You know the whole “homemade comfort food with a fancy twist” shtick that’s so popular? Blue Belly BBQ, the new Bella Vista barbecue joint, has a new take on it: The twist is that there is no fancy twist—they just do real barbecue. All kinds of real barbecue, that is. Brooklyn-born Chef Gene Giuffi makes it clear right from the restaurant’s name that this won’t be a Deep-South-only approach to the cuisine, as “blue belly” is a Civil War-era Southerner’s nickname for a Yankee soldier.
Like Giuffi’s upscale pork palace across the street, Cochon, Blue Belly BBQ is small and cozy. The pungent open kitchen makes the neighborhood smell like burning wood and savory meat. You can BYO, sit at the counter or wooden benches and watch the beauty of BBQ slow cook while you eat, or take out and make your own picnic at home. (Even large orders take less than 20 minutes to prepare, so wait and order only when you’re ready to pick up—that way the food won’t need to be reheated.)
The menu at Blue Belly takes us on a barbecue flavor odyssey through Korea, St. Louis, Jamaica, Mexico and more. For all that, it’s a simple and affordable lineup, broken up into sandwiches, smoked meats and sides: It’s all so easy to navigate and makes grabbing a quick sandwich on the way home from work very simple.
The sandwiches all bring their own style, sure to satisfy various cravings of the BBQ spectrum. The lamb barbacoa, a Mexican BBQ tradition, is a smoky, slow-cooked treat. The pulled jerk chicken was a bit dried out, but the accompanying citrus aioli was so tasty, I didn’t mind. And the flavor of the pork on the slow-roasted pig sandwich—definitely a dish those squeamish about fat should skip—is amplified by the tart pickled fennel salad and sinus clearing mustard sauce.
Standing at the pinnacle of the sandwich menu is the Korean beef sandwich; the meat is tender, juicy and full of sweet and savory flavor. Delightfully sour kimchi mixes with sweet pear ginger vinaigrette, threatening to reinvent your concept of what’s fundamental to the palate. It’s all topped with crispy shallots and sprinkled with sesame seeds that add an extra pop of nutty flavor.
As for the smoked meats, those items that come “on the bone,” like the 1/2 Lancaster chicken and St. Louis spare ribs, are the dishes to order. Each smoked meat comes with your choice of three sides, and Blue Belly gives you some diverse and surprising choices that you won’t see on other BBQ menus in the city. For example, they forego hush puppies for corn cakes, which are sort of a cross between hush puppies and latkes—and in addition to braised greens, they also have Brussels sprouts. The mac and cheese and beans are disappointingly bland, but the rest of the sides nail it with fresh simplicity.
Whether you’re a seasoned barbecue grill master or never understood what all the fuss (and mess) was about, Blue Belly’s diverse multi-regional approach and simplicity will impress. Treat yourself to one last summer picnic.
600 Catherine St. 215.238.0615. bluebellybbq.com
Cuisine: Multi-regional barbeque.
Hours: Wed.–Sun., 11:30 a.m.–7 p.m.
Price Range: $4-$16.
Atmosphere: An indoor picnic.
Food: Flavorful and filling.
Service: Fast and pleasant.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014