Chow, Baby often sees its life as a movie. Imagine Mystic Pizza if it was told from the food critic’s perspective instead of that of the waitstaff and restaurant owner. I often find myself doing that on Chow, Baby outings: This one is the uplifting story of the deserving mom-and-pop diner overcoming adversity. That one a tear-jerker when a nose-in-the-air place tragically wastes great ingredients. I try not to use my hands to make that little framing-the-scene thing, though. Dead giveaway.
One restaurant that would make a great food critic love story is Longoria’s BBQ (100 Christopher Dr.). The place looks every bit the part of an off-the-beaten-path barbecue hero. The small, ramshackle building looks as if it’s survived a storm or two but still puts up a brave front. Inside, the walls are lined with music memorabilia, there’s a vintage Coke machine, and the booths look like church pews. And in walks …
Your favorite food critic. With a guest. To be met by a nice woman working the counter, who, upon finding this is our virgin visit, offers us … oh my god … free barbecue samples. (In the biz, they call that the “sizzle reel.”) It was lust at, well, at least the third bite. The casing of the sausage had a nice snap, and the smoke from the oak and pecan wood shone through the subtle spice and silken fat. (Do I see food as erotic? Does the pope wear a big hat?)
My guest fell in love too, but fortunately there was enough to go around — no need for violence. He ordered a lunch plate with the sausage as the star ($7.50), along with passable, if unspectacular, sides of potato salad and coleslaw. I decided to play the field, opting for the oh-so-smoky brisket plate ($7.50). The tender meat boasted a thick outer crust and a rosy color. The sauce was spicy-sweet, with hints of brown sugar and Tabasco. But the meat really didn’t need sauce. It stole the show.
So much for romance. My next stop landed directly in the comedy category, specifically the Tyler Perry version. What else could it be, with a name like Madea’s Down Home Cooking (1019 W. Enon Ave.)?
The cafeteria-style soul food joint is a veritable diabetes factory — and I mean that in the most flattering way. To say the portions are big is like saying Perry’s movies are a little formulaic. My two-meat, three-veggie lunch plate ($14) could easily have satisfied two diners the size of Perry’s Madea character. I did one of those comical eyes-bigger-than-saucers double takes when they sat it down in front of me.
A food critic can’t stop at just one entrée, though. Next came a two-meat blockbuster with beef tips and rice and meatloaf. The beef tips alone filled one normal-sized plate, the fork-tender meat slathered in a salty, thick gravy made from pan drippings. The meatloaf was covered in a tomato salsa, which made it surprisingly spicy. My guest went for double chicken action, opting for the chicken spaghetti and baked chicken. The creamy, delicious ’sketti was covered in cheddar cheese. The baked chicken was a little salty and dry on the outside, perhaps from sitting too long under the bright Hollywood lights … uh, I mean heat lamps. But inside it was moist.
The supporting cast was rather amateurish. The sweet potatoes were drenched in syrup, making them cloying, and the mashed potatoes came from a box. Someone at central food casting should give ’em the ol’ “don’t call us, we’ll call you” routine.
So, from Chow, B-Ebert, a good-not-great rating for Madea, but two thumbs-up for Longoria’s. Let me wipe the gravy off my chin and … yes, I’m ready for my close-up.
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