Where Its Always Summertime
Big Dog’s Smokehouse BBQ
By Chris Bavender
Walk into Big Dog’s Smokehouse BBQ in Cicero and it’s a pretty sure bet by the time you order and grab a table, Cheryl Faulkner will know more than just your name.
“My kids tell me, ‘Mom, you don’t know a stranger.’ I walk in the back as they’re getting the orders ready and they’re amazed I find out so much information from a three minute order – my family just laughs at me,” Faulkner, co-owner of Big Dog’s said. “I love to visit and share and encourage and hear about people’s lives. It feels like having lunch every day with new friends and I love the variety of each day.”
Cheryl and husband Chris opened Big Dog’s in 2011. Sons Cody, Christian and Conner, along with daughter Ciara, daughter-in-law Abbey and Cheryl’s mom, Joele, all help run the restaurant. Son Austin, who lives in South Carolina, provides creative ideas – such as the all you can eat special 4 – 9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The restaurant’s name has its origin in football.
“We have four large sons – four large offensive linemen - known as the big dogs at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia and they (school team) are the Huskies,” Cheryl said. “The offensive line was always at our house and we were always feeding them.”
Then there’s the fact Chris, also a former Husky and Florida Gator, is retired from the NFL. The couple met in California – he played for the LA Rams, she was a team cheerleader.
“I was dancing with his QB and he cut in and the rest is history,” Cheryl said. “He said he just knew when he saw me. Three months later we were married. Thirty three years and five kids later, here we are.”
One day after church, Chris tossed out the idea of opening a barbecue place.
“The fun thing about barbecue is that wherever you travel you can enjoy different recipes and styles,” Cheryl said. “Then we saw this building – it was built in 1865 and has such personality - and I said it would be a great place for a BBQ restaurant.”
Simple but Delicious
The interior of Big Dogs is eclectic. There’s a Ferris wheel seat at one of the tables, a truck tailgate turned into a bench at another, and a couch made from a Coca Cola cooler. In fact, you’ll see a lot of Coca Cola touches, along with Florida Gators memorabilia and banners from the Hamilton Height Huskies.
And, don’t forget the buffalo head movie prop, a cigar Indiana statue, license plates from around the U.S. given to Big Dogs by customers, a jukebox and pinball machine.
“There’s also a little smokehouse private room with a Western motif that seats four with a chimney flue with fake smoke coming out of it,” Cheryl said.
Customer favorites include beef brisket, pulled pork, baby back ribs, smoked Italian sausage, blackened salmon and BBQ nachos. All the meat is smoked slowly over hardwood fires and isn’t sauced. Instead, customers can choose from one of five homemade sauces, including Lincoln’s Ghost Pepper Sauce – from a pepper so potent Cheryl has to wear gloves and a mask when she makes it.
Popular homemade sides include mac and cheese, smokehouse baked beans with chopped brisket, coleslaw, mustard style potato salad and corn bread. Then, there’s dessert – tabletop s’mores and Joele’s St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake.
“It’s simple but delicious and if you have a sweet tooth it will definitely cure that,” Cheryl said. “We’ll have people come in and buy a piece and eat it while checking out and then take another to go. It makes my mom blush – she gets a kick out of it.”
Big Dog’s is closed Sunday and Monday so the family can attend church and enjoy brunch (and having others cook for them, Cheryl said). But the rest of the week you’ll find them at the restaurant.
“It’s fun that we can all be together. We each have gifts we bring to the table,” Cheryl said. “I love what I do because it’s different each day. I am a people person and I love meeting people from different walks of life every day.”
The restaurant’s slogan – It’s always summertime at Big Dog’s Smokehouse – sums up the experience the family hopes customers have. “The smells just bring happy thoughts and remind you of being outdoors at family barbecues and of warm days,” Cheryl said. “We’re a family friendly place where everyone is welcome. We are just down to earth home cooking, come as you are.”