41 Virginia Pl., Buffalo, NY 14202
Web: Fat Bob's Smokehouse
Rating: [learn more]
See More Restaurant Reviews For:
American Barbecue Ribs Sandwiches
"The Sandwich was the star of the meal, a white bun with a sizable pile of stringy, barbecue sauce-coated pork, every bite properly moist and packed with tangy, meaty flavor."
Some restaurant names are better than others at signaling the experience you're about to have inside. At Fat Bob's Smokehouse, patrons can't possibly be surprised to find a brief menu that consists almost exclusively of greasy, Southern-styled choices, or a venue that's most notable for the old street signs that line its walls. Clearly, this isn't Healthy Jack's or Classy Tony's, and it isn't a place for people seeking salads or steamed vegetables. But as barbecue fans - actually, fans of pretty much everything on this Virginia Place, Buffalo restaurant's menu - we arrived here enthusiastic: putting aside our earlier experience with its ribs at the Taste of Buffalo, we were open-minded to the possibility that there was something great here.
Seated at a plastic table in Fat Bob's backyard - outdoor seating that had been completely filled days earlier during the Allentown Art Festival, but was mostly empty now - we listened as our server noted that she was glad that the big crowds had subsided. She was nice, and obviously overworked; as our meal went on and more people showed up for outdoor seating, it was obvious why the crowds had been so overwhelming; she was handling everything at all the tables herself. Over the course of our meal, dirty plates lingered, the wait for checks became long, she apologized, and we understood. It was obvious that she was trying, but didn't have enough help.
Our view of the food was completely independent of the service: what we were served ranged from okay to good. Take, for instance, an appetizer such as the Chili Seasoned Fire Roasted Mussels ($7.75), a plate with 15 or so mussels drenched in oil. The mussels were medium-sized, a little dry, and given little more to work with than a modestly spicy, mostly greasy sauce. Outstanding? Memorable? No. But nice enough, sure. Nothing on the menu suggested all the oil content in this dish, but again, we knew what we were in for given the venue.
By comparison, an appetizer plate of Cornmeal Fried Rock Shrimp with Cajun Mayo ($7) was pretty much what we expected, for better and worse: a blue plate with perhaps 30 shrimp that had been very lightly coated in cornmeal, then quickly golden-fried. The only surprise here was how small the shrimp were, a fact mostly made up for by their quantity; the frying had leeched away some but not all of their tenderness, and the cornmeal added little to their appeal. An included lemon slice did more to enhance their taste than the creamy cup of plain mayonnaise that sat off to one side of the plate. Everything here was plain and easily forgotten.
Our entrees were better, though inconsistently so. We picked items representative of the whole of the menu, starting with the Memphis Pulled Pork Sandwich ($8), served on a plate with our choice of sides. Having picked the onion rings - recommended by our server - we were surprised to see the plate emerge with a pile of the thin, shoestring-styled onions utterly dominating the smaller sandwich, and both of us went after the fried circles like sharks. They were really quite good, though greasier than our photo would suggest, each ring leaving drips of oil on our fingers, then tasting a little less appealing as they cooled down. We tend to prefer bigger, thicker onions when we order rings, but these were very nice for as long as they were warm.
The Sandwich was the star of the meal, a white bun with a sizable pile of Fat Bob's stringy, barbecue sauce-coated pork in the center, every bite properly moist and packed with tangy, meaty flavor. There was little to no fat to speak of, and plenty of good quality meat inside given the price. It's the same Pulled Pork used in the $13 Pulled Pork Butt entree, only a smaller portion, and had the best combination of flavor and texture of anything we sampled here. Based on this experience, we'd order it again any day.
We also ordered three more of Fat Bob's meats: the Beef Brisket, the Smoked Pork Ribs, and the Southern Fried Chicken, which we assembled on a three-meat combination plate for $20.50. Two side dishes were included here, so we picked the Sweet Potato Fries and the Hush Puppies. Both were over-fried, but the Fries were really good - a big pile with huge, thick red spears of sweet potato, lightly salted and rich in flavor. They were actually some of the best we can recall having locally, both in size and flavor. By comparison, the four Hush Puppies were really bad, typically brown nuggets made with cornmeal, flour, eggs, and milk, but overcooked here to the point of having far too little soft center. We've had much better at Long John Silver's and other chains.
Fat Bob's other meats were a mixed bag. The Beef Brisket was an utter disappointment, a stack of completely plain, almost flavorless sliced meat that was served at something close to room temperature; only a small dot of barbecue sauce had been placed on top. We tried to use a bottle of additional sauce on the table to save the meat, but it was beyond rescue, seemingly having emerged from a smoker or oven some time ago without enough inherent flavor to be worth serving. Southern Fried Chicken was somewhere between fine and good - lightly and golden battered rather than overwhelmed with thicker breading, the meat was tender and warm. There wasn't anything that stood out about this item, save for the surprisingly small second of two pieces, but we enjoyed eating it all the same.
What about the ribs? We ordered them with a partial recollection of our Taste of Buffalo experience, hoping that they'd be different - in other words, that something had just gone wrong with the batch served a year ago, or that something had improved in the intervening time. Nope: once again, the ribs looked great when they came out, smelled fine, and were cooked properly, but didn't have much flavor - we've had much better ones even locally. Score another one for the Taste of Buffalo: in our experience, what's served there is actually representative of what's at the exhibiting restaurants.
After some discussion, we felt that Fat Bob's merited a 2-star rather than a 2.5-star rating, though it's somewhere inbetween those ratings for various reasons. As unabashedly unhealthy, Southern-style food goes, a couple of items were truly very good, and make a better impression than the rest, which we'd describe as only good enough to satisfy casual barbecue fans - those who don't care enough about the differences to seek out superior options. If you go in understanding that the service will vary considerably based on the size of the existing crowd, and that there are better options locally for many of the menu items, you won't be disappointed. We'd sooner drive to Kentucky Greg's in Depew, or Dinosaur Bar-B-Que an hour away, instead.