When you walk into Palatine's Chicago Culinary Kitchen, you may feel like you've stepped into a hard rocker's sanctuary -- the walls are covered in metal sheets of faux tire treads, heavy music is pumping through the restaurant, and everyone knows each other.
The owners, Greg and Kristina Gaardbo, came out to greet everyone that walked in while we were there, chatting about the business and the food, and unknowingly alerting all of us of one thing: they know barbecue, and they know it well. The owners got their start hosting barbecue classes and stay true to that experience by using the restaurant space during the week to host two of them: Pork and Cork (a pork and wine pairing class) and the Complete BBQ and Craft Beer Experience (a beer and barbecue pairing class).
Chicago Culinary Kitchen773 N. Quentin Road, Palatine, (847) 987-0369, chicagoculinarykitchen.com/
Cuisine: Texas-style barbecue
Hours: 11 a.m. until sold out Saturday and Sunday only
The menu at Chicago Culinary Kitchen is small: brisket, pulled pork, ribs, chicken and sausage, with macaroni and cheese, pit beans and Mexican street corn as sides. Bread pudding is the only dessert available, although when we went, they offered candied bacon as well. There are some specials noted off to the side, as well. Every order you make comes with a side of white bread and spicy pickles. On the drinks side, there's a large selection of craft beers and pop, plus two Lynfred Winery wines. The restaurant also serves Bloody Marys; the table next to us ordered one and it was huge, with giant chunks of cheese and other toppings.
We ordered a platter of brisket, pulled pork, sausage, macaroni and cheese and pit beans. Everything comes on the same metal tray along with the sides, so be prepared to eat off essentially the same plate. It's a boon for sharing but not a favorite for people who want their own dish. All the meat comes unsauced -- it's a selling point for the restaurant as the owners pride themselves on traditional Texas-style barbecue. You can sauce the meat yourself at the table, but there's only one type of sauce, at least that we could find.
Because the meat is unsauced, the owners season everything according to what will bring out the best aspects of the meat itself. This was most evident in the sausage, with a peppery taste to the meat and a good snappy casing. The brisket was my favorite; it was tender enough to fall apart just by tapping it with my fork, but the meat was still dense and flavorful. The pulled pork was also delicious, soft and juicy without an overwhelming smokiness that often mars the meat at other barbecue spots.
The sides were good, but left me wanting more. What seemed like crushed spicy Cheetos and bread crumbs were mixed in with the macaroni and cheese, which was nice, but I would have liked just a bit more cheesiness. It was sadly a little bland. The beans were good; they're mixed with bacon and then smoked along with the brisket, but under it to catch the drippings and add to the flavor. And the flavor was great -- smoky and robust with a bacony punch -- but I would have liked the sauce to be a bit thicker. They seemed almost watered down and that made it a little difficult to eat them.
We didn't get dessert because we were too full (all the meat came in half-pound servings, except for the sausage, which comes by the link), but I'd love to get back and try it. I'll have to wait for a bit though -- the restaurant is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. And it only stays open until they sell out. Which happens almost every day, we overheard, because the meat is smoked overnight and then served fresh the next morning. But for meat lovers and fans of unapologetic barbecue, this is the place to be. The owners know what they're doing, and after one visit, you'll know it, too.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.