Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Mission BBQ (Nashville, TN)
I'm always a tad suspicious of chain barbecue restaurants, never quite knowing what to expect or how far the apple might fall from the original tree. Perhaps it's because I've been burned far too often by their over-promising and under-delivering. Despite my reservations, I was willing to give Maryland-based Mission BBQ a try when I heard that they had recently opened up a new operation at Opry Mills mall.
Mission BBQ describes their restaurants as having a "patriotic dining room filled with tributes to those who've made Our Country great." Apparently this tribute also includes a daily "salute to the Stars and Stripes" at lunchtime. I certainly don't doubt Mission BBQ's sincerity, and far be it from me to dispel or discourage anyone's patriotism, but on the surface it honestly feels a touch too heavy handed. That being said, their POV will play well here in Middle Tennessee, and the Mission BBQ employees were some of the friendliest I've encountered anywhere, from the ladies at the registers to the guys chopping meat.
To get a true feel for Mission BBQ's meat smoking abilities, I ordered their 3-Meat Market Sampler with brisket, pulled pork, and sausage. Customers can make any of the meat market plates into either XL or XXL combos, with a drink and one or two sides respectively. I picked the XL with a serving of Maggie's Mac-n-Cheese, and I tacked on a "Bay-b-back" rib and a spare rib for good measure. Meats can be sides, too, right?
The mac and cheese was surprisingly good. I loved the crunchy crust on top, as well as the gooey pasta beneath. It was savory and comforting, with the distinct taste of real cheddar cheese.
It was hard not to notice the deep black crust on my solo baby back rib. The meat was nicely seasoned with a great smoke level. However, they sadly gave me the end bone of a rack, so it was rather tough and dry. The meat also came off with the slightest nudge, as is fairly common with overcooked baby backs.
My spare rib appeared to be another end-of-the-rack cut. Sigh. The crust was more of a reddish-orange than pit-black. This pork was significantly more tender than the baby back had been, and the meat stayed put until I was ready to bite down. It was also nice and smoky, with a more mild seasoning than my first rib.
Their brisket is advertised as "Texas inspired" and oak smoked. I admittedly had my doubts, but this was no false advertising. Mission BBQ gives customers the option for moist (aka fatty) or lean brisket, and you'd have to be a fool not to opt for moist. The well-rendered fat made this brisket melt-in-your-mouth tender, a fact I discovered while delicious meat juices rolled down my chin. These slices had a beautifully rosy smoke ring, with flavors to match. The simple seasoning also let the natural beef shine. It was superb.
I opted for Mission BBQ's jalapeño and cheddar sausage, a wise decision if I ever made one. The split links perfectly showcased all of the cheddar and diced peppers. On further examination, I found a great snap to the casing, with a tasty grill char to boot. Mission's sausage uses finely ground meat, sprinkled with finely ground black pepper. The gooey cheese countered the powerful jalapeño heat nicely, and added another dimension of flavor as well.
Big hunks of delicious bark were scattered all throughout my pile-o-pork. The meat was decently smoky and very tender. It looked dry, but it certainly didn't taste that way. In what I assume is an attempt at nationwide appeal, Mission BBQ offers 10 different sauces from all of the major barbecue traditions, including Texas, Memphis, Kansas City, Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas. Personally, I would have rather seen them pick one region to model and run with it. Better yet, show me what Maryland barbecue looks like. In the end, this is purely academic and a rather moot point, since there was no need for sauce whatsoever.
Mission BBQ makes some truly exceptional food, and they should be proud. If they hadn't cheaped out and given me scrap ribs, I suspect that my rating would be a solid five stars.
161 Opry Mills Dr
Nashville, TN 37217