A cherry-red 1951 Ford F1 flatbed makes quite the impression as you walk into American Q, a rodizio-style barbecue joint inside the B Hotel, but even more noteworthy is the fact that decent barbecue can be had on Hotel Plaza Boulevard at all. This farmhouse-chic restaurant is a collaborative effort between the "lifestyle" hotel and restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow's China Grill Management Co., but don't hold that against them. Besides, Chodorow – long the target of tabloids and the food media for his brash, money-loving, full-page-ad-in-the-New-York-Times-to-excoriate-Frank-Bruni ways – is but an afterthought thanks to the 'cue, expertly smoked under the direction of executive chef Justin Leo.
The options: Go à la carte and select from a variety of pricey mains; or drop $34.95 for the "flatbed buffet" that'll fill you up in a way that only an all-you-can-eat meatfest can. It may not be the caliber of, say, Texas de Brazil, but the spread laid out on the pickup truck comprises some worthy preludes and complements ... and some worthy of Golden Corral. Roasted "in-husk" corn on the cob lolling in butter and the chili con carne would fall into the former category; parched baked potatoes, sad-looking peel-and-eat shrimp and lukewarm mac & cheese into the latter.
Whatever, we were here for the meat, and after our unflappable, yet thoroughly taxed, server presented the four different barbecue sauces to us, we flipped the swine stick to the upright position and waited for the meats to arrive. And waited. Seems the "cowboys" and "cowgirls" at American Q aren't like the omnipresent gauchos at Texas de Brazil, ready to slice and carve at the flip of a card. No, they're a little more laid-back here, but attentive nonetheless.
When the knife bladed through the first burnt offering – brisket with Texas bark – it set off a reverie, a remembrance of meats past, of cuts that were as luscious as this. Really, we could've just eaten the brisket all night long, but the presence of juicy picanha interrupted our trance. We dabbed a little "mango heat" sauce onto the top loin, though all sauces (sweet Kansas City, mustardy Carolina, and a Texas sauce with coffee grounds and Dijon) we sampled were impressive. A fair bit of sauce was needed to counter the desiccated pork shoulder and flank steak, and therein lies the rub: After smoking, the meats are kept warm in hot boxes, which, at times, can compromise succulence. Such was the case with chorizo-stuffed turkey thighs as well, though the smoky essence permeated the bird quite nicely. Bacon-wrapped boneless chicken thighs and andouille sausage were both superb, but we couldn't help but end with more of that pecan-wood-smoked brisket. Oh, and a vegetable brochette is also offered, but I had to request it. Vegetarians might want to stick to Meatless Mondays, when the flatbed buffet offers more vegetable choices (like cauliflower steak) for $19.99.
If you choose the à la carte option, you'd be well served by ordering the six-hour smoked beef ribs ($23). They're an absolute highlight, with a wonderful bark that'll have you gnawing 'til the cows come home. A simple Mississippi fried catfish served with addictive hushpuppies is worth a look, if you're willing to foot the $19 price. If eating alligator is on your bucket list, the 'gator boudin with rice, roasted tomatoes, peppers and okra ($8.50) makes it easy to cross it off.
A sweet finish came courtesy of croissant bread pudding with warm apple compote ($6) and the strawberry "shortcake" on griddled lemon cornbread (also $6). Warning: If you're dining at the bar, you'll develop a dependency on "swine candy" ($4) – crunchy smoked bacon roasted in molasses and spices. Such addictive twists are what American Q hopes will help it carve out a niche.
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