ST. PETERSBURG — There is no way to talk about a barbecue restaurant without stepping directly into the fray. So let's just get it out of the way:
Beef or pork?
That notion seems to jibe with the business model at Luckie B's, the 'cue joint that took over the former home of Fred Fleming's on Fourth Street N.
To get to the root of Luckie B's, you have to start across the street at what was Happy Shack, the tiny outpost that had a hand-painted sign out front advertising its "hot sandwiches and cold beer." That was about as much of a menu as the infrastructure would allow, so when the building across the street became available — complete with the infrastructure they needed to do the barbecue they couldn't do at Happy Shack — James LoBianco and Burton Bullard seized it.
Luckie B's brings a Carolina bent to its menu, and that means mostly pork. And that brings three options:
• Spare ribs, if you like to gnaw at bones to get your meat.
• Baby back ribs, if you like to pull the bones away from the meat and stack them on the side before attacking the meat.
• Pulled pork, if you don't even want to see bones.
The good news is, all of those options are good here. The spare ribs come in various fractions of a rack or in a combo with chicken ($8.95 to $10.50), the baby backs come as a half or full rack ($9.95 to $14.95) and the pulled pork as a platter ($8.50) or sandwich ($5.95 for small, $7.75 for large, add 50 cents for "Carolina style," with pickles and coleslaw). The pork, in each incarnation, is smoky because of its hours of cooking time and juicy despite it. Those are the marks you shoot for in barbecue.
Another sign that the pit masters at Luckie B's are in the pork camp is the brisket platter ($9.50). The long-cooked beef had reached a rather sad, uniform brown and just had nothing juicy left.
Whatever meat you choose, there are three house sauces. Try the microregional mid-South Carolina sauce. It is mustard-based with zip and complexity.
My favorite side was the baked beans, and beans are rarely my favorite side. With these, the beans were merely a texture around the onions, pork and barbecue sauce, and it worked.
A word about salads: It's nice to be generous, but a salad is often ordered in an attempt to have a light meal. That sort of goes out the window when a large platter is piled 4 inches high. The Cobb salad ($8.80) was a sight, and the diced smoked turkey tasty, but after eating about a third of the roughage, it became a recon mission to dig out the meat and move along with life.
From the starters, the chili was good in a bowl ($4.50, or a cup for $2.50), but less so over nachos ($6.75), where thin chips shattered under the weight of any toppings. Six meaty chicken wings ($6) soak up a lot of smoke before finishing in the fryer. Our fried green tomatoes ($5.75) slipped out of their batter a little too easily to get an endorsement. The Sriracha mayo on the side was nice, though.
Across the street, Happy Shack would have encouraged you to wash all this down with a 99-cent Miller High Life. But that wouldn't do at the new digs. Here, it'll be $3 for a house margarita.
Jim Webster can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8746. Webster dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.