Just recently, my lovely wife The Rock Star was tooling around in her car, merrily flipping thru the various radio stations, when all of a sudden she landed on a talk station, right when the host was starting to take a listener's poll about barbecue. Since barbecue just happens to be one of her favorite foods, she listened in long enough to hear the local pundit (she believes) make an absolute fool of himself. His poll question was this: does cooking over charcoal or gas make the best tasting barbecue? My wife was in a hurry and had no time to call and offer her response: neither!!! You see, my wife and myself grew up in barbecue country and we both know that there is only one true fuel to cook barbecue over, unless you are in a hurry: WOOD!!! All the finest BarBQ craftsmen in the country know to get REALLY great tasting meats, they must be cooked over mesquite, pecan, hickory, or some other real wood that grew from a real tree.
Chances are, unless you've lived in a small town, or in the South, or in one of the world's acknowledged haven's of barbecue (most of Texas, Memphis, Carolina, or Missouri), you may very well have never tasted barbecue smoked over wood. In most big cities, barbecue is now cooked over gas grills, and most backyarders use gas or charcoal (which is acceptable only if you purchase mesquite or hickory chips and wrap them in foil). Still, if you've tasted true wood-fired 'cue, it's hard to put up with anything else. That's why I'm glad to report one chain still uses the old-fashioned method, and can be found in ten states and the District of Columbia: Red, Hot, and Blue.
Red, Hot, and Blue features genuine Memphis-style barbecue, where pork, not beef, is the meat of choice, as opposed to places like Texas, which is known for beef brisket. Pulled pork and pork ribs are the specialty items of the house, although their menu does also offer sausage, turkey, and even beef, for those diners who must have their cow and eat it too.
One lovely Saturday evening, my wife and I had a hankerin' for some really good barbecue, and so we looked up the menu of our local RH&B at www.redhotandblue.com. My wife loved what she saw, so we headed right over. When we got there, the wait for a table was not long, but they did offer us immediate seating in the bar. Since I knew they had a really cool looking bar, and knew that like many places, RH&B offers their full dinner menu in the bar, we decided to take them up on their offer.
Like the rest of the restaurant, the bar at RH&B is really funky and inviting: lots of wood and polished metal contribute to a look that is at once trendy and retro. Blues and R&B music is playing. The restaurant proper features lots of posters of blues concerts and other memorabilia, while in the bar the TVs were tuned to ESPN. (We guys just love to watch sports while we drink.) There are booths, tables, and booth/table combinations available, and as with most good bars, such a convival atmosphere that after five minutes, my wife and I felt like regulars.
Despite being busy, Lori, our cheerful bartender-waitress for the evening, came over rather quickly to take our drink orders. (Bartenders are some of the hardest working people in ANY restaurant or club. Period.) Since I knew that nothing goes better with barbecue than beer (except maybe iced tea), I decided on a pint of Shiner Bock. My wife seconded the idea, and the dark, rich draft brew (draft IS better than cans or bottles) soon arrived at our table, and paired very well with the spicy food we enjoyed that evening.
Having developed a taste for great sausage while vacationing in central Texas, my wife and I started our repast with the sausage and cheese platter for appetizer, and if you decide to follow suit, you will not be disappointed. Excellent spiced sausage is served with cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, mustard and crackers. The hoochie-coochie mustard is quite good, but since every table comes with several bottles of different kinds of barbecue sauce (mild, sweet or hot), you can try them as well. One warning: spices are used rather liberally at RH&B, so try small samples of each kind on your meat, until you find the one you are most comfortable with. In any case, the appetizer was fabulous, the meat smoked 12-14 hours over real hickory wood making the difference, as it would all night.
Salads and burgers are available at RH&B, but why bother when the meat is such a star attraction? (If you feel you must have a sandwich, particularly at lunch, then I recommend the pulled pork served Memphis style, with coleslaw INSIDE the sandwich. Marvelous!) For entree, my wife and I decided to split one of their generous platters, in this case the Tenessee Triple, so we could enjoy three meats. The Rock Star loves barbecue turkey, and so we ordered the Triple with turkey, pulled pork and some of RH&B's famous pork ribs. For the record, I've tried their ribs both wet (marinated in sauce when cooked) and dry (just rubbed with spices) and can attest that both are excellent at this restaurant. We happily split the meat, and our two sides (really good potato salad and very good hushpuppies), and even had plenty left to take home for great leftovers the next day. Speaking of take home, my wife and I often order dessert to take home and have later that night when our stomachs have cleared out a bit, and since we're both pecan fanatics, the pecan cobbler looked too good to pass up. Indeed, the sweet treat made a wonderful ending to a very fine day later that night.
Thoughout the evening, Lori was unflaggingly cheerful and helpful, quite a feat when you consider she had at least half a dozen customers dining in the bar, not to mention a passel of folks drinking at the bar. Kudos!
Again, www.redhotandblue.com will take you to the main website, and if you Google red hot and blue restaurant, you will find other websites as well, such as www.rhnb.com, which is the website for all the Texas branches of the chain. One big plus: the websites include an online store and PRICES. Yay!
I'm so glad that a genuine barbecue restaurant which smokes over wood is available for us city dwellers as well as the country folk. Red, Hot and Blue is definitely worth your green, and as always, remember:
LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR MEDIOCRE FOOD!!!