Mystery Diner

Mystery Diner in Crystal Lake: Moontime Smokin’ Que easing into opening

Barbecue spot grows from catering to carryout to, hopefully soon, a full-service restaurant

Moontime Smokin’ Que is almost ready to open in its new space across the street from the downtown Crystal Lake Metra station.

A collection of high tops without chairs fills the front of the restaurant. The bar looks ready to go with taps lined up. But it just doesn’t have enough staff yet to fully open.

That does not mean you should wait to try it out.

Moontime Smokin’ Que started out as a catering business in 2017, and had been operating out of Ralph’s General Store on the west end of Crystal Lake before its move to 88 Railroad St., Unit A, according to its Facebook page.

The new location is just across the street from the downtown Metra station, on the northeast side of the tracks. While the restaurant isn’t open yet for dining in, it is offering carryout on the weekends.

The menu changes each week, and is posted to its Facebook page.

We recently decided to check it out, picking up our order and taking it just two blocks away to Crystal Lake Brewing, 150 N. Main St., which allows carryout, and sometimes brings in food trucks.

I ordered the pulled pork sandwich ($12), which came stuffed with plenty of pulled pork and the restaurant’s classic slaw on a griddled brioche bun.

Most of the sandwiches come with a choice of barbecue sauce, including blueberry chipotle, classic or honey pepper. I decided to give the blueberry chipotle a whirl, and was happy I did. It was not cloying as some fruit-based products can be.

Another pulled pork option on the menu was the Done Porkin’ Around ($13), which comes with pulled pork as well as bacon, the honey pepper barbecue sauce, and melted cheddar and pepper Jack cheeses in between thick slices of sourdough.

The pulled pork was great, cooked well. It’s among the meats the restaurant smokes, which also include – depending on the week – beef brisket, chicken, pork tenderloin, and baby back and St. Louis style ribs.

My fellow diners ordered the Texas brisket sandwich and the brisket grilled cheese (both $14).

When I asked how the Texas brisket sandwich was, one of my fellow diners didn’t hesitate to respond, “Phenomenal,” the highest of praise from someone I normally have to push to give feedback on how the food is.

Another compliment: “You can really taste the smoke.”

The brisket grilled cheese was also impressive. It was piled high with brisket. Truly an impressive sight in addition to the taste.

We ordered fries and the cucumber salad as the sides for these sandwiches. The restaurant provided us ketchup to accompany the fries, but I can tell you not a single packet was opened. Those fries were used to soak up every last drop of the classic barbecue sauce.

The cucumber salad side was also good, though I wish it was a tad bigger portion.

Sides also can be purchased on their own, with small servings available for $4, and large for $8. That includes the cucumber salad, slaw, house-cooked chips and fries. Jalapeño cheddar cornbread comes four for $1.

I can’t wait to check out what’s on the menu next. And I really can’t wait for the restaurant to open in full.

• The Mystery Diner is an employee at the Northwest Herald. The diner’s identity is not revealed to restaurant staff when ordering or picking up the food. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a story.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Moontime Smokin’ Que

WHERE: 88 Railroad St., Unit A, Crystal Lake

PHONE: 779-994-7196 or 779-994-7119

INFORMATION: moontimebbq.com