Philosophical barbecue question: Can a restaurant call itself Mesquite BBQ if it doesn’t use a barbecue grill, a pit or a smoker, or even mesquite wood – or any wood – in the cooking process?
That was the head scratcher for me when I paid a visit to Mesquite BBQ, which opened in January on South Tacoma Way.
Signs outside advertise Texas, American and Hawaiian barbecue. During two visits, what I tasted was slow-cooked meat something akin to pot roast.
It had no whiff of mesquite, held no telltale pink smoke ring (the universal early alert system for good barbecue). The meat looked like it had been oven baked. Indeed, that is how meat is cooked at Mesquite BBQ – in a conventional oven. Servers confirmed that for us on two visits and after a lot of questions.
It made me want to leave and head for my two favorite places for barbecue – Bob’s Bar-B-Q pit on Tacoma’s Hilltop and Branks BBQ in the Sumner valley. In fact, that is where I headed after eating at Mesquite ….
At Mesquite, I liked the tasty Hawaiian-style grilled pork ($8.99 with rice and a side) that came with a teriyaki sauce. The swampy, overly sauced pulled pork platter ($9.99 with one side) left me craving the same dish at Bob’s Bar-B-Q Pit on the Hilltop , a restaurant that uses alder wood to smoke its meat. The ribs ($11.99 for a half rack with a side) at Mesquite BBQ were simply OK for oven-cooked. They don’t hold a candle to the pure, smoky and supple pork ribs at Brank’s BBQ in Sumner, my go-to place for smoked meat.
I’d say Mesquite BBQ might be a good destination if you’re craving pot roast-style meat, but you won’t find the permeating smoky goodness of real barbecue in the food.
Where: 5415 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma
Now, here is where you should invest your barbecue dollars. In ribs, specifically. Both restaurants do wonderful versions of slow-smoked ribs:
Bob’s Bar-B-Q Pit
Where: 911 S. 11th St., Tacoma
This Hilltop business has operated since 1948. I’ll have a longer review next Friday when we publish the next installment of our Ten-in-one restaurant series with a focus on restaurants in Tacoma’s Hilltop. At Bob’s, the meat is smoked with alder in a portable pit that the restaurant owners sometimes roll up right in front of the restaurant. The ribs are supple and smoky, and tinged with pink (that neat little chemical reaction that happens when pork is subjected to slow smoking), the sauce is either mild, medium or spicy. Ribs or rib tips are $11.99 for a dinner with two sides, $17.99 for a one-pound rib dinner or $7.99 for a Rib “sammich,” which was four ribs served a la carte, wrapped in paper and served on top of white bread.
Where:13701 24th St. E., Sumner
You’ve just got to love a barbecue restaurant that stacks cherry and apple wood in front of the restaurant right next to the portable barbecue pits. That, my barbecue loving friends, is good advertising.
What I appreciate about Branks is that the meat comes naked, no sauce. I’m a fan of sauce, but put mine on the side, please. I want to taste the smoky meat and sometimes sauce interferes. Branks baby back ribs come rubbed with love and slow cooked, and have a supple tenderness that make them so very easy to pull from the bone (but not in an annoying way where they disintegrate off the bone). They’re available in various sizes and configurations, but you can find them as a four-rib helping on the lunch menu for $8.95 with two sides or the dinner menu as a half rack for $17.45 with a choice of sides.