When the Chips Are Down

A la carte side dishes include baked potato, baked sweet potato, superior homemade baked beans, and corn on the cob, which, after having evidently spent more time underwater than the Titanic, has few surviving nutrients. Maybe mushy kernels would be a concern at Norman's, but here the steaming corn, skewered and easily twirlable atop a cob-size paper container of melted butter, seems appropriate and tastes mighty good.

Desserts are few: vanilla or chocolate frozen yogurt plus a creditable key lime pie, white and velvety with a chilled whipped-cream topping ($2.49).

Shorty's has two additional locations (11575 SW 40th St.; 5989 S. University Dr., Davie), as well as a catering operation that's directed by Larry Greenstein, the son of one of the four owners who took the reins from Shorty in 1980. Greenstein attributes Shorty's success to "good and consistent food at a reasonable price -- and a friendly atmosphere." It's an astute and accurate description of the place.

Location Info

Map

People's Bar-B-Que

360 NW 8th St.
Miami, FL 33136

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Downtown/Overtown

Shorty's Bar-B-Q

9200 S. Dixie Highway
Pinecrest, FL 33156

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: East Kendall/Pinecrest

Those same words also define the appeal of People's Bar-B-Que, even if the Overtown eatery is worlds away from Shorty's in both distance and design. In 1996 brothers Derek and Carl Lewis, whose parents started People's 38 years ago, moved the business across the street from its original location. The new site is bright and clean, its peach walls with white and teal highlights providing a toned-down pastel version of the Miami Dolphins team colors. (The L-shape room is decorated like a poor-man's All-Star Cafe, with a plaque commemorating Rickey Henderson's stolen-base record, a Wayne Gretzky autographed hockey stick, and other sports memorabilia showcased here and there.) At People's the communal experience pretty much consists of a shared view of I-95's support beams and the inescapable soundtrack of a television blaring in an upper corner of the room. As at Shorty's, though, the down-home friendliness of the staff and clientele provides an ambiance that delivers much more than is evinced by the decor.

The menu here is diverse, with items such as oxtails, ham shanks, and even chitterlings lending a decidedly Southern accent. Side dishes, in particular, represent pure Dixie soul food: collard greens with bits of ham hock, pigeon peas and rice, extremely sweet and cinnamony candied yams, black-eyed peas, way-greasy macaroni and cheese, baked beans with bacon and molasses, exemplary creamed corn, string beans that have spent even more time underwater than Shorty's corn on the cob, and a half-dozen other selections. Dinners -- with a choice of two of those lip-smacking sides and a densely moist and buttery cornbread muffin -- start at $7.00 and putter up to $8.75 for a T-bone steak, the only item more than $8.00. Oak (well suited for all types of foods) is the wood of choice for smoking here. The wood chips are scattered in an open pit (the Lewises spent more than a year in court to win the right to install one in their new space), over which are piled chicken and ribs. Both are brought to the table bathed in barbecue sauce, a "secret family recipe" (courtesy of the brothers' father) that's tangy with vinegar, a surprising toffee-brown in color, and mildly spiced, though they'll kick up the heat upon request. The chicken is tender, with juicy and aromatic white breast meat, and the ribs are thick with smoky pork (the barbecue meat of choice in the hog-rich South -- cattle-raising regions west of the Mississippi prefer beef). The "small ends" are particularly porky, and are well worth the 50-cent surcharge over the regular cut ($7.25). And don't hold it against the Lewises, but their barbecue is served on real plates, with real silverware. Giant beverages of soft drinks, lemonade, and iced tea come in plastic cups, however. Alcohol is not sold here.

Oxtails are also tasty, though I'm so accustomed to eating them braised that in their dry-cooked state the six discs of sauceless meat seem barren. Not the case with two substantial pork chops, which are smothered in a sweet and savory beef-based sauce augmented by chopped onions and peppers. Only the barbecue beef sandwich disappoints, the hearty pile of thinly sliced brisket sabotaged by a tomato sauce that tastes as though it belongs on pizza. An enormous breaded and fried grouper fillet on white bread with lettuce, tomato, and mayo is far more satisfying ($4.25).

There's just one constant in People's random world of rotating desserts, and that's their homemade bread pudding, a glorious rendition that includes raisins, pineapple, and coconut ($1.40). After that it's pretty much the luck of the draw as to whether the pound cake will be flavored with coconut or 7-Up, whether the chocolate cake will be German or red velvet (the latter topped with a sour-cream frosting), and whether the luscious banana pudding will be available. It doesn't really matter; they're all good.

To partake of barbecue that enthusiasts such as Trillin thrill to, you'll need to travel the side roads of America, which, come to think of it, isn't a bad vacation plan. (Start with Memphis and Kansas City.) Otherwise, you can make do with the delectable fare at People's and Shorty's. It may not be bona fide barbecue, but all that's required to enjoy it is a hearty appetite.

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