And that's saying something. Growing up in parts of rural Nevada, I've eaten at some massive dives in my time.
Having said that, Mr. K's BBQ has some of the better barbecue I've ever laid my lips on. And that, too, is saying something.
I visited Mr. K's on a recent weekday. I've been meaning to get to Mr. K's for quite some time; one of our loyal readers had been politely nagging me to check out the place ever since I reviewed Smokin', the Metro Restaurants' mediocre attempt to get in the Tucson barbecue game. I kept making plans to visit Mr. K's, but every time I scheduled a trip with a dining partner, things came up; I got sick, then my dining partner did, then I had something come up at the last minute, then my dining partner had something come up. Finally, I just went by my own bad self.
I knew, thanks to my Friendly Nagging Reader, that Mr. K's was located at Silverlake Road and Park Avenue. But I didn't know which corner, and I drove by the place, actually located on the northwest corner, twice before I finally found it. There's no big signage that I saw--only a small A-shaped sign along the street. When I finally pulled into the gravel parking lot and opened my car door, the smell of smoke hit me--yep, I was in the right place.
I walked in the door that Mr. K's shares with the Afro-American Heritage Museum and headed for the counter to order. The menu's simple, consisting of pork ribs, Southern fried catfish, BBQ chicken, BBQ pork, BBQ beef brisket, hot links (smoked sausage) and sides including Texas beans, candied sweet potatoes, potato salad, cole slaw, collard and turnip greens, corn on the cob and cornbread. A plate with a meat, two sides and cornbread is $6.95; a combo plate with a rib, a hot link and either sliced beef or pork with cornbread and two sides is $7.95. You can also order sandwiches with one of the meats ($3.50-$4.25), meat by the pound or slab and, of course, dessert--peach cobbler ($1.50, $20 whole with six-hour notice needed), sweet potato pie ($1.50, $7 whole) pecan pie ($2, $9 whole) or cheesecake ($2, with fruit topping $2.50).
I ordered the combo plate, and was disappointed to learn they were out of ribs for a while; the polite gentleman behind the counter offered to give me both the sliced pork and beef brisket instead. I agreed, paid and sat down.
The few minutes I spent waiting for my food allowed me to take in how truly hideous Mr. K's décor is. The dining area also substitutes as a storage area; large metal refrigerators and shelves with beans and Jiffy bread mix occupy the space against the walls, and a large stack of Costco-brand water sits by the soda machine. The concrete floor was once painted red, but the scraping of table and chair legs has scratched about half of the paint off. The tables and chairs don't match, and they look like they were procured from a circa 1973 yard sale.
The folks from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy would have a seizure. But, hell, this is a barbecue joint; who the hell cares what the place looks like? Especially when the joint also offers delivery and take-out.
When I was informed my food was ready, I quickly walked to the counter and grabbed the plastic foam to-go container. (Everyone, whether they were dining in or eating to-go, was served their food in these. The folks from the Sierra Club would have a seizure.)
The hot link, sliced into several pieces and doused with barbecue sauce, was tasty, although it wasn't the slightest bit spicy-hot, despite its name. The barbecue sauce (which can be purchased for $2.99 for a 12-ounce bottle) dominated the flavor of the link, which was fine, because the sauce is delicious. Here's the key: If you like black pepper, you'll like the sauce, as the sauce contains a lot of it. It also apparently contains some sugar, giving it a sweet flavor. It's unique and delicious.
The thin-sliced pork and beef were both perfectly prepared--juicy, with a smoky flavor that the medium-thick sauce complemented without overwhelming. The menu at Mr. K's says, with hearts on each side of the sentence: "Where BBQ done right is a labor of love." The corniness aside, the perfectly grilled meat backs up that boast.
The two sides I chose were both good. The potato salad, with lots of mustard, was far better than anything you'd find at the grocery store, and the greens were just what you'd expect. (I regret not trying the candied sweet potatoes in retrospect--I'll try them next time, but I decided to go with the greens the first time because the Friendly Nagging Reader insisted I do so). The cornbread was standard fare, and it came in handy to sop up the extra sauce.
Thoroughly satisfied with the barbecue, I decided to try dessert as well, getting some peach cobbler. It was sweet and juicy, with the breading cooked perfectly. My only complaint is that it was too sweet, with sugar masking most of the other flavors and spices involved.
Nonetheless, I left Mr. K's happy and full--and smelling like wood smoke.
Kudos to the Friendly Nagging Reader. Tasty meats, delicious sauce, a hideous décor and the smell of wood smoke--that's what restaurant barbecue is all about.