In 2019, Barry Sorkin, the owner of Smoque BBQ, one of Chicago’s best places for ribs, brisket, and pulled pork, applied for a liquor license under a fairly obvious name: “Steaque.” The assumption was that Sorkin would take the same care with rib eye, New York strips and T-bones as he did with smoked meats at Smoque.
But then the pandemic hit, and Sorkin put the steakhouse at 3310 N. Elston Avenue on the back burner. He converted Smoque’s parking lot into a makeshift patio to deal with pandemic-era dining. The steakhouse was not a priority because launching a restaurant at the start of the pandemic did not make sense.
“We live in a world where planning more than three weeks in advance is pointless,” says Sorkin.
Every pit master knows that patience is one of the keys to good smoked meat. Now Sorkin’s patience is about to pay off as he and his team have announced that Smoque Steak will make its Avondale debut this fall, alongside a swath that includes Michelin-starred Parachute and its Wherewithall sibling, Honey Butter. Fried Chicken, and the original location of Kuma’s Corner. The liquor license working title is gone, with Sorkin’s team relying on a name associated with a barbecue brand that’s been growing since its 2006 debut,
“We didn’t want it to appear as a range extender,” Sorkin explains. “The sequel is never as good as the original.”
At Smoque Steak, they’ll rely on a combination of smoke, sous vide, and searing to deliver unique flavors that will set their meats apart from downtown Chicago steakhouses. Sous vide is a cooking method that involves immersing vacuum-sealed food in precisely controlled temperature water. It’s a controversial method for barbecue purists, who don’t care how easy it is to set a temperature on an appliance. But the result is more evenly cooked food – steaks are more tender and evenly cooked through and through. By tossing the meat in a smoker, the chops get the same thing from the grill, fire-roasted taste barbecue purists love.
“We’re not here to prove anything,” Sorkin said. “We want to offer the best possible product.”
The meat is seared on cast iron and will be served with compound butter (there will be a few to choose from). They will offer a few different steaks, but nothing gargantuan where cleaning a plate will merit a picture on the wall. An 18-ounce boneless rib eye might be the largest cut offered among the menu’s five staple chops. Sorkin isn’t ready to reveal his meat supplier.
Smoque Steak will offer more than beef. They smoke giant scallops and will offer a cauliflower steak for vegetarians. Lamb, duck and pork will also be served. Not everything is smoked over oak, Sorkin mentions a langoustine with prawns. The sides include scalloped potatoes, glazed carrots, and there will be mushrooms. They cover all the steakhouse classics.
One of the benefits of sous vide is that cooks don’t need an expensive cut of dry-aged meat to achieve great results. Hanger cuts are as tender as filet mignon. Although Smoque Steak will stock wagyu and premium cuts, they will also offer less expensive cuts of meat. This will allow customers, those without a business spending account, to afford to visit more than once a week. Neighborhood steakhouses need more to attract customers than huge chunks of meat. At the Ukrainian Village, Boefhaus relies on excellent service and a wonderful wine list. Another Avondale steakhouse, Mirabella Italian Cuisine, is run by a chef who worked for years at Gene & Georgetti.
The restaurant is full service, but customers order with their phones using QR codes to display menus. Servers will still be on hand to explain the menu and wine list, but Sorkin says QR codes, something that was born to limit contact during the height of the pandemic, are here to stay in restaurants. The space seats about 160 people and Sorkin swears it won’t be a stuffy steakhouse. Customers can dress up as if for a special occasion or be casual.
“Look, if I’m going to eat wagyu beef, I’m going to wear my stretchy pants,” Sorkin says.
Smoque Steak will also be selling vacuum-sealed steaks to go; all customers would have to do is sear the meat at home and serve it. The restaurant is the result of a mistake in 2018. Sorkin accidentally received a box of strip loin steaks instead of brisket at Smoque BBQ. It was his cue to experiment and led him to open a steakhouse.
“It was a really, really amazing dining experience, an experience I’ve never had,” says Sorkin.
Stay tuned for updates.
Smoque Steak, 3310 N. Elston Avenue, slated for a fall opening.