Calvin's serves barbecue that's worth a trip to the city
Posted Thursday, September 22, 2005
Barbecue is a religious issue.
best kind of meat - pork or beef or mutton? The style of sauce - sweet,
spicy or mustardy? The kind of fire, the type of wood, the style of
cooker, whether the finished product should taste strongly or faintly
of smoke, what constitutes the perfect texture. Disciples of the pit
have debated these questions as heatedly as any clerics ever argued
over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Calvin's BBQ, the new Logan Square barbecue joint from Calvin Woods,
proprietor of Smokin' Woody's in North Center, the wood is hickory, the
sauce is tangy and the meat worthy of worship is the pulled pork.
"That spends 18 hours in the oven," says Ted Roombos, Woods' partner in Calvin's. "Then we pull it by hand."
meat gets a rub of savory spices before going into the smoker. Care
shows in every bite of the tender, succulent strands of pork, redolent
of smoke and lavished with Woods' thick, piquant, tomato-based sauce.
zesty sauce is made off the premises to the restaurant's
specifications, says Roombos, who notes that the two diminutive
establishments go through 180 gallons every two weeks. (They do apply
it over-generously, though, and I recommend requesting a lighter hand
with the sauce or a serving on the side.)
The new Calvin's is
slightly larger than Smokin' Woody's, seating 20 or so inside with a
few more tables outside, although it's no fancier - expect just the
basics. Prices run a bit lower here, though, and there's a small
adjoining parking lot. Combined with easier access from the Kennedy
Expressway, that makes this place a better barbecue destination for
suburban barbecue devotees than Woods' original.
The menus are
fairly similar and both restaurants use the same recipes, though each
cooks its own food. Like Smokin' Woody's, Calvin's offers several
smoked meats, and while none of the others reaches the heights of the
pulled pork, they're quite good - excellent by the standards of North
Side barbecue, if not at the top of citywide rankings.
nicely smoky baby back ribs fall just short of perfect texture
according to the Church of Chewy doctrine to which I adhere; the
beautifully pink-tinged meat pulls just a bit too cleanly from the
bone. I prefer a little more fight. (Those who bow at the altar of
fall-off-the-bone, eat-with-a-fork, however, should attend services
The chicken, on the other hand, strays a tad too
far into chewiness, bordering on tough. It has a good, crisp skin and
fine flavor but feels a trifle dry. I love the beef brisket's moist,
fork-tender texture - it almost melts in your mouth - but I'd like to
taste more smoke. (And while I'm not a partisan of Texas-style beef
barbecue, an altogether drier type, members of that cult will think
Calvin's beef stems from a separate sect, closer to Bubbe's brisket
The turkey, meanwhile, mixes things up: pieces
cut from the outside have good smokiness but tend to be dry; juicy
center slices seem bland. Fortunately, it comes all mixed up together
and the sauce evens things out.
Other items include rib tips, center-cut pork and a jumbo turkey leg.
offers a variety of options for ordering its smoked meats - as
sandwiches (discounted at lunch on weekdays), platters or combos. All
come with lightly creamy coleslaw and your choice of crinkle-cut fries,
redskin "Calvin's Potatoes" or potato salad. Full dinners get a mixed
house salad as well. For a $1.50 upcharge, you can get a baked sweet
potato or sweet-potato fries. Go with the baked - the skin-on fries are
You can also buy smoked meat by the pound.
barbecue, there's house-battered fried chicken, which can be doused in
barbecue sauce if you like; fried shrimp and catfish; burgers; a few
other sandwiches; a New York strip steak; and a few entree-sized
salads. The restaurant's just introduced daily lunch specials and plans
to add some "down-home" specials like meatloaf at dinner soon,
according to Roombos.
On the side, try the jalapeno cheese
cornbread, full of corn flavor with just enough zip. I'd like this even
better if it were served warm and crusty instead of in a plastic
clamshell. The house-made mac and cheese seems like it's been styled as
a dish for kids: soft, goopy and bland. (The actual kids' menu offers
items such as chicken nuggets, a cheeseburger, barbecue spaghetti and
fries.) Breaded fried okra starts out frozen, but it's nevertheless
crisp and fresh tasting, served with ranch dressing for dipping.
Beverages come in cans or bottles from a cooler near the counter or you can bring your own beer or wine.
desserts are house-made, but nothing to sing about. You'd do better to
stop in for a sundae at Margie's Candies down the street.
for the service, you may have to be a bit patient, but considering that
most of the high-church barbecue places in town don't even offer table
service, it's no real sacrifice.
Whoever said religion was supposed to be easy?
2540 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, (773) 342-5100, www.calvinsbbq.com
Soups, salads and sides $1 to $7.95; sandwiches $4.95 to $6.50; entrees $6.50 to $15.95
11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday
Major credit cards
Limited free parking; BYOB
• YOUR TURN: Give us your star rating for this movie!
• Return to DINING front