Lunch with Marjorie: Winter with the Que Man in Chicagoland—part one

There are few things more enjoyable for me than lunching with a fellow foodie. Larry Gerber, fondly known in Chicagoland as the BarBQue Man, even the Que Man, and I did that at Phil DiGiovanni’s namesake restaurant in Roscoe. Knowing that Larry is a bit of a snob about food, I baited him.

“Phil knows what he’s doing,” I said.

“Yeah, this is the first place we found when we moved out here from Elgin,” he said.

“It wasn’t here when we moved from southern California,” I said. “It was culture shock moving here from SoCal, especially for food.”

“It was a culture shock moving here from Elgin,” he said.” I can’t imagine from southern California.”

I shared my dilemma as a shareholder in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.

“My husband and I just can’t eat a half a bushel of vegetables a week,” I lamented. “Like now. I have a bunch of baby eggplants.”

“And you can’t do anything with them?” Larry scolded. “You could make some good babaganush. You roast them or put them on the grill.”

Larry’s excitement began to simmer, expanding to a rolling boil of excitement as he imparted babaganush wisdom.

“I put them on my smoker for two hours, and they just totally collapse,” he said. “I rub them with olive oil, then wrap them in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge. The next day, I peel them, put them in the food processor with some tahini and olive oil and lemon juice. Then I pulverize that, mince an onion and a tomato, pulverize that.”

“And garlic,” I was also rolling.

“Oh, yeah, and garlic cloves,” he said. “Then you put it in the fridge and serve it with toasted pita and some crackers.” He relaxed, as though finishing a marathon.

“That’s what I would do,” he mulled, quieter.

He ordered broiled salmon with a dry baked potato and salad with ranch. I opted for a lush spinach salad, loaded with bacon, egg, oranges and nuts.

“Tell me about yourself,” I said. I wanted to know his evolution to Que Man.

“I grew up on the south side of Chicago till I was 9, and then the neighborhood started changing,” he said. “We were nine blocks away from where Richard Speck killed all those nurses. It was the ’60s. We left a year or two after that—moved out to Des Plaines when I was in second grade. When I got married, we moved to Mt. Prospect.”

“Wait. We’re skipping from second grade to getting married?” I asked.

“Oh, you want in between?”

“Let’s go back,” I said. “When did the cooking start?”

“When I was 6,” Larry continued. “I started with cheese blintzes. That’s what my grandmother, my dad’s mother, taught me.”

“Blintzes. They’re Jewish crepes. You have a Jewish grandmother?” I was intrigued, being half Jewish myself.

“I have two Jewish grandmothers,” he said.

“My relatives were from Russia and Poland,” I offered.

“That’s exactly where we…cheese blintzes,” he repeated, switching to food. “She taught me how to make the cheese filling, the batter. I progressed to sweet and sour meatballs. At the time, my dad and his dad and my grandfather owned a butcher store, at 63rd and Dorchester in Chicago. It was a kosher store; they had to do everything strict. The rabbi was there. In summers and spring vacation, I would hang out there. I was about 6 or 7. My grandfather, it seemed like every Sunday, would come over to our house with a brisket, and my dad would say, ‘nobody knows how to make it, we can’t even give the (blankety) thing away.’ They’d start the fire on the grill at 6 or 7 in the morning and by 6 or 7 at night it was ready. We always wondered what took so long. But they always said you had to cook it on low flame. If you were going to cook it in the oven, you had to braise it at a low temperature.”

“This barbecue reputation comes by you honestly!” I said.

“I’ve been cooking outdoors for almost 40 years,” Larry said. He’s 46.

“My barbecue sauce, my original, signature recipe, is the one my grandfather made,” he said.

“Your grandfather, your dad, now you—your grilling you got from them?” I asked.


“So the brisket was on the grill for 12 hours, low and slow,” I repeated. “Did they barbecue it? What sauce did they use?”

“They used the recipe I use today,” Larry said. “They never bottled it. They always made it in the back of the store and put it on their beef or whatever they were selling. You know in the pan, or for catering, or for carry-out stuff. They never bottled it. I bottled it in 2000.”

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years.

From the Dec. 21-27, 2005, issue

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