Located right next to a McDonald's and across from a Chinese buffet on Route 1, Sista's BBQ is a drive-thru-only operation that took over a former coffee joint. It's easy to spot: just look for the cow lying in the giant blue coffee high atop the roof.
There's no inside dining (or even access) for customers, but a few outdoor picnic tables are handy. You pull up to the first window on the right side of the building to place your order, then drive around the back (passing the smoker along the way) to the pick-up window on the left side.
The "sista" of Sista's is Kathleen Baskin, a transplanted Alabamian.
It took me three visits to finally score a meal at Sista's. My first attempt on an early Sunday afternoon found the place vacant in defiance of their posted hours. A second attempt on a Friday afternoon encountered a sign explaining that they were closed to handle a catering gig. The third time was the charm—well, in theory, anyway.
The barbecue-only menu features pork spare ribs, pulled pork, smoked chicken breast and sliced beef. A sampler platter includes all four; boneless meats are available on sandwiches with or without sides. Brunswick stew is the only appetizer. Breakfast is still listed on the drive-thru menu and online menu, but no longer offered.
Beef: At one point brisket but recently changed to a different cut that the attendant called knuckle meat, this smoked pulled beef had a mostly crispy texture and mostly brown color. I ordered it unsauced, as I did all of the meats on the Sampler Platter ($15), and that might not have presented it in its best light. It looked dry. Upon fork contact the lack of "give" nearly confirmed it, then the first bite sealed the deal. This wasn't just dry; it was very dry. On the plus side, it was unmistakably smoky, but lightly so. No real woodiness, just the smoke. Beef, caramelized fat on the surface and melted-in (and subsequently dried) fat inside produced some decent flavor. A little dunk in the tomatoey barbecue sauce helped immensely, giving it a grilled burger feel, but ultimately this dry, one-note beef was an obvious disappointment.
Chicken: It's smoked chicken breast, and we all know what the driest part of the chicken is. Dice it and it gets even drier. This was drier than the beef but had none of the semi-redeeming flavor to lift it from poor to fair. Light smoke was again there, but that's about it. No chickeniness and no moisture whatsoever. Rub appeared on select surfaces but not in the bite.
Pulled pork: So far with beef and chicken we've got dry and drier, but the pulled pork trumps them both. These long, gray strings looked dry, felt dry and tasted dry. Throat-scrapingly dry. Even immersed in sauce, the pork resisted it instead of absorbing it. Flavor was identical to the chicken: light smoke only and chicken breasty at best. With harsh texture and no flavor, this pork didn't have much going for it.
Ribs: Finally ending the streak (sort of), the two pork spare ribs offered the first glimpses of moisture and flavor, but neither rib had both qualities. A rib from the middle of the rack had nice crusting, mere hints of pink color on the mostly gray cross section, a slightly firm but mostly tender texture and some moisture in the meat that pulled easily from the bone. Flavor was again light smoke and not much else, but this time with the moisture in play it was a little easier to swallow. An end piece was almost entirely crusty bark, with much more flavor, combining a nice porkiness with the familiar smoke and more rub flavor than on everything else combined. Unfortunately, the price for this ramped up flavor was complete lack of moisture. The meat here was so dry and so tough that I had to stop myself from using the old Three Stooges approach of putting one palm on my head, the other on my chin and pushing inward with both to power through.
Meats summary: Dry.
One sauce is available, either served on top of the meats (standard) or on the side (by request). It's a tomatoey number similar to ketchup, only a little more spicy and a lot more tangy.
Marinated slaw: Two cole slaws are on offer—the regular one dressed with mayo and the marinated one with vinegar. I tried the marinated, which had thick, crunchy cabbage and tart vinegar with no other discernable additions. It didn't seem all that marinated, as the cabbage was still a little on the stiff side and flavor hadn't fully set in yet. As a side this needed something extra, but I liked where it was headed and could see it working well as a pulled pork sandwich topping.
Baked beans: Coated in a thick and tomatoey sauce, these were satisfying but pretty ordinary.
Potato salad: Probably the highlight of the meal, this had slightly firm potato chunks, some hardboiled egg bits and a nice assortment of spices in the full flavored mayo. Cool, creamy, spicy and just the right amount of bite—easily one of the better potato salads I've had. If only the meats approached this quality.
Cornbread: Here the cornbread is more of a corn meal pancake, with a coarse texture and corny flavor with hardly any sweetness. It's a more authentic take on cornbread than most Yankee barbecue joints serve and another highlight.
Sides summary: Decent to pretty good.
Pricing is certainly fair, assuming halfway decent quality. That's a big assumption, of course, especially in light of my visit's not-quite decent quality.
My Wednesday lunch visit may have been a contributing factor for that quality, as they're closed on Monday and Tuesday. But if you're closed Monday and Tuesday, shouldn't Wednesday's 'cue be fresh and not reheated from Sunday?
Service was very friendly.
The Bottom Line
Perhaps things might be different on a second visit, but when all four meats are dry and three out of the four are bland, a second visit is likely unlikely, because me no likey.
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