Lillie’s Q is a sore. A nuisance. A poem that rhymes “cigarette” with “regret.” It’s a friend that invites you to a party you don’t know anyone but never shows up, so you spend the whole time in the corner, playing with the settings on your phone, pretending to text. Most of all, it is a restaurant in Chicago – the existence of which disparages the entire history of barbecue.
As we all know, the first mention of ribs in recorded history comes from the book of Genesis, when God removed one of Adam’s ribs to create Eve and stop Adam from posting on incel web forums. Since then, ribs have been used in everything from Marilyn Manson’s felatic self-adventures to “her pleasure” condoms, but they have most prominently marked their territory as a staple of Southern cuisine.
If ribs found their start in Eden, Lillie’s Q has burnt them over the fire and brimstone of Sodom.
Lillie’s Q is a small, rustic joint located in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. A neighborhood rife with trendy, modern fusions of cuisine that was already fine just the way it was.
Not to say industry trailblazers shouldn’t take chances experimenting with new ideas. Culinary art, as any field, always stands on the shoulders of that which came before it. Pizza wouldn’t exist if someone didn’t decide to take bread, which was already pretty great, and smash a tomato onto it. In much the same way, 711 taquitos wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for 4:00 AM bars and dog food. Life is melding progression. That being said, I imagine the inception of Lillie’s Q came when someone thought to themselves “What if I took a rack of ribs and combined it with the feeling of watching the plane fly towards tower two.”
When you find yourself seated in this cathedral to false idols of southern fare, I would recommend starting with a drink, specifically what the menu calls “housemade moonshine cocktails.” Are they great? No. Are they okay? Sure. That’s because “housemade moonshine cocktails” turns out to be chic-speak for “whiskey lemonade.” You could get the same drink at a bowling alley out in the ‘burbs, but you’d miss out on it being served in a mason jar Lillie’s Q bought in bulk from Jo-Ann Fabrics or whatever.
When the rack of lies arrived at my table, the waiter walked me through each of their six sauces, describing them with lots of words like “bespoke” and “sumptuous.” The vernacular of someone who has no concept of what barbecue should taste like, but has tried the New York Times crossword a couple times.
“Oh no!” screamed my inner monologue. “You guys fucked these ribs up didn’t you?”
They fucked them up so bad.
Just wrecked the absolute shit out of these ribs.
Have you ever struggled to open clamshell packaging on a piece of electronics, then become so frustrated that you start using your teeth? That’s the best way I can describe eating these ribs. They were burnt through, scalded to the bone, unwilling to come free. I hacked and gnawed at the meat like a hyena trying open a new ergonomic mouse.
What bothered me more than a slab of ribs that should be banned under the Geneva Convention, was the incessant pimping of the sauces by the manager. In between wiping sauce from my face and blood from my gums, I was repeatedly shown a tray of bottled sauces and asked “Which one do you want to buy?” Not “Do you want to buy one?”, instead the sauces were pushed with all the confidence and salesmanship of a shot-girl at a strip club.
The mac and cheese was fine, I guess.
None of this is to imply the restaurant has not found success. When I entered, there was only one table available – the rest chock full of sculpted beards, blackrim glasses, and different models of gentrification. The bastard descendants of white flight, returning to their Chicago fiefdom armed with Uniqlo flannels and Run the Jewels albums.
In fact, every other review I’ve read of this place has given it nothing but praise. The lowest rating I found for it was four out of five stars. This is because taste is subjective, and also because people are fucking stupid.
From Michelin Guide’s review:
Bucktown’s urban barbecue shack takes a scholarly approach to ‘cue, as each table bears a caddy stocked with six regionally specific sauces for embellishing the slow-smoked meats to come.
‘Cue…They call barbecue “‘cue.”
Fucue, you pretentious bastards.
If you are in Chicago, in search of some quality ‘cue (I just gagged typing that), here is a list of locations I would recommend over ever stepping foot in Lillie’s Q:
Gale Street Inn
The dumpster behind any McDonalds, whenever the McRib is back.