As much as we might love pork in these parts, Indianapolis has never enjoyed much of a barbecue culture; there are no Indy-style ribs or local sauces upon which to hang an identity, no heated debates as to whose secret rub is the best. Barbecue in these parts is a far less jingoistic affair than in, say, Kansas City or St. Louis, and it's a lot harder to find the good stuff than in many other cities. Here it's all off to the side somewhere, in strip malls or in tucked-away places that you might otherwise miss unless you either live there or else are on a mission.
Barbecue and Bourbon, Indy's latest entry in the field, occupies a storefront on Speedway's Main Street, just a stone's throw from the race track. It's not an obvious address for such a venture, but the seasonal business could be off the charts even if the word doesn't get out. For a few weeks of the year, this is a prime location.
Owners David Huff and Marcia Sommers have done a great job of preserving this old building's lived-in, semi-rustic atmosphere, making good use of rough-cut wood and corrugated metal to create a genuinely down-home feel. It's simple and authentic: a million miles away from the horrors of shabby chic, and perfectly suited to its purpose.
The food, likewise, is unpretentious and expertly prepared. Meats are cooked on a large outdoor smoker, the kind which doesn't use electronic heat sensors and convection fans. This is the sort of cooking which requires a lot of patience and attention to detail, and it shows.
The St. Louis-style ribs ($19.99 for a full rack), prepared with a mildly spicy dry rub and no sauce, are thick and meaty, cooked to just short of where they begin to fall off the bone, so there's still some work left for the teeth. They are pretty well perfect.
Off the bone meats are available by the pound or in sandwiches; the latter include chips and a side of vinegary, jalapeno-infused onion slices which nicely offset the savory and spicy elements of the meat. Particularly impressive is the brisket sandwich ($6.99), a thickly-sliced, generous serving which manages to be tender without falling apart, subtly smoky but not overwhelming. Seasoning on this dish, as well as on the excellent pulled pork, is perfectly judged.
All too often at more commercial barbecue restaurants I find myself reaching for the water glass with just about every bite, and am left with the impression that salt is the main weapon in the cook's arsenal. Not so here, where flavors speak for themselves with minimal enhancement.
Two house-made sauces, one hot, one sweetish, provide more than adequate embellishment. Of the side dishes, the most interesting is the fried cabbage, which is cooked in, naturally, bacon grease with extra bacon for good measure. Appetizers are mostly fried, but don't come up to the lofty standards set by the barbecue. And, as the name suggests, there is bourbon. Lots of bourbon.
[Food+Drink] Dining Out