Memphis-style barbecue without borders
Barbecue is supposed to be served on paper plates, washed down with Kool-Aid or Coke, and found in restaurants dingy enough to prove their authenticity yet clean enough that you don’t fear for your health.
The above rules-of-thumb will serve you well if you’re searching for good BBQ. But for every rule there is an exception, and The Cube, on Central near UNM campus, is an exceptional place.
Here the plates are white concave ceramic squares, the kind you’d find in a fancy restaurant with a thimble’s worth of food on top. But while the presentation is upscale, the portions are of standard barbecue proportions, unlikely to send you home hungry. To wash down your meal, there’s a wine and beer list, as well as standard fountain and bottled drinks.
An array of cubic lamps lights up the spotless, open dining room. The walls are covered with an assortment of paintings in many styles, including a few that would qualify as Cubist.
Brisket and pulled pork have great texture and mild flavor on their own, and they’re spectacular when fully dressed.
Ribs are hickory wood-smoked and prepared with a spice rub (“dry”) or drenched in sauce (“wet”). Both versions are excellent, and though the smoky, Memphis-style meat is also available “naked,” it’s a little too naked without the rub or sauce. Luckily, the sauce is flowing in all its tangy, smoky, sweet, acidic glory, and when the meat hits your mouth, you just want to drink it. Likewise, falling-off-the bone chicken is slightly lacking without sauce, over-the-top satisfying with it. Brisket and pulled pork have great texture and mild flavor on their own, and they’re spectacular when fully dressed.
The Cube owners approach the art of barbecue with a clear aesthetic in mind, which they pull off with detail-oriented methodology. Even the “505 dog” wooed me, and I’m not a hot dog lover. Embellished with bacon, avocado and green chile, this could be as good as a dog gets—although it’s not quite enough to elevate the hot dog to something I’d want to order, especially with so many other options to choose from.
While the presentation is upscale, the portions are of standard barbecue proportions, unlikely to send you home hungry
The sides at The Cube are hardly side notes. Topping my list are yams in maple syrup. Though I was braced for something cloyingly sweet, the intriguing flavors of maple combined with lemon zest are what set this dish’s tone. Fries, cut with the skins on, are excellent, and beans, smoked in sauce with chunks of meat, are too. The five-cheese mac and cheese will make mac fans happy, and mashed potatoes arrive with a melting pat of butter and smothered in homemade gravy. If these sides aren’t enough to convince you that even vegetarians can get their fill at The Cube, there’s also a lineup of salads.
The caprese salad of avocado, tomato, mozzarella and capers seems as non-BBQ as square plates and a wine list. But like many surprising aspects of The Cube, it’s done right and the house gets away with it. The dressing on the Caesar salad is heavy on the anchovies in a good way, though it’s otherwise little more than lettuce and croutons.
The Cube was out of sweet potato pie both times I visited, which I’ll take as an endorsement, given the quality of the other desserts I did try. The pumpkin cranberry pecan muffin dances masterfully between sour, sweet and nutty flavors, and the chocolate mousse is dark and creamy at the same time. Your spoon won’t stop moving the stuff into your mouth.
Purists will find all kinds of issues to take with The Cube, and I can’t say I blame them. Attempting to put barbecue on a white tablecloth may seem somewhere between oxymoronic and Quixotic. But really, who would dispute that BBQ is an art form? If the plates are reusable, the ambience makes you feel groovy and the food hits the spot, then just shut up and eat.