On a rainy Monday night on the cusp of spring, I drench myself dashing between doorways and awnings to get a taste of Mike’s revered pulled pork sandwich. I’d looked forward to this for weeks, and a little weather wasn’t going to stand in my way.
But as I pull on the locked door to P’Cheen, I realize that the pop-up barbecue nights won’t begin until the next week, and curse my way back into the storm.
After becoming sous chef and eventually partner at P’Cheen in Inman Park, Mike LaSage began taking over the International Bistro on Monday nights and serving his own twist on old-school barbecue. It was soon apparent that he was on to something, and that a smoker of his own was in order.
Bone Lick BBQ, opened in West Midtown in August, and now LaSage serves up his ‘cue daily. Situated at the foot of the Apex West Midtown building, LaSage and his partners carved out a fun modern-kitschy space, complete with a vintage 1940’s skee-ball machine, arcade, and a claw-foot bathtub of beer.
His menu has the hallmarks of a refined chef tackling the “unrefined” world of barbecue. While you can expect to find the staple cross-section of classic barbecue here, he isn’t afraid to experiment and push a few boundaries. Hardcore traditionalists, beware.
But those looking to expand their barbecue palates should always ask about the International BBQ of the Day (MKT). Here, you see LaSage bring in a wide variety of international influences into his ‘cue, blending flavors and cooking methods in unconventional ways. I sift through cumin roasted potatoes to find the last morsels of Tecate and chili marinated goat ($18). A difficult meat to tenderize, LaSage treats the lean meat to a 24-hour stint in his Old Hickory Smoker.
If LaSage isn’t scared to buck barbecue tradition, he is downright brazen about giving his menu a healthy dose of heat. The timid should pay attention to the pig-face skull and crossbones dotting the menu – two pig-skulls means “Hella spicy” – because they appear often. For heat junkies, this reads like a playground, but for the capsaicin-averse, it is more of a minefield.
The slow heat of the sausage plate ($14) had me going a little cross-eyed near the end, and the decision to pair this with the equally spicy pork braised collards wasn’t helping. But the strong smoke in the sausage and rich, porky greens kept bringing me back for more punishment. You may opt to take your order of wings ($9) “naked”, but double-dipped in the sweet heat of chipotle barbecue sauce is the way to go.
Similarly, choose from Bone Lick’s array of five sauces wisely, as most have their fair share of kick. The vinegary North Carolina and mustard-based South Carolina sauces prove to be generally mild, but a heavy hand with the Pepper Vinegar sauce rakes black pepper down the back of the throat. And if the spicy-sweet Kansas City sauce is too much, you can always reach for the aptly named Wimp Sauce, with all of the sweet, none of the heat.
While innovation and novelty are nice, Bone Lick won’t win over hardcore barbecue lovers unless LaSage can execute on the basics.
I breathe a sigh of relief as I bite into my pulled pork sandwich ($8) and immediately taste the white oak and pecan smoke steeped into the blackened bark of the meat. Pecan Smoked Chicken ($12) surprises me with the deep penetration of smoke and reservoir of moisture lurking beneath the skin. And despite appearances, the thick black bark on my spare ribs ($12, ¼ rack) doesn’t overwhelm the flavor of the meat. Sully these dry ribs with sauce if you’d like, but there is more than enough flavor there to shine without it.
But what of that boon to pitmasters everywhere, the ever-so temperamental brisket? Unfortunately, I have to call this one a draw. My first taste came as part of the Menage Trois ($18), a three-meat sampler, and my slice suffered from dehydration, obviously a cut from the flat. But on a return trip, I’m awarded with a honking slab of juicy and smoky beef in my Brisketlicious platter ($14). There is certainly an element of timing with brisket, and LaSage proves that he knows how to do it correctly. But a little work on consistency may be needed.
Overall, Bone Lick BBQ executes the foundations of barbecue extremely well, while injecting some fun and innovation into an otherwise tradition-steeped cuisine. If you want to expand your barbecue horizons, this West Midtown smokehouse is worth a trip.
BONE LICK BBQ – Midtown Food: barbecue with international twists Service: friendly and sufficient for a barbecue joint, but can get overwhelmed Best dishes: pulled pork Sammy, pecan smoked chicken, pulled pork Vegetarian selections: one salad and a veggie sandwich Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, and American Express Hours: Kitchen 11 a.m.-11 p.m., bar open late daily Children: should be fine Parking: free parking in the Apex deck Reservations: yes Wheelchair access: yes Smoking: no Noise level: low to loud, depending on the crowd Patio: yes Takeout: yes