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Originally published August 14, 2009 at 9:15 AM | Page modified August 14, 2009 at 9:15 AM

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Nancy Leson

Pit stops of pork: Racking up time at rib joints

In the name of summer fun, Nancy Leson sets out to pork out, racking up time at some popular rib shacks.

Seattle Times food writer

I refuse to fight the good fight regarding barbecue-on-the-bone: spareribs vs. baby backs, Kansas City vs. Memphis, Texas vs. "Lou-zee-anna." I love ribs every which way. So in the name of summer fun I set out to pork out, racking up time at some popular rib shacks, and here's what I found. For more on the joints that serve them, visit www.seattletimes.com/allyoucaneat.

Casper's A Taste of the South

15030 Bothell Way, Lake Forest Park; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2-8 p.m. Sundays (206-268-0202 or www.eatmoregator.com)

I fell for Casper Townsend the minute I laid eyes on that 'gator-wrassling rascal. Bet you will, too.

At his Lake Forest Park roadside attraction you'll find him playing central casting's good ol' boy, insisting fried-alligator virgins have a complimentary bite of the house specialty. His menu's long on frog legs, fried peppers, fat shrimp and beignets borne from a cloud, but "hush!" puppies.

Don't be missin' those mighty slow-smoked pork ribs ($14.45 as a "supper plate") dripping with a sassy sauce and delivered by friendly staffers — or Casper himself — who joke "dentures are optional." Come rain or come shine, set yourself up in the sprawling room-with-a-view: a tented year-round patio overlooking Lake Washington.

A second love shack — a mobile takeout unit — is parked in Bothell, 19510 Bothell-Everett Highway, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays (425-482-9692).

Dixie's BBQ

11522 Northup Way, Bellevue; 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays (425-828-2460).

It's been a long time since I met "The Man" — that hot-sauce-in-a-pan famously doled out on a toothpick by Bellevue mechanic turned 'cue-man, Gene Porter. But there I stood, in the famously cramped hallway at Porter's former automotive shop, waiting for an audience with the barking cashier.

"Next in line!" she directs from a chair next to "Mom" (who sweats over a cafeteria-style steam table, slooowly stuffing generous helpings of meats into takeout containers).

Rolling her eyes, she shakes her head as the guy behind me asks for potato salad with his 520 Special: barbecued pork plus a bloated "hot link" as tame as a toddler's tube steak. (They're out.)

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"Put the lemon cake in the bag!" sarge shouts to her counterpart, a fella who stands helpless as Mom slooowly dishes up my combo "dinner" ($20).

At a parking-lot picnic table I take a plastic fork to my mushy, flavorless, overcooked pork spare ribs, a haunch of chicken and a literal mess of beef brisket doused with a tomato sauce that tastes like ketchup and begs for spice, for nuance — for "The Man?" And I shake my head.

Pig Iron Bar-B-Q

5602 First Ave. S., Seattle; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, noon-8 p.m. Saturdays (206-768-1009, www.pigironbbq.net).

Georgetown's popular pit stop looks like a cross between a Texas taproom and a Jersey diner. Here you're greeted by Johnny Cash (segue to Elvis Costello) and something you don't find much of in local 'cue joints: a lineup of booze.

I was happy to hoist a first-rate 'rita, its canning-jar rim subtly salted. My "3-Way Combo" ($19.50) offered spare ribs, chicken and beef brisket piled on a tin plate. That meat was lukewarm and far less moist than it should have been (as was my sidekick's half-rack of baby back's ($19.50) and helped along with a squeeze-bottle-squirt from a trio of sauces (do try the mustard-stoked version). Loved the sides of crisp sweet-potato fries, plus creamed corn and jalapeno-spinach casserole served in a tin cups.

Smokin' Pete's BBQ

1918 N.W. 65th St., Seattle; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays in summer (9 p.m. close after summer), 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays (206-783-0454; www.smokinpetesbbq.com).

There are those who say Ballard's Smokin' Pete's wrote the book on Northwest-raised meats and poultry. They wouldn't be wrong. Co-owner Julie Reinhardt is author of the new estrogen-fueled griller, "She-Smoke: A Backyard Barbecue Book," sold here along with other must-buys like her 'cue-master husband Eric's bottled sauces. Settle in alone at this barbecue bistro to contemplate the Memphis-style dry-rubbed drama of a "2+2 Combo" ($15.95) with two meats and two sides.

Going solo? May I suggest smoky spareribs and fabulously marbled beef brisket backed by blackened broccoli and pineapple-laced "Island" slaw.

"The Family" — a $43 option that feeds four — bought mine a mountainous trio of meats and another of sides, plus sweet-potato muffins or hush puppies. Fruit pies? You won't need any, but since when did that stop you?

Willie's Taste of Soul Bar-B-Que

3427 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 1p.m.-5 p.m. Sundays (206-722-3229, www.williestasteofsoul.com)

Willie Turner won me over way back when — when his was a one-man-stand on Beacon Hill and I could watch him tend to his flock. Then, as now, fans are religious about his rib tips and ends, his tender chicken, his homemade hot links plus his bone-i-fied pork ribs and daintier (but no less delightful) baby backs, whose meat offers the teeth a tantalizing tug.

Willie's since moved his show to Rainier Valley, parked his smoker out back and his mile-high layer cakes upfront, and I'm still nuts about the Southern comfort of his greens, his candied yams, his mac 'n cheese-elbows and the good grace with which he cooks and serves it all.

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or nleson@seattletimes.com. To read her blog, go to www.seattletimes.com/allyoucaneat

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About Nancy Leson

Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants. Check her latest thoughts in her All You Can Eat blog. Her column appears each Wednesday. Her restaurant roundups appear monthly, on Fridays, in the Restaurants and Entertainment sections.
nancyleson@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8838 | Blog

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