The Gambling Stick – Nashville, TN (food truck)

Name: The Gambling Stick
Address: 501 Gallatin Ave, Nashville, TN 37206
Order: Beef brisket, pulled pork, “pigsket”, beef back ribs + vegetable slaw (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$

Speedy: A place I’ve wanted to visit for a while but just hadn’t gotten around to is The Gambling Stick, a permanent food truck in East Nashville. It’s conveniently located next to the Porter Road Butcher Shop, where they get all of their meat. There are a couple of picnic tables outside The Gambling Stick if you want to eat there, but it’s basically a food truck in a parking lot so I got my order to go. I made sure to try most of the meats available (skipping the hot link), as I’d read good things across the board. The meal was nicely packed, so I dove in as soon as I got home, hoping to continue my streak of good ‘cue lately. 

Monk: It looks like Porter Road Butcher Shop specializes in “local, pasture-raised, and antibiotic free with no added hormones” that is regularly visited by the butcher so kudos to them on getting their meat from an ethically responsible shop.  

I must say, I’m actually surprised you skipped the hot link, being the spice fiend that you are. Did it have dairy in it?

Speedy: I didn’t ask. Sometimes you just have to make tough decisions, Monk, and I felt four meats was enough for me that day.

Monk: I would say what’s one more meat but glass houses and all…

Speedy: I’ll start with the good: both pork products were good to very good. The pulled pork had a nice smoke flavor, but was just slightly dry. I was provided with some vinegar based sauce (available in regular and spicy); however, I didn’t find the sauce too appealing. It was thicker than I like in a vinegar based sauce and may have had some mustard in it. Overall, I didn’t think it worked.

Fortunately, the “pigsket” which I was told was “pork brisket,” did not need any sauce. It was moist and very well seasoned and just hit the spot. I’m not sure exactly what cut of meat this was – perhaps a tenderloin – but it was by far my favorite part of the meal. In fact, if I go back to The Gambling Stick, this will be the reason. 

Monk: This cut of meat really piqued my interest so I did a little digging. Based on the name I half expected it to be some sort of turducken-like frankenstein of pork tenderloin stuffed inside a pork shoulder stuffed inside a brisket but after some half-assed internet research, it appears to be cut from around the breastbone of the pig. It sounds incredible, though.

Speedy: The beef products were both disappointing. The brisket was quite dry and needed more seasoning (both salt and pepper). The need for seasoning also translated to the beef rib. You don’t see beef back ribs often, and I think there’s a reason for that. It’s a tough cut of meat to get tender, and unfortunately these beef ribs failed to hit the mark in taste and tenderness.

Monk: I must say, I’m happy to see you digging into the Nashville barbecue scene. Perhaps a Nashville Top Joints post is in the works? 

Speedy: Monk – spoiler alert!

Monk: …my bad…

Speedy: Overall, I was a little disappointed in The Gambling Stick, as I had read really positive things. Overall, I think the pork products were good, but the beef missed the mark. The “pigsket” alone makes it worth a visit, but I don’t see myself becoming a regular. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere – Not Rated
Pulled Pork – 3 hogs
“Pigsket” – 4 hogs
Brisket – 2 hogs
Beef Back Ribs – 2 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs

The Gambling Stick Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monk’s 5 Favorite Barbecue Meals of the First Half of 2020

Monk: A little later than I’d normally like to post a first half look-back but then again, I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a weird year. At least barbecue is (mostly) back. After a lot of backyard smoking (a little more on that below) and an attempt at mail order, barbecue restaurants started to reopen in late spring and adapted to the current situation with all formerly extinct practices like curbside service and carhops that made perfect sense in a pandemic environment.

In alphabetical order:

Chopped pork tray from Backcountry BBQ (review)

A barn full of firewood out back was a sign of good things to come when it came to Backcountry Barbeque, an unassuming barbecue joint south of Lexington that landed in the top tier of my Lexington barbecue rankings.

Pork belly burnt ends and sliced pork belly from my backyard (story)

While I haven’t quite lived up to my promise that I would smoke pork belly again very soon, it is very much on my to-do list for upcoming backyard smokes. Particularly as the weather starts to cool down this fall. I still think about those pork belly burnt ends from time to time.

Beef rib, brisket, ribs, and cheddar bossa sausage from Jon G’s Barbecue (review)

You guys all know how I feel about Jon G’s by now, so not too much more needs to be written here except that you should make the trip, particularly if they have a beef rib on special (but be prepared to pay for it). I’ll also reiterate how glad I am that Garren and Kelly finally opened their store and are doing it their way.

Chopped pork from Rick’s Smokehouse (review)

Rick’s was the favorite of my new Lexington discoveries as part of my recent Lexington barbecue quest, landing just below my co-favorites Lexington Barbecue and Bar-B-Q Center.

Pork, ribs, and chicken from Southern Smoke BBQ (review)

Not too much more to add from my recent review other than Southern Smoke was my absolutely favorite new barbecue I’ve tried this year. I’ll repeat myself from my review: “Do yourself a favor and find time to make the trip like I did. You won’t regret it.”

What should I try in the second half (or what’s remaining of it) of 2020? Leave a comment with your recommendation.

Southern Smoke BBQ – Garland, NC

Name: Southern Smoke BBQ
Address: 29 E Warren St, Garland, NC 28441
Order: Chopped barbecue, ribs, and smoked chicken with jambalaya and Dr. Pepper
Pricing: $$

I’m a Lexington-style barbecue guy through and through – as the saying goes, you prefer what you grew up on – but 8+ years into this barbecue journey I’ve learned not to be too dogmatic about my barbecue. I’ve learned that a slice of properly smoked brisket can be the best thing I’ve eaten in a long, long time and that a well smoked sausage in a snappy case can be something both my wife and I happily share when I inevitably drag her and the kids to yet another barbecue restaurant. Also, the other style of NC barbecue in the state rivalry – that is, eastern NC style – can wow me just as much as a sandwich from Lexington #1. Recently, Southern Smoke BBQ in the small town of Garland, NC (pop. 621) in eastern NC did exactly that.

Southern Smoke is the creation of Matthew Register, whose book I recently wrote on post on, and as the story goes was started in 2014 after he got inspired by reading “Holy Smoke” by John Shelton Reed and his late wife Dale. Others have covered his story better than I will attempt to here, but he and I have been circling each other on social media for the past few years and I’ve been meaning to find a way to get to Garland ever since. Not an easy feat, mind you, since its 3.5 hours away from Charlotte and 1.5 hours from even the Brunswick County beaches we often visit as a family. Recently inspired by an excellent John Tanner’s BBQ Blog entry, I made the decision to finally bite the bullet and go during the Monk family’s week-long stay at Ocean Isle Beach.

A side note – besides the barbecue itself, it was a real joy to drive the county roads and through the small towns of eastern NC that I hadn’t had the pleasure of passing through before. I lived in Fayetteville, NC for about 6 years until 6th grade but certainly hadn’t been on highways 701 or 211 or passed through the towns of Elizabethtown or White Lake.

On this day, a Washington Post reporter and photographer was in town interviewing Register as part of a story spotlighting Garland. Meanwhile, workers were speculating about who might be purchasing the Brooks Brothers shirt factory in town that had recently shuttered. Their hope was that it would help restore jobs for the 150 or so workers who were laid off earlier this year, and re-energize the local economy. I’m not giving up the city for a small town anytime soon, but its certainly nice to visit.

Once I reached Garland and Southern Smoke, I parked underneath the massive magnolia tree across the street and walked up to place my order outside of the restaurant where they’ve transitioned to taking orders during the pandemic. From there, I took my order of barbecue, ribs, and chicken (graciously comped but by no means affecting this review) out to their backyard seating area, which under normal times is used for their themed “South Supper Series” dinner parties they host at different times of the year. I would love to somehow take the vibe of it and drop it in my own backyard in Charlotte.

And I’ll be danged if the eastern style chopped pork didn’t hit the spot that day. It had the perfect balance of smoke and tang and my taste buds immediately thanked me for making the journey. My understanding is that Register and team smoke pork butts instead of whole hog before dressing it with their eastern style sauce. Say what you will about other types of barbecue, but the simplicity of that style of barbecue (perhaps the original style of barbecue in America) just makes sense. It definitely did on this day.

Each day that they are open – currently Thursdays and Fridays but adding Wednesdays next month – ribs and chicken of some sort (sometimes smoked, sometimes fried) are usually available in addition to the barbecue. The ribs are meaty baby backs and as with the barbecue were well smoked with a perfect balance of smoke, salt, and sweet in each bite. As for chicken, I’m not usually a chicken at a barbecue restaurant kind of guy but these two quarter chickens are certainly worthy of an order.

The sides at Southern Smoke rotate daily, and not all are your typical barbecue sides (Register jokes that he has a reputation on the barbecue food festival scene of being the guy with “pretty sides”). In fact, on this day I got jambalaya which shouldn’t be at all surprising if you’ve read Register’s book which not only features classic barbecue dishes and sides but also pulls from the Lowcountry and Mississippi Delta. The cornbread was on the sweeter end of the spectrum (which I always enjoy) and appeared to be cooked in a skillet. It was mouth-wateringly wonderful.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Matthew for a good bit after I finished my meal, and the conversation certainly wasn’t limited to barbecue. He’s a smart, thoughtful guy and our conversation ranged from soccer (we are both big Manchester United fans) to music to books to the current state of affairs. Of course we talked a good bit of shop as well, and it was great to hear his perspective on barbecue.

Southern Smoke BBQ is a destination-worthy barbecue restaurant in a small town in eastern NC. While you might be tempted to describe Garland as being in the middle of nowhere, the barbecue from Matthew Register and team is at least 200 mile barbecue – if not more. Do yourself a favor and find time to make the trip like I did. You won’t regret it.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 5 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Chicken – 4 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs