Cue the Q

Melissa Buote samples Halifax’s barbecue scene and finds it surprisingly true to the southern ideal.

"It has to be tender and it has to be flavourful," drawls Mark Lambert, his phone crackling as he travels the Interstate. "And it has to have hickory on it. It's not Southern if it doesn't have hickory on it."

If anybody knows good BBQ, it's Lambert. His blood, sweat and tears have created the sauce and smoking savvy that led him and his team at Louisiana's Sweet Swine O'Mine to three Memphis in May World Championship triumphs in the past six years.

Southern BBQ is all over the map, literally and figuratively, with sweetness, spiciness and vinegary tang changing from state to state. "Every state has its differences and everyone's got their own particular tastes, but as far as I'm concerned the three most important things about good Southern BBQ are that it tastes good, it's tender and you have a good time."

"If they want to get true Southern," he adds, "find all-beef baloney, slice it a half-inch thick, season it, put some sauce on it and smoke it. That is true Southern BBQ."

Determined to find out whether Halifax's two new BBQ restaurants---Q and Bonehead's---are Southern BBQ or just south end BBQ, two friends and I stock up on wet naps and hit the streets.

At Bonehead's the walls are the deep tomato red of barbecue sauce, tables the colour of char. It looks good, and smells terrific. We order the pit boss sampler, a tray of pulled pork, chicken, sausage and beef brisket and add a half-rack of pork ribs. Our sides are corn bread, coleslaw, mac and cheese, pit beans and sweet potato chips.

The ribs are incredibly tender, to the point where gravity is all that's needed to pry meat from the bone. They are lightly sauced, smoky and sweet, with a hint of spice. The pulled chicken is beautifully seasoned, with the same warm, dusky flavour of the pulled pork, which is sadly less tender.

The beef brisket and sausage are our least favourites, the former a little bit on the tough side and the latter simply unremarkable. They are, however, great vehicles for Bonehead's delicious Smokehouse Sweet and Southern Gold sauces.

The sides are all tasty, but the smoky, tangy beans really steal the show. Green pepper, onion and garlic all add depth to the rich, earthy flavour.

When we show up at Q for our second BBQ lunch the sun is shining, and a pleasant smokiness dances on the air around the breezy patio. We order the pulled pork sandwich and sweet potato fries and the half-rack pork with two beef ribs.

The ribs have all been cooked with Q's Memphis sauce. It's beautifully balanced---sweet and gently smoky with a nice tang of spice---and delicious on the tender, juicy pork ribs. Unfortunately it was applied too soon to the beef ribs and the sugars have burned, instead of creating a nice, shiny bark of seasoning. In fact, the beef ribs are woefully overcooked, almost inedible.

The pulled pork is easily the best thing we eat at Q. The meat is tender and smoky, coated in tangy, syrupy sauce. The bun is fresh and slightly sweet. It's a great sandwich. The slaw is a little utilitarian, but still good.

We are disappointed by almost all of the sides, the beans tasting strangely tinny and the rest unfortunately bland. The cornbread, however, is excellent. Fluffy and sweet, it's absolutely delicious.

Bonehead's and Q aren't perfect, but both deliver as good smoky abbreviations of true Southern BBQ. No baloney.

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