2186 George Urban Blvd., Depew, NY 14043
Web: Kentucky Greg's Hickory Pit
Rating: [learn more]
Generally good barbecue, particularly in the pork, along with the area's best fried banana peppers. Friendly service and a memorably oversized, reasonably priced dessert option.
Some items, including the beef and breads, are disappointing; weak ambience in a somewhat greasy dining environment.
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"The Peppers were an instant and immediate hit with everyone around the table, surprising those who thought they'd be too spicy, and disappearing quickly."
Southern-style barbecue isn't Western New York's culinary forte. In fact, we've had tastier and more authentic smoked meat on the other side of the continent than we have here, even though Buffalo is only a day's drive away from the real thing. But we've also had some really bad local barbecue, some that's mediocre, and some that's good but not really Southern. There's one local exception: Kentucky Greg's in Depew, a short drive from the Walden Galleria Mall. In our experience, this small restaurant with decidedly understated decor - complete with white and red checkered plastic tablecloths - is the very best of this area's Southern-style barbecue restaurants, and reasonably priced, which earns it three stars in our book.
The Story: We weren't completely blown away when we first visited Kentucky Greg's a number of years ago; we can still remember the greasy tables and the side dishes served in styrofoam cups from the nondescript location in Depew, near Cheektowaga, a part of town not known for its foodie establishments. Sure, Greg's oil-slicked old dining room might have been authentic in some way, but unlike Seattle's famous barbecue joint Dixie's BBQ, there wasn't a special enticement like "meeting the man" or dining inside an old converted garage to justify the way-down-home approach. Thankfully, during the years we spent out of town, the restaurant persisted, cleaned up a little, started serving everything on hard plastic, and even opened up a second location. The original Depew location still isn't fancy, but it's easier on the eyes, and five of us found the place plenty comfortable - though more than half-filled - for an oversized mid-week dinner.
Highs: We started the meal somewhat light, opting for the Fried Banana Peppers ($5) and a cup of the Chicken and Sausage Gumbo ($3, bowl $5). Dipped in beer batter and properly deep-fried to avoid a dripping oily residue, the Peppers were an instant and immediate hit with everyone around the table, surprising those who thought they'd be too spicy - they weren't spicy at all - and disappearing almost as quickly as they arrived. They didn't need the ranch dressing they're typically served with; the slightly salty, mostly sour flavor and crisp texture were perfect as-is. By contrast, the gumbo was good but not memorable, with a thicker viscosity than we're accustomed to, but also a nicer, crunchier bed of rice underneath.
In order to get a good sample of what the menu had to offer, we ordered The King Combo ($21), which gave us the chance to try separate dishes such as the Pulled Pork, Sliced Beef, and St. Louis Ribs. In the aggregate, the Combo's portion size was more than enough for one person - two of us split it - and the apportionment of the meats to our chosen sides of Corn Bread and French Fries was entirely reasonable. The Ribs, prepped in a classic St. Louis-style marinade rather than served with thick, sweet barbecue rib sauce, were very good - appropriately soft, with plenty of meat, and not too much fat; Greg's Pulled Pork tasted essentially like boneless rib meat, and the Sliced Beef wasn't bad, but wasn't great. We liked the French Fries a lot, and there were plenty of them to go around for the two of us. Other members of our group enjoyed a Bar-B-Q Pork Sandwich ($6), with the same Pulled Pork served on buttered Texas Toast, a Char Broiled Hamburger ($5.50), and a two-item Create Your Own Combo ($10) with Sliced Beef and BBQ Chicken - smaller than the King Combo, but plenty of food for one person, including the same choice of two side dishes.
There were two other meal highlights. One was the Mile High Mud Pie ($6), an amusingly tall slice of chocolate and peanut butter ice cream pie with an Oreo cookie crust, a crunchy chocolate layer separating the ice creams, and a topping of whipped cream, hot fudge, and peanuts. Four of us shared the dessert, and by the end of the meal described above, only two of us were doing any major damage to it; there was still a cube of ice cream left at the end. By any standard save perhaps the Claim Jumper Chocolate Motherload Cake, this is a huge dessert, and could be almost be a complete meal for one person.
The other highlight was the service. We have no recollection of the wait staff from our last visit to Greg's years ago, but our server this time was wonderful - attentive, friendly, and genuinely interested in making sure we all received what we needed. Two cups of extra water were delivered to our table without request, just so that they'd be there during the meal. Napkins, finger wipes, extra plates and silverware were all brought in abundance, again without a special request. When we were finished eating, we were asked again if we wanted any additional water while we were relaxing at the table. If there's any Southern hospitality left in Western New York, you'll find it at Kentucky Greg's.
Lows: Not everything from our meal was great, though different members of our group disagreed as to the quality of some items. Everyone agreed that the Texas Toast, a fairly simple variant on garlic bread made with sliced white bread rather than a rounded loaf, was a bit burnt and not quite warm enough; some people preferred how the burned bread tasted. The Cornbread was a unanimous loser at our table, judged as too rubbery in texture and lacking in honey-infused sweetness.
The Sliced Beef didn't go over extremely well, either; it was judged to be plain, and shy of the brisket-style flavor and texture that are perhaps best-suited to barbecued beef; the Pulled Pork, while tasty, seemed a little light on intensity of flavor despite arriving topped with a mild barbecue sauce. Kentucky Greg's leaves plenty of sauces and spices on each table to let you soak and season any dish to your personal liking; we tend to prefer that these dishes, and ribs, arrive more saturated to begin with.
The Verdict: Whatever faults Kentucky Greg's may have are largely made up for by the quality of the service, the entirely reasonable pricing, and the lack of any local competition in this place's league. What might seem like a knock on the flavor intensity of Greg's meat should be understood in both its absolute and relative senses: yes, there is better if you're willing to leave this part of New York State, but in Western New York, you're more likely to a little or a lot worse if you go elsewhere. Our three-star rating acknowledges Kentucky Greg's as the current king of the area's barbecue shops; it also says that there's room for Greg (or a motivated competitor) to impress us even more.