Schwartz’s Deli – Montreal, Quebec

Name: Schwartz’s Deli
Date: 9/20/19
Location: 3895 Saint-Laurent Boulevard, Montreal, Quebec
Order: 3 large smoked meat plates, slaw, fries, pou (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: For this year’s edition of our annual guys trip, the guys and Speedy and I headed to Montreal to get our fill of jet boating and poutine (well, not so much Speedy on the poutine). Speedy used to spend a decent amount of time in Montreal for work and had a pretty good meal here. Seven years later, Schwartz’s was a must-stop for our group that weekend per Speedy. 

Speedy: Smoked meat is a staple of Montreal cuisine – it’s served almost everywhere. And there’s no smoked meat joint more famous than Schwartz’s. Our group was lucky enough to get seated immediately upon arriving on a Friday just before 11:30 (the line was out the door when we left), and our waiter told us stories of all the famous people he’d served (which was a pretty extensive list including several celebrities).

Monk: Montreal smoked meat is actually a brisket that is pickle juice-brined for 10 days before being smoked for 8 hours. It’s similar to pastrami except that the mix of seasonings it’s cured in contains less (or almost no) sugar and more savory seasonings like cracked peppercorns, coriander, garlic, and mustard seeds. Fun fact: Montreal steak seasoning was modeled on the spice mixture used for Schwartz’s smoked meat. The briskets are kept whole and sliced to order when large groups such as ours order such outrageous quantities of meat…

1 of 3 large platters

Speedy: Which we did. Based on the advice of our waiter, we ordered 3 large plates, and (spoiler alert) had enough leftovers for late night snacks (and add-ons to our Montreal bagels next morning).

Monk: Ah, Montreal-style bagels – man, those were good. Back to the meal…

I threw together my first sandwich with the seedless rye slices plus the mustard and slaw, and it was fantastic. More jewish deli than barbecue, but there’s a reason why Schwartz’s is a Montreal institution that was purchased by Celine Dion for $10 million so that it wouldn’t be torn down. I ended up making two more sandwiches of the delicious smoked meat.

Speedy: Agree, Monk. The meat is tender and flavorful, and really makes a great sandwich. It’s an absolute must in Montreal. And bonus – the slaw is vinegar based! The slaw was crunchy and tangy and was a perfect complement – either on the sandwich or a side. 

Monk: I was excited to try all of the poutine during our stay in Montreal that weekend. For the uninitiated, poutine is Montreal’s signature dish that is comprised of fries topped with cheese curds and a meat gravy containing bits of the smoked meat from the slicing block. Schwartz’s was the first of 4 poutine orders I had that weekend, and it was very solid.

Speedy: Overall, there’s a reason Schwartz’s Deli is a staple, and it’s a must-eat in Montreal. On this trip, this was the only smoked meat our group had, but after this meal, no other was really needed.

For more reviews, check out:
Marie, Let’s Eat! (2011)
Speedy’s review from 2012

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Smoked Meat – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Noble Smoke – Charlotte, NC

Name: Noble Smoke
Date: 8/24/19
Address: 2216 Freedom Dr, Charlotte, NC 28208
Order: The Miss Mary Platter (1 lb brisket, 1 lb pork, 1 rack ribs, 1 lb turkey, red slaw, coleslaw, pickled veggies), 12 wings, hush puppies (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$ 

Monk: In 1919, the first Lexington-style barbecue stand was set up across the street from the courthouse in Lexington, NC by Sid Weaver. Shortly after, Jess Swicegood set up his own stand and both businesses thrived to the point of building permanent restaurants. Eventually, they would go on to train Warner Stamey in the ways of Lexington-style barbecue, and he continued to spread that gospel all over the Piedmont of North Carolina to owners who would go on to open such famed joints as Bridges Barbecue Lodge, Alston Bridges Barbecue, Lexington Barbecue, and Stamey’s own namesake restaurant, Stamey’s Barbecue

Exactly 100 years later and 60 miles to the south in Charlotte, Chef Jim Noble has finally opened up his passion project restaurant in the form of Noble Smoke, continuing the Lexington-style barbecue tradition (though he does offer a variety of smoke meats). Everyone knows Noble as the chef and restaurateur behind higher-end restaurants like Noble Grill, Rooster’s, and King’s Kitchen, but a Lexington-style barbecue restaurant has been 25 years in the making.

Speedy: Monk and I got to spend a couple hours with Noble before the restaurant opened and, though we didn’t get a chance to sample anything, I left that meeting confident that the man knew his ‘cue and had a true passion for it, so I was more than excited to sample the goods. The space Noble built is fantastic – rustic but refined, with ample seating, a large bar, a nice outdoor space, and a brewery joining next door. 

Monk: For our group of 5, the Miss Mary Platter was the perfect order as it gave us a chance to try just about all of the meats and in the right quantity. At the time of our visit, Noble Smoke still hadn’t fired up the brick masonry pits that were styled after Lexington Barbecue, so our pork was smoked in one of the six large offset smokers occupying the smoke room. As he is doing across the board, Noble is using high-quality ingredients (which you pay for, as the platter was $88) and in this case its Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork. On this day, the pork wasn’t quite the crowd favorite while still being very good. I can’t wait to try them now that they’ve fired up those brick pits.

Speedy: Noble clearly studied up on the Texas brisket he was trying to emulate. And I’ll say, he did a nice job. The prime brisket was moist, peppery, and flavorful. I had previously sworn off ordering brisket in the Carolinas, but Noble Smoke is joining Lewis Barbecue on the exception list. I rank it just a tad behind Lewis, but still a top ten brisket I’ve had in my life. I think any Texan would be impressed.

Monk: I couldn’t agree more, and also think that any Texan would also be impressed with the ribs that Noble Smoke is slinging. Rubbed generously with salt and pepper, I was relieved that Noble avoided the temptation to offer a saucy, sweet rib and instead something far more nuanced. North Carolina isn’t known for ribs and they can often be an afterthought, but these were more Texas Trinity than KC Masterpiece. By far, these were the favorite meats on the table in our group that day.

Speedy: I’m on record saying I don’t know why anyone would order smoked turkey at a barbecue restaurant given the choice of other delectable meats from our hooved friends. Well, I’m man enough to admit it – I was wrong. The turkey at Noble Smoke was probably the best I’ve had. Like the brisket, it was seasoned with just salt and (plenty of) pepper, but that was enough to tease out an incredible amount of flavor, all while retaining moisture. This is a hard thing to do with turkey, so hats off to Jim Noble for this. I wouldn’t say it was my favorite thing I had that day (that goes to the ribs), but it was the biggest surprise for me.

Monk: Like everything else, the wings from were delicious and well smoked, even if they were a bit on the small side. Noble gets his heritage chicken from Winston-Salem-based Joyce Farms, which is nice to see them source from a North Carolina operation. 

We ordered a side of the hush puppies made with Anson Mills heirloom grain corn (again, note the high quality ingredients) and the table gobbled them up pretty quickly. The Miss Mary’s Platter came with small sides of both eastern and western (red) slaw as well as pickled veggies in the form of onions, pickles, and beets. The beets were definitely different.

Speedy: Sometimes new restaurants take a few months to get up to speed and everything rolling, but Chef Jim Noble is clearly a pro and the meal we had at Noble Smoke was one of my top barbecue meals all year. Noble Smoke was designed to be a destination barbecue joint, and I think it will be just that. I’m certainly adding it to the list for every time I visit Charlotte. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Wings – 4 hogs
Turkey – 4.5 hogs 
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

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

Ten Lessons Learned from Smoking Our First Whole Hog

Monk: Back on Father’s Day weekend, Speedy and I set out to do something I’ve been wanting to do for years. And you know what? We rocked it. But even using both the Sam Jones Whole Hog book (review forthcoming) and the Buxton Hall Book of Smoke as references, there were still a few speed bumps that we can learn from the next time we smoke another hog (and yes, there will definitely be another time).

Lesson #1 – If your barrel doesn’t have a bottom, don’t set it up on cinder blocks

Monk: The barrel I got, while free, already had both the bottom and top cut off. The top wasn’t needed, but I would have preferred the bottom attached so as to keep the coals in. I did get a tip that an aluminum water heater pan would fit perfectly, and it did. However, after just a couple of hours that pan started to disintegrate so Speedy and I had to figure out a way to get the burn barrel off the cinder blocks mid-burn. We managed to get it done, losing just a few coals in the process. Once we got it on the ground, it was smooth sailing…for at least a little bit.

Speedy: Monk may be underselling this a bit. Taking a hot burn barrel with an active fire off of cinder blocks could’ve ended badly, but the pig was the most important thing. To add to this, I’d say that if placing the barrel on the ground, put a solid sheet of metal that won’t burn through underneath, as it can be difficult shoveling the coals off the ground.

Lesson #2 – Be sure to allow enough time to let a solid bed of coals build up before you start to shovel into the pit

Speedy: What we found was that the cinder block pit we made was losing about 1 degree of temperature a minute, so we ended up dropping coals in every half hour. This shot the temperature back up 30 degrees quickly, but we had trouble keeping enough coals to shovel in (refer to lesson #5).

Monk: We were probably a little bit anxious in adding coals to the pit and should have let the fire go for at least an hour before we started shoveling them in.

Lesson #3 – Get fire proof gloves

Speedy: We were very, very fortunate that Monk’s neighbor had some fireproof grilling gloves that he brought over. These came in VERY handy (refer to Lesson 1), and I wouldn’t try this again without some.

Monk: Yes, these were definitely lifesavers.

Lesson #4 – Get at least a half cord of wood

Monk: In Sam Jones’ book, he says you might be able to get away with a quarter cord of wood, but he recommended at least a half cord because having leftover is far more preferable than running out. In our experience with a half cord, we burned through every last bit of firewood. Next time, I won’t consider ordering anything other than a half cord.

Lesson #5 – And definitely have a few bags of charcoal handy in case its needed (it will be needed)

Speedy: This was something Monk and I didn’t have handy, and we were struggling keeping temperature and weren’t making coals fast enough. Luckily, there was a 24 hour Walmart 10 minutes away, so I went to pick up a couple bags of charcoal while Monk manned the fire. This definitely did the trick, but it would have been nice to have them on-hand.

Lesson #6 – Be sure to have the right thermometer measuring your pit temperature

Monk: I initially used the wrong type of thermometer to measure pit temp (one used for measuring oil used for frying turkeys), and it wasn’t until a couple hours in that we realized we were probably 50 degrees below what we thought we were. Once I plugged in my Maverick Redi-chek thermometer, we were able to adjust our coals accordingly and get the pit temp up to where we needed it to be.

Lesson #7 – Working in shifts is definitely a good idea so that you can get some rest

Monk: We started at midnight to ensure enough time to get the hog done ahead of a 6pm party, and Speedy and I each ended up getting about 4 hours of sleep each. While some late night drinking and BS-ing by the burn barrel is fun and all, make sure you get enough sleep so that you aren’t a zombie the next day at your whole hog party.

Lesson #8 – You will be surprised how quickly the hog gets done

Speedy: Monk had told me the hog would be done in about 12 hours, and I thought no way that could be true. At the end of the day, I think we were cooking around 14 hours, but it definitely could have been done in 12 if we didn’t have temperature issues at the beginning. Lesson learned – never doubt Monk.

Monk: I have nothing else to add here other than to emphasize Speedy’s last point about never doubting me.

Lesson #9 – More is more when it comes to rebar, or consider using a grate

Speedy: To chop the hog, we first split it down the middle and then in quarters at the ribs. Unfortunately, when doing so, one quarter of the hog dropped through the rebar onto the ground. Some of the meat was salvageable, but we probably lost a good 8-10 pounds of meat. The good news is there was still plenty of our 126 pound hog to go around.

Lesson #10 – If you can swing it, smoke your first hog with your best friend

Monk: If Speedy wouldn’t have been able to make it, I would have been doing this solo. Besides the pure labor aspect of smoking a hog, there’s a definite sense of satisfaction of smoking your first hog with a good buddy. And remember – its Barbecue Bros, not Barbecue Bro.

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

Charlie Vergos Rendezvous – Memphis, TN

Name: Charlie Vergos Rendezvous
Date: 12/18/18
Address: 52 S 2nd St, Memphis, TN
Order: Pork ribs and brisket combination (link to menu)

Speedy: I’ve been spending a lot of time in Memphis lately for work, working mostly with a local team. When my co-workers learned of this blog, they started peppering me with recommendations, but not once did a local tell me to visit Rendezvous. Apparently it is considered more of a tourist destination, but it is 1) super famous and 2) two blocks from my client site, so a visit seemed in order.

Monk: My neighbor here in Charlotte who used to live in Memphis confirmed that it is a bit of a tourist destination but that he always found their ribs to be pretty good, actually.

Speedy: The sign on Rendezvous advertises “charcoal ribs,” and walking up, it’s easy to smell the charcoal smoker throughout Rendezvous alley. As I went with a co-worker on a Tuesday night, the restaurant was fairly empty and we didn’t have to wait for a table. Upon entering Rendezvous, you descend into a basement and come to an old dinner-esque place. It doesn’t look like the decor has been updated a whole lot since it’s 1948 opening, but still, it’s spacious and comfortable.

The menu at Rendezvous is pretty simple. I knew I was getting ribs, but the waiter also recommended brisket, so I took him up on it. Standard sides are beans and slaw, and there’s not much else in terms of sides, so I just went with what was given.

The food came out super fast. The waiter told us that there was both spicy and normal sauce on the table, but advised we try the ribs dry first, which I obliged. I’ll say this right off – Rendezvous is not the best barbecue meal I’ve had in Memphis, but I don’t understand why it’s so shunned. The ribs were meaty, cooked well (maybe slightly undercooked) and had a nice, smoky flavor. They were fine without the sauce, but I did enjoy the spicy sauce as well.

Monk: It’s looking likely that I will be back for Memphis in May next year so if I’m wandering around downtown is it worth a stop?

Speedy: Well, there’s a Central BBQ downtown as well, so I’d recommend that first, but I wouldn’t steer you away from Rendezvous.

I didn’t expect much from the brisket (I never do outside of Texas), but it was actually decent. It had good tug and nice flavor. I could’ve used a little more bark and ended up using the spicy sauce on this as well, but I would order it again. Overall, a solid effort.

The one thing that surprised me was the slaw. Rendezvous’ slaw is mustard/vinegar based, and really is quite enjoyable.

Monk: Having not tasted it, it sounds like the slaw at Bill Spoon’s here in Charlotte. I’m curious if there is a Memphis connection there.

Speedy: I thought of Bill Spoon’s as well – it’s very similar.

Overall, if you’re expecting the best barbecue meal of your life at Rendezvous, you might be disappointed. But if you go in with realistic expectations, you’ll find it to be just fine.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs

Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lewis Barbecue – Charleston, SC (Speedy’s take)

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Name
: Lewis Barbecue
Date: 8/1/18
Address: 464 N Nassau St, Charleston, SC 29403
Order: 1 pound brisket, 2 hot gut links, 6 bones pork ribs, corn pudding, collards (link to menu)

Speedy: Later in the day after my trip to Rodney Scott’s BBQ (and after visiting a brewery of course), some of my fam and I decided to visit another new-ish Charleston joint I was pumped about – Lewis Barbecue. After superb visits to both Franklin Barbecue and La Barbecue (where John Lewis did stints), my expectations were super high. Finding a true Texas joint in South Carolina is definitely a treat.

The atmosphere at Lewis Barbecue is awesome. There’s an order counter, a bar, a fair amount of indoor seating and ample outdoor seating. Upon arriving, you order and just like in Texas, the meat is cut and weighed right in front of you. Even though we were still full from our earlier lunch, for our second lunch we made sure to order the brisket, pork ribs, and hot guts.

Monk: I was quite jealous when I heard Speedy and crew were doing Rodney Scott’s and then Lewis back-to-back. You may notice that most of my comments below are just agreeing with how good the food is at Lewis, and I hope I get a chance to get back there again soon (Labor Day weekend, perhaps?).

Rudy: I’m jealous too that you were able to visit Lewis Barbecue.  When he was the pitmaster at La Barbecue, that was the best brisket and maybe best ribs I’ve had, so I’ve missed him in Austin and have been wanting to try his place in Charleston.

Monk: Just throwing this out there…Barbecue Bros company retreat in Charleston next year?

Speedy: I’ll start with the brisket, as that’s the flagship meat. In short, it’s the best brisket I’ve had outside of Texas. We got a mix of fatty and lean, and both cuts were smoked to perfection, seasoned perfectly. I liked the fatty better than the lean, as I felt the lean was a bit dry. Unfortunately, this brisket did not enter into the holy quadrumvirate with Franklin, La Barbecue, Killen’s, and Pecan Lodge, but it’s certainly in the next tier down. A must order.

Rudy: Like I said before, his brisket in Texas is the best I’ve ever had (although Franklin and Pecan Lodge are very very close) so I am not surprised that it was great, but am surprised that it did not break into that group.

Speedy: I was a little surprised too, Rudy. It was still darn good and very close, but maybe it was just a slightly sub-par day or that I usually don’t order lean at all, but it just lacked that extra something special.

Monk: While I have a few more Texas joints (notably, Louie Mueller) under my belt from my trip earlier this year, Lewis Barbecue is still the best brisket I’ve personally had at a restaurant. Note that I have yet to visit any of the spots mentioned in Speedy’s quadrumvirate. Also, based on the lack of spell check squigglies, “quadrumvirate” is apparently a real word and not something made up by Speedy.

Speedy: The hot guts took things to the next level. I like smoked sausage, but have always considered it a second tier barbecue meat. Well, John Lewis is challenging that. The sausage had a perfect snap and great flavor, with just  a bit of a kick. I’m not sure the sausage could have been better.

Monk: I didn’t know that you were biased against sausage, Speedy. Six-plus years into this barbecue blog and you still manage to surprise me.

In any case, I too loved the hot guts.

Rudy: I’ve had the hot guts two times and really didn’t like it all that much.  I think they are all beef and I am not a huge fan of that because I think it can sometimes dry out or crumble.  It could have also been because I had heard so much about them and went in with huge expectations. But most people rave about it and you guys are no different.

Speedy: The ribs were also enjoyable – served with just a light glaze, these spare ribs were big and meaty, rich and tender. There was a hint of sweetness associated with the glaze, and you could clearly taste the smoke, but I would have liked a little more rub under the glaze to add a little spice and seasoning. Still quite good, but if you’re going to skip a meat at Lewis, this is the one.

The sides at Lewis Barbecue are worth more than a casual mention – they are really really good. Particularly the corn pudding was amazing, so don’t skip it.

Monk: The corn pudding was both mine and Mrs. Monk’s favorite side from Lewis as well. Jon G’s Barbecue has their own version of a corn pudding inspired by Lewis and it’s nearly as good. The takeaway here is that more joints should add corn pudding to menus.

Speedy: The meal at Lewis Barbecue was really great. Eating it in the same day as Rodney Scott’s was a real treat (as well as a challenge in terms of stomach room). Both joints are must-visit if you’re in the Charleston area and offer great insights into different styles of ‘cue.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Hot guts – 5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Rodney Scott’s BBQ – Charleston, SC (Speedy’s take)

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Name: Rodney Scott’s BBQ
Date: 8/1/18
Address: 1011 King St, Charleston, SC 29403
Order: Pork and Rib Combo, fries/hush puppies, 6 smoked wings) (link to menu)
Price: $20 (combo), $6 (wings)

Speedy: Recently, I took a trip to Charleston with the extended family, so I knew I had to convince my brother and cousins to leave behind the wives and kids for a few hours to hit eat some ‘cue and drink some brews. Our first stop was Rodney Scott’s BBQ.

Of course I had heard of Rodney Scott before, but I had never been to either his Hemingway or Charleston location, so to say I was excited was a bit of an understatement. I knew I had to try both the pork and the ribs, and thankfully there was a combo plate on the menu, so despite the fact that I knew I had a second lunch coming up, I knew what I had to do. The best part – real-life Bro picked up the check. Just kidding – (spoiler alert!) the chopped pork was the best part, but the Bro paying was the second best part.

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After ordering, the food was brought out promptly, and it was time to dig in. I’ll start with the flagship of the restaurant – the whole hog chopped pork. Though we were in South Carolina, this was classic eastern NC ‘cue – smoked until perfectly tender, chopped fine, and sauced with the perfect vinegary, peppery dip. I loved the tang of the meat and don’t think I would change a thing. On his visit, Monk left Rodney Scott’s feeling mildly disappointed, but thinking back on it just makes me smile. I never tried any of the table sauce, because none was needed.

Monk: To clarify, I was only disappointed compared with that first bite at the legendary Scott’s BBQ in Hemingway, which was in the top 5 of barbecue meals I’ve ever had. My anticipation of that whole hog only grew exponentially in the almost 4 years between, so my visit was a slight letdown only compared with my (somewhat unfair) enormous expectations. On my next visit to Rodney Scott’s, I’m sure I’ll be able to properly appreciate it.

Also, while we tend to think of whole hog as eastern NC, the Pee Dee region of SC (basically, the northeastern corner bordering NC) has their own whole hog tradition which has its similarities. That’s what Rodney Scott draws from as does Elliot Moss of Buxton Hall Barbecue in Asheville, being that he is originally from the Florence, SC area. It makes sense when you look at it geographically.

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Speedy: The ribs, which Monk didn’t try, were also enjoyable. They were big, meaty, and cooked perfectly. I really enjoy dry rubbed ribs, which usually are extremely heavily seasoned and not sauced at all. These ribs were different in that they were not heavily seasoned and had only a hint of a glaze, so the pork flavor and the smoke really shined through. I think Rodney Scott did exactly what he wanted with these ribs, and I would recommend everyone try them, but they were very good but not transcendent to me. I did put some spicy sauce on for a taste, but it wasn’t really needed (though it went well). Overall, a very good effort and as a “second meat” at a joint, pretty impressive.

Monk: I definitely want to try the ribs next time. Everyone knows that Speedy is the rib guy of the bros, but I’ve read good things about them, including how Rodney Scott really cooked them for the first time at the 2017 Big Apple BBQ Block Party (talk about pressure). I’d be interested in tasting some of the other menu items as well such as fried catfish or the ribeye sandwich.

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Speedy: The smoked wings were good for what they are, but they themselves are not a reason to visit Rodney Scott’s. They had a nice dry rub and were smoked well, but I could have used a little more sauce. Wing tastes are so variable, and these just weren’t as good as the pork or ribs.

In addition to my ordered sides (hush puppies and fries), I also sampled the collards. The hush puppies were very good, the fries above average, but the collards were amazing. They had chunks of pork in and were seriously some of the best collards I’ve ever had.

To top off this awesome meal, I was able to chat briefly with the man Rodney Scott himself. For most of the time we were there, he was walking around the dining room making sure everyone was having a great meal, which we were. As a double bonus, Darius Rucker came in to eat. Surprisingly, he didn’t recognize me, so we didn’t get to chat, but it’s good to know that Rucker knows both 90s rock and barbecue.

Monk:  Unless Speedy is leaving something out here, I gotta say how surprised I am that he managed to keep his composure and not go all Chris Farley Show on Rucker – “Hey, remember when you were in Hootie and the Blowfish? That was awesome.”

Well done, Speedy.

Speedy: Overall, this was the best barbecue meal I’ve had in Charleston, maybe in SC. Our whole group agreed – we will be back to Rodney Scott’s.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pulled Pork – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Wings – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint – Nashville, TN

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Name
: Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (Downtown location)
Date: 7/21/18
Address: 410 4th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37201
Order: Big Poppa Sampler (Full Rack Ribs, 12oz Pork, 12oz Brisket, ½ Chicken, mac and cheese, green beans, fries) with 6 Memphis dry rub wings, 2 orders of hush puppies, and 2 cornbread hoe cakes (link to menu)
Price: $141 (for 6)

Speedy: With Monk coming to town, I had to take him to my favorite ‘cue in town – Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint. I had reviewed the OG location of Martin’s many years ago, but since then, three other Tennessee locations (as well as two Kentucky ones) have opened. While I greatly enjoy the food, I took Monk (and crew) to the downtown location, which is one of my favorite places in Nashville – barbecue or otherwise.

Monk: The downtown location of Martin’s is amazing – flat out. As soon as we stepped up into the upstairs beer garden, I knew it was going to get 5 hogs for atmosphere and ambiance. The upstairs was an airy, open air space with plenty of natural lighting and big ass fans to keep the air circulating. Besides the smokeroom off to the side, it had a small stage, two small bars flanking either side of the room, several long beer garden-style tables, ping pong, shufflepuck, and dartboards. If we ever hit it big from barbecue blogging, I will be taking photos of this space to an architect to replicate at the loft I would buy once I’m flush with all that theoretical barbecue blogging cashish.

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Speedy: With six of us in tow, we ordered the Big Poppa Platter, which consists of a full rack of ribs, 12 oz pork, 12 oz brisket, ½ chicken, and 3 pints of sides. We tacked on a few extra sides and a half dozen wings and we were good to go.

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I’ll start with the ribs. We ordered spare ribs instead of baby backs since they are bigger and we had six hungry men. The rack of ribs was massive – plenty for us all to eat. We ordered dry ribs, and they showed up heavily seasoned as a full slab. The ribs were tender, cooked perfectly, and delicious. I do wish we had ordered baby back ribs, as the quality of the meat is better. On the spare ribs, there was a big more tendon than I like, but that’s a nit-picky complaint. Overall, I could have used a little more spice in the rub, but the ribs are very, very solid.

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Monk: Martin’s is one of the few restaurants in Tennessee (or anywhere else, for that matter) that is still doing whole hog barbecue. With the purchasing power of a growing regional chain, I imagine they are able to make the economics work, but regardless I applaud them for continuing the whole hog tradition. As for the pork itself, our portion was a mixture of pork that was overall lighter than the darker meat of the shoulders predominantly used in the NC piedmont (though shoulders are also available on the menu). I’m not quite sure what the nuances are between western TN whole hog and what you’ll find in eastern NC or the Pee Dee region of SC (a topic which I’ll gladly earmark for more research later), but I quite enjoyed what Martin’s served.

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Speedy: The brisket is about as good as you can find in Tennessee. It had good bark and was cooked pretty well (maybe ever so slightly overcooked), but it is not on the same level as some of the Texas joints. Martin’s brisket does have nice tug and flavor, and has good bark, but it just doesn’t quite have the peppery goodness needed to reach the upper brisket tier. However, if I’m hankerin’ for a good brisket in Tennessee, Martin’s is the best choice there is. As a side note, while not sampled on this visit, Martin’s does offer a cheeseburger topped with brisket that simply is not to be missed. Beef on beef – brilliant!

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Monk: We don’t normally order chicken but seeing as how it came with the Big Poppa, we embraced it. Smoked chicken is not my jam but it definitely worked when dipped in the Alabama white sauce that came with the tray.

Speedy: The wings were good – using the same dry rub as the ribs (other flavors are available, but we went with the dry rub). They were smoked well, but could have stood to be a little meatier. Like everything at Martin’s, the wings were very good. Smoked wings can be a little difficult to find, so I appreciate a place that does them right, and Martin’s is that.

Monk: There were literally no complaints about any of the sides we got. Some of our group raved about the mac and cheese, others loved the green beans, and I thought the hush puppies were solidly above average. But I was most intrigued by the cornbread hoe cakes, an item I’ve not ever seen on a barbecue menu before. In western NC, our cornmeal comes in the form of hush puppies whereas in the east you’ll see cornsticks or more traditional cornbread. The hoecakes were savory and not overly sweet  but I would definitely get them again – I know Speedy gets them most times he visits. Oh, and they have Cheerwine and Sun Drop in glass bottles! So awesome.

With Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in Downtown Nashville, all of the meats are consistently above average, the sides were great, and the space was awesome. One more thought on the space – after we finished our meal, our group stuck around for another hour or so, grabbing another pitcher while playing darts. I would have gladly stuck around for several more hours, but alas we were headed to Third Man Records before throwing axes in East Nashville (side note – Speedy showed the guys a great time that weekend in Nashville). I can see why Martin’s is Speedy’s favorite joint in the city and I would gladly go back for another meal at this or any of the other locations.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Chicken – 3.5 hogs
Wings – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Pecan Lodge – Dallas, TX (Speedy’s Take)

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Name
: Pecan Lodge
Date: 7/21/18
Address: 2702 Main St, Dallas, TX 75226
Order: The Trough (1 beef rib, 1lb of pork ribs, 1lb brisket, 1/2 lb of pulled pork & 3 sausage links), ½ pound burnt ends, fried okra, collard greens (link to menu)
Price: $120-ish (for 3)

Speedy: On a recent work trip to Dallas, I experienced Divine Intervention. In town for only two days with full calendars both days, I was resigned to having to miss Pecan Lodge once again, and based on Rudy’s review, it’s a joint not to miss. I must have done something right over the past week, because a cancelled meeting left me a block of time between 10 and 2, enough time to head to Deep Ellum to try the ‘cue. I brought two co-workers in tow, which turned out to be a great decision.

Monk: The barbecue gods certainly work in mysterious ways…

Speedy: We arrived right at 11, which is right when Pecan Lodge opens. The line was already out the door, which is when coming with friends comes in handy. We went straight to the bulk order counter (minimum 5 pounds), which had no line (hence the great decision to bring back-ups), and we were on our way.

Our number was called after a short wait, and it was time to dig in. Obviously, we had more food than the three of us could eat, and everything looked and smelled incredible. I have a hard time knowing where to begin with this meal, so let’s just jump right in.

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The brisket was heavenly. Rich, flavorful, moist, peppery, and perfectly cooked. It is easily in the top 4 briskets I’ve ever had, joining La Barbecue, Franklin, and Killen’s, and frankly, nothing else even comes close. The brisket seemed to melt in your mouth.

Personally, my other top meat was the beef rib. It was incredibly tender, had an amazing bark, and pulled, but didn’t fall, right off the bone. Honestly, I’d take these two cuts of beef over even the finest steaks. Beef like this just doesn’t come around often.

The other beef dish we had was the burnt ends, which was a special of the day. My two co-workers rated this as their favorite meat, and I agree it was very good, but I thought it could have been slightly more tender and could have used a little heat on the sauce. This is nit-picking to the extreme, but it was a tier below the brisket and beef rib for me.

The pork was also a pleasant surprise. I have had very hit or miss experiences with pork in Texas, but you could have told me the Pecan Lodge pork was from Tennessee or North Carolina and I would have believed you and demanded to know where from. It was tender and had nice bark, and overall was really great.

Monk: Funny you should mention that. I recalled hearing at one point at there was a connection between Pecan Lodge and NC and lo and behold, Justin and Diane Fourton (the couple behind Pecan Lodge) both used to live in Charlotte and met at Selwyn Pub in 2000. So while they both are originally from Texas, they may have gotten some pork knowledge through osmosis during their time in NC.

Speedy: On Rudy’s trip to Pecan Lodge, he raved about the ribs. This was my least favorite meat by a wide margin. The ribs were still good, but I felt like they could have been a little meatier and the outside got a little charred to me. I’m not sure if it was just a sub-standard batch, but the ribs were forgettable, especially when compared to the rest of the meal.

Rudy: Maybe you got a bad batch or I got an overly great batch. You may have also had the benefit of having several different meat to compare it to, and I only had the brisket. I’m sorry that I missed out on the beef rib.

Speedy: Generally, I don’t pay too much attention to the sides when I have five pounds of barbecue in front of me, but it was a different story here. The fried okra was really, really good. Perfectly seasoned and fried. The collards were also amazing and very unique. While I’m used to having bacon bits or pieces or pulled pork (or at least chicken stock) in the collards, these were very sweet – my guess is brown sugar. The collards are not to be missed.

The next paragraph is going to be a little hard to write. As a North Carolinian, I will go to my grave saying that Lexington barbecue is the best single food item that one can eat and that it was bestowed upon man by God himself. All that said, the top four all around barbecue meals of my life all happened in Texas, and this was in that group. It’s just that good. If you get a chance to visit Pecan Lodge – just do it.

Monk: Who in the? What in the? How in the?

Rudy: I have always said that the ceiling on Texas barbecue is higher but so is the floor.  When it is done well, it is great, but it can also be done poorly. North Carolina barbecue is more consistent. I agree that Pecan Lodge is a must visit and if you have to order from the bulk window to avoid the lines, you will never be disappointed.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Brisket – 5 hogs
Beef rib – 5 hogs
Burnt Ends – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Ribs – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs
Pecan Lodge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato