Review: Big City BBQ - Mesa, AZ (w/ photos!)
It’s a holiday weekend. A summer holiday weekend. Three full days of fun, sun and food.
In the past, my summer holiday weekends usually had me over at the home of my folks where Dad would be trying to get the Kingsford Charcoal squares lit and a nice fire glowing so we could feast on barbecued chicken, links, pork, steak and ribs. Mom would be in the kitchen making Cole Slaw, Macaroni & Cheese, Potato Salad, and various other side dishes. Then, there was the homemade ice cream, pies and other desserts.
But as the folks have gotten older and my brother and sister have their own family get-togethers, those family gatherings are more for Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, I still couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate a holiday weekend than with some BBQ.
So, J., me, Madge, Boris, Tommy and Sam all decided to head over to Big City BBQ for a Sunday lunch. We piled into two cars and drove over the Alma School Road and U.S. 60 and found Big City BBQ in a small strip mall just north of US 60. J. and I were the first to arrive and we noticed a few people in the place, with a few more coming in. Madge, Boris, Tommy and Sam all arrived and we entered the place looking for seating for six.
The interior was clean and bright, with plenty of colorful decoration on the wall and a combination of high-top tables and regular table seating. We were told to take a seat anywhere and ended up pulling together a couple of the high-top tables to seat ourselves. Menus were already on the table and we looked over the menu as our server took our drink orders. I had my traditional Diet Coke, while J. had Sweet Tea, Madge a Diet Coke, Boris and Tommy regular Iced Teas, and Sam a Coke. All drinks were $1.99.
Our server returned at various time bringing the drinks two at a time. He left and we waited an inordinate amount of time before we had to flag him down so we could place our order. I decided to have a Large Pulled Pork Sandwich ($5.99) and went with two sides: the Macaroni and Cheese ($2.99) and the Cole Slaw ($2.99). J. also had the Pulled Pork Sandwich, but got the Red Beans and Rice ($2.99) and the Potato Salad ($2.99). Madge and Boris decided to split the 3-Meat/2-Sides City Slicker BBQ Dinner ($15.99) and chose Black Eyed Peas and Red Beans and Rice. It also came with cornbread. The meats they chose were the pulled pork, the beef brisket and the pulled chicken. Madge and Boris also ordered a side of French Fries ($2.99). Sam ordered the Pulled Pork Sandwich with Cole Slaw and Tommy also got the Pulled Pork Sandwich with Potato Salad. J. then asked for a side of Cornbread ($0.99). All of the meats came with a choice of regular or hot BBQ sauce and we all chose the regular.
By this time, I had noticed that the place was filling up quickly with other patrons wanting BBQ. Our server left and then we started talking about various thing when Boris let out an audible gagging sound. The regular and sweet teas had been mixed and Boris ended up adding a packet of Sweet N Low to J.’s Sweet Tea. That makes my teeth hurt even now just thinking about it. So, we had to flag down our server, but that took quite a while. When he did return, he offered to get us all refills. Upon doing so, he announced that he was the only server for the entire restaurant and so things would be slow.
Gee. Perhaps he could have informed us of this before we sat down so we could make a decision to stay or come back another time.
As we patiently waited, another person showed up bring us some refills but she was terribly unhappy with having to do so. Her constant eye rolling and sighing was a good indicator that she would have rather been updating her MySpace profile.
After a significant wait, our meals arrived. My Pulled Pork Sandwich looked good enough, but I was a bit surprised at how meager the amount of sauce on the meat was. There was approximately 1-2 Tablespoons of sauce that had been drizzled down the middle of my sandwich. I was pleased that the meat was abundant, but a side of the sauce for adding or dipping would have been helpful. I picked up my sandwich and then I let out a sigh seeing that Big City BBQ is another BBQ restaurant that doesn’t drain the meat coming out of the steam table, so the bottom of my bun was a watery, soggy mess that had me grabbing a knife and fork so I could eat a sandwich. The meat itself was good. It was (obviously) moist, but it also was tender and had a nice flavor. The BBQ sauce might or might not have been good. The scant amount on my sandwich didn’t really add anything.
I then turned to my side dishes. The Cole Slaw was very fresh, but the dressing was completely bland. I added a generous amount of pepper and that helped considerably. Next up was the Macaroni & Cheese. As boring as the Cole Slaw dressing was, the sauce on the Macaroni & Cheese was that much worse. It was literally tasteless and also almost as thin as water. Is it really that hard to make a basic Macaroni & Cheese? Apparently it is, so I feel the need to help out here.
Seth’s Super Simple Macaroni & Cheese
Put 2 quarts of water in to a pot and bring it to a rolling boil. In a medium sauce pan, put 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and cook over medium heat until the butter has melted and has combined with the flour. When it starts to bubble, let cook for 1 minute. Add 2 cups of whole milk. Cook over medium-high heat stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. When the thickness of gravy, add 2-3 cups of shredded cheese (I use a mixture of 1/2 sharp cheddar and 1/2 Jack cheeses). Stir until the cheese had melted. Add black pepper to taste. Keep warm.
Cook 1 7-oz. box of elbow macaroni per package directions. Drain thoroughly. Place drained macaroni back in pan and then pour the cheese sauce over it, folding the macaroni into the cheese sauce. Pour into a greased casserole dish and cover with more grated cheese or fresh breadcrumbs and back for 15 minutes at 325F degrees.
J. was not having much luck either. J.’s pulled pork sandwich was also watery on the bottom. At least there was more BBQ sauce than on my plate. J. described the Red Beans and Rice as okay, but nothing special. Meanwhile, the side of cornbread was MIA. Tommy and Sam also mentioned the sogginess of their sandwiches, although Tommy thought the Potato Salad was decent.
Madge and Boris were pleased with the look of their City Slicker Dinner. They thought the meat portions were generous, but upon tasting them, Madge said the beef tasted like the chicken which tasted like the pork. They found the Black Eyed Peas to be bland with the only real taste coming from the salt pork. They did, however, like the Red Beans and Rice.
Oddly, the big winner was the cornbread which Boris, Madge found to be very good. Then we noticed that we were missing an order of Cole Slaw, cornbread, and a side of fries. Back we went into the mode of tracking down our server who then brought us an order of Black Eyed Peas and Potato Salad. We all just sort of scratched our heads. A few moments later, someone else arrived with the Cole Slaw, bread, and fries. Boris tried the fries and said they were not very good. Sam didn’t think much of the Cole Slaw either. J. agreed with Madge and Boris that the cornbread was probably the best thing on the table.
We finished our meals and asked for our checks. Since we were given separate checks, the total for J.’s and my meal was $22.21 including tax. The service spoke for itself.
We all exited and were splitting up as J. and I were headed out to do a little shopping. The general consensus was disappointment. This could have been so much better than it was and I am still searching for the clue as to why a BBQ restaurant wouldn’t have staff available over a summer holiday weekend. I would think that of all days, a BBQ restaurant should be at the top of its game on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends. I know that is crazy talk, but I stand by it.
So, we headed back onto the freeway and hoped that our next meal would be better.
Maybe its time we started having family barbecues again.
Big City BBQ
1425 South Alma School Road
Mesa, AZ 85210
Notes: Just north of US 60 on Alma School. A second location exists in Tempe at 5118 South Rural Road (at Baseline).
Hours: Monday through Friday - 11 AM to 9 PM; Saturday - 12 PM to 9 PM; Sunday - 12 PM to 8 PM.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
I've been to the Tempe location three times prior to my job-transfer. On those occasions, our host was the tall, middle-aged fellow sporting some sort of ethnic, African-style cap. He goes out of his way to be incredibly friendly, and helpful! While the food is pretty good, his demeanor the first time we went was in large part the reason we returned...and returned.
Let's face it, BBQ has gone the way of sushi with regard to pricing! I just find it ridiculous, but that's another tale. Needless to say, it's operators and employees with personality that will win my business, all else being relatively equal.