Barbecue is among the oldest forms of cooking known to man, dating from a time when homo erectus first threw a slab of raw meat onto an open flame. If Americans didn't invent the form, they've excelled at regionalizing it: Kansas City's thick, sweet sauce; the vinegar-based flavors of the Carolinas; Memphis with its heavy emphasis on pork; wood-smoked meats in Texas.
At Backyard BBQ and Booze in Deveaux Village (at the former location of Big'Z Bar and Grill) on West Sylvania Avenue, there is no distinct style, although its nearest kin would be Texas. Tucked into a shopping center dominated by the CedarCreek Church, the décor of this cavernous eatery (it accommodates 250) is country chic meets Buffalo Wild Wings. Exposed ductwork and wooden pallets hang from the ceiling, while a dozen flat screen TVs the size of minivans show sports on most walls.
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MENU: Backyard BBQ and Booze
Backyard is a good place to satisfy Texas-size appetites. On our first visit, we tried a half rack of the wet baby-back ribs ($12.99), and the tender pork literally fell off the bone. Paired with two pedestrian side dishes (fries and coleslaw), it was more than enough for one person.
Beyond pork and beef ribs ($21.99 to $23.99 for a full rack), you can get barbecue chicken and pulled pork sandwiches ($6.99 includes a side). For the heartier appetite the restaurant offers Stackers: sandwiches with two to four patties of meat ($9.99 to $12.99) and one of a dozen side dishes (baked beans, mac and cheese, green beans, side salad, onion rings etc.). The Kids Meals ($4.99) range from a simple cheese burger to grilled cheese and pulled pork sandwiches and each comes with a side.
On a second visit we ventured off the barbecue reservation and tried the Country Fried Steak sandwich, a two-hander composed of a thick slab of beef topped with country gravy, cheddar cheese and smoked slaw, situated on what the menu calls a twisted biscuit, but is essentially a croissant ($8.99). It's a bit messy what with all that gravy, but the delicate flavor of the croissant compliments the serious meat.
Equally tasty were bone-in pork chops with a bourbon caramel glaze ($13.99). The two chops were cold smoked, grilled and topped with a sweet and sticky glaze that mixed well with the naturally salty meat. The dish was efficiently seasoned, but it looked and tasted more like thick cuts of smoked ham than pork chops. Nonetheless, they were satisfying.
The Yard Salad ($7.99), with boiled egg, bell peppers, and a four cheese blend, is the only one of the five offered that's completely devoid of meat. There's also a full-service bar.
Elsewhere, the menu is less successful. The catfish tacos ($8.49) consist of two fried wonton skins full of lightly fried catfish. The batter coating the catfish was almost devoid of taste, which explains why it was topped by a whipped avocado sauce. More problematic for those ready to chow down, one bite and the wonton shatters like fragile glass, forcing you to fork the rest of it.
Backyard BBQ and Booze is only three months old so it has room to grow. It might start with the sides: The Texas chili was a thick riot of spices that overwhelmed rather than complemented the heat. The creamy coleslaw suffered from an excess of vinegar, and while the baked beans are sweet enough they lacked that aftertaste of burnt brown sugar. And the corn muffins that accompany the entrees looked and tasted like Jiffy mix.
The staff was uniformly pleasant, although on none of our three visits did they write the order down, and twice had to return to the table to clarify it. And because the eatery is so new, there's plenty of elbow room. We never saw more than 20 people at one time, although the staff says the place fill up nicely to see bands Thursday through Saturday.
If you're a barbecue connoisseur you might want to skip this place. On the other hand it's perfectly fine if you just want to get your Texas on.
Contact Bill of Fare at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants. The Blade pays for critics' meals.