ANDERSONVILLE — North Side barbecue lovers have reason to rejoice: Pork Shoppe opens Monday.
The 3,700-square-foot upscale barbecue restaurant at 5721 N. Clark St. in Andersonville, features two dining areas, a semi wrap-around bar, two vibrant "Three Little Pigs"-themed murals and a classily rustic atmosphere.
The menu hits on classics like pulled pork, slow-cooked ribs and brisket. Co-owner Steven Ford said his favorite menu item is the pulled pork, but he acknowledged the pork belly pastrami is a must among those who've dined at Pork Shoppe.
One twist Ford said he hopes customers will be open-minded to was simple: All sauces are served on the side.
"It should stand on its own if you do it right, if you eat pork you should taste smoke and pork," he said. "Some people enjoy sauce, the important thing is you enjoy your meal. I just always suggest to try our food before you sauce it up."
He said skeptical customers needn't worry because Pork Shoppe features a catalog of over 40 unique spice blends and 24-hour smokers that, when combined with pork's natural flavors, are second to none.
Still not convinced? Ford understands, because he said he too had once become weary trying to decide where his future in food lay.
Ford, now 47, got his start as a dish-washer at age 12. He said his 35-year sprint through the world of high-end cuisine had left him feeling "burned out."
"When I switched over to barbecue, it was a complete 360 from what I knew," he said. "I took my fine dining into barbecue, because I think when people think of [barbecue], they think it has to be dirty and beat-up and rinky-dink and like, uneducated. Why? It's still food, you're still serving people."
Then, he said, he found his way back to faith in food through Pork Shoppe. Along with business partners Michael Schimmel, Joe King and Chef Jason Heiman, Ford said he began to remember why he'd gotten into the business in the first place: great food, great service and bringing people together.
"There were obviously no barbecue shops in Andersonville, so that was our number one reason," Ford said. "It's what we do. We're about family, we're about comfort, we're about the community, that's what barbecue is about, and that's what Andersonville is."
Ford and other owners, who also oversee the Shoppe's original location in Avondale, at 2755 W. Belmont Ave., filled the almost five-year vacancy left by the former Kingfisher Restaurant, which closed in 2011.
After on-and-off talks with other businesses, Pork Shoppe's owners eventually signed a lease last July.
Since then, they say they've been working with the community to establish a rapport and settle in for the long haul, a sentiment Keith Goad, president of the Edgewater Triangle Neighborhood Association and who attended the diner's private opening Wednesday night, told DNAinfo Chicago.
"The interior is stunning, it's not at all what we expected, it's very warm and inviting," Goad said, noting the Shoppe's owners had been to ETNA block club meetings in the months prior. "They were so engaging with wanting to be part of the neighborhood, which is so refreshing."
Edgewater triangle's treasurer Paul Grunwald, also in attendance, said he agreed, both noting the food, service and atmosphere was surprising and wonderful.
"It's great this space is finally occupied with something, and it seems like they have great plans to want to be part of the community," Grunwald added.
For now, Ford said he's once again eager for the future and hopes to open a 100-seat outdoor beer garden toward the end of the summer.
Pork Shoppe in Andersonville is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
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