The Chicago Rib Shack's the godfather. The came before. The one with history. Originally opened in 1982, it paved the way for the all-American restaurants that are a dime a dozen in the city at the moment. It's had its moments, though, with the original site in Knightsbridge gone but not forgotten, instead operating across three food courts and a new opening in Clapham.
The Try This For team were invited to come down and check it out. For the meat obsessives in the team, this was a total no-brainer. Me, I was intrigued - I'm not a big wings and ribs fan but wanted to see what men, women and children the world over write home about so made the trek to no man's land (read: Clapham) to sample some Stateside wares.
Tucked beneath the Overground, it's positively shiny with newness - it's only been open since Monday after all. A few lime green booths and some tall tables line one wall with a chrome fitted bar down the other. The kitchen pass and bathrooms are towards the back and the place buzzes with activity.
We kicked off with cocktails, naturally. On the recommendation of the loveliest waiter I've ever been served by (a serious accolade right there for you, Stef), I went for the watermelon and ginger martini - a syrupy smooth Skyy vodka delight with a fresh kick from the ginger. This was then swiftly followed by another recommendation - the Mr Martinez. A flirty little number, this was one cocktail that was not short on flavour; combining Opihr (an oriental spiced gin), Luxardo maraschino, Dubonnet and orange bitters.
Then onto the food. We started with deep fried mac and cheese bites which was total and utter gluttony but melt in the mouth good, especially accompanied by a classic tomato salsa. The rest of the team also shared chicken wings (both BBQ and spicy) with blue cheese sauce, and the pulled pork scotch egg which wasn't so great a choice - the moistness of the meat meant the egg had essentially boiled inside rather than having that rich, gooey yolk that Pieminister has perfected.
Then came serious meat. Two huge racks of ribs - one the Baby Back (all I could think about was that scene in Austin Powers) and the other the Beef. As someone who steers clear of ribs normally, I was admittedly impressed to see these enormous portions served up on a wooden board with meat that fell from the bone without being sticky. Chinese restaurants, take note. We also ordered the Spicy Kiss Burger; a towering behemoth of meat and bun that came speared with a steak knife, brimmed with pickles and cheese and was far too big to fit into one's mouth without some serious slippage consequences. I chose the Po'Boy Sandwich purely because I'd burgered myself out at MeatMission on Tuesday so fancied something less heavy - served as an open sandwich, the breaded cod, calamari and prawn looked good on the menu but lacked any real flavour on the plate. You win some, you lose some.
Where The Chicago Rib Shack really came into its own was the sides: we chose the onion loaf which was essentially a deep fried heart attack and exactly how it sounds; manslaw - a beefed up version of coleslaw with the added bite from jalapenos that totally needs to be served everywhere as a much better alternative of its bland cousin; fries, naturally; and truffled mac and cheese that won the award for dish of the day. Cheesy staple, yes, but with truffle oil folded through, it was something that I would gladly eat every single day. Who cares about calories?
We finished with Twinkles (prosecco, vodka and elderflower) and espresso martinis over the vanilla cheesecake (bland), chocolate brownie (brilliantly chewy) and the key lime pie (warm). Having a pastry chef amongst the team, we were never going to be the most appreciative of pudding testers but there's definitely room for improvement here.
All in all, this place comes out on a positive. The atmosphere was good (the music was excellent), the staff were above and beyond brilliant and that mac and cheese... Would I go back? I'm not sure - but my uncertainty's only because I'm not completely sold on ribs. Yet.