Something about the cuisine known as barbecue, which encompasses a whole range of picnic-type comestibles augmenting the saucy smoked meats implied by the name, demands that its purveyors indulge in a certain level of ostentation. Images of pigs as both mascot and metaphor, sprawling, nostalgia-imbued dining rooms, big food trucks emblazoned with flames, hyperbolic assertions and, above all, button-popping portions—all are intrinsic parts of competing in the barbecue market.
At least that's what I thought until I met up with Fired Up Southern BBQ, a more modest but not less worthy entrant in the local smoked-meats-and-accoutrements sweepstakes. Unlike operations such as Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus and Smokehouse BBQ, which seem to have earned a prominent public profile—though the latter unfortunately gained some profile by having their 124 Street outlet catch fire shortly after it opened last year—I only noticed Fired Up as I was on my way to the Union Hall for a show. I had been aware that a procession of luckless food ventures had transpired in their current location on the corner of Argyll Road and 99 Street, which actually shares a wall with a deathless McDonald's franchise, but the advent of a new barbecue place was news to me. Getting in there took a bit of planning—Fired Up only keeps lunchtime hours (11 am – 3 pm) on Monday and Saturday, and is open until 7 pm Tuesday to Friday—but I finally found my chance on a gloomy Saturday afternoon.
If the dining room is a little nondescript, the warm blast of barbecue aroma and '70s funk on the house sound system that meets you at the door is entirely welcoming. You can see most of the menu laid out behind the glass service counter, where quarter and half chickens, huge slabs of ribs and a bewildering assortment of appropriate sides are presented to assure you that you won't be leaving hungry. Ostensibly the choice is simple: you can have most of the smoked meats in sandwich form ($7 – 9) or as a platter, with three sides of your choosing ($11 – 20). Ever value-conscious, my co-diner and I decided on platters, which the friendly and helpful young woman behind the counter assembled in mere moments.
Co-diner had the pulled-pork sandwich platter ($11) with Spanish rice, corn salad and baked beans. A large roll stuffed with shaggy shreds of smoked pork swimming in rich, tangy barbecue sauce dominated the plate and seemed to dare him to try to pick it up. He quipped that the place was obviously BYOB—bring your own bib. He went at his sandwich with a knife and fork, but was defeated half-way through and took the remainder to go. The fact that he polished off all three sides bespoke his satisfaction with their quality.
I ordered the half-rack of pork ribs ($15) with coleslaw, barbecue beans and a pickle—for the record, I also had my choice of cornbread, mac and cheese, pasta salad, green salad, potato salad, white rice, veggie sticks, fruit, potatoes or potato chips, if I had preferred. I also ordered the house-made iced tea, unaware that $2 entitled me to a small bucket of it.
At first I worried I was going to end up wearing a substantial amount of my entrée as I tried to separate the meat from its bones. It turns out, I didn't even need a knife. The ribs were so perfectly cooked, so lubriciously tender, that the bones slipped obligingly out with the merest tug, leaving plenty of smoky meat that could be cut with a fork and a liberal shellacking of rich, tangy barbecue sauce.
My experience of BBQ isn't profound, but I've had enough to suspect that some joints ply you with a ridiculous quantity and array of food to distract you from the fact that no single item is particularly outstanding. Already fully satisfied by the ribs, I was happy to discover the sides were ideal complements to the saucy meat, from the full-flavoured baked beans to the crunchy, lightly dressed and entirely healthy-seeming fresh-cut coleslaw to the absurdly large and crunchy kosher dill pickle I had only ordered as an afterthought. Even the iced tea was just how I like it: brewed with real tea and barely sweetened. And though the portions of everything were generous, especially given the price, I finished it off without instantly being overcome by the urge to go lie down somewhere.
As we were fixing to leave, I heard the counterperson telling another customer how the owner of Fired Up is not an itinerant chef from the deep south, but just a guy who really loves cooking and was encouraged by family and friends to share his talents, thus bringing my inklings about this particular place's relative modesty full circle. Is it the best barbecue in town? I'm modest enough to admit I have no idea. I do know what I like, however, and I'd go back to Fired Up in a sluggish, barbecue-thickened heartbeat.
Fired Up Southern BBQ
6224 – 99 St