One foot out of the car, and my son exclaimed, "This place smells good!"
We'd just pulled up to Firehouse Southern Style BBQ, in the former Fanz Sports Grill location on Colorado Avenue. Rich and smoky mesquite hung in the air. Inside the '50s-throwback restaurant, red and white easy-wipe tablecloths and chrome stools gave way to a lunch counter.
During this lunch visit, I decided on take-out, a good thing, because the place was hopping. Big, burly men moved tables together, and the door kept flying wide. Since opening Firehouse in mid-October, owners Joe and Kari Tresner have already earned a devoted following; their happy-go-lucky staff provides a casual, but accommodating, kind of Southern hospitality.
Regional hints also dot the menu. As Southern cooking icon Paula Deen would say: If all else fails, "Boil it in oil." Firehouse sides include standards like french fries, potato salad and barbecued or Western spicy beans, but also rarities (for these parts) such as fried green beans and fried cob corn. Yep: corn on the cob, breaded and fried. Both extreme and, well ... Southern. Not bad, either.
The hiccups began with Firehouse's meats, which see-sawed in quality. My Bar B Que Plate ($10.49), with choice of two sides and two meats, brought baby back ribs so dry that they tore like paper. Meanwhile, the pulled pork was abundant, juicy and barely needed the house-made sauces, of which I preferred the sweet and tangy to the spicy or mustard sauce.
My next sit-down visit proved equally inconsistent, though not without some fun moments. Hubby and kids in tow, I asked about the broasted chicken dish ($8.49). Our sweet server told me of the complex process of breading and frying in a "water solution."
OK, that just ain't right.
Turns out the two-piece chicken and potato plate is actually crispy (although flavorless) fried chicken. But the staff had a good laugh, teasing the waitress for not yet being broken in.
My advice to all of them: Skip the confusing name games. Fried chicken is fried chicken. Season that sucker.
The brisket and hot links plate ($10.49) also earned a split decision. The links had the right amount of heat but were dry, while the brisket brought a moist, smoky mound of goodness. Firehouse seems to have a handle on its large, hand-pulled and shredded meats.
What finally took me over the top was dessert. During my first visit, I noticed a gentleman order a piece of Kari's homemade pie, and as I waited for my order, he returned and bought the whole thing to go. Impressive.
To great pleasure, I tried slices of the coconut cream and pumpkin spice ($3.99 each). Chewy toasted coconut gave way to a creamy magnificence in the former, while the divine, three-layer latter sported a flaky crust with just the right amount of salt to balance the sweetness.
Sure, I want to rip Firehouse for not having collard greens, and that gritty sweet stuff they put on the complimentary corn bread tastes neither of honey nor butter. But I can't, because I have stood shamed, in the presence of my 5-year-old, who pointed her finger at my face and said, "Mommy, did you eat all the pie?"
"Yes my dear, I did, but I can get more."