If you ever want to start an argument in a bar without using sports or politics, just announce to everyone around you what your favorite barbecue joint is, then sit back and listen as they all quarrel with each other over who’s right.
There are few foods that are enjoyed by a large number of people yet so diverse in their definition as barbecue. Or barbeque. Or bar-b-que. Or bbq. Or...you get the idea.
What you consider barbecue (the approved spelling of the Association of Food Journalists) depends on where you grew up. In various regions of the country, barbecue has very distinct requirements.
I grew up in the Midwest, in Illinois, and barbecue was not only a noun but also a verb. We called anything cooked outside on a grill barbecue. And we would say, let’s barbecue some burgers tonight.
But of course the barbecue we refer to today usually means smoked meats. But what meats and what type of smoke is where things start to get sketchy. If you’re from Alabama, Georgia or Tennessee, you’re probably talking mostly pork. But in Kansas City, they’ll smoke just about anything, you should pardon the expression.
If you’re in Eastern North Carolina, don’t expect any sauce other than vinegar based. But elsewhere you might find mustard or tomato based sauces. And if it’s tomato based, it could be light or heavy. And it can be sweet or hot.
Was the meat marinated or did it have a rub? If you’re in Memphis, it was likely a dry rub.
Hickory or mesquite wood for the smoke?
Of course, Central Florida is not Memphis or Kansas City or Alabama. (Praise be.)
So what we’re seeing more and more is a blending of barbecue styles. You may find a place that purports to be a Texas style barbecue joint, but chances are you’ll find a variety of meats in addition to the expected beef brisket. And most likely you’ll be offered a selection of sauces that will satisfy your particular craving. I don’t think any barbecue restaurant sauces its own meat anymore -- they leave that up to the customer.
I’ve pretty much stopped trying to identify the regionality of a barbecuer when I visit a new one. Now, I’m just focused on whether or not the product is good.
I visited a new place on University Boulevard at Dean Road recently that was surprisingly good. I say surprisingly because it had a few strikes against it right off the bat (I stopped in on the way to a UCF baseball game, so please forgive the analogies). First, it’s a chain, and chains don’t have a strong track record. (Um, RBI’s?) Then, as my friend and I were headed for one of the few tables in the place, the woman at the counter told us if we wanted food we’d have to order it from her before we sat down. So we stood looking at the menu board, which was loaded with little silly names for the dishes. When my friend ordered a pulled pork sandwich, the woman replied, Oh, you want the Porky Pigger? (That wasn’t the real name -- I’ve forgotten what it was -- but it was equally as off-putting.)
I ordered ribs because I like ribs. And if a barbecue restaurant can do good ribs -- something that is startlingly rare for some reason -- I’m willing to forgive a few minor peccadilloes. Bubbaques hit a home run on the ribs. The meat was tender with just the right amount of fat to give it flavor (in addition to the good smoke taste). Rib meat shouldn’t be falling off the bone, but it shouldn’t give you a struggle when you bite it, either.
My friend’s pulled pork sandwich was also very good. The meat was tender and was served on buttered Texas toast instead of the more usual bun. But one other annoyance: there were seven sauces! And these, too, had silly names, like Tractor Grease, Moonshine and Mississippi Mud. To know what each meant, you have to refer to a legend on a table card. Foul.
I also went back to the reopened Holy Smoke BBQ on Curry Ford Road. You might remember that Holy Smoke opened in December after what must have been a three-year build-out on the space. And then, shortly after I reviewed it in February, it closed. A month later, it reopened with, I’m told, new management and staff.
I won’t go into all the things issues I had with Holy Smoke -- you can read that review here -- although one of the oddest things was that they seemed to be perennially out of key items, such as barbecue.
But it now appears that Holy Smoke has made significant improvements. Service was friendly and attentive (you can order at the table and have the food brought to you), and the food was much better, too. I had a cup of chili, which had lots of meat as well as beans in the gravy. And a side of red beans a rice with my pulled pork sandwich. (The beans might have been better seasoned.) The pulled pork was good, and it was served on a fresh tasting bun.
So I was glad to see things had gotten better. Then, just as I was leaving, I heard the server tell someone at the next table that they were out of the roast beef.
Bubbaques is at 10173 University Blvd., Orlando. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily. Here’s a link to the website. The phone number is 407-622-7225.
Holy Smoke BBQ is at 3000 Curry Ford Road (at Crystal Lake Road), Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Here is a link to the website. The phone number is 407-730-3114.
Here are some other good places for barbecue.
What’s that? You don’t care for barbecue at all?
Them’s fightin’ words.