The next few weeks will be crazy-busy for Petite Maison chef-owner James Porter as he prepares to open a new barbecue restaurant, Big Earl's BBQ, in the Old Town space that formerly housed Nello's, and later, Jac's Pizzeria. The goal is to open by February 1.
Porter, who will be the chef and operating manager, says he was approached by a group of out-of-town investors and saw an opportunity in Old Town.
"Every chef has his secret comfort food," Porter says, explaining that although he made his name serving upscale fusion cuisine at now-defunct Tapino, and currently cooks French country bistro food at Petite Maison, he can make good barbecue and cook up a nice piece of foie gras.
"Our industry is changing," he says. "As culinarians, we have to adapt."
Porter says he'll showcase different regional styles of barbecue, rather than focusing on one. There will be Texas-style brisket and beef ribs, St. Louis pork ribs that are rubbed and slow-smoked, smoked pork butt, and all the traditional side dishes you'd expect, from coleslaw and beans to cornbread and sweet tea.
He's using meat from a local ranch, and working with a local barbecue sauce company on developing a signature sauce that's tomato-based and more Memphis-style -- and will be sold retail, wholesale, and online.
"I'm not trying to 'chef it up,'" Porter says of the casual menu, which will also be available for takeout from a separate takeout entrance. "I'm tired of pretension."
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What else can we expect? A good burger, for one, as well as chicken wings, fried pickles, mac 'n cheese, and even barbecued oysters. For dessert, there will be homemade banana pudding. Customers will also be able to pre-order specialties like whole sucking pig for larger groups.
The 90-seat restaurant will be casual and family-friendly, with lunch and dinner offered daily, a kids' menu, happy hour specials, and eventually, live musical performances.
For the beverage program, operating partner Kevin Boals (who helped open Limon in San Francisco and Nobu in Miami) has lined up lots of beer and wine on tap (yes, wine on tap -- is anyone else doing that in town besides Postino?) and specialty cocktails.