When the sun set on the ninth annual edition of Hogs for the Cause on Saturday, April 1st, Ronnie Evans, Philip Moseley and their merry band of teammates—all clad in their signature baby blue Hogwaiian shirts—stood victoriously on the stage and showered themselves with champagne in celebration of being named Grand Champion. The award was an exclamation point on a banner year for the proprietors of Blue Oak BBQ, which has emerged from the relative obscurity of the kitchen in Chickie Wah Wah to be a leader in what has become a deep and competitive roster of local barbecue restaurants. But behind the glitz, the glamour and the groupies is a team of pitmasters who simply love the smell of smoked meats in the morning.
While treading lightly so as not to undermine their accomplishment in the pork-centric Hogs for the Cause competition, I dare say that the noble pig is not the pièce de résistance in Blue Oak’s repertoire. That title instead belongs to the brisket, whose salty, fatty black pepper crust gives way to meltingly tender beef. Or maybe the honor goes to the ever-so-saucy smoked and flash-fried chicken wings, which may cause Blue Oak to hoist another trophy if a poultry category is ever added to the official/unofficial judging criteria. Those two viable candidates aside, my mind still keeps wandering back to the nachos, a shameless but expertly constructed conglomerate of pulled pork, queso, pico de gallo and diced pickled jalapeños atop rafts of crispy tortilla chips.
But don’t dismiss the simplicity of a rack of St. Louis–style spare ribs with their caramelized exterior and toothsome bite. Spicy green-onion sausage matches well with either chopped brisket or pulled pork in the Doobin Lubin sandwich, topped by slaw on a Weiss Guys Bakery sesame seed bun. Speaking of slaw, while most customers opt for the roasted garlic mac ‘n’ cheese or the brussels sprouts (both of which are worth ordering), instead adhere to tradition with the ginger cole slaw flaked with sesame seeds (which is anything but traditional) and the baked beans, which are more meaty than sweet.
Located in the former location of Fellini’s at the foot of Carrollton Avenue near City Park, Blue Oak is a prime destination for pre- and post-festing. Place your food order at the counter and then head over to the bar for a pint of a dozen or so local and regional craft brews on tap, or an Old Fashioned made with one of the 40-plus whiskies on offer. Grab a seat inside or at a table underneath an umbrella on the patio, wait for your order to be delivered, and savor the smoky flavors of success.