Southern Hospitality BBQ is a meat defeat
Denver is definitely in need of more good barbecue, so I was eager to visit Southern Hospitality BBQ, the upscale barbecue restaurant that opened last October in the very renovated old St. Elmo Hotel building. This joint came with a smoking back-story: The original was opened in Manhattan in 2007 by none other than Justin Timberlake (among others), and One Republic lead singer Ryan Tedder and his father, Gary, bought the rights to franchise the concept through Southern Hospitality Franchisee Holding Corp. in up to thirty locations, including LoDo.
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-Reader: Southern Hospitality looks like a hip Cracker Barrel
I stopped in at 7:30 p.m. on a recent weeknight. When the deal was announced, Gary Tedder said he wanted the restaurant to have "a nostalgic yet modern feel," which is a respectable-enough aspiration -- but the faux-rustic brick walls, reclaimed wood, track lighting, modern-artsy prints and fake-to-look-real flickering candles on the tables made the place look like a gentrified, yuppie stop-in rather than any kind of nostalgic barbecue joint. There were only a few tables occupied on the first floor, and the downstairs area was a ghost town. This usually means that service will be attentive -- but mine was nothing more than passable. When I asked if I could order the Memphis BBQ Mary off the brunch menu -- the house spicy BBQ bloody mix garnished with celery, pickle, olive, lime, bacon, salt, dry rub, deviled egg and a spare rib, with a beer chaser -- my server said yes, but then brought me a regular Bloody Mary with a small glass of warm, flat lager and explained that the bar didn't "have the stuff to make it."
We still love you, JT!
The replacement cocktail was lousy by even no-frills Bloody Mary standards, with so much celery salt that the watery mix was bitter and warm. (I suspect the drink may not have started out warm and watered, but got that way while waiting to be delivered.) I'd wanted to try the house deviled eggs; there weren't any -- not for bloodies, not for apps. So I settled for an order or the fried green tomatoes ($8), the Rocky Mountain Combo ($27) and the dessert banana pudding ($5); with my drink added in, my bill hit $50 even before a tip.
I did get an accidental, free plate of fried pickles that I hadn't ordered, but the male server who dropped that off was gone before I had a chance to tell him he'd made a mistake. My server brought the correct appetizer, but it was a seriously flavorless disappointment. The fried green tomato slices were dry to the point of being dehydrated on the inside, and the breading was thick, crusty and uneven -- just globs of fried, mealy batter clinging to emaciated rounds of cold meh. I was so desperate I tried one of the pickles, and it had the same shabby crust and chilly temperature.
J. Wohletz Bad Bloody Mary and warm, stale beer.
At least the barbeque plate had some hot food: Memphis-style spare ribs, hand-sliced brisket and Southern fried chicken with a side of plank-style fries that took up half the plate. There were just two and a half ribs almost buried by those fries; I grabbed one, gnawed on it, tried using my knife to dislodge a bit of meat from the bone, and finally broke down and started chewing on the end. It was clear that this meat had not been cooked "low and slow" but high and fast, because there were no relaxed meat fibers.
I gave up and went to the brisket, a personal favorite. Usually. The portion (three slices) was close to half-fat, which was problematic enough, but the strips of meat flanking the fat were so rigid the connective tissue wasn't letting me pull off a piece without a major fight.