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, 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: Ric's Smokehouse BBQ & Grill Location: 1930 West Pinnacle Peak Road Open: Since October Eats: Barbecue Price Point: $11-$30
Recently, on a drive out to North Phoenix, I happened to stumble upon Ric's Smokehouse BBQ & Grill, a barbecue spot located in a strip mall next to a Hilton Garden Inn. Turns out the restaurant, the strip-mall building, and the hotel are all owned by Ric Fisher who, an employee of the Smokehouse told me, has big plans to bring his fast-casual 'cue concept to additional Valley locations over the next few years.
Can Ric's 'cue stand up to the competition? Maybe. But there's work to be done.
Ric's features meats smoked on-site -- beef brisket, pulled pork and chicken, and pork links -- available by the pound, in a salad, loaded into a "Meaty" giant baked potato, or as sandwiches and plates served with a selection of sides. Four types of sauces: Memphis, Carolina, Asian, and Chef J's Special are at each table. And if barbecue isn't your bag, there's also a burger and a cup or bowl of seasonal chili.
The pulled pork was good, moist and satisfyingly flavorful, but the brisket was overcooked and contained too much fat. Unfortunately, none of the four sauces was distinctive enough to provide an additional knock-out flavor.
The side of BBQ beans proved sweet and tangy, faring better than the ho-hum Mac-n-Cheese and run-of-the-mill potato salad. And if you like your chili on the tomatoey side with garlic and a little kick, Ric's should do just fine.
Interestingly enough, the friendly woman who took my order steered me in the direction of Ric's Burger, a 10-ounce, fresh-ground handcrafted patty of Angus chuck, which she said is popular with customers. I ordered mine with pepper jack cheese and startlingly flavorful strips of smoked bacon. After one bite of the well-prepared meat, I knew this non-barbecue dish was easily the most impressive dish I'd had at Ric's.
The interior is clean and comfortable, yet somewhat sterile, missing that smoky aroma that should instantly get your lips smacking at a BBQ joint.
Fisher may have the initial makings of a fast-casual barbecue concept, but he'll need to work on stepping up some of his smoked meats, signature sauces, and sides in a way he can truly call his own before branching out to compete with the Valley's more successful 'cue houses. For now, it's hit-and-miss.
Ric's Smokehouse BBQ & Grill 1930 West Pinnacle Peak Road 623-533-4072 www.ricssmokehouse.com
What do you think, barbecue biters? Have you been to Ric's Smokehouse in north Phoenix yet? What did you think?