One of Chicago’s most popular barbecue restaurants is trying something new in the Loop. Later this week, Smoque BBQ will close its stall inside Revival Food Hall and rebrand. The new kiosk will be called Uppercut Sandwich Co.
The name reveals a lot, says co-owner Barry Sorkin. They’re using premium cuts like strip loin and prime rib: “This isn’t a sandwich concept where we’re bringing in deli meat and slapping it between a few slices of bread,” he says.
Sandwiches like shaved prime tenderloin and a tangy steak and a brie with mushrooms are part of the opening offerings. The items are from the lunch menu at Sorkin’s Avondale restaurant, Smoque Steak, which opened in May. Some of the menu came from staff meals.
Other items include a meatloaf sandwich, shrimp roll, lobster pasta salad, roasted fingerling potato salad, charred veggie salad with carrots, broccolini and fresh mozzarella, and celery root slaw. There’s also smoked salmon pinwheels — sliced fish rolled with raw veggies, cream cheese, and herbs — and a juicy chicken salad sandwich brined in buttermilk and cooked sous vide and finished with tomato, basil, and lettuce.
Uppercut should open by mid-November after Smoque BBQ closes at Revival on Friday, October 20. Though Downtown Chicago business at the food hall has rebounded since the pandemic’s start in March 2020, it was time for a change, Sorkin says. He reasons that Revival customers eat out daily and this move will restore some spark after seven years of business.
Smoque was one of the food hall’s original tenants — which opened in 2016 — giving downtowners a taste of the North Side barbecue. The crew even installed a smoker inside the former Chicago Public Schools headquarters. Uppercut will still use the smoker on a variety of items including a special natural casing hot dog. Sorkin says it’s not a traditional Chicago dog — they’re finalizing the presentation — but it’s meant to remind customers of what a Frankfurter tasted like in the 1920 or 1930s. The smoked and steamed dog will be made of steakhouse trimmings.
Then there’s the Italian beef, which will be a little thicker than most Italian beefs. Sorkin admits the sandwich is the “most sacred” item in Chicago street food, and he didn’t want to take too many liberties. But he also hopes downtown diners will quickly appreciate the difference between Uppercut’s version and run-of-the-mill Italian beef seasoned in a processing plant. The type that’s frozen and shipped to a fast-food restaurant for reheating. Uppercut’s take is richer, beefier, and smokier. The giardiniera is from Caruso. And they’re using a few different bread vendors including Turano.
Sorkin says Uppercut is a result of looking at customer habits. Smoque Steak’s diners gravitated toward the sous vide sealed steaks for lunch and takeout rather than the sandwiches. They decided Revival would be the proper venue for the sandwiches which will eventually disappear from Smoque Steak.
While Smoque BBQ hasn’t made sandwiches a regular menu option, the restaurant did serve a special prime rib sandwich in January 2022 to celebrate the barbecue’s 15th birthday. Sorkin says there’s a possibility they’ll revive the sandwich at Revival. But even more recently, during summer’s Windy City Smokeout festival outside the United Center, Smoque served a version of the steak and brie. It was a bold move in the middle of 20 vendors serving top barbecue. But Sorkin said the sandwich left a mark. He’s excited to serve it at Uppercut: “It’s going to knock people’s socks off,” he says.
Uppercut Sandwich Co. at Revival Food Hall, 124 S. Clark Street, opening early- to mid-November.