This is the Place
Pitmaster BBQ House — New Addition to My Favorite BBQ Joints
I had heard about Pitmasters BBQ House, but never been. Friends and family had not only urged me to go because it was good food, but really wanted me to write a review — also because it’s good food. So I did. When I arrived at the restaurant, located on the end of a strip mall, I was greeted by the smell of the smoker while still in the parking lot, and could not help but smile. When I entered, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the owners had created an atmosphere that was very earthy and welcoming, in a rustic sort of way. The walls were painted in earth tones, the tables were heavy wood, like park benches, but turned up a notch. And the wood they used to smoke their grub was stacked decoratively between tables like separator walls. There were also many signs with humorous, almost hillbilly sayings lining the walls like chair guards. The menu was written in chalk on a blackboard above and beside the counter, where you order, their beverage bar was broken into two spots, the soda fountain on the bar, while they had glass jug with a spigot labeled, “Mint Lemonade.” I was intrigued ....
After looking over the menu, I decided to go with one of my favorite BBQ items: ribs. I asked the young man at the register if they were good, and he said they were, that they smoke for at least 10 hours and that the BBQ sauces on the tables were really good. Without my asking, he said that the hot one is actually hot, but I thought, “I’ll be the judge of that.” Then he asked me what sides I wanted, that I needed to choose. So I had to ask what a hush puppy was. He told me it was deep-fried corn bread with diced peppers mixed inside, then assured me that they were good. So I went with that, and a woman behind me told me that the BBQ beans were really excellent. So I took that as my second side. So I paid at the register and was told he would bring it out to me. For my drink, I had to go for the Mint Lemonade — then almost changed my mind when I saw that they had Mello Yello in the soda fountain. (I much prefer that over Mountain Dew. It’s sweeter and fruitier.) But I stuck to my guns to try something new.
After I filled my cup, I sat at a table (the place was empty when I entered, but there were two more groups that arrived shortly after I did). While waiting, I looked past the register to see a man in a chef’s coat stirring a silver stew pot big enough for my 10 year old to hide in. I wanted to see the business end of that stirrer, but he didn’t take it out, just took a serving cup (I cringe at using the word “cup,” because it probably held a gallon) and started portioning out BBQ sauce into something I couldn’t see.
The Mint Lemonade was interesting. It’s tart and sweet, but the herbal undertones of the mint plants steeping in the serving jug definitely came through. I didn’t know what to expect from it, but found myself being reminded of a Mojito I once had while at a Cuban restaurant in Florida — sans alcohol. I liked it. For one thing, it’s different, and that’s always a good thing.
My food came pretty quickly, delivered in a plastic tray on a sheet of wax paper. The beans were dark red-brown and thick, which was promising, although I was worried that I could see no bits of meat inside. I was also worried that it was just sitting on the wax paper, rather than in any kind of cup. That’s just an accident waiting to happen, even when I’m only armed with plastic flatware. The hush puppies were fried a beautiful golden brown, speckled with bits of green, and were a little smaller than golf balls. Alongside was a plastic cup with a lid filled with something yellowish. I asked the man who brought me my food what it was, and he said it was honey mustard for the hush puppies. There was a piece of pale-yellow corn bread but, most importantly, there were the ribs. There were only three of them, but they looked meaty and were beautiful, with a nice, shiny glaze, and a red smoke ring penetrating the meat almost a quarter-inch deep. I picked up a rib ... and was transported to another place.
First words out of my mouth after first bite: “Oh, man. They know how to do ribs.”
The smoke was heady, filling my sinuses, and the wonderful saltiness of the pork was a real treat. Quite simply, it was one of the best smoked ribs I had ever had. It didn’t need sauce, but the guy at the register told me they were good — and that the hot one was actually hot — so I had to try. “Widow Maker” was marked as the hottest sauce and it called to me, beckoning ... so I squirted a good amount onto my rib and took a bite. As good as the rib had been before ... the sauce made it even better. There was, indeed, heat. Too many places claim that their food or sauces are spicy, but fail to deliver. (In fact, at some places, my 10 year old could drink some of them instead of root beer.) But this one delivered. It had heat and it was delicious, balancing the heat with sweetness and layers of flavor. After the hottest, I tried the second hottest, “Spicy Wasatch” and was also impressed. It, also, had heat, with a stronger vinegar flavor than the first.
What a great place!
When I tried the hush puppy, I bit one in half and really enjoyed the flavor. The crispy outside was the first thing to hit, that beautiful texture, followed immediately by the corn-bread flavor. I could taste chiles or hot peppers, although it was unclear what type, and also feel a little warmth from the spices. The next bite was even better, dipped into the honey mustard. It was my very first hush puppy and I was sold.
Last, I went into the beans. I love good BBQ beans (and I make a pretty good batch myself). The sauce was very thick (possibly the thickest I have ever seen), and there was nothing else in it that I could see. I smelled it and was greeted by intense smoke. When I took a bite, it tasted just as amazing as it smelled. The only thing that might make it any better was bits of smoked meat — and that’s a big “might.”
Although I had been disappointed by the number of ribs served initially, with all the sides, I wouldn’t have been able to eat any more. I ended up boxing up what was left of my sides, which does not happen every day. I definitely had my life-is-good feeling.
Last words out of my mouth: "Add Pitmasters to my very short list of favorite BBQ places!"
On my second visit, they had added colorful vertical banners to some of the windows, flame-emblazoned with the letters “B-B-Q.” That was fun. When I entered, I noticed that there were no bottles (just single bottles), but the narrow bar had a row of hand-pump devices and buckets of paper and plastic cups to fill with sauce. I don’t know if I missed that the first time or if it was a new addition.
I really wanted the ribs, but had to get something different from the menu. The man in front of me ordered a double order of pulled pork, and the guy at the register said with great enthusiasm, “Great choooiiiice.” So I decided I’d do order a regular order of the pulled pork, as well as smoked chicken breast. I was tempted to get their sausage, but they don’t make it themselves (it’s Colosimo’s, which is great, but that’s another story). For sides, I saw that they had Collard Greens, and I was both excited and feeling a sense of dread. I am not an expert on Collard Greens, having first tried them when traveling through Missouri as an adult but, since then, have come across a great many that were borderline inedible. After a moment’s thought, I figured it would be a good test, and went with it. I also had noticed that they season their French Fries with more than just plain salt, so I ordered that, as well.
Again, I was told that the food would be brought out, I got more of the Mint Lemonade, and sat near the bar with all the sauce pumps. There were half-page signs over each with images depicting the style of sauce, as well as one-sentence descriptions of each. I filled my little paper cups with Widow Maker, Spicy Wasatch, Hawaiian Haystack, White Icing, Orange Boar and Tangy Carolina. The wait was fairly short.
First words out of my mouth: “Smell that smoke.”
I could smell the smoke of the pork and chicken before he even sat down my plate. Moreover, it was actually served on a plate. A large, round plate made of thick, sturdy ceramic. It was plain white, but a great improvement over the plastic basket. The Collard Greens were very brothy and inviting, with bits of meat visible. The fries were speckled with orangish season salt. The chicken was a beautiful deep golden brown, and the shredded pork was threaded through with the dark flesh of smoky bark. The only thing that detracted at all was the corn bread: the piece was pretty small. (I learned on my second visit that it was all you can eat.) But I couldn’t wait any longer, I had to dig in.
First words out of my mouth after first bite: “Oh, baby. That’s amazing.”
The smoky saltiness of the pulled pork was just what I was hoping for, filling my sinuses and rolling through my mouth. I had two bites, savoring it plain, before I finally forced myself to try the variety of sauces I had collected. The Widow Maker was as good as usual, as was the Spicy Wasatch. The White Icing was interesting, almost like a spicy aioli, all white speckled with pepper. The Orange Boar was really nice, with a great citrus undertone to the regular BBQ flavors. The Hawaiian Haystack must be popular, because I could barely get enough out of the pump for one bite, and it was nice, with an almost Oriental flavor to its fruity sweetness. The one thing that I didn’t care for was the Tangy Carolina. The sign says it’s a vinegar base, and the vinegar is, indeed, very sharp and potent. So much so that it was all I could seem to taste, even overpowering the smoke of the pulled pork.
Next I dug into the Collard Greens ... and found my happy place. For the first time since that trip to Missouri, I felt like I was eating Collard Greens worthy of the name. The broth was very nice, the greens still holding a certain crunch, but the chunks of meat made it that much better. The saltiness of the broth complimented the salt of the smoked meat, all carrying the greens to a new level of perfection. I dare say they were the best Collard Greens I have ever had.
The fries were great, fried well, with a nice crispiness while still soft in the middle. I could easily see people who make a meal of a bucket of fries having a great time with these.
When I turned to the chicken, I was pleased all over again. The smoke was nice, albeit not as heady as it was with the pulled pork, making a more subtle impression. Although it was a breast, the meat was still moist, and provided a great vessel for more of those sauces (particularly the Wasatch).
In all, I felt even more satisfied by this visit than the first. I wanted to sit there and bask in the glow of a great meal. I love good barbeque, and Pitmasters certainly has a place at the top of my list of favorite BBQ joints.
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noun. Slang. A person who has an ardent or refined interest in food; a gourmet.