Sunday, October 29, 2006

Barbecue Review

So, having been in New Orleans for several weeks now, I must say that the food has been pretty tasty so far. But I had been missing my bi-weekly barbecue fix that living in South Georgia afforded me. Not that there's a lack of 'cue down here, just that I lived in Jawjah long enough to know what particular barbecue sauce I was in the mood for, and pick a place accordingly.

So I recently had that "its barbecue time" mood, and decided it was time to taste some Crescent City Cue. Since we covet that which we see most often, my first destination was "The Joint," a literal hole in the wall a stone's throw up from the intersection of Magazine and Marengo (I think that's the cross street, anyway. Call me unfamiliar as yet - wherever the Popeye's Chicken is).

I stopped in one afternoon while running errands, parked on a side street (parking is kind of a chore in that area) and perused the menu while standing in line. It is always a good sign that there should be a line of individuals to the streetside window of a barbecue joint. It is an even better sign when there are rear ends sitting astride the painted picnic table that serves as the outside seating area for the place.

Brisket & Pork caught my eye, and if you know me, you know the first meat I ordered will always be brisket, when available. This has something, genetically, due to the fact that my mother was raised in Texas, I am sure.

So my first item was the Brisket sandwich, topped with slaw (which I will always consider Carolina style, no matter what I am told) on sliced white bread, with a side of mac and cheese. The meal was a little pricey for 'cue: $8 for the plate, no drink, and you want to leave a tip. That's a on the pricey side for me, but in the mid range for non-fast food sandwich plates round these parts.

The brisket was good, with a nice outside char and a deep smoky taste, but it was a little on the tough side for my taste. But there was a lot of it, a lot, which pleased me to no end (and readjusting the value associated with the price in a positive direction). I had to take many a slice off the bread for the sandwich to be a viable hand held delivery.

The slaw was hommade, with a hint of vinegar to it, which was a pleasant surprise. (Down in Georgia, slaw is almost exclusively cabbage + mayonaise.) The sauce was vinegar based with a bite of what reminded me of chili or jerk for spice, but was robust enough to stick with the meat when dipped. It wasn't spicy enough to be called 'hot' but it did have some noticeable warmth at the finish. The mac and cheese was more spicy than the sauce, which I found positively delightful.

All in all, it was a good meal, but the toughness of the brisket kept my personal approval of the place above average, but in the realm of pretty standard barbecue fare.

But I'm not one to give up on a barbecue place based of just one meat, so a few days later (the sauce was good enough to encourage salivation upon thinking back), I went back for the same side, same sandwich - sub pulled pork for brisket. Matter of fact, and this is important in scientific evaluations that come with food tasting: the weather was almost exactly the same (a soft drizzle), there was a similar line of barbecue fans ordering, and parking was still something of a chore. So there's a remarkably similar scene, just experimenting with the pulled pork.

What a good idea this was on my part, for the pulled pork is the goods. Same outside char, deep smoky taste, but this was some 'melt in your mouth' goodness. The pulls were big and hearty, not stringy like some places will serve you, and the texture was right where it needs to be: taking a bite instead of shoveling. Slaw was still vinegar-y, mac and cheese was still mildly spicy, and the portion was still healthy, so the place gets a thumbs up on consistency and a decided "nicely above average" appraisal on 'cue. (I know which plate I'm going to reach for next time I'm there, and I will be going back.)

Next time: a barbecue place on Tchopitoulas....

PS: If any NOLA readers (or other readers, period) know of any good 'cue houses down round these parts that I need to visit, let me know, 'cause this Georgia boy is makin' the rounds.


Dante said...

Louisiana is one of four states where I am willing to eat barbecue from a dive with sawdust on the floor (the other three being Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas). They're a mixed shop state serving both beef and pork as you've already discovered. Usually mixed shops will do a better job of pork because it's far less particular a process.

Speaking of, I've always head a slawbecue sandwich was Arkansas barbecue.

At least you can get some decent brisket. I'd love to get some beef barbecue in north Georgia. The best we currently have that I'm aware of is the newish chain Famous Dave's. They're a bit fatty but the other extreme is Sonny's where you're paying a lot of money for warm lunch meat.

I really miss the barbecue shops in Texas. It's hard to beat some good chopped brisket with jalapenos, a baked potato, a slice of pecan pie, and some tea you'd better darn well sweeten yourself.

Fishplate said...

Lewis Grizzard once said "If it ain't pig, it ain't barbecue." To some extent, that's a factual statement. But Lweis is dead, so I make the occasional exception in the interest of keeping an open mind.

I have had the extreme pleasure of going into a joint in Texas an being served brisket on a piece of butcer paper with a picle and a knife stuck in a hunk of cheese. I have had the extreme misfortue of walking into a Georgia barbecue stand tired and hungry, and knowing with the first bite that I had failed to discern if there was a pit out back, to my everlasting chagrin.

Good barbecue is about attitude. Everybody has an off day once in a while, but I doubt that there is a chain place that can bring the kind of attention to the cooking that is needed to put out a true barbecue product that is worth my time. If I wanted brisket and Famous Daves was the only place I could get it, I think I'd turn Vegan instead.

Dante said...

"Good barbecue is about attitude."

I very much disagree. Good barbecue is about good food. I don't care how much sawdust is on the floor or if they serve me on butcher paper or real plates. I'm not going to take some snobbish attitude of the place just because the owners were smart enough to expand. I don't eat barbecue to feel cool or get in touch with some sort of culture. I do it because I'm hungry and it's a tasty type of food. I've had good barbecue from roadside huts and I've had bad barbecue from those same types of places. I've had good chain barbecue and bad chain barbecue (the good ones tend to have a pit on location). I've even had good gas station barbecue once or twice (though to be fair, one of the gas stations doubled as the local butcher shop).

I do miss some of the huts I used to eat barbecue from regularly, but I'll gladly take Dave's over being some sort of vegan.

S.A.W.B. said...

Dante, go to Jot 'em Down next time you're on the eastside. Their brisket is at least passable, and the sauces are made on site, with peppers grown on site.

An addendum to that, is that we need to go hit a couple places in the region that serve fair to better 'cue from my reccolection. Jimmy's Smokehouse and Hometown BBQ in Snellville, and Holcomb's in White Plains (Hancock County) are high on my list.

Dante said...

The last brisket experience I had in the Athens area was Bill's over off Hwy 29. It tasted like pot roast. I like pot roast, but not when I'm expecting barbecue. Where is Jot em Down?

S.A.W.B. said...

Intersection of Whitehall Road and Barnett Shoals Road. It's a semi-restored 1920s store that serves up 'cue, and biscuits in the mornings. The 'cue is diverse enough to include sausage, turkey, beef ribs, and quail. Next time you're on the eastside, it's worth a drop in.

Fishplate said...

"'Good barbecue is about attitude.'

I very much disagree. Good barbecue is about good food.

Sorry, I wasn't clear. I was referring to the attitude of the person responsible for the tasty food, not the decor. I expect there are successful chains that can also serve up good 'cue, but mostly it's an individual thing. One man, one pit keeps the quality in the process, and that's what makes it good. But there's a limit.

Anyone remember Spring House Barbecue on Broad St.? A guy named Tony tried to run a nightclub called the 357 Club (because of the address...) and couldn't make a go of it. So, he decided to combine his hobby and his business, and started cooking barbecue in a pit outside... He wound up with a booming restaurant that had some of the best food in the region. You could tell he put his heart into the food. He had to expand into the space next door, and there were always people waiting to get in to eat.

Eventually, he tried to expand his business to other locations. All well and good, but he couldn't spend as much time at Broad St., and it showed. The food never was as good when Tony wasn't cooking.

The moral of the story is: If you can find a ecipe for tasty, consistent food that anyone can cook, then good onyer. But I feel that barbecue is more of a personal thing rather than an assembly line food. I always keep an open mind when I try a new place, but if my attitude about attitude makes me a snob, then I'm a snob.