Several weeks ago, Dad has surgery and then followed a litany of complications that involved Emergency Rooms, Urgent Care Centers, Specialists and a very patient family. At long last he was pretty much back to normal when I decided to take him out to dinner. Mom had been working on her Asian cooking skills so Dad, shockingly, decided he wanted something other than Thai food.
I had heard that a new BBQ place in Old Town Scottsdale had opened and knowing that Dad loved him some BBQ, I drove him over to Big Earl’s BBQ in Scottsdale, just right off Scottsdale Road on First Avenue. As fate would have it, we got a spot right on First Avenue in front of the restaurant.
Upon walking in, we were immediately greeted by a cheerful server and a manager. We were escorted to a four-top table toward the back past the bar. Only moments later, we were met by our server who asked us if we wanted any beverages. Dad and I each ordered a Diet Coke ($2.00) and I also requested a water. Dad was still trying to decide what he wanted, so our server disappeared in the back to get us drinks.
When she returned we were presented with Mason Jars filled with our drinks. We loved it. Mason Jars are great for drinks. But, we were more interested in getting some food, so we placed our order. We decided to start with the Southern Style Sausage Balls with Hot Mustard ($5.99) and the Rock Shrimp and Buttered Georgia Grits ($7.99). This would be followed by the Pulled Pork Sandwich with a side of Five Cheese Mac’n ($7.99) for me and the Texas Brisket Sandwich with a side of Raleigh, NC Cole Slaw ($8.99) for Dad. We also decided to try a couple of additional sides. Dad wanted the Hand Cut French Fries ($3.99) and I wanted to try the Citrus County Florida Collard Greens ($3.99). Our waitress told the appetizers would be out shortly and departed.
While we waited, Dad said he really liked the interior and I agreed. It was a classic BBQ Honky Tonk set up with lots of Country/Western music, license plates on the wall, and butcher paper for table clothes. We could tell the place was new by the scent of sawdust wafting in the air. It was quite comfortable.
The first appetizer to hit our table was the Southern Style Sausage Balls with Hot Mustard. Nestled in a paper-line basket, six medium sized sausage balls surrounded a small ramekin of sweet, hot mustard. Two large toothpicks were also included. We each tried one and loved the flavor. The problem, however, was that they had been overcooked and ended up coming out tough. It was somewhat off putting and I wish a gentler hand had been handling the cooking because the flavor was enticing. The sweet, hot mustard, on the other hand, stole the show. It was excellent. Bold and pungent, we loved the flavor mix and the contrast to the salty sausage. I would get these again, but would be worried they would come out overcooked again.
Next up were the Shrimp and Grits. A large soup bowl filled with rock shrimp, grits and a silky smooth butter sauce graced the table. We grabbed our spoons and dove in. Oh my! It was heaven. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and the grits were incredibly creamy. The butter sauce was like liquid candy and the combination of all three had us lapping up every atom of the dish. It was phenomenal. This was one of the best dishes I have had in Phoenix metro in quite some time. Honestly, the dish would a perfect – and addictive – lunch served with a small salad and some bread. While certainly a heart stopper of a dish, we loved it and found it to be the best thing we had all evening.
We had just finished fighting over who would get the honor of licking the bowl of the Shrimp and Grits when our sandwiches arrived. My Pulled Pork Sandwich with Five Cheese Mac’n was served in a plastic basket lined with a red tissue paper. The Five Cheese Mac’n was served in a small soup crock. The sandwich itself was a mix of pulled pork and a dollop of the cole slaw on a roll. Luckily, I had a choice of sauces for my sandwich: the Original BBQ sauce or the Sweet and Spicy. I cut my sandwich in half and applied each to one half of the sandwich. I got ready to pick up the half with the original sauce on it when… UGH. For whatever reason, the kitchen decided to put very moist pork on top of a thin bun bottom and the results were pure mush. I could barely pick up the sandwich because the bun, along with the tissue paper liner, were soaked and falling apart. I was able to turn my sandwich over and handle it that way, but the mushy bread was completely unappealing. That was sad considering that I really liked the interior of the sandwich. The pulled pork was flavorful, tender, and (obviously) juicy. The vinegar based slaw was a great addition and the Original BBQ sauce was very good, although I will admit that the Sweet and Spicy BBQ sauce is much better. Unfortunately, I couldn’t escape the fact that the bread was just horrible. At the very least the bread should have been fully toasted to prevent saturation.
The Five Cheese Mac’n was very good. It was rich and creamy and the pasta was perfectly cooked. I also liked the fact that it had a spicy edge to it. I had no complaints about it.
Dad’s Texas Brisket Sandwich was quite appealing with its slice of brisket which had a nice pink hue in the center. Unfortunately, Dad had the same issue with the bread that I did. Still, he did say that it was some of the best brisket he had had in many, many years. He found it to be hearty, tender and not overcooked, which he claims is usually the case when he gets brisket elsewhere. Dad also said that he was “okay” with the Cole Slaw but likes creamy slaw, so that wasn’t a big winner for him (but I did enjoy the slaw myself).
The side that Dad chose was the Hand Cut French Fries. They arrived in their own basket and it was a huge portion. The fries were piping hot and not at all greasy. We loved the crisp exterior of the shoestring fries as well as the fluffy interior. The seasoning was spot on and we loved them, but the portion was quite large. My standard for fries is whether or not they would make a good Poutine. In this instance, the answer was a solid yes.
My additional side of choice was the Collard Greens. I liked the dark green leaves peppered with bits of pork and served hot. I seasoned them with a little black pepper and dove in. What I was not expecting, however, was the fact that the greens had been left in their full leafy form. I pulled my fork out with what I assumed would be a bite of greens and ended up with a collard leaf about seven inches long. Um… okay. Upon further inspection, I noticed that they were all full leaves. So, I grabbed my knife and started hacking away at the jungle to bring it down to manageable sized, but that endeavor proved to be very cumbersome because the bowl holding the greens was not really large enough to facilitate cutting the greens. I did like the taste and the spicy kick, but I was perplexed as to why these leaves weren’t cut before service or even during cooking.
When we finished our meals, we were stuffed. We requested our check and the total was $46.50 including tax. Dad and I both thought this was a very good bargain. Overall, we both agreed that we would return to Big Earl’s. We did see platters of the ribs go by and we were tempted. We also loved, loved, loved the Shrimp and Grits and enjoy the meats on our sandwiches. However, we were still scratching our heads over the bread and greens. Service was very good and we appreciated the manager stopping by to ensure we were enjoying ourselves.
So, we got back in the car and headed home thinking of Shrimp and Grits and Brisket and Fries. Dad was all but giddy.
It was nice to see him getting back to his normal self.
Big Earl’s BBQ
7213 East 1st Avenue
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Dress: Casual. Botox not necessary.
Hours: Sunday through Saturday – 11 AM to 10 PM (although often open later on weekends).
Notes: Parking available on First Avenue or in the small lot to the immediate West of the restaurant.
Alcohol: Full bar (Happy Hour is Monday through Friday – 11 AM to 6 PM).
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
Big Earl's BBQ
7213 E 1st Ave, Scottsdale, AZ 85251