Thursday 4 September 2014

Where is the best BBQ in Miami to be found?

In June I moved to Miami, which is not a real place. It exists in a strange, unnatural bubble that is many times removed from the rest of America and from the real world. One of the few things that, I think, connects it to reality is BBQ, that most American of foods. Florida, and Miami in particular, are not ‘classic’ BBQ territory in the way that, for example, Tennessee is. However, there is a real history of BBQ in these parts and it seemed appropriate to visit as many of Miami’s BBQ restaurants as possible in my first few weeks here and to compare them accordingly.

In alphabetical order, five BBQ restaurants in and around Miami…

Brother Jimmy’s BBQ
When I spent a week or two in Miami last December looking for a place to live I found this restaurant and was super excited that it would be a few minutes’ walk from where I was likely to end up living. That did turn out to be the case; I could be sitting outside Brother Jimmy’s in ten minutes from where I am writing this. Just a shame that it is barely worth the walk! The brisket and pulled pork platter looks better than it tastes, even with the array of sauces on offer it is rather bland, especially the brisket. I think what this place is good for is drinking a beer at the bar and watching the world go by; with perhaps a little BBQ on the side after you’ve had a few. Drink-led, not food-led.
900 South Miami Ave., Miami, FL 33130 |

Pit Bar-B-Q
This place is a good 45+ minutes away from downtown Miami, on the Tamiami Trail / 8th St. out towards the everglades. First of all, it looks awesome, and epitomises the first rule of BBQ…

The more run-down the BBQ establishment, the better the food.

(And to say that The Pit looks run-down is something of an under-statement!) I’ve read a lot about this place and recently it seems that the ownership has changed and the current custodians don’t seem to be quite keeping it together as well their predecessors. Unfortunately, I have to agree with that viewpoint. Much like Brother Jimmy’s, the pulled pork was bland and the sauces added little to the taste. However, the sides were perfectly acceptable : rice and beans, BBQ beans and plantains were all good, especially the latter.
16400 SW 8th St., Miami, FL 33194 |

Shorty’s Bar-B-Q
This is another one that requires a car journey, something like 15 minutes south on US1. Shorty’s has been serving BBQ to South Florida since 1951; the owner, Edward Louis ‘Shorty’ Allen died in 2013 aged 104 and Miami lost one of its most iconic gastronomic figures. I’d driven past this place a few times and had barely noticed it until a new friend took me for dinner one night. On my first visit we had chicken and brisket which was very good; on my second, third and fourth visits I had the pulled pork which was fricking awesome! Unlike any other restaurant reviewed here, the pork comes ready-seasoned with BBQ sauce; taking away the option of personalising your pork is a brave thing to do but the taste is all the better for it, and remains hot for much longer than a lot of the other food reviewed in this post. The second rule of BBQ…

The sides can make a BBQ.

Shorty’s has some great sides : the cornbread is excellent, as is the mac and cheese but the clear stand-out sides are the okra and the fried green tomatoes. I’m a big fan of the former, but in my experience ‘ladies fingers’ served in Europe are often mushy and tasteless, the opposite is true here and they are delicious. However, the latter is THE best side I’ve eaten anywhere : juicy, flavoursome, crisp breadcrumb on the outside and a delicious Ranch dip.
9200 South Dixie Hwy., Miami, FL 33156 |

Sparky’s Roadside Barbecue
This was my first BBQ experience in Miami and I’m going to just come right out and say it : I love it. A 20 minute walk (or 10 minute ride on the MetroMover) over the Miami River into downtown. At lunchtime it is always busy, but I’d never been in the evening before so went last weekend with a mate. An after-dark walk around downtown is not a great experience, and I can’t even tell you what my mate saw a homeless man doing in the street almost opposite Sparky’s! But that didn’t at all detract from sitting at the bar with a craft beer and a brisket / pulled pork platter, all of which was great. Mac and cheese and BBQ beans on the side were great too. This place is a ‘banker’ any time of day (I've been twice for lunch this week), laid back with super-friendly staff and a fantastic beer selection. Oh, and the Key Lime Pie is great too!
204 NE 1st St., Miami, FL 33131 |

Uncle Tom’s Barbecue
Another Miami stalwart that has been serving food forever, and another one located on the Tamiami Trial / 8th St., not far from the heart of Little Havana! The food is good here, but not as good as a couple of the other places covered in this post. However, it is a short drive from the office so can be visited at lunchtime with ease… and that counts for something for sure. Pulled pork is good but not great, mac and cheese is good but not great, ribs are good but not great… you get the picture. Bizarrely, the high point is the chilli, which is awesome! Great atmosphere inside and another restaurant with a good (but not great) selection of beers.
3988 SW 8th St., Coral Gables, FL 33134 |

So, five restaurants. Let’s see them on the BBQ-o-meter…

Shorty’s for me is a clear winner, better by a noticeable margin than any other restaurant here. However, Sparky’s is also very good and its proximity to my apartment makes it the place I am likely to visit most often, and it'll never disappoint. I’m spoilt for good BBQ in Miami, but I know that there are at least 12 other BBQ restaurants in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties… so watch this space. And finally, the third rule of BBQ…

BBQ is awesome. Thank you cows and thank you pigs.