Wednesday, May 26, 2010

4 Rivers (4R) Smokehouse - Winter Park

When you think of good barbecue, a few cities may come to mind: Memphis, TN--Austin, TX--St. Louis, MO--Winter Park, FL???

You read it right...word on the street was, this little hole in the wall on Fairbanks Ave. was slinging slathered sandwiches, dinner platters and delicious home-cooked sides to a line out the door all day every day. So, I finally made the trek out to taste for myself.

Before I make with the food critique, lemme just tell this to you straight...I am not, and have never claimed to be, a BBQ expert. I love all sorts of sauces, be it tangy and sweet or make you cry, hot. This also goes for meat--brisket, pulled pork, baby-back ribs, it's all good. So I don't want you to think I have any type of expertise on the subjacue at hand. That noted, I can rightfully say that Bubbalou's, to me, is pretty 'meh' when it comes to their meals. Same goes for Sonny's. It's like comparing a McDonald's burger to one from 5 guys. Sure they're both tasty, and I won't turn it down--but given a choice, I'd prefer the latter. This, my enemies, is whereabouts I place 4 Rivers' product. A superior sauce and meat, with sides that taste like you got them at a family picnic, not out of a buffet style chafing dish. So take my words with a dollop of sauce, lump it or lather it. This is what I think about a smokehouse named 4R.

As you're driving west down Fairbanks Ave...coming from 17-92, you might find yourself wondering, what's with all the people standing around that wooden-looking building? Take a right and pull into the parking lot out back. As you make your way to the door, you pass by the outside dining area, which is actually the only dining area...then you wait. This place is so popular, that it is not uncommon to have to stand outside for a while before you can make it in to order. Feel like getting a leg up on the pack? Call in ahead of time, that might shave off a few minutes. Supply and demand in all its glory folks--sure this place wants to feed you, but you have to be patient...because EVERYBODY wants in on this.

There were 3 or 4 people already waiting outside of the door to get in when we walked up to the take-out window. We gave them our name and order details and luckily, as we timed it quite well, only had to wait a few minutes before our bag of sop-loving barbecue was ready. Before we made off with the loot though, I wanted to give this place a better look.

Stepping inside it was immediately evident that this place was not an eating establishment before. The waiting/ordering area was about the size of an apartment's kitchen and the line snaked up one wall, against the cold drinks on the far side, then back toward the exit. Maybe 15 or so people could be in there at any given time. If you are in a hurry, this place isn't for you. Your patience needs to be not unlike the delicious sauces and slow-smoked meats that are awaiting your tongue's pallet...remember, good things come to those who wait.

The staff was friendly, despite the fact they were crazy-busy. While we were there, I saw about 5-6 people darting around behind the prep line and a few others walking around making sure the dining area was clean and had plenty of napkins. I ordered, as recommended, a pulled pork sandwich with a side of mac and cheese and BBQ beans. They have all sorts of other sides to choose from, but my friend told me these, although typical, were not to be missed. There are many other items on the menu that looked equally amazing, specifically the Texas Destroyer sandwich and The Smokehouse Prime Rib sandwich, which comes doused in homemade horseradish.

I got outta there, no drink, for less than 8 bucks...add a tip and you're still getting outta there without burning a ten spot. So the price is definitely nice. If you want to add a huge piece of cake or an order of chocolate awesomeness (yes, that really is the name) for dessert, that's only gonna add a few more dollars, plus the portion is hefty, plenty to share.

When we got home, it was time to see what all the hub barb was my meal all ready to eat and dove in. The pulled pork was juicy and tender, not to mention ample! The poor bun had its work cut out for it, trying to maintain its integrity against the forces of the meat and sauce. We had some extra regular and hot barbecue on the side for dipping, both were quite complimentary. The hot barb wasn't so bad that it'd make you sweat, but it definitely gave you a touch of that lame thing Emeril does. Okay so the sandwich is good, but a meal can live or die on its side items--so lets see what's going on with this mac and cheese. Straight up, killer. It wasn't your typical style of mac and cheese (although, I do love it) this was your homemade, cheesy mac and cheese. Big, fat, elbow macaroni noodles choking for dear life because of the cheese's suffocating grip on each one. Creamy and tasty, the noodles were cooked perfectly...nothing worse than overcooked noodles. Am I right? Am I right? This guy knows what I'm talking about. After the mac and cheese we had the barbecue baked beans...good LAWD--tell'em Uncle Jesse. This was almost like a whole other meal in itself. The sauce, was rich and deep. The beans must've been loving life, just chilling in a vat of that thick, dark goodness. There were smoky flavors, sweet flavors, some tid bits of meat in there too. I think you probably coulda put the beans on a hoagie and made a sandwich out of them alone!

4 Rivers for me, was an eye opening experience. I was always under the impression that in order to get good seafood, you need to be close to the ocean, if you want good pastries, you need to be at a bakery before noon and if you want good barbecue, you need to be in Texas or Mizzou or one of those fine BBQ states, not so. Debunked. Good barb can be served in the middle of the hoity-toityest part of Orlando. Slather on friendly service, affordable pricing and a fine selection of new and old BBQ standards and you got yourself, well...a place where you will need to be patient cuz the line--it's out the door.

4R Smokehouse
Hours: M-T 11am-8pm/Friday and Saturday 11am-9pm/Closed Sunday
Address: 2103 West Fairbanks Orlando FL ~ 407-474-8377 Fax: 321.972.5641