WICKER PARK — A barbecue spot run by two industry veterans has opened in Wicker Park.
Firewood BBQ, 1856 W. North Ave., had a soft opening a few weeks ago in the former Boxcar Betty location a few blocks east of the Damen Avenue Blue Line station.
The restaurant is owned by husband-and-wife duo Gosia Pieniazek and Artur Wnorowski, who also operate Ella’s BBQ in Lincoln Park and Earl’s BBQ in Jefferson Park. The couple previously ran the Lokal restaurants in Wicker Park and Lincoln Park, which were known for their boozy brunches.
While their other barbecue restaurants are primarily to-go spots, Firewood is the couple’s first to feature regular sit-down dining and a bar.
Its menu includes smoked brisket, pulled pork and ribs, as well as higher-end items like ribeye steaks and tomahawk pork chops. It offers a range of appetizers.
“The other places are not really sit-down, so we cannot really do appetizers because nobody comes to a quick-serve restaurant and says, ‘Hey, can I get a torched burrata for an appetizer?” Wnorowski said.
Originally from Poland, Pieniazek and Wnorowski met in Chicago. Both spent a lot of time in Wicker Park.
Pieniazek worked for several years as a waitress at the Busy Bee, the famous Wicker Park Polish restaurant that closed in the late ’90s. Wnorowski used to play in bands and would frequent Double Door, Subterranean and other neighborhood venues, he said.
With Firewood, the couple hope to provide the classic barbecue experience — the pickles and coleslaw are homemade — while offering higher-end items for the dinner crowd.
“We not only smoke several items, but we also have a high-temperature infrared boiler in the kitchen. So you can experience both: slow and low, and you can get a steak house broiler experience,” Wnorowski said.
Wnorowski and Pieniazek are waiting on their final liquor license, but they plan to unveil a cocktail and beer list shortly, including a smoky old fashioned made with actual smoke. They also plan to have brunch cocktails and a sidewalk patio in the warmer months, Wnorowski said.
As they continue to reintroduce themselves to the neighborhood, Firewood’s owners eventually plan to hold a series of casual weekend events after dinner service. That includes the occasional karaoke night, “once the bar scene kicks in,” Wnorowski said.
“We’re not going to have a set karaoke night. [Only] when the vibe is right,” he said. “Then we might do singer-songwriter nights, but nothing crazy. … A casual duo, trio, somebody with a guitar and a singer.”
As more corporate chain restaurants set up shop in the Wicker Park area, Firewood’s owners hope they can provide more of a “mom-and-pop” type of setting, Wnorowski said.
“Feedback has been really great, people saying, ‘Hey, we needed something in this spot,'” Wnorowski said. “Here, it’s more homey, moms and pops, we can get this neighborhood-y feel.”
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: