Friday, May 17, 2013

How Not To Operate a BBQ Restaurant in Gainesville, FL

From time to time, I visit a new place intending to write a review, but with it sometimes taking me a while to get to it, they up and shut down before I get a chance. Such was the case with two establishments I visited last year: Smokehouse and Grumpy's Rib House, both in Gainesville,FL. In the interest of exploring what went wrong for them, I decided to write a brief post-closing review of both.


Three words came to mind as I parked down the street in downtown Gainesville and walked back to Smokehouse for a workday lunch, and they were all "location". Not to say that there isn't good urban barbecue being made in some parts, but somehow I don't think you will ever find many North Florida meat eaters willing to plunk quarters in a parking meter in order to find a pork sandwich. Perhaps that is why I was one of only two customers in the large, dark dining area.

They billed their food as gourmet barbecue, which I guess it was if gourmet means fancy square plates and cloth napkins. I ordered a pork sandwich anyway, with garlic corn as the side. I waited. The other party finished and left, leaving me alone and still waiting. Finally my lunch appeared, and well, I have to say they made a respectable attempt at real barbecue. The pork had been smoked well and had nice flavor, as did the corn. But the quiet, dark atmosphere ruined it. What might have otherwise been a respectable lunch venue, as a barbecue restaurant  was just depressing.

Smokehouse on UrbanspoonFOOD RATING: 3 OF 5


Grumpy's Rib House


Grumpy's occupied one end of a recently remodeled strip mall. The parking situation here was slightly better, but I still had to find a spot at the building next door. It was clear when I entered the establishment that they also spent a good deal of money and effort to try to create their own brand of a bbq experience.

I don't know if the man taking my order was the Grumpy, but he was grumpy. I was already pressed for time so I took my order of a rib lunch to go. The three ribs were nicely packaged with a side of slaw and a piece of garlic toast. It was a pretty presentation but the taste didn't match.


In the end, both places spent too much effort on the look of the place and appearance of the food but were not able to deliver the winning combination of good food and a pleasant experience. They both had it backwards. It almost never works to create a following for a barbecue restaurant with contrived authenticity or history. Start with good food served honestly, and then the true story will follow.

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