Barbecue professionals tend to get a little squirrelly when you start sniffing around the subject of pig. Theirs is a competitive business of secret recipes and proprietary techniques, fueled as much by a passion for smoked meats as by hardwoods and heat.
Take John Hussung, for example. The affable pitmaster at Stone House Q goes impishly mum when it comes to the recipes at his new joint in Sylvan Park.
What's in the white sauce, you ask? Some of this, some of that, a hint of mayo, some lemon juice.
How about the dry rub on the ribs? Some spices, maybe some dark sugar.
You don't say!
Then again, the recipes aren't really John's to share. They belong to his mom, Raleigh, who masterminds the menu at the barbecue restaurant founded by her husband, Buck, and Scott Moskovitz.
The Hussungs and the Moskovitzes bring a considerable restaurant résumé to their joint venture, named for the quaint stone cottage it occupies near the corner of Charlotte and 54th Avenue South. Buck is a veteran of the Mrs. Winner's and Wendy's chains, while Scott, along with his wife Cindy, ran the beloved Mosko's newsstand and Muncheonette sandwich counter on Elliston Place for 23 years. Meanwhile, John Hussung is a former general manager of Moe's Southwest Grill.
At Stone House Q, the restaurant veterans have turned their talents to barbecue, hitting the road to Texas to find a formula to call their own. On their tour of the Lone Star state, they found the bright-red diamond-plate smoker that sits behind the counter, churning out roasted chicken, chipotle sausage, caramelized pork ribs and smoked butts. They'll happily tell you it's from Texas, but that's about all they'll tell you. They've even slapped a Stone House Q decal over the manufacturer's logo, to keep from giving away too much info.
But word is spreading quickly about the endearing and low-key barbecue joint that transformed a flood-damaged residence into a clean and cozy eatery that blends into the surrounding residential neighborhood. The stone house may look old, but the interior blends elements of rustic retro and shiny modern, including planks of blond wood, stainless-steel countertops and a red metal tool chest repurposed as a condiment station, as well as colorful Hatch Show Print posters and an original "Q"-themed artwork by Hatch curator Jim Sherraden.
While John Hussung might be tight-lipped when it comes to sharing his mom's kitchen tips, there are plenty of clues on display: Hand-cut fries soak in water on the counter, chickens turn on a spit behind the cash register, and fluffy buns from nearby Charpier's bakery overflow with moist pulled chicken and pork. With such details in the mix, it's easy to see how Stone House Q has earned an early loyal following.
The highlight of our orders was a rack of baby back ribs, dry rubbed and smoked until the rich pink meat shone with a caramel glaze and clung to the bone with perfect resistance.
In the cases of both the pulled chicken and the pulled pork, the meat was moist and tender enough that we didn't need sauce for the texture, but the unadorned meats — which were only faintly tinged with smoke — benefited greatly from the added sweetness and heat of the tomato-based sauce, or, in the case of the chicken, the creamy tang of the white sauce.
One of the more memorable sights behind the counter was a cook lumbering across the room with a thick rope of chipotle-cheese sausage from Murfreesboro. The finished coil emerged from the smoker plump and juicy under a taut casing and was available as a plate with two sides and corn light bread, or as a sandwich.
The hand-patted burger held its own among so much low-and-slow-smoked meat. Served on a sweet brioche-style bun with a tangy tangle of caramelized onions, the burger arrived at the table so hot and juicy that the molten cheddar stretched like a strand of cheese on a slice of piping hot pizza.
Kudos to Stone House Q for elevating the traditional barbecue add-ons. In addition to hand-cut fries, there's Brunswick stew; creamed corn with white and yellow niblets; turnip and mustard greens with a hint of cider vinegar; potato salad made with baked spuds, sour cream and chives; and a smoked stew of navy and red beans strewn heavily with pulled pork.
These are not your standard-issue sides, and you just might be inclined to ask for the recipes. Good luck wrestling them out of John Hussung. He's a cheerful vault when it comes to safeguarding his mom's trade secrets. Then again, you could just ask Raleigh Hussung herself. She wrote down the tricks of her trade long ago and published a cookbook titled Pigs Is Pigs, Folks Is Folks. You can pick up a copy at Stone House Q, on the counter beside the cookies made from Raleigh's family recipe.
Stone House Q serves lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, with live music on Saturday night at 6:30.
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