Anyone who has visited the World of Naperville has likely noticed that food is a recurring theme. Given my southern roots, it’s no mystery that food has always been cause for family and friends to come together. Even though the kitchen was perhaps the smallest room in my family home growing up, it was always where everyone inevitably ended up congregating.
If you are among the seemingly hundred or so people who actually saw Cameron Crowe’s 2004 feature film “Elizabethtown”, starring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, there is a scene where Bloom’s character arrives into town and walks into his Aunt’s house only to find most everyone crowded into the kitchen as Paula Dean’s character cooks away on the stove while at the same time ably “holding court” with family and friends. Aside from actually being from the “Elizabethtown” (or E-town as we like to call it) in which Crowe’s movie was based, I can vouch for the reality of what it was like to be in the house during that particular scene.
Though my mother had a devotional talent for southern cooking, it was my father’s 16 hour slow wood pit smoked barbeque which continually won acclaim and drew others from miles around. When I was a child, my father put his recipes to the task in opening his own restaurant simply called “The Barbeque Pit”. The small building was purposefully built into a “bare bones” raw space designed to embody the spirit of simplistic barbeque shacks throughout the south. The interior consisted of a bare concrete floor full of picnic tables, a lone potbelly stove and a tall counter which separated the seating area from the oversized pit smoker which was used to make volumes of slow smoked wonder.
More powerful than the visual memories of the actual space was the unbelievable one-of-a-kind smell which would hit you just as soon as you walked through the door. The aroma began with fresh chopped hickory which quickly gave way to the hint of smoke as the soaked wood slowly burned. Next, you could detect the crisp richness of the slow perfection of the meat basting in its own juices. Though
Kentucky is full of great barbeque shacks and restaurants, many of which I’ve visited over the years, none had come close to replicating the smell of my father’s Barbeque Pit… that was until I moved to Naperville.
The first time I stepped foot into Gemato’s Wood Pit BBQ on Ogden Avenue almost four years ago, the aroma hit me like a ton of bricks. It was as if my life clicked into reverse at hyper speed taking me all the way back to my childhood hanging out at my father’s restaurant after school. The moment was all the more poetic given the fact I had lost my father to cancer just the year before. Granted, Gemato’s has a far more elaborate variety of menu offerings than my father could have ever envisioned. As a matter of fact, I had no idea what a gyro was nor could I even properly pronounce it prior to moving to the Chicago area. However, that smell resulting from their exceptional ribs and other barbeque offerings quickly hit the mark with me. Frequently when my brother and sister visit us in Naperville, we’ll make our pilgrimage over to Gemato’s to take in that memorable smell and then, of course, to order half the menu. In the land of Ribfest, Gemato’s stands ready to offer unique world class ribs and barbeque all year round. In the land of Chicago, they offer some of the best gyros as well.
In my estimation, while Gemato’s has clearly found a good deal of success and a solid following in Naperville, it still seems to be somewhat of a quiet and underappreciated institution. Gemato’s is a one-of-a-kind authentic treasure which stands out amongst a town full of different types/chains of restaurants and should be celebrated. Even more, they seem to keep getting better. In addition to an extreme interior makeover completed over the past couple of years, which I would characterize as a southwestern cavalcade of cowboy howdy, the quality of the barbeque seems to be intensifying. I dropped by this evening to get some ribs to go and was overwhelmed by the richness and flavor of the wood smoked ribs topped off with the perfect amount of deliciously caramelized sauce which had fused with the ample meat falling off the bone.
I’ve never formally met the owner or the staff regulars of Gemato’s aside from placing orders and salivating at the pick-up window awaiting my food, but I am in hopes this posting demonstrates the gratitude I have on many levels for the clear love they put into their food as well as that nostalgic aroma they have managed to replicate.
If you have never stepped foot into Gemato’s Wood Pit BBQ, I strongly encourage you to do so whether it be as a warm-up to Ribfest, an escape from the crowds during Ribfest, an encore after Ribfest or to curb the desperation you might feel during the cold months when it feels as though this could not possibly be the same town in which we melt in long lines awaiting our chance to order another rib sampler at Ribfest. While you’re there, be sure to also try their generous gyros with, of course, lots of extra sauce. Take an insider tip and ask them to grill the onions for you… you won’t be disappointed.
To learn more about Gemato’s Wood Pit BBQ, visit their website at www.gematosgrill.com or, better yet, visit them personally at the corner of Ogden Avenue and Jefferson.