Kinfolk's Award Winning Barbecue is a strip mall operation that started as a roadside tent in Tallahassee FL, accumulating 200 barbecue awards on their journey north to Brockton. The spacious digs include barstools, numerous tables and roomy booths with recessed sauce compartments. Those stools are at a bar that does not dispense any alcoholic beverages, but the entire menu is also available at Sidelines, the sports bar next door. Decor is fairly simple, with large framed photographs displaying either a) what their 'cue used to look like, b) what they wished their 'cue looked like, or c) what their 'cue would look like if they didn't go crazy with the squeeze bottles.
Barbecue options offer the basic four of ribs, pulled pork, brisket and
smoked chicken, plus turkey and smoked chicken Alfredo. Apps include gator bites, honey rib tips, barbecue sliders, wings, chicken fingers, catfish or grouper nuggets, nachos and loaded fries. For the less barbecue inclined, there's fried chicken, pizza, seafood dinners (catfish, grouper or shrimp) and a few salads.
A barbecue bud and I hit Kinfolks as the second stop on a Saturday crawl, having started earlier across town at P&P Soul Food & BBQ.
A quick inquiry revealed that the wings are fried, not smoked, so we passed. More specifically, "They're sometimes smoked, but they're fried today," according to our youthful server.
Normally the Sauces section follows the meats, but I'm going to make an exception here and talk sauce first. When the plates hit the table, the ribs, brisket, chicken and pulled pork all took a back seat visually to the intricately patterned barbecue sauce on top of them. Interwoven yellow and brick colored sauces simultaneously dazzled and frightened. For a split second the yellow sauce looked like it might be cheese, which on ribs would be scary indeed. But no, this was just a slightly sweet mustard sauce with some bite to offset the darker, molassesy sweet barbecue sauce. Artistically, this was a success, but the second frightening component was the very likely possibility that all this sauce would obscure the meat. The good news is that it didn't, but I'd order without sauce if there's ever a next time. In case you want more, there are two squeeze bottles at every table.
Ribs: Ordered on "The Works" 3-meat platter ($21.99 with two sides and cornbread), the ribs looked to be the most impressive of the three after the sauce novelty wore off. These St Louis cut spares had both thickness and height—a virtual wall of meat—going for them, allowing a fair tasting of the meat and not just the sauce. Good crusting and a light smoke ring helped the visual. A quick bite had texture quite different from expected. The sauce was there but not as dominant as it looked, and the crust was not as sturdy as it looked. Moistness was super high, though in a steamy way. I'm not saying this was actually done, but the ribs had almost a microwave feel. Each bite pulled the meat cleanly, showing good doneness. Still, something was off. The texture reminded me of an oven cooked pork chop, and ultimately, the flavor did too. I placed a rib so close to my nose that I got barbecue sauce on my nostril hairs and still couldn't smell any smoke. Flavor in the meat didn't offer much smoke either, or much rub. These ribs weren't for me but there's still a lot to like here, depending on what you like: meaty, tender, moist, saucy.
Brisket: Very similar to the ribs, the moist, thin-sliced brisket had good texture with regard to doneness—neither tough nor mushy—but a steamy quality beyond the sauce and crusting completely absent. But this time, flavor made an appearance. No actual smokiness, but the effects of smoke and rub peeked through the beefiness, albeit lightly.
Chicken: The third meat on the 3-meat combo had rubbery skin and the most moistness of any of the meats, as if lubed with chicken fat (that's a good thing). It also had the least flavor of any of the meats—very close to none, with smoke right at none—and the steamiest texture that was the strongest argument for the possibility of microwaving (not such a good thing). I sometimes describe chicken as being "really chickeny," but this was a little washed out. It was moist though.
Pulled pork sandwich: A generous serving of pork in this sandwich ($4.99 solo or 6.99 with one side) received the same artistic squeeze bottle sauce treatment as the platter, and similarly survived to be tasted on its own. Bark was minimal, but there was some nice pink in there. For the first time in the meal, the meat was dry (like overcooked chicken breast), but the pork did have some pleasing flavor. Though not at all smoky, it did bear the effects of smoking and carried some welcome rub presence. Combined with the sauce and surprisingly fresh squishy bulkie roll, the pork was mildly satisfying, but sauce artistry aside, not really memorable.
Meats summary: For the most part, the meats were moist but steamy and lacking in flavor. Sauce helped but was more of a visual novelty than anything else.
Mac and cheese: It's called macaroni and cheese because technically there are two elements, but in a well executed version they come together as one. Here they remained as separate as could be: naked elbows with scattered, unmelted clumps of rubbery orange cheese added at the last minute and barely heated. At least it wasn't soggy, but this was still probably the worst attempt at mac and cheese I've ever encountered in a restaurant.
Collard greens: Perfectly cooked to the brink of wilting, the dark green leaves had some resistance left and some nice flavor in the brothy accompaniment.
Cole slaw: More wilting and no flavor in the watery accompaniment.
Cornbread: My piece was warm, moist and extremely fresh. If you like the cakey kind, you're not only going to like this version, you're going to love it. While some cornbreads are cakey, this is as close to actual cake as it gets. It works much better as a dessert than a side, but what a dessert.
As I often do, I kept wondering if the meats had the potential to be better on another day. On the one hand, the flavors were so held back that I couldn't possibly imagine much improvement even if the steamy textures were remedied. Then again, maybe the steamy textures and washed out flavors went hand in hand, both the products of long and less-than-ideal holding. The place was dead and the owners were vending at a fair that day, so maybe their best product was elsewhere in town at the same time I was in the restaurant. That's no excuse, but a possible explanation. All I know is that rib looked like it could be good.
A dollar goes a long way here. The sandwich had a lot of meat. The sides arrived in large bowls.
The Bottom Line
Maybe the 200 awards were for sauce styling. Based on flavor and texture, I can't see them being for barbecue unless (as is so often the case) what was offered for competition was drastically different from what's done for the public. I do see some potential, but this meal was mostly bland.
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