TLO Restaurant Review: Maples Barbecue

According to various accounts that I believe, barbecue as we know it in the States was perfected by Southern slaves who, after a long day of manning the pits of the slave-owners and their hunger, took the scraps and throwaways, seasoned and smoked them, adding a bit of homemade sauce until the meat tasted practically immaculate.

Makes sense to me, and really, that’s how I’ve always seen true barbecue as it should be—the cheapest cuts of meat, masterfully charred until they become their own legendary artforms.

Somehow, Maples Barbecue, 1800 NW 16th St., has managed to reverse this process, by cooking up what seems to be only the best cuts of meat and, someway, making a perversity of what this town considers good barbecue by smoking them into attractive shards of dry boot-leather. Of course, if you read the local paper you probably wouldn’t know that, especially with the usual suspects hyperbolically calling it the best barbecue they’ve ever had in their got-danged lives.

Not even close, hoss.

With a decorating scheme that resembles more of a privatized prison than a down-home barbecue joint, Maples Barbecue is the latest Plaza District restaurant to make “those types” feel safe in their gentrified community – a sit-down version of their old food-truck, the egg-shell veneer morbidly welcomes you in, but the ordering of your meat next to a massive plexi-glass is a bit off-putting right from the start.

With an order of a Pit Master Sandwich ($12.00) and a single helping of Burnt End Beans ($2.50), as I waited for my food, I noticed there were a lot of middle-aged dudes in suits, sleeves rolled up and happily eating outside of their pay-grade today, chowing down on skimpy plates of ribs and brisket. Regardless, I was still going to give it a fair enough chance to please me—maybe these accountants and opticians and has-been local rock stars know something that I don’t. It’s happened before.

With a mélange of pulled pork, chopped brisket and sausage, as well as jalapeno and slaw, the Pit Master Sandwich was the best example, I surmised, to get a feel for most of the meats on the menu—which, if true, grab an extra glass of water to choke it all down, because this meat was dryer than Hell. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem—I would have patiently added some extra sauce into the mix—but, regrettably, they don’t have bottles of extra sauce on the table, and none that could be seen within borrowing distance.

But, for real, if it’s extra sauce you want—and then some—try the Burnt End Beans because it is so overpoweringly sweet with a sugary barbecue sauce that causes the mouth to pucker endlessly, each bite practically has the divine power to cause the kidneys to ache with diabetic worries. Don’t get me wrong: the beans were serviceable enough, but, still, I started to wish I had tried the Custard Mac & Cheese instead, whatever that is.

Looking for much-needed moisture, I ended up dipping a few dregs of meat from my sandwich in the bean-juice, but the damage had been done—sandwich half eaten, beans barely touched, I pushed it away and stood up to get myself a refill of the most holy Plaza District water to wash the obnoxious sugars out of my mouth.

As I walked to the soda fountain, looking around the digs a bit deeper, I fully realized this place just ain’t for the likes of me and probably never would be. In both my barbecue joints and in my waking life, I need a little more hard-earned character that has been perfected through impoverished trial and error—I said it once, I’ll say it again: for honest barbecue, at a much more affordable price, it’s hard to beat Leo’s at 3631 N. Kelley.

As I put my cup under the water dispenser, there they were, next to the twee sodas—the extra barbecue sauce.

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