Tracking down perfection

Wayne’s Smoke Shack is bold, confident barbecue

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Susan France

You have to appreciate the moxie of a restaurant that is open until it sells out. Especially when you set up shop at the end of an empty parking lot, triangulated by Buffalo Wild Wings, PetSmart and Super Target, in the perpetually under construction, unglamorous superdevelopment of Superior.

But the place is packed. It’s rainy and cold, and people are sitting outside on wooden picnic benches, slugging down meat and never minding the weather. It’s the spillover from inside, which stays at capacity throughout lunch.

They sit outside and get wet because these fine patrons know something. They know that Wayne’s might be the best barbecue spot in the county, if not the state. If you’re not bracing yourself for that level of greatness after seeing the shameless and soggy crowd, you certainly are when the smell, carried by the moisture in the air, hits the back of your nose cone and your reaction is atypical.

Wayne’s smelled so good it made me angry. They say pleasure and pain are at once on opposite ends of the spectrum, but that they meet back around on the other side. I guess I just “crossed over.” Or maybe it was just one of those moments when you realize all places could be like this. A place where the staff is geeking out over barbecued meat and every choice you make is a “great choice.”

The smell was of bright char, rich smoke, savory meat and a power washer of spice. Under violet-red heat lamps at the end of the ordering line, staff members in black latex gloves pull from smokers named Stella, Sofia and Sabrina, and slam down full smoked slabs of brisket and ribs. They cut off pieces based on how many pounds you want for lunch. In front are trays of seasoned and blackened catfish, and a bucket of pulled pork shoulder. Off to the side is a half chicken that somehow looks happier brined, cooked and split in two than I’ve ever seen a live chicken.

I order three-quarters of a pound each of the brisket, the ribs and the pulled pork with an approving nod from the carver. The brisket is sliced from two ends — one tender and one lean. I opt for the juicier of the two, and three slabs with a two millimeterthick black bark are carefully placed onto a giant tray lined with brown parchment paper. Five smoky, black and red ribs are cut from a full rack and placed beside the brisket. A handful of shredded pork shoulder is added and the meat mountain is complete and it is awesome.

After adding a side of coleslaw and mac and cheese, I brought the tray back to the table along with fresh brewed sweet tea. On the table were three sauces: a traditional variety, a peppery and spicy blend and a lighter, vinegar sauce. The latter was the best, but the meats were so expertly flavored and moist that sauce was a bonus, almost an imposition. Of the three meats, the ribs were the best — meaty hunks fell right off the bone, the bark was perfectly textured (crispy, not tough), and there was a genuine flavor of the meat and bone in each bite, not some fabricated flavor or overdone spice blend.

The pork shoulder basically hovered between solid and liquid states. Plopped onto a freshly baked and moist dinner roll, it was simply perfection. 

Wayne’s has done a great job of transforming the space through decoration, service and product. The barbecue is a Texas export, and you can taste it in the meat and feel it in the vibe (if you don’t see all the portraits of Texan cities on the walls or see the bright “Texas BBQ” sign on the storefront). But after such a disorientatingly good experience, a little reminder isn’t quite unnecessary.