A dragon of a line swept from beneath the tent, the air pungent with the smell of tangy spices and smoke. “It’s all in the sauce,” said Ron Pierce, a frequent customer of Robinson’s, as he took a bite of his boneless rib sandwich smothered in the sticky red sauce.
Robinson’s was one of eight food vendors at Daley Plaza on Wednesday for a preview of the upcoming Taste of Chicago festival.
“Well if I told you my secret recipe I’d have to do something,” Charles Robinson said with a laugh. “It’s the quality of meat that we buy and it’s the barbecue sauce that’s been around 14 generations, a 200-year-old recipe that makes a big difference along those lines of other folks products.” Charles Robinson is the creator and owner of Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs.
Nathan Voras, 36, bit into a giant pulled pork sandwich, with the meat spilling out of the bun. “It’s good stuff, real tender and a good portion.”
Robinson said events like the Taste of Chicago helps the restaurant grow and get name recognition.
“It gives us a chance to meet our customers face to face and it’s something that we enjoy and we do well,” he said.
Robinson, originally from Lambert, Mississippi, came to Chicago in the 70’s with a college degree and no job prospects. But he had his family’s barbecue sauce recipe.
In 1982 he entered the late Mike Royko’s RibFest. He not only beat out over 400 contestants but also Royko himself. Robinson was dubbed Mr. BBQ by the state of Illinois and opened his first restaurant in Oak Park shortly after.
Robinson’s is now a local chain, 32 years later, with seven locations in Lincoln Park, downtown Chicago, Union Station, University of Chicago and Northwestern.
“I tried Robinson’s a year ago,” said Charlotte Stein, who was on her lunch break. “It’s the best sauce. It’s spicy with a little tang. I like that. It’s really good.”
Stein said she knows what she’s talking about.
“I’m from Texas so I know barbecue,” she said. “Oh man I’m gonna go get some.”
Robinson’s also serves up its barbecue at Tinley Park, Blues Fest, Jazz Fest, Northerly Island, Gospel Fest and Lollapalooza.
The Taste of Chicago runs July 9 to 13 in Grant Park.