Kankakee is the closest big town comapred to the tiny town of 750 people where I grew up. People who live in that small town, work in the Kankakee/Bradley/Bourbonnais tri-city area and they do a majority of their shopping, entertaining and dining out there as well. For the longest time, I had the same complaint about Kankakee that I did about Lansing. There was no good barbecue joint. That finally changed at the beginning of 2008.
A girl I went to high school with and her husband opened up the first BBQ joint in the area that I’m aware of. They turned an old building near downtown Kankakee into a great Memphis style smokehouse. I made my first trip to Bull’s just after it opened with my brother. At that time, I had a few complaints, but loved the BBQ. My girlfriend and I were heading from her parents in Chicago to mine south of Kankakee for a weekend of drinking and catching up with old friends. Along the way, I wanted to stop and try Bull’s again to see if the little things I didn’t like had improved.
Like I said, Bull’s is located just off of downtown Kankakee. Downtown has been run down for years and there’s not much there other than a bank, a liquor store, and a movie theater. There’s a couple business along the main road, but nothing that you would make a destination. Bull’s changes that. The business is located in a pretty non-descript building on Station St. There is a parking lot, but we found spot on the street in front of the store. There’s just a sign out front that lets you know you’re in the right place…that is until you get out and smell the smoke. Once inside, you have to make a left to get to the order counter. The layout is a little wierd with two rooms downstairs. One is the kitchen/order area. The other is the dining room. There are only a few tables, but there is a bar that runs the whole length of the room with pub stools. It really gives the feel of a Southern BBQ lunch spot. The staircase to go to the upstairs dining room is right as you enter the door. It’s a massive feature and takes up and good portion of the building.
We stepped over to the left to order our meals. Last time I had eaten at Bull’s, I got the pulled pork. My biggest complaint about the sandwich at that time was the bread. It was served on a hoagie roll used reserved for Italian Beef. It really ruined the sandwich because there was more bread than meat and the flavor got lost. The meat was good, but it was hard to tell in that bun. I was going to pass on that this time because I didn’t know if they had changed or not. Instead, I noticed a sign that advertised the specials that day. For $7.99 they were offering a half rack of ribs (either St. Louis or Baby Back), two sides, fries, and a slice of white bread. How could I pass that up?! I don’t usually order ribs at a restaurant because I don’t like looking like a slob in front of J in public, but that deal was too good. I ordered the Baby Back’s, but they brought me St. Louis. They were delicious. I pulled on the bone to seperate the ribs and the bone just pulled away from the meat with no effort. There was a nice crust from the rub and just a little bit of sauce. They were served sort of Memphis wet with the sauce being added near the end of cooking. It wasn’t overpowering. Just enough. The sauce was sweet and also very delicious. My doubts about ordering ribs were settled after the first bite. They were a little tough trying to bite in to which is why I wanted the baby backs instead of the St. Louis, but the meat was good. The sides, however, weren’t so great. I ordered macaroni and cheese and it was more like Mac ‘n Cheese soup. There was so much water that it was impossible to eat. I also got a side of potato salad, but I passed that to J. She said that one was delicious. The potatoes still had the skins on and it was creamy and really good. The fries were soggy. The felt like they’d been sitting a while. The side portions were just enough. They were served in those little plastic cups that bars sometimes use for shots when they run out of glass.
J didn’t heed my warning and got the pulled pork sandwich. Fortunately, they had changed the bun over to a standard hamburger bun. Her bun came piled with a dry pulled pork. There was sauce on the table, so she got to determine just how much was on her sandwich. That’s the only way to serve it, in my opinion. This pulled pork was sooooo good. Quite a bit fell of her sandwich and anything that fell off, she passed to me. It was tender and juicy and had a great smoke flavor. It’s hard not to say BBQ is the best I’ve ever had, but everytime I have pulled pork that seems to be my reaction. This was really good. For her sides, besides my potato salad, she got baked beans and the same mac ‘n cheese. I’ve already said the mac ‘n cheese was really bad, but the baked beans were just the opposite. She loved the beans and was tempted to go get a full order.
Out bill was just under $20 which is pretty much unheard of when ordering ribs. The BBQ was delicious, but there needs to be more attention paid to the sides. The dining room could definately use some work to. None of the tables were clean, so we pushed aside a left over newspaper and some napkins. There was also a fly problem. The outside door opens right into the dining room and I’m not sure it closes all the way. There were more than a couple flies that we had to deal with. I can understand one or two stray’s getting through, but more than that needs attention. Other than those few minor complaints, I love Bull’s. This is exactly what Kankakee needed. There’s not a whole lot of great, locally owned restaurants in the area and Bull’s does a great job of creating a destination. Hell, we drove from Lansing just to eat there.