You've also made a freeform shape roughly the size of the pile of garlic mashed potatoes I found on my plate the other night at Bucky's Grill. The barbecue emporium opened two weeks ago where Houston's used to be in Lauderdale. I was sitting at the bar, and two guys in polo shirts next to me let out an appreciative whistle when the food runner handed me my plate. There was about a pound of smoke-infused sliced pork tenderloin fanned out on one side, drizzled with a fantastic hoisin barbecue sauce, and that steaming heap of spuds on the other. The potatoes were loaded with butter and cream and dotted with garlic chives and black pepper. I'm pretty sure I've never eaten better mashed potatoes in my life.
"Whoa," said the guy in the yellow stripes. "Guess you're going to have lots to take home for breakfast and lunch."
"I'm eating for three," I said through a mouthful of pig. But they just looked at me. Being the tiny slip of a thing I am, I guess they thought I couldn't put away a couple of cubic feet of meat and veg. Au contraire. Still, it was clear I'd attract too much attention at the bar if I showed what stuff I was really made of except for the waitresses, I was the only female in a room full of guys getting steadily drunker. I was afraid I'd start a betting war or something. I'd planned to order a mess of beef ribs to take home too, but I felt suddenly very conspicuous.
While eating, I decided that pork is my favorite food. And don't give me this "other white meat" stuff pig does not taste anything like chicken. It has a gazillion more calories, and unlike fowl, it gets better and better the more sugar and salt you put on it. It also improves with age. Other writers have made all kinds of noises about how Bucky's, which opened its first branch three months ago in Boca (Bucky's Bar-B-Que) and then another one in Lauderdale (Bucky's Grill), serves fresh fish, prime rib, filet mignon, and jumbo buffalo shrimp as well as barbecued ribs and pulled pork sandwiches. If you want to know how any of that stuff tastes at Bucky's, you're going to have to go try it yourself, because all I can tell you about here is what pearls they are casting on their swine.
Pork is one of the few meats that has improved in restaurants over the years. You may remember that in the olden days, you'd order a pork chop and it would come out fire-blasted to the consistency of fossilized mammoth meat and drenched in tomato or mushroom sauce. Nowadays, chefs are not so scared of trichinosis, and your waiter might actually ask you as mine did at Bucky's how you want your pork cooked, from medium-rare to well done. For tenderloin, I like mine medium rare, just a mellow little bit of pink, like the color of the blush on a girl's cheek when you tell her something particularly nice.
The practice of brining has also improved pig meat in all kinds of ways. If you then smoke it over a wood fire, as they do at Bucky's, it's going to taste like you've died and gone to heaven.
I wasn't prepared to love Bucky's as much as I do, because the location in Boca on the corner of Dixie Highway and Glades Road is hallowed ground. It's where Tom Wright used to purvey his famous ribs at Tom's Place. There's a rumor that one time somebody offered Tom $100,000 for his barbecue sauce recipe and he turned them down. Tom died last year from emphysema that his kids say he got from working too many years over a hickory and oak smoke pit, and afterward, they moved the restaurant to West Palm Beach. At Tom's, you used to eat at long wood tables, and you could have baby-back ribs with sides of black-eyed peas, collards, corn bread, and mashed potatoes (you still can). They also had catfish. Tom was a pastor too, and the whole staff would start every day by saying a prayer. All that praying paid off: People lined up at the door of Tom's. Now they're lining up at the door of Bucky's.
Here's my advice, because Bucky's is worth finagling yourself into. If you're a single or a deuce, you can walk in and eat at the bar just about anytime. If you're craving barbecue on weekends, show up around 9 p.m. and you'll probably get a table right away. Don't bother to do anything between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., because you're going to be competing with every snowbird in two counties, and those cookies are tough when it comes to snagging a table they've spent a lifetime training in Jersey diners.
Once we got seated in our booth at Boca, the food came out fast, starting with a plate of sweet honey corn bread. The "Buckettes," as Bucky's waitresses are called, probably knew they needed to spike our blood sugar in a hurry. The Buckettes, who wear abridged black polo shirts that show their cute little belly buttons, were courteous and friendly. They also brought me a glass of Willamette pinot noir ($13), which is one of many wines you can get by the glass.
The Boca restaurant is done up in brick and wood, like the inside of an old oven. The whole place smells faintly like barbecue sauce and smoke in the most atmospheric way. There's an open kitchen, and the place seats at least 100 people, which makes it all feel just that much crazier, but it all works. Still, I prefer the Lauderdale location if only because there's the same menu and the same brick and wood, but the average age of the clientele is about 20 years younger, and it has a full liquor bar. That bar should be a magnet for any female looking to hook up, because the Tuesday night I was there, it was full of good-looking men of every size, age, shape, and color, either alone or in pairs, and no women at all. There are eight flat-screen TVs that circle the bar in a cozy way, and only half of them were playing sports the others were tuned to a program about kids with cancer and music videos. You can't hear the TVs anyway because there's the comforting hum of good conversation and bustling around the bar all in all, it's one of the most relaxing places you could ever choose to hang. The bartenders are just great. They called me "Miss" and kept one eye on me all the time, in spite of how busy they were, to make sure I was happy.
Now for the meat. I had a pulled pork sandwich ($10) in Boca and an order of Kansas City sticky ribs ($21). The sandwich was enormous, like all the platters at Bucky's, feathered smoked meat piled high on a pillowy white roll. The slaw and sauce were served on the side, and I'm wondering if that's some kind of concession to the old folks, because this sandwich calls for a lot of dampening. You need to put the slaw on the sandwich and then generously pour on the mustard barbecue sauce, really glop it around, because otherwise your sandwich will be much too dry. The problem is that the sauce doesn't taste of mustard so much as molasses, and it covers up the smoky flavors of the meat. Add this to the sweet potato fries, the sweet corn bread, the sweet slaw, your sweet tea, and the whole effect is very... well, sweet. The idea of ordering dessert after your typical Bucky's dinner is faintly preposterous.
The pulled pork sandwich was my least favorite pig meal at Bucky's. I like my pulled pork well-mixed and mingled with sauce, and I like my sauce much sourer and hotter. But the slab of Kansas City sticky baby back loin ribs are some of the best ribs I've ever tasted. That soft, smoked meat slid off the bone in the most appetizing way imaginable it had the right amount of chew, the right proportion of fat to flesh, the right proportion of flesh to sauce, and the sticky sauce struck an ideal balance between sweet and hot. Oh, they were delicious all right. And the sweet potato fries, another mountain of food, were thin, crisp, and salty. Anybody who wants to make a better creamed spinach than Bucky's is going to have a tough row to hoe, because this familiar side dish is deeply satisfying rich, fragrant, and peppery in a way that makes you feel completely at peace.
It's a little morbid of me to think it, but I suppose if I were going to be allowed to choose a last meal, I might think seriously of requesting those Kansas City ribs with a side of creamed spinach and a bowl of mashed potatoes from Bucky's. And then I'd have their pork tenderloin for dessert. My last words would be "Hand me a napkin."