24 November 2008
EXPLORING NASHVILLE BARBECUE: Part 3 - Local Chains
It is a testament to how popular barbecue is in Middle Tennessee, and how ingrained it is in the cultural landscape, that there are several barbecue mini-empires in the area. We have already discussed the most prominent of the local barbecue chains - Whitts. In taking a look at some of the others, I discovered that the influence of Whitts extends even further than I thought.
Year opened: 1950
Number of locations: 10
No matter what you think of their product, you have to admit that "Bar-B-Cutie" is a clever name for a barbecue restaurant. And their cowgirl logo is a refreshing change from the cartoon pigs that so often adorn barbecue joints in this town. Bar-B-Cutie is actually the grandaddy of Nashville barbecue chains. They've been around forever, but only recently have they started to get some serious recognition, sweeping the Tennessean's inaugural Toast of Music City awards. Their overwhelming success in those awards was a bit suspicious, considering that they have never even cracked the top 3 of the Nashville Scene's Best of Nashville reader's poll. And on a personal note, I don't believe I've ever met anyone in this city who claims to love Bar-B-Cutie. Conveniently for the Cutie, their accolades come at a time when they are in the midst of an agressive push for national franchising. In addition to their 10 Nashville area stores, they now have locations in Georgia, North Carolina, Kansas, Texas, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, with a location coming soon in Delaware.
I kept it closer to home and visited the Nolensville Road location, and was immediately impressed to see a stack of wood behind the restaurant, as well as what appeared to be an old-school cooker made into the side of the building. This was surprising to me, as my most recent Bar-B-Cutie visits have been to the Bellevue location, which is inside of a gas station, and uses an electric cooker. According to the manager on duty at Nolensville Road, they cook with wood. Maybe this is an exception? Franchising and wood pits wouldn't seem to be very compatible. But enough about peripherals...let's get to the food.
The ribs at Bar-B-Cutie come wet or dry. I went with the wet, and even the genrous amount of honey barbcue sauce could not disguise the fact that this was a poor rack of ribs. The meat itself was dry and almost leathery. Frankly, it could have been almost any kind of meat, because the only flavor was coming from the super-sweet barbecue sauce.
The pork sandwich was much better. It came with no sauce or garnishments, and nothing to hide. The pork was tender and juicy, maybe just a tad mushy in places, but mostly well-defined and with some nice bark pieces. The meat had a subtle smokiness, but not much seasoning. This serviceable pulled pork was aided by a warm toasted bun with just the right amount of crunch. I'm surprised to say it, but this is one of the better barbecue sandwiches that I have had so far in these reports. I'm not sure if all Bar-B-Cutie locations serve as good a sandwich, but on this day, the Nolensville Road location got it right.
Year opened: 1996
Number of locations: 5
I never knew until now, Dear Reader, that there are Whitts clones in Middle Tennessee. I have always thought that Whitts, with their smoke-free pulled pork, and their mayo and pickle-dressed sandwiches were an anomaly. Not so! As I perused the menu at the Stroud's location in Franklin, I noticed that their pork sandwiches are served with slaw, mayonnaise and pickle!
The pulled pork at Stroud's suffers from the same blandness that plagues Whitts - no discernable smoke flavor whatsoever. Furthermore, Stroud's pork lacks tenderness and juiciness, resulting in a meat that is relatively dry. And the sandwich is not done any favors by the cold bun on which it is served. Overall, a very disppointing sandwich.
If there is a silver lining for Stroud's cloud, it has got to be their barbecue nachos (I realize that the purists are now heartily guffaw-ing). Stroud's version is very unique. There are the requisite tortilla chips and pulled pork, but instead of Cheez Whiz, they use the white queso dip prevalent in Mexican restaurants. And instead of barbecue sauce, the nachos are topped with baked beans. The beans and cheese create a sweet and savory combination that livens up the mediocre pulled pork, and the result is quite tasty.
Year opened: 1996
Number of locations: 6
Rick's is a lesser known name, as most of their locations are in Southern Middle Tennessee and Northern Alabama. Rick's menu (see photo at the top of this report) is a bit more extensive, including things like slaw dogs, fried items, and desserts. Their barbecue sandwich, however...is another Whitts clone! It comes in a little pouch, and it has slaw, mayonnaise and pickles.
The quality of the pulled pork is a little better in this case. It's tender without being mushy, and there are some nice bark pieces in the mix. In the Whitts tradition, though, there is no smoke flavor to be found, nor any smoke ring or evidence of being smoked. Overall, quite mediocre.
Highlights: Bar-B-Cutie pork sandwich (Pretty Good), Stroud's barbecue nachos (Good)
Disclaimer: Please note that these reports are based on particular servings of barbecue at a particular day and time. Barbecue can be prone to fluctuation. Your experiences may vary.
More reports in this series:
Part 1 - The Legends
Part 2 - The Chain Gang
Part 3 - Local Chains
Part 4 - Jefferson Street
Part 5 - Clarksville Highway
Part 6 - East Nashville
Part 7 - The West Side
Part 8 - Memphis Imports
Part 9 - T for Texas
Part 10 - Williamson County
Part 11 - Murfreesboro
Part 12 - La Vergne & Smyrna
Part 13 - Wilson County
Part 14 - Catching Up in Nashville
Part 15 - Hendersonville & White House
Part 16 - Portland & Gallatin
Part 17 - Robertson County
Part 18 - Dickson County
Part 19 - "Barbecue by any other name..."
Part 20 - Places We Missed
Part 21 - More Places We Missed