Monday, April 22, 2013


KENTUCKY: Hammerheads
921 Swan St.
Louisville, KY 40204
Open M-Sat 5pm - 10pm

Driving down a residential street in Louisville I thought I may be in the wrong part of town, but soon I noticed the glow coming out of the windows at Hammerheads along with a very large shark tacked up to the wall above the door. You'll need to duck shortly after walking through the door because Hammerheads is located in the basement of a house and has some low ceilings. A long bar is at the right and what remains is a small dining room. It gets packed and it gets loud, but before long we each had a beer and a table.

The menu is wide and includes more than just barbecue. It is expectedly meat-heavy, but there is a salad, a veggie burger and veggie tacos. We didn't order any of them. First on the table were an array of sliders. The only bite of brisket I had was a thin slice on one of the sliders. It and the pulled pork were fine if unremarkable, but it's hard to shine next to the ridiculously good duck sliders. Next up was a fried smoked cheddar grit cake which was crisp on the outside and smoky and creamy on the inside.

Giant mac & cheese balls were more fried cheesy goodness, but the grit cake just seems less gimmicky, more well conceived, and far less rich.

As the meats came out they were all served on wooden cutting boards. A rack of baby back ribs was very tender, almost too much so. The smokiness went deep into the rosy meat which was a nice counterpoint to the sweet rub and finishing glaze. There was no need for barbecue sauce.

I've seen few smoked meat items so rich on a menu as the PBLT. Four thick slices of pork belly (the PB in the equation) were beautifully smoked. The fat was silky and the ribbons of meat in between were yielding but tender. The black crust was stout and the sweetness from the rub was pleasantly restrained. I must admit that I don't know how it all tasted as a sandwich because we ate the slices of belly too quickly.

Our table was getting crowded with food, but we managed to find some real estate for the three kinds of fries. We got the original, the sweet potato and a version dusted with the famous Grippo's BBQ spice from the Cincinnati chip company. For just $3 extra, you are provided the option to get any or all of the varieties fried in duck fat. Of course we did, and they were stunning. The Grippo's version is mandatory if you're eating here.

I saved the best for last. Lamb ribs are a house specialty, and they are incredible. Lamb, especially the ribs, can be very gamey and full of unrendered fat. These ribs suffered from neither of those issues. The dark crust provided a smoky kick along with a pleasant chew to contrast with the tender meat beneath. These ribs should serve as an example to anyone serving this cut.

Hammerheads is a great restaurant with plenty of imagination and mostly spot-on execution. The items I normally judge a joint on are the brisket and pork ribs. Here the brisket was average and the ribs were a bit overcooked. In the end these were the only items on the menu I had any qualms with, and I can't wait to get back to Louisville for another visit to Hammerheads.

Rating ****

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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.