Whenever I see a menu with “the meats” in all capital letters or any mention of half-pound anything, I’m already halfway out the door on my way to the restaurant. This was exactly the case for Pork Shoppe (5721 N. Clark St.), about one half-mile northwest of the Bryn Mawr Red Line stop.
When I then heard that this new barbecue joint in Andersonville also serves brunch on the weekends and offers a 10 percent discount if you show your Loyola ID, I was halfway down the block and running toward the train.
When I previewed the menu online, I drooled over the brunch options, which included a corned short rib hash and eggs ($12) and a smothered breakfast burrito ($10). But I decided I should try the regular lunch and dinner menu first.
I arrived at Pork Shoppe at 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday and was immediately impressed by the restaurant’s interior. It’s a perfect mix of rustic and modern aesthetics with exposed brick, dark wood and light fixtures made of barrels and glass jars. But the sleek ambiance is balanced out by the charming and laid-back wait staff, creating an inviting environment regardless of the occasion. You could easily go there on a date and sit next to a family with young kids, with both groups feeling equally at home.
During weekday lunch hours (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), there’s a “pick one, pick two” special that seems like a steal for around $11. You pick one entrée from a list that includes brisket tacos and a pork belly pastrami sandwich and two “sides” from a list that includes fries, coleslaw, potato salad or a fountain drink.
Outside of lunch hours, the best value is the sandwich combos. You pick from chopped brisket, pulled pork, pulled chicken, beef tri tip or pork belly pastrami to be served on a brioche bun with a side of coleslaw and either fries or potato salad. If you’re going with a big group of people and want to try a little of everything, the menu is designed a la carte, with everything priced in half-pound portions. You can order a couple different kinds of meats ($10 to $13) and a few sides ($4 to $6) and have a satisfying feast.
For my dinner, I got the pulled pork sandwich combo ($14) with potato salad (I made my friend get fries because I really wanted to try both potato variations) and ordered an extra side of mac and cheese ($6).
The mac and cheese was simply delicious, with a heavy dash of black pepper that balanced out the saltiness of the cheese. The potato salad was different than most as it had a smoky paprika spice, but I preferred the fries, which were crispy with the right amount of seasoning and the perfect vehicles to transport Pork Shoppe’s three different barbecue sauces to my mouth.
The sauce choices are sweet, tangy and spicy. The sweet sauce is thicker, Kansas City barbecue style with a subtle flavor; the tangy sauce is North Carolina style, with a vinegar base; the spicy sauce (which had great flavor but was much too spicy for me because I’m a wimp) seemed to be Asian-inspired with a big kick of heat from chilies.
On their own, the pulled pork and brisket (which my friend had on his sandwich) were just fine. The smoky flavor was definitely prevalent in the brisket, which I liked, but I prefered the juicer pulled pork. However, with the addition of one or more of the barbecue sauces available on the table, the sandwiches went from “just fine” to great. After finishing my entire sandwich and continuing to taste the sauces, using more than my fair share of my friend’s fries, I decided my favorite sauce is actually the sweet and tangy sauces mixed together (if you like a bit more heat, you can mix all three sauces).
Our dessert choices were three different kinds of pie: apple, blueberry or pecan. We unanimously decided on pecan and were not disappointed by the sticky, sweet filling and buttery crust.
Verdict: Pork Shoppe’s impressive interior and comfort food make it a great choice for a variety of occasions, but if you have a couple hours between classes on Lake Shore Campus, definitely pop in for the lunch special and get creative with different sauce combinations. If you decide to go in to try the brunch, I’ll see you there.