Saturday, March 24, 2018
I needed a little bit of a break today, so I thought I might treat myself to some smoked meat therapy. Jo-Jo's Bar-B-Q up in Sherwood, AR opens their doors early at 10:30am, which made it perfect for my schedule this morning.
It's a pretty simple setup they've got going on here. Jo-Jo's occupies half of an older slant-roof building, with some sort of salon sharing the rest of the space. The joint looks about like you'd expect from a small town diner, unassuming both inside and out. Clearly not the place to go for ambiance, but then again most folks who come here probably couldn't care less.
Even though my waitress was obviously a new employee, she was very sweet and seemed to be a fast learner. I asked for a custom two-meat combo plate, but luckily for me they actually had a three-meat ribs/brisket/pork sampler on special, complete with beans and coleslaw. Sold!
The beans were nicely peppered and pleasantly acidic. I found a good crunch of onion, not to mention a spiciness that hit my tongue now and again. Not being the biggest coleslaw fan in general, I appreciated that they went a little easy on the dressing. The slaw was tasty enough for those who enjoy it, and fresh cabbage and carrots added a crisp texture.
My brisket came out chopped, even though I was told beforehand to expect slices. The waitress asked if I wanted to send it back for sliced brisket, and even though I did, I told her that it was fine as is. The brisket was loaded up with delicious, salty bark. I also noticed a decent smoke level in each bite. I couldn't see a smoke ring, but I'd rather taste smoke than see it. The beef was very tender, which you would certainly expect in its chopped form, so I can't speak to the tenderness of their sliced brisket.
The pork was also served chopped, but here I could see some pink smoke-kissed bits mixed in. Most of the pork struck me as sufficiently smoky, and I found it to be both moist and juicy. Although I didn't receive a ton of bark in my portion, what little there was I enjoyed immensely. Some well-rendered fat was a nice addition, too.
A deep reddish-black crust made me salivate at the sight of Jo-Jo's ribs. They were visibly smoky, to say the least. Minimalist seasoning allowed the natural pork to stand out, which I generally prefer. The ribs were a little overcooked, though not quite falling-off-the-bone, and still juicy. Three bones were plenty, considering how much other food there was on my plate.
Jo-Jo's is the kind of place where the food speaks for itself, no frills offered or needed. That's just what you want from a barbecue joint. With tax, my three-meat combo and a sweet tea only ran me $12.00! It's hard to beat that kind of a deal.
117 Country Club Rd
Sherwood, AR 72120
Monday, February 26, 2018
I had swung through Whole Hog Cafe last week to pick up a gift card for someone, and, while waiting my turn at the counter, I had an epiphany. Somehow, in all of the times I've eaten Whole Hog, I'd never had their pork loin. This would not stand!
Since I was already in West Little Rock today, I thought I might try out their location on Highway 10. But sadly, pork loin isn't a part of that branch's menu, nor the other spot on Cantrell. North Little Rock would have been the next closest location that I hadn't yet sampled, and that was a bit far out of the way. So even though the Markham Whole Hog isn't my favorite, I wanted that pork badly enough to give them a second run.
I arrived right at opening time, which meant there were only two other customers between me and the counter. This location is always clean and bright on the inside, with a yummy smoke-filled aroma. Super friendly employees and some great blues music also add to the fun, welcoming atmosphere.
While I've eaten the pulled chicken from Whole Hog on several occasions, I've never had their full bird either, so a half-chicken was definitely on my radar today as well. The most economical way to get my desired meats was with a half-chicken plate, plus an a la carte helping of pork loin. I picked cheesy corn and potato salad as my sides, going the safe route with one and exploring with the other.
My potato salad was definitely heavy on the mayo, but that added to its flavor and its creaminess. The skin-on potatoes were finely diced, and I saw a lot of green bits that I couldn't identify by sight or by taste. I'm thinking maybe chives or parsley? Either way, there was plenty of seasoning and plenty to like about this dish. The corn, on the other hand, confused me a little. It was basically corn tossed in their macaroni cheese. Not that it was bad by any means, but my brain kept anticipating, and therefore wanting, actual pasta. I'm also not sure that the flavors meshed together as well as they had hoped.
The pork lacked any real smoke ring, and it looked sort of gray and lifeless if I'm being completely honest. Looks aside, the tender pork tasted great. I couldn't pinpoint any smoke, but there was a hefty, savory spice blend on the crust. The best way that I can describe this as thin slices of a pork chop. Although I liked it in general, I wouldn't exactly call it barbecue.
Nice grill marks made the hunk of poultry very appetizing. The crisp skin had a slightly sweet marinade on it, and the chicken below was very juicy, especially the dark meat. In my opinion, this was more grilled than smoked though, and it certainly tasted that way. The chicken was good in its own right, but it was not the barbecue chicken I had hoped for.
I'm glad that I tried the rest of Whole Hog Cafe's offerings, but I guess I should stick to their ribs and pulled pork from now on, preferably at the Cantrell location.
Whole Hog Cafe
12111 W. Markham St
Little Rock, AR 72211
Saturday, February 10, 2018
This weekend I needed a little "me time," and what better way to accomplish that than with some "meat time"? I set my sights on Breitweiser's down south in Benton, Arkansas. I couldn't find much info about this butcher shop, but I knew I'd find barbecue there, and that's really all the info that I needed.
I arrived right around 10:45am, assuming that this kind of place would have things ready to rock by then. Sure enough, I smelled the sweet aroma of pit smoke through the morning rain. Breitweiser's is a classic small town meat market, plus they have a decent selection of deli meats and cheeses (although the latter two sadly aren't homemade). These guys also sell quite a few barbecue sauces and rubs, and beer, of course.
As you might expect, Breitweiser's sells their barbecue by the pound, but they were kind enough to make me up an awesome four-meat feast of brisket, chicken, sausage, and ribs with beans and potato salad. All this plus a Coke only ran me $18.00, which wasn't bad at all. The meats came from warming pans, and were then further heated up on a flat iron griddle. There isn't really a great spot to dine in here, so I ate things out in my truck.
I started lunch off with some pretty standard baked beans, likely canned. There was a slight spiciness here and there, but it didn't linger. My potato salad was a mustard-based variety. They also have mayo-based potato salad available if you're so inclined, although my options were presented as "white or yellow." Flecks of dill and intermittent pickles and pimento made this an enjoyable side dish. It wasn't nearly as mustardy as its bright yellow color suggested, and that's a good thing.
The brisket had some great bark and an adequate smoke ring. I found good hits of salt and smoke in each bite. The beef was also tender and super moist, despite the leaner cut. What fat there was had been rendered down nicely and oozed flavor. The griddle added a good char as well, but I would have rather just had my brisket sliced fresh.
I don't know if Breitweiser's makes their own sausage, but I would guess not. It tasted more like Eckrich to me, and considering that all of their deli meats come from this brand, that's probably a safe bet. The meat was also finely ground, with no visible fat or seasonings. There was a good sear to the sausage at least, and a very snappy casing.
At first I had trouble discerning what part of the chicken I'd been served, but I'm about eighty percent sure that it was a breast. The chicken skin was nicely charred, so you can imagine my disappointment when I didn't taste much of anything beyond pit smoke. I did appreciate the smokiness, which is often lacking in barbecue chicken. It could have definitely used a good dusting of salt and pepper at a minimum though. The meat itself was cooked well and was fairly tender. Maybe dark meat would have fared better.
There was a great crust on my ribs, and they were incredibly smoky. A rosy smoke ring was also instantly visible. Not much seasoning here either, but the other flavors made up for things in this instance. The pork was very juicy and quite tender. While I couldn't stand to eat more than a few bites of the chicken, I found myself wishing I had several more ribs.
Needless to say, Breitweiser's was a bit of a roller coaster ride. Four-star brisket, two-star sausage, one-and-a-half-star chicken, and ribs somewhere between a three and a four. I'm not entirely sure what to do with all of that, so I'll just call this place "average" and move on.
1113 W South St
Benton, AR 72015
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
I had tried to visit Capitol Smokehouse & Grill during my previous barbecue outing, only to find them closed due to lack of heat. Winters in Little Rock due tend to be a bit on the chilly side, so I didn't mind postponing my visit until today.
This place could seriously use a complete design makeover, or a fresh coat of paint at the very least. And that's coming from a guy who regularly eats at dives and shacks. Capitol Smokehouse has all of the knickknacks of a small, rural diner shoved into a relatively tiny space downtown. Well, downtown-ish anyway.
Here everything comes cafeteria-style, which means that all of the meats are pulled from warming trays rather than being cut fresh to order. I initially ordered their combo plate, slated to come with brisket, pulled pork, and baby back ribs by default, along with potatoes and "meaty beans" as my sides. Except today they didn't have any brisket, and for some reason they wouldn't let me substitute their barbecue chicken for the beef. So after much deliberation, they suggested that I take a two-meat "half and half" plate of pulled pork and ribs and add on the poultry for a $3.99 upcharge. All together, my lunch was almost $20.00, which seemed a bit steep.
The beans were both sweet and spicy, and nicely seasoned to boot. I didn't notice much meat in there, but at least they were tasty. My skin-on potatoes were crispy and loaded up with big hunks of onion. Although I tend to prefer my potatoes in salad form, these were a worthy and comforting side dish. The cornbread, however, was dry and crumbling at every touch.
My local Kroger generally sells chicken quarters for around $1.99 per pound, so for more than double that price I was expecting to be blown away. The skin was crispy and seasoned well, and the dark meat was juicy enough. There wasn't any discernible smokiness, but there was at least a good char from the pit. Something slightly sugary in the rub was also a welcome flavor contrast.
While most of the food at Capitol Smokehouse came from visible warming trays, my pulled pork came from a plastic baggie. It was sort of dry, though astonishingly tender. There was just a touch of smoke, and otherwise it was fairly bland. I didn't find any real bark to speak of, at least not in my portion.
I couldn't see where they pulled my ribs from, but it sure wasn't the pit. Their soggy crust suggested that they too had been "warming" for quite some time. The crust did showcase a surprisingly savory blend of spices, but there was only a hint of smoke, and it faded quickly. At least the meat was cooked well, it just needed to be served a lot fresher.
The ladies running Capitol Smokehouse & Grill were some of the friendliest you're likely to find anywhere, but sadly that only does so much to make up for mediocrity, especially considering the price tag. Even though I really wanted to give this place a higher rating, they don't deserve it.
Capitol Smokehouse & Grill
915 W Capitol Ave
Little Rock, AR 72201
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