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
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
The wife and I came back to Destin for a few days of fun and sun before she started her new job, this time with our eight-month-old little man in tow. Barbecue was obviously on the non-beach part of my agenda. I had thought about trying someplace new, but with Buck's Smokehouse just across the bridge, what would be the point in that? A bird in the hand, as they say.
As soon as we hit their parking lot, the smell of delicious pit smoke was welcoming me back. Buck's covered patio is a perfect spot to sit and chill while still taking in as much beach air as possible. We got there just after opening time, so things were still a little slow in the customer department, but I have no doubt that business would be booming for Independence Day. After all, the Fourth of July and barbecue are about as much of a patriotic combination as apple pie and, well, barbecue!
I wanted to mix things up a little and sample some of Buck's offerings that I didn't get to try last time. Ribs were a no-brainer, so I snagged a half-rack with a side of fries. They were completely out of poultry during my first encounter, which made a two-meat combo of barbecue chicken and sausage an easy decision as well. Plus, chicken would be great for my son who just this week started trying out table food! For the combo, I picked mac and cheese and bbq beans as sides. Last but not least, I tacked on some smoked tuna dip for fun. It is the beach, after all, making seafood almost obligatory.
Skin-on handcut fries were a worthy accompaniment to our lunch. The fries didn't stand out per se, but I was glad to have them nonetheless. The mac and cheese was about average, the same as I found it last time. That said, it was perfectly comforting, and loads of gooey cheese is always great. As for the beans, I found them both sweet and flavorful. There were also big pieces of pork scattered throughout. My preference is generally for ranch-style beans over baked, but my son loved these sugary legumes.
My big St. Louis-style ribs were certainly meaty. Buck's dry rub was nice and salty, with plenty of crusty bark to top things off. There was a great smokiness, exemplified by a prominent smoke ring. The meat came off the bone with only a slight tug, just as it should.
The chicken, not to be outdone, was also tender and moist. I found a decadent skin full of seasoning, and the meat beneath wasn't the least bit dry. That was quite the feat considering the big white meat quarter-chicken I received. I also took notice of the moderate smoke level, which isn't something you taste in most barbecue chicken out there. Despite only having one tooth, my son wolfed down his tiny bites of chicken with gusto!
Just like before, Buck's sausage was outstanding. The crisp casings snapped well, and the coarse-ground meat inside was soft and tender. I noticed plenty of meat juice trickling down my chin, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Their sausage isn't exactly what I would call spicy, but there's definitely enough black pepper to make things interesting.
I'm a big fan of meat salads in general, and the tuna dip did not disappoint. The tuna had hints of smoke here and there, which was an interesting flavor profile to find in fish. It was sweet and savory at the same time, and I loved the raw white onion. There was also a spiciness that crept up on me with each subsequent bite. Forget the crackers and just shovel this stuff in by the forkful!
Buck's met all of the expectations I had from my previous visit, and in some ways even exceeded them. If you need a little break from seafood, this place is by far the best choice you could make.
303 Harbor Blvd.
Destin, FL 32541
Friday, June 9, 2017
There would be plenty of fish to go around during my three-day Bahamian adventure, but I wanted to throw some land-faring animals into the mix, too. As luck would have it, there was a barbecue restaurant right in the Atlantis resort where I was staying. But I didn't want overpriced touristy food, I wanted real local cuisine. My cab driver recommended Bahama Grill as a place to score both ribs and conch, and his sentiments were shared by three other locals that I spoke with. Done and done.
One thing I learned rather quickly is that most of these restaurants don't have a numbered physical address, just a general street location. Luckily my driver knew where to find the place. It had just started to rain when I arrived at Bahama Grill, so perfect timing. I think I was their only customer, certainly the only one sitting up top on the colorful covered patio. There was a pleasant breeze from the storm, but any relaxing tropical atmosphere that might have been had was drowned out by the noisy truck traffic directly below.
Beach body be damned, I ordered up a half-rack of pork ribs, a half-rack of beef ribs, and a half-dozen conch balls. Who needs side dishes anyway? My food took a while to come out, certainly longer than expected. I guess they were working on island time.
The conch balls were magnificent. Far from a pre-packaged frozen appetizer, these little deep fried delights were full of fresh ground conch, rolled with herbs and spices. They were light and fluffy, and the handbreaded balls fell apart with ease. Conch is about as chewy as the average calamari, but more flavorful in my opinion. I also loved the accompanying remoulade-type sauce, which certainly jazzed things up a bit.
There may have only been four beef ribs to this supposed half-rack, but they were certainly massive. The tender, succulent meat had a good char from the grill, but no smoke that I could uncover. A thick slathering of semi-sweet barbecue sauce produced the dominant flavors here. While the beef itself was tasty, I do wish they had removed the membrane from the bottom of my rack. A couple of the ribs were also pretty fatty, and despite the nice black char on the fat, it wasn't very well rendered.
Although rather diminutive compared to the beef ribs, the pork bones were still big and meaty in their own right. There was a great crust that was noticeably more well seasoned than I found on their beef counterparts. The meat came off of the ribs cleanly just as it should, with only a little effort needed. As expected, the same thick barbecue sauce dominated things here as well. I didn't find any smoke on the pork ribs either, but the tasty grill char was more prominent.
I'm guessing that Bahama Grill charbroils or chargrills their ribs instead of properly smoking them, but they still made for a decent lunch. Even though the ribs weren't quite up to my usual standards, they're probably about the best you'll find on this island chain. Hey, at least the conch was good!
Bahama Grill Cafe
West Bay Street
Monday, May 29, 2017
I always see Bread of Heaven Bar-B-Q's rather stationary food trailer at inopportune times, like when I've already eaten or when I have firm lunch plans. Today, however, I had the day off and no one to answer to except my seven-month-old baby. Since he was the only one of us who wanted carrots and pears for lunch, I decided to treat myself to some Memorial Day barbecue.
From what I can tell, this food trailer started out in Knoxville, Tennessee and migrated to Nashville a couple of years ago. You can normally find Bread of Heaven down in Antioch at the corner of Murfreesboro Pike and Mt. View Road. I don't know if they have any sort of regular days or hours, I just know that I've never seen the trailer parked anywhere else. That corner is pretty visible real estate, so I can't blame them for staying put. Location, location, location.
Since I hadn't eaten any sort of meaningful breakfast, I loaded up with a pulled pork sandwich, a half-rack of ribs, and sides of potato salad and baked beans. I couldn't see anything at all on the other side of the trailer's thick black window screens, so I just had to have a little faith and hope for the best.
The beans were sweet, but not overly so. There was also a good mix of onion and peppers in each bite. A welcome change from standard baked beans, these were very enjoyable. Bread of Heaven's potato salad was creamy with medium-diced potatoes. The base was a nice mustard/mayo combination, with a pleasant crunch of pickles here and there.
I assumed that there would be a bottom bun beneath my massive pile o' pork, but I wouldn't know for sure until I dug in. There was no point in even attempting to eat this like a sandwich, so I took the bread as more of an accompaniment and opted for a fork instead of my hands. I was instantly taken aback by the remarkable smokiness, way more than I had expected. The pork was tender and decently juicy, and it was just salty enough to be interesting. My portion came without any bark, but there were plenty of other flavors to go around even without it.
The small baby back ribs were actually loaded with tender, succulent meat. Bread of Heaven's well-smoked pork came off the bone cleanly with the appropriate effort. I noticed a rosy smoke ring just around the edges of each rib, while each bite produced a good burst of smoke. There was also a nice seasoning on the deep burgundy crust, although I wish it had been a little crispier. I was getting full halfway through my rack, but the ribs were so tasty that I was able to power through to the end.
My order came with several cups of barbecue sauce on the side, but I couldn't possibly fathom a need for it. Their meat was spectacular all on its own! Needless to say, Bread of Heaven Bar-B-Q surpassed my expectations and then some.
Bread of Heaven Bar-B-Q
3501 Murfreesboro Pike
Antioch, TN 37013
Thursday, May 25, 2017
Truth be told, The Pie Wagon was not my first choice for lunch today. But when life hands you lemons, throw them away and eat barbecue. This cafeteria-style "meat and three" only has pulled pork on Thursdays, with its normal meat offerings looking more like chicken fried steak, pan fried catfish, meat loaf, and salisbury steak. Since the place has been open in one form or another for just shy of a hundred years, I thought I might as well give The Pie Wagon a shot.
From the outside, The Pie Wagon looks like a sleazy old nightclub. On the inside, it looks like a sleazy old cafeteria. At least there's a little consistency there I guess. As close as this restaurant is to booming areas of Nashville like Vanderbilt University, Music Row, and the Gulch, The Pie Wagon seems as though it hasn't gotten a facelift in decades. Sadly enough, the restaurant moved to its current location a mere fifteen years ago, so I guess the "1970s charm" was intentional. I think going back to The Pie Wagon's original trolley car version from the twenties would have been a much better choice. After all, hipsters love retro.
I went with The Pie Wagon's classic "meat and two" option with smoked pulled pork, green beans, and mac and cheese. I could have added on an additional meat and gotten more side dishes, but honestly not much else looked appetizing enough. Their plates also come with your choice of bread, for which I picked the jalapeño cornbread.
My cornbread was a tad on the dry side, but otherwise was pretty tasty. I found actual corn kernels scattered about, plus the unmistakable fire of jalapeños. The pan of mac and cheese that I saw in the serving line had a good burnt cheesy crust on it, yet somehow none of that made it into my helping. It was run-of-the-mill elbow macaroni and cheese sauce of the Kraft variety. Sadly, the green beans tasted about the same. They could have easily been dumped out of a can, and although there was a nice saltiness to them, there were no other noticeable flavors. I'm not suggesting that The Pie Wagon can't use canned side dishes as a base to start with, but for crying out loud add some boiled bacon and onions to the green beans so customers can at least pretend they're eating homemade food. I don't know for certain whether their sides were homemade or canned, but you would be hard pressed to tell the difference.
The pulled pork was a little watery for my liking, likely a byproduct of hanging out in the warming pan for a little too long. It was tender though. There were slight vinegar overtones to be had, and every now and then I caught a faint hint of smoke, but there wasn't a lot of either flavor to go around. I didn't see any bark at all, not that I really expected to find any here. Barbecue sauce probably would have helped I suppose. It wasn't the worst pulled pork I've eaten by any means, but it wasn't exceptionally good either.
Overall impression, The Pie Wagon struck me as the sort of place you'd take your grandma for lunch if you just needed to feed her but didn't really care whether she enjoyed her meal or not. Well, at least it was only $10.00.
The Pie Wagon
1302 Division St
Nashville, TN 37203
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
It's so much easier when the barbecue comes to me! I've been searching for an opportunity to test out the Thunderbird food truck and their enticing smoked chicken. This endeavor took a little more effort than anticipated, but I eventually tracked them down.
A few weeks ago, I made my first attempt to enjoy Thunderbird's poultry. According to their official website and their Facebook feed, Thunderbird was setting up shop at the partially-completed ONEC1TY Nashville, which I say as if I had even the slightest idea what ONEC1TY is. From what I could find online, this sustainably-designed complex is "a vibrant urban community...that will serve as a center of technology-enabled commercial, residential, research and retail activity catering to the idea that mindful healthy living can be made easy." Translation: some feel-good millennial hipster crap. Not exactly the kind of place that you'd expect to find barbecue chicken, but I go where the smoke takes me.
I drove and walked around the advertised 8 City Boulevard location for half an hour, but there was no sign of their truck anywhere. Finally I gave up and snagged a sandwich to salvage the few remaining minutes of my lunch break. After commenting on Thunderbird's Facebook page to vent my frustrations, they responded promptly and apologized profusely. Apparently they had been required to set up off of another entrance to the ONEC1TY compound, far removed from the actual address they had posted for lunch service. They also mentioned that they had arrived to that spot at 11:30am, although both their website and Facebook post confirmed an 11:00am scheduled start time. Thunderbird offered to comp my lunch if/when I came back to try them another day, which I certainly appreciated, but that's not how I roll.
Thunderbird was slated for another lunch service at ONEC1TY Nashville today. Armed with the newfound knowledge that 8 City Boulevard really means a parking lot sort of nearby 8 City Boulevard, and that 11:00am means 11:30am, I decided to give the Thunderbird truck another go.
Unable to decide between the Thunder Thighs and the Thunder Wings, I did the only sensible thing and ordered a couple of each, as well as a side of the Smoked Mac and Cheese. These three items are all smoked over pecan wood, and that was readily apparent. The delicious smoky aroma permeated my truck instantly and drew the envy of my coworkers upon my return. Within minutes of sitting down at my cubicle, I had several of them peeking over the top like Wilson from Home Improvement.
I was initially unsure about the identity of the peppers protruding from my helping of macaroni, but one bite was more than enough to confirm that these were definitely jalapeños. The creamy cheese within helped to temper the heat somewhat, and the crusty melted cheddar on top had absorbed a good deal of the pecan smoke. While this wasn't your standard "comfort food" mac and cheese, it was immensely tasty and a welcome addition to the plate.
The crispy skin on my meat was so dark and black from the smoke that I almost didn't believe it was chicken. Both the wings and thighs were heavily seasoned, with a clear emphasis on pepper. I found the chicken to be an interesting combination of smoky, spicy, and sweet. The sweetness in particular was a surprise, with the overall the flavors being spicy but well-balanced. Every single bite of this yardbird was moist and super juicy, particularly the dark meat thighs. I found myself longing for some Alabama white sauce, if for no other reason than to render assistance to my burning tongue.
So, in the end, was Thunderbird's smoked chicken worth all of the extra effort? You're darn right it was!
Sunday, April 16, 2017
My wife and I had planned our little man's baby dedication at church for Easter, and as a result we needed to feed several friends and family members who were kind enough to join us on this momentous occasion. Barbecue immediately came to mind, for obvious reasons. In terms of both quality and selection, Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint was an easy decision for our meal. I called in an order a week early, which they told me that I could pick up at 10:00am on Saturday (an hour before opening). At that time, I was sure to score the day's first fruits.
I had ordered up a heck of a feast: two pounds of pulled pork, two pounds of brisket, two quartered chickens, four links of beef sausage, and a quart each of potato salad, macaroni and cheese, broccoli salad, and pinto beans. Plus a duo of pecan and fudge pie for dessert. All this to feed eight adults and one child! I may or may not have intentionally over-ordered, hoping for some leftovers to take to work the following week. We weren't eating this massive smorgasbord until Sunday, but it didn't seem fair to rate Martin's 'que on a reheated basis. So I did the only respectable thing and sampled all of our non-dessert food before anyone else arrived.
I invariably start my barbecue reviews by tasting the side dishes, which was made all the more difficult by the fact that I had to endure the smell of delicious smoke for my entire twenty-minute drive back home. The potato salad was creamy and crunchy at the same time, with plenty of potato skins for added texture (and I guess some vitamins too, if you're into that sort of thing). It was also slightly spicy, a welcome surprise. The macaroni was as homey and delicious as you might expect. Far from blue-box mac and cheese, the large elbow pasta and gooey melted cheese were just right. I found the pinto beans to be savory and perfectly al dente, much preferable to overly-sweet baked beans. Cheddar and cranberries offered a vibrant array of flavors in the broccoli salad. This was the only one of our sides that I had eaten before from Martin's, and I think I may have enjoyed it even more this time around.
As for the meats, first up was their pulled pork. Rather than the finely-shredded pork I was expecting, we received big hunks of porcine goodness. It was tender and exceptionally juicy, with slight vinegar overtones from the mop sauce. The bark was well seasoned and moderately smoky, but not so much as to mask the natural pork flavors. In short, it was prepared exactly as it should be.
Good smoked sausage isn't something I find much of outside of Texas, but this was really tasty. Each link had loads of black pepper scattered throughout. There was a good snap to the casings, which exploded with yummy beef juice when sliced. All of the pepper produced a slight spiciness, balanced out by just enough salt to make things interesting.
On my first outing to Martin's, I received some rather lean slices of brisket. They were fantastic, but I always find myself longing for the fatty brisket point. Today I was in luck, and it was astonishing how good the brisket was (a sentiment shared later by every single one of our guests). Its jet black bark was loaded with flavor, and the tender meat beneath was super moist. Salt and smoke were immediately present on my tongue. The fat was so well rendered that I could have eaten it with a straw (and might have too, had I been alone at the time). Truly fantastic.
I just sliced off a small sample of the chicken, since there wasn't really a great way to covertly sneak a whole quarter-chicken ahead of time. A dark meat thigh hit the spot today. The meat was tender and incredibly moist, and the flavorful skin was seasoned to a T. There was an unexpected heat level that crept up slowly with each subsequent bite. It was also very smoky, an unusual quality for barbecue chicken.
Even though it would be ungentlemanly to review Martin's based on anything less than the fresh meat that I had received Saturday morning, I thought it worth mentioning how things turned out during the reheating process. In order to preserve as much moisture as possible while the meats warmed up in a 300 degree oven, I drizzled a little beef broth over the brisket and sausage, put a few dollops of butter in with the chicken, and added a swirl of apple juice to the pulled pork. Certainly there were a few deficiencies that I noticed in comparison to the fresh versions of each meat, but, in all honestly, they were very negligible. If I hadn't had a reference point from the day before, the reheated meat would have still merited at least a four-star rating.
Frequent readers know that I am not much of a sauce person when it comes to barbecue. That said, our sauce options looked far too good to pass up today.
Each of the four sauces was tasty in its own right, but these were my favorite meat/sauce combinations: brisket with their thin, vinegar-based Jack's Creek, pulled pork and the zesty Alabama White, and chicken with the mustard-heavy Palmetto Gold. Although these may not be the pairings you would expect, they are the ones that I found the most cohesive overall.
The food was all so good that I ended up eating far too much in far too short of a time. After a few hours of letting my stomach settle, it was time for dessert. I didn't quite feel up to two whole slices of pecan and fudge pie, so my wife and I split a slice of each.
The pecan pie was gooey, crunchy, and spectacular. Pecan pie can often suffer from too much sugar, but this one was just sweet enough without hurting my teeth. Martin's fudge pie, on the other hand, was ever so decadent. Its rich chocolate flavors hung in my mouth, making me crave a big glass of cold milk. The crust on both pies was nice and buttery, so no need to discard that in favor of the filling.
I really can't say enough about how awesome our meal from Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint was. They have several satellite locations scattered across Nashville metro, as well as spots in Louisville, Kentucky and Morgantown, West Virginia. But for my money, I'll stick with the original down in Nolensville.
Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint
7238 Nolensville Rd
Nolensville, TN 37135