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)

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.

Linkdown: 5/22/19

Charlotte Magazine has released their barbecue issue. Several of the stories are below but consider buying a physical copy at one of their newstand locations

Oh Lordy:

The Improper Pig is relocating from its orignal Cotswold location to south Charlotte

A brief history of barbecue, according to Chowhound

A guide to Carolina barbecue sauces, also according to Chowhound

Barbecue and mountain biking: when you want some ‘cue after hitting the trails

LOL from Kathleen Purvis:

Midwood Smokehouse’s Barbecue Month special while it’s available:

Review: The Sqweelin’ Pig – Black Mountain, NC

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Name
: The Sqweelin’ Pig
Date: 11/3/18
Address: 3206 US Hwy 70 W, Black Mountain, North Carolina 28711
Order: Three meat combo dinner with pork, ribs, brisket, hush puppies, green beans, mac and cheese
Price: ~$21

Monk: As I’ve encountered in travels in the mountains of Western NC, barbecue is very hit or miss once you go west of, say, Hickory or Shelby. For every Buxton Hall or even Luella’s, there are those places that may smoke over wood but aren’t all that good or those that don’t even bother with wood. It’s all a game of barbecue roulette, essentially.

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The Sqweelin’ Pig started as a food truck that smoked solely over wood when now pitmaster Buddy Clemons lost his construction job in 2012 and decided to make a late career change to barbecue. It seems as though its working out pretty well for him and his wife (who then quit her own job to help him) as this Black Mountain location that opened earlier this year is the third location after Weaversville and Barnardsville northwest of Black Mountain. Here, a trailer is positioned just outside of the main restaurant with the woodpile stacked against the building.

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The wood smoke did come through once the three meat combo platter of pork, ribs, and brisket was delivered to the table. For the most part, the wood smoke alone didn’t make for great barbecue. The pork and ribs were passable (the pork being a bit better when adding one of their sauces, including an interesting blackberry vinegar sauce) but the brisket was what you expect at most places in the mountains of NC – thin, dried out, and with a consistency more like roast beef than Texas brisket. I’d be curious if they are reheating yesterday’s brisket.

The sides are scratch made but weren’t particularly noteworthy. I will note that all beer bottles, including several local beers, were all $2.50. My wife and I each opted for beers from High Wire out of Asheville while my father-in-law went for Coors Light. Again, each of those beers were $2.50 so not bad at all.

Unfortunately, The Sqweelin’ Pig fell into the “smoke over wood but aren’t all that good” category of western NC mountain barbecue places. I’d recommend sticking with the pork if you make it, but I’d also mention that Buxton Hall is only about 30 minutes west of Black Mountain…

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

 

Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster Barbeque – Alexandria, VA

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Name
: Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster Barbeque
Date: 3/31/18
Address: 220 N Lee St., Alexandria, VA 22314
Order: Speedy: 3 meat plate (brisket, pork, sausage, fried, collards); the Bro: 2 meat plate (pork, pork belly, collards, baked beans) (link to menu)
Price: $24 (3 meat) / $19 (2 meat)

Speedy: Recently, I was in DC visiting my (literal) Bro, and while his wife and kids were out running errands we snuck away for a meal. As the Bro and S-I-L are changing their diet to eat less meat, naturally, I suggested to the Bro that we find a local ‘cue joint. A quick Google search pulled up a name I recognized – Myron Mixon. Well, after great experiences at Aaron Franklin’s and Tuffy Stone’s joints, it was time to round out the BBQ Pitmasters trifecta and check it out.

Monk: Congratulations, Speedy! Turn in your punch card on your next visit and the next meal’s on us. But for real, I’m curious to see how his place actually stacks up.

Speedy: Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster Barbeque is a little different than the other two, as it’s a sit down joint with a wait staff, but it still had a nice, rustic feel and a great (but expensive – this is DC) beer list. The Bro and I were seated immediately and wasted no time ordering – pulled pork and pork belly for him, and pulled pork, brisket, and sausage links for me.

The food arrived fairly quickly, and the portions were quite large. Frankly, we could have split a three meat place between the two of us, but that’s not the Barbecue Bro way. The meats all looked great, and I could tell I was in for a treat.

Monk: Not the Barbecue Bro way…unless one of those bros happens to include Monk and his tiny stomach.

Speedy: I first dug in to the brisket. Not living in Texas, I am used to very mediocre brisket and nothing I’ve had outside of Texas has even come close to what I’ve had in the state. However, this was pretty good. I definitely got the fatty part of the brisket, and could have used a little more bark, but it was not overdone and had good flavor. A solid effort.

While I was trying the brisket, the Bro dug into his pork belly. Upon the first bite, his eyes rolled back into his head and it was clearly an out-of-body experience. I think he could’ve died right there and been OK. Naturally I reached my fork across the table to see what the fuss was about, and oh my – that pork belly was really, really good. Perfectly smoky with a little crispiness, it’s salty flavor was perfect. Definitely the highlight of the meal.

The sausage was my second favorite meat. It had great smoke and snap, and just a really solid flavor. I did use a little of the provided mustard sauce fo the sausage, and it was a great compliment. This is another meat I would order again.

Monk: Any idea if its made in house or imported from somewhere in Texas?

Speedy: I don’t know, Monk, and I didn’t ask. My (hot) gut would say it was imported, only because the casing was so perfect.

Monk: I see what you did there…

Speedy: The pulled pork was also solid. It had good bark and was nice and tender. I did feel the need to add a little vinegar sauce to it, but it was still enjoyable.

The sides were above average – particularly the collards, but with so much meat, I honestly didn’t eat too many of them there.

Overall, this was a very solid barbecue meal. The Bro says it’s the best ‘cue he’s had in the DC area (though I don’t think that’s a high bar), and I was not disappointed at all. In terms of the BBQ Pitmasters trifecta – I think Aaron Franklin’s and Tuffy Stone’s places are a little better, but you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 3.5 hogs
Pork Belly – 4.5 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Pulled Pork – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs
Myron Mixon's Pitmaster Barbecue  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Linkdown: 12/6/17

– A review of Sam Jones BBQ from The Daily Reflector

– J.C. Reid’s latest barbecue article reflects on pork belly

– A Minnesota Chef thinks he’s figured out the secret to perfect barbecue…and it’s resting?!?!

The restaurant pays special attention to one crucial aspect of preparing barbeque—the resting process—which he also thinks is the secret to making truly epic barbecue.

To achieve that level of pure deliciousness,  “We use a customized cabinet that specifies the humidity and holding temperature,” the chef says. “It’s insane.”

– Apparently Sarasota’s got a “smokin’ hot” barbecue scene

– Saucy:

Rodney Scott on passing of pitmaster Douglas Oliver: It’s like a legend left us

– Texas politics don’t mess around when it comes to barbecue

 
– Great use of video in this tweet right here:

Seoul Food Meat Co – Charlotte, NC

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Name
: Seoul Food Meat Co
Date: 2/10/17
Address: 1400 S Church St, Charlotte, NC 28203
Order: Small pulled pork, small Crispy Pork Belly, small Bulgogi Sausage, ramen mac ’n cheese, soy pickled deviled eggs (link to menu)
Price: $41.75 (for two)

Monk: When Seoul Food Meat Co opened about a year ago in Charlotte’s booming South End neighborhood, my hopes were that it would be Charlotte’s version of the fantastic Heirloom Market BBQ in Atlanta. That may be an easy comparison to make since both are doing a fusion of Korean flavors with southern barbecue, but after finally checking out Seoul Food Meat Co I’d say that Heirloom has the edge in smoked meats while Seoul Food has the edge in the fusion of Korean flavors in its side dishes.

Seoul Food Meat Co is one of many recent additions to the South End bar, brewery, and restaurant scene and has a nice patio with garage doors that open up on warmer days. Based on the plans we’ve seen of its expansion, it’s only going to get better with dedicated karaoke rooms as well as an outdoor bar and  “adult playground” out back. Despite the warm winter, this particular Friday was on the colder side so we had no such luck to experience the patio.

The generous portion of pulled pork comes pre-sauced with a thick tangy Korean barbecue sauce. By itself, the pork is not the smokiest and perhaps lacks a little flavor while being on the dry side. I will say, it’s better with the sauce.

The crispy pork belly is exactly like its name implies. I didn’t detect a lot of smoke on them, so I believe this was more of a fried item – particularly with the crispy skin which I found myself continuing to nosh on long after I decided I was finished with my meal. 

The bulgogi sausage was perhaps a little on the dry side (as can be the case with sausage) but was pretty flavorful nonetheless and my favorite meat of the meal. Mrs. Monk preferred to dip it in the sauce and that was my preference as well. Next time I’d be interested to try their spicier smoked kimchi sausage.

The Korean influence was particularly evident in the sides at Seoul Food. I quite liked the ramen mac n’ cheese with its small pieces of cracklin’ on top to give it a nice texture. The soy pickled deviled eggs threw off the wife at first with its brown coloring of the egg itself, but in the end had a fairly classic taste just with that slight Asian spin. Looking at the menu, there are a handful more Korean-Southern sides that I hope to get around to trying eventually – sriracha cracklins, kimchi vinegar slaw, and choiang broccoli.

So its not quite Heirloom Market but all in all, the southern-dishes-with-a-Korean-spin were mostly successful. While a little on the pricey side, the portions do seem to be quite generous – we could have ordered one less meat (say the pork belly at $13) and have been more than full. I look forward to checking out Seoul Food Meat Co again during the warmer months and checking out more of their meats (particularly that beef rib) and sides.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 4 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Pork Belly – 3 hogs
Sausage – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs
Seoul Food Meat Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Seoul Food Meat Co

Swig & Swine – Charleston, SC

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Name: Swig & Swine
Date: 4/19/14
Address: 1217 Savannah Hwy, Charleston, SC 29407
Order: 3 meat combo (pulled pork, homemade sausage, smoked pork belly), vinegar slaw, hash & rice, smoked wings appetizer (link to menu)
Price: $20 for the combo, $12 for a dozen wings

Speedy: On the second day of my college friend bro weekend, I had to lay the smack down. “Dudes,” I said, “I’m a Barbecue Bro. My readers expect – nay! – my readers deserve a second review from my time in Charleston. So what if we had ‘cue yesterday? We’re running it back!” And so we found ourselves at Swig & Swine, which I had driven by a couple of times on Savannah Highway.

Monk: I applaud your dedication to the cause, comrade Speedski!

Speedy: From an atmosphere perspective, this restaurant has everything you want from a new school ‘cue joint – a nice rustic feel, a great bar, and large beer selection. We took a seat in the bar section and our waitress quickly approached. We immediately ordered some smoked wings for appies. I added on to that by ordering the three meat combo (because I was having a hard time making decisions).

Monk:This wouldn’t have anything to do with your previous night’s activities impairing your thinking ability would it?

Speedy: I would prefer to not answer that question, Monk. Anywho, due to the events at Home Team BBQ, I have extended my brisket ban to South Carolina (with one notable exception), so I ordered the pulled pork, homemade sausage, and tacked on the pork belly, which I was excited to see. Traditional NC side vinegar slaw and traditional SC side hash and rice rounded out my order.

Monk: Ohhh, hash and rice. Really curious how you found this? I thought it was a bit weird myself.

Speedy: Patience, young grasshopper…

The wings came out first and they were divine. Smoked perfectly and tossed in a red ‘cue sauce, these wings were meaty, tender, and full of smoke flavor. They were nearly perfect. This got me super excited for the rest of the meal.

Monk: So far, so good. Now let’s just see if the rest of the meal holds up…

Speedy: Sadly, I was let down.

Monk: Well, never mind…

Speedy: The pork was decent, but lacked smoke and was a little dry. The table was stacked with several sauces (red, vinegar, mustard, white), so I added some vinegar sauce and it did help. Overall, the pork is passable, but not great. Which is more than I can say for the pork belly. Pork belly should be crisp on the outside and melt in the mouth on the inside, which this was not. Instead, it was tough and lacking of flavor. I’m certainly no expert in smoking pork belly, but I expected more.

The sausage was actually good – the best meat of my entree. It was definitely homemade and had a nice snap and really good flavor. I would’ve preferred it to be a little spicier, but that’s just me. Overall, I’d get this again.

Monk: Could you tell what smoking method Swig & Swine used? Sounds like a gasser to me.

Speedy: I’m not sure – that would be my guess as well, but I didn’t go check it out. The slaw was forgettable and the hash was decent, and something I’d order again, though I’m not familiar enough to know how it stacks up.

Overall, I was really hoping for a special meal, especially after tasting the wings. Unfortunately, I ended up with an average experience.

Monk: So far, between this place and the two Home Team BBQ’s you’ve been to it doesn’t seem like there is much to Charleston barbecue. I expect this to change when John Lewis opens his place later this year.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 4.5 hogs
Smoked Wings – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Pork Belly – 1.5 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs
Swig & Swine on Urbanspoon

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