In 2012, Ronnie Evans and Philip Moseley realized a barbecue renaissance was underway in New Orleans. They started a barbecue pop-up in the Uptown sports bar Grits and quickly moved on to the kitchen at the Mid-City music hub Chickie Wah Wah. In April, the duo graduated to even bigger digs, taking over the old Fellini's Cafe space on North Carrollton Avenue. Their Blue Oak BBQ is building a solid following and serves some of the best barbecue in the city.
Though there are fun daily specials and whimsical appetizers, including the large plate of barbecue nachos and crispy, pulled pork-stuffed egg rolls, it's the standard menu that shows off the duo's low-and-slow barbecue prowess. Instead of settling on any one method, the menu is an amalgamation of barbecue techniques borrowed from various regional styles using a mix of pecan and white oak to smoke meats.
There are St. Louis spare ribs, with meat so tender it practically slips from the bone, and soft and slightly sweet pulled pork, reminiscent of versions smoked in the Carolinas or Alabama. Central Texas serves as the inspiration for charred slabs of subtly rich beef brisket, which carry the requisite fatty bits, burnt edges and a dusty pink smoke ring.
If there's one dish that seems destined to be the restaurant's calling card, it's the excellent smoked chicken, which comes packed in a spice rub that blackens inside the smoker. A second step sends the chicken to the fryer, giving the bird extra crispy skin and impossibly juicy meat.
Spicy sausage links arrive taut and shiny with a nice snap that gives way to crimson pork flecked with green onions. Smoked sausages can dry out quickly, but the ones here avoid the pitfall, packing heat and flavor with each bite.
Sauces are original creations, much lighter than the standard molasses or ketchup-tinged varieties. The house version carries subtle heat with a light touch of acid and sweetness. The spicy Carolina version is a classic vinegar-based sauce, a fiery elixir speckled with red pepper flakes that is well-suited for the pulled pork, boasting a powerful acidic jolt that wakes up the rich meat. I wasn't crazy about the jerk sauce, which tasted strongly of allspice without any of the kick typically associated with the Caribbean spice blend.
Skilled craftsmanship with the smoker is just one part of the equation for any successful barbecue joint. Equal care should be bestowed upon the sides, and Blue Oak's addictively crispy Brussels sprouts and creamy barbecue baked beans don't disappoint. A casual, no-frills setting also is a must. Blue Oak BBQ knocks it out of the park with all three, but it's the welcoming indoor-outdoor setting that won me over right away. There's the intoxicating fragrance of smoked meat and burning pecan wood wafting through the neighborhood, and on most nights, the restaurant fills quickly.
The shaded patio serves as a Mid-City oasis, with families gathered around picnic tables while cheers from sports fans at the neighboring Parkview Tavern punctuate the chatter. It serves as a reminder that good food needn't be accompanied by fuss or fancy tableware, and it's often just as satisfying to eat with your hands, with barbecue sauce running down your chin, surrounded by neighbors and friends.