Hog Heaven

It's clear you are in the country when you pull up to a four-way intersection — with no traffic lights, just stop signs — and the vehicles on the three other roads include a tractor, an open-back tomato truck, and an arch-neck paso fino horse. And it's apparent you are in barbecue country when area restaurants serve fried pickles.

Such is the case at Redland Rib House, a quaint luncheonette-style joint hidden in a small mall, surrounded by U-pick fields, in the middle of Miami-Dade County's farm country. Also an indicator of authenticity is the sign above the door, which features a cheery hog standing over a smoking grill, dressed in a chef's hat and apron, eating parts of its relatives. What makes cannibal pigs such a popular motif at so many Southern barbecue shacks is a mystery — and a sure sign one has reached hog heaven.

The concept of breading and deep-frying a dill pickle spear might sound weird, but the Rib House's head honcho, Mike Flink, enjoys taking chances. Plus this traditionally Southern-American classic complements 'cue perfectly — the pickle's crisp exterior, juicy interior, and flavorful tang cutting the richness of pork ribs and beef brisket. Not that these usually fatty cuts are overwhelmingly rich at this barbecue stop. Skillful slow-smoking renders out most of the chunk fat, leaving the meat moist yet not greasy. Only the chicken is slightly too dry, largely because, oddly, the place uses only breasts for its poultry barbecue. Dark meat would work better — or would at least be a more desirable option.


Redland Rib House

24856 SW 177th Ave, Homestead; 305-246-8866.

Open Monday 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.; Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Otherwise all the smoked meats — spare ribs, smaller but meatier baby-back ribs, pulled pork, and sliced brisket (which is the only meat Texans consider true 'cue) — are excellent, if somewhat milder than one might expect from something smoked over hickory wood. Virtually no smokiness was discernible. But that doesn't mean the meat is bland, especially when bathed in one of the Rib House's sauces, ketchup-based potions that are appealingly tart albeit similar save for degrees of sweetness or heat.

Although the barbecue is available in entrée-size portions (the most formidable being the "porker": a full slab of spare ribs served with coleslaw, buttered slices of grilled Texas toast, and choice of starch side), the pulled pork and brisket are especially good on triple-decker sandwiches. They are topped, North Carolina-style, with the house's fresh slaw, which is crunchy and devoid of the white glop found in most deli versions. On Thursdays the brisket is available with a side of au jus, enabling diners to assemble a Southern version of the Buffalo region's sandwich staple, beef on weck. Thick Texas toast substitutes for the traditional kümmelweck roll, and there is no jolt of horseradish. But don't fret: The Rib House's spicy sauce serves admirably as a sinus-clearer.

All sandwiches come with potato chips instead of French fries, which might be a disappointment elsewhere but not at the Rib House, where the chips are fried in-house. Served with sour cream ranch dipping sauce, the thick, warm slices, though hard on the arteries, are supremely satisfying for the soul. Likewise gratifying is the key lime pie, a South Florida mainstay that is best when the filling is, as it is here, creamy rather than gummy — and also housemade.

Being a die-hard North Carolina barbecue purist, I take issue with the Redland Rib House's claim to making "The South's Best Barbeque." But its quality 'cue and homey extras are definitely worth the long ride — whether by car or horse.


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