Tucked into a strip mall complex on Route 9 South, BBQ Red is a small restaurant with a small bar and a couple of large wall TVs standing out from offbeat sports memorabilia that includes a poster of Will Ferrell as Ricky Bobby. There's a Southern Pride smoker out back.
Barbecuewise, the menu sticks to the basics with pork ribs, pulled pork, brisket and chicken. But there's still plenty of creativity, as barbecue meats can be had not just as platters and sandwiches but also in tacos, nachos, quesadillas, three different salads, baked sweet potatoes or a macaroni and cheese chimichanga. There's also salmon, a burger, wings and chili.
A barbecue bud and I hit BBQ Red for a Friday lunch. We got there around noon and saw two other tables occupied during our stay.
Wings: The wings (6 for $7, 12 for $11) are smoked and tossed in a choice of four sauces. We went with strawberry chipotle, which was lightly applied. Unfortunately, so was the smoke, but the combination of crispy exterior, mostly tender inner meat and decent sauce got the job done. Not a contender for my wings pantheon, but a solid offering.
Pulled pork sliders: Three sliders arrived with obviously sauced meat stuffed into fresh rolls.
I'm not quite sure how it works, as there's a lunch menu and a dinner menu and we were there for lunch and wound up with three sliders instead of two, and with a side included. Two sides also got included with the 2-meat combo of entrée meats, which added up to more than the sticker price (which does not include sides), so I'm guessing we got two single meat platters. But then why would they combine them on one plate with a single piece of cornbread?
I didn't look at the itemizations or keep the check, so although I can't tell you the exact prices and permutations of each item, the total ($42 including drinks) seemed like a more-than-fair price for the quantity and variety served.
Anyway, back to the pulled pork: it was generous of serving but heavy on the sauce and light on the smoke. Normally that's a problem, but a few other things came through to make these sliders at least a minor success. 1) Doneness was a little past ideal for some but within target and without being mushy. 2) That heavy saucing never overwhelmed the sandwich; it was still more of a support player. 3) The rolls were a step or two up from a packaged variety very fresh. 4) The star of the sandwich, also without obscuring the admittedly light flavored pork, was the grilled onions. Long slivers brought the entire flavor and texture spectrum, nice char, crispness in some spots and tenderness and moistness in others. As pulled pork, this was average if that, but as a complete package it was a little above.
Ribs: Thin St. Louis cut pork spare ribs had a lighter coating of sauce and a
thin, very dark bark that added a little crunch to the equation. And for
the first time, smoke was part of the equation too. Overall flavor was strong, incorporating elements from rub, smoke and sauce that was cooked in via a grill finish. These flavors, including that grill finish, penetrated all the way to the bone. Tenderness was about mid range, coming in neither too firm nor too mushy. Moistness was there; juiciness was not. Overall, a decent example of a sauced-and-grilled rib.
Brisket: Unusually thick slices had unusually high fat content near the crusty
rim—easily trimmed away while still providing some moisture and
flavor. Smoke was at its highest here; rub was further back. Tenderness
was right around midpoint, neither too firm nor too floppy. Flavor was
pleasant with an interesting snappy bite closer to pork belly than
traditional brisket. I wonder if a thinner slice might have presented
this brisket more impressively, but as constituted it was certainly above average.
Table sauces include fairly standard but well executed renditions of thick- sweet-tangy-brown and thick-sweet-mustardy-tangy.
Beans: A big bowl had large, soft beans in a thick, reddish-brown sauce that looked homemade. The sauce was as sweet as it gets but by no means a one-note affair. Sour crept in and heat arrived slowly but kept building gradually with every bite. I wish the beans were a little firmer but I like that sauce (which would work best as a side for unsauced meats) and the occasional thick chunks of bacon certainly didn't hurt.
Cucumber salad: This combined pick chunks of cucumber, tomato and onion with a very light, almost indistinguishable condiments. It's less of a "cucumber salad" than a "salad with cucumber."
Green beans: A large portion had lots of black char, which I'm not sure was intended (I think it was), but I liked it. Garlic was also in the mix, making it very different from your typical barbecue side. There was still a little crunch left while still tender in the middle.
Cole slaw: This side is included standard. It's a homestyle version with a thinned down tangy mayo and thin sliced crunchy cabbage.
Cornbread: This isn't your daddy's Twinkie-like cornbread. It cuts and feels like cake but the good-sized block is much more savory than sweet, with jalapenos and cheese contributing to the flavor mix that's also a little salty.
Drinks got refilled without having to ask.
The owner stopped by a few times to ask how everything was—especially the wings, which he announced he was especially proud of.
This is one of the few bathrooms that had spray cans of scented air freshener. Either they're ahead of the curve or they knew I was coming.
The Bottom Line
Nothing at BBQ Red got me excited, but I did like everything, at least a little. I also like that there's no mimicry of the country's regional barbecue styles in a silly attempt to achieve authenticity. This is just meat and smoke and sauce, done in a style all its own and done better than average. With a little more smoke, a little more traffic and a little more time, BBQ Red might push the bar a little higher.
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