We recently spent a few days in Chicago, more to catch up with old friends than to see the sights. One couple suggested dinner at Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed, a kosher spot in the city’s Lakeview neighborhood, and it was a great choice.
First of all, the name intrigued us. Who is Milt? And why is his barbecue joint for the perplexed? The restaurant’s website provides interesting but frustrating information.
Who’s Uncle Milt?
“My Uncle Milt was priceless,” it says, under the heading “Who is Milt?”
“Everyone has, or knows, an Uncle Milt. He was the one who taught us how to play craps, taught us to drive at age 14, and took us to the track on Sundays. He was always eager to do the things your parents wouldn’t do, and oftentimes wouldn’t let you do either. Known to “stir the pot,” you could count on Uncle Milt to keep things interesting.
“The perfect day for him was spent out on the dock with us kids teaching his foolproof method for catching fish. (“Here, fishy, fishy!”)
“With endless stories of near successes and tales of his life’s adventures, Milt was unconventional, unabashed and an unbelievable uncle. With a heart the size of Texas and a personality to match, he was the Uncle who always had the time to hang out and make you feel like the coolest kid in the world.
“Thank you, Uncle Milt — this is for you!”
Whose Uncle Milt?
But the writer doesn’t say who he is, so I had no idea whose Uncle Milt was being described. And a web search produced no useful information.
Luckily the friendly folks at the Chicago Public Library came to my rescue, sending me links to three articles about Jeff Aeder, Milt’s founder.
The second part of the restaurant’s name, by the way, refers to one of the classics of Jewish philosophy, Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed, written around 1190.
Aeder was quoted as saying he chose the name because “Maimonides emphasizes giving credence to all perspectives. He drew from Jewish, Islamic and ancient Greek philosophers to explain the Torah.”
And so Aeder uses his restaurant to provide a variety of perspectives by hosting a range of visitors who drop by to speak. Dennis Ross, the former envoy the the Middle East, has spoken there. So has Hillary Clinton, before her run for president.
So great food, a cute name and interesting speakers from time to time. But there’s more, and that’s what’s most impressive about Milt’s.
Owner Aeder is a real estate investor and a partner in Chicago’s JDI Realty, LLC. He opened Milt’s in 2013 as a way of giving back to the community. Each month he donates 100 percent of the restaurant’s profits to a local charity. Beneficiaries have included a local elementary school, a shelter for homeless women and a food pantry.
Back to the food. I ordered a “half slab” of beef ribs; the two ribs were so huge they looked like they came from a dinosaur. I gave about athird to my husband, ate my fill, and still took some home to the friend we were staying with. Paired with “brisket baked beans” — sweet and savory beans with chunks of brisket in the sauce — and vinegary coleslaw, it was a yummy dinner.
Another popular dish on the menu is braised short ribs. The recipe below is not from Milt’s, but it’s a great way to cook short ribs so they’re very tender and tasty. You can halve the recipe if you like. The recipe calls for boneless short ribs, but it works just as well if you have the bone-in type.