False Priest

Reverend's BBQ doesn't bring deliverance to Sellwood.

The dining desert of Sellwood needs some salvation. Sure, there are a few great old standbys, yet Sellwood-Westmoreland remains the wealthiest neighborhood on the east side where you have to drive elsewhere to find an exciting new restaurant.

Reverend's BBQ looked to be just the prophet the neighborhood needed. The smokehouse comes from the trio behind Laurelhurst Market, the best steakhouse in town, which has its own butcher shop and killer cocktails. But while this nearly 2-month-old barbecue joint might yet ascend that golden staircase, it's got a tough climb ahead.

Unlike Laurelhurst, which perfectly mixes the bourbon of tradition with newfangled smoked ice cubes, Reverend's is pure Americana, with big TVs showing sports, menus in plastic sleeves and Miller Lite proffered with a note of self-defense on the menu: "Who cares? It's beer…" And, hey, I've been known to order High Life. But too much at Reverend's has been given the "Who cares, it's…" treatment. Behind the bar alone, there are boxes of tempranillo stacked up like cordwood, a Pimm's Cup ($7) made with ginger ale instead of lemon soda, and dry martinis that the bartender proudly proclaims don't have "any vermouth at all."

I may be a beer geek, a cocktail snob and the most damnable of Yankees, but I'm always content in the NASCAR Pit of America if the barbecue is good enough. But deliverance doesn't come.

Let's start with the Good News, which is that the Reverend makes some damned good fried chicken. The recipe comes over from Simpatica and involves frying the boneless bird at a lower temperature to get crisp, buttery breading and breasts so juicy they drip. Sausages from Laurelhurst are also excellent—you'll want the entree plate ($12.95) with a variety of three links smoked and halved.

But then the little sins start to mount.

Everything is served on pie plates. A pie plate of three deviled eggs filled and topped with little pieces of brisket and an ultra-acidic piccalilli are tasty enough, but the cooks use a little of that filling to stick them to the butcher paper. Which means you're either eating deviled eggs with a fork (nerd!) or your fingers are covered in slop before you even get your ribs. And yet you're better off with those eggs than a terrible radicchio salad ($7.95) with white beans and beets dressed with cream-colored blah and doughy fried-zucchini pickles ($4.95).

Lick the mayonnaise off your fingers and pick up a tender pork rib (the four-rib platter with two sides is $14.95) with four house sauces, all decent but unremarkable. On the side, you'll want the mac and cheese, which is topped with crumbled barbecue chips, and the collard greens, which get a lot better with a squirt of mustard sauce. The coleslaw and potato salad were both tweaked after my visits, which is a good thing, because both had texture issues. 

I had the brisket in some form on all three visits ($16.95 for a plate, $11.95 for a sandwich), and found it unsatisfying each time. Brisket is tricky, and I've found it's best to avoid arguments about orthodoxy. But I believe barbecue joints keep their customers happy by asking what sort of cut they want. Because while there's probably some guy—the one who wants extra MSG on his fried noodles—who savors the extra-fatty pieces, I'd prefer a leaner cut. Beyond that, I found the slabs of brisket on my last visit so smoky the meat suffered.

The pork ($12.95 for a plate, $7.95 for a half pound, oddly not available as a sandwich), on the other hand, was bland and not smoky enough. Whatever you do, avoid the smoked tempeh sandwich ($8.95)—gummy tempeh topped with slaw froth and fried onion on crusty ciabatta.

If you've got your heart set on dessert, snatch up the salty-and-smoky caramel nut bar ($6), and steer clear of the rhubarb-and-strawberry shortcake, which is more like a hard, dry, not-very-sweet biscuit.

I'd like to recommend a new gem where you can pop in for dessert but, well, it's Sellwood. See you at Gino's—again. 

  1. Order this: A pound of fried chicken ($11.95 for white meat), sausage plate ($12.95).
  2. I’ll pass: Brisket, coleslaw, potato salad, smoked tempeh. 

GO: Reverend's BBQ, 7712 SE 13th Ave., 327-8755, reverendsbbq.com. 11:30 am-9 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday.

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