The Hours: 2 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday
The Details: Since we graded them back in October, Big Earl's BBQ has revamped their happy-hour specials. Check the chalkboard above the bar for details on the new list of 5 for $5 appetizers, including: Chicken & Waffles, Crispy Shrimp (served with prickly-pear chipotle marmalade), Rib Tips, Veggie Quesadilla, and Pork Belly Sliders (with sweet onion compote and shaved green apple). You can still get the same $3 drink deals, including: Bud Light drafts, "Earl's Pit Master Sangria," and, of course, that tasty Rancho Allegre 100% Agave Margarita we raved about last time.
We ordered a couple of those margaritas, which arrived in cute reclaimed jam jars and tangy as ever, and paired them with the Chicken & Waffles and Veggie Quesadilla apps. The thing about the apps here is that, in the midst of heaping plates of fries and squeeze-bottles of BBQ sauce, not to mention brown-paper tablecloths for all your crayon-hangman needs, they're actually quite daintily plated.
See if Big Earl's BBQ improved its grade after the jump.
The Chicken & Waffles arrived with one cheddar-chive waffle delicately topped with two very crispy chicken tenders. It's served with two dipping sauces: bright red hot sauce and what is billed as "maple syrup" but tastes like pure, sweet, natural honey. The result is a dish that allows you to alternate between strong flavors of sweet and spicy over warm and crunchy bites of chicken and waffle. Or, if you're feeling adventurous, try mixing the syrup and hot sauce together.
We tried the Veggie Quesadilla in honor of the friend/coworker/sister who complains they won't be able to find anything at a BBQ joint. Served with a side of spicy brown salsa and sour cream, this quesadilla is stuffed with roasted peppers and jack cheese. Again, we were pleasantly surprised by both the strong, fresh flavors and reasonable portion size.
The Interior: Walking down First Avenue in Old Town Scottsdale, we got our first scent of BBQ just steps from the door to Big Earl's. The Rolling Stones are playing when we get there - "You Can't Always Get What You Want" - and our host sings along as he seats us at a prime spot next to one of the large windows. Outside, we watch the annual influx of football fans stroll by. It's a very bright, clean, and airy space that feels at once cozy and casual, not least because the staff is instantly friendly. There's a long bar and a mixture of tables and high-tops, and the tables are fitted out with Big Earl's two kinds of sauce (Original and Bold & Spicy), crayons, and moist wipes. There are flatscreen TVs for checking the score, while the music continues to impress as Johnny Cash sings "I Walk the Line."
The Cost: Two $5 apps plus two $3 margaritas comes out to $16 before tax and tip - a happy-hour steal in Scottsdale.
The Conclusion: The apps list went through an overhaul since our visit in early autumn, with only the Rib Tips making the cut. We were wary with the inclusion again of non-classic-BBQ options like Chicken & Waffles and the Veggie Quesadilla over the regular menu's wings and pickle chips, but Big Earl's surprised us with its attention to detail and strong flavors. The choices may be limited in both app and drink deals, but mid-afternoon three days later, we caught ourselves day-dreaming about the Chicken & Waffles and planning a return for a glass of that Big Earl's $3 sangria. Overall, it's a comfortable, welcoming spot in the middle of Old Town Scottsdale to unwind and watch the people go by.
Overall Grade: A-