From a block away, I could see the crowd stepping in to Smoque BBQ, like filings being drawn to a powerful magnet. Everyone, instead of passing, was stepping inside.
It was 5 p.m. Smoque had been open for many hours. Had it been this crowded all day? We stood in an unheated plastic vestibule, waiting for the crowd to move forward and make enough space for us to get through the door.
The seeming confusion inside belied a rigorous order. The thick line of arrivistes contained far more people than those who were sitting. Our line bisected crowded tables, snaking slowly toward the cash register and choking off traffic patterns in the boxlike space. Everyone had to order before sitting down. Thank goodness someone in our group had brought beer, learning that the place was BYOB.
Within the small space there was a constant churning, as we pressed toward the order register. The line behind us continued to form, while those who’d ordered shifted around briefly, huddling in clusters or sitting on chairs near the bathrooms, waiting for their tables and their food. The floor staff hustled about, busing tables and moving furniture around at will to form the right seating for the next-up parties.
We craned toward the chalkboard menu. Smoque’s reputation extends far beyond its neighborhood on the far northwest side. It’s one of the more famous barbecue places in the city, which is what induced us to try it, before heading to a concert nearby.
The menu was ultra-conventional and more devoid of vegetables than more with-it rivals, like Smoke Daddy, which often offers special vegetable sides and at least has collard greens on the menu.
The kitchen was visible and efficient. Our food came up about 10-15 minutes after ordering. Judging from the constant stream of customers coming in for take out, this kitchen feeds many hundreds of people each night.
I liked Smoque’s ribs, but they weren’t the best I had ever eaten. In fact, three of the five people in our party could make ribs at home better than the ones we had at Smoque.
Only later did I realize I’d neglected to take any picture of the food. Truth be told, I was really only interested in the Smoque BBQ scene. If you’d like to see the food, there are hundreds of pictures of it on Yelp. Or go in person to check it out.