Generally, the newest local restaurants shy away from the excess frilliness of haute cuisine and instead towards venerable comfort foods. For the past year, gourmet pizza has been all the rage, and folks can’t seem to get enough of updated pies with artisan toppings and authentic Italian pedigrees. But when all’s said and done, it’s still pizza, and one suspects its appeal more than touches on deeply hard-wired appetites for soothing fare.
Similarly, there’s been a mini-explosion of barbecue, with Louisville’s LuLu’s being one of the most recent entrants dishing out this regional American specialty. Even the name LuLu’s suggests quaint comfort, evoking the lovable comic strip character Little Lulu. This welcoming spot on Louisville’s main drag trades up from mere rundown barbecue joint ambience. Chrome chairs and engine-turned tabletops add a touch of modernism that goes well with the folksy atmosphere, tinged with a hint of the Southwest.
Johnny Cash’s “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” was playing as pal Kuvy and I ventured in for dinner, and I found this appropriate for the setting — solidly American with a rustic edge. Same goes for the Texas-style menu, which features numerous meats that have been smoked 18 hours over oak. Selections include the predictably reassuring pulled pork and brisket, as well as chicken and ribs.
Plates featuring a choice of meat and two sides are just north of a 10-spot, and half-pound meat sandwiches are available for $9. There’s a kids plate for a modest $6, featuring a choice of sandwich, slider, kosher dog or mac and cheese, and there’s also $10 smoked tofu and $11 veggie kabobs on tap for the herbivore.
Sides here consist of tried-and-true choices, including beans, cole slaw and enough potato options to make one think Idaho is barbecue country. Spudophiles can enjoy mashed potatoes, potato salad and sweet potato tots. Platters also come with a roll (actually more of a slider bun) and PPO, a satisfying relish of pickles, sport peppers and onion.
Kuvy enjoyed a $13 platter featuring a flavorful half-rack of ribs that were properly tender and seasoned, possessing a pronounced but not overwhelming perfume of smoke. The corn on the cob side was less satisfying, with a softness indicative of overcooking. Her side of beans was a straightforward affair: sweet, smoky and exactly what one would expect with decent barbecue.
I fared better with the sides accompanying my $12 beer can chicken dinner. The fried okra’s batter was hot and crisp, a nice contrast to this vegetable’s inherent slipperiness. One couldn’t complain about the mac and cheese either, which had the correct measure of creaminess and ideal doneness, a whisker past al dente. The chicken itself was admirable, with a uniformly moist texture resulting from the steaming can of brew placed in the poultry’s cavity during the cooking process.
On balance, Lulu’s provides a decent barbecue experience, although the true connoisseur may find a quibble or two. A major issue was the fact that Lulu’s provides only one barbecue sauce variety. Sauce is one of the key elements in a barbecue experience, and sometimes one craves something sweeter or spicier than what a single choice offers. However, once this issue is addressed, there’ll be no question that LuLu’s provides a comfortingly solid barbecue option worthy of its Texas pedigree.