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May 02, 2006

Honey 1

Dominic Armato
Hokay... more to come later, I'm sure, but I need to take a break from the foie gras debacle for a little bit or I'm headed off the deep end.

So let's talk BBQ.

I totally don't know BBQ. I mean, like most other things, I know enough about BBQ to know if it's good or lousy, but I'm not exactly educated on the finer points. I do, however, have a deep and abiding love for pulled pork sandwiches. In fact, my quest for the perfect pulled pork sandwich technically never came to an end. Honey 1 was already near the top of the Restaurants to Try list, given the consistent raves over at LTH coupled with their recent move to Logan Square. So when news hit that smokemaster Robert Adams had added pulled pork to the menu, it became clear that an inaugural visit was long overdue.

We popped in for lunch this past Thursday. The first good sign was that we could sniff the place out from at least a block away. I understand neighbors have been giving Mr. Adams some static over the 'hood's new aroma. And while I can certainly see how the scent of smoky meat might get a little old if you have to live with it, it's great on a temporary basis. It's impossible not to get an aggressive appetite going on the approach. The restaurant itself is a little antiseptic. It's comprised of two side-by-side storefronts, the line and kitchen on the right, and the dining room on the left. It's all white walls and brown formica tables. I suppose character is a little much to expect from a recently transplanted BBQ joint, but the staff helps somewhat by being appropriately colorful and talkative. The menu's fairly extensive. In addition to ribs, there are a number of fish specials, chicken wings, burgers, and links. But for an inaugural visit, we opted to stick to the basics... the aforementioned pulled pork, as well as another purported house specialty, the rib tips.

Dominic Armato
Remarkably, this was my first experience with rib tips, so I'll reserve commentary on them. BBQ preference is so personal that it's hard enough to make any assessment of quality, especially when you don't have a broad base of experience to work from. Suffice it to say that while I'm intrigued by rib tips and I appreciate the surprise bits of fat, I'd try the ribs next time rather than going back to the tips. Pulled pork, on the other hand, I've sampled quite a bit. So I feel quite comfortable saying this:

Honey 1's pulled pork is awesome.

Right off the bat, it's clear that Robert Adams knows his way around a pork shoulder. The flavor is fantastic... intense and porky with a potent smoky component through and through. But while I dug the flavor, I adored the texture. It probably goes without saying that this isn't the oversauced shredded pork mush that frequently passes itself off as BBQ. There was nothing uniform about the feel. This was a chaotic pile of highly varied pork bits, some extremely moist and tender, some chewy and caramelized, and the rest somewhere in between. I love the fact that Honey 1's pork has some bite. Though I realize that "cut it with a spoon" tenderness seems to be the most widely popular gauge of 'cue quality, I am increasingly becoming a member of the school that expects its pork to put up a bit of a fight.

As for the sauce, there are many who believe that pulled pork should always be Carolina-style, with copious vinegar. Though I also dig the über-tart variant, I'm not among those who consider anything else to be a travesty, and this sandwich is a perfect example why. Honey 1's sauce is bold and rounded, with a good balance of tart, sweet and spicy. Though the exact composition is a closely held secret (Adams has only revealed that it contains honey... natch), it's been rumored that Open Pit is the starting point. While this seems plausible, if true, the commercial product only acts as a springboard for greater things. It's a great complement to the pork, and it's applied sparingly, so that it doesn't overwhelm the meat. The sandwich is finished off with a bit of creamy cole slaw. This seemed like a risky move, but it worked for me. There was very little used, but the little hint of cool creaminess mellowed the edge of more aggressive smoke and spice flavors just a bit.

All in all, an extremely successful trip. I hope to get back for the ribs before too long, but it's going to be tough to stay away from the pulled pork. I'm not quite ready to declare an end to my quest for the perfect pulled pork, but this is less a reflection of Honey 1's sandwich and more a reflection of my growing belief that there are too many disparate and wonderful styles to crown one the champion. That said, within its niche, I think I can safely say that Honey 1's is the best I've had. Or at least the best I remember, which is effectively the same thing, and good enough for me.


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