Love That Peppery Heat

Mr. K has taken his recipes to bigger, nicer digs—but his 'cue is still delicious

Full-disclosure time: Barbecue is not on my list of favorites. Call me un-American, but I've never developed a passion for 'cue—and believe me, I've had my fair share of the stuff.

Having said that, Mr. K's does put out some pretty decent barbecue. Not everything we had was top-notch, but I can see why this place is so popular. Indeed, on one of our visits, the line was literally out the door.

The first thing you notice when you walk in is the heavenly aroma of smoke. It hangs in the air, promising good food to come. Food is served cafeteria-style: You get in line, grab a tray, and tell the guys behind the counter what you want. The meat is carefully portioned and wrapped in butcher paper. It's served in the Southern tradition of "meat and two," which means one portion of protein, and your choice of two sides. You get that for $10, and if you are really hungry, you can get two meats for $12, or three for $14. You can also get a half-pound sandwich with one of the meats for $7.

Meat choices include pork spareribs, sliced or chopped brisket, pulled pork, pulled chicken, a half-chicken, sliced turkey breast, longhorn links, and rope sausage. Sides include "county fair" corn on the cob, collard greens, house beans, potato salad, creamy slaw, mac 'n' cheese, candied yams, green beans, steak fries, fried okra, and kettle-style potato chips (brand-name chips in a small bag). You can buy extra sides for $2, or get a family-size portion for $7. All meats are available by the pound, with prices ranging from about $22 for a full rack of ribs to $10 for pulled chicken. Desserts are $4 and include pecan pie, sweet-potato pie, cheesecake and peach cobbler (although the cobbler wasn't available on either of our visits). Should you want vanilla-bean ice cream on one of those individual-size pies, it's $2 more.

Our first visit was for takeout. We got the ribs and sliced brisket, with collard greens, green beans, house beans and mac 'n' cheese as our sides. A small container of Mr. K's barbecue sauce was put in the bag.

On our second visit, we sampled the pulled pork and the half chicken, along with fried okra, candied yams, potato salad and corn on the cob. The dining room was filled with picnic tables topped with red-and-white checkered vinyl tablecloths. Each table held the typical accoutrements (more about these later).

It's obvious that the people here really care about the food. The large, smoky ribs, three in number—more than enough for the average appetite—had a wonderful char on the outside. There was just enough fat to keep the meat moist and tender.

The brisket was also a fine example of what good 'cue is supposed to be. You could taste the seasonings and the smoke, and the meat was both tender and toothsome, with a fine char on the edges.

We also enjoyed the pulled pork—but the chicken was woefully undercooked. It was hard to pull apart, and the meat was wet (not moist) and pink in color. The skin, though, had a wonderful spicy flavor.

About the table fixin's: There are four sauces. Mr. K's original is truly the secret behind this place, with hints of smoke, sweetness, peppery heat and the pop of vinegar. There's also a hotter version of the house sauce; a dark, molasses-based sauce; and something called liquid gold (Carolina style), which has a hint of mustard. You'll also find ketchup and Tabasco sauce. And just to keep y'all neat and clean, there's a roll of paper towels, too.

As far as the sides go, some were very good, while others didn't quite hit the mark.

We liked the corn on the cob. It had been cooked in the smoker and was sweet and delicious. The green beans also were done well. However, the mac 'n' cheese was our favorite: Large pasta shells had been cooked just right, and were mixed with a creamy cheese sauce, then sprinkled with a crumb topping. The potato salad held its own, and the okra was a pleasant surprise, mainly due to the nicely seasoned coating. The collard greens were only so-so, because there was too much meat mixed into the dish, which totally dominated the greens.

But the candied yams and the house beans were ... weird. The yams were cloyingly sweet, and there was an off-putting flavor in the beans, which had been reduced to mush after spending too much time at the steam table.

The only dessert we tried was the sweet-potato pie. It had been made "fresh this morning," according to the guy behind the counter. The filling was creamy and just sweet enough.

Will barbecue ever make it onto my list of favorites? I don't know ... but I do know I'll give Mr. K's another try. After all, those ribs were really quite tasty.

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