Look no further for your go-to BBQ, Sweet Caroline’s Crab-N-Que delivers on every front.
Though they’ve only been open for a few months, Sweet Caroline’s Crab-N-Que opened with a confidence and personality that it takes a lot of establishments years to acquire. There was an undeniable spirit of fun that permeated the entire space from the moment we walked in. Even from the road, you could tell this place was going to be different. Chalk it up to the three generations that the Hoffman family has been building restaurants, currently 22 in the fleet, under the name A La Carte Entertainment. Whatever the reason, Sweet Caroline’s is the BBQ joint we’ve been looking for.
The energy hits you as soon as you come through the door. A raucous roadhouse vibe with details everywhere. The massive, wraparound bar was carved from a single tree, you can count its rings at the cross sections at each corner mounted atop Jack Daniel’s bourbon barrels. There’s a stage at one end of the room where live music acts play Wednesday through Saturday. Lobster cages and a full-size rowboat hang from the ceiling.
The Skillet Cornbread arrives in a scalding hot cast-iron skillet and showed us that their flair for presentation is built around hearty, delicious flavors. Bits of pickled jalapeno inject a hint of spice into this moist and satisfyingly crumbly starter. Spread the maple butter across it for a fantastic taste that would work just as well at the breakfast table or for dessert.
Their fresh Steamed Mussels come one of two ways, with homemade garlic butter and white wine sauce or with Cajun broth and spicy Andouille sausage. We opted for the Cajun style and there’s still a lovely garlic butter bite to the meat of the mussels.
Combine that with the flavors of the piquant sauce, crisp garlic crostini, roasted tomato, and a bit of the sausage for a wonderfully balanced, flavor forward dish.
The Traditional Lobsta’ Roll comes from the Two Handed Sandwiches section of their menu. The name isn’t an affectation. This sandwich is packed full of fresh lobster meat mixed with tarragon mayo, diced celery, chives, Old Bay seasoning, arugula, and a housemade lemon lobster butter drizzle. The bread is herbaceous, hearty, and cut like a sub sandwich. The lobster combination inside is like a lighter, zestier version of a chicken salad sandwich, with a creamy base and a celery zing. Absolutely delicious.
The BBQ Feast is unbelievable. Basically a party platter of their barbecued meats, it’s served on a full size garbage can lid with metal pails the size of children’s sand castle buckets for the sides. This is a great way to avoid having to choose between their beef brisket, spicy smoked chicken, pulled pork, or baby back ribs, all which have been hand seasoned, slow cooked, smoked, or subjected to their 18-hour barbecue process and come steaming from their various ovens. Just get them all and try them with the three BBQ sauce options waiting at the table—hot and spicy, tangy, or sweet. They say this feeds four, but they must be accounting for lunch the next day as well. Their signature BBQ baked beans walk the sweet and tangy balance beam and incorporate five different kinds of beans into one delightful combination, the coleslaw is crisp and refreshing, and their homemade ranch fries are twice baked, excellently seasoned, full slices of potato.
We also ordered a variety of their side dishes just to round out the experience. They have an undeniable penchant for creamy sides. Their Cheddar and Chives Mashed Potatoes are whipped smooth, salty, and savory; the Mac-N-Cheese is grounded in thick, hearty noodles and insanely cheesy; and both are really creamy. But the
Creamed Succotash is a must. Lima beans, sweet corn, and bell peppers sautéed with onions and garlic, and finished with a cream reduction. A touch of spice, a cheddar tang, and that creamed corn base make for a very decadent and addictive side dish.
For dessert, don’t miss out on the Bacon Maple Glazed Doughnuts, bite-sized doughnut holes, straight from the fryer, enrobed in powdered sugar and crumbles of freshly fried bacon. Delivered with a melted caramel dipping sauce, this is a destination dessert.
In addition to the fantastic food and atmosphere, you can basically design your evening. There are more flatscreen TVs mounted to the walls than you’d find in most stores’ electronics displays. They have a corner of the room devoted to casino style video gaming. And after the live music wraps up, they devote some tables to either side of a dance floor for playing beer pong while a DJ takes over. It’s a place you can grab dinner with the family, and then come back with friends for a late night you’ll remember. Sweet Caroline’s has it all. Just like Neil Diamond says in the song from which they took their name, “Good times never seemed so good.”
Sweet Caroline’s Crab-N-Que is located at 2525 W. Higgins Road in Hoffman Estates, 847-519-7575, sweetcarolinescrabnque.com.