The Uptown barbecue joint isn't showy, but it's spot on.
I’m not one who assumes good barbecue comes in unassuming packages. I’ve eaten merely passable brisket in rundown joints with rec room wood paneling dotted with clocks that no longer keep time advertising beers that are no longer brewed. Still, dive qualities offer hope that someone is more concerned with smoking than ambience. NOLA Smokehouse exists on that spectrum. It isn’t run down, but the owners have yet to sweat niceties like decor. Or a sign. It has industrial tables and chairs on a cement floor, and if you don’t know that it occupies the building at 739 Jackson Ave. that once housed 10th Ward Buck’s wing joint, then you’ll miss it. Since it’s only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, it’s easily missed.
It shouldn’t be. On the July 4 weekend, I lived off of its Smokehouse Sampler, which contains at least one of everything. “Big enough for two!” the website proclaims, but those two need to be motivated eaters to crush it all in one sitting. It’s easy to imagine a couple inspired enough to try, though. Rob Bechtold’s barbecue is well-smoked, meaning that he hits a nice balance. The smoked boudin is a strong hit and requires a specific palate, but it was also one of my favorite meats. It took discipline not to blast them all down in the first five minutes of opening the container.
More often though, the smoke was gently present--an enhancement more than a defiing characteristic. The burnt ends of pork belly chunks were also clear winners, with crusty nubs of lightly smoked meat firmly touched with spice from the charred rub. They were as moist when I hit them Friday afternoon as they were when I finished them on Sunday. The ribs were pleasant if a little nondescript, but the Cajun sausage had a nice, spicy kick, and the pulled pork lightly doused with the medium-sweet sauce was the show.
Throughout the tour of NOLA Smokehouse’s food, I appreciated time and again its clarity. Everything was a well-executed version of whatever it was, focused on showcasing the meat or side at its best. The pulled pork wasn’t showy, but it delivered the flavor I had in my mind when I went in, and Bechtold's rub, smoking, and sauces worked to that end. Similarly, yellow potatoes are obvious in his potato salad, and the buttermilk dressing judiciously moistens the cabbage in his slaw. The spoonbread is all about corn, with its sweetness moderated by the dough.
Nothing at NOLA Smokehouse is complicated or overthought. Bechtold hones in so precisely on the charms his ingredients offer him that it seems like that level of flavor should always be possible. You just have to find it.