Real Urban Barbecue's official grand opening in Vernon Hills won't be held until noon today, July 28, but the restaurant has already seen large, enthusiastic crowds all week. One day was so busy that owner Jeff Shapiro was forced to post "sold out" signs on the door when they ran out of meat.
"We've done virtually no advertising," said Shapiro. The restaurant, located at the Vernon Hills Town Center at Routes 21 and 45, doesn't even have its official signage up yet.
"We have had record crowds," said Shapiro. The restaurant held a soft opening the weekend of July 21-22. "We don't know where they're all coming from. We've been so crowded that we couldn't possibly get another person in the restaurant."
What they're coming to Real Urban Barbecue for, however, is clear. The restaurant offers an array of St. Louis-style and baby-back ribs, brisket, chicken and turkey. There's also pulled pork, Texas sausage and something Shapiro refers to as "cannibal candy." The latter is actually called "burnt ends," and it consists of the fatty "deckle" ends of brisket. The excess fat is trimmed off of those ends after the after the brisket has been smoked, and then the ends are seasoned and smoked again.
Shapiro said the remaining fat renders off, leaving a meat with a "smoky, sweet, nice texture."
"Your eyes will roll back in your head, it's so good," said Shapiro. He said people even call early in the morning to inquire about whether the burnt ends are ready yet.
"Nobody's doing what we're doing in the area," Shapiro said of Real Urban Barbecue. "There's really nowhere near here to get good Southern barbecue."
The Vernon Hills location is Shapiro's second. He opened his first Real Urban Barbecue restaurant in Highland Park a year ago, and it is consistently busy. Shapiro said the restaurant started with a 600-pound capacity, per day, for smoking meats. That capacity is now 2,500 pounds per day in Highland Park.
"Our philosophy is to save the vegetables, eat your meat," said Shapiro.
The restaurant aims to provide customers with fresh meat throughout the day. Employees come in early in the morning to smoke ribs for lunch; in the afternoon, they smoke ribs for the dinner crowd.
"To have the best quality, we want to try to run out of our products," said Shapiro.
Customers order their food in an assembly-line type system, first starting at the carving station where they can choose a their meat as a single entree, in a combo or on a sandwich. Ribs can be ordered wet (with sauce), dry (with sauce on the side), 'RUB'bed (with a Memphis-style blend of seasonings) or Perfection style (with both rub and sauce).
Real Urban Barbecue makes its own sauces, including an original sweet sauce and the Piedmont, which is a vinegar-based sauce. There's also a Texas-style sauce, which includes cumin and chilies, and a mustard sauce that Shapiro says tastes great with poultry.
There are plenty of sides to round out the meal, including French fries, cole slaw, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato souffle, golden corn bake and flame-roasted fuji apples.
Real Urban Barbecue will hold its official grand opening from noon-4:30 today, July 28. The restaurant is open from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Sundays.
"Welcome to the village," Vernon Hills Village Manager said to Shapiro at the ribbon-cutting ceremony July 27. "Your reputation precedes you."