A new barbecue restaurant already heating up the local dining scene
by Valerie Foster
Barbecue joints are to the South what Italian restaurants are to Stamford; their sauce styles vary by region. With dry rubs, thin vinegary dressings and thick tomato- and molasses-based concoctions on slow-cooked beef or pork, the distinctive variety is plentiful and wonderful. North of the Mason-Dixon line, however, and good barbecue eateries are hard to find. Lucky for us we now have Bar Q, offering a right-on-target menu that is perfect in all ways that make barbecue great. It’s so good, it might just put Stamford on the barbecue map. And why not? Its sister eatery, Bobby Q’s, did just that for Westport eight years ago.
The only problem is finding it easily. Tucked behind the Black Bear Saloon on Columbus Park, its entrance faces Clark Street, which is really not a street but a back alley. We chose the outdoor seating area that overlooks the Bell Street Garage; not a great view, but by the end of the meal, we’d forgotten about the garage. We spent our time staring first at the menu, trying to limit our choices so we wouldn’t seem too much like piggies, and then at the food, a sight for all senses. Don’t like the outdoors? Indoors there’s bi-level seating, an expansive bar and soft lighting for that down-home feeling.
About the menu: The best way to describe it is tapas- style barbecue, which is great because you’ll want to order everything. We controlled ourselves but still managed to take home a goodie bag of leftovers big enough for dinner the next night.
Your first clue that you’re in for a treat is the roll of paper towels on every table. Next comes the bucket of napkin-wrapped utensils, which is also filled with lots of individually wrapped moist towelettes. It might seem like overkill, but take my word: You’ll need them all.
Then come the three tomato-based barbecue sauces—a bourbon (I wish it had a tad more whiskey), the vinegar (perfect as is), and the spicy (if you like things really hot, this won’t cut the mustard). Our waiter told us the chef is working on the hot barbecue sauce because he thinks it’s not where it should be. Honestly, I am splitting hairs here. All three sauces are stellar. In fact, when things got really messy on my plate, I realized that the three had mixed together with an amazing result.
The menu is divided into “Snacks,” “BBQ” and “Fixins,” and our waiter suggested we limit ourselves to one of each. But since everything is served family-style on trays lined with parchment paper, you’ll get to sample what everyone orders. This did prove problematic for one of our group who, and I quote, “hates sharing my food.” Everyone else thought the presentation was unique.
Let’s start with the “Snacks,” the appetizers. A mixed bag here. The chicken wings were perfection, wood-smoked succulent meat encased in crunchy, spicy skin. Definitely worth a double order. As were the potato pig skins with a side of ranch-chipotle dipping sauce, and the mini chipotle meatball sliders. Sadly, the beef taquitos were wrapped in a pastry that was too doughy and the filling lacked oomph. Actually, the bread products were a disappointment. The hush puppies were dry, and the chicken nuggets sat atop mini waffles that were chewy and tough. We wished we had room for the queso dip and the pimiento cheese and kielbasa antipasto. Next time.
Onto the “BBQ,” which is why you really need to eat here. Each serving is small and nothing tops $8. The sticky ribs were heaven, nicely smoked and very meaty. The Half Chicken really is a half chicken, and at $6 is quite a bargain. And like the wing snack, this chicken is smoked over wood, then finished on the grill for a sticky mess of pure heaven. The pulled pork tasted as if days in the making, and the burnt ends were as they should be, meaty and well-done, which pleased the non-rare meat eater among us. Don’t eat meat? There is wild salmon and grilled shrimp that will make you smile.
The candied pork belly—one of the “expensive” $8 dishes—is worth every cent. Unctuous can describe a smarmy stay-out-of-my-face human, but when it comes to food, it’s something to savor. When I took my first bite into this pork belly, unctuous was all I could think about. Luscious. Fantastically fatty. Tender. Juicy. My only advice is to eat it slowly to lengthen the experience.
Of course, no barbecue is complete without the “Fixins.” The mac and cheese was mother’s milk, elbows cloaked in a cheesy Mornay sauce and topped with a rich, crunchy cheddar that made it sing. We all approved. This mac and cheese reminded me of snowy nights from my childhood. The other not-to-be-missed dish is the bourbon-studded pot beans. Vegetarians beware: barbecue pork and beef are in the mix. These were so good, we were fighting over the last morsels. There’s one more, the fried green tomatoes. The cornmeal breading was light, so it did not detract from the piquant green tomatoes. Now for the bad news. Like the hush puppies, the cornbread, although tasty, was dry. The tomatoes in the cucumber salad were mushy and tasteless. A better substitute would be onion, a nice complement to the crunchy, vinegary cukes.
We didn’t realize until we were driving home that we didn’t have dessert. Actually, we were never offered this course. Not that we had the room—we were that stuffed—but it did warrant a call to Bar Q the next day. Dessert lovers, relax: there are lots of offerings. It’s finding room for them that is the challenge.