Squealers puts its meat where its smoke is The trophies tell the tale. Waiting for your table at the new Squealers location on West 86th Street, you can hardly turn around without knocking over another giant trophy crowned with gold barbecue tongs or a silver pig. The walls are crowded with plaques embossed with superlatives: Grand Champion Sauce, First Place Ribs, First Place Brisket in every test of barbecue prowess from the grand-scale World Pork Expo to the more local Iowa Rib Burn-Off. Clearly, the judges have been squealing about this Mooresville-born barbecue venture. Pit sampler at Squealers ($15.95). But does what stands out to a judge in a high-stakes, winner-take-all smoke-off translate into the kind of food people want to eat an entire plate of? Can the folks who’ve wowed small tasting panels turn their slow-smoking skills into a successful restaurant enterprise? It’s worked in Mooresville, and it seems to be working on the Northside as well. The joint was literally packed the Saturday we stopped in. A short wait gave us time to get one of several imported beers on special and look around. Squealers’ setting is hardly fancy. Rustic plank-panel walls are covered partway up with corrugated aluminum. Utility lights hang over booths. This could be your cousin’s spiffy shed, save, perhaps, for posters of hogs dressed up in human attire with captions like “Hogwarts Castle.” In the main dining room, neon glows with the message “Blues & BBQ,” and plenty of honest-to-goodness down-home blues played throughout the meal. Finally, a table cleared, and we could order. Starters borrow a bit from the rest of the menu. Even a salad gets topped with pulled pork. Brunswick stew ($2.25 a cup), a Southern staple but a Midwest novelty, was strangely sweet and meaty, with only a few corn kernels and none of the typical lima beans or okra. A Squealers sampler ($6.95) combined cheese sticks with cheese-topped potato wedges and barbecue nachos, which were crumbly and somewhat hard to eat under the heft of more pulled pork and cheese. With our entrées came the true test of Squealers’ abilities — the muscle behind all of those trophies and plaques. Here, there was little debate. Who could deny just how tender the baby-back ribs ($12.95 for a half slab) are, or how smoky and complex they taste from a long smoking? You won’t have to gnaw one morsel of meat; it slides right off the bone. Pulled pork ($9.35) and brisket ($10.25) also reap the rewards of Squealers’ barbecuing philosophy: “Cook it low and slow.” Even humble chicken ($9.95) is suffused with the earthy flavors of the smoker. While the menu points out the difference between “wet” and “dry” barbecue (sauce applied by the cooks or the diner), our waiter didn’t offer these options. Instead, our meats came already generously sauced. As any award-winning sauce has to stand out from the competition. The sauces here are decidedly flavorful. The “sweet” is rich and syrupy; the hot isn’t exactly for the timid. “Mixed” seems the way to go, as the two extremes temper each other well. But what’s the good of barbecue if it doesn’t make you squeal? Side dishes were more oink than squeal. While accompaniments like coleslaw and baked beans should be subordinate to King Barbecue, no Southerner would give short shrift to the cornbread or greens. While the fried biscuits were succulent with apple butter, other supporting characters provided only a so-so performances. Macaroni and cheese was vivid yellow with processed cheese and no evidence of baking or browning. Barbecued beans certainly didn’t lack flavor, spicy with almost a burning smokiness. But they were also a little runny and under-baked. “Amish-style” coleslaw and potato salad could have come from any of the supermarket delis in the area. Homestyle green beans were adequate; broccoli, only ordinary. Our waiter for the evening seemed utterly strapped and distracted by the giant party behind us. Adamant on hamming it up for the big crowd, he was almost exasperated at our simple requests for more water or iced tea, served Southern-style: sweet. We got what we needed eventually, and without too much fuss, though we sometimes had to wait. Most customers must be too stuffed for dessert, as the waiter brought out checks before we could ask him about the cakes and pies. Cherry cobbler ($2.95) — they were out of peach — was light on pastry but heavy on the ice cream. Two heaping scoops of vanilla quickly cooled the cobbler and rendered soggy what crust we could spoon out of the little crock. With all of its awards, its appearances in the annual Ribs America fest downtown, and now two restaurant locations, Squealers is helping launch Indianapolis into the pantheon of great barbecue cities. They’ve earned their accolades where it counts. While judges don’t exactly give awards for being well-rounded, a little fine-tuning could make Squealers grand champion in more than just meat and sauce. Squealers 5515 W. 86th Street 871-7427 Monday-Thursday: 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Friday-Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Food : 3.5 Atmosphere : 3 Service : 3

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