Meat Masters

Touch of Class serves up fantastic barbecue--but its hours of operation are an ever-changing mystery

There are plenty of reviews that start with something like, "You've probably driven past this place a million times." The same could be said about tiny barbecue spot Touch of Class.

Add to the mix quirky hours and the dearth of parking, and Touch of Class becomes almost invisible. But Touch of Class deserves some attention. The food is homemade and definitely different from the offerings at nearby joints. Service is more than friendly, and the prices are unbelievably low.

I grabbed a solo lunch there on my first visit. I ordered the rib-tip sandwich ($4.99), a soda ($1.59) and one of my true nonchocolate weaknesses, peach cobbler ($3.50). It's all counter service at Touch of Class; the place was pretty quiet, so the food was at my table in practically no time at all.

The plate consisted of a healthy portion of meat, a pile of big, hot fries, a pickle and the prerequisite slices of white bread on the side (so I guess it really wasn't a sandwich). Then there were the rib tips: charred but totally tender bits of pork bathed in a sweet, yet slightly smoky sauce. Often, the smoke flavor dominates barbecued meat, but that was not the case here. There were a few bones to eat around, but beyond that, this was great meat.

Another diner came in. When the owner/chef delivered her food himself, it became obvious she was a regular. She joked with him that the room was too cold (it was), and he joked back, mentioning how hot it was over the stove. Yet he made a point of checking the thermostat and turning down the air conditioner--service with a smile, and then some.

My cobbler was served warm. The peaches were plentiful, flecked with cinnamon and topped with a tumble of piecrust. I practically licked the plate clean.

The tables have black tops and are covered with--wisely--heavy plastic for easy cleanup. Barbecue eaters can be a messy lot. Oddly, there are no pictures on the walls, with only a few plants scattered here and there. The place has an almost sterile look.

And now, a word on the hours of operation: The Touch of Class menu states the hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. They are also open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m.--a change made in just the last week. That early closing makes it a little tricky to dine in for dinner, so I decided to stop in after my day job and pick up a couple of plates to go. But when I got there, I found a sign on the door apologizing for an early closure (a little after 4 p.m.) and noting that the restaurant would be closing early the next day as well. Later, we tried a Saturday visit, and we found the place in the throes of a private party. (They were still open to the public, but we opted out, because we felt it might not be a fair time to review.)

The following week, I stopped in at basically the same late-afternoon time to find the place closed again--this time, with no explanation. Frustrated, I called the following day to inquire what the heck was up. The chef explained that after the lunch rush, he is usually the only one there; sometimes, he has errands and other obligations, and in those cases, he has to close. The other two owners, he explained, have other jobs and couldn't always fill in.

My only option was to try another lunch visit. I ordered the BBQ wings ($5.75), which came with a choice of a side dish, carrot and celery sticks, and ranch dressing. I opted for the potato salad as my side. Again, the place was pretty quiet, but the customers who were there were also regulars, if the banter with the staff was any indication.

I waited a bit for my lunch, but that was OK, because when it was served, I was immediately impressed by the portion size and the hot-out-of-the-fryer temperature (although the server forgot the ranch dressing). The wings had first been dipped in a house-made batter, then deep-fried and tossed with a ton of that smoky sauce. The result: chicken tender on the inside and crispy on the outside, with a wonderful barbecue punch. There were eight pieces, and I ended up taking some home, because I couldn't come close to finishing.

The potato salad had come straight from the refrigerator. Sadly, it was on the verge of freezing, with ice crystals beginning to form. After a few minutes on the plate, I could finally enjoy the side dish. I can't say it was the best I'd ever had, but no doubt, it was homemade.

To be fair, I made a third visit--again at lunchtime, of course. Again, the place was pretty quiet; again, service was friendly, if a little scattered. And again, the food was delicious. I ordered the daily special, the pulled beef sandwich with cole slaw ($5.75). I added a piece of sweet potato pie ($2.50), since the restaurant was out of the cookies and cheesecake. The beef--brisket, I believe--was tender and slathered in the house sauce then served on a sesame-seed bun. The cole slaw consisted of rough-cut veggies and, like the potato salad, didn't impress, but it was homemade. The overly generous slice of pie was creamy with a hint of sweetness.

It was yet another enjoyable lunch--but I couldn't help but feel a little sad. Touch of Class has possibilities, but the restaurant's experiencing some growing pains. It recently stopped serving breakfast, because there wasn't much of a crowd. And of course, the three unsuccessful visits I made were a bit of a turn-off. Touch of Class might just make it, but its owners need to first figure out exactly where they want to go.

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