Hail to the chef! That’s what I’m thinking as Danny lowers two whole racks of pork ribs into the maws of his Smokaroma Bar-B-Q Boss. He says it’s a wood-fired pressure-cooker. No more fuming black smokers outdoors.
He screws down the lid like you’d secure the hatch on a submarine. Six bolts. Carefully. And voilà: he’s cooking the meat with real smoke-burning wood inside the box but it’s smoke-free in the room.
We’re in Inbetweenland here, east of Encanto, west of Lemon Grove. Nothing much going on in this part of town. But today, here I was, walking across the big parking lot of Big Value Market, its walls plastered with meat deals like “Chicken, $5.99 lb.,” “Menudo, $1.79,” and “Carne Para Asar, $2.99 lb.”
Then, forming the “L” of the lot, I discovered “BVM B.B.Q. Grill. Pizzeria.” Huh. Barbecue. Worth a try. Inside, you come onto steaming chafing dishes of meat slabs, chopped-up ribs, chicken legs, li’l cornbread cakes, and another collection of sides such as baked beans, mac ’n’ cheese, candied yams, and collard greens.
For a country boy who hasn’t touched but one coffee all day, these smoky marination smells are nectar. I notice that there’s huge kitchen space and lots of chopping and mixing going on.
“Oh, sure. We make everything here,” says George, the guy at the counter. “All our sides, everything. And we smoke all our own meats.”
I see they also do pizzas and tacos. Even fish and chips with a choice of fish: swai, rock cod, hoki, or tilapia. For $10.99, you get three pieces of fish and fries or two sides, such as corn on the cob or collard greens.
More good news: carne asada tacos run $1 each. In fact, all “TJ tacos” are $1, except for carnitas and fish tacos, which are $1.75. And it’s cool just to order a taco, say, or a chicken drumstick for around a buck (depending on weight).
But now I’m here, I’m hot for the barbecue.
Ulp: first item I see is “rack of pork,” $26.99. Half rack, $15.99.
Then, phew, they go to dinner combos, mostly $12.99, which include a lot. Choices such as a pound of pork rib tips, pork rib and chicken, beef brisket, beef rib, pulled pork, beef plates. And carnitas for $9.99. And each comes with two sides.
I mean, $12.99 is serious money, but this is going to be dinner for Carla and me. Maybe breakfast tomorrow, too. Hey, good protein’s good protein. So I ask George for the pork rib tip combo and also the beef ribs that I see. The ones with the huge bones sticking out.
He weighs them. They’ll cost $8 on their own.
Next, I have to choose the sides for the pork. The sample of mac ’n’ cheese he gives me is awesome. Twang in the cheese. Then, I’m tempted by the “open-face chicken pot pie,” which is like the pie sans the crusty part. Mash, chicken bits, and mixed veggies.
But I’ve gotta have baked beans. And, collard greens.
“BBQ sauce?” says George.
“And something over the beef ribs?”
I realize I haven’t even asked what the sauces are. Whatever, I’m just taking delivery of my rib tips — and with the sides, this is an oozing, weighty, polystyrene boxful — when Danny, the owner, comes by with these two racks of raw ribs, heading for that inside smoker. “These will take 47 minutes to cook,” he says. “In the traditional smoker? Maybe 6 hours. Meats take from 6 to 16 hours to get done the old way.”
He hangs them in the Smokaroma.
I get a large soda-fountain Coke ($1.75) and settle onto a stool at one of the three tall tables. Background sounds are NFL talk on TV and the Smokaroma venting off pressure every now and then, like a railroad steam engine.
Me, I start eating. And here’s where this place shows its colors. With the first little chew of my baked beans, woohoo! A zing of flavors rushes in. “I make Carolina sauce for it,” says Danny. “In Carolina, they like their apple-cider vinegar.”
Oh, yes. Taste it there. Also in the collard greens. “Carolina sauce, extra-virgin olive oil, and collard greens mixed with mustard greens, turnip greens, and Texas turnip greens. This is a traditional mix,” Danny says. “They’re also low-fat.”
And the pork rib tips themselves? Sweet, and really complex flavors.
“First off, it’s in the smoking,” says Danny. “For the pork tips I put in chips of apple tree, cherry tree, mesquite, and oak. Piled on top of each other. The fire burns up through them in that order. The smoke from each infuses the meat as it cooks. With your beef rib, I put apple, cherry, hickory, and pecan woods. The hickory stands out, but the apple and cherry give it a fruity flavor, and the pecan gives a nutty flavor.”
Wow. It’s beginning to sound more and more like wine-tasting. I never knew there was so much complexity to smoking meats and veggies.
Danny says right now’s low season, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. “But still today we’re smoking 560 pounds of pork ribs.”
After I get back, Carla and I lunge into the beef ribs. Meat is so-oo tender. And rich, sweet, and spicy. “Memphis sauce,” Danny told me. “Sweet and tangy. I try to use natural sugars from fruit like pineapple to give the sweet flavoring.”
One more question I had to ask.
“‘BVM’? What does that mean?”
“Look at our store next door,” he said.
I do. Oh, yeah.
“Big Value Market.”
I dunno. Maybe they should call this meatery BSM, “Bespoke Smoked Meats.”
Hours: 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily (till 8 p.m., Sunday)
Prices: Carne asada tacos, $1 each; fish taco, $1.75; one-topping pizza, $7.50; 3-topping pizza, $9.50; rack of pork, $26.99; half-rack pork, $15.99; pork rib tip dinner combo (two sides), $12.99; 3-bone rib dinner, $12.99; carnitas plate, $9.99; beef-brisket dinner, $12.99; burger, $6.50; quarter-chicken dinner, $5.99; corn on the cob, $2.50; side of baked beans, $4.50; candied yams, $4.50; sweet potato pie, $3
Nearest Bus Stop: Imperial and 69th Street (eastbound); Lisbon and Imperial (westbound)
Trolley: Orange Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: Encanto/62nd Street (via #4 bus or 20 minutes’ walk)