Football fans may clash when it comes to allegiance to their favorite teams, but everyone agrees that games and barbecue belong together. Portable charcoal grills filled with meat at a tailgate or smoke streaming from a Traeger in the backyard are necessary to celebrate or soothe, depending on how the game goes.
I visited two barbecue spots that opened during the pandemic to see if they were ready for kickoff. Both scored touchdowns.
910 N.E. Tenney Road, Suite 119, Vancouver; 360-719-2230; open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday
Steven Hollifield opened his barbecue restaurant in Salmon Creek during spring 2022 in a space formerly occupied by Pizza Schmizza. Hollifield began his culinary career in San Francisco at fine-dining establishments, but after a diagnosis of and treatment for multiple sclerosis, he found a love for barbecue at Memphis Minnie’s in the lower Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco.
The former pizza place has many tables inside and some outside. Customers give their orders at the counter, and food is brought to the table. Takeout orders can be made ahead of time through the website.
Meats include brisket, pulled pork, St. Louis Ribs, rib tips, hot link, smoked chicken and tri-tip all smoked with Washington oak wood in the indoor smoker (named The Duke in homage to John Wayne). A long list of sides like Campfire Pit Beans, red potato salad, collard greens, mac and cheese, fries and cornbread are available to accompany the meat. Four sauces (Kansas City Sweet, North Carolina Vinegar, South Carolina Mustard and Texas Red) sit in labeled squeeze bottles on the table so diners can douse their meat as they like.
I arrived at about 5 p.m. on a Sunday. Four people sat at a table outside. Inside was empty, but a large group arrived soon after. I ordered a half slab of St. Louis Ribs ($17.95), a large mac and cheese ($7.95) as well as a Meat and Two plate ($15.95). I chose brisket with Campfire Pit Beans and Potlicker Collard Greens. A corn muffin was included. Hungry diners can try the Two and Two ($17.95), with two each of meats and sides.
The ribs were a highlight — rubbed with onion, garlic, salt, brown sugar and pepper and then smoked at 250 degrees. Before being served, they’re brushed with a sticky, sweet sauce made with molasses and sugar, with a bit of smokiness from house-ground chipotle pepper.
Other standouts were the pit beans: pinto beans cooked until tender in a brisket rub and then mixed into a blend of Texas Red Sauce, South Carolina Mustard Sauce, bean liquid, brown sugar and bits of brisket. I also liked the Potlicker Collard Greens, which were cooked in chicken stock with Louisiana Hot Sauce, apple cider vinegar, onions, brown sugar and a lot of black pepper and then finished with pieces of bacon.
I will be back to try the tri-tip. This California specialty isn’t often available in the Pacific Northwest and would go well with the pit beans and collard greens.
2626 E. Evergreen Blvd., Vancouver; 360-931-9014; open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Kris and Jenny England and Greg and Judy Williams opened their barbecue business in the space formerly occupied by Christine’s on East Evergreen Boulevard last spring. BBQ Blessings began as a ministry that Kris England organized to draw young men to services at St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church in Portland. The barbecue gathering eventually snowballed into a well-attended competition that went on for five years. Now, England and his partners are bringing his dry-rubbed smoked meats to their new restaurant. They plan on adding a happy hour, as well as expanding the menu to include specials like fried chicken, shrimp and grits, fried catfish and wings by late October.
England may not be a student of a particular style of barbecue, but the result is on par with masters of the craft. I ordered the three-meat platter ($41) with three ribs, a half-pound of brisket and a half-pound of pulled pork or chicken. The brisket wasn’t in my order, but I called and went back to pick it up. It was worth the extra trip, but I’ll get to that later. I also ordered a half rack of ribs ($19) along with a small side of mac and cheese ($4), a small side of Jackson-Style Baked Beans ($4), a small side of collard greens and a side of cornbread ($7).
The meats were all good. Brisket was a standout, with a nice bark of spice rub surrounding a tender interior. England’s rotisserie smokes the meat for 15 hours, all night and into the morning, so it’s ready exactly when customers arrive.
The pulled chicken was a surprise — moist and flavorful, not dry and dull as it can be. England coaxes a moist tenderness out of his birds by smoking them with chicken broth. The meat is cooked in this steamy heat until it’s infused with a rich flavor and the meat falls apart.
Another memorable dish was the mac and cheese — a warm, tender mix of macaroni noodles and cheese. I wish I had ordered a larger portion.
When I asked England his secret to making this dish, he laughed. The recipe, based on his mother’s and tweaked by his wife, Jenny, is strictly top secret. He simply said that it’s made with love.
The baked beans are notable as well for their sweet tang. Overall, BBQ Blessings lives up to its name, truly a blessing of barbecued delights.
Rachel Pinsky: firstname.lastname@example.org