Ribfest Chicago, with its 10 (mostly-)local vendors, its dog-friendliness, and its proximity, is one of my favorite Chicago street festivals of the year.
Then there's Naperville's Ribfest, which, in the tradition of suburbs everywhere, dwarfs Chicago's festival in every way except accessibility. Chicago's takes over a city block; Naperville's, a huge park. Chicago has booths and people crammed in at maximum density; Naperville has a huge park. Chicago has 10 rib vendors, 8 of which are local restaurants; Naperville has 17, most of them just festival vendors (they travel the U.S. going to outdoor events everywhere). Parker and I walk to Chicago's, while I had to take an hour-long train (to avoid a 90-minute drive) to get to Naperville.
Another thing: Where Chicago had standard-size, 3-bone taster portions for $6, Naperville left it up to the individual vendors. All four that I tried were more expensive and larger than in Chicago, so much so that I split three of them with the friend who met me there. (Thus, the limit of 4.) All of them were good; only one was really great, but I have no idea how to get them again. I sampled (in descending order of satisfaction):
- Texas Outlaws BBQ, Elizabethtown, Ky. Someday, I may take a road trip to Central Kentucky. If so, I'll make a point to stop in Elizabethtown. At the very least, I'll look for this vendor again next year. They gave me 4 big baby back bones with some tug and a nice char. They explained that they grill them over smoke chips with their hot sauce and then glaze them on the way off the grill with (too much) honey BBQ. After scraping off the excess sauce, I thought they were some of the best ribs I'd ever had, almost as good as my brother's.
- Desperados, Huxley, Ohio. Festival-only vendor. OK ribs: fall-off-the-bone style, just a light glaze in grilling with a pretty decent traditional sauce on the side. (I also tried the sweet smoky sauce, but found it too sweet.)
- Uncle Bub's, Westmont, Ill. The only local, non-chain vendor I found (right off the Westmont Metra stop, it turns out). They had cherry-smoked, St. Louis-style ribs, with a sweet-smoke sauce that wasn't bad. I might stop in to try a full slab, and I'd recommend them to people who live out in the suburbs.
- Porky-n-Beans, Parma, Ohio. Another festival-only vendor. They had St. Louis-style spareribs with a sweet, sweet sauce. Too sweet, in fact. The meat was good, a little pull of the bone, good but not great.
In all, a good day, aided by nearly-perfect weather and the proximity of the festival to Metra.