Black-eyed Sally’s is right in downtown Hartford on a fairly busy street. They don’t have parking, but it’s not too hard to find a spot on the street or in a nearby lot (there’s one across the street). As soon as you walk in, you can’t help but look around at the décor that includes funky artwork and graffiti going all the way up the walls to their high ceiling. Most of the art is likenesses of rock and blues legends like Elvis, Ray Charles, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Elmore James and Stevie Ray Vaughn. There are three distinct dining areas, a small bar in the back with a TV, and a stage where music is performed on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. They have outdoor seating in the warmer months.
Black-eyed Sally’s has a fairly extensive menu which straddles the worlds of Cajun, BBQ and pub food. There are six different salads and a number of interesting appetizers, like crab cakes, catfish fingers and fried okra and pickle chips. Some are scaled-down versions of entrée items, like burnt ends, pulled pork sliders, and the rib sampler.
On a Saturday night visit, my wife and I couldn’t agree on items to share, so we went our separate ways. I started with the pulled pork sliders, which were three mini sub rolls (about 3 inches long) stuffed with, you guessed it, pulled pork. I was also pleased to see it unsauced (I wanted to sample the four sauces on the table) and more pleased to find that the meat was still pretty moist as is. Not much flavor, but still decent, and elevated to good with the two hot sauces. My wife’s Cajun Popcorn (fried crawfish tails) were pretty big and pretty tasty, with tartar sauce on the side for dipping.
For my entrée, I got a 3-meat combo that included barbecued chicken, burnt ends and ribs. The chicken was moist inside and a little rubbery outside, but overall OK. The burnt ends were cubes of brisket that were fried in sauce. These were decent, and I give them props for being cubes rather than shreds like most people do in the Northeast, but they didn’t have the fatty decadence I was hoping for. The pork ribs were a very meaty 1/3 rack that had nice retraction of the meat at the bones and a decent crust. The juices flowed when I separated the bones, though I saw no smoke ring. They were cooked to perfect tenderness, with a little bite to them. I didn’t see a smoke ring or taste much smoke or other real flavor, but they were pretty good. Overall, the three meats were OK. Not great, not bad.
Sides were varied. Collard greens were overchopped and underflavored. Cole slaw was OK, a happy compromise between creamy and tangy. The big hit was the double-fried vinegar chips: these were fried potato slices whose thickness (nearly ¼”) gave them just the right amount of crunch along with some chewiness. I wish they had more vinegar, but these were very, very good. Cornbread, served in a basket with the entrees, was dense and tender and good.
Black-eyed Sally’s supplies four sauces on the table, two barbecue sauces and two hot sauces. I liked the both the hot sauces: the thin, vinegary habanero sauce was good; the chunky, balanced Mardi Gras sauce was great. I tried both barbecue sauces but didn’t really care for them. I thought they were too close to what you can get in the supermarket (I’ve actually seen them in Stop & Shop). All sauces are available for purchase at the hostess stand.
The bottom line: Not the best barbecue you’ll find, but good enough to get by. The place is fun, and the menu appeals to a wide variety of tastes. Go for the entertainment, have a few appetizers and drinks, then head upstairs to the Pig’s Eye Pub. You could do a lot worse.