewy, but the Korean short ribs were easier on the Chiclets, tenderized in an appropriately sweet marinade. I suspect the biggest problem here isn’t one of scale but—like it is with most of these places—lack of focus. In addition to the barbecue, you have salads, sandwiches and sides, silly desserts like toasted s’mores pie, and trashy appetizers like pork rinds, poutine, and jalapeño poppers. And then—good God—raw oysters.

And if that isn’t enough, Old Crow occupies what used to be Chen’s Chinese & Sushi, and you can still order takeout from its old menu—everything from pad thai to crispy duck to mu shu to caterpillar maki.

Old Crow Smokehouse

Old Crow Smokehouse, 3506 N. Clark, 773-537-4452,