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Just Desserts: Bartolotta Does Barbecue
Can the resto group do for barbecue what it did for supper clubs?


What remained of a double helping of chicken.

The Bartolotta restaurant group’s attempt at capturing the musky spirit of a Kansas City (or North Carolina or Texas) in sunny Greendale, Wis. – Miss Beverly’s Deluxe Barbeque Est. 2014 – opens officially on Friday, but the midscale BBQ joint permitted a quick perusal by local media and other invitees on Wednesday. As with the Joey Girard’s locations, Bartolotta is endeavoring to bring up-market flair to a down-market genre, so we gave Senior Editor and Dining Critic Ann Christenson the night off and charged our two associate editors, Claire Hanan and Matt Hrodey, with investigating.



CH:
Please describe the scene on Broad Street in Greendale at 5:30 p.m. on the eve of July 9.

MH:
I remember arriving at about 5:25 p.m., and it was sunny out. The signage for the restaurant was prominently displayed. I remember this clearly because we were later asked to rate it.

CH:
Birds were chirping. We admired the quaint surroundings of the Greenbelt town better known as Greendale.

MH:
There were also many trees, and a statue of a man painting. I wondered if he was painting the future or the past. The “downtown” district was in what I would otherwise consider a secluded residential area. All in all, a surreal location for eating barbecue.

CH:
It was very Pleasantville.

MH:
So what did you think of the entrance-way? I rated it a 5 out of 5 on my evaluation form. I suppose we should explain that this was a test run for Miss Beverly.

CH:
I gave the entryway a 5 on my scorecard (correlates to: Great!) because it was so pleasant that I hardly remembered it, like a fleeting nap-time dream. We were given scorecards in exchange for a free media dinner, which probably served as a test-run for the restaurant’s staff.

MH:
How about the lighting? You noticed that there were some old-fashioned light bulbs, otherwise it wasn’t so moody that you would have trouble tying your shoes. I rated 4 out of 5.

CH:
I admired the lighting. Large, retro but totally en vogue pendant lamps with Edison bulbs illuminated the room, which was painted a chalkboard-like blackish gray. Kitschy music posters grouped in clusters covered the walls. I was staring past you at them for much of our meal. Let’s get to the meat of this. What did you order to eat?

MH:
Let me just say that I noticed a Leadbelly poster and felt it was a conscious attempt at sophistication. For food, I ordered the two-meat combo ($18.95), but with two helpings of chicken, cornbread and corn pudding. I bring no prior experience as a dining critic to this job.

CH:
Like you, I have no experience with food reviewing, except for a love of meat. I ordered the brisket sandwich with a side of mac ‘n’ cheese ($12.95). It came with a delicious little cup of coleslaw and a square of cornbread. I remember asking you what the corn pudding looked like, but you had already eaten it like a famished Labrador retriever.

MH:
For me, it was the highlight, moist yet substantial. I thought the coleslaw was trying a bit too hard. It was more like a condiment than a slaw.

CH:
I liked the coleslaw because it was thoroughly savory – but not overly salty – instead of being tangy. I hate that tangy slaw. Did you like your two servings of chicken?

MH:
They were quite moist. The skin could have been more crisp. As a dedicated baker and consumer of dark-meat chicken, I have high standards, and I generally associate barbecued chicken with barbecued grilled chicken, which is a whole other species. How was the brisket?

CH:
The brisket, the five or so pieces of which lay cuddled by a piece of white bread, was similarly moist. It was lightly covered with some sauce, but I’m not sure what kind. It didn’t taste like any of the four sauces we taste-tested with our fingers. (Each table has four varieties, ranging from light and peppery to thick and sweet.) My one complaint with the brisket was the fat. It had tons of gelatinous fat.

MH:
You gave an estimate of about 40 percent fat.

CH:
It had hella fat.

MH:
Our proper dining critic is already questioning why we didn’t order ribs.

CH:
This is why we don’t have her job.

MH:
I’ll just say that I think the strength of a menu is in its margins.

CH:
My mac ‘n’ cheese was excellent. I would have licked the bowl, but while the decor is supposed to be down-homey, I wasn’t about to in a Bartolotta restaurant.

MH:
I wouldn’t have complained. I would have looked at the music posters behind you. Portion-wise, how did you feel?

CH:
Very full. I didn’t eat the bread on my brisket “sandwich” (I personally don’t consider open-face sandwiches real sandwiches) as I wanted to reserve as much stomach real estate as possible for the meat and mac.

MH:
The single slice of white bread was both an affectation and sort of delicious-looking.

CH:
It looked like it was missing its mate.

MH:
I suppose. But this is barbecue joint paraphernalia, the sauce-mopper.

CH:
I prefer to call it a Meat Distraction. What did you pour down your gullet, to wash all of this down?

MH:
Tea, all tea.

CH:
Sweet tea or, as they call it, Yankee tea?

MH:
Yankee tea ($2.49), to my mother’s horror. I’m the son of a Georgia girl, you know. Sauce-wise, Miss Beverly’s was well above average for Milwaukee, but we’re not a town known for BBQ.

CH:
Agreed. My biggest lament was the beer selection.

MH: You had composed a western ballad to that effect by the time we left. As for the sauce, it was mostly Kansas City style, extra sweet.

CH:
Interestingly, on the menu they note that a full bar is available next door at Joey Gerard’s.

MH:
I’m surprised they want the hoi polloi from the barbecue joint wandering over there.

CH:
It’s like they’ve already braced themselves for the beer- and Old Fashioned-lovers among us.

MH:
I saw some people wearing shorts. I’m going to provide a recipe for savory barbecue sauce: buncha rice vinegar, buncha molasses, some white sugar, tomato paste, black pepper, salt, chili powder. Mix vigorously.

CH:
We go to one restaurant, and you think you’re an expert chef, eh?

MH:
You can throw in a bit of tomato sauce and boil in some corn starch for better consistency. And I consider myself an expert in the preparation of pork, yes. Yes I do. The wait staff was solid; we can dispense with that, can’t we?

CH:
They were attentive and chipper.

MH:
Is this a place you would return to, even without my incandescent companionship?

CH:
I would return, and I would order the mac n’ cheese and the ribs; and I wouldn’t wear nothin’ fancy because I’d know that I’d become one saucy, stomach-happy mess. Would you go back?

MH:
It’s priced beyond something I’d consider in a regular rotation, and since you’re talking put-the-little-number-on-your-table service, it doesn’t meet my qualifications for fine dining, not that I actually have those. But I might apply for a part time job.

CH:
Close enough, I guess.





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