Last year, I had great concerns about finding decent Mediterranean food in the Valley. After trying several places that were mediocre at best, I found that I was in a rut until I discovered some cheap eats in Tempe that fit the bill nicely. But that was last year.
Now, the bane of my existence is finding decent BBQ in Phoenix. I really liked Fat Slim’s BBQ Joint in Arcadia, but it went the way of the dodo after some lease issues (or so they say). I tried a couple of other spots and the one that was even remotely acceptable was BobbyQ near Metrocenter. So, I have persevered trying to find BBQ that could really put a smile on my face.
As fate would have it, I was able to try another BBQ spot while having a car emissions tested at the testing station near 48th Street and Washington. As I pulled onto the side road, I saw Hap’s Pit Barbecue staring me in the face and I knew that once the car had passed or failed, I would get some BBQ. Thankfully, the car passed and I was pulling into the Hap’s lot (one shared with other businesses in the same strip mall) and wandering in.
The place was virtually empty inside save one gentleman sitting in a corner reading a newspaper. I walked up to the counter and looked at the menu that was hanging behind the counter. There were plenty of choices and I had a hard time deciding. When I did discover what would make a great lunch, I tried to get the attention of a male staffer who was walking back and forth. I caught his eye, he snarled a bit and then ducked behind some cooking equipment. I guess it was something I said.
Moments later, a woman approached me and asked if she could take my order. At least she didn’t snarl. So, I placed my order. I chose the Two Meat Combo Dinner ($7.19), and selected the Pulled Pork and the Beef Brisket as my meats. Since I got to select a side dish, I went with the Garlic Mashed Potatoes. I also decided to get an additional side, choosing the Old Settler Beans ($1.99). To wash it all down, I went with a 44 oz. Diet Coke ($1.39). My total was $11.43 which included tax.
I turned to take a seat, but the woman behind the counter told me that it wouldn’t be more than a minute before my meal was ready. She was correct. Within 90 seconds, a styrofoam container containing my lunch was on a tray and ready for me to take to a table. I asked for the cup for my drink and stopped at the fountain for my soda before going to a small booth at one side of the restaurant.
Sipping my drink, I was keenly aware of the praises that Hap’s had received. There were framed reviews and certificates lining the walls and the entire back of the paper menu is a shrine to the positive press given Hap’s. I was eagerly anticipating a great meal and finally finding a BBQ joint that I could rely on.
Sadly, my dreams of decent BBQ morphed into nightmares from the first bite.
I opened the styrofoam container to reveal an aluminum foil packet folded over and sealed along the sides. I opened that to discover my pulled pork and beef brisket. Both had been drizzled with BBQ sauce. In the upper left corner of the container was a small cup of garlic mashed potatoes and then next to it was half a hamburger bun that was supposed to be garlic toast (that is what the menu said). A small plastic ramekin of extra BBQ sauce was snuggled between the toast and the brisket.
I took my first bite and it was of the garlic mashed potatoes. Well, the name was only partially correct. They were potatoes that had been mashed, but beyond that, they were terrible. They were pasty and lacked any seasoning, not to mention the complete lack of garlic. There was no effort put into this side dish other than a potato masher or a ricer. In any event, I clearly made an unwise choice.
My next discover was trying to figure out if the “garlic toast” was meant to be a joke or just cheap. Or perhaps a cheap joke. Really now. Is garlic toast really that difficult a concept? Is it supposed to be “downhome” when you take the top of a hamburger bun, butter it up, place it on a grill and then (supposedly) give it some garlic flavor? This wasn’t garlic toast at all. This was a warmed, buttered hamburger bun. Imagine ordering a side of toast for breakfast and getting that. Whatever the problem was, it was only confounded by the fact that, like the potatoes, the chances of this bread even being close to anything resembling garlic was zero to none.
Hoping to salvage the meal with at least some good BBQ, I took a bite of the pork. Everything around me came to a complete and total stop. It took me a moment for my long-term memory to kick in and remind me that the taste of the beef was equal to the smell you get when you pour water on a smoldering campfire. In a word: vile. I tried the beef and the same taste came through loud and clear. Clearly, ash or soot from the cooking pit had been mixed with the meat. There was no meat taste. There was no BBQ taste. There was only the taste of ash or soot. On my second attempt, my gag reflex kicked in and I simply could not finish it. This was truly awful. If this is what “smoked” meat is supposed to be like, I will pass.
I turned my attention to the small styrofoam cup of Old Settler Beans. I opened up the lid to reveal a mixture of many different types of beans (Lima, kidney, black, pinto) in a brown and red sauce with bits of bacon. I hoped for the best, but got nothing more than the taste of BBQ sauce. I tried several bites and while the beans were cooked perfectly, it all tasted the same. Even the bacon tasted like BBQ sauce. Like the meats, I could only stomach so much and pushed that aside.
Since I had spent nearly $12.00 on food and thought I should have received something better, I approached the counter and expressed my displeasure at the meats. I described the sooty taste of the beef and a received a cursory response: “Yeah, that happens sometimes.” The surly man in the back peered around the corner of the cooking area to look at me and gave his disapproval with a sneer.
What a charmer.
With that, I left, realizing that when someone says there is soot in the food and the response is pointless, you just have to cut your losses and head on home. Or in my case, back to work.
Well, at least I can say that I passed my emissions test. I guess that means the vehicle I was in has less ash or soot than Hap’s.
Hap’s Pit Barbecue
4801 East Washington Street
Phoenix, AZ 85034
Hours: Monday through Friday - 10:30 AM to 7:00 PM; Saturday - 10:30 AM to 4 PM; Closed Sunday
Notes: The entrance is just off of 48th Street south of Washington.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com