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REAL BBQ

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anyone know of GOOD SMOKY BBQ in Florida? Preferably the west coast (Tampa) or Orlando. Since Fla isn't really part of the Deep South, there is a limited supply.

To make up for the shortage, i barbecue regularly, at least once every two weeks. I've cooked just about everything in my smoker, from pork shoulder, brisket, sausage, salmon, steak, turkey and chicken to eggplant, stuffed peppers, onions (for soup and frying), shrimp, cheese, and tomatoes (for sauces and salsa). But sometimes i just have to check out the competition.

i even considered starting a Slow-Food Convivium (check them out on the net--- an interesting European anti-fast food, pro-regional food club), but figured i already had a de facto club of about 25, those who attend my cook-outs.

finding real smoked barbecue is quite difficult when dining out. most places are just marginally okay, not very smoky, with sub-standard sides. Here's a list of the places in Tampa i've tried.

Campbell's Agape BBQ: good 'cue, but the sides are of typical mediocre quality. will work in a fix, but does not dazzle. corn bread a plus.

Big Ben's BBQ: actually a bbq truck with a smoker in tow that is sometimes parked in the parking lot of a north Tampa convenience store. Surprisingly good stuff made by Ben, a friendly guy that peddles his cue because his family has encouraged him to share his great stuff with the world. great generous pork sandwiches. steamed whole crabs are good. haven't tried the sides.

VP's: a Bulgarian BBQ joint on 301. generally good, smoky bbq. The country ribs, which are amazingly tender and sliced thin, are not to be missed. i almost bought a few pounds of it just to take home. once again, the side orders are lame. beans straight out of the can, etc.

fat Cat's bbq: kind of a biker place, a hole in the wall along Waters ave. a biker couple seem to run the place, and the cue is honest and smoky. sausage, ribs, pork, etc. once again, the sides pale next to the meats.

B-Man's Ybor City bbq: decent cue with real smoke, but once again the sides are drivel. canned beans and applesauce served in pre-packages Mott's cups. good lord!

Betty's Corner: on a corner (46th st?) in the middle of College Hill, a poor and rough neighborhood near the projects. a convenience store that serves hot food. without a doubt, go during the day, but is well worth the drive. kick-ass soul food that features bbq daily as well as fried fish, liver, etc. different items on different days.

a woman tends the steam tray inside, which shelters such homey sides as butter beans, hommade mac n cheese, black eyed peas, yellow rice, banana pudding, chitterlings, etc. a man tends the large smoker outside while hanging out with friends. The barbecue was the highlight of our visit. Ribs and especially chicken were excellent, with a sauce beyond compare (not too sweet). when i asked to buy some sauce, i was refused with a suspicious attitude.

Betty's is one of the few places i've been to whose sides were as good as the cue. why do proprietors serve such drivel? weak sides may be a tradition in the south, but potato salad and cole slaw do not make a good meal. why serve the meat on the cheapest buns you can find? why only half an ear of corn--- c'mon, people! i've dreamed of opening my own bbq shack for many years, mainly so i could serve worthy sides with sublime smoked meats.

anyone have an idea why bbq sides suck so bad? this has bothered me ever since i fell in love with the stuff.

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  1. What a terrific post! Makes we wish I still had access to Tampa. Lived there for a few years way back when my mom managed fleet of shrimp boats. My dad opened a restaurant on Bay-to-Bay, The Home Kitchen, with great fried seafood and chicken,with homemade and delicious "sides". What's the scene like in Ybor City these days? Pat

    3 Replies
    1. re: pat hammond

      thanks for the reply, Pat.

      Your father's restaurant especially intrigues me. In a post below, i decribe the book i'm presently writing about Tampa and its restaurants. I've been doing intense writing and research for about 9 months, and i'd be interested in anything you can tell me about your father's place. Is he still alive?

      My research is all-inclusive, so the smallest or largest details could be of equal importance. please post or email any and all memories or deatils, or just mail me for my phone number.

      as for the Ybor City scene, it is about what you would expect from a place catering to college students and tourists--- like a cheap suit of the brightest linen. clothed in neon and vibrating with bass lines, Ybor is the designated drinking strip in Tampa by night. By day, a small business community struggles to stay afloat.

      as always, food and drink are the main attractions--- the restaurants are the only soul Ybor has left, besides the dwindling ethnic clubs like the Cuban Club, Marti-Maceo (afro-cuban), Cenro Asturiano, etc. The Chamber of Commerce would like to make it a tourist/family moneymaker by day and an all-age partying moneymaker by night. The end result is that it does neither as well as they would like.

      Since Ybor fell apart and was decimated by urban 'renewal,' City Fathers have always had a schitzophrenic attitude toward Tampa's jewel. In my research i write down any headlines i see about ybor and development. they are quite revealing. i will continue this post later, as i am pressed for time, but will leave you with this list, which is kind of like the rise and fall and rise and fall of ybor since urban renewal. remember how the small businessman must have felt when the 'renewal' never came. the only real business left in YC was its restaurants!

      1965: federal govt (urban renewal administration) approved the 'transformation of YC into a gleaming new and modern Latin Quarter'

      Chamber of commerce predicts 2.5 million tourists by 1970, 3.2 by 1973. (don't ask how they arrived at the figures) 'we have plans for a 300 foot tower with a restaurant on top.' beer gardebs, more restaurants planned.

      1966: demolition begins

      1970: YC arousing from siesta

      1977: YC is coming back
      YC must be preserved

      1979: Broken promises, broken hearts

      1982: rebuilding a city within a city

      1983: YC revitalization plan of $90 million proferred (hotel, park, trolley, townhouses

      1987: developer calls off YC project
      YC blossoms slowly
      YC gets boost for renewal plan--- condos planned

      1988: YC rebounds with style
      YC declared blighted
      1993: developer planning YC townhomes

      1979: U.R. only succeeded in tearing things down

      1989: Big talk by the private community, a hotel, park/square, trolley, townhouses for 1,400 residents.

      this is what ybor's been thru in the last 30 years, so i'm sure you can imagine the restaurant scene has been quite turbulent...

      1. re: andy huse

        Andy, you are more than kind. I've printed your post to read and digest this evening. Yes, I'll email you about my dad's restaurant. It wouldn't be of much interest to the chowhound community at large. But it is short and tragic story. pat

        1. re: andy huse

          With its new identity, YC has quite a variety of restaurants today. It has two japanese places, one a sushi bar (sushi on 7th), the other a japanese steakhouse (Koda). An old-school diner just opened, serving breakfast, etc. haven't tried it yet.

          There's BBQ here and there--- B-man, Moses white & sons (which i have yet to try, but the family goes way back with Tampa's bbq scene. Mr. white once tried to calm the black population during a riot on Central Avenue. much of it burned anyway). there's usually a few bbq stands around on weekends, as well as peanuts, funnel cakes and other fair food. Shamefully, Centro Ybor (a new EXPENSIVE mall/theater complex guaranteed to keep out small businessmen/restaurants with its high rent) pushed out small businesses like Ybor Pizza and Subs and a mexican restaurant. i'll miss YC pizza, as it was the best place to go after too many drinks for pizza and people watching.

          there's plenty of fine dining on the strip, but grad school has kept me poor, so i have only tried 8th ave Grille, a decent enough restaurant. It is cramped, and the piano player was way too loud. who wants top yell over Tony Bennett tunes on a date? not me! Bernini is expensive and popular artsy-type dining with Itlain overtones, La terrazza is abouyt the same, as far as i can tell--- but i have yet to try them.

          a few unpretentious spanish/cuban places are still around, like Latam in the basement of Centro Asturiano, Castillo's (by day), Carmine's, etc. Sadly, the Silver Ring has taken its Cuban sandwiches to downtown.

          The Columbia still appears to be going strong, though they've always been considered a hybrid of sorts. still, their food is good even if it is on the pricet side. as always, the building itself is pure magic, a demonstration of the indulgence, ambition, and decadence that is the Columbia. nothing has opened tp replace the renowned authenbticity and dignity of Las Novedades, though i hear the Tropicana is still quite good.

          an interesting hole is Cephas' hot shop, a jamaican place (pretty much a one-man operation) that has great jerk sauce. great just for the vegetable platter with jerk and a ginger beer. food is inconsistent, however.

          a special stand out is Tampa Bay Brewing Co, not to be confused with YC Brewing Co (who make Ybor Gold, a beer only remarkable for its name) who make excellent beer, cider, and even root beer. they usually have about 10 fresh brews on tap, everything from lager to pale ale to stout to porter to barley wine.

          their food is pretty damn good, much of it made with beer. great pizzas (order the small as they are very rich), good beer-cheese soup, and daily specials that range from simple (bangers and mash) to elaborate (complex pasta/seafood and veggie concoctions). downstairs, it is a simple pub that is quiet and charming. upstairs, the music throbs, drinking rules, and pool is played. worth it just for the beer, but the food is always a safe bet too.

          besides food and drink, a main YC activity is finding parking space. they usually run $5-$10 on weekends and tow trucks are proiminent. the strip itself (7th ave) reminds me of a third world police state: lots of lively crowds, loud music, smell of good food, and LOTS of policemen waiting for something to happen at every other intersection. there are even survellance cameras keeping a watchful eye on the crowds.

          the construction (of parking garages and Centro mega-plex) has also disrupted things. 8th ave looks bombed out and is dusty.

          perhaps the most disappointing aspect of YC's development is the utter disregard for any kind of public space. there is no place to go to simply relax. There are a few small parks in the area, but none especially close to the strip that are open at nite. developers have even removed ALL the PUBLIC BENCHES from the sidewalks. so now there is NO PLACE to SIT! unless, of course, you want to spend money in a bar or restaurant. these businessmen are shrewd i tell ya.

      2. Jack's BBQ in Mineola on Hwy 27 beats all of them hands down. I have ordered a case of their sauce at a time and had it shipped to Utah. Mustard style BBQ sauce like they make in the Low Country of South Carolina.

        1. Have you ever tried Cappy's on Westshore?

          Cappy's is more of a meat market than a restaurant, but they have fantastic food. Their lunchtime specialty is a filet mignon sandwich: a thin slice of steak with bacon, provolone, and l&t on a bun. It'll knock your socks off. In addition, they have great barbeque, smoked on a big smoker in the parking lot. I have bought several slabs of ribs for football parties at my house.

          It's a tiny little hole in the wall, on the corner of Westshore and the street just above Euclid.

          1. Cecil's Texas Style in south Orlando is good (assuming you like Texas-style brisket, sausage, pork loin, etc.) They smoke over hickory, and so do you once you've sat down to eat (you can smell someone who's eaten at Cecil's from 20 feet.) Good side dishes like pinto beans cooked with jalapeno, homemade potato salad, blackeyed peas, fried okra, etc. Uncle Jones' in Altamonte Springs is a cheap, kind of dangerous looking buffet (maybe $5 at lunch) with so-so pork and chicken, but astoundingly good greens, potatoes 'n onions, and other sides.) I've heard good things about Conway BBQ in south Orlando, and Johnny Rivers' Smokehouse is a bit more genteel (and less smoky) but also has good greens, key lime fried cornbread, garlic mashed potatoes, and other yummy stuff (like Hershey Bar bread pudding for dessert.) B's at 17-92 and Nebraska is OK, mostly because their beans and greens are good. Even Wildhorse Saloon in Downtown Disney makes a pretty good brisket sandwich, and Whispering Canyon Cafe in Disney's Wilderness Resort has an all-you-can-eat BBQ feast that's still around $12-14, I think, which usually doesn't get you much at Disney, but was not bad when I had it a few years ago. The one I don't like is the new chain-in-progress from Darden (read: Olive Garden) called Smokey Bones, some of the most soulless, sterile "BBQ" I've had. I look for a stack of wood outside and smoke coming out of the chimney, and if I don't see one of those, I keep looking.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Tim

              Tim--awesome message, awesome tips. Please don't ever leave.

              one thing though...it'd help if you'd keep the subject titles as informative as possible. Our regulars (we hope you become one) use HotPosts (see our homepage for details) to surf these boards, and that gives them a list of only new messages. If someone is going down the list and sees a message titled "here's a couple", that doesn't give them much information re: deciding whether to read the thread.

              in general, don't change the thread title unless conversation has drifted (in which case, please DO pick a new title...preferably as informative as possible).

              ciao