In his introduction to the book Peace, Love, and Barbecue , Jeffrey Steingarten states. “… barbecue is divided into two camps, Contextualists and Gastronomists. Contextualists cannot lose themselves in a plate of barbecue unless they’re sitting in a roadside shack somewhere in the South.” That is, it is the locale that makes the barbecue barbecue, not the dish itself as the Gastronomists would hold.. What that means to us here in Arizona is that barbecue prepared here is as valid as the same dish from a Pit in Alabama. To take it a step further it also gives the local pitmasters license to put a bit of a twist on the dish. Chopped instead of sliced, white sauce instead of red, hickory or mesquite. Some of the changes and adaptations are very successful and have added to the richness and diversity of the food. Unfortunately Tom’s Barbecue’s take on barbecue (as far as their brisket and pulled pork go) doesn’t make that list.
The joint is nice and touts Chicago style food including Italian beef and the famous Chicago dog and has been serving up reasonably priced food for twenty years in several locations. There is no doubt that the Italian beef and dogs are authentic and delicious, though the barbecue comes of as overly smokey Italian beef, mixed with chopped onions, mushrooms, and jalapenos. In fact if it wasn’t for the peppers and the initial smokey blast on the first bite it would have been excellent Italian beef – it was even wet like Italian beef. The fact it was chopped wasn’t bad, this is normal in many regions, but the fact it was so finely chopped and mixed with mushrooms and onions was a bit over the top. That was the problem with the pulled pork as well, it was wet, sloppy, and rather bland. It would seem Tom is attempting a fusion of the giardiniera infused beef and BBQ. and while a noble undertaking it doesn’t work. They do compete on the barbecue circuit which says something, so the ribs (weren’t sampled this visit) might be a good choice. They also have the “Pig Rig” to serve up their food at the company soiree or private party. That being said the joint is popular and the folks are nice.
There is, as mentioned earlier, the Italian Beef and the dogs which are probably spectacular, or at least good enough to recommend a stop for lunch or dinner, especially for those Chicago expatriates looking for a taste of home. The décor is certainly worth a look, quite fresh and exciting in its own right but if after barbecue brisket or pulled pork, look elsewhere.
Tom’s BBQ Chandler
4920 S. Gilbert Road