Whole slab of ribs $18.50
Pulled pork sandwich $3.50
Pork sandwich, side and drink $6.50
Salmon with two sides $8.50
Restaurant critics and figure skating judges both evaluate their subjects based on technical elements, artistic merit and degree of difficulty, but surely restaurant reviewers have it easier. While the ice rink arbiters must value the athleticism of Yevgeny Plushenko's quadruple-triple combinations against the artistry of Evan Lysacek's lyrical choreography — all in terms of the International Judging System's strict Code of Points — food critics can simply ask this question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do I want to eat at that restaurant again?
In the case of B&C BBQ Melrose, it's almost a perfect score. That's not to say the food itself is a perfect 10 — or a perfect 6, for you diehards clinging to the old-school figure-skating grading system. But the combination of food, price, atmosphere and convenience puts B&C's Franklin Road outpost high on the list of cheap and cheerful cuisine, both for dining in and taking out.
In fact, we liked the original B&C Market at the Farmers' Market so much that we jumped the gun, visiting the new location by the Kroger on the Mount just days after its February opening, rather than waiting the standard month before reviewing. But owners Paul Johnson and Ed Smith have been in the business of slow-roasting and catering for long enough (Bacon & Caviar Catering is 5 years old, and B&C at the Farmers' Market is 3) that they made a graceful debut, and by two weeks in, the plastic drapes of the heated patio dining room were already bulging with lunchtime patrons.
Technically speaking, B&C's counter service is a straightforward meat-and-three combination. Just like the flagship store, B&C Melrose hickory-smokes on site the repertoire of pork, brisket, bologna and chicken and prepares from scratch a roster of green beans, baked beans, cornbread, squash casserole, mac-and-cheese, corn pudding and grits.
According to Johnson, the only thing not made from scratch is the buns for the pulled pork and chicken sandwiches. In our experience, sandwiches were not B&C's greatest strength anyway, because the pulled meats suffered the indignities of the steam table worse than other items. While three thick barbecue signature sauces in varying degrees of heat helped compensate for the slightly pasty texture of the pulled meats, a better strategy is to go for the gold with the baby back ribs. Available Friday through Sunday in quarter-, half- and whole racks, the meaty slabs of pork start with a dry rub redolent of mustard, chipotle, paprika, garlic and mustard and textured with coarse black pepper. After sitting overnight in the rub, which is available for sale in the store, the ribs are smoked, then lacquered with a dark tomato-molasses sauce and returned to the smoker. The result is a thin caramelized glaze over dark-pink meat that clings to the bone with just the right resistance.
Rivaling the ribs is the smoked salmon, available on Wednesday and Friday at lunch and every night for dinner. Whole sides of fish are smoked, then portioned and wrapped in aluminum foil packets, which hold in the moisture until serving. An Alabama-style sauce made with mayonnaise, lemon and horseradish adds a subtle zest to the delicate fish and also goes well with the pulled chicken.
While the hot bar of familiar comfort foods doesn't push the envelope in terms of degree of difficulty, B&C's take on traditional Southern staples gets extra points for artistic impression. Most notable is the ever-changing array of specialty grits, ranging from pumpkin to pizza to Buffalo chicken (with pulled meat and tangy heat). One constant on the lunch line is a fluffy mélange of coarse grits stirred with cream cheese and garlic, a rich recipe that complements the delicate salmon particularly well and might inspire you to purchase your own B&C T-shirt emblazoned with "Show us your grits." (A companion tee says, "Ribs for your pleasure." Get it?)
Other riffs on familiar favorites include fluffy squash casserole made with yellow squash, zucchini, cornbread and cheddar; corn pudding riddled with chewy sweet whole kernels; and airy corn muffins so fluffy and sweet that kids have mistaken them for cake.
As for cake, the luscious molten sludge closest to the cash register comes straight from the recipe on the back of the Hershey's cocoa tub, and gets a generous ladling of chocolate gravy just like Smith's mom used to make.
Even on a frigid winter day, the plastic-wrapped patio and the homespun repertoire at B&C offer a warm refuge for lunch and dinner, and with prices starting at $3.50 for a pulled pork sandwich and $4 for three vegetables and a muffin, the appendix at the southernmost end of the Kroger strip mall could become a regular stop-off for grab-it-and-go meals seven days a week. In the coming days, Johnson and Smith expect a visit from the Beer Board. A permit to serve a few cold ones alongside the winning combination of ribs and grits ... that's all B&C needs to stick the landing.
B&C is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
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