Sunday, June 17, 2018
After a couple more visits, I'm glad to be able to update and upgrade my review. I still haven't tried everything on the extensive menu, but the pork, brisket and ribs have all made a good impression on me. I wouldn't say any of them are exceptional, and on the last visit the flavor of the pork was down slightly, but I would rate all three above any average chain restaurant. Sides are more than just an afterthought. We enjoyed delicious collard greens, hot fries and more of their creamy style potato salad. I'm not the biggest fan of their sauces but that might just be me.
Service has improved greatly. My latest meal was with a group of eight for Father's Day lunch. We arrived a bit after the lunch rush, but the restaurant was still over half full. All of our food arrived within five minutes of ordering and taking our seats. They were fully staffed with friendly, efficient employees who made our meal a pleasant experience.
(Original review continues below, posted 1/21/18)
I usually like to give new places at least a few weeks to get up and running before I visit, but since this one is 5 minutes from the house, I figured I would brave the crowds and the opening weekend excitement. This is sort of a preliminary review- I'm sure I will update it as I make future visits and try more of the menu.
Orders are placed at the counter, where if you are dining in they give you a number to place on your table. As all the tables were full, I took a seat at the small bar where I got a good view of the bustling serving line. They were slammed for the second day in a row, and close to running out of meat again as they did the day before.
The pork was right on- hot, smoky and barky. Although it was a decent sized portion, it looked small on the metal tray they serve their food on and almost made you wonder if it was actually a $15 lunch, which is what it came to with a drink. The pork redeemed itself though, and I especially liked their full-flavored original sauce with it. The hot sauce was pretty good too, but I felt like the mustard sauce, which is usually my favorite with pork, was an afterthought that needed more flavor than just mustard.
My sides were just average. No complaints on the potato salad, but it didn't stand out either. The beans seemed straight out of a can with maybe a couple specks of meat sprinkled in. The tea was average as well.
Service was friendly, if slow, which is understandable with how busy they were. I waited over 30 minutes for my food, but it was fine on a Saturday afternoon and didn't bother me. To be constructively critical, my opinion is they are trying to offer too many choices. Besides all the typical meats and more, they also offer pizza, catfish and other non-barbecue items, as well as a long list of sides. This leads to extended prep time in getting food out. It might have been better to start with a smaller menu and add items as they have the chance. I would hate to see their good barbecue get lost in the clutter of everything else, which happens a lot.
Time will tell- I can only hope a barbecue joint this close to home will stay in business and stay consistent. I will be back to try more items and update my review- hopefully upward.
FOOD RATING: 3.5 OF 5
OVERALL RATING: 4 OF 5
Memphis Jax BBQ- Ponte Vedra, FL
Saturday, March 10, 2018
When I first saw some of my friends raving about Woodpecker's online, I thought I had been there before. When I was finally in the area again, I drove by and realized I was thinking of a different place. Since I wasn't often in this area of no man's land between south Jacksonville and St. Augustine, I figured I better take advantage of this time and make a stop. I pulled in the almost full dirt parking lot a little after noon on a Friday. The place was packed, and I was under a bit of a time constraint, so I opted for getting my lunch to go.
Woodpecker's sits diagonally at the intersection of SR 13 and CR 210. Here, the main entrance is in back, and the to-go counter is in front facing the road. There is a large, rambling dirt parking area among the shade trees out back, as well as several picnic tables for eating outside when the weather is nice or when the the inside is packed, which happens often.
This time, I went for the standard pork plate with two sides. The pork was some of the most moist and flavorful I've had, and the sides didn't disappoint either. Many of them incorporate datil peppers, a flavor unique to the St. Augustine area. I tried the datil beans and datil corn. In both the sweet heat of the peppers gave a delicious kick to the taste buds. I was hooked.
Since that first trip, I've returned several times, made possible by our move to Ponte Vedra last year. Woodpecker's has become a solid favorite of mine, forming the western point of a triangulation of top-notch joints within 45 minutes of home. They are complemented by Down South BBQ in Ponte Vedra Beach, and Smokin' D's near Crescent Beach. I don't know of a place within the triangle that serves better 'que than any of the three.
FOOD RATING: 4.5 OF 5
OVERALL RATING: 4.5 OF 5
EXTRA POINTS FOR: LOCAL FLAVOR
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Several people recommended the Pedalin' Pig to us, and on a rainy Christmas Eve lunchtime without much else to do, we found ourselves in the parking lot just off Highway 105. We braved a few seconds of chilly drizzle then entered the warm interior. It featured the typical wood and antique sign decor, with a bit of local feel provided by hiking maps and even a large mountain landscape mural hanging on the walls.
Our party of 9 was promptly seated and given menus to study, along with a plate of hush puppies (which were forgettable). The menu included the standard Carolina barbecue fare, but also some less common items such as thick sliced brisket and pork belly tacos. The waitress told us that their sweet tea and most of the sides were homemade. Becky and I chose to split the 3-meat sampler which comes with pulled pork, baby back ribs and brisket. (Side note: we got the sampler for 1; they also have a 3 meat sampler for two, but as you can see the 1 person sampler comes with a ton of food. We weren't especially hungry, but even between the two of us we didn't quite finish it.)
Our sides were potato salad and fried okra, along with an additional side of mac and cheese for the little guy. Portions of everything were mountain man-sized. The sides were respectable, and the tea perfectly cold and sweet, but the meats were a bit of a let down. The pulled, or more like coarsely chopped, pork was by far the best of the three. It had enough bits of bark to give it good flavor, and the "Piedmont" sauce provided on the table did it justice. The baby back ribs were tender enough, but lacking smoke flavor. Same story with the brisket; it could just as well have been slow roasted in an oven. It wasn't tough at all, which is a plus, but it did include substantial chunks of fat. It would have been interesting to try a couple of the other 5-6 sauces listed on their menu, but none were offered and our waitress didn't return in time for a request to be made.
It was a pleasant spot for a vacation lunch. I appreciate the effort put into the homemade sides, but they need to up the smoking game a bit to be ranked as good all around barbecue.
FOOD RATING: 3 OF 5
OVERALL RATING: 3.5 OF 5