Thursday, March 8, 2012

Moonlite Bar-B-Q

KENTUCKY: Moonlite Bar-B-Q
2840 W Parrish Ave
Owensboro, KY 42301
Open M-Thur 9-9, F-Sat 9-9:30, Sun 9-3

After a stop at Ole South Barbeque, the loop road around Owensboro took me to Moonlite Bar-B-Q. If you know anything about Kentucky mutton, then the name is probably familiar. It is certainly the largest of the three I visited and most popular with the tourists including President Clinton. Clippings of their history and awards line the expansive lobby that feels more like a museum of mutton. Even more expansive was the buffet line.

What you see above is about a third of the offerings. Included on the buffet were over a dozen pie options not pictured here. The meats were more extensive than at Ole South. Sliced brisket, pork ribs and chicken could be had alongside sliced or chopped mutton. Here I learned that chopped mutton has a lot in common with chopped brisket in Texas. Fatty brisket is usually used for chopped beef while the lean stuff is usually sliced. It's not different with mutton, and you can really taste the gaminess of the fat in the chopped version along with a hint of the sauce which acts more like a binder than a condiment.

The brisket was a sad reminder of why I love Texas. The dry chicken and mediocre pork rib were just distractions from the task at hand. I was here for mutton, and their's is good. Blackened bits of chewy and smoky crust surrounded many of the slices which were pull apart tender and plenty moist. Luckily they didn't need the dip which looked and tasted like black pepper suspended in water. Chopped mutton was pleasant with a touch more gaminess than I prefer, but seemed adequate in comparison to the previous stop.

In addition to the watery dip, there is a more traditional barbecue sauce in squeeze bottles on that table. It's still heavy on vinegar and worcestershire, but it's not overpowering. A homemade hot sauce on the table packs a punch with plenty of heat a dash of vodka. That was my first experience with a hot sauce that had an alcohol content listing.

I finished off the meal with a small bowl of burgoo. This one was less soupy and more stew-like with more meat and more heat than at Ole South. At this point, I was really beginning to like burgoo. One other item not to be missed on their buffet is the simplest of treats. The only thing on a small table at the end of the buffet was a large basket of warm corn muffins and a bowl of sorghum syrup with a large spoon in it. The muffins had crisp edges and a fluffy interior that was perfect for soaking up the syrup. This is a Kentucky touch that would be welcome by this snob at any Texas BBQ joint.

I requested a tour at the end of the meal, and was quickly given a small white cap to mark me as an outsider by owner Janet Bosley. We snaked past the overworked band saw that was making quick work of some bone-in ham and into the pit room. Back in the pit room, two huge smoking chambers flanked a single large fire box that supplies heat and hickory smoke to both. Smoke rushed out when the doors were open and I had to capture some of it in the stuffed souvenirs I'd purchased for the my kids.

When I asked to see the form in which their meat is delivered, Janet insisted we find a cooler with the mutton that would be cooked the next day. During the search, I learned from Janet that all of the large cuts of mutton that can be easily separated from bone are sliced, then the rest of the meat is removed from the carcass and chopped in a large robo-chopper giving it a very fine texture. There were about a half dozen coolers to search through as we walked down every corridor and up every ramp in the back of house, but we finally came to the last cooler. It was full of boxes and bins with small sheep in them. They looked smaller than the wool clad pets I had as a boy, but those pets had heads too.

Moonlite may be considered a haven for barbecue tourists, but with great meat and great hospitality. I'd say it's worth a stop, even if you're driving from Louisville.

Rating ****
Moonlite Bar-B-Que Inn 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.