Southern barbecue and the Northwest aren’t necessarily synonymous. Finding restaurants here that serve slow-and-low authentic Southern style smoked meats is akin to finding El Salvadoran or French restaurants around the South Sound. They’re a rare find, and as soon as you find a good one, you should visit often to keep it smokin’.
Those new restaurants join just a handful of other South Sound restaurants serving slow-and-low barbecue: Porter’s Place Southern Cuisine & BBQ, as well as longtime barbecue restaurants Warthog Barbecue Pit in Fife and Brank’s BBQ in Sumner. There’s also the Po-Boy & Bar-B-Q in Puyallup, Shorty’s Grub House in Federal Way, Bob’s Bar-B-Q Pit on the hilltop. Heading southward, there is South Bay Dickerson’s BBQ and the very popular Ranch House BBQ in Olympia.
I’m sure I’m missing a few others, and that’s where you come in.
YOUR TURN: Which restaurants in the South Sound (emphasis on SOUTH) make your favorite ribs, pulled pork, brisket? Where are they, and why should we eat there? I’m compiling a list for a story. Your input is needed. Please comment below.
Click “more” to see my hallmarks of a good barbecue restaurant, and to read about the ribs at Porter’s Place, a restaurant that has operated since 2005 near the Tacoma Dome (and on 72nd Avenue before that).
Here are my hallmarks for decent barbecue: I judge a barbecue restaurant by its pork ribs. It’s a southern staple, and when done right, ribs can be sublime. I want to see pork that’s pink tinged, a sure sign that the meat has seen time in a smoker. Barbecue aficionados call the pink a smoke ring, but I just call it delicious.
On my pork ribs, I want to see meat that is tender, supple and close to falling off the bone. I don’t want it to disintegrate in my mouth. I don’t want it to taste dry and leathery. I want it soft, juicy and full of porky flavor.
An injection of smoke is good, but it has to straddle that line where the smoke flavor is pronounced, but not bordering on the wrong side of acrid. I want there to be little sauce, or the option of no sauce. This is one of my biggest peeves for barbecue restaurants: Dosing the ribs in too much sauce, especially if it masks the smokiness of the meat. And, as for sauce, I want it to have high and low flavors. I want smoky sugar lows from molasses and sweet tomato highs. And I give extra points if there’s a touch of pucker and spice.
I recently sank into pork ribs from Porter’s Place Southern Cuisine & BBQ and their ribs met most of my hallmarks. The meat was smoky and supple, juicy and falling off the bone. The chew was tender, the smokiness just pronounced enough to offer delicious flavor. Porter’s ribs left me wanting just a bit more flavor in the sauce, though. It was sweet and had a rich, tomato flavor, but I really wanted just a touch of heat or molasses to bring the flavors deep. I suppose I could have ordered “The Man,” a nuclear level spicy sauce for which the restaurant (and its sister restaurant Dixie’s in Bellevue) is legendary, but I wasn’t in the mood to assault my palate. Maybe I should have ordered sides of both sauces and combined them? Now there’s a thought.
Lunch entrees come with a side. I bit into creamy skins-on red potato salad sweetened with a mustard dressing and chopped bell peppers and onions. Baked beans offered sweet molasses flavor and a creamy texture only found in real deal slow-cooked beans.
As for the rest of the menu, you’ll find the good ol’ standards accounted for: brisket, beef ribs, hot links, rib tips, fried catfish, grilled salmon and even vegetarian riblets (that was shocking to find on a barbecue menu. Kudos.). The restaurant also dips into real southern territory with gumbo and jambalaya.
A pulled pork sandwich ($5.99) is something you shouldn’t count on eating with your hands. It’s a hoagie roll topped with smoked pulled pork and a heavy dose of the sweet barbecue sauce (next time, I’ll ask for mine without sauce). The pulled pork was unctuous, but it came with a lot of fat around the edges, which bothered me some. It might not bother you.
Porter’s Place Southern Cuisine & BBQ
Where: 2615 E. N St., Tacoma