When Biscayne Bar-B-Q opened last winter in the same building as the Cactus gay bar -- with, according to its ads, an outdoor poolside cookout on Saturday nights till 2:00 a.m. -- I was pretty intrigued, because friends had been telling me for the whole ten years I've lived in Miami what a nice space Cactus was. I hadn't ever gone, because I don't like nightclubs much. But I sure do like good barbecue. So last month when one of my gay brothers came to town, a Saturday-night outing at the joint seemed a great idea: boys for my bro, real outdoor-cooked 'cue for me.
The outing was a mixed success, as was the meat. The outdoor cookout, for starters, wasn't. Although a server said she thought it would be reinstituted during season, there is currently no connection at all between the Cactus's outdoor patio and Biscayne Bar-B-Q's small, nostalgic indoor room, featuring an oldtimey-looking jukebox and Foreigner sheet music. And since the barbecue's hours had been cut back to 9:00 p.m., there were naturally no boys for my brother. They were, no doubt, still lingering over morning coffee.
As for my meats: Chicken ($5.95 per quarter, $7.95 per half) was nicely juicy, but major bone and minor meat showed that the dry ribs (half rack $11.50, full rack $18.95) were definitely not baby backs, and a chopped pork sandwich consisting mostly of hard reddish ends made sadly clear the meaning of the place's motto, "You Don't Need Teeth to Eat Our Meat." You'd be better off with a chain saw. What was particularly odd, given a server's explanation on my first visit that the barbecue was cooked outside over hickory wood, was the dearth of virtually any smoky flavor, not to mention the air's lack of smoke smell. But when I wandered outdoors briefly (before being busted by an employee who told me I wasn't allowed outside) on a second visit, the mystery was cleared up once I noticed not a barbecue pit with hickory logs but an electric unit with bags of hickory chips.
2041 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, FL
Open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Saturday 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. Call 305-438-1520.
Sides were also a mixed success, most of the negatives having to do with simultaneous blandness and sugar overload -- meaning that those with a severe sweet tooth and an aversion to spiciness might be pleased. To give y'all an objective benchmark for your own judgments: My favorite cornbreads have a just slightly sinful crusty-fried spoonbread exterior and an airy, fine-ground cornmeal interior, with contrasting sweet and hot accents provided by fresh chilies and sweet corn kernels. Biscayne BBQ's cornbread, though homemade, had an extreme sweetness that came from refined sugar -- lots. Ditto for the barbecue baked beans: much sweetness, no barbecue sauce tang. The long-simmered collard greens potlikker also was sugar-sweet, though not overly -- the effect atypical but not bad.
Coleslaw and potato salad both contained, for my taste, too much mayo and too little tang (in North Carolina coleslaw at the best 'cue joints is actually prepared with extra vinegar and mustard to offset the meat's fat), but both were impeccably fresh if bland, and the slaw was beautifully crisp. Macaroni and cheese was the kind mom used to make, very limp pasta surrounded by very cheesy curds. It was comfort food, but not likely to comfort anyone who's had Barton G's firm mac with cheese-tinged but dramatically truffle essence-spiked light cream sauce.
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Boiled corn on the cob, though, was much better than at most home cookin' joints -- overdone due to precooking but not tough or starch-converted, the kernels still young enough to be plump and naturally sweet. And fried yuca with garlic was 100 percent fabulous, honestly the best I've ever had. The fries were crisp, just greasy enough to satisfy mightily, and sprinkled with an excellent overabundance of garlic. Though Biscayne Bar-B-Q has no barbecued fish or vegetable entrées whatsoever, these yuca fries alone would be, for vegetarians, worth a special trip.