Owlbear Barbecue – Denver, CO

Name: Owlbear Barbecue
Date: 8/2/19
Address: 2826 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205
Order: 1¼ lbs brisket, 1 lb ribs, ½ lb pork, ½ lb pork belly, medium coleslaw, small pinto beans, small cucumber salad, 3 bags Frito Lays
Pricing: $$

Monk: Last time our heroes found themselves in Denver looking for barbecue, they were a bit underwhelmed despite the above average rating we gave to Boney’s Smokehouse. Has barbecue in Denver drastically changed for the better in the past six years, or should we expect more of the same? Fortunately, a week before mine and Speedy’s sojourn to Red Rocks for a My Morning Jacket show (alongside friends of the blog Boomsauce and Leor), Daniel Vaughn the BBQ Snob himself was in Denver for a speaking event with James Beard award-winning author Adrian Miller and did the legwork for us in terms of scouting out the current Denver barbecue scene. From the looks of it, Denver had a lot more legit barbecue joints than they used to but the one that stood out to him was Owlbear Barbecue in the RiNo (River North) neighborhood of Denver, whose pitmaster Karl Fallenius previously worked at Franklin Barbecue. With that, our Friday afternoon late lunch before the first night at Red Rocks was planned.

Speedy: Admittedly, one does not think of barbecue when travelling to Denver, but the photos of Owlbear had my mouth watering. Owlbear is in the corner of a small shopping center next to Our Mutual Friend Brewing, and is a small joint with two large offset smokers outside and limited seating – just the kind of no frills joint that I like. Our order was easy – a bit of everything, including brisket, pork belly, ribs and pulled pork.

Monk: I’ll start with the weakest of the meats, which was the pulled pork. I was actually a little higher on this than Speedy as it somewhat reminded me of eastern NC barbecue with red pepper flakes in the pork even though it was pulled instead of a finely chopped. It was plenty smoky and moist, but still, was the weakest of the smoked meats on this day.

Speedy: While the pork was just above average, the brisket was phenomenal. Peppery goodness abound, with lots of bark and tender, juicy meat, it hit the spot. We ordered a mix of the lean and fatty, and both were incredible. This ranks with Lewis Barbecue as the best brisket I’ve ever tasted outside the state of Texas (and frankly, there’s not been a whole lot that’s been that close). I don’t quite put it in my top 4 (Franklin, La Barbecue, Pecan Lodge, Killen’s), but it’s right on the edge. 

Monk: The pork belly was something special. If I’m not mistaken, it had the same peppery rub as the brisket (which includes coffee grounds). Was it perhaps the best smoked pork belly I’ve ever tried? No perhaps about it – it absolutely was. 

Speedy: The ribs were also quite good. The rub was different than the brisket – I could taste paprika and maybe some cumin – which complimented the pork nicely. They were cooked nicely, allowing for a nice, clean bite, and no sauce was necessary. Overall, a fine showing and worth ordering.

Monk: I made a mistake in ordering as many sides as I did, and perhaps in ordering any sides at all; perhaps I should have gone full Texas and gone just with a tray of meat. I did not care for the asian slaw and felt like it didn’t go with the meats, though I do wonder how it would work topping a pulled pork sandwich. The cucumber salad was a basic side which I’m guessing was an easy way to get them something green on the menu with little fuss, but it didn’t particularly strike me as a successful barbecue side. The pinto beans were the best of the group we ordered, but were not essential. Mac and cheese and potato salad were both 86’d by the time we got there, and of those two, I’d be curious how the mac and cheese was. Regardless, just meats may be the way to go.

Speedy: The other thing worth mentioning is that though the meats did not need any sauces, it was provided. I ended up tasting it, but not using it as I didn’t particularly care for it. It tasted like mediocre steak sauce to me, so the meats are better off without it.

That said, I’m not sure I could have been more pleased overall. Owlbear Barbecue is proof that great ‘cue can be found anywhere – even in Denver. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Pork Belly – 5 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Monk’s 5 Favorite Barbecue Meals of the first half of 2019

Monk: It’s been a pretty darn good year in terms of new-to-me barbecue joints. Here’s my five favorite in no particular order…

Brisket, pork belly, ribs, and pulled pork from Owlbear Barbecue (review coming soon)

More to come soon on this recent visit by Speedy and me, but Owlbear Barbecue in Denver had perhaps the best brisket I’ve had outside of Texas (yes, that includes Lewis Barbecue). The pork belly was not far behind.

Lexington-style barbecue and brisket from Noble Smoke (preview)

Finally, Charlotte has some legitimate Lexington-style barbecue in the form of Noble Smoke from Chef Jim Noble. Noble is a lifelong fan of Lexington Barbecue (the restaurant) and has even styled his brick pits after the famed Lexington Barbecue smokestacks (with the Monk family’s permission, of course). This barbecue restaurant is decades in the making, and Jim Noble is certainly doing it right.

Pork, ribs, and brisket from Apple City BBQ (review)

While Apple City BBQ had been on my list, my stop there was completely unplanned. But afterwards, I felt fortunate that my route to the foothills took me right by the joint as all three meats I tried that day were ridiculously good. As I stated in my review, Apple City BBQ is a must-stop for any serious North Carolina barbecue fan.

Whole hog barbecue sandwich and hash and rice from Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que (review)

Sweatman’s Bar-b-que made me a believer in South Carolina whole hog that happens to be drenched with that mustard stuff. It’s legitimately that good. The hash and rice is otherworldly, too.

Chopped sandwich with hush puppies and Cheerwine from Mr. Barbecue (review)

Let’s hope that Mr. Barbecue can rebuild quickly from its smokehouse fire back in the spring, because its an unheralded barbecue joint in Winston-Salem that deserves more attention. Legit Lexington-style barbecue from a classic NC joint in one of the larger cities in the state.

Pig Beach – Brooklyn, NY

Name: Pig Beach
Date: 7/21/19
Address: 480 Union St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
Order: Sampler platter with ¼ rack of ribs, ¼ lb of pork shoulder, brisket, and turkey each; 2 links of Yankee red hot sausages (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: To say I’ve had a mixed history with Brooklyn barbecue would be an understatement. On one hand there was my introduction to Brooklyn barbecue at the now-closed The Smoke Joint in Fort Greene, which may be the single worst barbecue restaurant I’ve ever been to. Then, there’s the ridiculously good, 4.5 hog Hometown Bar-B-Que in Red Hook, expertly run by Billy Durney. If those are the two ends of the spectrum, just where would Pig Beach in Gowanus fall?

Despite the fact that the weekend that Mrs. Monk, the eldest Monkette, and I were in New York was during a heatwave, we opted to go to the beer garden locale of Pig Beach because in addition to having a decent reputation for barbecue it looked like a cool spot and surely there would be some shade right? The restaurant is located just off the Gowanus Canal, but thankfully we didn’t have any issues with any smells from the canal wafting into the beer garden area. In the back corner of the property behind an outdoor bar was a smokehouse comprised of a number of Ole Hickorys, which are gas-assisted wood smokers.

What we got from those Ole Hickory pits was a bit of a mixed bag. The two best meats on this day by a good margin were the brisket, which had a nice peppery bark and was well-smoked, and the “Yankee Red Hot Sausage” which is stuffed with the unique combination of provolone and hot cherry peppers. I’m no sausage expert but I definitely had not seen provolone in a sausage before. Unorthodox or not, it worked for me.

A notch below was the smoked turkey, a meat I don’t usually order at barbecue restaurants. I probably won’t start ordering it on the regular but if other restaurant’s turkey is smokey and moist along the same lines of Pig Beach, then that’s a decent option. 

The pork was bland and forgettable and the rIbs may have been holdovers from the previous day based on how chewy I found them. Both were very forgettable on this day.

For sides we picked coleslaw, mac and cheese (dusted with goldfish crumbs nonetheless), and cucumber salad. All were well executed and above average.

Pig Beach has a great setting that would have been even more pleasant had it not been in the middle of a heat wave in late July. They’ve also got no shortage of drink options from local beers to cocktails, so you can definitely stick around for awhile after you finish your meal. On the Brooklyn Barbecue Spectrum (trademark pending), they are definitely more Hometown than Smoke Joint for sure. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Brisket – 3.5 hogs
Ribs – 1.5 hogs
Sausage – 3.5 hogs
Turkey – 3 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

Pig Beach Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Noble Smoke (Finally) Opens Its Doors

Monk: Personally, I have been following the Jim Noble barbecue restaurant quest for just short of four years. The first article I ever linked that mentioned Jim getting into the barbecue business was from an August 2015 linkdown and I’ve been tracking them on the Charlotte Big Board ever since. Though of course, as has been well established, Jim’s been looking to open a barbecue restaurant for over two decades but wasn’t going to open one without the right location, which Speedy and I got a behind the scenes look at last month. Well, after a visit during their soft opening, I’m happy to report that Noble Smoke is finally here and its spectacular.

While the official grand opening of Noble Smoke is July 25, they officially opened for business for a nearly 2-week period of soft openings (dubbed “The Little Smoke”) on Friday, July 12 meaning the restaurant opens at 4, food is served at 5, and they close once they sell out of meat. On the first Friday, the reduced menu comprised of pork and brisket (served either in sandwich form or by the ¼, ½, or 1 lb) as well as a several slides and a “hand pie” dessert.

And of course, with their on-site partnership with Suffolk Punch Brewing (who hasn’t opened this second location yet), they have plenty of beer on tap in addition to wine and cocktails. They even have a beer called “Noble Toast” which is a Vienna lager and was brewed in honor of their partnership with Noble Smoke. Once the brewery opens, it will surely cement its status as a destination barbecue restaurant.

I stopped in for a quick snack at the bar and am happy to report that they have hit the ground running at Noble Smoke. I ordered a ¼ each of pork and brisket as well as their Lexington-style red slaw. The pork is of course smoked in their custom brick pits fashioned with permission after the famous pits at Lexington Barbecue (Jim’s favorite barbecue joint along with Skylight Inn). I don’t believe they are serving it with the Lexington-style dip chopped in, instead allowing diners to add their choice of sauce. Adding a few dashes of the “Lex” sauce and mixing in the red slaw created the familiar taste of Lexington-style chopped barbecue. Next time I’ll try it on a sandwich. Also available is a sweeter “19” sauce and a mixture of the two, dubbed “Smoke.”

The brisket was what I was probably most interested in, having previously tried the pork at Suffolk Punch Brewing’s first location (then known as Hyde Brewing) for St. Patrick’s Day last year. As Speedy and I were shown a few weeks ago, Noble has 6 custom-built offset smokers that handle the brisket (and I’m guessing the rest of the forthcoming smoked meat items which I’m presuming will including chicken, sausage, pork ribs, and beef ribs). And what they put out is some seriously legit brisket. I was served both the flat and the point. The flat (or lean) had a great peppery bark and was not dry at all. The fatty cut from the point had well-rendered fat which melted in my mouth. Jim Noble’s focus has always been Lexington-style pork but (perhaps unsurprisingly) the man can make a mean brisket.

As I mentioned above, Noble Smoke has hit the ground running. The huge restaurant filled up quickly and had a line out the door by the time I left but I observed no major servicing hiccups. There was a little confusion at the bar as to when we were able to order but once ordered, the food came out promptly. Hospitality was great and all of the servers at the bar were friendly.

Once the soft opening period finishes later this month and the menu expands, I expect that Noble Smoke will be in serious contention for best barbecue restaurant in Charlotte. It’s that good.

Linkdown: 7/3/19

Very helpful when it comes to Lexington-style barbecue

A recap of Sam Jones’s book tour stop in Nashville last week at the downtown location of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint

Home brisket smoking tips from pitmasters from Hill Country and Randall’s Barbecue

Sorry but you already missed the second annual Great North Carolina Vegan Barbecue Cookoff ; it took place in Asheville last Sunday

First time in Kansas City and looking for barbecue? Well this guide from The Takeout is for you

A rundown of Detroit’s barbecue joints from 2017

Yet another list of “must-stop” barbecue joints from the noted barbecue experts at BobVila.com

A profile on pitmaster Matt Horn in the San Francisco Chronicle

Apple City BBQ – Taylorsville, NC

Name: Apple City BBQ
Date: 6/24/19
Address: 3490 NC Hwy 16 South, Taylorsville, NC 28681
Order: 3-meat combo with pork, ribs, and brisket; corn nuggets and red slaw (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: Sometimes the barbecue joint on a road trip finds you. On a trip with my daughter to a YMCA camp in the foothills of North Carolina, I was aware that one of many potential routes could take me near Apple City BBQ. But after being re-routed a few times due to Charlotte Friday rush hour traffic, I had no idea that it was actually on the route I was on until I literally drove right by it just south of the town of Taylorsville. After a quick check with the other passengers in my car, we turned around and by the grace of the barbecue gods, I was going to have barbecue for dinner that night.

Apple City occupies a small brick building right on NC-16 and on a Friday night, it was packed with locals. We happened to get lucky with a booth immediately available but by the end of our dinner the line had grown out the door.

I’ve been keeping up with Apple City via Instagram through recommendation from Garren of Jon G’s Barbecue. As it turns out, they previously had a non-barbecue working connection way back when and but now occasionally work with each other now in a barbecue-related capacity. Everything on Instagram looked promising but as any experienced barbecue traveller will vouch, looks can be deceiving. However, I had no idea just what I was in for.

Seeing as how I wasn’t sure when the next time I’d be passing through Taylorsville, I went ahead and ordered the three meat combo of pork, ribs, and brisket. I would normally start with the pork at a NC barbecue restaurant, but this time I’ll start with the ribs which were my favorite of the three meats. I don’t tend to favor ribs but these dry ribs had a nice salty-sweet rub and were perfectly tender. The three meat combo comes with a quarter rack and I would have gladly taken at least another half rack.

The pork (and all meats, for that matter) is smoked over a mixture of hickory and apple woods, and the smoke certainly shone through in each meat. The tender, smokey pork more than stood up on its own but a few dollops of the red slaw enhanced the meat as it should.

The slice of brisket on first glance appeared a little dry but in reality it was simply just an above average slice of lean with plenty of flavor in the peppery bark. With a three meat platter you are of course going to get smaller portions of each, but as was the case with the ribs I would have gladly at least a few more slices of brisket. 

In addition to the red slaw, my other side was corn nuggets, a dish I had neither had the pleasure of trying nor heard of before. Turns out, they are deep fried morsels of creamed corn and they are redonkulous. I knew these wouldn’t last the trip so I tried to each as much of it as I could stand. 

Apple City BBQ is a family-owned barbecue joint that is open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. They’ve been open since 2016 and are located on NC-16 south of Taylorsville and 17 miles northeast of Hickory. I wouldn’t consider that location to be the most convenient for most NC travelers as its not too close to any major highways. Regardless, all serious barbecue enthusiasts should make it a point to stop by for some great barbecue.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4.5 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Linkdown: 6/19/19

Do you have what it takes to be Reynolds Wrap’s Chief Grilling Officer and taste ribs across america?

Another Carolina-style barbecue joint is closing, but this one’s in San Francisco

Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro is officially for sale after unexpectedly closing earlier this year due to back taxes owed

Do you order lean or fatty brisket? A primer from Robert Moss for those who aren’t familiar with Texas barbecue

The Raleigh News & Observer gets around to reviewing the two NC barbecue books released last month from Sam Jones and Matthew Register of Southern Smoke

You can still use this barbecue sauce and beer pairing guide even though Father’s Day has passed

Over 30 Bloomberg journalists tasted a variety of barbecue sauces and gave their impressions

Interesting story on the latest move towards openness in barbecue

Sweet Old Bill’s ups the ante on High Point barbecue scene

Sweet Lew’s BBQ gets a mention in the Washington Post’s locals guide to Charlotte

Friday Find: Aaron Franklin on The TASTE Podcast

For the first half of this podcast, Aaron Franklin sits down for a cordial interview about steak and his recent cookbook Franklin Steak. While the conversation is not specifically about barbecue, brisket does get weaved into it several times during the discussion by Franklin. Check it out to hear his thoughtful discussion on live fire cooking as well as a tip on how long in advance to salt a steak.

Linkdown: 6/5/19

Congrats to the 2019 Barbecue Hall of Fame inductees, including Lexington Barbecue’s Wayne Monk

Meet the men and women behind several of Birmingham’s barbecue restaurants

Speaking of Birmingham and Big Daddy, his daughter says he would be “overjoyed”

Southern BBQ Belt Roadtrip, per Robert Moss:

Paying it forward at Skylight Inn: please read this somewhat long, somewhat meandering but ultimately worthwhile story about barbecue and tradition and generosity

John Lewis is definitely as good a person as any to give you brisket tips

Sam Jones’ local paper writes up his latest book, Whole Hog BBQ

<Homer Simpson voice> Doh!

Central BBQ – Memphis, TN (Downtown)

Name: Central BBQ
Date: 5/16/19
Address: 147 E Butler Ave, Memphis, TN 38103
Order: Rib combo with brisket, pork, collards, chips (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: I should have listened to Speedy…

Speedy: …a lesson you can never learn often enough…

Monk: Actually, to be more precise, I should have consulted Speedy’s review of the original Central BBQ location to help figure out my order and that specifically I shouldn’t have ordered the brisket. To not bury the lede, I found the rest of the meal a bit underwhelming as well. But I’m getting ahead of myself….

This year for the Memphis in May Barbecue Championship (aka Barbecue Fest), I wanted to actually go to a Memphis barbecue restaurant (or two) outside of the festival. So first things first, as soon as we (our current neighbors and former Memphis residents, Mrs. Monk, and I) landed we headed to Central BBQ’s downtown location for a late lunch before checking into our our AirBnB. And by downtown, this Central BBQ is directly across the street from the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and where the National Civil Rights Museum is currently located.

We waited in a brief line to place an order and then proceeded to the open air patio. It was already a hot day in Memphis, but the indoor dining room was still pretty packed for lunch. Usually a good sign.

I’ll start with the ribs, the meat that Speedy gave 5 hogs in his review and called “without hesitation that these were the best ribs [he’s]  ever had…These are ribs that I’m going to dream about.” So, clearly the highest of praise from a man who knows his way around a rib. I…did not find them to be anywhere near that good. They were the best of the 3 meats I tried, but definitely not among the best ribs I’ve ever had. Not even close, really. I went for the dry rub ribs and while they were tender enough, I found them to be a bit bland, taste-wise.

The pulled pork was a bit dry and a slight notch below the just average ribs. It absolutely needed sauce and I wondered if it could have been from the previous day.

Now, the brisket. Or rather, the thinly sliced, dry roast beef-like meat served instead of brisket. Had I read Speedy’s review, surely I would have heeded his advice: “It was dry and lacked flavor, so just don’t order it, k?” So reader, don’t be like Monk and order the brisket. Listen to your friend Speedy, he’s a cool dude.

The collards were disappointing to Mrs. Monk (the collards aficionado), and I couldn’t agree more. The chips were recommended by our neighbors but I wished we had gone with a more classic barbecue side than a standard house made crunchy chip.

Speedy: In talking to Monk about his experience, I was disappointed to hear it. I myself am still a frequent visitor to Central BBQ, usually focusing on the ribs and wings. I don’t think I’ve had an experience as bad as Monk describes, but I have noticed some variability among visits. I also have concerns that the expansion of the restaurant (now open in four locations, with another opening in Nashville this year) has allowed quality to suffer. That said, its the most common barbecue joint I visit in Memphis (partly due to location, but also because I’ve had good experiences more often than not).

Monk: I was quite disappointed with Central BBQ and unfortunately, this would be the only Memphis joint I got to this weekend. I know Memphis has great barbecue joints and someday I’ll get to more of them (looking at you, Payne’s!).

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Ribs – 3 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Brisket – 1 hog
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs

Central BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato