Meet an engaging restaurateur who’s leaving his own imprint on the Elgin dining scene and attracting patrons from around the region.
Carlos Porras learned a thing or two about the restaurant business during more than two decades of service in area kitchens. He’s been a kitchen manager and general manager for corporate-owned eateries from Joliet to Bloomingdale, and he worked a front-of-the-house stint at an independent restaurant in the Fox Valley area.
By 2012, Porras was ready to take the next step and open his own Mexican restaurant. Fate, however, altered the plan. His search led to a brief consultation period with the proprietors of Elgin Fire Pit Restaurant. That experience culminated in Porras buying the business at 970 Dundee Ave., Elgin, which he renamed Elgin BBQ Pit.
Porras instituted several changes to assure quality and freshness, including smoking meat by the piece, rather than by the case. He differentiated the enterprise by introducing an element of fusion, and has integrated his own Mexican background deeply into the menu.
“From the get-go, I decided that every item on the menu would incorporate some type of pepper,” Porras says. “It was my way of adding flavor and making our food stand out.”
Four years later, word-of-mouth has spread, and Elgin BBQ is on solid ground, with a good share of repeat traffic. At first, customers from the neighborhood fueled new business, but as the venue’s reputation spread, so did its customer base. Porras now draws not only from nearby Hoffman Estates, St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia, but also has begun to feed barbecue lovers from Chicago and Wisconsin.
“I’m very pleased with the direction my culinary career has taken,” Porras says. “If you enjoy doing something you really like, that’s the best way to measure satisfaction.”
Though seating is limited, Elgin BBQ compensates by doing a brisk lunch trade and sizable takeout volume. It offers delivery within a five-mile radius. Porras says off-site catering holds a lot of promise, too.
The restaurant already has catered weddings, anniversary parties and birthdays; recently it provided a corporate lunch for three shifts totaling 400 employees.
Customers really like the brisket, Porras says. On any given Saturday, the busiest day, an estimated 70 pounds of brisket, 50 pounds of ribs and two to three 60-pound batches of rib tips will pass through the above-ground aquarium smoker, a glass-walled contraption that accommodates up to 250 pounds of meat.
Porras notes that there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes preparation involved in the barbecue process. Brisket, ribs and pulled pork are all seasoned and marinated for 12 hours. Next, they’re smoked for 12 to 15 hours in the pit, which is heated by a mix of cherry and oak woods.
Porras fields many questions from discerning diners. To their satisfaction, he buys meats and poultry from local suppliers, when possible, and provides sauces that are entirely gluten-free.
Because of the kitchen’s restrictive size, Porras is limited in how much he can add to the menu, although every couple of months he manages a trial run to gauge customer reaction. At present, the kitchen is testing demand for beef ribs. Porras plans to experiment with lamb as well.
“We make our rubs and sauces – traditional sweet, chipotle mild, habanero mango hot and Alabama white – from scratch,” says Porras. Customers can purchase bottles of sauce made in-house. Homemade rubs will be available soon.
Elgin BBQ Pit is open Mon.-Thur. and Sun. from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.