Saturday, March 31, 2012

4Rivers Smokehouse-Winter Garden, FL

    I waited a long time to fit in a trip to 4Rivers near Orlando. It was highly recommended by many whose barbecue opinions I respect, from  personal friends to Daniel Vaughn of Full Custom Gospel BBQ, in one of his rare non-Texas posts. After months of hearing rave reviews for their signature Angus Brisket, I finally arranged a visit to the Winter Garden location. This is their second restaurant, which has the same menu, but a little more eating area than the original Winter Park location. It shares a parking lot with a strip mall just a couple miles off the Florida Turnpike. I've heard the line can get long to get in the door, and they are prepared for that with a winding sidewalk and menu boards outside, but at 5:00 PM on a Friday evening we were able to walk right in. Once inside, the sights and smells overwhelm your senses, making it hard to concentrate on the important decisions at hand. The first one you have to make is what to drink:

This is an incredible collection of unique and independent label sodas. I couldn't linger though because the steaming brisket in the next window was calling my name, so I quickly chose a Cheerwine and moved on.

These thick crusted slabs of Angus brisket were obviously a hot seller, as they were constantly being sliced and plated. There was no question this had to be part of my order. With so many choices including chicken, turkey, Texas sausage and more, it was difficult picking a mate for my two meat combo. In the end pulled pork won out, because that's what smoked pig is all about.

Continuing down the cafeteria style line, the final choices of side items are made from the multitude of dishes inside the sparkling glass cases.

My combo came with three. I settled on potato salad, cheese grits, and smoked jalapenos. After paying, you either take one of the few inside tables, or head back out the door to the "side porch" eating area.This room is filled with wood picnic tables and lined with stools. Even though you're outside, the roof overhead and the smart decision of placing this area on the east side of the building keep it from getting overly hot in the afternoon sun. I plopped my plate, which was actually just a butcher paper-lined tray on the table and got ready to dig in.

The brisket was all that and more. Each fresh,tender slice had a subtle smoke that added to the high quality taste of  the meat without overpowering it. The bit of sauce they drizzled over the top wasn't needed, but it made for a great looking presentation.

Contrast that with the pulled pork, which was drowned in sauce- so much so that it had a sickly orange hue. That sauce, by the way, didn't strike me as anything special. There is a regular and a hot version, but really nothing interesting in the way of flavor. The pork did have some tasty bits of bark mixed in, and it may have been well smoked, but I couldn't tell. I can only guess they are trying to keep it moist by mixing in sauce. It was also barely warm, which tells me it had  been sitting out for quite some time.

But then the sides stepped in, bringing the awesomeness back to my meal. Thick and creamy potato salad, grits baked in foil with butter and cheese, and then the jalapenos. Stuffed with cream cheese, wrapped in bacon and then smoked, they were my favorite part of the meal besides the brisket. One order was two peppers, but thankfully they gave me three because they were a little small.

Even without finishing all the pork, I left stuffed and happy. My advice here: try whatever you like, but don't skip the brisket and you won't leave disappointed.


4Rivers Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

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