Lakeland Barbecue Co.

I don’t remember exact flavors at Good Buddies, exempt them dirty fries. Why my phantom taste buds can recite this one menu item among all the others is beyond human comprehension. Yet, as an ode to the restaurant that once bustled then succumbed to a tragic fire a half dozen years or more in downtown Lakeland, my French fry cart The Root concocted our own version of dirty fries. Unfortunate or indifferent as it is, Good buddies isn’t back although the team that once brought some of the best BBQ around is. And what’s in a name really? For me, it happens to be nostalgia for  something I honestly can’t really remember too much of other than my brain verifies they was awesome. Lakeland BBQ Co. has risen out of the ashes of a burned down building and years worth of domination in local BBQ competitions. That is what their reputation of this new to you named BBQ Co is built upon.

LkldBBQ
This isn’t really a review, think of it more of an introduction to how I gauge my barbeque.
When you walk in, head toward the bar in the far reaches of the building where you might see someone waving a wooden stock pot spoon at you to control foot traffic in the right direction. If you don’t already know how to order BBQ from a new place here’s how you do it. Everyone’s got one or two favorite cuts of meat or preparations. From birth I’ve been a rib guy, mainly spare with the tips attached. If that’s not available, I wont always go for the back ribs as the next option. If not pork ribs, ill usually gravitate (if available) toward more rare white rabbit type forms such as Burnt Ends, In House Smoked sausage, Pig Belly and Mutton. If you don’t have a preference with BBQ I think you’re on the verge of being lost. I’m saying this because we have rules. Without rules, chaos reigns. When chaos reigns, you get your queues from a talking fox. On the first trip to a new BBQ restaurant or frankly one you’ve never been before, always order what you already love. This is your gauge. If you don’t think they do what you like very well, you probably aren’t going to like the rest. I would never order pulled or chopped pork over ribs, brisket, sausage, lamb, duck or even chicken, so why would I judge based on that? Chopped pork is way down my list, but this is  not at the behest of anyone that likes it. We all have our security blankets.

The ordering structure at Lakeland BBQ co. makes it easy to perform a second test because the subject is already at the table. Saucing. Take your less predominant index finger  out. Place a few dabs of whichever sauce you think you’ll enjoy. You want control, which is why I squeeze with my right and test with the left. Their spicy sauce is not overbearing on the heat index, but it’s cold inside to be honest. Usually shivering will cause you to feel the heat more than it’s meant to be felt, so sit near the window for maximum effort. It was very tolerable nonetheless. I detected a flavor combination with a subtle complexity right off the bat. I think I got some coffee and smoked chile, caramelized brown sugar in there somewhere.

As for the ribs:

The smoke ring was there as you see, but the smoky flavor wasn’t as bring you to your knees powerful as you’ll find at other joints.  Because of these factors, the texture made me think more of deeply roasted shoulder. I respect the restraint they exhibited as it caused me to actually taste pork. Kind of the reason we like the stuff in the first place.

lkldribs

The menu is brief with the main and sides at a minimum, so you don’t have a myriad of options. I’m fine with that. I’d rather have fresh tasty sides done very well, over a pliable sheet panned week old macaroni and cheese. Opting for what I perceive everyone will gravitate toward, Cheesy Hash brown casserole was my side of choice, although the following visit allowed me to put their Collards under the microscope. You see, in actuality making good Collard Greens isn’t tough. Just don’t serve them raw in a salad or turn ’em to mush. everything else within the spectrum is allowable. The problem is people who make really good Collard Greens don’t want to admit anyone else does them good.  I have to admit, they done did the Collards right. Tender, ham hocky, salty and tangy with some great pot likker broth to sip as an after meal digestif.

A fitting suprise was the wedge of cake like cornbread on my lunch tray. I wasn’t expecting it, probably didn’t need it from the generous amount of ribs they provided, however I was very happy to eat the entire brick. Restaurant cornbread can be as fickle as a newspaper editor, twice as crummy and three times, no four times as dry. Not here.

Since they’re only open for Lunch, this new place might not end up on everyone’s to do list. If you’re a fan of Good buddies, maybe you’ll try this and think it’s just like they used to do it. Maybe you’ll think they have grown from the years being on the circuit. Maybe you’ll be elbow deep in pork fat  and far too busy to pontificate over these trivialized matters.

Rebel House – Boca Raton, FL

For something to make an indelible impression on my mind, a truly impressive feat has to be achieved. I am speaking, quite cryptically, about my experience at Rebel House in Boca Raton. It was a momentous occasion indeed, and though it was over 3 months ago, it still resonates in my lobes, both cerebral and the fatty lobe my liver has been transformed into. A transformation that would cause a rag-tag gang of mutants to assemble to fight for the greater good of mankind.

Rebel House interior

So here goes an attempt to wax poetic about something that happened such a long time ago. An evening in which I have no historical, pictorial, electoral or maybe even pectoral data for that matter, to back up my braised and brazen proclamations of excellence. Luckily, James was there to document the occasion.

The beef essences that transferred from popped corn to lips, was an amazing introduction between two new acquaintances, myself being the lesser in the relationship of human and tallow. I had studied this menu online for months, to the point of obsession. Ever since Rebel House opened for business, I had eyed it as a potential food suitor. However the daunting three hour drive stymied our would-be affair. But if you want something bad enough, all you need is an opportunity. To get just one foot in the door. Who knows what could be if distance didn’t separate us?

The table ordered around 12 dishes. We were all drawn to the left side of the menu that harbored the smaller plates meant for sharing.

Rebel House spread

I will say that I wasn’t blown away by my first taste of voluntarily ordered food (the beef popcorn was a gift and a welcome amusement). Homemade tater tots filled with cheeses of varying viscosity. I feel in hindsight they were ordered more for the little man at the table. They weren’t completely ready to come out of their hot oil bath, but things drastically rocketed skyward when my Korean BBQ lamb ribs arrived. With each bite, the thick sweet soy heavy sauce struggled valiantly to remain on the bone with caramel-like tension. The meat had no problem. It was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. As I often do, I was mindful of the techniques and time it took to achieve such complex flavors. Though lamb ribs are a protein usually forgotten, this dish bestowed it with a distinct personality. That, along with the rice vinegar quick pix (pickles) that served perfectly as a pairing to the ribs, I quickly forgot the miscues of the first course. I was then tapped on the shoulder due to excessive pondering. Next course, sweetbreads with citrus, frisee, and fennel. There hasn’t been an odder couple working so harmoniously since the powerhouse duo of Sylvester Stallone and Estelle Getty. I have to say, Rebel House is quite the flavor matchmaker. The tart citrus sliced scimitar-like through the rich, crispy morsels.

Then came the fried rice. In the back of my mind I was worrying. I worry that restaurants sometimes stretch themselves too thin. Giving me too many cuisines to choose from in one meal gets me nervous, as is my eyes will rebel against my better judgement resulting in a muddied dining experience.

Rebel House spread 2

The fried rice at rebel house is a complete meal all on its own. I may not have appreciated it as much as I should have, based on my fullness level at that point. The combination of the fresh springtime vegetables, with crispy bacon, a fried egg oozing a spellbinding golden yolk all over the plate, ribbons of spicy mayo intertwined with crispy fried red onions being the last bow atop this mound of mouth-watering magnificence. I mean, you can’t find it this in any modern Chinese establishment. Stop looking, it’s over Johnny. Some other items we sampled were a dish of grilled asparagus, drizzled with hollandaise and shaved cheese, pork potstickers in a sweet hoisin-like glaze and a dish of ravioli with snap peas, roasted mushroom ragu and shaved parm.

Ravioli with Shaved Parm and Roasted Mushrooms

The table enjoyed two amazing ice cream desserts for our last cattle call. It was just about time to go to slaughter. These marvels of modern science in sundae form were presented to us in gigantic goblets fit for King Ralph.

I can’t exactly remember what they were but one had chocolate, praline, pretzels and candied almond. While the other, had a cinnamon roll at the base with bacon bits, caramel, and walnuts swarming the perimeter.

Rebel House dessert

You have to try this place if you are ever within 50 miles of Boca Raton. It’s worth the drive. This place has gotten a lot of buzz as being stiff competition to its counterparts over in Miami, and for good reason. And when you do go, because you will, bring your story of rebellion back to your hometown and demand that a place like this find its way into your city streets.

Rebel House on Urbanspoon

Hottie Hawgs – Atlanta, GA

I’m a Florida boy, so that means having to be subjected to horrible BBQ my entire existence. I’ve constantly craved a taste of the good stuff. Naturally, human beings want what they can’t have but decades old mainstays in cities like Memphis, St. Louis and Kansas City have provided many a BBQ lovers paradise. Atlanta, however, has never quite joined the Valhalla of ‘que.

Last week I was chatting up a new friend of mine, who happens to be one half of Lakeland cult classic, The Poor Porker. I told her I was heading up to Atlanta for a long weekend and asked if she had any tasty joints I should visit. She gave me Hottie Hawg’s, a BBQ joint on the outskirts of the metro Atlanta area where an old friend of hers works as the executive chef. If you respect your friends, you listen to their suggestions, that’s why you ask them in the first place isn’t it? So after some correspondence, it was decided that I would be meeting, greeting and eating at Hottie Hawgs, and to my surprise, Jimmy would be joining me, Eat a Duck was to be represented in full force.

To help you appreciate my time at the Hawg, I must say that the day so far had been quite tense and I wasn’t in the best of moods. The moment I walked up, however, that all changed. Entering the parking lot, you’re greeted by a completely decked out competition BBQ trailer , a smoker made to look like a train, and a mountain bike to match the exterior of Hottie Hawgs. You can tell these guys are having fun. It is such a welcoming space. The interior is clad in brick and wood with vintage concert posters littering the ceilings. It feels like you’re walking into a cross between a good friends cabin and your favorite neighborhood pub.

Our waitress, Jessica, welcomed us with a smile and let us pick our table. We decided on the indoor porch/tequila bar for best lighting. As we looked over the menu we asked Jessica what she’d recommend. To me this is like a test of the quality of the restaurant. If the server hesitates whatsoever, it either means the food isn’t worth the staff sampling it, or they haven’t done their homework, both of which reflect negatively on the establishment. But she didn’t hesitate, and suggested the mysterious Armadillo Eggs. Now, I hope I’m describing this properly, they’re pickled jalepeño, stuffed with cream cheese and chopped brisket. They’re then battered, fried and drizzled with maple habañero sauce, sort of like poppers with a delicious twist. She also mentioned the intriguingly named “Hawg Balls”, their version of fried mac n’ cheese, served with petal sauce.

Fried mac n' cheese

As Jessica turned in our starters, the head chef Matthew came out to introduce himself. It was such a breath of fresh air for be treated so warmly by the entire crew. He smiled approvingly at our choices and shared a few stories about how some of the dishes came to be on the menu. Like beanies and weenies, which, like most things, came out of necessity when a snowstorm knocked out food deliveries for a week. The food stopped coming, but the locals didn’t. They walked over in snow shoes looking for some grub. Matthew had to think fast, so he whipped up some homemade baked beans and kielbasa they had in the walk-in. It was such a hit that everyone begged for it to be a permanent addition to the menu. He also proudly mentioned that they had won the brisket category at last years KCBS sanctioned Atlanta BBQ competition. Luckily, we had the much heralded brisket already on the way. We shook hands and he excused himself to the kitchen to work his magic.

Jessica arrived moments later with our starters and gave us a nice overview of their homemade sauces. Now I’m not sure how we got on the subject, but we found out that they had a special a while back that involved a garlic ranch dipping sauce. Jimmy, being the garlic fiend that he is, asked if they had any in the back. She said she didn’t think so but she would ask. No more than 10 minutes later she came back with that very sauce, as delicious as we imagined. The sides were intriguing as well. Out of the 10 or so options we chose, coca-cola collard greens and onion hay, since Jimmy is an aficionado on the subject of fried onions. Jessica also said we had a choice between jalapeño cheese cornbread and Texas toast. We could tell by the look in her eye that the cornbread was the way to go, so we went for it. As the food came out it was like an edible conga line of crispy, saucy, spicy and smokey enticements. The excitement was building.

 

I have to say, up until the moment I tasted Hottie Hawgs award-winning entry, I hated brisket. I’ve been watching a certain BBQ competition reality show recently to try to learn the science of brisket. As far as I’m concerned, the Hawg passed every test. The elasticity, the smoke ring, the crust, and moistness levels were as good as I could have expected. The ribs didn’t fall of the bone too easily, but were extremely tender. That’s what you want in a good rib. They were smokey and covered in their own dry rub and tomato based sauce, which made the outside nice and sticky. Now let’s talk cornbread. There had to be a reason Jessica put it on a pedestal. As lame as I might sound it was the best I had ever had at any restaurant, or anywhere else for that matter. It was so moist and gooey that it was one step from being pudding. Dear god it was insane.

As we finished our smorgasbord, Matthew came back to check on us. We talked some more about food and the Atlanta area, about other restaurants he liked, and how the locals have really embraced the place. There’s big support on Friday and Saturday nights, when the live music starts pumping. You can tell that they’re really working to make it the premier place to find Atlanta ‘que, and so far, they’re on the right track. I mean, when we were asked if there was anything we didn’t like, we just looked at each other stupidly, as we couldn’t think of one thing we would’ve changed. That feeling isn’t a coincidence though. We talked about how restaurants have to adapt and not rest on their laurels. The night before, Jimmy went to a BBQ establishment in Charlotte that was featured on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. He was extremely disappointed as it seemed as if they had become complacent about their food since being featured on television. Matthew is anything but lazy with his food. He insists that the menu change often to entice repeat customers with new flavors, while keeping people happy with the famous mainstays. I was very impressed with the way Hottie Hawgs mixed competition BBQ, soul food, and bar food classics, into something that’s a cut above your average BBQ joint.

I thought we were done as I was completely satisfied, but Jessica had something sweet for us. Fried cookie balls. Cookie dough wrapped around gooey dark chocolate and covered in caramel and vanilla bean ice cream. We couldn’t resist. Again, this looks and sounds simple. However, I feel, after eating it, that whoever invented it should be nominated for a Nobel peace prize. That dessert could end wars.

What an amazing lunch. Not often does a place make feel me like an invited guest, even though I’m just an unknown schmuck. Jessica came back one last time to make sure everything was up to snuff. We both agreed it was terrific and thanked her so much for taking care of us. You can tell that the entire staff, owner included, really care about the success of Hottie Hawg and they have a real passion for what they’re doing. Now that we’ve seen firsthand what they’re all about , we care too. That’s why we won’t visit the Atlanta area without making a pit stop at our new favorite BBQ establishment.

Hottie Hawgs – 2061 Main Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30318 • 404.794.5224 • www.hottiehawgsbbq.com

Hottie Hawg's Smokin' BBQ on Urbanspoon