Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Slope's BBQ

Non-Quest BBQ No 33 – Slope’s BBQ

Cartersville, Georgia

During my occasional travels, I try to sample BBQ at those near and far away places outside the Quest area. I just really, really like that stuff ... 

Cartersville in North Georgia is not far away from either the Tennessee or the Alabama border. This should guarantee at least a loose relationship with the great BBQ tradition of those fine two states. Of course, one sample at a restaurant that belongs to a small local chain is by no means a representative sample. So before I pass any judgment on the quality of BBQ in this particular area of the Southeast, there need to be a more dedicated test series. Well, I plan to be in Atlanta again to see the Braves, and the shortest route from my home leads me through this part of Georgia. Up until I get the chance to try at least a couple of other places there, I won’t generalize my experience today. Just trying to be fair.

Slope’s BBQ is a small chain in North Georgia, with now four restaurants there. I had the dubious honor to be one of the last guests in their fifth place, in Cartersville, because four days later they would turn off the lights there for good. Suffice to say that the world is not expected to miss a turn when that happens. The food there was not especially bad, nor was it really good, it was merely acceptable.
Because of the close proximity to their closing date they had only a limited choice of items still to offer. No ribs, no potato salad, and no anything fried. So I ended up with a pork plate with BBQ beans and Mac’n’Cheese.
Did I ever mention that I absolutely hate it when they put the sauce on the meat before they serve it to you? I guess, I vented about this once or twice already. Usually it is to cover up a mediocre meat, and here it was clearly the case. I was able to salvage a couple of bites from the sauce-less bottom of the pork pile, so I can say that there was no distinct smoke aroma whatsoever. Moreover, the pork lacked tenderness, and was downright chewy. The sauce also could not convince me. It was a light orange concoction of undefined sweetness with some hint of pepper to it. There was a separate second sauce with basically the same aroma, but a little more kick to it, which was more agreeable to me. But still, not really good, only slightly better than the mild variety.
And then the sides - can you say can? The beans were bland and kind of tasteless, and the Mac’n’Cheese too. But at least the toast was quite good and the staff was real nice.

So, quite frankly, had I to judge North Georgia BBQ by only this one experience, the verdict would be clear and not very favorable. But let’s give the area a chance to redeem itself on my next tour to see the Braves in Atlanta. From what I heard, there should be better places in Cartersville and Rome. I hope so.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pruett's Bar-B-Q

Non-Quest BBQ No 32 – Pruett’s Bar-B-Q

Gadsden, Alabama

During my occasional travels, I try to sample BBQ at those near and far away places outside the Quest area. I just really, really like that stuff ... 

In my mind, there is one cardinal sin when it comes to BBQ that I really cannot tolerate – pork that comes with the sauce already poured over it. Why do people do that? Let me decide for myself, which sauce and how much of it I put on my meat, please. Are you just merely trying to cover up the mediocre taste of your meat with it, or are you so confident that everybody will be just blown away by the awesomeness of your sauce, so that nobody objects to it being on the pork in the first place? What the heck is wrong with you?

Well, at Pruett’s in Gadsden, they do it this way, too. Fortunately, the meat was not flooded with sauce, so I could actually pull some chunks of the pure pork out of it. And what do you know – it was tender and lean, and the taste was quite exquisite, with a wonderful smoke aroma that still let the pork flavor co-exist besides it. So, no reason for a cover-up here. And actually, the sauce they put over it was extremely good, as well. A red concoction with the consistency of honey, with some vinegar induced sourness, a bit of a peppery bite, and a tiny hint of sweetness, it had such a well rounded flavor that I put it on the toast that came with the pork plate, after I was finished with the meat.
And had I had any potato salad left by that time, I would have poured the sauce over it as well. Not that the salad needed any more flavor – it was nearly perfect as it came. With a mayonnaise based sauce, and more on the sour side of the aroma scale, it tasted fresh and very delicious.
But, as with so many things, it was not all happiness and sunshine and smiles and high-fives with the meal. Yes, the toast that came with it was also very good, especially with the BBQ sauce on. But the slaw was basically a bust. Of the dreaded flat-tasting sweet’n’sour variety, I only took one bite and that was it. No reason to spoil the exquisite experience I had with the rest of meal.
And for just about twelve bucks with a cup of sweat tea, it was a fair deal, too.
As for the atmosphere in the restaurant, it is kind of special. There is just one big dining room which has space for about fifty people or more, and the tables are kind of close together, so when the room is full of people it makes for a fairly noisy ambiance. They have a sign at the counter in front of the drink station that says “Sweat tea – The Wine of the South”, which I find quite charming. Also, the staff is very nice and attentive and although there is a flat screen TV in one corner, the rest of the room is decorated with a nice assortment of Alabama and BBQ related stuff.

All in all, despite this really annoying practice of putting sauce on the meat before serving it, and the disappointing slaw, I know now where to have my BBQ when I am in the Gadsden area. And I even would take the slight detour to get there, when I am on my way to Atlanta again.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Black Jack's and Thing BBQ

Quest Log No 51 – Black Jack's and Thing BBQ
Huntsville, Madison County

When a BBQ place has a somewhat special, odd, or downright weird name, it can mean either of two things: the owners have to hide their mediocre product behind a flashy name, or the owners are innovative not only in the kitchen, but also with everything else. During my travels through BBQ country, I’ve come across both varieties. There just is no telling from the outside, you have to go in and sample the Q to determine if the name is just icing on the cake, or it is all only smoke and mirrors.

Well, Black Jack's and Thing BBQ is truly some weird name – and I am sure there is a great story behind it. With that name, most people will probably imagine some kind of shack by the road side, next to the burned down grocery and the oily car repair shop. But no, you will find them in a small neat brick building next to a Papa John’s pizza delivery shop, adjacent to a gym and a gas station.
Not very exciting, and the interior is also not very electrifying. Light green walls with a few sparse decorative items, a floor that could use a serious makeover, half a dozen or so wooden tables with wooden chairs, and four of those rustic outdoor bench/table combinations. In a way, this has its own weird charm, but what energy they spent on finding a special name, they did apparently save when it came to interior design choices.
But enough of these rather nonessential things, let’s get to the core of the business – the food.

As usual, I had the pork plate, with slaw and potato salad, and my wife had half a rack of ribs with green beans and baked beans. Together with two cups of sweet tea, we paid a little over twenty-one bucks, which is a very fair deal.
Especially if you take the quality of the food into account.
The pork was very tender and lean, juicy and with a remarkable smoke flavor – very top notch. And the sauce (you have to ask for it, they only have Ketchup and some generic hot sauce on the tables) is nothing short of spectacular. Fruity and yet spicy, without being too hot – just perfectly balanced and very delicious. My wife thinks that there is Curry in it, but I think it is a mixture of different peppers. Be it as it may, I wish they would bottle that stuff and sell it to me.
The potato salad, made with sour crème, was very fresh, but I found it a bit too neutral tasting. More salt and pepper would have made it better, in my mind. My wife on the other hand loved it. I found the cole slaw, made with vinegar, very exciting. It was sour, without the slightest hint of sweetness, with just the right amount of salt and pepper, and very crunchy and fresh.

My wife’s ribs were a lot of meat, to begin with. Not overly fatty, but also not extremely lean, with an average taste. The sides she had, on the other hand, blew her away. The green beans were in her opinion the best she ever had. And the baked beans were totally without sweetness, but came with a spicy aroma instead.

So, does this place with a weird name serve some righteous BBQ? Yes, indeed, they do. And the little twist to abstain from the sweet side and venture into the sour/spicy side of Q is remarkable. As is the name.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Nolens Barbecue

Non-Quest BBQ No 31 – Nolens Barbecue

Columbia, Tennessee

During my occasional travels, I try to sample BBQ at those near and far away places outside the Quest area. I just really, really like that stuff ... 

Columbia is known as the Mule capital of the World. Well, perhaps the World as seen through the eyes of a Tennessee Mule owner. But nevertheless, I was able to verify that they indeed have many Mules in and around Columbia – especially during their week long Mule days each spring. During my travels through the South, I came across many of those festivals, and at most they even sell food-samples of the thing that made them the self-proclaimed capital of the World of that thing. But while I didn’t mind to try Rattlesnake in Opp, or Chicken in Moulton, I tried pork, not Mule, in Columbia.

And what can I say – the pork was good. Really good, actually, top notch with all the fixins’.
Nolens Barbecue resides in a small building, next to an insurance company, on the main road smack in the middle of Columbia. While the exterior is very unassuming and sober, the inside is quite charming, with yellow walls, some pig memorabilia, and five small tables with fourteen seats altogether. You can have pork by the pound, and some humongous thing called the party platter for about seventy-five bucks. I chose the pork plate, as usual, with cole slaw and potato salad – which I didn’t get because the lady behind the counter mixed my order up and gave me baked beans instead.
Never mind, the beans were excellent, so I didn’t complain. Savory and very non-sweet, with a lot of meat in it, as baked beans should be.
The cole slaw, too, was superb, with a fresh crunchiness and just the right amount of vinegar, salt and pepper so that the cabbage aroma was still there. Here too, no trace of any sweetness.
The meal came with two thick slices of warm cornbread, which was moist and succulent, and absolutely non-sweet.
And then the pork – nice pink ring, tender and lean, with a wonderful smoky aroma, crunchy bark … almost perfect. Almost, because it was a bit on the dry side. But actually I kind of like it that way, because dry pork usually soaks up the sauce better. And the sauce was also very, very good. Nothing special, just a medium spicy conglomerate of vinegar, peppers, salt, and something that gave it a semi-thick orange consistency. But it perfectly complemented the aroma of the pork.
All in all, I must say that this was one of the best BBQ outside of North Alabama I ever had. And for not even nine bucks, including a sweet tea, it was a lot of meat, too.
And while I was so hungry that I could have eaten a horse after my visit to the Mule days spectacularities, I was glad that they had pork at Nolens Barbecue. I really like Mules – only not on my dinner plate.