I was walking down to Citizen last night when I happened to see that Sweet Cheeks seemed to be open. Upon entering, I learned that I had stumbled upon an informal soft open in preparation for their official opening this Friday. Despite already having dinner, I couldn't resist the chance to try some barbecue. As a born and bred Tennessean and having frequented 17th Street in my college years, good barbecue is one of the things I have missed the most since moving to Boston. Having tried Blue Ribbon, Redbones and Soulfire multiple times each, only the latter was even worth reconsidering (granted, I have not been out to BT's). As a result, I had somewhat low expectations of Sweet Cheeks.
I didn't have the appetite for an entire meal, but I did want to try various offerings on their menu. In the end, I decided to split a pulled pork sandwich, a quarter lb of brisket and a couple pork ribs. Lo and behold, I was actually pleasantly surprised. My favorite was perhaps the pork ribs, which turned out to be short ribs instead of the baby back ribs I was expecting. Although the ribs were rather thin, the ribs were deeply smoked and had a good texture. The pulled pork was perhaps a bit on the dry side, but tasted pretty decent after a good dousing of sauce. The brisket was just barely falling apart, with the fatty bit being the most flavorful. All in all, textures were good and smoke was evident.
There were 3 sauces: something close to a Memphis-style vinegar and tomato-based sauce, a spicy version thereof, and a Western Carolina vinegar sauce. The only one I didn't try last night was the spicy sauce, but the other two were pretty tasty. Notably, there was not a KC style sauce, which I personally find too sweet, but which seems popular at the other barbecue joints in town.
One big point was what seemed to be the lack of any dry rub, or a very minimal rub. For my tastes, I like my barbecue to have a rub on it, but I do understand that there are some regional styles that are rub-free. Back home, we just don't call those styles barbecue ;). I would personally prefer to see some Memphis-style dry rubbed baby backs on the menu, but for now, I'll take what I can get.
In addition to the meats I tried, there is also chicken, beef short ribs and pork belly on the menu. I didn't have any stomach space for sides, but the menu had a wide variety of both traditional sides (collards, beans, fried green tomatoes, etc.) and some sides you would never see down South (ie. a farm salad that was Brussels sprouts based). One notable omission was the lack of cornbread.
They didn't have any sweet tea last night, so I had a Porkslap instead. The drink menu is very American centric, with a focus on beers and spirits. The bartender mentioned that all the offerings are brewed or distilled in the US, with the exception of a couple tequilas. There is even moonshine.
Again, in my humble opinion, barbecue needs a healthy bit of rub to be the most flavorful. All in all, though, I was pleasantly surprised by how well-smoked the meat was, and I look forward to trying it more fully in the near future.
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