Friday, July 1, 2011

4 Rivers Smokehouse

FLORIDA: 4 Rivers Smokehouse
2103 W. Fairbanks Ave.
Winter Park, FL 32789
Open M-Thur 11-8, F-Sat 11-9

I've been traveling to Orlando for a project I've been working on at my day job, and hadn't spent much time searching for a BBQ option. I was happy chomping on good seafood when I could, but right before my final trip to the area, a PR rep for 4 Rivers Smokehouse in Winter Park (just a few minutes north of Orlando) invited me to stop if I ever found myself in the area. I arrived a few minutes after closing and walked into the tiny interior to place my order at the counter. Quite a few others were in line, and nobody made mention that closing time had come and gone. I guess selling out the day's meat is more important than being strict with the hours. Besides, the picnic tables on the large exterior patio were still bustling with diners.

The options on the menu were varied and tempting, but I was just there for some of the classic smoked meats. While they bill themselves as Texas style BBQ, the sandwiches vary from a cuban sandwich, tri-tip, burnt ends and even cochon de lait. They were happy to oblige when I asked for 1/4 pound of burnt ends rather than the sandwich, but I was disappointed to find that these burnt ends were little more than chopped beef with a bit more brown than normal. Very good chopped beef for sure, but not burnt ends.

An order of ribs and brisket certainly looked promising. A thick black crust encircled the Angus brisket, and a nice line of perfectly rendered fat clung to the bottom of these slices from the flat. It was thick sliced to help hold the somewhat overcooked meat together, but it was still moist. Most importantly it was evident how this beef had been cooked. It was smoked. The smokiness crept deep into the meat, and the flavor was great throughout. This was some solid eating brisket, in Florida, done in a Southern Pride pit! Ribs were a saucy St. Louis cut that didn't pack the same smoky punch, but were cooked to perfection. The meat required just a tug to release from the bone and it was plenty moist. While not a Texas purist's rib, I enjoyed the sweet glaze that wasn't applied too liberally or burnt on. The seasoning was aggressive with black pepper and the flavors bold, and I ate far too many.

Please remember that the ratings are based on distance worth traveling, and are not meant as a comparison to other similarly rated joints in Texas. Considering there are slim to no Texas BBQ options in this part of the state, I'd gladly travel and hour or more to get my fix at 4 Rivers Smokehouse if I (god forbid) found myself living in Florida. They certainly do justice to their goal of creating quality Texas style BBQ in the Sunshine State.

Rating ****
4Rivers Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

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Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.