The secret is in the sauce
A savory almost-Texan experience
Sweet Cheeks Q
1381 Boylston Street, Boston
Open Sunday – Tuesday 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., Wednesday – Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Boston is famous for its fantastic fish, clam chowder, lobster, crab rolls, and oysters, but I was raised on different sort of food. My home state, Texas, is famous for its Tex-Mex and BBQ. When I get homesick for Mexican food, there are plenty of restaurants that will sort of fill the void until I can go home. But when I’m craving real BBQ, when all I want is a brisket sandwich on jalapeño toast and drenched in sauce, I can only sigh, think of home, and move on. The other day, though, I happened to walk by Sweet Cheeks Q, a restaurant near Fenway proclaiming Texas-style BBQ. I had to stop in right away. What I found both delighted and disappointed me.
Memphis is famous for its pulled pork, the Carolinas for their vinegar sauce, and Kansas for its sweet sauce. But Texas is the king of BBQ because of its smoked brisket and spicy, thick, tomato-based sauce. Naturally, I had to test Sweet Cheeks by their brisket sandwich. The sandwich was huge: a buttered and toasted roll piled with meat. I doused it in the thin-looking sauce provided, took a massive bite, and was immediately homesick. The meat was spot on. It practically fell apart in my mouth without the need to chew, even if there was a little bit too much fat remaining. Through the victory, however, my stomach sank: tragedy. The sauce was completely off. It was thin, it was vinegary, and it was clearly the Carolinas appearing right in the middle of my little piece of Texas. The other sauce provided was thin and sweet with a little spice. Better, but still not quite right. It was close to home, but also very far from it. If Boston were another planet (which it is) and I were E.T., Sweet Cheeks is the kind of place from which I could at least phone home.
While brisket is the true test of a Texas BBQ joint, on a separate visit I decided to try their pulled chicken, and the vinegar sauce went much better with it. Luckily for those looking out for their cholesterol, it’s not packed with any added fat. Luckily for those looking to loosen their belt buckles a notch, the same could not be said of the side order potato salad and broccoli casserole. The potato salad was nothing special, though it was still delicious given that it was just a combination of mayo and potatoes. The broccoli casserole was fantastic, much more cream and butter and only a side of broccoli, just as Paula Deen would like it. On the whole, I enjoyed all of these dishes more than the brisket simply because they didn’t bring all the extra baggage of expectation to the table.
Though I may gripe about the sauce, and though fellow BBQ connoisseurs may agree with me, for most people the experience will be fun and delicious. That said, however, most people will probably gripe about the price. An $18 minimum for a plate is significantly more than I’ve ever encountered at any other BBQ joint. But, if you go for a sandwich, or at midday, the bill is more affordable. In spite of the price, I’d say this is probably the closest Boston is going to get to authentic BBQ fare, and suggest that if you’ve never had it, you should give it a try. And for you Texans who, like me, get homesick, this will certainly tide you over until the next time you visit home and get to eat the real deal.