by Ian McNulty
Good barbecue turns out to be something of a moving target in New Orleans.
The short-lived but very-promising Smokin’ Buddha BBQieux in Metairie has reconstituted itself as a catering operation called NOLA Smokehouse that now does a twice-weekly pop-up at the Avenue Pub (Sundays and Tuesdays 11 a.m.-5 p.m.). Meanwhile, McClure’s Barbecue, which had been operating five days a week inside Dante’s Kitchen, is on hiatus for now but in July proprietor Neil McClure intends to do a pop-up gig inside the Company Burger on Tuesday nights, when that Freret Street standout is normally closed. McClure says he’s also looking for a permanent location to open his own restaurant.
This ever-shuffling deck should not phase local barbecue aficionados, who after all are long-accustomed to logging a few miles in pursuit of a proper rack or brisket. There were fewer barbecue options in the years before Hurricane Katrina, but back then the search for smoke often led barbecue hounds to the door – and bullet-proof serving window – of H&P Bar B-Q Masters.
Found in a narrow building along Elysian Fields Avenue in the St. Roch neighborhood, it was a bare-bones, take-out only hole-in-the-wall that had a history going back to 1972 and a regular following. H&P didn’t reopen after Katrina, but something like its reincarnation has quietly emerged in Gentilly.
That's where brothers Oronde and Sekou Robertson opened Bar-B-Q Kings (2164 Milton St., 949-2210) on a side street not far from Dillard University. Their uncle, Hugh Robertson, had operated H&P Bar B-Q Masters, and while he moved to Washington, D.C. after Katrina, the family recipes and approach to barbecue live on at Bar-B-Q Kings, right down to the mammoth beef ribs for which H&P was known.
I wrote about this back in March in a longer feature on New Orleans barbecue, but it’s worth breaking out here, if only for the sake of those ribs, a specialty few other barbecue purveyors offer. The size of tomahawks, the protruding bones the color of burnished brass, their meat gives a little fight before coming off the bone. The crust of the exterior, combined with the thick, slightly sweet sauce, gives it almost a candied texture.
Like H&P before it, Bar-B-Q Kings does charcoal-smoked barbecue, which carries some smoky flavor but doesn’t have that deep, redolent wood-smoke aroma of the Southern pit-style barbecue making inroads around town. It’s much more about old-school neighborhood New Orleans barbecue, with an emphasis on the sauce, and it’s a nice blast from the barbecue past for people who remember when finding H&P was such a pleasant surprise.
Ten dollars buys you three beef ribs and sides, including a very good, creamy, jalapeno-spiced mac and cheese. Bar-B-Q Kings also serves pork ribs, chicken, pulled pork and links, a few salads and half-pound smoked burgers with the house barbecue sauce, which start at just $4.
2164 Milton St., 949-2210