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 V.18 No.31 | July 30 - August 5, 2009 

Restaurant Review

Pepper’s Ole’ Fashion BBQ

Barbecue for the soul

Ribs and sausage make the world go ’round.
Sergio Salvador salvadorphoto.com
Ribs and sausage make the world go ’round.

If you’re from the Deep South, the food at Pepper’s might remind you of what you eat at family reunions. But this stuff is probably better. It’s high-end backyard food, at home on paper plates. Rolls of paper towels adorn every table, Kool-Aid flows, there’s a selection of hot sauces and smoke is in the air.

Proprietor Daniel “Pepper” Morgan has a résumé that includes a six-year stint as official barbecue-er for the Dallas Cowboys. More importantly, he undertook an apprenticeship with his Arkansas-born grandmother, who taught him the recipe for her barbecue sauce and passed on to him the soul of soul food.

On Saturdays, the menu is augmented by “Soul Food Saturday” specials, including oxtails and neck bones smothered in gravy and chitterlingsstewed pig intestines.

Collard greens and a slice of cornbread
Sergio Salvador salvadorphoto.com
Collard greens and a slice of cornbread

“These recipes for the off-cuts of pig and cow come from the slave days,” according to Chef Morgan. “The slave masters ate the good cuts and put the scraps in a bucket for the slaves. The slaves figured out ways to cook it and make it appetizing. I dedicate Saturday to soul foodbut we still serve barbecue on Saturdays.”

The simple dining room has booths and tables, black-and-white-checkered linoleum floors, some decorative knickknacks and BET playing on a wall-mounted wide-screen TV. I sat there one soulful Saturday and thoroughly enjoyed a plate of oxtails, mac ’n’ cheese and fried okra. The oxtails, smothered in a gravy seasoned with celery and bay leaves, were spoon-tender. After a few squirts of hot sauce, the bits of fat attached to the bone practically knocked me unconscious. Breaded in cornmeal and deep-fried, okra slices were crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside. They also bore hot sauce well, while the mac ’n’ cheese had a lively amount of garlic.

Morgan and a cook sat down in the dining room and started gnawing on some mammoth leg bones that were straight out of “The Flintstones.” They looked amazing, but I didn’t recall seeing them on the menu.

After hours of “mopping and basting” with sauce in the smokerwhich burns hickory, applewood and mesquitethe turkey legs, like all the barbecue at Pepper’s, develop a glossy, sweet coating.

“They’re turkey legs,” Morgan explained. “I smoke them on Saturday and use them in my collard greens, but I also have a few for sale if anybody asks.”

One, please.

After hours of “mopping and basting” with sauce in the smokerwhich burns hickory, applewood and mesquitethe turkey legs, like all the barbecue at Pepper’s, develop a glossy, sweet coating. The meat was soft, juicy and smoky, with the added primal pleasure of chewing meat off a big bone.

Chef/owner Daniel “Pepper” Morgan cradles a smoked meat combo platter crowded with sausage, brisket, rubbed ribs and half a chicken.
Sergio Salvador salvadorphoto.com
Chef/owner Daniel “Pepper” Morgan cradles a smoked meat combo platter crowded with sausage, brisket, rubbed ribs and half a chicken.

All of the barbecue at Pepper’s is similarly spectacular. The beef and pork is smoked five to seven hours. Chicken and ribs fall off their bones with the slightest provocation. The brisket, served chopped, is swimming in that tangy, smoky, practically drinkable sauce. (Soon, Morgan says he’ll serve a second barbecue sauce made with bourbon and cherries.) It all comes with a sweet potato-cornbread muffin that’s light as a cupcake.

Farm-raised catfish fillets were thick and juicy, deep-fried with a spiced cornmeal coating. My order of catfish came with sides of collards and sweet potatoes. The collards were amazing and mixed with chunks of turkey. But the sweet potatoes were cloyingly sweet. I have to wonderwhy add sugar to something that’s naturally already sweet? But since that’s the traditional treatment, any complaint I could make wouldn’t be against Pepper’s: It’d have to be against the whole soul food tradition. And I’m not going there.

View Pepper’s in Alibi Chowtown calendar

The Alibi Recommends:

• Anything from the smoker with that barbecue sauce on it

• Turkey legs

• Catfish

• Fried okra

• Collard greens

Pepper’s Ole’ Fashion BBQ and Soul Food Restaurant

302 San Pedro NE (across from Expo NM fairgrounds entrance)

232-SOUL (7685)

Hours: Tue-Thu 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Fri and Sat 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Sunday.

Price range: $6 (rib, chicken or brisket sandwich) to $20 (four-piece catfish with three sides)

Ambience: hangout

Extras: Credit cards accepted, catering, beer and wine license expected in November

 
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