I love the unexpected. Especially when the unexpected is a good thing... or better yet, a delicious thing. Last week I was taking my new production assistant, Raquel, for a beer to talk "shop". I thought I'd stop into a friendly watering hole, and by friendly I mean the bartender, Liz, is a close friend and the owner, Joel is a fellow Hawkeye. For those of you who have been to Theory, you probably think of it as a late night Hubbard Street spot or a bustling sports bar that's an awesome place to catch a game while listening to loud hip-hop (all good things). This is how I always thought of Theory.... more of an upscale sports bar with typical "bar" food. Not where I would necessarily go for a great dinner or a unique libation.
So much to my surprise, my casual beer turned into some delicious cocktails and about 10 plates of insanely good food. Right when I sat down and tried to order us two craft beers, Liz said, "No way girl! You're trying one of these new cocktails...this one is named after me!" Low and behold, we had the "Smashed Lizard", the name rings true because after one of these made with Patron silver, Patron citronage, ginger beer with fresh muddled oranges and limes, you may be a bit smashed. Then Liz and Joel gave me a menu and when I looked it over I was shocked. These dishes were not what I was expecting, and NOT typical bar food. I was also intrigued by the fact that they specialize in BBQ. How did I not know this?! They smoke all their own meats, in house, low and slow over hickory smoke. "Alright Raquel, get ready... we're eatin' good tonight!" Even though this was her first dining experience with me, she is aware of my reputation, and immediately had a look of concern on her face. She knew it was about to go down. But, being the good sport that she is, she happily indulged with me, dish after dish, until we were no longer mobile.
Our first taste was my favorite nacho to date. I say "nacho" because they are served individually. Perfectly proportioned little bites of heaven... all on one chip. Theirs include a spicy fried shrimp, a slice of jalapeno, sour cream, pico de gallo, and oozy melty cheese (not the sparse shredded cheese you see on many nachos)... all finished off with a tasty salsa verde. One of the reasons why I don't order nachos, even though they are all of my favorite food in one pile, is that you always end up fighting with your friends over the "best" chip or most densely populated area of the pile. With Theory's nachos... all of your friendships can remain in tact.
Next, was an outstanding mac and cheese, and yes, I consider myself a connoisseur of this soothing comfort food. Theory's version kicked it up several notches (sorry Emeril) by using spicy Cajun shrimp in the thick creamy cheesy sauce. Finally a BBQ smorgasbord followed. I was unprepared for just how good this BBQ was going to be. I was also unprepared for BBQ pulled pork, tater tot Poutine!! WHATTT??? As if Poutine couldn't get any better with just fries, they had to go and add tater tots!? It was almost too much flavor and deliciousness in one bowl. But the glory of their BBQ really shined through in the simple dishes. The BBQ pulled pork slider was simple, and perfect. Yes, it's very saucy... but not the kind of saucy where they're trying to cover up or add to the flavor of the meat. They just have a damn good sauce and like to put a lot on it. Lastly, the BBQ ribs. Wow. These baby-back babies were intense with flavor, not too much sauce, but had one hell of a spicy kick.... which made me happy and thirsty at the same time. But of course, the cole slaw is right there to help you cool down.
Here are the pros. I found an amazing River North spot for BBQ. I now know the place to go when I want a delicious yet casual meal with a good cocktail in my neighborhood. Here are the cons. I may have scared my new production assistant away as Raquel was expecting a quick beer and she got a full on BBQ festival. But hey, if you're gonna work with me, ya gotta keep up!!! Thanks Theory!