Five miles? Fifteen miles? Even farther?
When my carnivorous urges are in overdrive, I'm not even sure how I would answer that question, except to say I'd definitely rack up some miles for a pulled pork fix. There's a certain kind of single-minded determination that guides me to the meat, in the way cartoon characters dreamily float toward a plate of food when the aroma hits their nostrils.
Oh, if only killer barbecue joints would sprout up in every neighborhood like mushrooms — or wine bars.
But I'm fine with destination barbecue when it's as tasty as the stuff chef Bryan Dooley is cooking up at Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue. Just the thought of it makes me want to put the pedal to the metal.
Dooley was a longtime chef at the swanky Fairmont Scottsdale before making the leap into restaurant ownership with his wife, Donna. They opened their spot in Cave Creek this past spring, and their barbecue is as distinctive as it is delicious, with spice-rubbed, slow-smoked meats and "world famous" sauce that's more about vinegary kick than sticky sweetness. I'm torn between the regular and spicy versions.
Don't be mistaken: This is no lavish BBQ emporium. (Does such a thing exist, anyway?) The restaurant's nestled in tiny Las Tiendas plaza along Cave Creek Road, and if you're not keeping an eagle eye out for it, you'll miss it and have to hang a U-ie. Heading north from Phoenix, you've gone too far if you make it to Binkley's, the legendary fine-dining spot a few blocks away.
Step up to the counter to place your order and get a good look at the bottled beers in the fridge behind the cashier. There's Dogfish Head galore, Shiner, Deschutes, Anchor Steam — a pretty impressive selection of microbrews for a relative hole-in-the-wall. If you happen to live in the vicinity (lucky you!), this would be a fun place to knock back a few cold ones.
I mean, how can you not have fun at a place where the logo is a pig leaping over a mountain, where the air is infused with the mouthwatering smell of caramelized meat mingled with pecan smoke, and the décor consists of framed posters for cowboy movies, enormous antlers, a wagon wheel chandelier, and a ridiculous wild boar head? I'd love to be here if and when someone decides to make music with the guitar on the wall that says, "Play Me."
Portions here are lavish. Tender pulled pork was just spilling out of its buttery toasted bun, and it took skill to contain the whole thing with two hands. The effort was worth it, of course. I can only imagine how sloppy-good the thing would've been with the optional toppings of coleslaw or fried egg .
Even more decadent was the Big Pig, a regular special that hasn't made it to the permanent menu yet. Was it an appetizer or an entrée? Hard to say. Imagine a big basket of French fries smothered in spicy pulled pork, beans, jalapeños, green onions, and sour cream. You can start eating it with your hands, but at some point, you'll really need a fork. Beware the shoveling effect, though — it's hard to save room for your main dish when this heaping beauty is in front of you.
Great chicken is hard to find, but the pulled chicken sandwich at Bryan's was so impressive I think I'll go back just for that. Simply put, the meat was succulent and flavorful — so much so that sauce seemed beside the point. And although I don't see myself making the trek for a vegetarian pulled squash sandwich, I appreciated the thoughtfulness of it. Surprisingly, squash is a pretty decent vehicle for barbecue sauce.
All the meats are available in half-pound plates and combos, as well. If you're going that route, try the gnaw-worthy pork ribs. Paired with moist sliced brisket, they gave me a protein high that lasted all afternoon.
Each down-home side dish had a unique twist. Barbecue cowboy beans were jazzed up with spices that held up against the smoky meats, while the creamy, crisp coleslaw was embellished with sliced olives. As for the baked potato salad, it was the best of both worlds — potato salad creaminess meets baked potato flavor, with flecks of dill to brighten it up.
Does it sound like I ate my way through the entire menu? You know I did . . . almost. Come dessert time, there was just no way I could suck down a sarsaparilla float after OD'ing on the Big Pig. But homemade ice cream sandwiches — vanilla or mint chocolate chip ice cream pressed between two large chocolate chip cookies — were big enough to share with my dining companions, and the kitchen even offered to cut them into pieces for us.
Yep, Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue is worth the drive. But save an extra trip and get some by-the-pound barbecue to go. You'll thank yourself later.