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Dec 30, 2010 08:23 AM

penny black - nrochester, mi

recently heard about a new bbq place in downtown rochester called penny black, so we tried it with some friends last night. it is in the old post office on 4th, just west of main. outside the front door proclaiming "now open" "best bbq" and "open for lunch." the place is a sister restaurant of "the hills" (one at rochestwer and tienken in the papa joes plaza and one at rochester and big beaver - the old ram's horn next to hooters). i have been to the hills on tienken a couple of times and thought it was decent food for a sports bar.

we walked in around 7:00pm and there was a 35 minute wait for tables. the bar area to the left was packed but after a few minutes, we wrangled three seats at the bar, which is really big and sits on a peculiar angle that seemd to take up way too much space in the room. about 10 beers on tap including dragonmeade (eric the red and final absolution), shorts (humma), and michigan brewing (porter) along with a dozen mainstream bottles (three 23 oz micros and a bud light = $24). we were seated after a half hour wait on the other side of the place, squeezed into a booth.

ready sample a lot of different bbq, the initial comment from one of our group after looking over the menu was, "i didn't expect the menu to be so mexican." sure enough, there is a big selection of fajitas, southwest salads, cuban sandwich, tacos, enchiladas, and quesodillas. the web site proclaims, "rochester's bbq hq" but the very bottom of the menu says the place offeres a variety of southwest cusine including texas bbq, tex-mex, and cajun. no a bad thing, but we were expecting all or mostly bbq.

we ordered several things to share and here is the rundown:

smokehouse platter: 1/4 lb each of pulled pork and brisket + a 1/4 rack of ribs. the pork was dry and a bit mealy. the brisket was mositer but not very discernable from the pork. the ribs were the best, but just ok. none of us noticed any smokey flavor or a smoke ring on any of the meat. for that matter, there is no smell of smoke inside or outside of the place. $14.

catfish, blackened or cornmeal dusted: we ordered blackened. two smallish/medium filets with very mild blackening and a creole-esque type sauce over the fish. just ok and they went unfinished. $9.

jambalaya: decent flavor, but more of an etouffe (sauce over dirty rice) than a jambalaya. $10.

sides (2 per entree): some big holes here for a bbq place. no potato salad, greens, green beans, black eye peas, mac-n-cheese. we settled for fries (not crispy enough), sweet potato fries (good), tater tots (!?), baked beans (very dry and pastey), dirty rice (not a lot, not very spicy), and i thought we got slaw but i don't remember seeing it. here are the sides we passed on: corn on the cob, house salad, southwest salad, refried beans, onion rings, baked, mashed.

bbq sauce: carolina (mustard, not vinegar), pit (one comment was that it was like open pit with hot sauce), sweet (plain), hot (little off flavor up front with lingering heat), and hickory (the favorite).

fish taco: offered grilled or fried. ordered two grilled. two small flour tortillas, with a few pieces of grouper with pico and an excellent lime chipotle sauce with slaw and a dollop of sour cream on the side. at $2 a piece, these stole the show.

overall it was just ok. i would not get bbq again but i would go back for more fish tacos and to try some of their other mexican fare.

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  1. Thanks for the report xman887. Your well written info jives with the verbal report I got from Sir Boagman. Needless to say, I'm in no hurry to fight that noisy crowd (even if no line, but still crowded) for the spotty dining. However, I probably eventually will try it. I'll go with your fish taco rec. Cheers

    1. As VTB noted, xman, our experiences were pretty similar. I thought the service was quite good, the food was pretty ho-hum, and the atmosphere was just way, way too loud and "wowanewplaceforustogoandbeseenbecausewereyoungandcoolandbrainless" for my tastes.

      I, too, had the Smokehouse Platter, and for me, the ribs were the absolute lousiest meat of the three. Flavorless, chewy, and unsatisfying. Sure, I ate them, as I was hungry enough, but the brisket was the best of the three, in my opinion. If I'd had the ribs as an entree, I can tell you that I would have been *extremely* unkind. I had the slaw (decent), and the redskin mashers (lousy enough for me to send them back for fries, which were fine for what they were). My friend had the glazed salmon, which he liked, but the glaze was just slapped on at the end, not cooked with it. I tried it, and it was fine, but the glaze should have been baked on or something, not just slathered on at the end of the cooking process.

      *None* of the five sauces they offer are made in-house. This results in them being less-than-stellar as additions to the meat itself. Suffice it to say that if you've had the sauces at Slows, Woodshop, or Lazybones, these will leave you scratching your head and wondering, "Why?"

      Unfortunately, it seems that the whole BBQ trend in the area isn't necessarily reaching the saturation point, but it *does* appear to be reaching the point where an "Anybody can do this!" mentality has set in, and the quality of several recent entries into the fray hasn't exactly been stellar, and least in terms of food quality. Say what you will about Slows and Woodshop's wait times and spotty/crappy service: at least the food quality is usually still high.

      Don't hurry out to try Penny Black, but don't think that it's a total loss, either. The best advice I can give is to expect a *loud* experience, and to temper one's expectations on the BBQ side of things, here. They still have a good deal of work to do in that area, but the service that I experienced was quite good, and that really does go a long way toward making the place have more return appeal.

      1 Reply
      1. re: boagman

        Thanks for the report, boagman.

        Maybe in a couple of years for me; but not in 2011.

      2. My wife and I tried Penny Black a few weeks ago and for the most part had an enjoyable evening. While it's certainly not on the level of Slows, Union Woodshop, Lockhart's, etc. it did fit the bill for a quality midweek dinner. Appetizer of queso fundido was decent if unexceptional. I had the cuban sandwich which I thought was a step above a typical cuban. My wife had the chicken club and found it to be quite good. The sauces were for the most part generic although I thought the Carolina sauce was better than average. All in all I would say that Penny Black is a good find if your looking for decent bar food but if top notch bbq is what you're after I'd keep looking.

        1. I finally did try Penny Black a few weeks ago, but I didn’t feel it was worth my time to add a review. Then, I saw a good “review” of Penny Black in Real Detroit Weekly (RDW) and got pissed off. I’ll never again bother reading a RDW food review. It’s no wonder that the author doesn’t list his/her name.

          Penny Black’s “barbecue” is simply disgusting. Even worse than the Meijer grocery counter. I was so insulted I can barely acknowledge that my family was indeed able to swallow the “Mexican” style dishes also served, or that the place has a good location and atmosphere (building, TVs and beer list) and nice servers.

          The featured dish is the Smokehouse Platter, and it clearly came from a vacuum wrapped bag which never has seen a smokehouse. I took a bite of each Platter item, moved the plate away, and ate chips and salsa for dinner.

          I got some guff for writing a mixed but hopeful/positive review of Lockhart’s a while back. At least Lockhart’s has lovable sides, great sausages, smoky/barky pulled pork (even if it is dry), and deeply smoked ribs (okay maybe too smoky). I won’t make excuses for Lockhart’s brisket, but I’d love to be a fly on the wall when a Lockhart’s hater sits down at Penny Black and tries the Smokehouse Platter!

          PS—Hey, rumor has it that Rub BBQ is opening up a location in Warren at 12Mile and Mound. Anybody know if/when?

          1 Reply
          1. re: VTB

            RDW's founder is a former colleague of mine from my Metro times days. Rest assured, there is never a negative review of ANYTHING in RDW. And the bigger the ad you buy, the nicer the review will be.