Yes, indeed, Buck and Lil's is all about barbecue, or as it is spelled on the menu, BBQ.
Anyone who knows barbecue believes that their way of barbecue is the only way to barbecue, and that all of those fans of other barbecue types are wrong. Buck and Lil play it smart, offering a full slate of barbecue goodies: both pulled pork and sweet pork, beef brisket, ribs, chicken and hot links. The sauces are the secret to the show: Served tableside, they include a tomato-based Texas spiced sauce, a vinegar-based sauce Tennessee-style concoction, a South Carolina sweet sauce and a honey mustard sauce. (We were also given a chipotle sauce when we had takeout for our second meal.)
The sides, or as they're called here, "sidekicks," include the requisite items such as cornbread, cowboy beans, potato salad and coleslaw. But there are several other interesting options, including green beans, green chili rice, ranch fries and a smoked baker (a baked potato that has undergone the same smoked treatment as the meats). Burritos, burgers, wings and--believe it or not--breakfast (available between 8 and 11 a.m.) round out the menu. I don't understand the reason for serving breakfast, especially with an International House of Pancakes right next door. Then again, maybe that's the point.
Buck and Lil's renovated the former Schlotzsky's on Grant Road near Rosemont Boulevard. And while the room is brightly colored and has all of the accoutrements associated with barbecue joints, there is still the industrial feel of a fast-food chain joint (which it isn't). I can't quite put my finger on what makes it so; maybe the place just needs a little bit more time to settle in.
We opted for a regular (they also come large) smoked pork sandwich and a regular beef brisket sandwich (each $6.99). We each got one sidekick with our order; we chose cornbread and the potato salad. Beverages come with the meal and are mostly fountain-type drinks. I also ordered a slice of peach pie ($3.19), but opted out of getting it à la mode or heated up.
The food was brought to the table quickly, but it was all served in aluminum deep-dish pie tins. I am not a big fan of food being served in these to-go plates. I always feel like I'm being rushed out the door; a change here might help erase that "chain" feel.
Both the pork and the brisket were tender and well-seasoned, and were made even better with the addition of the various sauces. The potato salad held up well, but the cornbread, which has real corn in it, was dry and not sweet enough for me.
The pie had that thick, Deep South county-fair kind of crust and was filled with plenty of peaches. Like the other items, the pie tasted truly homemade.
To test out more of the food, we called in a dinner order for pickup on an early Saturday evening. We went whole hog, ordering a half-rack of the baby-back ribs ($10.99), an order of barbecue wings (20 for $18), cowpoke chili ($5.39), the house salad with pulled chicken ($8.99), a pint of beans ($4.50) and a smoked baker ($2.69).
The meal included some of each different type of sauce (which weren't marked, but they all tasted great) and salad dressing (cilantro lime, creamy tomatillo and ranch).
The ribs practically fell off the bone from the long smoking, which also gave them a wonderful flavor. The chili included ground beef, beans, onions and that great combo of taste and texture that comes from the right amount of good chile powder. We also enjoyed the beans and the salad, which was served on a flour tortilla topped with leafy lettuce, the house green chili rice, some more of those tasty beans, plenty of tender pulled chicken, tomatoes and fried tortilla strips. The wings, although nicely sauced, could've used a little more time in the cooker, as could've the tater. But these were easily remedied the next day at lunch.
The service at Buck and Lil's shines. On our first visit, the woman behind the counter explained everything we needed to know, and anything we asked for arrived in no time at all. On our second visit, as we were driving away from the drive-up window, one of the employees ran out after us, because they'd forgotten to put one of the items in our bag. She apologized--and meant it!
Buck and Lil's may not offer trophy-winning barbecue. Instead, the fixins' are like the kind of food you'd find in home kitchens across the South--and in the end, that's what barbecue is all about, no matter how you like it.