"These are the best ribs I've ever eaten in my life," my wife enthused.
"These," I replied, "are the best ribs I've ever eaten in my life."
My son took a bite.
"These are the best ribs," he echoed, "I've ever eaten in my life."
And then it struck me: Oh my God; we're agreeing about something.
We were sitting in the courtyard of Green Street Smoked Meats Friday evening, located, unsurprisingly, at 112 N. Green. None of us had ever been there before. I hadn't even heard of the place before that morning, when Ross suggested we have dinner at High Five Ramen, the tiny, trendy Japanese noodle bar in the basement of Green Street Smoked Meats. When I asked him how he knew about High Five, he answered, "Yelp."
To get our ramen, however, we had to pass through GSSM, because its entrance is tucked away there somewhere. To find exactly where took a minute or two of exploration—clear signage is not a thing in the hip world—probing around the courtyard, until we found the line snaking downstairs in a corner of the cavernous bar. Thus we didn't get in line until 5:40 p.m. which meant, when the doors swung open at 6 p.m., we were 18th, 19th and 20th in line, and the wee soup shop only holds 17. So we became first on the list, and had 45 minutes or so to kill. An appetizer of ribs upstairs in the capacious, high-ceilinged Green Street Smoked Meats seemed called for (I knew better than to say what was on my mind—"Why not just eat here?"—since I knew the answer: "Because this is not the place where we must eat" for whatever unfathomable teenage reason prompted my son to want to eat there).
"What do you want?" I asked my amended family (the younger boy is eating his way across Spain).
"Not pork ribs," my wife said. "I don't like pork ribs. Beef."
"Pork ribs," said Ross, always eager to contradict. A dilemma.
Luckily they were out of beef. So pork it was. I waited in line while they snagged a table in the courtyard, ordered a half pound, watched the guy slice off three, count 'em three ribs, and made an executive decision and went for a pound, which set me back $25.90, for six ribs. About four bucks apiece.
Quite a lot, really. Ouch, I thought, bearing the paper covered tray holding the precious cargo of swine flesh over to my family.
One bite made $25.90 seem a bargain. Not too fat, not too lean, not chewy, not soft, just tender and succulent and perfect. I loved the ribs. I loved the space, the yellow lights strung overhead, the big industrial doors, the odd large coat hooks on them, the crowd of 25-somethings pausing to swill beer, meeting up while meating up. It helped that the weather was perfect, the week, over. This was the hip, happening city I had always heard about.
|High Five Ramen|
The ramen was deep and brown, with chewy, kinked noodles and slices of pork belly. I would have gotten full spice—just to prove I could—but the heavily tattooed man behind me in line assured me, after I quizzed him, it would be just as unpleasant as the menu suggests. ("There may be pain, suffering, sweating, discomfort and a creeping feeling of deep regret" is how the menu puts it). "Why not enjoy your meal?" he said. Made sense to me, and the guy really saved me—just goes to show that you shouldn't be reluctant to chat up a guy with tattoos on his neck— half spice is plenty spicy.
We slurped and chewed, faces toward our bowls. We all liked High Five, and its rich complicated flavors and broth. My wife wasn't enamored—the ramen is challenging stuff, not easy on the digestion—and said that while Ross and I were free to return, she wouldn't be leaping to join us next time.
But Green Street Smoked Meats, on the other hand, we not only intended to go back to, we did go back, the very next day for lunch. We had to go to Union Station to pick up a St. Louis cousin in for the weekend, and went back with her for lunch—my wife's idea. "I have to try that potato salad," she said, with a gleam in her eye, like it was something really important that needed to be taken care of, right away. Our country cousin confirmed our suspicions, raving about her pulled pork sandwich, and said when she goes back to school at Alabama she'll tell the Crimson Tiders that she has seen the light. "They think they have barbecue, at tail-gaters," she said. "But this is barbecue."
The potato salad, by the way, was great. Although for $4.95 for a small paper trough, it had better be.
Both Green Street Smoked Meats and High Five are the handiwork of Brendon Sodikoff, the young restauranteur genius behind Gilt Bar and the paradise that is Doughnut Vault. The man really knows his stuff. A great restaurant needs great food, great service and great ambience, and Green Street Smoked Meats has all that, while putting off a relaxed, pure aesthetic—not contrived, not arch, just comfortable and fun. Suddenly Chicago expanded, and we had a new home in the West Loop. We sat for a long time, lingering, after finishing our meal. "I just like being here," my wife said. "I don't want to leave." Eventually we did. But we'll be back, soon. We still have to try the beef ribs.