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Judging from the line snaking out of the Four Rivers barbecue shack on Fairbanks Avenue, we knew that the joint had to be churning out some damn fine 'cue. So after spending an inordinate amount of time looking for parking [ed. note: this review was written for the original location at 2103 W. Fairbanks; they've since moved to a spot down the street with more parking], we joined the queue, inhaled the smoky air and covetously ogled the piled-high platters of meat being carried by salivating customers to the benches out back. In the meantime, a chirpy server came by with samples of pulled pork to hold us over – a shrewd ploy from a restaurant that already seems to have outgrown its space. Crowd control may not be this smokehouse's strong point, but serving the finest brisket in the region more than makes up for the inefficiency in the ordering process. So long as their food remains worth the wait, folks'll endure the lines and do so in happy anticipation.

When we finally made it to the counter and saw our sublime slab of smoked-to-perfection brisket ($12.99 with three sides) being sliced, gathered and plopped onto a paper-lined tray by the Elvis/Michael Madsen look-alike, we could barely contain ourselves. Then came the selection of heady sides – smokehouse corn relish (an absolute must), Texas corn bread laced with jalapeños, thick, glistening macaroni and cheese – and finally the selection of one of the daily-changing desserts. We couldn't pay quick enough, anxious to dash out to the benches with our food and dig in.

And it didn't disappoint. Rich, juicy and wonderfully smoky, the ample serving of Black Angus brisket was ridiculously good, the thin blackened crust an added bonus. Squeezing spicy barbecue sauce over the meat, while nice, wasn't necessary, and the accompanying lardy biscuit didn't really impress me. The mound of pulled pork ($10.99 with three sides), shredded into tangy submission, worked better as a sandwich ($6.99), while the burnt-ends sandwich ($6.59) offered the best of both worlds – brisket and pulled pork under one hefty bun. The moist half-chicken ($9.99 with three sides) requires a shout to have someone pluck it out of the smoker. (If you opt to splurge a couple of extra bucks to add a second meat to the meal, pass on the lackluster smokehouse prime rib.) The sides, it bears mentioning again, are what sets Four Rivers apart from other barbecue joints in town – sweet and meaty baked beans, salty crinkle fries and Southern green beans are all wonderful. Smoked jalapeños filled with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon are a truly original, if outright over-the-top, side. In keeping with the over-the-top theme, the towering block of "chocolate awesomeness" dessert ($3.99) is impossible to devour in two sittings, let alone one. I preferred the cup of divine banana dream pudding ($2.25) with coconut and Nilla wafers.

4 Rivers is the brainchild of John Rivers (not to be confused with local barbecue maven Johnny Rivers), who led a successful corporate life before following his backyard passion for Texas-style barbecue. A line of sauces, a catering company and, now, a popular restaurant are all signs that Rivers' business skills are just as sharp as his cooking skills. So, given the long lines and high demand for his product, my sincere hope is that 4 Rivers mimics the bellies of its patrons and expands.

Bubbalou's Bodacious Bar-B-Que seduces you before you even lay eyes on it, which is just what good barbecue ought to do. The siren smell of smoky, sweet meats is in the air outside this new location, just north of Universal Studios Florida. Even from the parking lot, Bubbalou's is alluring, with that bold, unblushing name lit up in neon, flanked by three hot-pink piglets tip-toeing over flames.

Inside, the atmosphere is cheerful and bright. It's roomier than the original Winter Park eatery, but both dish up Big Barbecue. You name it and they smoke it: pork, chicken, beef, turkey, ham, sausage, lamb; and for the barbecue rebel, gizzards and livers. Country music hits are on the sound system, and a stuffed bear rises over the wood-paneled dining room.

Inside, the atmosphere is cheerful and bright. It's roomier than the original Winter Park eatery, but both dish up Big Barbecue. You name it and they smoke it: pork, chicken, beef, turkey, ham, sausage, lamb; and for the barbecue rebel, gizzards and livers. Country music hits are on the sound system, and a stuffed bear rises over the wood-paneled dining room.

My guest and I placed orders at the counter, choosing from an array of sandwiches, baskets and dinners, priced from $2.69 to $8.99. We found seats at a picnic table in back, the only spot that hadn't been claimed by a hungry, lunchtime crowd.

My guest and I placed orders at the counter, choosing from an array of sandwiches, baskets and dinners, priced from $2.69 to $8.99. We found seats at a picnic table in back, the only spot that hadn't been claimed by a hungry, lunchtime crowd.

The food soon arrived, and we dived in with abandon. I tried "Bubbalou's Special" ($8.99), a sampler platter with four side-orders, and quickly honed in on the spare ribs. They were divine in the most primal way: succulent on the inside and slightly charred outside. Of the shredded meats, the pork was moist and tender, but the beef was a bit dry by comparison.

The food soon arrived, and we dived in with abandon. I tried "Bubbalou's Special" ($8.99), a sampler platter with four side-orders, and quickly honed in on the spare ribs. They were divine in the most primal way: succulent on the inside and slightly charred outside. Of the shredded meats, the pork was moist and tender, but the beef was a bit dry by comparison.

My guest ordered the quarter chicken basket with two sides ($3.99). Her chicken, like mine, was glazed to a rich, brown hue. On the inside, it was well-done, yet juicy. While most of the smoked meats stood on their own, we laced them with the barbecue sauces anyway: "Mild" had a hint of sweetness with a gentle bite; "Hot" was warm with a tangy edge; "Killer" was fiery enough to make your mouth glow.

My guest ordered the quarter chicken basket with two sides ($3.99). Her chicken, like mine, was glazed to a rich, brown hue. On the inside, it was well-done, yet juicy. While most of the smoked meats stood on their own, we laced them with the barbecue sauces anyway: "Mild" had a hint of sweetness with a gentle bite; "Hot" was warm with a tangy edge; "Killer" was fiery enough to make your mouth glow.

On the side, baked beans were sweetly simmered with pork. The cole slaw was creamy yet light. Corn bread was moist and savory, which was nice given that the grilled bread was a bit limp and unexciting. Ripple-cut french fries were delicious. My only quibble is the size of some side-orders. At $8.99 for a dinner plate combo, I expected more than a cuplet of beans and a dollop of slaw.

On the side, baked beans were sweetly simmered with pork. The cole slaw was creamy yet light. Corn bread was moist and savory, which was nice given that the grilled bread was a bit limp and unexciting. Ripple-cut french fries were delicious. My only quibble is the size of some side-orders. At $8.99 for a dinner plate combo, I expected more than a cuplet of beans and a dollop of slaw.

Although Bubbalou's was approaching capacity when we arrived, we were on our way with boxed leftovers within 50 minutes. And we swore to do some bodacious workouts so we can go back soon.

We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the Bubbalou's on Conroy Road.

In the barbecue latitudes of the Deep South, the lines of distinction between regional variations can be about as narrow as Hank Hill's urethra. But over in the Republic of Texas, where dalliances in grilling experimentation are generally frowned on, a tried and true formula is followed ' hot-smoking, aka slow-cooking over a wood-fired haze.

And Floridians have Cecil Reaves to thank for bringing the Lone Star brand of 'cueing to the Sunshine State. His smokehouse is a simple brick edifice on the Boulevard of Barbecue Dreams (South Orange is home to three other joints ' Conway's, O'Boys and Blackwater Bar-B-Q), where the waft of some critter being cooked to perfection two-steps its way into your nostrils the moment you get out of your car.

Inside, amid the country kitsch and Texas paraphernalia, a simple and orderly protocol is followed: Stand in the 'cue queue, place your order deli-style, get your plate of hand-carved meat, then proceed around the counter and get your fill of sides. Meats such as pulled pork, ham, chicken and ribs are offered individually, though your best bet is to go with a 2- or 3-meat specialty plate ($10.95; $12.95), both of which come with a slice of Texas toast and two sides. But if you're talking Texas-style barbecue, you're talking beef brisket and sausage, and the brisket done here is dang near perfect. Velvety strands of pink under a char of epidermal smokiness are the result of 16 hours of slow-searing over hickory wood. Once cooked, briskets are sheathed in plastic wrap and kept in a warming drawer to retain their juicy flavor.

Puncturing the resplendent skin of the hot links produced a perfect snap with every bite and yielded superbly moist flesh underneath. Both the pulled pork and the pork ribs were infused in a smoky essence, but devoid of moisture. I enjoyed the smoky succulence of the turkey breast and the perfumed meat of the chicken though, again, the latter was a tad dry. Enter the sauce bar, where hot, mild and sweet sauces are kept warm in crocks. A word of warning, hoss ' repetitive dunks in the fiery-hot version will have you squattin' on your spurs.

What really places Cecil's a country mile ahead of the competition are the 16 available side items, like jalapeño mashed potatoes, not too spicy, but blended with a ton of butter. I couldn't get enough of the sweet potato soufflé, an ideal complement to the brisket, and the breaded fried okra. Black-eyed peas, sautéed in a ham, butter and onion sauce, were true to form, and the jalapeño chili beans were hotter than a billy goat in a pepper patch.

Desserts are a bit of a luxury, as free soft-serve ice cream comes with all dine-in orders, but if you're bringing a Texas-sized appetite, creamy banana pudding ($2.50) with crumbly Nilla wafers is the way to go. Conversely, like one of Dubya's State of the Union addresses, the peach pie ($2.50) was pretty hard to digest.

Cecil's has raised the bar of BBQ bodacity in this city, and you have to applaud their commitment to slaving over meats for hours on end ' no nuking, parboiling, pre-cooking or quick-broiling here. And I hope to be kicked to death by grasshoppers if that ain't the truth.

We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the Keller's Real Smoked Bar-B-Q on University Boulevard.

We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the Keller's Real Smoked Bar-B-Q on University Boulevard.

We all know that safety deposit boxes are places of personal treasure – diamonds, gold, family heirlooms. But index cards? Not exactly the family riches. Unless, of course, you're Todd Keller.

Keller, of Keller's Bar-B-Q, has pulled his father's recipes out of lockdown once again to bring authentic barbecue to a new University Boulevard location. Coming from a long line of barbecue masters, Keller learned from his father, the creator and king of the famed Fat Boys' Bar-B-Q. Keller decided to follow his parents' smoke trail and opened his own barbecue joint in 1994 in Lake Mary. He's had his hands in the barbecue world ever since.

Not much has changed since the first Keller's opened or the second location in Altamonte Springs; the food is still as delicious as ever. The difference at this third place is that Keller partnered with a childhood friend and neighbor, Kemp Anderson. The barbecue is still some of the best you'll find in these parts, and I brought my own personal barbecue expert to testify. My husband, Gregg, is from an area of Kentucky where three of the top 100 barbecue restaurants in the world are located. (There's such a reverence for barbecue in his family that his father used to say to him after eating three helpings of done-right pulled pork, "Son, I'm proud to be eating with you.") And my expert gives Keller's his mark of approval.

Keller's is a bastion of fun in an outparcel building set in an otherwise dismal parking lot. Loud vinyl cowhide tablecloths on the outdoor tables scream (moo?) from across the lot. Inside, the lights are bright, the music loud. Murals of idyllic farm animals look out on the small dining room. On another wall, there's a mural of the original Fat Boys, a reminder of where those animals end up. Friendly is the only word to accurately describe the service. Everyone is treated like a regular, in the spirit of a country café.

Sweet corn nuggets ($3.99) are as delightful as ever, especially when dipped in mountain honey. The Brunswick stew ($2.99) is one of the recipes from Keller's safe. The shredded pork, chicken and beef thicken a rich, peppery stew packed with country sausage, lima beans, corn and crushed tomatoes. We skipped the salads, adhering to the philosophy that there is no reason to nibble on iceberg when one can save more room for something of the smoked order. But if salad is your thing, I hear their smoked-chicken version is good ($7.99).

Gregg ordered the sampler platter ($13.99), a meat-lover's dream with sliced pork, beef, one-quarter chicken on the bone and ribs. Although there is no open pit in sight (the fault of EPA regulations and strip mall kitchen specifications), Keller's has managed to capture the charred flavor of an open-pit smoker with help from a top-of-the-line commercial smoker and Keller's savvy from a lifetime of barbecue experience. The meat was tender and infused with the robust flavor of pure blackjack oak.

I got smoked turkey on garlic bread ($6.59) and drenched it in sweet sauce. The smoky meat and buttery toast was a match made in paradise. I ate every last bite, then reached over and stuffed a few pieces of Gregg's sliced pork between stray garlic bread. No barbecue meal would be complete without mention of sauces, and Keller's has three – "original" mustard, spicy tomato and sweet tomato.

Of the sides, the baked beans, another time-tested recipe from the vault, are made fresh, with smoked meat for flavor. The green beans are loaded with bacon and, thankfully, are from a can. (Fresh green beans don't go with barbecue.) Skip both the cole slaw, a flavorless clump of shreds, and the Sysco-delivered dessert. Even Keller admits these aren't strong points.

My advice is to save as much room as possible for meat. After all, it's the stuff that heirlooms are made of.

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