Little Miss BBQ – Phoenix, AZ

Name: Little Miss BBQ
Date: 3/7/20
Address: 4301 E University Dr Phoenix, AZ 85034
Order: 1 beef rib, 3/4lb brisket, 1/4 lb pork, ¼ pound turkey (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$

Speedy: A weekend trip to Phoenix had me searching out the city’s best barbecue spot to find. We ended up choosing Little Miss BBQ largely thanks to a spring training guide by sportswriter Keith Law, claiming that it was the best brisket he’s had outside of Austin – high praise indeed. 

Monk: That’s high praise! Searching for good barbecue in Phoenix seemed like a bit of a fool’s errand (Rudy had a really bad experience in Sedona two hours north, for instance), but any praise that high is worth dispatching a Barbecue Bro to investigate.

Speedy: My friend James and I arrived at Little Miss BBQ around 10:30 AM, ahead of their 11 AM opening. We were around 60th in line (a good sign). The building itself wasn’t much to look at, but there was a decent amount of outdoor seating and there were a lot of people milling around, though no line, per se. We quickly learned that upon arriving, you’re handed a ticket to hold your place in line, and they start lining people up in order around 10:45. There’s plenty of water available, but unfortunately, no beer. Still, it was a very organized affair. While waiting in line, just looking at the impressive Camelback offset smokers got me hungry, and I knew these guys meant business.

Workers come through the line explaining how the process works (essentially a Texas joint where meat is sliced in front of you), and expecting it to take 90 seconds per person in line (bummer). They also handed out samples of their house made pork/beef/jalapeno sausage, a nice touch. The sausage had really good flavor, and the jalapeno flavor was evident, but with the volume of meat we were about to consume, we decided against ordering a link. The 90 seconds per person ended up being about right, so it was around 12:30 before we made it to the front of the line.

After ordering enough meat to feed a small army, we were ready to dig in. The first thing I tried was the brisket, which was impressive indeed. We chose fatty brisket, and it was really nice and moist. My only complaint is it could have used a little more pepper to create more of a bark, but this was still a top ten brisket of my life. A step below Franklin, Pecan Lodge, La Barbecue, and Killen’s, but impressive none-the-less. 

Monk: Wow, top 10 brisket for you, Speedy, is impressive, as you are definitely our Senior Brisket Correspondent at this point. 

Speedy: I am often a tough critic on pulled pork, but these guys did a nice job on that as well. It was definitely more similar to the pulled pork I’ve had in Texas, as the butt was wrapped during the cook to retain more of the natural juices. This certainly helps keeping it from drying out, and enhances the flavor, but also gives the pork a greasier feel, making it difficult to eat in large quantities. 

Historically, I’ve been mostly anti-poultry at ‘cue joints, but some recent excellent smoked turkey has changed that, and Little Miss BBQ is only going to add to that. The turkey was cooked perfectly, moist with great flavor. It passed the pull test easily and was seasoned well, and definitely worth ordering.

Monk: I’m also coming around more and more on smoked turkey at barbecue joints and think its worth considering more often in my barbecue travels. 

Speedy: Saving the best for last was the beef rib. Goodness gracious. The flavor of the meat itself was outstanding, and the quality of the cut was apparent. It was perfectly seasoned to create the peppery bark that I have learned to love. This, to me, was a must get item at Little Miss BBQ. Make sure you’re there for a weekend, as the beef rib is only available Friday and Saturday. At $22 per pound (ours came in at 1.1 pounds), the price was more reasonable than I’d seen elsewhere as well.

Overall, this was the only ‘cue joint I tried in Phoenix, but you’d be hard pressed to find any place anywhere that tops it. This was also the second longest I’d ever waited in line for barbecue (behind Franklin’s) and I do think it was worth the wait. I think the line could have moved faster if the slicers had been a little more efficient. Don’t get me wrong – they were good and knew what they were doing, but took some time to talk to customers, which, though a nice touch, adds 15-30 seconds per person. So if you’re going to visit Little Miss BBQ, and you should, it’s worth getting there a bit early.

Ratings:
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Turkey – 5 hogs
Beef Rib – 5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 Hogs

Little Miss BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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