Boars Nest BBQ, 3245 W. Wedington Dr.
Herman’s Ribhouse, 2901 N. College Ave.
Hogs Breath Eatery, 1214 N. Garland Ave.
Lucky Luke’s BBQ, 1220 N. Garland Ave.
Penguin Ed’s (former B&B location) 230 S. East Ave.
Penguin Ed’s BBQ East, 2773 Mission Blvd
Penguin Ed’s BBQ West, 6347 W. Wedington Drive
Pig –N- Whistle Barbecue, 1641 W. 15th St.
Pops Old Time BBQ, 504 E. 15th St.
Wes’s Hickory Smoked BBQ, 14 S. University Ave.
Wet Pig BBQ and Bar, 989 Razorback Road
Whole Hog Café, 3009 N. College Ave.
Finding the Best BBQ
Lots of tasty options
By Maylon T. Rice
Since the dawning of time, once man began to manage fire, he began to barbecue.
That bit of smoky meat wisdom comes straight from Ed (Penguin Ed) Knight, no doubt the resident expert of all things barbecued in Fayetteville.
Since 1993, when Knight opened his humble BBQ business in a small (and we do mean small) walk-up and take-out only stand on a convenience store parking lot near the intersection of Mission and Crossover, he has cooked up a lot of barbecued meat and developed a loyal following here in the Ozarks and beyond.
Knight has expanded his barbecue empire into three sit-down locations, including the purchase of B&B Barbecue off the hill along Archibald Yell Boulevard, one of the city’s long-time classic barbecue eateries.
Two of the three Penguin Ed locations are festooned with thousands of his signature penguins in all shapes and sizes. It is the kvetch and pennants that makes a trip to Penguin Ed’s a bit of whimsy and fun along with a delectable dinner.
Knight, a quiet, unassuming fellow, did, however, keep the unique kvetch of B&B Barbecue—those fire red telephones that the team of Bill and Betty Bassett (hence the moniker B&B) came up with that allowed you to sit at a table and place your order by telephone, saving Betty (or was it Bill?) steps in taking an order.
But as this story explains, Penguin Ed’s was chosen more for the meat than the hype. And as always with a “The Best..” there will be some nay-sayers, but just be patient, the rest is yet to come.
HERE COMES THE JUDGE
With a growing collection of franchise and stand-alone barbecue restaurants springing up all over Fayetteville these days, according to the Free Weekly’s most hush-hush taste test survey, Penguin Ed’s has emerged as the top barbeque in Fayetteville for 2008. Here’s how we did the survey.
Walking into each restaurant I asked for 1) a take out menu and 2) to purchase a simple sampling of pork—enough to go on a sandwich but without any bread or sauce. I was, after all, sampling the meat, not the sauce. As always, this ole taste tester paid in cash for all the goodies.
Those surveyed were: Penguin Ed’s (all three locations); Wet Pig BBQ and Bar; Pops Old Time BBQ; Hogs Breath Eatery; Lucky Luke’s BBQ; Wes’s Hickory Smoked BBQ; Boars Nest BBQ; and Whole Hog Café. While we did not sample the fare at the new Pig –N- Whistle, we have eaten at the Memphis location. We’ve also eaten barbecue at Herman’s Ribhouse before.
At one test location, an almost comedic confusion broke out. I blame the counter staff and kitchen for this, It took three tries at the order counter to get what I asked for. The counter staff first murdered the cooked pork by saucing it down, so I sent it back. Next, the kitchen staff pushed out the order, again, slathered in sauce, so ole taste tester sent it back, again. After cold stares from the counter staff and the kitchen, both finally asked, “Is this right?” I nodded encouragingly, grabbing the small order, paid in cash and ran for the car. Whew. Who knew getting a sample would be so difficult?
Several of the restaurants really pushed the sauce and why I really don’t know other than it’s a moneymaker and a nice sideline in addition to the selling other things like burger and fries and even t-shirts.
But all these “homemade” sauces—various concoctions of all kinds of flavors, vinegars, condiments, honey, syrup and sugars—can inhibit or ruin the flavor of well cooked, smoked or barbecued pork.
Many will say the sauces actually enhance the meat. I say to each his own.
However you like it, sauce or sans sauce, the price of a pork sandwich—pulled, sliced or chopped—varies across the city. The new Pig –N-Whistle, for instance, has a Little Pig sandwich for $3.99 or a Big Pig for $4.69. In contrast Whole Hog’s pulled pork entry comes in a $5.99 regular or a jumbo for $6.99. Or how about Lucky Luke’s BBQ – three sizes: small, large and gigantic – GIGANTIC – well not today. Just samplin’ please.
Penguin Ed’s sandwich choices are $4.25 regular or $5.50 for a jumbo. Wes’s Hickory Smoked BBQ, nestled in mid-town not too far from Fayetteville High, is at the low end of the price spectrum at simply $3.69. One size here, it seems, fits all. The high dollar topper to the survey selection: Wet Pig’s only sandwich offering at $6.49.
WOOD OR GAS
While propane baron, Hank Hill of TV’s “King of the Hill” fame forbade his family from cooking or barbecuing with charcoal, the various ways the Fayetteville restaurants cook are often too a mystery.
Penguin Ed’s and Pops Old Time BBQ cook outside and use wood, that’s a given. Some like Boars Nest BBQ have a big square box and “Texas made” oven, roaster, cooker, right in the store. Fires have long been the bane of a really good BBQ spots.
Some of the places in Fayetteville, Wet Pig slips to mind, seem more focused on selling bottled adult beverages than food and that’s OK. What ever floats their mortgage. But by and large most of the BBQ spots, do indeed, exist for good food.
I think it is the wood fuel that makes Penguin Ed’s the No. 1 choice. The pork is well roasted, barbecued, smoked, whatever terminology you want to use. The color is even and beautiful. The edges of the meat are crisp. Just like good BBQ of years ago and like what you wish you could make in your own backyard.
Lucky Luke’s is a strong second, even though our selection was chopped a little too fine for our liking, it does do well on a bun.
Whole Hog Cafe and Pops Old Times BBQ sort of tie for third place. Both have good, juicy meat, evenly cooked. Pops had a better presentation for my meager purchase. The staff at Whole Hog was a little unsettling. They wanted me to purchase more, citing that the little bit of BBQ I ordered “isn’t much.”
Boars Nest wasn’t very busy the night I visited. The meat was cold and dry. Wes’s was busy at a noon hour rush. I didn’t get the sampling there that I’d come to remember from the past. I did almost succumb to tasting some great looking chicken quarters from Wes’s, but that is another story and another meat.
I’ve been to Herman’s when they have had BBQ and it is good, but not anything they hang too much of their hats on there. Everyone goes for the steaks a Herman’s. Hog’s Breath Eatery is another spot that, yes, has BBQ on their menu, but they don’t seem to do much more than offer it along with a fully stocked menu of other items.
The Pig -N-Whistle will need to get settled in here in Fayetteville to really factor into these ramblings on pork meat in the future. Since they had just opened, it would have been unfair not to mention them. I do really like their parent store in Memphis, which puts out some of that great dry rub meat.
And up comes another topic—wet sauce or dry rub? Like all things barbecue, that may be an argument, as old as time itself.
Remember once mankind began to manage fire in those caves of pre-historic yore, man began to barbecue and debate exactly the best way to barbecue whatever meat was available.