Monday, June 23, 2008

Harkert's BBQ

Restaurant: Harkert's BBQ
Address: 4865 Center St.
Genres: BBQ, Italian
Check Constraints: Short order.
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Large Carolina Pork ($6)
  • Curly Q's ($1.50)
  • Meatball ($1.05)
  • Pickle (Appx $1)
  • Diet Pepsi ($1.25)
There have been several occasions when, while driving down Center, the delightful aroma of smoking meat wafted into the car and caused a spasm of me craning my neck in an attempt to triangulate the actual source of the wood smoke. Once I determined it wasn't nearby steakhouse Gorat's luring me in, I finally took the time to discover that it was a tiny barbecue joint tacked on to the end of a strip mall. They cleverly hide their woodpile inside a square fence plot, making them that much harder to actually spot. So after several weeks of anticipation, Maple and I finally coerced the rest of the group into going for last Thursday's lunch.

Sadly, we were kind of disappointed. Don't get me wrong, the food I had here was good, and the smoke smell both inside and outside the joint made me drool like a drugged English Bulldog. But from the reports of the others, the sauce they chose to use for barbecue was not exactly the best. I agree, but I'll let the others explain why - I have a Carolina Pulled Pork sandwich to talk about.

Carolina BBQ, if you're not familiar with the vast spectrum of BBQ out there, is kind of a radical take-off on what most people think of as "barbecue". Like traditional southern BBQ, it's pork-based, but it eschews a tomato-based sauce in favor of a vinegar-and-chile-based sauce. When served as a sandwich it's often topped with coleslaw, and it was that way here. Harkert's does their vinegar as a marinade instead of as a sauce added to the pulled meat at sandwich construction time, so the tang was diminished, and lessened even more by the coleslaw. I'd have preferred a little more heat out of it, both vinegar- and chile-wise, but it was good nonetheless, and was a fairly large sandwich for $6.

The Curly-Qs were curly fries, and I don't have much else to say. Moogle's side was a far better choice, in my opinion. The meatball, though, was kind of amazing. It was, estimated, 4 inches in diameter, and came in a bowl of marinara. The sauce was average, but the meatball contained hints of both onion and cabbage and was rather good. You could make a meal out of three and some garlic bread, I suspect. The pickles are served out of a jar on the counter and was pretty good, as pickles go.

I'd go again, but from what I tasted around the table I'd wind up with the same sandwich and perhaps a different side, if I didn't try something out of the Italian part of the menu. And we have too many other places to go for me to start repeating food.

  • Regular Brisket Sandwich ($4.50)
  • Curly Q's ($1.50)
  • Large Pork Sandwich ($6)
  • Dr. Pepper($1.25)
Big note if you're planning on going as a group. This place is cramped. If it had been a little busier, we'd probably have been left without a decent place to sit. I made Cham buy the pickle because I went first and forgot to grab one. The pickles are immense, juicy, and just the right blend of dill and sweet. If you insist on going here, and you aren't opposed to the very idea of putting pickles on barbeque, get one of these, slice it up, and add it to your sandwich. It improves the flavor.

The curly fries were standard Arby's issue curly fries, really. If I were a fan of jalapeno flavor, I'd go with Moogle's side instead, by a long shot. Unfortunately, this is where my good comments pretty much end, because now I have to talk about the sandwiches.

I'm going to start with the brisket. The brisket seemed a bit tough, even for brisket, much more so than the good stuff I got at Ozark. I'd like to say something about the quality of the smoking, but I can't, because the stuff was coated in an awful, overly tomato-ey, sour excuse for barbecue sauce. I dealt with it, though, and finished the brisket sandwich, and it at least wasn't drowned in the sauce.

The same was not true of the pulled pork. The pulled pork sandwich was an abomination upon the land. If you have ever had a proper sloppy joe, the sheer liquidity of this sandwich is roughly comparable to that. There was so much of this awful, sour sauce on the pork that you couldn't even tell it was pork. They could have substituted chicken, beef, veal, or rat meat, and I wouldn't have been able to tell. I would love to be able to give an opinion on the meat in general, but I never actually tasted the meat at any point, it was nothing but sauce.

If you insist on going, go for the Carolina pork, or something italian. The bit of carolina pork I tasted was pretty good. You might consider asking if you can get some meat, with no sauce, slapped on a bun. Maybe add a bit of pickle, or bring your own preferred barbecue. I really don't care if anybody wants to give it a second chance or not, if we opted to go there again, I would probably opt out.

  • #1 Pork Rib Snack: 5 Spare ribs, coleslaw, baked beans, bread & butter ($8.75)
  • Mountain Dew($1.25)
I was glad to see they actually offered fountain soda, not just cans from a cooler. It always annoys me when I ask for a soda for $1.00 or $1.25 and they come back with a single can and no glass to even pour it in.

I ordered one of their specials. It was 5 Spare ribs, 2 sides, and bread & butter for $8.75--not a bad deal for the portion. I never got any bread & butter, but I didn't realize it at the time. I opted for coleslaw and baked beans for my sides. The coleslaw was actually pretty good. It was a little sweet, pretty wet, and not terribly spicy. The baked beans were also pretty good. The ribs...they came slathered in a gritty looking, bright red barbecue sauce, which I didn't at all like. It was way too tomatoey and didn't have any spice. At one point I was gnawing on a rib and had a huge puff of tomato smell go up through my sinuses. That isn't right. This was all very unfortunate, because the ribs themselves were nice and meaty with a delicious looking pink hue, no big chunks of char, and a nice taste of smoke, and were overall very good once I wiped the rancid tomato off.

I recommend that, if you choose to order something that has a remote chance of coming with their barbecue sauce, you order it dry and bring a bottle of your own favorite sauce to top it with.

  • Regular Brisket Sandwich ($4.50)
  • Spicy Taters ($1.50)
  • Diet Pepsi ($1.25)
I had the brisket sandwich as well, and my initial thought was that the meat was a bit tough. I didn't really notice it later when I got more into it. It was pretty well drenched in the sauce. I agree that the sauce was too tomatoey, but it didn't bother me as much as the others. I had a bit of ND's pulled pork though, and the sauce on that was way, way too much and really sharp. I can see why he didn't bother to eat most of it.

The side was cheesy tater tots with jalapeno flavoring. I didn't notice any actual jalapeno bits. They were pretty good and came out very physically hot. Once they cooled down, I could actually taste them, and they weren't very spicy. They're decent, but there weren't very many of them compared to what you get with the fries.

It seemed to be a local techie lunching place though. Almost everyone there seemed to be dressed for and talking about some sort of technical position. If we end up coming back at some point, I'd try something different for sure. In general, I thought things were "just OK".

No comments: