The weather in New Orleans has been less than ideal—in fact it has been rotten—with rain, heavy rain, almost every day. So our primary form of entertainment has been rushing into local restaurants between deluges. There is the promise of better weather this weekend, so perhaps Humbug will have a day off. But today we visit Squeal Bar-B-Q on Oak Street in what I call the Riverbend section of New Orleans.
“…when brothers Patrick, Brendan and Eugene Young fired up the grills at Squeal Bar-B-Q…they were going to be held to a higher standard than if they did so just five or six years before…On paper, the trio would appear better suited to elevating traditional barbecue restaurant surroundings than producing the barbecue itself. Before turning their attentions to Squeal, Brendan and Patrick Young both worked on front-of-the-house staffs at John Besh restaurants…” (Brett Anderson at nola.com).
Squeal is located in a converted double shotgun house. You enter the side entrance by walking through an outdoor patio past a small front yard herb and vegetable garden. Yes, those are small tomatoes you see on these plants.
The smoker is located in the front yard, and a smoker in New Orleans appears to be a rare thing. The author of jameswestfallmusic.blogspot.com says: “It’s pathetic that what excites me today is a BBQ Restaurant in New Orleans that actually has a smoker. Shamefully, smoking meat is a very rare occurrence in the New Orleans BBQ world. Fortunately, I stumbled into Squeal BBQ that carried the smell of hickory smoke half a block away….As I walk to the front door, I see the charcoal smoker out front, I lean in to see that the thermostat is riding an even 200…not bad.”
Since the weather is so iffy, we elected to eat indoors. To reach the main dining room, you walk through a small bar and dining area which occupies the right side of the original double shotgun.
The dining room occupies the left side of the house and is decorated with paintings of Coco Robicheaux and Dr. John
and an assortment of vividly colored works by an artist known as
The table tops have been painted with local icons—ours with a trumpet through which Kitty Humbug tried to “hear his master’s voice.”
An old Bally pinball machine stood on end serves as a small waitress station and next to the pinball machine is
this large painting of a pig with the slogan
“Move your butt—also your soul.”
Squeal is one of two New Orleans barbeque restaurants having been featured on cable food programs. The Joint, which we haven’t visited, was on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with Guy Fieri and Squeal was included in an episode of the Cooking Channel’s Unique Eats. What brought us to Squeal were the “unique” items featured on the menu. Items like: Smoked Pork Cakes modeled after the New Orleans-style crab cake made with seasoned pulled pork, lightly breaded, and served with chili sour cream and homemade salsa; Black-Eyed Pea Egg Rolls stuffed with black-eyed peas, bacon, and andouille sausage and served with a spicy ranch dipping sauce; BBQ Pork Tacos with pulled pork, topped with horseradish coleslaw and finished with chipotle sauce; BBQ Brisket Tacos topped with cilantro, red onions, and hot sauce; "DBLT" Tacos with chipotle-glazed duck, bacon, lettuce, and tomatoes and finished with wasabi mayo; and Jerk Chicken Tacos topped with fresh pineapple salsa.
I decided to eat light (since there was a dessert with my name written all over it) and ordered the Smoked Pork Cakes appetizer with a side of slaw. The slaw was quite good containing shredded cabbage and a small bit of grated carrot. What made it memorable was the hint of horseradish incorporated into the light creamy dressing.
The pork cakes were amazing. Smoked shredded pork had been formed into cakes, rolled in crumbs, and deep fat fried. They were crunchy on the outside and moist and flavorful on the inside. The pico style salsa and the spicy chili sour cream added an additional boost.
Chuck’s choice was the two meats with two sides plate. Let’s start with the sides since they were the best things on his plate. The potato salad was made with a generous amount of Creole mustard which “…is a variation of wholegrain mustard where the seeds are slightly crushed. They are not ground nor are they whole” (wiki. answers. com). The cornmeal hushpuppies were somewhat spicy from the inclusion of minced jalapeno peppers. And the beans were modeled after Southern barbeque and were sweet and contained small bits of smoked meat.
For one of his meats, he chose the chicken. Of the chicken, Brett Anderson at nola.com said: “To me, ordering chicken over pork or beef at a barbecue restaurant is like going to a seafood joint for a reuben. But after tearing through Squeal's smoky, succulent bird, it occurred to me I may just have had bad luck with barbecue chicken in the past.”
Oh really? First, the breast portion was covered with a dark and sweet sauce that almost tasted burned. Once you pulled the skin along with the sauce off the meat, the chicken was alright, but certainly not “succulent.”
His second meat choice was the pulled pork, over which was spread some of the same sauce. Again, our assessment didn’t agree with a food blogger who said: “I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I don’t think I can do a better pulled pork than Squeal BBQ. I’m also going to go out on another limb and say that Squeal's pulled pork might be in the Top 5 all time pulled pork! It had just enough hickory flavor to it, it was moist, great seasoning, and not drowned in sauce. When you can eat pulled pork dry and it not be overrun with fatty pieces, you’ve hit gold…and I did!” (jameswestfallmusic.blogspot.com) Guy, this comes nowhere near being good pulled pork. If you want good pulled pork get in your car and drive to 2Paul’s in Lafayette or get on a plane and go to Phil’s in San Diego.
I had saved room for dessert—the Bacon Brownie, which was described on the menu as a homemade chocolate brownie topped with bacon and served with homemade cinnamon/sour cream ice cream. Well, this was a first-rate brownie which came to the table warm. It was down hill from there. Bacon? This was no bacon. It was dry chunks of meat with no salty essence whatsoever and so dry as to be inedible.
What about the ice cream? This was no ice cream. If you watched Season Two of Bravo’s Top Chef you might remember Marcel Vigneron, a 26-year-old Las Vegas chef fond of molecular gastronomy. His shtick was to put foam over everything he made. What was supposed to be ice cream appeared to be tasteless white foam.
To be kind, I’ll say we exited Squeal less than thrilled. The only reason it gets a 2.5 Addie rating is for the fabulous smoked pork cakes and the quite good side dishes. But the two smoked meats should be avoided.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.
*"Frenchy" is Randy Leo Frechette, called "as' New Orleans as red beans and rice on Monday,' captivating onlookers with his artistry in motion--painting events in real-time as they unfold before him. His performance is captivating and its end-result is awe-inspiring...." (frenchylive.com). The artwork in the lower right corner of Photo #8 above shows action from a Saints game.