When we moved from Kansas City to Boca Raton two years ago, food was our biggest complaint. Kansas City has an excellent food scene, with wonderful restaurants ranging from the divey to the upscale. With two years of reflection, I think it’s fair to say that average restaurant quality in Kansas City is much better than average quality in South Florida. Down here, we’re disappointed more than we’re pleased.
Given two years, though, we’ve found some gems. Nice Indian, good Vietnamese, wonderful Korean. For fine dining, we usually head into Miami to visit Michy’s or Sra. Martinez. Sushi is abundant, even if it is weirdly always paired with Thai.
What South Florida just does not have, though, is good barbecue. I’ve spent my time in barbecue country. I went to school in Houston. I lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas before moving to Kansas City, where I learned what it’s really about. I’m no regional purist, though. During our move, my wife and I grabbed dinner at a small joint in Paducah, Kentucky that served some of the best pork I’ve had in my life with a wonderful thin vinegar/pepper sauce. (Some of my best friends eat mustard based sauces.)
But when it comes to Florida, our options range from the absolutely terrible (most) to the somewhat tolerable (few). One of the first places we tried when we moved down here was Red’s Backwoods BBQ. Red’s kind of sets the theme for South Florida barbecue in that it’s a bit cafeteriaesque. Sides come as scoops of bland mush, the meat has little flavor, and the sauce is sickly sweet. It’s not the worst we’ve had since we’ve lived here, but we haven’t felt the need to go back.
Shorty’s falls into this same cafeteriaesque category. I don’t know if they have a real smoker here, but the food comes out tasting more like it was finished in an oven. Ribs were somewhat tough, and again a sickly sweet barbecue sauce accompanies your tough meat.
I recently went with some friends to Rock n Roll Ribs, a new restaurant opened by Nicko McBrain, the drummer for Iron Maiden. The ribs here actually were not bad, and when I requested it, they brought me a hot barbecue sauce that was better than anything they had out on the table. However, I just can’t forgive them for their brisket. It was strangely juicy, more a pot roast than a barbecue brisket. But worst of all, they sliced it with the grain. The brisket portion of my combo platter was a pile of ropy, long, tough muscle fibers. I still get the chills when I think of it.
On the more positive side, Jack’s Bar-B-Q Smokehouse in Ft. Lauderdale definitely has real smokers. Shopping in the area, we were lured in by the smoke that wafts across Oakland Park Blvd. While there, we noticed a guy at the next table wearing a Chief’s hat and talking about KC. We struck up a conversation with them. One was a transplant from Kansas City who had been in South Florida for five or six years. The other was a friend visiting from KCK. He claimed it was the best he’s found in the area. I tend to agree. It’s definitely the best we’ve been to down here, but it would be average back in KC. Maybe a Bates City level operation.
One nice surprise was Ribs 2 Go, a roadside rib purveyor we drove by after a long day in Miami that we had no desire to cook after. The ribs were excellent, the best we’ve had down here, and served with a great spicy mustard based sauce. (Though we only used it on some since we had just a bit of my Night Of The Living Bar-B-Q Sauce to use up.) But at $20 for a rack of ribs plus the drive down to Miami, this isn’t something we’ll be doing again any time soon.
So what is the best barbecue we’ve had since we’ve been down? That would have to be the two pounds of Oklahoma Joe’s pulled pork my wife’s parents brought with them last time they visited. Short of that, I think I just prefer to stick with what I can do in my Weber.