Monk: Eater’s Smoke Point series takes a look at the “cheffed-up” barbecue at Austin’s Interstellar BBQ, including the pastrami beef rib.
Description: At Austin’s Interstellar BBQ, pitmaster John Bates and his right-hand man, Warren McDonald, a.k.a “War Dog,” put a spin on classic Texas fare. Using all of the kitchen skills and attention to detail he learned as a chef in high end restaurants, Bates plays up traditional ribs by rubbing them with a mole seasoning, serving them with a riff on mole sauce and cotija cheese, and makes other distinct offerings like pastrami beef ribs and jalapeño popper-stuffed sausages.
Name: Midwood Smokehouse Address: 540 Brandywine Rd, Charlotte, NC 28209 Order: Beef rib with collards and creamed corn, basket of hush puppies (link to menu) Pricing: $$
Monk: Somehow, it has been almost five years. That is, five years since we officially reviewed any location of Midwood Smokehouse, the standard bearer for Charlotte barbecue restaurants since we started the blog in 2012 and a regular go-to for the Barbecue Bros. In that time, they’ve opened two more stores: one in Huntersville north of Charlotte and the other in the back lot of the Park Road Shopping Center, which I’ve eaten at many times since opened in spring 2017 but somehow never thought (or remembered) to review. Regardless, I figured it was time to reassess Midwood Smokehouse in the current climate of Charlotte Barbecue.
If you are new to this blog or to Charlotte barbecue, you may not realize that there was a time not too long ago (way back in early 2011) where wood fired barbecue joints were nearly extinct in a town not really known for great barbecue to begin with. Then, Frank Scibelli along with Executive Chef and Pitmaster Matthew Berry opened their original Plaza Midwood location off of Central Avenue with its Oyler smoker imported from J&R Manufacturing out of Texas. I have always tried not to ding them too much for their overly Texas influence (though they do have eastern NC chopped pork and hush puppies on their menu), because the fact stands that they changed Charlotte barbecue for the better in May 2011 by reintroducing wood-smoked barbecue.
On my last visit, I went for it with the beef rib, a weekend special I had been wanting to try for a couple of years now. While it was a tad on the fatty side, it had great flavor and I liked the aggressive, peppery bark. It did come with a somewhat hefty $32 price tag, though I guess I can’t complain too much because Midwood doesn’t charge by the pound like most Texas joints. Had that been the case, this 1+ lb. rib surely would have resulted in a price tag closer to the $50 mark.
We got a basket of hush puppies for the table and they were a hit with the in-laws and the family. I’ve always been a fan of Midwood’s sides and their creamed corn and collards were solid as ever on this visit. The standard offering of pickles and onions (again, very much Texas-influced) were a nice touch to counteract the fattiness of the beef rib.
While a few places have opened in recent years that I might like just a little better (i.e. Noble Smoke and Sweet Lew’s BBQ), there’s something comforting knowing you can go to any Midwood Smokehouse location (four in the Charlotte area and one in Columbia) on any day of the week and get a consistently legit meal of wood-smoked barbecue. For that, they should be celebrated and not taken for granted.
Name: Little Miss BBQ Date: 3/7/20 Address: 4301 E University Dr Phoenix, AZ 85034 Order: 1 beef rib, 3/4lb brisket, 1/4 lb pork, ¼ pound turkey (link to menu) Pricing: $$$
Speedy: A weekend trip to Phoenix had me searching out the city’s best barbecue spot to find. We ended up choosing Little Miss BBQ largely thanks to a spring training guide by sportswriter Keith Law, claiming that it was the best brisket he’s had outside of Austin – high praise indeed.
Speedy: My friend James and I arrived at Little Miss BBQ around 10:30 AM, ahead of their 11 AM opening. We were around 60th in line (a good sign). The building itself wasn’t much to look at, but there was a decent amount of outdoor seating and there were a lot of people milling around, though no line, per se. We quickly learned that upon arriving, you’re handed a ticket to hold your place in line, and they start lining people up in order around 10:45. There’s plenty of water available, but unfortunately, no beer. Still, it was a very organized affair. While waiting in line, just looking at the impressive Camelback offset smokers got me hungry, and I knew these guys meant business.
Workers come through the line explaining how the process works (essentially a Texas joint where meat is sliced in front of you), and expecting it to take 90 seconds per person in line (bummer). They also handed out samples of their house made pork/beef/jalapeno sausage, a nice touch. The sausage had really good flavor, and the jalapeno flavor was evident, but with the volume of meat we were about to consume, we decided against ordering a link. The 90 seconds per person ended up being about right, so it was around 12:30 before we made it to the front of the line.
After ordering enough meat to feed a small army, we were ready to dig in. The first thing I tried was the brisket, which was impressive indeed. We chose fatty brisket, and it was really nice and moist. My only complaint is it could have used a little more pepper to create more of a bark, but this was still a top ten brisket of my life. A step below Franklin, Pecan Lodge, La Barbecue, and Killen’s, but impressive none-the-less.
Monk: Wow, top 10 brisket for you, Speedy, is impressive, as you are definitely our Senior Brisket Correspondent at this point.
Speedy: I am often a tough critic on pulled pork, but these guys did a nice job on that as well. It was definitely more similar to the pulled pork I’ve had in Texas, as the butt was wrapped during the cook to retain more of the natural juices. This certainly helps keeping it from drying out, and enhances the flavor, but also gives the pork a greasier feel, making it difficult to eat in large quantities.
Historically, I’ve been mostly anti-poultry at ‘cue joints, but some recent excellent smoked turkey has changed that, and Little Miss BBQ is only going to add to that. The turkey was cooked perfectly, moist with great flavor. It passed the pull test easily and was seasoned well, and definitely worth ordering.
Monk: I’m also coming around more and more on smoked turkey at barbecue joints and think its worth considering more often in my barbecue travels.
Speedy: Saving the best for last was the beef rib. Goodness gracious. The flavor of the meat itself was outstanding, and the quality of the cut was apparent. It was perfectly seasoned to create the peppery bark that I have learned to love. This, to me, was a must get item at Little Miss BBQ. Make sure you’re there for a weekend, as the beef rib is only available Friday and Saturday. At $22 per pound (ours came in at 1.1 pounds), the price was more reasonable than I’d seen elsewhere as well.
Overall, this was the only ‘cue joint I tried in Phoenix, but you’d be hard pressed to find any place anywhere that tops it. This was also the second longest I’d ever waited in line for barbecue (behind Franklin’s) and I do think it was worth the wait. I think the line could have moved faster if the slicers had been a little more efficient. Don’t get me wrong – they were good and knew what they were doing, but took some time to talk to customers, which, though a nice touch, adds 15-30 seconds per person. So if you’re going to visit Little Miss BBQ, and you should, it’s worth getting there a bit early.
Monk: Christopher Prieto and Prime BBQ will be joining a Raleigh barbecue scene very different from when they announced their intentions to open a restaurant 4 years ago. In 2020 alone, the scene will be joined by heavy hitters like Sam Jones of Sam Jones BBQ, Ed Mitchell of The Preserve, Wyatt Dickson of Wyatt’s Barbecue, and Jake Wood of Lawrence Barbecue (plus several more). The difference with Prime BBQ is that it won’t actually be in the city limits of Raleigh. Instead, it will be 13 miles to the east in the suddenly booming town of Knightdale.
Knightdale Station Park is a new planned community that has a 76 acre park, 2 miles of paved trails, a splash pad, a farmer’s market, soccer fields, an amphitheater, a veteran’s memorial, and probably even more amenities built just in the past week. And it just so happens to be on the doorstep of Prime BBQ, though that was not the case when Christopher Prieto and team broke ground nearly 2 years ago.
On a sunny but chilly Saturday in February, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a hardhat tour hosted by owner and firemaker Christopher Prieto as well as a lunch catered by the Prime BBQ team.
During the hour-plus long tour of the still unfinished restaurant, Prieto wove into the tour his story of how he was called to barbecue after visiting a meat market with a barbecue stand out back at a very young age while living in College Station, TX and getting that first taste of Texas barbecue. His path eventually led to competing (and winning) on the KCBS barbecue competition circuit as a teenager before getting into the restaurant industry in his 20’s (though in a different cuisine). As he tells it, his life was turned around when he began hosting cooking classes with the Wounded Warrior Project for veterans. This led him down the path of honoring veterans that will continue in a few different ways with Prime BBQ.
The tour started on the patio before being led to the main dining area where Christopher explained the flow of customers that he and his designer designed from years of barbecue research. The space itself is full of beautiful touches, and if you make it to Prime BBQ be sure to look up at the custom wood ceiling and chandeliers reminiscent of a church or cathedral.
Prime BBQ is large at over 8,000 square feet but it also has one of the largest kitchens and dry storage rooms you will ever see in a restaurant. From there, we got to the main attraction – for me, at least – in the smoke room that houses three J&R Manufacturing Oyler smokers (with room to add more if needed) and will have two BQ whole hog smokers. Prieto will be smoking using a “cocktail” of wood (as he puts it) that will include local oak (not imported post oak), pecan, cherry, sugar, or maple depending on the protein.
Also forthcoming in the pit room will be a “chef’s table” of sorts for private tastings exclusively for veterans. A very cool idea that continues his practice of honoring veterans.
After the tour wound down, it was lunch time. Fittingly, Prieto and team served us the Texas trinity as well as a beef chuck rib and three of their sides – Big Boss beans, smoked sweet potato salad, and a slaw made with vinegar and honey mustard.
The brisket served honored the central Texas version of the meat, and was made with Creekside Farms beef from Missouri. Prime BBQ will be smoking in Oylers from J&R Manufacturing out of Mesquite, Texas and Prieto is very familiar with them, having owned one of their first manufactured smokers with a serial number in the single digits. As you would expect from a joint owned by the Texas-raised Prieto, the brisket will be a big focus at Prime.
Prime BBQ will be making their sausage in-house with a specific blend of pork and beef and spices that Prieto has honed over the years. For me, the sausage was a little on the dry side that day but I have no doubts that they will get it right once the restaurant is up and running.
The star of the show for me was the pork spare rib, which was perfectly smoked with a simple rub and finished with a glaze of a sweet barbecue sauce.
They had a limited number of chuck beef ribs and having already been stuffed, I grabbed one on the smaller side and shared with my neighbor. I’ve not had a chuck rib before but it had the powerful, peppery bark of the larger plate ribs I’ve tried and tasted great.
The sides were variations on traditional barbecue sides. Prieto said he hates potato salad, so his version smokes sweet potatoes and adds tons of bacon and pimento cheese. Works for me. The slaw is made with vinegar and honey mustard instead of mayo, yellow mustard, or ketchup. It wasn’t overly sweet, but I found myself wishing it was more traditional. The big boss beans were not made with beer from Big Boss Brewing (as I suspected based on the name) but were an above average barbecue side.
Even though he is lactose intolerant, Christopher Prieto has a Blue Bell Ice Cream tattoo on his calf. He loves it that much. This being my first time trying any Blue Bell, I gotta say I see where he is coming from. The capper to the meal was a small tub of vanilla Blue Bell with some peach cobbler. It only served to remind me that I don’t eat deserts at barbecue restaurants enough.
The one thing that we didn’t get to try that day that intrigued me the most was the whole hog lechon that Prime BBQ will serve. Rather than directly competing with the eastern NC whole hog pitmasters that will be coming to Raleigh, Prieto will honor his Puerto Rican heritage with a different spin on whole hog. I can’t wait to eventually try it.
Also of note is that Prime BBQ will be a BYOB establishment (like famed Texas establishments such as Louie Mueller Barbecue) which runs contrary to the trend of full service barbecue restaurants.
Christopher Prieto and the rest of the Prime BBQ team are building something special in Knightdale. Their opening date is currently slated for April 18, and in the crowded Raleigh barbecue scene of 2020 I predict that they will do quite well.