Update: no longer open.
A vegetarian reviewing a barbeque joint? I know it's not right, and is going to leave your questions about the meat unanswered, but when I saw that the newly opened Q Barbeque and Tequila Bar in Old City had banana pudding on the menu, I knew I had to check it out.
Not only am I a banana pudding aficionado, but -- and here I'll probably misquote my Dad, founder of The South Carolina Barbeque Assosication (he mourns my vegetarianism every time he sees me), quoting his friend and fellow association member, but I'll get an email after this posts from him to get the quote word for word I'm sure:
"The real test of a barbeque joint is not the barbeque, but the banana pudding."
Update: got the quote right!
And for me, the real test includes not only banana pudding, but also the classic Southern side dishes -- all foods that my born and raised Southern belle butt knows very well.
Barbeque joints are usually casual affairs where you place your order at the counter and receive your meal on disposable plates, or maybe even proceed down a buffet line. As I was walking toward Q, the former Philadelphia Fish Company turned barbeque and tequila bar in Old City, I was envisioning just such a place where I put my order in at the counter, but as I got closer, I was like, "Oh, wait a minute, this is Old City. I bet this is going to be a sit down, fancy restaurant," and instantly the images of all the barbeque places I've been to down South fizzled. (Yes, I have eaten barbeque before...and hash...mmm, hash and rice).Q is definitely a sit down restaurant with all the formalities of a server (at most barbeque joints it's just a server making the rounds with sweet tea refills). The interior has a moody pub-like feel with all the dark wood and prominent mahogany bar, making it hard for a diner to imagine they're at a Southern barbeque restaurant. And the cloth napkins and large white formal dinner ware does not help the imagination either. I would have liked to see a much more informal interior to transport me back -- you know, maybe some oilcloth gingham table cloths and paper napkin dispensers on the table.
I commend Q for putting a few vegetarian items on the menu, like the soy chorizo tacos, bbq spaghetti, and vegetarian quesadillas, but please tell me what any of those items have to do with Southern barbeque cuisine? Actually, bbq spaghetti is a Memphis, TN, barbeque house specialty, but is not wide spread.
Is Q taking cues from Northern Liberties' popular El Camino Real, which mixes two Texas regional cuisines, Tex Mex and Texas barbeque? When I think Southern barbecue, I don't think Tex Mex, but that doesn't mean Q can't mix the two if they want -- some of my favorite restaurants have odd cuisine combinations. And Q also adds burgers and a little New Orleans creole to the mix, as if to say they're a little unsure what to focus on, or what will bring in the money. Despite a soy chorizo taco not being an authentic barbeque menu item, I did order one, because, hey, I like tacos...and there wasn't a barbequed pulled seitan sandwich on the menu (hello, obvious!). The single corn tortilla taco with soy chorizo, cilantro, onions and queso came with a side of smokey tomato salsa and lime, and makes for a nice, cheap bar snack, but could have used a double layer of corn tortilla to help slow the escape of innards when the tortilla inevitably cracks. The soy chorizo was greasy and spicy, and tasted exactly like the soy chorizo sausage available at Trader Joe's.
My pescatarian partner ordered the fish tacos (meat tacos come three per order, but vegetarian tacos come one per order?!), and was disappointed that his tortillas were flour and not corn. He was not a fan of the accompanying salsa, so tried out the three barbeque sauces on the table to bring zing to his average fish tacos. The "Q sauce" is an extremely sweet tomato sauce and tasted strongly of powdered paprika. The "Sweet Sauce" is even sweeter. The "Carolina Vinegar" has a touch of tomato in the vinegar, and is the only sauce of the three that I would suggest putting on your meat, but, just like barbeque, barbecue sauce preferences are a legitimate reason for a fight. I'm a mustard barbeque sauce girl myself.
I tried as many of the sides as I could without busting a gut -- the sides are large portions served on huge white plates. The collards were out because they contained turkey. Turkey?! That's what our server said. I expect pork in collards, but not turkey.The cheese grits are a great Southern side, but in my experience, are not a typical side to accompany barbeque. No, matter; I love grits! Q's grits are quite good with hints of onion and garlic, and nary a lump in ours, but richer than I personally like. Q's grits sport an oil slick, thanks to the cheddar cheese, butter, and milk used to make them. I've actually never been served cheese grits with an oil slick around each grit.
The mac and cheese at Q is what I call "restaurant" mac and cheese, which is mac and cheese made with a creamy cheese sauce and bread topping. Most people love this style, but I'm not a fan. I prefer Southern style mac and cheese made with eggs and cheese not made into a sauce. And Southern style is what you'll find at most barbeque joints, soul food restaurants, and certainly in my momma's kitchen. Q's creamy mac and cheese with a mild hot pepper heat did not transport me to a Southern barbeque house, but will be passable for "restaurant" mac and cheese lovers. Potato salad was up next, and these perfectly cooked red potatoes with a creamy sauce studded with mustard seeds and green onions was the best dish of our ordering. I suspect sour cream was part of the sauce instead of straight up mayo (my preference), but still, a solid potato salad that I'd be proud to serve at a picnic.
The other two quintessentially Southern sides I wanted to test, but just could not fit in the belly, were the coleslaw and fried green tomatoes.
And how about the banana pudding? Gosh, I hope for all you meat eaters' sake that my Dad's friend was wrong about banana pudding being the real test of a barbeque joint, because Q served the worst banana pudding I've ever had. I didn't finish it. If I don't finish dessert, I've either died in the process of eating it or it's truly bad.
Instead of layering sliced bananas, vanilla wafers, and pudding while the pudding is hot, as banana pudding is supposed to be made (this softens the wafers and bananas), the bottom of the serving glass was filled with warm, caramelized, chopped bananas, then topped with cold pudding, then topped with warm, caramelized, bananas and wafers. There were no soft wafers in the middle of the pudding, which is just about the best part of banana pudding. And the bananas should be fresh and sliced, not chopped and cooked.
Also, the bananas in my cup must not have been ripe -- an absolute must for banana pudding -- because they were hard. Half of the bananas had the texture of undercooked potatoes. And the pudding was not a rich, smooth pudding as it should be, but oddly grainy.
Aware that the restaurant's name is Q Barbeque AND Tequila Bar, it still seems that Q's main focus is supposed to be Southern barbeque and cuisine, but the food I sampled and the restaurant's atmosphere did not exude authentic Southern barbeque joint vibes. Admittedly, I'm I tough customer when it comes to Southern dishes, but I was not convinced.
And how is that barbecue? Anyone?
Q Barbeque and Tequila Bar
207 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19106
Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-4; Sat noon-3
Dinner: Mon-Thurs 4:30-10:30; Fri 5-midnight; Sat 4:30-midnight; Sun 4-10:30