2829 River Rd., Tonawanda NY
Web: Suzy-Q's Bar-B-Que Shack
Rating: [learn more]
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Barbecue Buffalo Food Trucks Tonawanda
As fun as it would be to work full time on Buffalo Chow, this site is a side project for us: for the last month, Jeremy's days and nights have been completely occupied with creating the iPad 2 Buyers' Guide - the latest edition of the world's most widely read guides to Apple's digital media products. Thankfully, the Guide is finished (and ready for you to grab right now!), so we have some extra time to write about local food. So today, we're looking at two places that specialize in barbecued pork, Suzy-Q's Bar-B-Que Shack and The Whole Hog Food Truck (reviewed separately here), though they're as different from one another as can be.
Even by the local standards of its Riverside/Tonawanda neighborhood, Suzy-Q's Bar-B-Que Shack is a humbly appointed restaurant. The anonymous white building is next door to an auto repair shop, and could as easily be its office as a dining establishment - only a small sign and the wafting smell of barbecued and smoked meats hint at what's in store. Inside, a brick archway divides the small dining room into two uneven sides, with three tables in the smaller back third of the place; a self-conscious slogan on the arch makes clear that the owners understand how underwhelming the venue looks, but that it's there to serve good food. That point's hammered home by the plastic faux brick wall coverings that give the dining room some down home character; like the place, the tables are plain, more noteworthy for their collections of sauces and metal buckets of paper menus than anything else.
But on our two visits, we found the food to be solid - sometimes even better than that, though not quite up to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que's high water mark. Suzy-Q's offers a full collection of ribs, smoked meat, pulled pork, sausage, chicken, side dishes, and various garbage plate-styled mixes of multiple menu items piled together - Piggy Pies, Salty Hogs, and Heavenly Hogs, just to name a few. As simple as the folded, single-page menu looks, it's packed with appealing options from corner to corner, and has more character than most of its area rivals.
The food quality ranges from decent to good to really good depending on the item, but in every case, you'll do better with Suzy-Q's version of a dish than at, say, the R&R BBQ Truck, which similarly offers Memphis-styled, coleslaw-topped barbecue. A barbecue sandwich here is $5.50, served with a side for $7.25, or two sides for $8.75. Other meats are served as "heaps," either a smallish half-heap for $4.25 or a whole for $7.25, each with sides for $1.50 or $1.75 more. Our advice would be to skip the sides. While the corn bread, sweet potato sticks, and other side dishes were in the "decent" category, they were generally at least somewhat too dry, despite a honey glaze on the bread and a small cup of sweet butter for the potatoes. Thankfully, the meats were almost all considerably better directly out of the kitchen, and could be further enhanced by the sauces.
Suzy-Q's leaves squeezable containers on your table with regular and hot tomato-based barbecue sauces, a Kansas City vinegar barbecue sauce, and plain vinegar as options; you pick the one or several you like. All of the meats came out at least a little moist, but benefitted plenty from the two tomato-based sauces, which added plenty of smoky, richer flavor to the otherwise plain pulled pork and smoked tips. We preferred the hot tomato-based sauce, but it's nice to have options.
Suzy-Q's standout items on our two visits were the smoked Polish sausage - outstanding both times, dripping with just a little sweet glaze as they arrived in bite-sliced diagonal slices - and the ribs, which were unavailable on our first visit but magnificent on our second: huge, wickedly smoked spare rib bones with precisely the right balance of char, meat, and fat to make every bite seem sinful. They weren't fall-off-the-bone soft, but taut in an equally appealing way, and were great even without the sauces. We wouldn't have said the same thing about the pulled pork sandwich, which was only alright without sauce, and could have benefitted from coming slathered straight out of the kitchen. The smoked and sliced ball tip roast, standard pulled pork, and other meats also did better with the sauce than without them.
It's worth a brief mention that everything here has at least the look and feel of being homemade - according to the menu, the meats are smoked fresh every day, which is the reason Suzy-Q's may run out of certain items. Prices are reasonable across the board, with plenty of sub-$8 lunch options and three-meat plates in the sub-$13 range. That said, unlike Dinosaur BBQ, you're unlikely to leave this place totally stuffed unless you aggressively over-order.
Normally, the service at restaurants is either memorably good, forgettable, or negligent - not awesome or actively bad. But on both of our visits, the service at Suzy-Q's was great: friendly, personal without being overbearing, and attentive. Water glasses were refilled without asking. Meals were delivered perfectly to order. Every attempt was made to satisfy. It was refreshing, and in an age when overly fawning restaurant reviews are common, better than expected.
Suzy-Q's makes no pretense to be a fancy BBQ restaurant, and like so many other low-profile local places, it feels like a neighborhood secret - a hidden treasure - despite the fact that it's nearly nine years old. We'd call it a good place for barbecued and smoked meats at fair prices, and due as much to the sweet sausage and ribs as anything else, we'd go back any day.