Back 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 Sorkin would take the same care toward ribeyes, New York strips, and T-bones as he did with the smoked meats at Smoque.
But then the pandemic arrived, and Sorkin put the steakhouse at 3310 N. Elston Avenue on the back burner. He converted the parking lot at Smoque into a makeshift patio to deal with pandemic era dining. The steakhouse wasn’t a priority as launching a restaurant during the early stages of the pandemic didn’t make sense.
“We live a world where making plans more than three weeks in advance is futile,” Sorkin says.
Every pit master knows that patience is one of the keys to good smoked meats. Now, Sorkin’s patience is about to pay off as he and his crew have announced Smoque Steak will debut this fall in Avondale, along a strip that includes Michelin-starred Parachute and sibling Wherewithall, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, and the original location of Kuma’s Corner. The working title from the liquor license is gone with Sorkin’s team leaning into a name associated with a barbecue brand that’s been going strong since it debuted in 2006,
“We didn’t want it to appear as a line extension,” Sorkin says. “The sequel’s never good as the original kind of thing.”
At Smoque Steak they’ll rely on a combination of smoke, sous vide, and searing to impart unique flavors that will differentiate their meats from Downtown Chicago steakhouses. Sous vide is a cooking method that involves immersing vacuum-sealed food in precisely temperature controlled water. It’s a controversial method for barbecue purists, who scoff at the ease of punching in a temperature on a device. But the result is more evenly cooked food — steaks come out more tender and consistently cooked from end to end. By throwing the meat into a smoker, the chops get that same off the grill, fire-roasted taste barbecue purists love.
“We aren’t out to prove anything,” Sorkin says. “We’re about putting out as good of a product as we can.”
The meat’s seared over cast iron and will be served with compound butter (there will be a few to pick from). They’ll offer a few different steaks, but nothing gargantuan where cleaning up a plate will earn a photo on the wall. An 18-ounce boneless ribeye might be the largest cut offered among the five core chops on the menu. Sorkin isn’t ready to reveal his meat supplier.
Smoque Steak will offer more than beef. They’re smoking sea 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 shrimp scampi. Sides include scalloped potatoes, glazed carrots, and there will be mushrooms. They’re covering all the steakhouse classics.
One of the benefits from sous vide is cooks don’t need a pricey dry-aged cut of meat for great results. Hanger cuts come out as tender as filet mignon. Though Smoque Steak will source wagyu and prime cuts, they’ll offer less costly pieces of meat, too. This will allow customers, the ones without a corporate expense account, to afford to visit more than once a week. Neighborhood steakhouses need something to attract customers other than hulking pieces of meat. In Ukrainian Village, Boefhaus relies on great service and a wonderful wine list. Another Avondale steakhouse, Mirabella Italian Cuisine, depends on a chef who worked for years at Gene & Georgetti.
The restaurant offer full service, but patrons with order with their phones using QR codes to pull up menus. Servers will still be on hand to explain the menu and wine list, but Sorkin says QR codes, something that born to limit contact during the height of the pandemic, is here to stay at restaurants. The space seats about 160 and Sorkin vows it won’t be a stuffy steakhouse. Customers can dress up like it was a special occasion or come casual.
“Listen, if I’m going to eat wagyu beef, I’m going to be wearing my stretchy pants,” Sorkin says.
Smoque Steak will also sell vacuum-sealed steaks to go; all customers would have to do is seared the meat at home and serve. 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. That was his signal to experiment and led him to opening a steakhouse.
“It was a really, really amazing eating experience, one that I’ve never had,” Sorkin says.
Stay tuned for updates.
Smoque Steak, 3310 N. Elston Avenue, planned for a fall opening.