Friday, November 22, 2013
The 4Rivers location in Gainesville has been open for several months now, so I decided it was time to stop in. Returning by air from the barbecue-scarce Northeast, I passed up the temptation to sample airport barbecue during a layover in Charlotte for the opportunity to share a meal at 4Rivers with my wife and kids. Less than 30 minutes after touching down in Gainesville, we were standing in a medium-long line at this Florida chain's newest location.
The inside eating area is more spacious than the other branches I have been to. Though there are a few outside tables, this location lacks the large outdoor eating area that the others have. It sits on the end of a strip mall, surrounded by parking spaces and sidewalks. The crowd on a Thurday night was noticeably younger and louder, as could be expected in a college town, but the line moved smoothly and orderly.
As at the others, you order your meats first. While they are being sliced and packaged, you pick your side items from the display case in front of you. With the whole family along, I added a half slab of ribs and a half pound of pulled chicken to the requisite pound of brisket we ordered. The boys wanted fries and mac and cheese as sides. We got these but also ordered sweet potato casserole and an order of bacon-wrapped jalapenos.
Brisket is the main attraction here, and they do it well. It's perfectly smoky and well seasoned, and though we didn't specify, ours had a good balance of lean and fatty slices. Those who complain that the brisket is too fatty or too dry probably don't know that you have to order it how you want it; each brisket has a fatty and lean end, and if you don't specify, you just get whatever they slice. A legitimate concern, I think, is the temperature. By the time I made it past the cashier and to our table, the brisket was cold. I've noticed this during visits to their other locations, but it seemed worse here. This was a minor issue though and quickly forgotten.
The ribs were good too. They were meaty with a good combination of smoky and sweet flavors. I would consider them slightly overcooked though, with a bit too soft of a texture. I don't actually like when they "fall off the bone"- great ribs take a few teeth to chew. Pulled chicken is not something I normally would order, but our 2 year old liked it, and it was actually pretty good. It came doused with sauce, but that was ok. The sauce goes better on chicken than it does on their pulled pork.
The smoked jalapenos were epic as usual and they disappeared first. The rest of the sides were good too, but nothing stood out like the peppers.
Overall, 4Rivers has taken over the top spot for barbecue in Gainesville in my opinion. Their brisket is definitely the best in town-maybe even the state. I would still go to Adam's Rib Company when I'm looking for ribs, and Adam's or David's for pulled pork. But if you're going with a group and want to make everyone happy, or if you're even considering eating brisket, this is the place to be.
FOOD RATING: 4 OF 5
OVERALL RATING: 4 OF 5
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
I eagerly anticipated the opening of 4Rivers fourth location in Jacksonville, but it turned out I didn't make it there until about a month after they had opened. I had had a great experience at their Winter Garden location, so I was cautiously optimistic for more of the same here. The exterior was very similar, from the unique signage to the large outdoor eating area.
Stepping inside, I encountered a lunchtime line of 25-30 people. It moved quickly though, and gave me just enough time to get some shots of the interior. This location features a larger indoor dining area than I remember at the other location, with a combination of small four-tops and a few long communal tables on wheels.
They had a similar collection of unique sodas. I chose an Earp's Original Sarsaparilla, aptly described as "rich velvety sarsaparilla flavor with a touch of smoke".
Soon after, I was at the counter. In a rare departure from my usual modus operandi, I didn't order pork on my first visit here. Angus brisket is 4Rivers signature offering. It was by far my favorite of their meats I had tried before, so I wanted to do a fair comparison. At least there was bacon wrapped around the smoked jalapenos I got as a side, so pork was not completely left out. Potato salad and barbecue beans rounded out my meal.
The brisket was every bit as good as before, flavor wise...in fact the slightly thicker rub and absence of sauce drizzled on top improved it in my opinion. It was perfectly moist, smoky and excellently seasoned.
My only complaint was that by the time it was sliced, plated and paid for, some of it had become rather cold. I used some of these pieces to sample the sauces. The sauces complemented the meat well, but were not overly impressive. There was not much difference between the regular and hot sauce either.
The smoked jalapenos were fantastic. I don't foresee my being able to eat here in the future without ordering at least a couple of them. The potato salad was just average, but the beans were thick and flavorful.
I was glad to see that so far 4Rivers has been able to keep impressing, even with their quick expansion. Like before though, I recommend if you eat here, you must try the brisket. I will definitely be back and try the rest of the menu. This rating largely reflects the brisket, and may change after trying more items- but hopefully not!
FOOD RATING: 4.5 OF 5
OVERALL RATING: 4 OF 5
Sunday, June 02, 2013
The exits along I-95 in south Georgia are pretty hit or miss, food-wise. Either there's nothing there except a Dairy Queen that somehow survived from the dinosaur age, or else you are greeted by a forest of signage for practically every fast food, gas and hotel brand under the sun.
I had planned to stop mainly for gas at Exit 3 in Kingsland, but something jogged a distant memory of wood-cooked barbecue in the area, and led me to do a quick Google search, which pulled up Malson's. It would have been easy to miss among the towering signposts and cookie-cutter convenience stores if the aroma of oak smoke hadn't blanketed the interchange as I slowed at the bottom of the exit ramp. I traced the smell to a shack the size of a backyard shed, next to the Exxon station. Red painted, life sized letters spelled out B-B-Q on the roof.
Orders are placed at the window. The only place to eat on site is a few dilapidated picnic tables to the side of the parking lot. Immediately to the left are the two giant smokers and the stacks of oak that fuel them.
A pleasant young lady took my order for a pork plate with potato salad and baked beans. In a few minutes I had a heavy black Styrofoam container in my hand and was headed for the road. I popped it open to find a massive pile of pulled pork with lots of chunks of black edges.
As I picked up and ate chunks of the deliciously smoky meat, I found the source of the extra weight-rice. Rice? Yes, at least a pound of your ordinary, cooked white rice. I have to admit I've never seen barbeque served this way before. There was plenty of pork even without any filler, so I ended up leaving most of the rice. It would have worked well to tame some of the extra smoky outer bits of meat for someone who prefers less smoke. Eaten that way, this would have easily been a meal for two. The sauce was excellent as well. Though there wasn't much need for it, I did dip a few of the inside pieces of meat along with a little rice in it and found it to be a good combination. The beans were on par, and the potato salad a little more creamy than usual, but good nonetheless.
This place is definitely worth stopping at if you are headed north or south on I-95. Just get off at exit 3 and follow your nose.
FOOD RATING: 4 OF 5
OVERALL RATING: 4 OF 5