Tuesday, September 21, 2010

BBQ Tuesdays: Squeal

After a long hiatus, BBQ Tuesdays is back again as we survey New Orleans' bastions to smoky, beefy, porky goodness. Up this week, the big red building on Oak Street.

When it comes to barbeque, I am a purist. Perhaps it's on accord of my college days in the Texas hill country, but to me barbeque is first and foremost about the meat. Sides, sauce, and surroundings are a distant second.

But that's not to say that a self-proclaimed barbeque restaurant which falls short on my benchmark is a "bad" restaurant overall. After multiple visits throughout this year, I can justifiably say that Squeal is a restaurant that I would happily return to for a meal, but I probably would not order traditional barbeque.

On my first visit back in January, I was determined to stick to the basics but was quickly sidetracked by what the waiter called an "experimental appetizer" called a pulled pork cake, which was mixed with cream cheese, deep fried, topped with pico de gallo, and zig-zagged with southwest sour cream. The rest, as some of you know, is food television history. Unfortunately, the traditional barbeque was less impressive. Chicken was juicy but lacked any noticeable smoke flavor, and the pulled pork was missing the delectable coating which comes from the melted collagen. I vowed to return for the highly touted nachos, ribs, and collard greens, the latter of which the waiter described as "sweet... like eating baby."

That is a direct quote.

My next visits were more of the same. St. Louis style ribs were tender but the flesh was disappointingly dry. Collard greens were a little sweet but also deliciously studded with plenty of pork fat, but the minuscule serving size left me wanting (a lot) more. In fact, save for the mountain of hot and crispy hand cut fries, the uniform $2.95 price for a la carte sides is a shade too high considering the size of the serving dish. On the other hand, entree portions are substantial and priced at a value.

Tacos are a relatively recent addition to the menu. The “DBLT” version were light on the duck, heavy on the crisp dice of bacon, and overall not worth the $9 price tag. I would opt instead for the nachos, whose thick cut tortilla chips held up well and stayed crunchy underneath the layers of pulled pork, black beans, and melted cheese. A pitcher of beer, order of nachos, and double side of collard greens, and I would quickly forget about the fact that I came here in search of brisket, cole slaw, and the like.

And there's nothing wrong with that. The hits certainly outnumber the misses at Squeal, and you can assemble an enjoyable meal from the food that the kitchen executes well. It's just not a standout BBQ joint.

Squeal - Par