Masters of Meat

BrushFire's motto--'Caution: Habit Forming'--tells the truth

A man walked into BrushFire BBQ Co. during one of my recent visits there and was recognized by the woman working the counter. "You're back!" she said.

"Yeah, I have a takeout order," he explained. "My girlfriend ate all of my food!"

The BrushFire employee laughed as she went to retrieve the man's order. He sheepishly elaborated: "She was hungry."

While it's rude to eat someone else's meal, as this man's girlfriend did, I can understand why she did it: BrushFire's barbecue is delicious.

In the parking lot outside the little Campbell Avenue joint, you can smell it: meat. Smoky, barbecued meat. And it smells great.

The meats star here: smokey brisket, BrushFire pork, plump sausage, sticky ribs, roasted chicken and cold smoked turkey. Six house-made sauces are available (which you can taste-test if you ask): BrushFire mild, BrushFire hot, sweet and bold, sweet molasses, honey Dijon and bacon balsamic. BrushFire offers these meats and sauces with meals, on sandwiches and on salads; you can also get wings (ranging from six for $4.50 up to 48 for $26), fries, chicken salad, side dishes and a handful of desserts.

But forget about all that side stuff; the meat is what it's all about. I'll quote from the BrushFire menu here: "We start by rubbing our meats with our secret 'dry rub.' (Meanwhile), we get our custom smoker heated up and loaded with logs of mesquite and pecan. We then slow smoke our meats for five hours (ribs) to 16 hours (brisket). During the smoking process, we 'mop' our meats at least every half hour. This ensures a nice crust, moist meat and layers of flavors."

My favorite was the smokey brisket (small meal $8.20; large $9.70; both sizes come with two sides; a brisket sandwich with a side is $6.50 or $8, depending on the size) with a mixture of the sweet molasses and BrushFire hot sauces. The wood-smoke taste was complemented perfectly by sauce's sweetness and spiciness. The sticky ribs ($10/$13 meals) were a close second; the meat was falling off the bone and tender as can be. The chicken was also juicy and delicious, as was the pork. The only meat that was less than perfect was the sausage, which tasted like a standard kielbasa; it didn't absorb the sauce like the shredded meats did, so it didn't have as much flavor.

The small restaurant space is nice and clean, with depictions of flames everywhere. The walls are painted with an orange-flame motif; the artwork primarily depicts flames; a shelf with dozens of bottles of hot sauce adds to the orange and red. There is not a lot of seating in the fast-casual restaurant: There are two four-top tables, a big table with bar-style seating and a counter with bar-style seating, and that's it. Whether customers are dining in or eating out, the employees are super-friendly.

The biggest flaw at BrushFire is that the sides and other food offerings aren't as inspired as the meats. The special sesame slaw (a vinegar slaw, a creamy slaw and a special are always offered) was bland and too watery; the house potato salad was also bland and dominated by roasted peppers (I had no idea bacon was present until I closely read the menu); the mustard potato salad didn't have enough mustard. The only sides that really sang were the corn on the cob (which, when cooked properly on a grill, is always fantastic) and the baked beans, which featured lots of flavor, primarily thanks to the onion and molasses.

And the desserts? Forget about the brownie cup ($2); the one we had was nearly inedible, with a hard-as-a-rock top and a dry interior. The éclairs ($2.50) were not worth noting; they're made using a precooked dough tube with a filling squirted inside. The double chocolate éclair was OK, but the bourbon cream éclair's filling tasted like Jell-O butterscotch pudding. This is not a good thing. (Jumbo cookies, $1, are also offered.)

But forget about the desserts and the weaker sides. If you stick to the sweet, juicy, smoky meats, the corn on the cob and the baked beans--served on paper in a cute little basket, if you're dining at the restaurant--you'll be happy, because you'll be eating some of the best barbecue this Southwestern burg has to offer.

Just beware: Keep your food away from hungry friends or loved ones. It may just get eaten.