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Smalls, a Tiny Smoke Shack, Comes to Irving Park with Barbecue

By Janet Rausa Fuller | June 5, 2013 8:40am | Updated on June 5, 2013 9:03am
 Smalls, a tiny smoke shack, will open soon in Irving Park.
Smalls smoke shack to open in Irving Park
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IRVING PARK — The Brown Bag Lunch Truck has been off the road since late January, but for good reason.

Joaquin Soler, the truck's chef and owner, is getting ready to open Smalls, a tiny smoke shack in Irving Park. He expects to do it early next week, after city inspectors pay their required visit.

The 480-square-foot storefront at 4009 N. Albany will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner four days a week and brunch on the weekends. Once things get rolling, patrons at Lizard's Liquid Lounge, the bar next door, will be able to order carryout and brunch from Smalls, Soler said.

The menu at Smalls is, well, small, anchored by Soler's signature meats with Korean and Southeast Asian tweaks — hickory-smoked brisket piled on Texas toast with a Thai-style "tiger cry" sauce, for example, or buttermilk-brined fried chicken with green papaya slaw. Specials such as barbecued brisket bibimbap ($8) should look familiar to Brown Bag fans. A handful of $3 sides will include charred elote and toasted garlic rice.

There will be ribs, too, in the style Soler, 36, said he never could get quite right on the truck.

"I don't like fall-off-the-bone ribs. I like some texture to them," said Soler, who is Filipino. "When I put them on the truck, they never held up as well as I would've liked."

A Southern Pride smoker will handle the workload.

"We can do about 400 pounds of meat at a time," Soler said. "It's not at all what you'd find at a place like Smoque or Smoke Daddy, but we can rock it out if we have to."

Biscuits, the bread of choice around town these days, are for breakfast — with honey butter ($2.50), or as a sandwich ($3.50) with egg, cheddar and, if you like, sausage made in-house. Waffles (with candied bacon mixed into the batter), more bacon, coffee and tea round out the morning menu.

"While everyone seems to have an affinity for fluffy biscuits, we're more on the flaky side," Soler said. "We're going for lots of flake."

The place can seat about five at the front counter. In other words, it's designed for takeout.

"In the mornings, there don't seem to be a lot of options for grab-and-go except for the Dunkin' Donuts I can see from my door," Soler said.

You can't miss Smalls from the street. It's painted an eye-popping bright blue in homage to the original Brown Bag Lunch Truck, which Soler drove for two years.

"People would tell me they could see the bright blue roof of the truck from their offices Downtown," Soler said.

Now that Soler is stationary, the truck, for the time being, is too.