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Barn & Company fires up tasty barbecue, room for other options

The pit master salad has pulled pork greens chunks potastring beans dressed with barbecue vinaigrette all topped with poached egg

The pit master salad has pulled pork, greens, chunks of potato and string beans dressed with barbecue vinaigrette, all topped with a poached egg encased in a tender crust. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times Photos

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BARN & company ★★

950 W. Wrightwood; (773) 832-4000;

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily, except closed on Tuesdays.

Prices: Starters and salads, $7-$12; barbecue, $10-$20; sandwiches and burgers, $10-$11.

Try: Pit master salad, pulled pork sliders, baby back ribs with sides of coleslaw, beans and fries, Chicago-style burger.

In a bite: A very good, very new and interesting barbecue joint, smokehouse and “public hall.” Plenty of seats (inside and outside), a rollicking good time. TVs galore, some screens as big as the side of a barn. Swine art decorates the white-washed barnwood walls. Not one issue to even cover regarding service — it was as good as it could get. Noisy? Sure, but it’s that kind of place. The barbecue is delicious in all of its messy glory. Extensive selection of beer — draft, cans, bottles, buckets. A few wines by the glass and bottle. Creative cocktails and “redneck sangria,” too. Reservations accepted for seating after 9 p.m. only. Take the children along.

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

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:57AM

There seems to be no letup in the high-stakes porker game. The latest to ante up is Barn & Company on the northern edge of Lincoln Park (where North Lincoln Avenue cuts across West Wrightwood). The name fits the atmosphere to a T. The layout is as big as a barn, the lighting is warehouse-bright, and the walls are white-washed wood from a “decades-old Kansas barn” that have been adorned with colorful renderings of, yes, pigs. Barn & Company is indeed an in-your-face barbecue joint.

And they are serious about barbecue at B&C. Bob Zrenner (Hubbard Inn) is the executive chef and the consulting pit master is Gary Wiviott (barbecue cookbook author). Zrenner and Wiviott make the case that the menu is “loaded down with hickory-smoked barbecue focused on brisket, baby back ribs, pulled pork and free-range smoked chicken.” And as I did a quick run past the open kitchen, there was little question that the equipment — a wood-burning barbecue pit and a wood-burning grill — was well suited for the job at hand.

Barn & Company hasn’t forgotten we like to watch TV while chowing down, so the space is fitted with a couple of dozen flat-screen TVs (one a monster 84-inch-tall video wall that can screen multiple games at the same time). Hail to the football season and barbecue.

So, what does the menu offer? Some of the usual for a barbecue joint: Pulled pork nachos, fried pickle chips and pulled-pork sliders for appetizers. The sliders were fine. Three to an order, and there was plenty of tasty pork stacked into those soft, puffy buns (the bun, thankfully, did not fall apart in my hand). Want some extra sauce? Grab one of the squeeze bottles on the table and slosh away.

A better bet for a starter would be the very creative, very delicious “pit master salad.” A meal on its own, the salad was a composition of pulled pork, some greens, chunks of potato and string beans dressed lightly with a very delicious barbecue vinaigrette. Riding atop all this was a “poached egg.” But this was not your everyday poached egg. The soft-poached egg was encased in a tender crust (think corn dog). You break open the crust to “hatch” the egg. It was quite delicious.

From the smoker, I had a full slab of baby back ribs. The smoky-sweet meat clung to the bone. These were the kind of ribs that let you get into them in a way that is down-home (a bit messy) but uptown (fingers not shellacked with sauce). As for those tabletop bottles of sauce, one had a mustard base, another we were told was bourbon-based, but I could swear there was some citrus accent to one of those. It didn’t matter. We tried both, and I would go with either again and be happy.

We paired the ribs with a side of crunchy coleslaw, baked beans (with meaty chunks of pork) and cornbread. The cornbread needs work. The classic crumb was not there, and the coating (I think it was cheese) on top was more for appearance than for flavor. Very good french fries — skinny and crispy with real potato flavor — come with all of the barbecue.

For the best 11 bucks you will ever spend on food, have the beef brisket. The portion is half a pound, and this was Texas-style brisket at its flavorful best. I don’t know if B&C uses a dry rub for its brisket (I asked, but our very amiable server didn’t know), but the perfectly trimmed, sliced brisket was some of the best I have had in Chicago.

A variety of combo platters are available, so you can pair up ribs, chicken, brisket, and so forth, pretty much a taste of everything that comes out of the smoker.

If you have had it with barbecue at this point, Barn & Company has options, such as sandwiches and burgers. The burger that made the grade, because, praise be, it was a burger without some kind of cheese, was called a “Chicago-style burger,” which included “the works” (done up like a classic Chicago hot dog) with tomatoes, mustard, relish, onion, pickle, celery salt and sport peppers. Great idea.

Because of its urban-family location, Barn & Company has a kids’ menu (burger, corn dog, chicken nuggets) with fries included in the $5 price.

Beer? Indeed. Draft, cans, bottles, even buckets of beer (on certain days). Check the website for specials on food and drink.

Pat Bruno is a local free-lance critic and author. Listen to Pat Bruno talk about food and wine at 6:23 and 10:23 p.m. Tuesdays and 7:53 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on WBBM News Radio AM (780) and FM (105.9).

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