Wednesday, January 3, 2018
My first choice for lunchtime barbecue was unexpectedly closed today. Apparently their heat went out, and since it was all of 19 degrees overnight, they felt like this might be problematic. Good call. I made a snap decision to check out Hawgz Blues Cafe in North Little Rock instead.
Best I can tell, this joint opened sometime in Spring 2017 or so. There was a surprisingly limited interior dining space, which is odd given the enormity of the building itself. A large group of customers had most of the tables gobbled up when we arrived, so maybe there's really more seating than it seemed. High ceilings and large open spaces made the room feel even more empty. It has kind of an old Nola house feel to it, and I assume that's what they were going for. Food aside, this is surely a great spot for live music and evening cocktails. Their big outdoor patio looked like it gets rocking quite often, at least in warmer weather. The bar area I saw probably has plenty of traffic as well.
Hawgz Blues offers a Southern Smoked Dinner with either brisket or pulled pork, but I was bold enough to request both. This combo automatically comes with baked beans and potato salad. Good enough for me. For the little guy that I had in tow, I ordered the kid's chicken tenders with mac and cheese instead of the standard french fries. All requests were happily accommodated.
I ended up with a side of unexpected coleslaw, too. There were nice hits of mustard and crunchy cabbage in each bite. I'm no fan of slaw in general, but this was almost enough to change my mind. The beans were pleasantly seasoned and had some sizeable hunks of meat throughout. Although their potato salad wasn't quite mashed, it was close. The creamy mayo base had plenty of veggies mixed in for texture. Each side had merit, and I was happy to have them all.
The brisket was sliced thin but still had evidence of bark and a rosy smoke ring, though the thin slicing didn't offer too much of either. The thinness did help keep things tender at least. A moderate smokiness was the most I could find. Their sauce added both acidity and a sweetness, but wasn't overpowering at all. It was actually a nice combination of natural and added flavors.
My pulled pork was even better. Big chunks of tender pork were a welcome change of pace from the stuff that's chopped into oblivion. I found it much smokier than the brisket, but I wished for more bark. Hawgz Blues uses a different sauce on the pork, and it had some definite heat to it. The spiciness lingered on my lips and tongue, as did the smoke.
Although chicken tenders and macaroni aren't exactly a gourmet meal, my son seemed to enjoy them both. That may not seem like a ringing endorsement, but he has a pretty discerning palate for a one-year-old. Take that as you will.
I like to read reviews from other customers both before and after trying out a new barbecue joint, mostly to see how my personal experience measures up. Yelp in particular has a fair amount of negative reviews for Hawgz Blues, criticizing both the food and the service. Honestly, I found neither one lacking all that much. I've already given my two cents on the food. As for service, every employee I saw was hustling hard, and two others besides my waiter checked to make sure that everything was ok at various points during the meal. I appreciate that kind of work ethic. Perhaps there were just some growing pains early on, but whatever the case may be, Hawgz Blues Cafe seems to have things under control now.
Hawgz Blues Cafe
5524 John F. Kennedy Blvd
North Little Rock, AR 72116
Thursday, December 7, 2017
I'm getting a bit low on new barbecue joints to investigate in Little Rock proper, so my one-year-old wingman and I ventured north across the river to Maumelle to check out Smoke Shack Bar-B-Q for lunch.
The faux log walls at Smoke Shack were reminiscent of an old-timey cabin, which is what I assume they were going for. Most of the decor is just old license plates scattered about, but the place was also decorated for Christmas this time of year. Don't let the small primary dining room fool you: there's a larger room in the back, as well as an outdoor patio. Maumelle tends to be a little short on restaurants, especially non-chain restaurants, so I bet Smoke Shack gets packed frequently.
I grabbed a brisket dinner plate with potato salad and tomato relish, plus a half-rack of pork ribs to round things out. I also ordered a quarter-pound of smoked turkey for my son, who is pretty much obligated to share with Daddy. A half-pound was the minimum that they would sell me, so leftovers were sure to be plentiful.
Smoke Shack's chunky potato salad was full of veggies and definitely full of mustard. Normally I'm a huge fan of potato salad, but this one wasn't really my style. The tomato relish, on the other hand, was superb. Big hunks of green tomato were bursting with sugar and spice, plus a tart acidity for balance. I had initially considered pinto beans as my second side dish, but I'm really glad that I went with the tomatoes instead.
This was sort of an odd presentation for brisket, particularly the half-bun accompaniment. I was also a little saddened by the mass of sauce-covered chopped beef rather than the Texas-style slices that I've grown so fond of over the years. The tender brisket was piping hot, a good sign. There was plenty of bark and plenty of smoke, which shone through nicely despite all of the sauce. I couldn't find a visible smoke ring, but I'm sure that it was there somewhere.
The pork spare ribs looked absolutely gorgeous. Their rosy black crust glistened with delicious grease and pork juice, beckoning me to dive right in. These guys were seasoned just right and had a great smokiness. The meat came off easily with a slight tug, none of this falling-off-the-bone nonsense. As expected, each bite was spectacularly juicy. A half-rack wasn't nearly enough.
My son's turkey came out deli sliced, rather than the thick pieces I had envisioned. Nonetheless, it was very juicy and well-smoked. The seasoning around the edges was even tastier. We both enjoyed it thoroughly, even though his less-than-dexterous fingers dropped half of it on the floor.
What the brisket lacked the ribs made up for in spades, and the turkey was no slouch either. Smoke Shack Bar-B-Q will definitely become part of our regular rotation.
Smoke Shack Bar-B-Q
20608 Hwy 365
Maumelle, AR 72213
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
I seem to be on a bit of a barbecue shack kick lately. That's ok, these humble joints often have unexpectedly phenomenal food. Today's smoked meat adventure took me to H.B.'s Bar-B-Q down in south Little Rock.
You'll find H.B.'s in a converted house smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood, where it's lived for over fifty years. The neighborhood is a bit sketchy, but there were quite a few signs inside and out which suggest that the owners and employees are all packing heat here. This place looked super old, from the wood-paneled walls to the country cow decor. Most of what I could see was also fairly dusty and grimy, especially the dish sink right behind their register. Frankly, I'm surprised that this joint passes health inspections.
There's only a small dining room, packed tight with a dozen or so tables and chairs. To-go orders would be more advisable here, so that's what I did today. Even then it took forever to order, and I was only third in line. By this point my one-year-old was as visibly exasperated as the overworked cashier/waitress/owner (I think). So I made a snap decision to forgo any questions or any attempt at a multi-meat combo. Instead, I simplified things down to a pork and beef sandwich duo with a side of potato salad. If I'm being completely honest, neither of these sandwiches looked particularly appetizing.
The potato salad was bright yellow, though less mustardy than I imagined. Pimentos didn't add much in either the flavor or the texture departments. It was creamy and tasty, but not my favorite.
I started the main course with the brisket sandwich, or at least the one that I thought was brisket. There was actually some nice charred bark mixed into the mass of chopped beef, with a nice crunch from the slaw as well. I found just a mild smokiness, but it was there nonetheless. The meat was also quite tender, although in its chopped form it would be hard not to be. The sandwich was only slightly sweet, less so than I expected given the heavy dose of sauce, which also happened to be somewhat spicy.
My pork sandwich came topped with slaw as well. The meat was juicy and tender, but chopped into oblivion and somewhat less seasoned than its beef counterpart. There was plenty of rosy bark beneath the surface at least. The sauce was poured on a little heavier here, such that that's pretty much all I could taste without really concentrating and focusing my tastebuds.
In retrospect, the sandwiches likely would have been much better without sauce, a request that I should have taken the time to make.
Little Rock, AR 72209
Friday, November 10, 2017
Six weeks is far too long to go without a barbecue outing. I wanted a place where my son and I could eat outdoors and enjoy some of the last remaining fall weather that Arkansas had to offer before things get cold. So we headed across the river to North Little Rock to check out Mick's Bar-B-Q.
Mick's is quite the literal barbecue shack, with nothing more than a walk-up window, a drive-thru window, and four picnic tables under an awning. Luckily for us, that's all that we needed today. I ordered a combo of ribs and pulled pork, plus potato salad and bbq beans on the side. A three-meat combo would have been more ideal, but I take what I can get.
The beans were sweet and somewhat spicy, with a nice mix of flavors. They were also cooked well, not mushy at all. A dusting of paprika on top of the potato salad added to the visual appeal, but there wasn't enough of it to enhance the flavors any. The mayo base stood out here, and I liked the medium-dice on the potatoes.
I took my pulled pork without sauce, and honestly, it was a little dry. There was a pleasant smokiness and a good amount of seasoned bark at least. I ended up sampling their mild barbecue sauce out of necessity. It was thick and sort of ketchupy, so much so that the pork wasn't really any better with it than without.
The ribs came apart with the slightest nudge, and while some people naively prefer theirs to be "falling off the bone," it's suggestive of overcooked meat. There was a very mild smoke level here, and the crust was barely seasoned. On the other hand, the meat was very tender and super juicy throughout, so I suppose that's something to be thankful for.
I had high hopes for Mick's Bar-B-Q, which has great ratings across the Internet. Either somebody knows something that I don't, or standards for barbecue in North Little Rock are a bit low.
3609 Mac Arthur Dr
North Little Rock, AR 72118
Monday, September 25, 2017
I was making great time blowing through the backroads of East Texas, where it seems like the majority of barbecue joints are closed on Mondays for some odd reason, so I just kept going until I hit Naaman's BBQ in Texarkana.
You'll find Naaman's in what was obviously an old filling station. They've worked hard to maintain that general vibe throughout, including tin walls, intentionally-peeled paint, and the trashcan housed inside a rusted-out car. All in all, the atmosphere was perfect for taking a nice lunch break from my long drive.
I was still in Texas by a matter of ten or fifteen yards, so I skipped the pulled pork and snagged one last Texas Trinity before crossing over into Arkansas. At Naaman's, you have to order a 3/4lb plate to get three meats, and I was happy to indulge. I took mine with brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, plus some potato salad and cheesy corn on the side.
The potato salad was dominated by mustard, but something spicy caught my attention almost immediately as well. The heat faded pretty quickly, so I'm not sure what it was, but it was definitely interesting. The cheesy corn probably contained more rice than corn, although the diced peppers were a nice addition. It was loaded with cheese, that's for sure, and it made for a nice, comforting side dish.
Fatty brisket is the only way to go, and they were more than willing to accommodate my request. The fat-filled crust was burgundy, bordering on black, and it was ever so tasty. Each slice had a visible, rosy smoke ring which was matched by an excellent smoky flavor. The brisket was tender and very juicy, and it fell apart with ease. I wasn't about to try barbecue sauce with this magnificent beef, and it by no means needed any.
My pork ribs also had a deep red crust and a pink smoky hue beneath. There was a moderate, yet enjoyable, smoke flavor. The meat came off with minimal effort, bordering on falling-off-the-bone, but the crust wasn't quite as crisp as I had hoped for. That said, I did enjoy their simple rub, which tasted like salt, pepper, and very little else.
Naaman's makes their sausage in house, and it shows. There was plenty of black pepper to go around, as well as the coarse-ground meat that makes homemade sausage so spectacular. I found a great snappy casing and lots of juice in the links. The sausage was slightly spicy and seasoned well. Normally I don't go for barbecue sauce, especially not with sausage, but my waitress insisted that I try their sausage and mustard sauce together. I have to say, it was excellent. The sauce added some heat and vinegar, plus a mild sweetness on the back end.
My lunch at Naaman's was just the pitstop I needed to make it the rest of the way back home.
5309 N. State Line Ave
Texarkana, TX 75503
Saturday, September 23, 2017
Back when I called DFW my primary barbecue hunting ground, there wasn't much of anything resembling barbecue in Dallas' Lakewood neighborhood. Certainly nothing worthwhile anyway. Lakewood Smokehouse opened up shop at the beginning of 2016, a smoke-filled oasis in a culinary desert. I was swinging through The Big D on my way south, and I couldn't resist a pit stop to check out Lakewood.
This place has reclaimed wood out the wazoo, paired with some contemporary furniture and industrial lighting. I dig it. There is also a nice bar area, with a Smokehouse Mary being the drink specialty. Think Bloody Mary with a pork rib in place of cocktail shrimp. I had another four hours on the road ahead of me, otherwise I might have indulged. Lakewood definitely smells like a smokehouse. They weren't busy at all at 11:30am on a Saturday, but I was sure that would change shortly.
I ordered up a two-meat plate of sliced brisket and poblano cheddar sausage, taking ranch potato salad and their six-cheese mac and cheese as my side dishes. Lakewood had giant beef ribs on special today, and if you think I had sufficient willpower to resist snagging one of those as well, then you clearly don't know me well enough. My order ended up being sort of a beef-centric version of the Texas Trinity.
The macaroni, as advertised, was certainly packed full of gooey cheese. Large spiral noodles were a nice choice here, since they offered plenty of nooks and crannies for the cheese to hide out. It was definitely comfort food. Chunky, skin-on potatoes made for a great potato salad, and of course bacon makes everything even better. I loved the ranch dressing mixed in, which really jazzed things up.
My helping of brisket was spectacular. The crust was black as night, complete with a pleasantly salty rub and rosy red smoke ring beneath. All of the fat was completely rendered down, making the brisket melt-in-your-mouth tender. Each bite was also super smoky.
The sausage was nice and spicy, but not overly so, with just enough cheese to temper the heat. I found a great snap to the casings, as well as lots of black pepper scattered throughout. I was told that Lakewood makes their sausage in-house, and the coarse grind on the meat was a good indication of such.
I saved the best, or at least the biggest, for last. The massive beef rib was covered in a glorious fatty crust. There was more meat on the bone than I expected, and it was moist as could be, even considering the size of the thing. A moderate smoke level was just enough to be interesting without masking the natural beef flavors. Needless to say, this really hit the spot.
There are many tried and true barbecue joints in Dallas where I could have stopped for lunch, but I'm glad that I gave Lakewood Smokehouse a shot. With food like this, they're certain to do well here.
1901 Abrams Rd
Dallas, TX 75214
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Desperately in need of some fresh air and some fresh scenery today, I made it a point to get out in search of barbecue. The Cross-Eyed Pig wasn't far from home, and it was also fairly close to our favorite park, so me and the little man could snag a tasty lunch and then go play. Not too shabby.
This East Little Rock joint is smack in between Allsopp Park and the Arkansas River, so you'd think that there would be plenty of business to go around here. I guess location isn't everything, since there were only two other tables of customers present the entire time at peak lunch hour. Oh well, more meat for me. The Cross-Eyed Pig doesn't look like much when you walk into the small interior dining space, but their big outdoor patio seems to be the main attraction. I'm sure it's a great spot for live music on warm summer nights.
Dining out alone with a baby is no simple task, but our waitress was a sweetheart and tried to make things as easy as possible for me. She even hooked me up with a special off-menu two-meat plate of pulled pork and ribs, recommending their baked potato salad over the mustard variety. Sold. I picked baked beans for my second side dish and eagerly awaited the food to come out. I caught the scent of delicious pit smoke the instant things hit my table.
The sides are my usual starting place, which was easy today since they both looked awesome. The baked potato salad was creamy with big slices of skin-on potato. It was rich and decadent, with a nice crunch here and there. I'm glad I listened to the waitress. Cracked black pepper was visible throughout the baked beans, with plenty of onions mixed in, too. The flavors were primarily sweet, but slight vinegar undertones added a nice acidity.
Pulled pork will never replace brisket as the king of meats, but it's been growing on me more and more since leaving Texas behind. Theirs was tender, juicy, and well-seasoned. I also found a considerable amount of smoke in each forkful, as well as lots of tasty bark. Perhaps just a tad more salt would have been appropriate, but that's my personal preference. Adding sauce to this pork would have been heresy, and I am no heretic.
My big, meaty spare ribs looked fantastic on the plate. They had a deep reddish-black crust which appealed to my eyes as well as my taste buds. These bad boys were loaded with flavor and loaded with smoke. The peppery rub had a good kick to it, but wasn't so overpowering as to mask the natural pork. The well-rendered fat was also a pleasure to eat, diet be damned.
The Cross-Eyed Pig was just what I needed today. My baby boy seemed to enjoy the nibble of pulled pork that I fed him too, but to be fair he's also partial to dryer lint for some reason, so take that as you will.
The Cross-Eyed Pig
1701 Rebsamen Park Rd
Little Rock, AR 72202
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
My wife, being a Little Rock native, was certainly familiar with Burge's, although she thought that they mostly just sold smoked hams and turkeys and such. After all, their official name is "Burge's Hickory Smoked Turkeys & Hams." I made sure to file that knowledge away for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, but I'm much more interested in other kinds of smoked meats. Luckily for me, Burge's also has a fair amount of barbecue on their menu.
Burge's occupies a bright cafe-style space right in the midst of a small shopping center. The walls were adorned with an array of old soda and gas signs, as well as some obligatory Razorback decor. Looking around, most of the other diners seemed to be enjoying deli-style sandwiches, with no barbecue in sight. Oh well, their loss.
The order line was a little bit busier than I had hoped for, and it looked like some rain was headed our way. Neither of those things bodes well when you have an infant along for the ride, so I just got my food to-go. Burge's doesn't list any multi-meat barbecue plates on their menu, and if I hadn't been a little pressed for time, I might have inquired further just to be sure. I ended up ordering a pulled pork sandwich and a brisket plate with potato salad and beans. Their plates are actually served with beans and a choice of potato salad or coleslaw, in case you're some kind of crazy person who doesn't eat potato salad.
Some people say that you eat with your eyes first, and honestly, this plate of food made my eyes sad. The beans were lukewarm at best, and it only took me five minutes to drive home, so I doubt they cooled down that much in transit. They were reasonably sweet with good hits of acidity. A little added spiciness would have gone a long way here. My beloved potato salad was mostly mayo-based with some mustard tossed in for extra flavor. I kept wishing for more veggies, since without them the whipped potatoes lacked any real texture.
I was particularly dismayed with the brisket. Slices of what might have been awesome smoked beef were absolutely drowning in more sauce than any one human should safely consume. The meat was pretty tough to chew, even the fattier slices. I caught a little smoke here and there, but mostly all I tasted was the vinegar and tomato of the sauce.
The pork wasn't really any different than the brisket. My sandwich could have easily passed for a sloppy joe. Heck, it might as well have been ground up hotdogs for as much sauce was on there. It was also a bit confusing. Some of the pork was shredded, and some came in a big slice. The only meaningful difference between the pork and the beef was a slight spiciness to my sandwich. The pork was also more tender than the brisket had been, but it was still fairly dry.
Much as I hate to waste food, I ended up throwing away 90% of my lunch in favor of some chips and dip that I found in the back of my pantry. It's been a while since I've handed down a one-star rating. Maybe Burge's should stick to ham and turkey.
Burge's Hickory Smoked Turkeys & Hams
5620 R St
Little Rock, AR 72207
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
I wanted to go somewhere close and relatively easy for my first father/son barbecue outing. Quite a momentous occasion indeed, but going out to eat with a baby can be a real challenge when you're flying solo. Even though Terri-Lynn's Bar-B-Q didn't exactly get a ringing endorsement from my mother-in-law, it was very nearby and seemed like a good place to start.
There really isn't a whole lot to Terri-Lynn's, inside or out. It's snuggled away in a rather run-down shopping center, and I probably wouldn't have even noticed it had it not been for the prominent placement of their signage. Furnishings consist of some old diner-esque tables and chairs, surrounded by a half-dozen booths which are at least as old. Random hog-themed knickknacks dominated the decor, to be expected in central Arkansas I suppose. There was also a rather large display of IBC root beer for some reason. Oh well, barbecue doesn't need to be fancy, and it usually isn't.
Terri-Lynn's barbecue dinner plates are only listed as one-meaters, with no combos in sight. I doubled up on some sandwiches instead. At least I could pretend that one of them was for my son, despite the fact that he's only nine months old. I grabbed a chopped pork sandwich plate with bbq beans and potato salad, plus a brisket sandwich plate with deviled eggs and macaroni salad.
My sides of macaroni and potato salad were virtually indistinguishable, both in terms of taste and looks. Big hunks of pimento and a very creamy mayo base made their way into both salads, as well as more sugar than I care for. The beans were slightly spicy and very pleasant. In contrast to the mac and potatoes, they weren't overly sweet, which is definitely a good thing. The deviled eggs had a great visual appeal. Their nicely whipped filling was covered in paprika. I also found them somewhat zesty.
Like my side dishes, the pork and beef sandwiches looked eerily similar from the outset, largely because the brisket came chopped rather than sliced. I pinpointed the beef and tore in. It was very tender and very tasty, with good bark mixed throughout. There was a moderate smokiness to each bite, though some pieces were noticeably smokier than others. I missed out on the delicious brisket fat, likely an unfortunate byproduct of the chopping process, but I probably didn't need it anyway. I'm sure that my doctor would agree. Coleslaw added a nice crunch and a welcome sweetness to the sandwich, something you can't fully appreciate unless you get your barbecue sauceless.
The pork sandwich also had a nice helping of bark. It was even more well seasoned than the beef had been. Moist and juicy pork filled each bite I took, with hints of smoke evident as well. The smoke level was about on par with the brisket. I found the crunch of the slaw to be even more gratifying here, due to the pork's natural mushiness. The meat was a little crumbly for my liking, but that's really my only criticism.
If you're looking for a place with fabulous side dishes, then Terri-Lynn's Bar-B-Q Delicatessen probably isn't for you. Beans notwithstanding, of course. But what they lack in potato salad they more than make up for in meat. Terri-Lynn's is probably closer to a three-and-a-half star barbecue joint, but I don't do halfsies and I generally round up. Take that for what it is.
Terri-Lynn's Bar-B-Q Delicatessen
10102 Rodney Parham Rd
Little Rock, AR 72227
Saturday, July 29, 2017
I'd officially been an Arkansas resident for nearly three weeks, but hadn't yet been out and about for a barbecue sampling. Despite the mountain of boxes still cluttering our new house, I hopped down the street to nearby Sims Bar-B-Q to grab some lunch for us.
Sims is a small old joint in a small old shopping center, competing for olfactory dominance with the donut shop next door. It's a simple table and chair setup with little to decorate the place except for some beer signs and a few out-of-place fishing tournament trophies. There was also a jukebox in the corner that didn't look like it gets much action. I've eaten great barbecue from places with far less ambiance, which I hoped meant that their focus was simply on the food instead of the atmosphere.
My inlaws came over to help watch the baby while we unpacked and organized things, so I made sure to order up a nice size feast for us. A pound of pork and a pound of brisket in the meat department, with sides of potato salad, bbq beans, and coleslaw. The waitress ended up giving it to us as one of their large combo specials, which was certainly easier on the wallet.
The mustard-based potato salad came with lots of pickles and other veggies for both flavor and crunch. Maybe a a little pepper would have jazzed things up a bit though. The slaw was creamy and crisp, with fresh vegetables all the way through. I'm not normally a slaw fan, but I really did enjoy it. Sims' beans were sweet and ketchup-y, and they were also a little on the mushy side. Overall, the flavor was good.
Our serving of pork came finely chopped with a fair amount of bark in the mix. It was moderately smoky and seasoned just right. Each bite was tender and very juicy. In its chopped form, the pork was probably more conducive to sammiches, although it was also the perfect size for my nine-month-old who is still practicing with finger food.
The brisket was very thinly sliced, but there was still plenty of yummy bark to go around here as well. The smoke ring was also immediately evident. It was exceptionally good, which I must admit surprised me somewhat. I found a prominent smokiness, and the brisket was as tender as could be, likely helped by the thin slicing. The fat could have been a rendered a little better, but I still ate it with gusto.
At only a five minute drive from my house, I can see Sims becoming a regular part of my barbecue rotation.
1307 John Barrow Rd
Little Rock, AR 72205