Monday, November 20, 2017
Restaurant News

Review: 4 Rivers Smokehouse piles the barbecue on high

RECOMMENDED READING


Passing through Winter Park on Fairbanks Avenue with the windows down can be dangerous. There it is, the smell of barbecue, causing involuntary turn-signaling and braking. John Rivers, 4 Rivers Smokehouse owner, has been a regional barbecue rock star, opening seven spots in a short number of years. In December that number rose to eight, with the first Tampa location debuting in the 6,000-square-foot space previously occupied by Arigato Japanese Steak House in Carrollwood.

It's an interesting approach: Order at the counter, choosing from a cross-regional selection of barbecue and a wide raft of side options, get your tray and find a spot at the communal wooden picnic tables. Then, once you've wiped your hands and eaten your last fried okra round or spoonful of sweet potato casserole, you wander over to the dessert counter and order all over again. And already the Tampa location is a well-oiled machine, with queues out the door and an assembly line of affable employees serving Texas-style 18-hour smoked Angus brisket, burnt ends, Southern pulled pork and St. Louis-style ribs.

So far, Tampa Bay barbecue stalwarts like Holy Hog or Eli's shouldn't be quaking. I've eaten at the Winter Park location and don't think Tampa's food — either the barbecue or the sides — is yet up to the quality at the flagship store. But there's still much to recommend about this newcomer. First off, the Sweet Shop, which really looks like an old-timey dessert storefront packed with oversized layer cakes, extravagantly decorated cupcakes and homey confections like coconut bombs and pecan bars, is nearly irresistible. (Feeling abstemious in the new year? Try one of the bite-sized red velvet cake balls.)

Some of the most notable menu items are clustered under the heading "Signature Stackers." These are more-is-more sandwiches piled high with brisket, pulled pork, other meats and a whole lot of accessories. There's the Texas Destroyer with brisket, paired with onion rings, jalapenos, melted provolone and a swirl of barbecue sauce ($8.49) — a serious dry-cleaning threat — or a trio of sliders that you can mix and match among brisket, pulled pork, burnt ends and pulled chicken ($8.49). An ample meal by themselves, for another $2.50 you can add a couple of sides.

The best of these might be the buttery, feather-light biscuit (all right, not exactly what you want alongside a sandwich, but this is a really good biscuit) and the sweet-smoky baked beans. Collards are solid, with flavorful pot liquor; fried okra is crisp and greaseless without the creepy okra goo inside; and the Texas corn bread is sweet and tender-crumbed. Coleslaw, shredded very fine, lacked interest, and the warm corn niblet dish was overly dominated by a garlicky, oniony flavor.

Of the meats, the fatty brisket was the star (you can order it either from the fatty side or the lean side), served inelegantly plopped right on your paper-lined tray ($13.99 as a dinner, with three sides and a biscuit).

Every table sports a couple of squeeze bottles of barbecue sauce, neither of them with significant heat, to add extra flavor to the meat. The burnt ends (meat cut from the point half of a smoked brisket; $8.99 in a sandwich), which are stupendous in Winter Park, were nearly black and somewhat mushy in the Tampa outpost.

I'm confident that there will be tinkering, though. Rivers is a dynamo, his barbecue businesses giving back to their respective communities and a number of faith-based organizations. He has a line of sauces and rubs, offers mail-order brisket and turkey, and has a new fast-casual Southern concept in Winter Park called the Coop (think crazy-good fried chicken).

Surely he won't rest until the newest 4 Rivers is flowing smoothly.

   
Comments
No Thanksgiving plan? Head to one of these Tampa Bay restaurants for traditional feasts and more

No Thanksgiving plan? Head to one of these Tampa Bay restaurants for traditional feasts and more

You realize Thanksgiving is just a week away, right? No pressure. If you don’t have a holiday game plan for Nov. 23, let’s do this thing. There are still a bunch of options, many traditional Thanksgiving repasts and some a little less conventional. C...
Published: 11/16/17
Oak & Stone with self-serve beer coming to St. Pete, South Tampa’s Byblos to reopen

Oak & Stone with self-serve beer coming to St. Pete, South Tampa’s Byblos to reopen

COMING SOON: OAK & STONEBeen to Oak & Stone in Sarasota? In early 2018 we’ll get one in St. Petersburg at 199 Central Ave., next to the newly constructed Hyatt Place. The concept is wood-fired pizzas mated with a self-serve beer wall highlighting cr...
Updated: 8 hours ago
A St. Petersburg artist created the labels for this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau wine release

A St. Petersburg artist created the labels for this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau wine release

Every year, there are bad things we can count on: taxes and death. And good things: Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November and on the Thursday before, the Beaujolais nouveau arrives. What is less predictable is just how this vin de l’ann...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Restaurant review: NuMex needs to tell its story better to stand out among St. Petersburg’s taco scene

Restaurant review: NuMex needs to tell its story better to stand out among St. Petersburg’s taco scene

ST. PETERSBURGI seldom have been so perplexed about a new restaurant. The prospect of NuMex’s opening in the Grand Central District swirled more than a year ago and I watched the hip little building come together. The spelling of the name itself was ...
Published: 11/13/17
Proper in downtown St. Pete to close as Park & Rec takes over its space

Proper in downtown St. Pete to close as Park & Rec takes over its space

ST. PETERSBURG — Next week, something almost unprecedented is happening in St. Petersburg’s restaurant scene.Park & Rec, the game-oriented concept from Stephen Schrutt’s Hunger + Thirst Restaurant Group, will expand Nov. 17 into a second building. It...
Published: 11/10/17
Don’t want to cook on Thanksgiving? Where to pick up every part of the meal in Tampa Bay

Don’t want to cook on Thanksgiving? Where to pick up every part of the meal in Tampa Bay

Some years you’re feeling it. The peeling of the pearl onions, the procuring of the chestnuts, that one creepy moment when you’re nearly elbow-deep trying to locate the bag of giblets. Thanksgiving is the most important cooking holiday of the year, t...
Published: 11/08/17
Made Coffee’s cold brew creation is brewed and canned right here in Tampa Bay

Made Coffee’s cold brew creation is brewed and canned right here in Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURGLet’s start with the actual can itself, a turquoise-tan-orange vessel emblazoned with text and illustrations: "Ingredients: coffee, water, time"; an image of a simple coffee brewing process under "How we made it." The colors pop, the fo...
Published: 11/07/17
Updated: 11/10/17
New Indian restaurant Rasoi now open in Ybor City

New Indian restaurant Rasoi now open in Ybor City

Rasoi Indian Cuisine, launched its grand opening Saturday (Nov. 4) as the only Indian restaurant in Ybor City. Located at 1701 E Eighth Ave., the traditional restaurant cooks authentic Indian food with the finest spices and ingredients imported from...
Published: 11/07/17
Naples is a dining destination worth visiting, rich with newcomers and long-standing favorites

Naples is a dining destination worth visiting, rich with newcomers and long-standing favorites

NAPLES Naples Restaurant Week is a semiannual promotion celebrating the region’s best dining at an affordable price, with lunch and dinner prix fixe meals available for either $25 or $35, depending on the location. This year it’s slated ...
Published: 11/06/17
Calling food fans: This weekend has food festivals in Dunedin, Indian Rocks Beach and more

Calling food fans: This weekend has food festivals in Dunedin, Indian Rocks Beach and more

Let’s hope you’ve been in an abstemious mode, maybe even fasting this past week, because things are about to get real for Tampa Bay foodies. TAMPA GREEK FESTIVAL One of the biggest events this weekend is the Tampa Greek Festival at St....
Published: 11/03/17
Updated: 11/10/17