May 12, 2010
Maybe it is no surprise that a man who has spent 20 years watching meat slowly sizzle and smoke over hot coals would become interested in eternal salvation.
So, when diners walk into BJ’s Brick House BBQ on North Nevada they will find devotional Christian messages hanging on the walls, contemporary Christian rock on the radio and a reference to the Bible passage John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” — on the menu, just below the cheeseburger. When we visited there was also a poster advertising a huge gun show on the front door. Welcome to Colorado Springs.
Brick House is the restaurant of Brad Poppell, who has worked in the local barbecue scene for over 20 years, both at Dad’s Smokewagon in Fountain and, I’m guessing, based on the sauce, Charlie’s Pit Bar-B-Que. He opened his own place in a former Charlie’s location last fall, serving standards like sliced brisket and pulled pork, freshly smoked with hickory. It isn’t quite heaven, but the barbecue here isn’t a sin, either.
I brought along my friend Mr. Barbecue, who grew up going to family pig pickings on tobacco farms in North Carolina and over the years has lent his downhome hog cred to almost every barbecue review I’ve done. After scanning the menu, Mr. ’Cue said, “Man, the barbecue boys in this town need to learn how to distinguish themselves.”
To wit, he pointed out that the menu at BJ’s could easily be the menu at Charlie’s or Howard’s or a handful of others.
No matter, he ordered the four-meat lunch combo ($8) with brisket, pulled pork, a pork spare rib and hot links. I went for the quarter chicken ($7.50). While we waited in the bright, clean, almost diner-like restaurant, we cracked peanuts from a small pail thoughtfully set on every table. A few minutes later, the food arrived.
Lots of people are highly opinionated about barbecue; there are technical partisans and regional loyalists, each arguing that the other doesn’t know what true ’cue is. Be that as it may, Mr. Barbecue and I nibbled and swapped meats for a few minutes before coming to a decision. The brisket came moist and fatty and rich with good brisket flavor but no noticeable smoke ring. It almost tasted like good deli meat.
For a smoke lover like me, this was a vote against, but Mr. ’Cue gave it the thumbs up. The pulled pork was slightly more smoky but too homogeneous. A good pulled pork should be a little ugly, full of white and brown and pink and almost black bits. This one was all tame white meat. It needed sauce to give it much flavor. The spare rib was the star of the combo. It had a crisp, smoky bark enveloping moist meat. The chicken, too, was a surprise. Smoked chicken often can turn mealy and dry, but this was moist and full of flavor, and even had a slightly pink smoke ring under the crispy skin.
The sides are where Brick House could use salvation — they commit all the heavy, pre-made and bland sins of bad barbecue sides. The institutional green beans tasted canned. The baked beans get a slight lift from the addition of red pepper, but still taste like they were made somewhere else. The potato salad is of the standard mustard and mayo ilk — not bad but a little heavy with a plate of ribs and sausage. The bright mark is a mayo-less coleslaw tossed with cider vinegar, a hint of sugar and celery seed. Poppell claims a little old lady gave him the recipe but Mr. ’Cue told me, “Come on, it’s the same slaw as they got at Charlie’s.”
Not distinguishing yourself is not a sin. I’m confident Brick House can attract disciples with good prices, good service and pleasant, if heavily Colorado Springs, atmosphere.
BJ’S BRICK HOUSE BBQ
3 STARS out of 5
(Good, mid-level ’cue)
Address: 2819 N. Nevada Ave.
Contact: 633-0100, bjsbrickhousebbq.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon–5 p.m. Sundays
Vegetarian: Salads and sides
Credit cards: Yes