by Ian McNulty
Barbecue has historically been in short supply around New Orleans, so locals with a hankering for smoked meat have been known to travel to find it. Getting to one of the city’s newest barbecue purveyors doesn’t take much of a road trip, but it still does take a leap of faith.
Hickory Prime BBQ opened recently on the edge of Gentilly, just past the Pontchartrain Park golf course, up over the levee and right on the Industrial Canal.
It’s part of Pontchartrain Landing, a RV park and marina. The property includes a large clubhouse with a patio, pool and bar, which doubles as the dining room for Hickory Prime BBQ. The restaurant is open to the public, and while you may have to pass through some flood gates to find the place the smell of smoking meat and the piles of firewood outside the Pontchartrain Landing office let you know you’re on the right trail.
The pitmaster is Billy Rhodes, who earned a number of awards in barbecue competitions around his native Virginia and North Carolina before getting into the restaurant business.
At Hickory Prime BBQ he smokes with a mix of white oak and hickory that he hauls down by the cord during periodic return trips to Virginia. His menu centers on ribs, pulled pork, brisket and pulled chicken, but it also includes seafood. There are raw oysters, steamed shrimp, snowcrab legs and a smoked fish dip made with blue marlin.
Rhodes’ hometown of Chesapeake, Va., is near the North Carolina border, making it sort of crossroads of barbecue traditions. At Hickory Prime BBQ, though, he takes a more universal approach to what can be highly partisan preferences for preparations, serving his meats with a variety of Kansas City, Carolina and Georgia style sauces and a hot sauce aimed for Louisiana palates.
“I put my dry rub on it and you can choose your sauce for whatever style of barbecue you want or use none at all,” he says.
Rhodes is still quite active in the competitive barbecue circuit, and on March 2 he’s organizing his own barbecue bout at Pontchartrain Landing. This inaugural Back Yard Rib Cook-Off is an all-day event open to the public with cash prizes and trophies for the top teams. Registration details are here.
Hickory Prime BBQ serves lunch and dinner daily.
Hickory Prime BBQ
6001 France Rd., (757) 277-8507