Thursday, February 6, 2014

Alex's Southern Style BBQ

When I initially got wind of the possibility that we might be moving to Florida, of course, I immediately started thinking about the foods that we'd have greater opportunities to discover. It wasn't, however, the first few obvious cuisines (say, seafood, Latino, or Caribbean) that popped into my head; instead, I had barbecue on the brain (after all, Florida is a quasi-Southern state). Now that we've lived in Tampa for nearly a year, I've stumbled across a couple of local bbq joints, but certainly not with the frequency that one would expect in, say, Tennessee. Nevertheless, I'm always on the lookout to expand my personal experience with smoked meats (that sounds a little dirty now that I go back to reread it), which is what brought me to the front doorstep of Alex's Southern Style BBQ, a short drive away from the Canteen in the Carrolwood region of Tampa (5362 W. Village Drive).

My first clue that a purveyor of the barbecue arts had set up shop in an otherwise-unremarkable strip mall was the portable smoker parked at the corner of Ehrlich and W. Village beckoning passersby with the promise of succulent pulled pork. One day, I thought, I'll pop in for lunch and, sure enough, I did just that one recent Thursday afternoon. When you walk into Alex's place (and, yes, there is an Alex - founder Alex Cooks open his namesake restaurant here way back in 1994 when dinosaurs were practically still roaming this part of the Tampa metro area), you immediately encounter the haze of burning oak wood (a plus in my book) wafting into the dining room from the blackened open-air smoker behind the counter. Although the space wasn't dirty, it did appear to be a little on the disheveled side (water slowly dripping from the ceiling into a white plastic bucket, various folded-up canopies and signs, possibly exiled from a closet, jumbled into a far corner) as I made my way towards the back to order.

Like all good bbq impresarios, Alex offers his take on ribs, chicken, beef brisket, pork, sausage, and hot wings, the recipes all perfected from years of toiling away in the family kitchen back in Mobile, Alabama. I opted for the 2-meat dinner combo of pulled pork and sausage, doused in the secret house sauce (a practice that some might find sacrilege, but, being a barbecue newbie, I have no issue with) and served up with two sides (Cole slaw and steak fries), plus a halved hamburger bun (see photo above). Sure, the slaw was a little bland and the supermarket bun completely forgettable; however, the meats were terrific - the shredded pork decadently tasted of fat and smoke, a bit pink on the inside to show off its gentle handling, while the sausage was pleasantly mild, not overseasoned or heavily spiced like in some places. I enjoyed both of Alex's sauces - I can't tell you exactly what's in the house blend (other than it's got a solid kick of Worcestershire), but its hint of sweetness melded perfectly with the pork/sausage, and the hotter sauce option (featuring a healthy dose of Tabasco and maybe habanero?) provided a gentle heat that wasn't face-melting. Alex states on his website that he sells the best barbecue in Tampa and I'm not inclined to argue on the basis of my first visit. I'm hopeful that the brisket and chicken (which I plan to order next time) will be just as good.

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