new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Squeal Barbecue: A Pleasant Oasis of Smoked Meat

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Squeal Barbecue: A Pleasant Oasis of Smoked Meat

Squeal Barbecue
8400 Oak Street
New Orleans, LA 70118-2046
(504) 302-7370

Squeal Barbeque on Oak Street is, properly speaking, an outpost. This is because New Orleans is not a barbeque town. This reality mystifies non-Southern tourists who (perhaps influenced by our reputation) consider the South to be a hotbed of delicious smoked meat products, a magical land where ribs and pulled pork are cooked up on just about every corner, by folks possessing a whole lot of local "character". We have much in the way of Local Flavor in New Orleans, perhaps too much, but a profusion of good barbeque? Not so much.

So I was heartened when Squeal opened, doubly so when I saw that they had an honest-to-God smoker going on their front porch. That they had at least obtained the apparatus of good barbeque. This warranted investigation.

Squeal hits the classic barbeque bases on the menu, that's for sure: smoked ribs, pulled pork, chicken, and sausage are all in evidence, as are collards, grits, hush puppies, and french fries. But the kitchen has ambitions somewhat beyond that of the archetypical rural-South BBQ shack, and it shows: specialities like smoked pork cakes with salsa, a riff on shepherds pie with (you guessed it!) pork and pig-topped nachos are all in evidence, as well as some not-totally half assed salads.

My dining companion and I decided to stick with the classics, being purists, or at least somewhat poor. I went for the half smoked chicken with macque choux (a New Orleans sort of sauteed corn) and collard greens ($12.95). Everything gets accompanied by hushpuppies. Verdict? A pretty worthy effort. The chicken was tender and had a good smoky flavor, and avoided the trap of over-cooking or not-smoky enough flavor that chicken tends to fall into. The sauce is a little sweet for my taste and I maintain there was too much of it - admittedly, for the bulk of consumers, there can never be too much sauce. Well, there are always more infidels then true believers, out there. (My father hails from North Carolina and can provide ample evidence of Southern BBQ as being a very real and very intense religion, divided into warring sects, all of these self-same sects possessing doctrine, minor and major deities, stories of sacrifice and redemption, and vicious philosophical schisms. But I digress). The collards, always a concern of mine, were excellent. This is a kitchen that understands the holy union between greens and pork products.

My friend went for the pulled pork and green onion sausage combo ($13.95), with french fries and baked beans. The pulled pork was pretty good, if not great: nice smoky flavor, but a little dry and not possessed of the crispy just slightly burned bits that send good shoulder over the top. Also, too much sauce on top. Such an affliction. The sausage was very tasty - they need to serve these things on rolls outside the Maple Leaf at 2:00 AM, to the drunken hordes. There's money in them there hills. Beans were deemed "all right." French fries were twice fried and embarrassingly delicious. Kudos.

On the whole, Squeal provides entirely reputable barbeque in a town that is a barbeque wasteland - and the convenient location smack dab on Oak Street makes it a swell launching off point for a night spent wandering Uptown. The price-serving size equation is extremely attractive to the poor and carnivorous college student sect, and there's plenty of craft beer on tap to wash things down with. We ate out on the porch on a lovely and slightly limpid summer afternoon and could easily have lingered there for hours. We had a rubber snake on the table we had found in the car, which the waitress thought was real, and we all laughed a bit nervously together, as she brought us an ash-tray. Still, nice, so nice outside. Something about the smell of smoked meat on the horizon, Pall Malls from a brief distance, and gardenias from the garden next door arrests my ability to move. (We can't smell the oil in the air. Yet. Some people I know claim they can, but I think they're lying, it's psychosomatic for now. Maybe it's coming.) Eat at Squeal, is what I'm trying to say.

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