| Side orders are your best bet at All Yall's. Your second-best bet is your finger. |
IMAGE: basil childers
Welcome to the first barbecue joint for vegetarians, not that All Yall's would be happy calling itself that. Furthermore, vegetarians would probably find it a chore to keep the pork drippings out of their black-eyed peas. Vegans--the Hezbollah of vegetarians--wouldn't stand a chance here. Still, if all y'all carnophobes don't mind a bit of fleshly contamination, nor the sight of neighbors gnawing with slavering abandon on "dinosaur bones," this could be your spot.
This venture by the people who started Coffee People is strictly fast food 'Q. If it weren't for copyright infringement, they might have called their dishes "McRibs." Not for a long while have I tasted such fatty pork ribs ($12.95 for six), such dessicated and leathery beef brisket ($9.95 with two sides), such stringy (as opposed to moist and shredded) pulled pork ($9.95 with two sides) or such measly beef ribs ($10.95). Nor a Cuban lime chicken breast ($9.95 with two sides) so uninspired that, had he been informed that this was to be his steady diet, would have made Elian take the first flight back to Havana. No, this is a place for vegetarians to thrive.
Why so? It's the side orders, stupid! Try the fried okra (little nuggety jewels of creamy viscosity), the smoky, jalapeño-torched turnip greens (albeit with bacon), the pinto beans and the pit-smoked BBQ beans, slurpy and rich with just enough sugar to offset the heat. Throw in the crunchy black-eyed peas and a decent potato salad, and you have the "grand gathering of sides" combo plate ($5.95, sides are $1.50 for individual servings) and can call it a night.
If those sides can't do it, you can add the glazed yams as long as you can bear the puddles of butter. Whatever you do, however, don't sop it up with the insipid cornbread, though on second thought that action is just the thing to redeem the bread (does All Yall's employ a flavor extractor?). The chili ($5.95 a bowl), however, is surprisingly good, but it's chockablock with the brisket, so no use to our vegetarian.
But you've really come for the meat. And there, to gladden the heart of macho men everywhere, is the Chief of Police at the next booth. (I may have felt safe, but I did not feel satisfied.) Although All Yall's meat dishes come from a wood-burning oven in the back of the restaurant, at times they're heated up in the microwave, so it's possible that they've been sitting for some time. The establishment attempts to show how rib-hip it is by calling the pork version "St. Louis" style, the pulled pork "Carolina" style and the brisket "Texas" style. But no attempt at geographical coverage can save this pound of flesh. Everything comes out unsauced, and you are directed to use three large dispensers, much the way you might put mustard on a ballgame hot dog. These sauces, ranging from sweet to hot, don't especially marry with the meat. In addition, each sweet, thick, red condiment tastes remarkably like the other, and none of them has much honest or exciting flavor.
Unfortunately, the pulled pork doesn't shred in such a way as to allow the meat to soak up any of the sauce, which is traditionally, though not here, a thin, clear baste made of vinegar flavored with salt and hot pepper flakes. As for the ribs, I prefer the dry-rub ones that enhance the flavor of the meat without overpowering it. With that technique there's no need to add the red glop. Texas barbecue sauces usually have chile pepper added to the tomato base and tend to tartness, not something that shows up at All Yall's on either the "Texas" brisket or the beef ribs.
There are, I'm pleased to report, two meats that have chuck-wagon integrity: the pit-smoked ham ($9.95 with two sides) and the hill-country sausage ($9.95 with two sides). Both are moist, not screaming with nitrates, and have flavor to burn. Try these on a toasted bun and you can get out lucky. But unless you are a masochist, don't put the broccoli salad on top of ham--of course, this might never have occurred to you, but it has occurred to the menu planner, who calls this curiosity an "Arkansas picnic sandwich" ($6.95). Perhaps Bill Clinton learned to dine on such delicacies.
I suppose the cafeteria line should have alerted me to the trouble ahead, though I was disarmed by the ingratiating pail of unshelled peanuts at the front, the cute roll of paper towels on each table and the old Mason jars used as beer mugs. But there's no getting around the fast-food concept, or the crumbling onion rings, or the cobblers ($2.95), which taste like they were nuked in the microwave (though the marionberry is not bad), or the pecan pie ($3.95) with its cardboard-soggy crust. One near-redemptive touch, however: You may help yourself to all the soft ice cream you wish, and play at being a Tastee Freez Girl.
Verdict in short? More fun than McDonald's, but Coffee People people, please go back to Java.
All Yall's BBQ
1337 N.E. Broadway, 493-9277 Open 11 am-9 pm Sunday- Thursday; 11 am-10 pm Friday- Saturday. Credit cards accepted. Kids welcome, and they'll love it.
Picks: turnip greens with bacon, fried okra, marionberry cobbler.
Nice touches: unshelled peanuts offered free at the head of the cafeteria line; a roll of paper towels on each table.