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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Carolina Kitchen, Cooparoo

2009 seemed to be the year of the Tapas. In twenty-ten there just seemed to be bloody Mexican’s (mostly rubbish) popping up everywhere and now, at least hopefully, we’re on the cusp of some kind of Southern BBQ wave. Granted, so far it’s only been the re-invention of The Smoke (formerly Blue Smoke) in New Farm, and now the a cosy little joint in Cooparoo called Carolina Kitchen.
Perhaps it’s not that cosy, though it certainly is little. Yes, it’s in Cooparoo, about a block back of Old Cleveland Rd, on the south-side. It’s on the corner of Noela and Macauley Streets, in what looks to be an old coffee shop. I must say, it wasn’t really what I was expecting, at least from a fit-out perspective; they’ve definitely drawn on the KISS approach to decor, with just three tables to seat four people each, a short bench and a smattering of US-theme prints. The one of Michael Jordon is the only one that comes to mind. Oh, and there was a copy of Jamie’s (Oliver) America Road Trip lying around as well. Most of the Kitchen is right there as well, at least the fryer, grill and an area where everything is plated-up or pack-away for pick-ups.
Anyway, the food. We went there a few weeks ago, me and my girlfriend. Fortunately this predicted “surge” in US-themed dining has come just as my fascination with all things American food-related reaches a crescendo.
A little while ago, maybe 18 months, I chanced across Man Vs Food on TLC (Fox). Actually, I first chanced it in the States a few years ago, but was only since I was afforded more regular viewing that I really got into it.
Perhaps riding off some the success of Bear Grylls and Man Vs Wild, Adam Richman is a chubby New Yorker who traverses the US of A to “take on America’s favourite pig-out spots”. As the name suggests, he versus food. Whether it’s the Suicide Six wings challenge, a two-foot burrito or any number of the outrageous food challenges littering the “great country in the world”. When I was in the States I saw a 110kg timber-cutter from Tasmania fail the Big Texan 72oz Steak challenge in Amarillo TX, and only a few months ago saw this guy, Adam, smash in 27 minutes!
Basically, this show has manifested a fierce obsession with America/Southern-style food – ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, burritos, burgers, onion rings, buffalo wings – everything!
I’ve already been to, and written about The Smoke, so when I came across a review for Carolina Kitchen in the Brisbane Times I soon lined-up a quiet Saturday night to check it out.
Encouraging, when we got there it was all but full, which as I suggested doesn’t take a lot, but there were perhaps a dozen people eating and waiting for take-away. Also encouraging was the well-fed black man, whose face adorns the Carolina Kitchen logo, working feverishly behind the counter preparing meals.
The menu is built around burgers and sandwiches, or hoagies as they’re known. There’s probably four or five of each. Though it wasn’t burgers or hoagies we were after, but ribs and wings. Aunt Lilly Mae’s ribs, as they’re known. Slow cooked in their “own special BBQ sauce” and served with Southern potato salad.
I’ve previously lamented the challenges of finding good ribs, so far it’s really only been Hurricanes in Sydney who have at least reach the same atmosphere as ones I had in America, so it was with optimistic anticipation I ordered a full rack, a dozen buffalo wings for my girlfriend (they’re like her kryptonite!), fries, corn bread and a couple of cokes, or for the modest Saturday night sum of $58.
Luckily we were able to grab one of the red-checked table cloth-clad tables and in 15 minutes our dinner had arrived.
The ribs, pleasingly, were good. They’re tasty, smothered in their special BBQ sauce. Still, they haven’t managed to get the meat to fall off the bone, which according to the Durham, North Carolina episode of Man Vs Food is mandatory for “riiibs, Carolinah riiibs”, and at least in my books, disappointing. Nonetheless, they’re good and certainly worth the trek across town.
The buffalo wings get a similar treatment – you can see the owner tossing them through the sauce in a metal bowl – which is different to how I’ve had them in the past. You also get a blue cheese dipping sauce, mild or hot. The fries have grated cheddar and some sort of salsa on them and are, again, pretty good. As is the corn bread, which I really have no comparison for, but did enjoy thoroughly. In the end, we didn’t get through it all, but were able to take the last few remaining ribs and wings home with us. While we were there we did see a few burgers and hotdogs wheeled out and they all looked pretty good.
Look, it’s nothing fancy, not a “going out for dinner” place, but a great little joint for a casual dinner. It’s neat and tidy, though small and kind of sterile. The people who run it, who I’ve assumed were a father, mother and son ensemble, were friendly, chatty (especially the dad) and helpful. Parking, not an issue, being set back of the main drag.
Check it out. For Brisbane Southern BBQ, 8/10.

Carolina Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Smoke BBQ, Methyr Road, NEW FARM

I like my teeth. They’re good, they certainly won’t make it into the next campaign of Colgate commercials, though for au naturale, they’re OK. At least they were.

We’ll cast back to the Fall of 2003...

Second year Uni. I was living at The Beetroot Patch in Forest Hill, splitting $110 rent between four of us, not paying a nickel for power and with nae a care in the world. I’d just split with from my girlfriend of more than a year and was embarking on a rampage and gearing up for a night on concrete at the UQ Gatton multipurpose hall for the weekly Wednesday night dance (there was no rampage and we got back together a few weeks later).

Having, presumably, finished a six pack of icy/warm Carlton Colds back in the halls, and likely have moved on the sweet sugary goodness of orange UDL cans, somewhere into the night things went terribly wrong.

I’m fucked if I can remember when exactly, actually, perhaps it wasn’t that late, but one young chap, we’ll call The Glass Eater, decided the most appropriate thing to do would be to pick me up, arms behind my back – I think they call it a sleeper hold – and march me around the dance floor, barging into people. This was not appropriate.

Near completing a circumnavigation of the hall and approaching a safe landing it all went to shit. Instead of being brought gracefully back to ground, The Glass Eater, caught an edge and tripped. Fortunately for him, I was there to cushion his fall, or more specifically my front teeth were.

Immediately I made a beeline for the bathroom, knowing from the pain and the taste that in the least I had pretty badly cut lip.

Oh Lord, it was so much worse...

I’d first washed my mouth in the running water before standing up out of the sink to look in the mirror, and fuck me! Gone, at least mostly, were my two front teeth and the one just to the left of them. Each had been snapped off about half to three quarters the way up and blood was pissing from each, as well as my lips. The cold water on the exposed nerves was torture.

Over my shoulder some stand-in professor of dentistry suggested that if I could find my teeth and put them in my mouth they could be saved. It sounded like a long-shot but without a moment to spare we shot back to the dance floor to search for the little bastards.

It was dark, too dark.

We headed for the stage to get the DJ, DJ Veetone, to hit the lights.

Being mid-evening, and presumably having already warn a tirade of abuse and a few empty tins he wasn’t the least bit interested in entertaining our request.

“Why?” questioned the mouse-clicking turd, looking for his next excuse to tell us to fuck off.

Smiling, with a middy of bloody staining my front, I replied “To look for my teeth!”

“Jesus!” On came the lights. And off went the music.

Perfect. With the lights on and music off prematurely, everyone in the room, all 100, 150 or so, shifted their attention to the front of the room... and my fucking smashed up grill.

We scrambled back to where it, I, went down, the hoards parting in two – Moses-style.

With the best part of four or five minutes having now past, the chances of finding my once pearly whites was slim. Too slim.

Enough time had passed for at least an “Every Rose has it Thorns” or “The Music” or whatever that jerk-off was clicking to play through, and all that now remained were the faint chalky marks where enamel and calcium cruelly met concrete; danced into oblivion.

From there, it was a trip to hospital, many trip to the dentist and a bill for about three grand.

Fast forward seven years and the estimated life expectancy of the initial work, and I’m swiping my credit card on my eighth visit in twelve months ringing up a total somewhere in the vicinity of $11000!

It’s with that long-winded tale in mind that I’m now particularly delicate about what I bit into; I cut apples, slice carrots and nibble every-so-carefully on anything denser than a scone.

So, you could imagine my disappointment when, after weeks of think about, and hours of long-weekend-eve anticipation I finally made it to The Smoke BBQ in New Farm (Brisbane. They don’t have a website) and bit into my Kansas pork ribs only to find them as tough as a two dollar steak (not $32 ribs). In that first instance where I should have been drifting away to BBQ pork nirvana, I instead found myself running to my tongue along the instead of my front teeth to make sure they were still intact. They were.

Bitch-teeth aside, these ribs weren’t what I was expecting, unfortunately.

I fucking love ribs. I’d tried to walk-in here about a month ago, having heard about it just recently and pretty keen to try it but was turned away as they were fully booked; a good sign. Finally last Thursday, leading up to the Easter break, I made a booking for my girlfriend and I. I was pretty please with myself.

I’ve eaten a few ribs. Plenty of average generic ribs, but also some crackers. Hurricanes Grill in Darling Harbour, Sydney ( punches out a mean set (we even saw one sweet looking mum-type lose her shit after missing her name call in the reservation line and losing her spot, such are power of these ribs). The Hickory House in Aspen, Colorado ( were pretty hard to beat, and despite being in the throes of death in Memphis, Tennessee (, ironically on the literal eve of the Swine Flu pandemic, I mustered the energy to indulge in the holy grail of ribs from the world-famous Rendezvous, joining such esteemed diners as Clinton, Elvis, the Japanese Prime Minister and The Rolling Stones.   

Each were slightly different, but all equally awesome. Most lathered in “secret” BBQ sauces, while the Rendezvous bore nothing but a tasty dry rub.

Perhaps what stood all of these above others was a pedestal of tenderness, and I think that’s the key, in my book. And moistness.

Granted, I haven’t been to Kansas, nor so little as eaten a Kansas rib prior. Perhaps in Kansas chewy-ass, jerky-like ribs are all the rage. For me however, they’re not. The flavour was great. I can’t deconstruct onion powder, from garlic powder, from cayenne from whatever but they were tasted great, and so did the sauce. For 32 or whatever bucks though, these emaciated little suckers just didn’t cut it.

Everything else though was fantastic. We started with Buffalo wings in original sauce, with sides of Blue Flame sauce (hot) and whatever the third and hottest sauce was. They were great. They were actually my girl friends choice, though I’d have ordered them anyway, and she loved them (didn’t you?!)! No qualms with juicyness or moistness here. While the HOT hot sauce was bearable, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the Blue Flame sauce, which still had enough heat in it.

We also had Chicken Cee-gars, which were basically the result of a cheeky Mexican getting a leg over an obliging Chinese; kind of a deep-dried, spring roll burrito. Stuffed with grilled chicken, corn, beans and God-knows what else they were cleverly wrapped awesomeness.

Rounding out the evening was a disappointingly ordered, though I’m told great, taco salad. Still, not you “authentic” taco salad I’m afraid, as I suspect crispy fried taco bowls are hard to come by around here ( – click this, you won’t regret.

In accordance to my “When in Rome” dining policy I had a Sam Adams, and my girlfriend ordered a nice red-something. A merlot I think. Actually, a couple of. They also bring out corn bread while you order as well.

In spite of the rib disappointment, I liked this place. The rest of the food was really good and the staff really helpful and nice too. To the extent, that when I went to pay our $114 bill and the manager asked how everything was and I politely told him “everything was fantastic, though the ribs weren’t great” he, after a quick chat about my rib-eating history and the intricacies of their ribs, docked the ribs from the bill, in an attempt to get me back and “try them again”.

I truth, I wouldn’t come back for the ribs, even if they were free. Fortunately, I would go back for the Buffalo wings and Chicken Cee-gars, and will go back to try the rest of the menu, which included BBQ smoked chicken, Texas beef rib (probably not high on the list), brisket and some kind of Tennessee, I think, or some other state-named, pork belly.

The Smoke BBQ was good, no doubt. Most or what we ate was great, the restaurant, while kind of taking a kind of smart, minimalist approach to decor (no antlers or stuffed coyotes), is nice and the people all seemed, well, pretty good, and in the shallow pool of American, even Mexican to a degree, dining in Brisbane, it’s, I guess, at the top. It’s better that McDonalds or Lonestar!

Give it a crack. Oh, and book first. 7/10.  

The Smoke BBQ