Last blog from my 2016 travel writing class (I promise). Hopefully I’ll make it back to Chicago after the pandemic to find more great food!
Writing craft articles will return next week!
Chicago is known for great food. After a recent visit, I’ve decided it should also be known for incessant honking from impatient drivers, but the label of being a foodie paradise did indeed prove accurate. Staying in downtown Chicago, we had a plethora of dining options within walking distance from our rather lousy hotel (a whole other review in the making!). One of those was Belly Up Smokehouse & Saloon.
Despite its name, Belly Up works great as a family restaurant if you’re heading out for an early dinner. After a day of museum hopping, our two kids were starving by 5:30 p.m., which means we beat the crowd and happened to get in before happy hour ended. Bonus on both counts. By the time we were finishing our meal, the dining room was filling up, which indicated it to be a popular night time hangout. So, if you want a quiet family dinner, head over right after work, but if you’re looking for something more energetic, give it a few hours to get going.
Being that we were there at the beginning of the dinner hour, there was no wait to get a table and our server was nearby whenever we needed him without hovering. As traffic picked up during the evening, there was more of a wait, but the staff stayed on top of things even as it got busier. It seemed unlikely it would get too hectic for them to handle, even on a busy night. The kitchen was just as prompt and on task. Our food arrived within twenty minutes of ordering and we never had to wait an absurd amount of time for drinks from the bar as we have at other restaurants.
Speaking of food and drinks, let’s talk menu and prices. While the interior of the restaurant is an upscale, classy version of a hometown barbecue joint, the most expensive, single-person item on the menu was $22 for the full rack of ribs. Appetizers were in the $6-10 range, while the majority of the entrées were $12-18. The only outlier was the Belly Up Platter, a combination of 3 meats, sides, and rolls, priced at $45, but was meant to feed 2-3 people. Accompanying the regular menu was a list of seasonal items to choose from, all within a similar price range to the regular menu.
Drink prices ranged from $4 drafts and bottles to around $12 for some of the specialty items, as well as having happy hour pricing from 3-6 p.m., and then again after 9 o’clock. Belly Up specialized in beers, with a full menu of local, national, and international options. While cocktails were available from the bar, the focus was more on beers than mixed drinks on both the regular and specials menus.
Getting back to the menu, as the name suggests, Belly Up’s main appeal was their barbecue cuisine. Everything from ribs, pulled-pork, brisket, catfish, and burgers graced the menu. Homestyle sides were classed up from the basics, such as Smoked Mac & Cheese with three cheeses and a breadcrumb topping, while still holding on to their classic comfort food appeal. With four people at the table, we had a chance to test out a variety of items from the menu.
The shrimp Po’boy was a little awkward to get your mouth around, given how big it was, but there were no complaints on the taste. The Smoked Mac & Cheese proved to taste as good as it sounded, much to my son’s delight. The smoked brisket was delicious as well, especially when paired with one of the six barbecue sauce choices offered at every table. The only complaint came from one of times from the seasonal menu. The southwestern chicken wrap sounded yummy, but we learned ordering Mexican food in Chicago was not the best idea. The southwestern style chicken wrap was so drenched with a too-sweet sauce it overpowered the other flavors and left the tortilla soggy. Three out of four when it came to the food wasn’t too bad, though.
As far as drinks were concerned, the menu did a great job of describing the flavors and types of each drink so you weren’t guessing at some of the local brews we’d never tried before. The menu was divided up between types of beers, liquors, and ales, and seasonal items were on a separate menu, but still included in the happy hour pricing. If you did have questions about a particular drink, the wait staff was knowledgeable and very helpful.
Belly Up Smokehouse and Saloon is located on South Wabash Street in downtown Chicago, a short walk from Michigan Avenue and many popular attractions in the area. It serves as both a great family restaurant in the early evening and an upscale restaurant/bar later at night. The affordable and largely great tasting menu made it a popular spot for get-togethers with friends or family, whether local or those in town for business or vacation. With attentive yet not overbearing staff who can answer questions when needed, diners can relax and enjoy the hometown atmosphere as they munch on delectable barbecue classics. If you’re looking for a classy hangout with great food and a wide range of drinks, Belly Up Smokehouse & Saloon is your place.