Opening just as this magazine went to press is the highly anticipated Central City BBQ just off Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. The pitmaster is Rob Bechtold of NOLA Smokehouse, which closed last year. This time around he’s partnered with Aaron Burgau to open this sprawling new shrine to smoked meats that has a huge fenced in yard with outdoor seating to boot. Now that Bechtold has a kitchen sized to match his talent, get ready for some serious eats.
This Feb. 28 caps the long pre-Lenten burn of progressive excesses. Before you go gently into those 40 days of cold turkey, might I suggest a few places to load up on meats, glorious meats, biscuits, slaws and cold brews? It just so happens that a griller’s clutch of smoky oases have recently opened. They are not all strictly barbecue, but smoke-centric southern technique wends through them like a roux-hued Louisiana bayou. Enjoy y’all.
Chef Isaac Toups staked his carnivorous claim when he opened Toups’ Meatery in Mid-City. Then last fall he expanded into the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, opening Toups South in the spot formerly occupied by Purloo. The result is match made in savory heaven.
“I’m a Southern chef, so SOFAB just made for a great fit,” says Toups, who beat out the other contenders for the soaring contemporary space on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, which features a huge open kitchen and a dining room cordoned off from SOFAB’s exhibition floor.
Toups South distinguishes itself from Toups’ Meatery in that it has a southern focus, with a wide regional net that showcases dishes from east Texas through to Carolina Lowcountry. “We didn’t want to do the same thing twice,” Toups explains. “The Meatery is contemporary Cajun and Toups South is contemporary southern.” The menu also shifts a bit toward the fine dining end of the spectrum, with a refined selection of protein (Smoked lamb leg, anyone?) and heritage-sourced goods from outfits such as Home Place Pastures in Como, Mississippi. Still, this isn’t a fancy place, and be sure to come hungry because Toups remains Cajun and Cajuns, as we all know, are genetically predisposed to feed people until they cry.
Recommended dishes include the barbecue Beef Deckle Steak, a gargantuan portion of cured then smoked brisket atop a bed of baked beans with a garnish of pickled red onion and mustard to cut through the fat. Think of it like a regional take on red beans and rice. Another dish of Smoked Foie Gras Terrine has proven popular as well, marinated first in Japanese whiskey before being smoked over pecan wood. “That dish is one of my favorites,” Toups says.
Look for thoughtful southern flourishes throughout, like the fried rice callas served with the Gulf Seafood Stew and the Crab Butter served with the sourdough biscuits. Cracklings, one of his signatures, accompany several of the dishes like pillowy savory Southern meringues. A compelling bar menu with local and regional spirits as well as a wine list curated by Toups’ wife and business partner, Amanda, adds to the appeal.
Over in Mid-City, the Frey Smoked Meat Company opened its doors last December. Frey is the second restaurant by chef Ray Gruezke, who’s also the chef and owner of the nearby bistro Rue 127. Frey is a straight-up barbecue joint housed in the repurposed warehouse of the former Loubat Foodservice company. The quasi-industrial feel of the space is softened with wood tables and a large custom bar. Located just behind the strip mall sprawl on the corner of Carrollton and Bienville streets, Frey’s confident look and feels bring a welcome creative spark to the area.
Gruezke got into smoking while competing in Hogs for the Cause. “About four years ago we started competing in Hogs. I was barbecuing about every weekend and just really enjoyed it. We started tossing around the idea for barbecue place, ideally close to where we were now with Rue 127. This space then just came on the market at the right time,” Gruezke says.
Gruezke smokes with an Ole Hickory pit using a mixture of pecan and oak. About 60 percent of what he sells is straight-up barbecue, along with a selection of burgers and salads to assuage the non-barbecue folks who don’t know what they are missing. One compelling choice is his barbecue pork belly, done up with a rub of brown sugar, salt and chili pepper then smoked for up to eight hours. The low temp lets the belly maintain its integrity while the rub caramelizes, rendering the exterior a lacquered mahogany brown.
Also notable are the beef ribs, less common in Louisiana barbecue, which tends to favor the pig. “You don’t see a lot of that down here, and we have to charge a bit more for it because beef rib is expensive right now,” Gruezke says. Burgers weigh in at half-a-pound, with the “Fatties” comprised of one patty while the “Flatties” stack up a pair of quarter-pounders. Shake things up with the Half-and-Half, which features a quarter pound beef and a quarter pound hot sausage patty in the same sandwich.
For sides, try the coleslaw, made with Napa cabbage for extra crunch and tossed in a light, vinegar-based dressing with black pepper and horseradish for bite – the perfect accompaniment for smoked meats. Kids or the very stoned will enjoy the Cookie Monster Shake – a gargantuan milkshake that comes garnished with a Cookie Monster cupcake.
“Our shakes are a bit over-the-top,” Gruezke admits. Frey sells by the pound as well for off-site hoedowns, and also offers a “Festive Feast” dine-in option for groups of at least eight, that’s basically a prix fixe menu for barbecue lovers; the perfect no-hassle family meal.
Meat MattersToups South
1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
Lunch Wednesdays-Mondays, Dinner Wednesdays-Saturdays Frey Smoked Meat Company
4141 Bienville St.
Lunch and dinner daily