If there’s anything barbecue lovers understand, it’s that good things come to those who wait.
Michael Clarke is banking on that theory when his downtown Wilmette restaurant, Pit & Tap, opens at 11 a.m. Friday, July 9, after a delay from original projections.
With local investors, Clarke purchased the former space of Nick’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill, 1168 Wilmette Ave., in October of 2020 with the hopes of a spring opening. A couple months later, Pit & Tap celebrated its inaugural week with a pair of preview nights before the full-menu public opening Friday.
“This restaurant is a labor of love for us. We adore the Wilmette community and wanted to build something that will serve this community for years and years,” reads a note from Clarke and his wife, Elizabeth, on the menu.
The Texas-style barbecue restaurant slow smokes a series of meats — brisket, pork, chicken, ribs, hot links and salmon — in its three-ton, centerpiece barbecue pit.
Pit & Tap — led by pitmaster Gonzo Martinez — smokes the meat for hours on end, attempting to anticipate the desire for the following day, Clarke said. That means, “when it’s gone, it’s gone.” And similarly, that’s why no reservations are taken. Pit & Tap is walk-in exclusive.
The meats can be ordered in single-meat plates ($19-$37, includes sides), in smaller “tastes” (that also include burnt ends and pork belly for $6/each) or in combo platters ($22 for two meats with sides; $29 for three). Sides include barbecue classics, such as mac and cheese and coleslaw, and modern complements, like elote and broccoli salad.
Diners can accent the food with Pit & Tap’s four housemade barbecue sauces: an original house sauce, a spicy version, a vinegar-forward one and a white Alabama-barbecue sauce.
Starters (brisket chili, chicken wings, nachos), a trio of salads, a kids menu and desserts (banana pudding, caramel cake, s’more wrap) round out the menu.
Proving the restaurant’s tagline, “Smoked meats and cold drinks,” the barbecue can be enjoyed with one (or more) of 20 mostly local draft beers or a handful of craft cocktails. Pit & Tap also features more than a dozen bourbons and a wine list, as well as sodas, iced tea and lemonade.
A white neon Pit & Tap marquee welcomes guests, who can find a seat in tables spread around Big Earl (the smoker’s nickname), at the bar or along the ledge lining windows that are left open during pleasant weather. Just outside, there are a dozen or so more tables.
Pit & Tap is open 11 a.m.-midnight Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays.