Thursday, July 3, 2014

Fat Pete's Barbecue Food Review

And so, the curse continues. Fat Pete's Barbecue swings and misses on its first day in Cleveland Park, as it tries to put an end to a string of failures at the former McDonald's space. Think about it: How often does McDonald's close? Fat Pete's has a nice logo and website; but that seems to be about all it has going for it. Cold, bland food and almost zero visibility inside, I'd place the over/under for survival at 12 months.

Don't feel bad if you have trouble getting inside: You're not the only one. The exterior still resembles a prison (complete with scary front gates) and you can only enter via the left door(s.) Do us a favor. Put signs above that say ENTER ONLY and EXIT ONLY... Preferably lit. Once you do get inside, stay near the front; or request a candle, flashlight or tiki torch to find your way to the back. Fat Pete's is almost pitch dark inside (even darker than an Irish pub.) Perhaps it's done on purpose, so you won't notice how little the space has changed since previous tenants Tackle Box and Pulpo.

Pulled Pork Platter

It's almost impossible to tell you're in a barbecue restaurant. Fat Pete's looks and feels generic. Sure there's country music in the background; but hide the menus, and nobody would guess you can order pulled pork or sliced brisket. Service was solid, but far from spectacular: My server Tony was friendly and polite, yet very soft spoken. He was quick with the check, but missed my empty cup of water. Speaking of, Fat Pete's uses plastic cups... the cheap, flimsy kind, you'd be embarrassed to whip out for a casual backyard picnic. To her credit, the bartender noticed my empty cup during a walk-by; but by then, I was already finished with my meal.

The menu is pretty straight forward; and there are bargains to be had. I settled on a Pulled Pork Platter for $10.99 that comes with two small sides. My wait was short (about five minutes) and it took even less time to figure out why. It was 2:00 PM, and there were only half-a-dozen customers eating in. I received an impressive looking plate of food, divided into three parts. Two pieces of Corn Bread, five Hush Puppies (both served with honey butter) and a plate of plain (no sauce) pulled pork... ice cold.

Fat Pete's advertises six housemade sauces on its menu; but all I could find at my table was one bottle each of Sweet and Spicy sauce. Perhaps I should have asked for more, or perhaps Tony should have asked/told me. I opted for Spicy, but it wouldn't come out of a surprisingly dirty dispenser (day one, right?) I had to walk over to the next table, and grab a bottle from there. Unfortunately, the cold sauce only made a cold order of pulled pork even colder. Said sauce was spicy but simultaneously sweet, and ultimately pedestrian. The Sweet variety is a bit nicer; but I'd prefer a supermarket tub of Jack Daniel's or Tony Roma's to this barbecue, any day of the week (and twice on Sunday.) Practically inedible.

My Hush Puppies weren't much better... hot, but flavorless. The menu says goat cheese and smoked poblano pepper, but all I tasted was dough. Next. Thankfully, the corn bread was pretty banner... dense, sweet and easily the best item on my plate. If I go back, I'd like to try the candied yams, cole slaw (two kinds) and mashed potatoes (loaded with garlic, pimento cheese and scallions.)

Is this the set of Pitch Black, or Fat Pete's?

As for a second visit, don't hold your breath. The interior desperately needs character; and it's almost inexcusable not to have a manager walk the floor (on opening day) and ask how things are going. The one guy that appeared to be in charge stood/walked by my table on several occasions, but didn't seem to notice me (probably because I wasn't a fellow 50-something guy from nearby Cleveland Park Grill, several of whom stopped by to exchange pleasantries.) The rest of the atmosphere was absorbed by non-stop talk regarding day-to-day operations... not exactly tableside chatter, but the kind of conversation you'd expect to hear at a staff meeting (as opposed to around/on top of customers trying to eat.) It reminded me of Tackle Box (right before they shut down) and Pulpo (pretty much from day one.) It's a business, first and foremost... Treat it like one.

Who knows? Perhaps today's shortcomings can be attributed to first-day jitters; but it didn't feel like it. Maybe we need a proven commodity to come into town (Outback Steakhouse, where are you?) and show everyone how it's done. Until then, I'll wait for things to improve... but I won't be holding my breath.