First Taste

Cherry Tree Smokehouse BBQ in Phoenix: Get the Spicy Carolina-Style Pulled Pork Sandwich

When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: Cherry Tree Smokehouse BBQ Location: 1923 East McDowell Road Open: About six weeks Eats: Barbecue Price: $10 to $15/per person

For months, the former Dairy Queen that sits in the shadow of State Route 51 on McDowell Road has flaunted some new signage. "Coming Soon," the marquee promised as a new sign for Cherry Tree Smokehouse BBQ debuted on the freestanding brown building.

Early last month, the new spot finally opened and inside you'll now find a quaint little restaurant serving smoked meats, sides, and desserts. Cherry Tree Smokehouse may not be the cheapest dinner option in the Central Phoenix neighborhood, but if our first taste is an indication, the slow-cooked meats can be worth the extra dough.

See also: Barbecue at Astor House in Coronado: Hit and Miss -- and Hold the Sauce

Monday through Friday, your meat options at Cherry Tree will include pulled pork, barbecue beef, barbecue chicken, hot links, and both pork and beef ribs; on Friday and Saturday the selection expands to include brisket and tri-tip. Most meats can be ordered in a sandwich, a la carte, or in a combo, an option that will also get you two of the restaurant's sides.

We recommend going for the pulled pork sandwich, which comes plain, Carolina style (which means sauced), or Spicy Carolina style ($12.95).

The last option is a seriously satisfying sandwich comprised of moist pulled pork piled on a sesame bun with a layer of Cherry Tree's spicy coleslaw. On the sandwich the mustard-y coleslaw adds a perfect amount heat, while managing not to steal the show from the pleasantly smoky pork. The combination of meat and crisp, juicy coleslaw makes a delicious pairing. Unfortunately, on its own the spicy coleslaw packs an overwhelming amount of heat. In fact, if you're not a fan of exceedingly spicy cuisine, we'd recommend you'd skip it as a side altogether.

A better option for a side dish might be the bbq beans; not only do you get a larger portion of these than the coleslaw, the tomato-ey, sweet bbq beans are more likely to have wider appeal. A small portion of potato salad also makes an acceptable side, though Cherry Tree's mayo-heavy version isn't really anything special.

The same can probably be said about the beef ribs. For $13.95 the Beef Rib Combo includes two ribs, two sides, and a piece of Texas toast. The ribs were large but still lacking a substantial amount of meat and the price tag seems high for a few bites of grisly protein and a couple scoops of sides.

At $4.99 Cherry Tree's hot link makes an affordable meal. A simple, sesame bun delivers a well-sized link, which honestly doesn't deliver much spice (particularly after obliterating your taste buds with some spicy coleslaw) or snappy outer casing you might be craving. Nevertheless it's flavorful even without any sauce.

And though we only sampled a few bites of Cherry Tree's cherry wood-smoked char sui pork belly, we enjoyed the flavor of the fatty chunks of meat. We'd happily return for a bigger taste as well as to explore the rest of the restaurant's menu.

The sides may not have blown us away, but on the whole Cherry Tree Smokehouse BBQ seems to live up to its name. None of the smoked meats were a serious let down and the weekend brisket and trip-tip specials still need to be explored.

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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria