Life in the Slow Lane 

Tasty slow-cooked barbecue comes with slow service at SugarHouse Barbeque Co.

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I just can’t stop listening to Loretta Lynn’s new CD Van Lear Rose. It’s been playing almost continually in my office since I bought it a week or so ago. Yes, I mean that Loretta Lynn.


For some reason, hearing Loretta Lynn sing makes me long for comfort food—specifically, barbecue. Not that Lynn’s home state of Kentucky is known for barbecue. But her wonderful voice just makes you want to slather some sticky BBQ sauce all over something and put it in your mouth.


Coincidentally, a reader named Lynne recently e-mailed me to ask about where to get good BBQ in Salt Lake City. My response, as always when someone asks me about ’cue, was to send her to Q4U, that barbecue haven in West Valley. But then I thought maybe I was giving SugarHouse Barbeque Co. short shrift. I’ve always thought they did a respectable job at SugarHouse Barbeque, yet I’d stopped eating there years ago after one too many incidents of surly service. But the SugarHouse Barbeque location on 700 East recently underwent a major expansion and renovation, so I decided to check the place out and at the same time, satisfy the longing for barbecue that Loretta Lynn had conjured up in me.


Good barbecue—like some other good things in life—can’t be hurried. It’s a sloooooow process. I’m not talking about grilling, or backyard barbecues. I’m talking about the art of cooking meats and poultry (and sometimes even seafood) over low, slow heat. A lot of barbecue aficionados wouldn’t even think of eating barbecued ribs or brisket that hadn’t cooked for at least 24 hours. It’s for slow-cooked barbecue that people go to places like Q4U and The SugarHouse Barbeque Co.


After its makeover, SugarHouse Barbeque looks great. There’s the original dining area in the back with about 10 tables and the stone wall engraved with “Redbones,” the original name of SugarHouse Barbeque Co. But now the restaurant has been extended toward 700 East, with a new dining room of about 14 more tables and a small bar that helps to break up the large space. Dim lighting and lots of stone tile give the restaurant more of an upscale feel than you’d expect from what is essentially a fast-food eatery. I also like the whimsical pig photos on the wall: pigs swimming, pigs flying, etc. There’s more seating on the patio out back, which has now been fenced in so it doesn’t feel like you’re eating in the parking lot when you dine al fresco at SugarHouse Barbeque. Yup, the place looks great.


And the barbecue is good. Pit master Bill Smithers cooks up pretty much everything you’d expect: Memphis-style pork ribs, beef brisket, barbecued chicken, pulled pork, dry-rubbed baby back ribs and smoked turkey breast, to name a few typical menu items. Side dishes are pretty predictable too: mashed potatoes and gravy, cornbread stuffing, barbequed beans, potato salad and the like.


But there are a few nontraditional items on the SugarHouse Barbeque menu as well. There’s the boneless jerked Jamaican-style chicken sandwich ($5.99), for instance, which is shredded and served on a hamburger bun with homemade sweet and spicy jerk sauce. And then there’s a very good Creole jambalaya ($7.99), made even better when you douse it with SugarHouse Barbeque’s cayenne hot sauce.


The last time I visited SugarHouse Barbeque Co., the Carolina pulled pork was a tad dry, but that was quickly remedied by smothering it with my favorite SugarHouse Barbeque sauce (they’re all homemade), a delicious slightly-sweet mustard and vinegar sauce that could make the Styrofoam containers at SugarHouse Barbeque taste great. Each table at the restaurant is equipped with a selection of four BBQ sauces. The darkest one—in the plastic squeeze bottle—is a sweet brown-sugar type sauce that goes nicely with tender beef brisket or Memphis ribs. There’s also a brick-colored vinegar-based sauce that Southerners call “pig sauce”; it goes great with baby back ribs. Then there’s the yummy mustard sauce and one other—a bright orange-red cayenne hot sauce that’s threatening to become my favorite. It’s really good on the Dixie chicken ($5.99) or the turkey-breast sandwich ($5.49).


Sounds good, right? Well, here’s the rub: The last time I had lunch at SugarHouse Barbeque, it took 37 minutes from the time I walked into the place until I had food in front of me. Ten minutes were spent in line, waiting to place an order, much of which was occupied with watching the sole cashier talk on the phone. By the time she finished her conversation, there were 17 customers waiting in line. The situation wasn’t much different at lunchtime the day before. It’s maddening that SugarHouse Barbeque only staffs one cashier/order taker, even during its very busy lunch periods. While they were renovating, the owners might have considered putting in a second cash register.


But that still doesn’t explain why it took another 27 minutes after I placed my order to finally get it. Thinking amid the lunch chaos that perhaps my order had been misplaced, I inquired about it only to get the terse response, “We’re extremely busy!” This was a reminder of why I’d stopped patronizing SugarHouse Barbeque Co. in the first place. “Thank yous” and smiles are few and far between.


So I suppose the question that has to be asked is, “Is the food at SugarHouse Barbeque Co. worth the wait?” Unfortunately, that’s not a question I can answer, since only you know what your time is worth. As for me, I’ve eaten my last meal at SugarHouse Barbeque Co. I’ll be heading west from now on for my BBQ.

SUGARHOUSE, BARBEQUE CO. , 2207 S. 700 East, 463-4800, Lunch and dinner daily

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