Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Doing It Right At Fat Casual BBQ

I crave good barbecue. I mean, really good, slap-your-momma good barbecue. Until Old Carolina BBQ opened up in Akron / Canton / Massillon over the last couple years, this part of Ohio was simply devoid of anything I considered to be even mediocre. And while Old Carolina has sustained my somewhat insatiable lust for these tasty smoked and tangy flavors over the last few years, I am here to tell you of a revelatory new barbecue restaurant that is going to kick some serious butt.

I first met Walter Hyde at a blogger dinner that had been put together by Chef Ellis Cooley at AMP 150. At the time he was the executive chef at the Crazy Horse gentleman's club and while I had never considered the cuisine at, to be slightly vulgar, a strip club, indeed his clientèle were as serious about the grass-fed locally sourced steaks as they were about the visual titillation going on in front of them. That was where he met his current business partner, Scott Slagle, a retired WWE wrestler who decided to go into the food business after his nine year stint ended as Kodiak.

They decided to cash in on an up and coming food trend: fast casual dining. They wanted a restaurant concept where you place your order and the food is served up almost immediately. But it also needed to be family friendly and serve a niche market. As they were often spending their off hours doing low and slow barbecue for themselves as well as catering for others, it seemed almost natural and inevitable that they would eventually need to find their own kitchen in which to cook. From that original idea, over time they decided to add a take-out counter as well. However, when they stumbled across their current space, the old Mezza Luna restaurant space in Macedonia, they not only got what they were looking for, but much more.

Fat Casual BBQ was located at 223 East Highland Road, Macedonia, OH 44056 and can be reached at 330-748-4690. They are currently working on a website at the time of this writing. Parking was in a lot surrounding the building on both the east and west sides of the building as well as additional parking in back. Finding the restaurant was dirt simple. If you remember where the on-ramp to I-271 used to be off of Rt. 8, it is only a skip and a jump down Highland Road until you see this sign:

Roadside Sign for Fat Casual BBQ
This was the surest way to locate the right building as they are still working on refinishing the storefront:

Storefront of Fat Casual BBQ
While the exterior may need some finishing touches, once inside, Walter, Scott and crew have managed in only one month to take this unused restaurant and give it a sense of simplicity and warmth that is actually open for business. It should be noted that today's gathering was at the request of Walter and was designed as a "preview" of Fat Casual's menu. As such, everyones' meals were free. If that bothers you, gentle reader, please take what I say in this review with whatever grain of salt you desire.

When you first walk into the building you can't help but notice two things: the smell of hickory wood smoke permeating the air and the enormous white board hanging on the wall above you, detailing out the delicious options from which you can choose:

Fat Casual's Wall Menu
Something that I didn't notice right away because it was sitting against the same wall as the door to the outside was the dessert menu:

Fat Casual's Dessert Menu
Everything with the exception of the flat bread and the pretzel rolls was made from scratch: the sauces, the sides, the meats ... ALL of it. Since I arrived at the restaurant before several of my friends did, I sat down at one of the many open tables (the place could probably seat fifty people easily) and checked out the bottle of sauce placed at the center of each:

House BBQ Sauce
This was the "House" BBQ sauce and as Walter explained to us later, it was designed to be sort of a fundamental sauce, not striving to go too far in any direction. He said that it would stand up on its own, but not overpower the flavor of the smoke or the meat and it also worked well in conjunction with the four other homemade BBQ sauces available:

Additional Homemade BBQ Sauces
From left to right, there were Texas Heat, Memphis style, Honey, and Carolina style sauces available. Fortunately, plastic tasting spoons were provided in a cup just behind the bottles. My friends and I eagerly got down to some serious tasting. Representing various barbecue cultures throughout the United States, Fat Casual has managed to capture those regional flavors incredibly well in each bottle. While I appreciated all of the different sauces, my personal favorite that made my taste buds stand up and shout "Wow!" was the Memphis style.

Wanting to taste just a little bit of everything, Walter was more than happy to put together a sampler platter that let us try each smoked meat, homemade sides, and even their desserts. All of the smoked meats are made using hickory wood. At some point they might play around with some of the fruit woods (Apple wood, etc.), but for now, they are quite happy with the simple, but quite effective flavor that Hickory imparts.

First up were the pork ribs and smoked sausage, in this case Bratwurst:

Pork Ribs and Smoked Sausage
If you look closely at the Bratwurst, you can see the telltale sign of a good piece of smoked meat: the pink smoke ring. Our table literally gobbled these up. The nice thing about all of Fat Casual's smoked meats was that while there was a definite presence of smoke flavor, the flavor of the meat came through just as nicely. In fact, that was probably the overriding takeaway I had today about the food at Fat Casual; not only was it VERY tasty, but the flavors were always very well balanced.

The ribs were interesting in that besides tasting delicious, the meat needed a little bit of a tug with your teeth before it separated from the bone. This wasn't a bad thing and in fact, many a barbecue fanatic will argue over whether there should be a little tug or whether the meat should simply fall away like it did with the ribs at Edgar's Restaurant in Akron. I don't know that I'm qualified to answer that age old question definitively, but I can tell you that both versions worked very well in my book.

Next up we had a trio of smoked thinly-sliced meats:

Smoked Turkey, Pork, and Brisket
From left to right were turkey breast, beef brisket, and pork tenderloin. Walter told us that they decided to do pork tenderloin over something more traditional, like pork shoulder, saving the pulled pork for parties and catering. After trying all three meats, I was not in a position to argue. Sometimes it is easy to forget what truly good smoked turkey breast is supposed to taste like because the only exposure we have as northeast Ohioans is what is available in the local mega grocery store. The delicate flavors of hickory smoke matched so well with the flavor of the turkey that when I come back for a sandwich (and you can better believe that I will), this might just be my only choice.

That's not to say that the pork and brisket weren't also tender and tasty, too. And because there were so many sauces from which to choose, you could pair each protein with its own sauce to make your very own flavor explosion.

True barbecue wouldn't be complete without the sides and the Fat Casual team didn't disappoint in this department either:

Beans, Sweet Potato Salad, and Mac & Cheese
In the back was the baked beans, to the left was the pinto beans over rice, to the right was the macaroni and cheese, and at the bottom was the most amazing of all the sides, a warm sweet potato salad. Of the four, the only one that wasn't as stellar as it could have been was the macaroni and cheese. While the noodles were cooked properly, the cheese sauce was actually a tad underseasoned and just a bit ... for lack of a better word, ordinary. The baked beans, while quite tasty, didn't quite live up to the baked beans served at Old Carolina BBQ. The rice and beans were nicely seasoned, but like I already mentioned, the STAR on that tray was the warm sweet potato salad.

Inspired from the more traditional German potato salad, cooked sweet potatoes had been combined with caramelized onions, bacon, and a nice tangy vinaigrette to make a dynamite side dish. I can totally see Fat Casual BBQ becoming famous for just this side dish alone. A lot of the dinners come with two sides; I can already see myself ordering this one again and again.

Since not all of the sides fit into that one paper boat, Walter loaded us up with the rest of the sides and a couple of the desserts on another plate:

Additional Sides and Desserts
To the left were two of the pretzel rolls available for sandwiches, and starting at the top and working clockwise were the homemade coleslaw, the Piggy Pudding, the Banana Pudding, and a piece of the freshly baked cornbread. While the pretzel rolls were one of the few items not made in-house, they were fresh and quite delicious. Unless the other available vehicle for sandwiches, flatbread, was out-of-this-world good, the pretzel roll would definitely be my choice for a sandwich.

The coleslaw was creamy and tangy. My friend thought it was overdressed, but I appreciated the extra creaminess of the dressing and how it matched well to the crunchiness of the vegetables. The cornbread was delicious without being overly sweet (as us Northerner's tend to like it) and while I prefer my cornbread in fried hushpuppy form, this was an excellent substitute.

While I've said before that I'm not a huge dessert person, it pays to leave a little room at the end of your meal for one of Fat Casual's sweet treats. The first item we tried was the Piggy Pudding. Similar in flavor and texture to a typical cheesecake, this was a nice, if not stellar way to end your meal. That being said, the next taste we tried, the banana pudding, blew our collective socks off. Rich and banana-y, this dessert was proof positive that you don't need a lot of complex flavors to make a good dessert.

The final two desserts we tried today were the Red Velvet Cake Bites and the Pumpkin Spiced Whoopie Pies:

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies and Red Velvet Cake Bite
Enveloped in a coating of chocolate and suggestively evoking a truffle wannabe, these were individual bites of red velvet cake. Too often dried out and difficult to swallow without a glug of water, this cake was incredibly moist, decadently flavored with chocolate, and well ... quite red on the inside. Our first bite was so good we actually went back up for a second. The pumpkin spiced whoopie pie was also very good and between the moistness of the cake and the creaminess of the vanilla filling, we scarfed them up in no time flat.

We left some two hours after arriving, stuffed completely with barbecue goodness and barely able to saunter out to our vehicles. I have mixed emotions about telling the Internet about Fat Casual BBQ. While of course I want the business to succeed (and wildly so), I don't want to have to compete for a table once they become immensely popular. That being said, I'll keep my selfishness under check for now and implore you, gentle reader, that you NEED to get to Fat Casual BBQ as soon as is humanly possible for quite literally some of the best barbecue this foodie has ever had, much less written about.

The restaurant officially opens for business on Monday, October 11th and will be open six days a week, Monday through Saturday, from 11 AM until 8 PM. Those hours could change once next spring rolls around, but I was assured that those would at least be the initial hours.

Fat Casual BBQ on Urbanspoon


DianeS said...

Heh, heh, you said "titillating" :)

Great review, Tom!

I haven't been able to stop thinking about Fat Casual BBQ since we were there this past Sunday. How exciting for Scott and Walter to have a home run on their hands and how exciting for us that we now have a spot for awesome BBQ?

Tino said...

@DianeS: "Titillation" just seemed like the most appropriate word, given the surroundings.

I, too, have been thinking about a return visit, even though this only took place three days ago. I'd like to think I could hold out until this weekend, but that just might not be possible.

Dave said...

Great review. Too bad they don't do pulled pork on the regular menu, that is my favorite BBQ meat and the one I use to judge the quality of a BBQ restaurant.

You might also be interested to learn that Bubba Q's is now closed during the week. According to the sign in front of the restaurant, they will only be open Fri - Sun for the winter. Their BBQ is not that great (I LOVE BBQ and live < 5 mins away but go ~1x per year) but I was still surprised they aren't doing well enough to support a 6-7 day a week business.

DianeS said...

Snap! I beat you back to Fat Casual BBQ for seconds!

I met a mutual friend there for lunch today. Do you know, it may have even been better than the preview? I had a sampler plate with a rib added on and the rib was the. best. rib. I've ever had, no joke. I couldn't even bring myself to put a smidgen of sauce on it because it was perfect.

Dave, we must go there as soon as you get home.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm salivating now and I know where I'm taking my parents to eat this Friday! Thanks for the great recommendation.

Tino said...

I forgot to mention in the review that the potato chips served at Fat Casual are not only homemade, they are addictively crunchy, too! Definitely give them a try when you visit the restaurant!

Kelli said...

Like the other poster, I may have to take my parents there this friday for dinner! This place is dangerously close to me, so I hope it holds up to my bbq love!
Thanks Tino!!!!


Anonymous said...

Well I took my parents and boyfriend there last night and everyone of us was delighted. The potato chips were fabulous and the sweet potato salad was wonderfully unique. My boyfriend thought the chili was exceptional and said it would be perfect on hot dogs. We didn't try any of the desserts off the menu but were treated to cupcakes that the owners mothers baked. I've already told 6 people about the place and plan on telling everyone I see for the next 2 days about i1

Tino said...

@partyhatsbyrinaldi: Excellent! I was actually there last night as well with some friends and we split the Pit Boss Platter. My two dining companions also had not been and were also impressed. Word of mouth is so important to helping out new restaurants, especially ones as tasty as Fat Casual.

Tonto in Hudson said...

I won't be going back anytime soon.
VERY disppointed pulled pork is not available to the general public here. They have a BBQ pork sandwich made with sliced tenderlion. It is virtually flavorless meat. The sauce was Good, but very waterry (sp.?). The beans were OK, nothing special.
The cole slaw left a gummy sensation in my mouth.

Very disappointing, given all the positive comments I've read previously here.

Pulled pork is what I want, and this place does not want my business. I asked the owner why tenderlion and not pulled, and he said he liked it better. So I got one, thinking 'It must be good, or he wouldn't stake his business on not offering what most people want, pulled pork. The tenderlion was flavorless, almost tough, compared to what consistency pulled pork has. And most of all the tenderlion (by nature) has no fat, ergo, no flavor.

Hot Sauce Williams and Bamm Bamm's Backyard BBQ (of Medina) are MILES ahead of this place!

Tino said...

@Tanto in Hudson: I welcome your comment, but I'm confused. If you read my review before you went, then you should've already known that pulled pork isn't on the regular menu.

If instead, you went to the restaurant first and just now found my review and decided to comment on it, I'm not sure I understand your need to leave a comment reiterating the fact that they don't sell pulled pork.

As for the sauce, you didn't specify which sauce you tried, but if it was watery, was it perhaps the Carolina sauce, which is primarily vinegar? Or was it one of the other sauces?

Tonto in Hudson said...

I wasn't offered a choice of sauce when I ordered, and therefore I believe it to be the 'house' sauce. I did request extra sauce.

And most importantly, I know the difference 'twixt water and vinegar.

These comments I read must be from the owner or his (her) friends, as they are so far from what me and mine have experienced, something's fishy.

Do you have to know the owner to get good food? Drove by ther Sunday afternoon, the place seemed packed, yet it was closed. Was that a private party? Was pulled pork served then but not to the general public?

Again, if you're not offering pulled pork on a daily basis, I hope you have a very short lease.

Tino said...

@Tonto: Re-read my comment. I said "watery," not "water." The purpose of my question was geared to the fact that many northeast Ohioans think of sauce as a thick gloopy condiment that they get from a bottle at the supermarket and wouldn't realize that in North Carolina, it's a vinegar-based sauce. While they do dress the food when preparing it with the "house" sauce, the other available sauces are just past the cash register in that little corner "nook."

You are correct that they are actually closed on Sunday to the general public and cater private parties from time to time. And yes, for private parties, pulled pork is something that might be on the menu.

Additionally, while pork loin is the cut that is always on the menu, Fat Casual has offered pulled pork (to the general public) at least once as a special. Of course, if your expectation is that it always be on the menu, then you probably won't be satisfied with the protein choices.

Tonto in Hudson said...

...this ain't North Carolina...

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