Whilst buzzing over to Niccoli's this afternoon in search of an Italian market to call home (verdict: not Niccoli's), I ran into A&J Chicago Style Bar-BQ and pretty much had no choice but to drop in and give it a look. Judging from the clippings on the walls, they haven't exactly flown under the radar, though I didn't see much that was recent.
First off, yes, Chicago does, in fact, have its own style of BBQ... some of it quite good. If you were to name Chicago's iconic contribution to the BBQ pantheon, it'd be rib tips and hot links from an aquarium smoker. So I stepped in the door and, lo and behold, I was *shocked* to see a full-on aquarium smoker and a tips & links combo topping the menu. I'm sure other aquarium smokers exist outside of Chicago, but that's the first time I've seen one. Couldn't have been more jazzed. Well, yeah, I could have. When my tray came out, the fries were hand-cut.
All downhill from there, sadly. Tough, dry tips with weak smoke. BBQ is inherently variable, and I could see how the tips might not get enough attention and, consequently, the kind of turnover they need here in Phoenix. So I hate to read too much into one visit. It'd probably be best to go back for ribs and see if there's improvement there. But I doubt even the perfect smoke could have saved the links. They were dry and tasteless. Fries were mostly limp, but I'll still take them over frozen, and the cole slaw was something prepackaged.
A shame, since the folks running the place were incredibly warm and welcoming. A follow-up is definitely called for, I think. I want to try something that I'm more confident will be fresh.
A&J Chicago Style Bar-BQ
6102 North 16th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85016-1752