Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hickory Park Letdown

Last week I was in Ames, Iowa for the big political event of the season, but the politics was almost upstaged by the barbeque. It was on everyone's mind, and on their plates.

One of the candidates had a "Famous Dave's" tent, and nearly everyone else had some kind of smoked pig, brisket, or bbq chicken on their menu. But when I'm traveling and looking for bbq, I'm usually on the hunt for a local establishment so I can order the "house special".

The other few times I was in Iowa, there wasn't enough time to enjoy the local specialties, so now I was asking around to see what the top joints were. One place kept popping up: Hickory Park.

The first time I tried to eat here, it was dinnertime and the line was out the door. The parking lot smelled pretty good, so I wasn't surprised a bit.

The wait was 20 minutes and since I was on my lunch break, at everyone else's dinner time, I decided that I'd come back tomorrow for a proper lunch.

The next day there wasn't a line and my compatriots and I were able to sit down at a table right away. We were brought menus and iced teas, and our waiter seemed knowledgeable and helpful.

Hickory Park looks kind of like a cross between a German beer hall and a typical BBQ joint. As I walked inside, I happened to eyeball a few customers wearing lederhosen.

"What do Germans know about BBQ?" I thought. Not much, as it turns out.

I immediately asked for the "house special" and our waiter pointed to a highlighted part of the menu, to an item called the Saucy Southerner. Touted as "Hickory Park’s version of a pulled pork sandwich - The perfect combination of chopped hickory, smoked pork, beef and turkey simmered in barbecue sauce"... how could I go wrong? I ordered it with a side of green beans and mashed potatoes.

While we waited for our order, I excused myself from the table and made my way to the wait-station to inform our man that it was my table-mate's birthday, and that despite what he might say at the time, he really did want an ice-cream sundae with a birthday candle.

Soon our food came, and just in time - I was getting hungry. We had a pretty good selection at the table. Between my Saucy Southerner, a bbq chicken dinner, and a plate of smoked beef, pork and turkey, I figured we had all of the bbq food groups covered.

Now before I tell you about the worst bbq experience in my amateur bbq career, let me take a minute to say that Hickory Park has the best bbq green beans I've ever eaten.


The green beans were fresh and flavorful. They were cooked perfectly - not too mushy, but not crunchy and under-cooked. The seasoning was light and complimentary, not heavy and overpowering. Overall the green beans were excellent, and if I lived in Ames I'd get my bbq somewhere else, and make a trip across town just to complete the order with some of Hickory Park's green beans.

The sandwich roll looked fresh, and it was. Fresh, but tasteless. I took a bite of it naked, before putting any sauce on it. That's when I was glad I hadn't eaten all of the green beans right away.

Have you ever seen those 1986 diesel Volvo's, where the back bumper is blackened from diesel soot and burning oil? I'm sure you can imagine the odor of riding behind one of those old Volvo's in a traffic jam.

If you were to lick the rear bumper of that Volvo, you'd know what my Saucy Southerner tasted like.

The mashed potatoes weren't much better. I should say, the mashed potatoes could have been amazing, but since they were covered in a gravy that tasted like the inside of an over-heating vacuum cleaner, I wasn't able to tell.

It was so bad I started laughing, and I had to get my table-mates to try some.

Obviously "this is the worst bbq I've ever eaten... no seriously, you gotta try some of this!" isn't the best selling point.

At this point I reached for the sauce and started to get liberal. No matter how much I put on, I couldn't shake the Volvo bumper flavoring.

Needless to say I wasn't able to even choke down half of it, so as soon as the waiter came around asking about dessert, I was more than ready.

When he came back with the rest of his crew, 2 ice cream sundaes and a song, we had a few laughs and tried to forget about the whole horrible bbq experience.

RATING: I wouldn't insult my grill by using the t-shirt to clean it off

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