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Smalls Smoke Shack Now Has Cookies, Second Location In Sight

By Janet Rausa Fuller | November 19, 2014 11:33am
 Smalls is now serving dessert and will add Sunday brunch; a second location is in the works.
Smalls Expansion Plans
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IRVING PARK — Smalls is breaking out of its 480-square-foot barbecue box.

The diminutive Irving Park smoke shack is now serving dessert: brown butter sea salt cookies.

Sunday brunch is coming in a few more weeks.

And smalls 2.0 — that is, a second restaurant from chef and owner Joaquin Soler that "is not going to be smalls, not going to be barbecue" — is in the works.

Soler is scouting locations for the new, full-service spot. In his ideal world, it will be "a 5- to 15-minute drive away from the shop and my house," he said.

"We're starting to play with more and more things on the specials menu that we think might work well in the new place," said Soler, whose Filipino heritage is reflected in his cooking.

While customers will have to wait for that, Sunday brunch will start sometime in December. But not exactly at smalls, 4009 N. Albany Ave., which is closed on Sundays. It'll be available at Lizard's Liquid Lounge, the bar just south of Soler's electric blue storefront. He and his staff will cook out of the smalls kitchen. As for service, he and the bar "are still working out the logistics," he said.

Soler, who used to run the Brown Bag Lunch Truck, opened smalls in June 2013, serving a meat-centric, smoke-heavy menu. As his fan base has grown, so have their requests: Deliver. Be open more days. Sell gift cards. Make dessert.

Soler came through on the first three. The shop delivers via the Postmates app and about a month ago, he added Tuesday hours. Gift cards will be for sale starting the first week of December. But he has been hesitant on dessert.

"We have a lot of people ask for dessert, but we're not set up for it. We're smoking all the time. My fear is that the smoke will permeate everything," he said.

Yet there he was three weeks ago, in the smalls kitchen, 2 a.m., baking cookies to satisfy a weird craving for a childhood treat — a butter cookie the lunch ladies used to bake at Ray Elementary in Hyde Park.

"It wasn't until I transferred to Ogden in sixth grade that I found out that it was an actual CPS recipe," he said, one that lives on online in various iterations, none of which Soler insists are the exact one.

The result of that late, nostalgia-fueled baking session were crispy, chewy, brown sugary cookies that Soler and staff began handing out to customers here and there, a token "if someone had to wait five minutes too long for their order," he said.

Last Friday, one of those lucky customers asked if the cookies were for sale. So now, Soler is selling them. They are two for $3. On the Thanksgiving catering menu, they are $18 for a take-and-bake dozen.

There are more sweet riffs on his beloved food memories to come.

"Remember how KFC had that little bucket parfait in the '80s?" he said.

His interpretation will combine banana bread soaked in Galliano with banana pudding and a topping of creme fraiche and candied walnuts. He also has plans for an apple pie parfait, a Boston creme pie cup and, for springtime, a strawberry shortcake version.

Soler said the parfait should be on the menu around the December holidays.




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