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Carson’s wise to stick to its ribs through much-needed face-lift

The BBQ sampler is feast Carson’s favorites featuring half-slab ribs pork chop quarter chicken. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

The BBQ sampler is a feast of Carson’s favorites, featuring a half-slab of ribs, a pork chop and a quarter chicken. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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612 N. Wells; (312) 280-9200;

Hours: Open at 11:30 a.m. daily for lunch and dinner.

Try: Baby back ribs, barbecue sampler, pulled pork sandwich, cornbread, au gratin potatoes, chocolate cake.

Prices: Salads and sandwiches, $9.95-$13.95; full slab baby back ribs, $23.95; chicken, steaks and chops, $14.95-$36.95; desserts, $3.95-$4.95.

In a bite: A do-over outside and inside puts Carson’s right back in the barbecue game. Not to worry, there are still plenty of spacious booths plus photos and memorabilia to feast your eyes on when not working on some of the best finger-licking barbecue in town. Carson’s, which opened in 1977, still is operated by Dean Carson (third-generation Chicagoan). The mantra is to “serve large portions of great food at an honest price,” which I believe Carson’s does. Lunch boxes (ribs, chops, chicken) available until 4 p.m. Efficient carryout service with quality packaging. Service was excellent, efficient and cheery. Good for kids. A second location is on Waukegan Road in Deerfield. Reservations accepted.

KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary;
★★★ Excellent; ★★ Very Good;
★ Good; Zero stars: Poor

Updated: October 3, 2011 12:22PM

With all of the new barbecue places that have opened in the last year or so, Carson’s got benched (or at least it seemed that way). But a recent sprucing up of its original North Wells Street location has put it back in the game.

And rightfully so. I always did like the cut of the ribs at Carson’s. I don’t recall the exact year when I got my first taste of Carson’s ribs, probably in the ’80s (it opened in 1977), but I know I enjoyed it. In the late ’60s, I traveled through the South — Memphis, Greensboro, Atlanta, Little Rock and Texas — on business, so I became familiar with the different styles of barbecue. I am not an expert on the subject, but I knew what I liked when it came to first-rate barbecue, and in Chicago, Carson’s quickly became my go-to place.

When it comes to the barbecue style at Carson’s, the ribs, chicken and chops are smoked for hours in a genuine hickory [wood] burning pit, according to the menu. It goes on to note: “No boiling, no marinade, no rubs or tenderizers, no liquid smoke; NOT ‘fall-off-the-bone.’ Real authentic slow-cooked barbecue.” And you will find as many people who love the way Carson’s does its barbecue as those who don’t (the divider boils down to those who like the meat tight to the bone and those who like it falling off the bone).

I have nothing but nice things to say about the “barbecue sampler,” a triad of tasty treats — half-slab of baby back ribs, quarter chicken and pork chop. The ribs were meaty, the meat hugging the bone. The veneer of sauce coating the ribs was a flavor medley of tangy, robust, sweet and smoky. Definitely finger-licking delicious. The chicken also was meaty. The pork chop. Oh, that chop. Thick, juicy, practically a meal on its own. A bottle of extra sauce is served on the side should you need it.

I have two suggestions to make. First, order the cornbread. This was some of the best cornbread (it actually is more like a cake in size, enough for two to share) you will ever taste. The crumb was light and delicate, and the flavor ran deep. It’s made in-house and served gently warm. Outstanding.

Entrees include a choice of potato or vegetable. But I suggest your skip the french fries and the baked potato and order the “famous au gratin potatoes.” From the shingle of cheese on top on through each layer of tender potatoes, the “famous” label is not so far-fetched. And, as with the cornbread, enough for two to share.

The pulled pork sandwich was a good one in that there was enough pork (tangy and delicious) to make two sandwiches. Too bad that the bun was a loser (too doughy and soft).

The only dessert tried was chocolate cake. Quite good but nothing special.


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