Smoke sultan Robin Salzer enraptures senses with his menu of American barbecue and homemade sauces dished out in a whimsically decorated dining space. In blanketing his four-ton smoker with apple and oak wood-chips, Robin appeases swine-centric palates with favorites such as the Carolina pork plate ($13.95) or the wood-fired smoked pork chop ($15.95). Slather one of four signature sauces onto meat racks of baby back ribs ($17.95+), spareribs ($13.95+), and beef ribs ($13.95+) or eschew meat for stylish swim caps while diving into plates of Louisiana barbecue shrimp ($18.95). Southern-inspired sweet treats, such as Mom's fruit cobbler ($3.95) or killer slabs of carrot cake ($5.75) cap off satiating meals, as diners pay homage to Q-master Salzer with a frothy toast of beer ($4+) or handshake of fresh lemonade ($3.25).
Some chefs attend faraway schools or universities to learn how to cook, but for Emma Sue Miller McWhorter—the inspiration behind Big Mama's Rib Shack & Soul Foods—it was natural. Though she's gone to the big kitchen in the sky, a little bit of her soul can be seen today in the restaurant's hot links, saucy ribs, and fried chicken, which the Los Angeles Times called "beautifully cooked; moist, flavorful."
Bubbling pots of gumbo and jambalaya fill the eatery's air with rich smells and fill mouths with equally rich flavors when paired with sides such as corn bread, fried okra, or mac 'n' cheese served in the southern tradition of adding dairy to everything. Guests can enjoy live music on Tuesday nights, which ranges in musical style from jazz and R&B to soul and rock 'n' roll.
Growing up, summer in Chicago meant one thing to Joe: barbecue. Members of his extended family spent the season gathered around the grill, slow-smoking meats as they vied for pitmaster status. Joe draws on their perfected recipes at Ribs To Spare, which specializes in combination platters of smoked meats such as pork ribs, beef ribs, chicken, and tri-tip steak. Sides such as potato salad and collard greens complement each saucy plate, and desserts such as sweet-potato pie and peach cobbler bring meals to a rich close.
In addition to takeout, Ribs To Spare caters celebrations with personalized feasts ranging from barbecue buffets to prix fixe dinners. With his mobile smoker trailer in tow, Joe has previously organized meals for Warner Bros., Disney, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
It didn’t take long for Brian Kozak to discover his passion for food: at the age of three, after he first tried shrimp cocktail and crème brulee, he would spend hours leafing through cookbooks and family recipes in his parents’ kitchen. His fascination with food led him to build an impressive culinary resume: after graduating from Le Cordon Bleu, Brian spent four years cooking for Bon Appetit, opened his own catering company, and learned how to fold a puff pastry according to army-bed making standards. Today, he demonstrates his culinary prowess as the resident Chef at Sage Restaurant and Lounge. Kozak’s influences span the globe: try the Spanish saffron paella with chorizo and shrimp, or any of six 10-inch pizzas. The dining room also has global flair, from its Tuscan yellow walls to its terra cotta tile floors.