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 V.24 No.37 | September 10 - 16, 2015 

Restaurant Review

Where There’s Smoke There’s Flavor

The Cube BBQ

Baby back rib
Baby back rib with locally grown corn.
The first thing you notice about The Cube is the smoke. It’s a fragrant fugue the moment you walk in the door, a hickory cloud that envelops you in barbecue pit perfume. Oh, it can be a little much, especially when you’re ordering at the counter and can’t read the menu through your watering eyes, but fortunately there’s plenty of space in the dining room away from the wafting clouds. Some diners—by which I mean those without a lifetime of pleasant barbecue memories—might find it off-putting.

To me, though, it’s a smell that indicates authenticity, and a bit of the rough-around-the-edges quality I crave from a BBQ joint, even if The Cube is actually very genteel otherwise. The restaurant is arrayed like a modern fusion café with a stated preference for local ingredients and handmade meals. The smoke is there to remind you that for all the external nicety, it’s getting real in the back as slabs of meat are slow roasted into carniphile fever dreams.

Like most BBQ joints, you’ve got a few options when it comes to the main attraction. You can order your meat by the 1/2 pound and pound, mixing and matching brisket, pulled pork, chicken, links and ribs until you realize that at about $14 a pound, your bank account is drained and your wife and children are buried somewhere beneath a pile of animal proteins. So, unless you’re prepping an army for a land invasion of Russia, it’s far better to stick to the “meals” side of the menu. I’ve found that the 5-meat-and-two-sides sampler ($17.99), with a couple of extra sides, is enough to feed my two-adult two-child family. Though once the kids make it past the 10-year-old mark, we might have to throw in a second plate.

Sweet potato praline pie
Sweet potato praline pie.

The best thing about the five meat sampler is that you get pretty much all the meat, except for the ribs (which is a real shame) and you’ll have to skip one thing of your choice like the turkey leg, which is fine because who even wants to eat a giant turkey leg outside of the Ren Faire anyway? But the brisket is wonderful, with a touch of blackening on the edges and fall-apart-in-your-mouth fragility. The pulled pork and pork loin keep pace with it and the chicken isn’t bad. But the real star of this plate is the sausage. The links are hefty and red with a sweet cayenne punch that honestly makes me sometimes consider just getting a plate of them and to hell with everything else. But no, the smoky succulence of these links does best with a supportive ensemble to help it shine.

The smoke is there to remind you that for all the external nicety, it’s getting real in the back as slabs of meat are slow roasted into carniphile fever dreams.

Of course, an integral component of this meat-frenzy is the sauce. There are two varieties in which to drench your meat, an original and a hot. Original puts forward a noticeable molasses flavor and, of course, a tangy tomato base. The hot is, well, pretty much the same except with a dose of capsaicin to liven things up. That’s as it should be. No matter which one you choose to douse your beef, pork or chicken with, you should be happy.

Somehow, in the midst of this hedonistic savaging, you may wish to take a moment to turn your attention away from the meat. Sacrilege? Yes, but those sides are just sitting there and they are actually worthy of your time. I tried the mashed sweet potatoes and the smoky baked beans and found myself shoveling it down, which never happens at most BBQ joints. If you’re lucky, The Cube might even have a bushel of locally-grown, pesticide-free sweet corn available and I can honestly say I’ve never had fresher, firmer, sweeter corn in a local restaurant. Obviously, that’s only seasonably available, but a good sign all around.

Unlike many traditional BBQ joints, The Cube offers quite a few options for those who may wish to avoid the pile of multi-form meat on their plate. There are several pretty great burgers, for instance. My favorite is the Lobo, a topping-ariffic sandwich that neatly undercuts the Texas-chili vs. green chile debate by offering both on the same patty, with a slice of bacon for good measure. The effect is a spicy punch in the mouth of beans and cumin with a green chile heat and a touch of vinegar.

There’s a surprisingly robust hotdog menu as well, and even some salads, meaning that it’s not a bad idea to stop in for lunch during the week even if finishing off a tabletop’s worth of BBQ doesn’t seem feasible before you have to run back to work.

Happily, there’s also a great beer menu, with local favorites like Marble on tap, and a wide selection of national and international varieties. It was here, in fact, that I discovered my favorite beer ever, the Scottish-made Traquair, a barley-wine like beverage of heavy malt and subtle hops. It’s pricey, but worth it.

Lobo burger
Lobo burger.

One of The Cube’s specialties is one that your appetite might not be able to take on unless you pace yourself. That would be a shame, so consider this fair warning: Save room for dessert. The pies in particular are house-made and wonderful. We didn’t quite manage to follow our own advice about saving room, so we wound up splitting a single piece of sweet potato praline pie thinking we’d have to force it down for the good of the review. Instead, the moist, sweet filling and candied nut exterior reawakened my appetite, and despite the inevitable stretching of the waist band, I would have happily eaten the whole piece by myself. In fact, I want another one. Right now. If you prefer not to rupture your gut at the table, or if you just want to have ready access to The Cube’s desserty magnificence without leaving the house, you can always order a whole pie and take it home for later enjoyment.

In fact, the BBQ oeuvre is one that has always lent itself to take-out and catering, and The Cube is ready to load you down for your next banquet or picnic. With 24 hours notice you can even ask for any variety of pie, as long as the filling is in season.

The only downside to doing things that way is that you’d miss out on the beer selection. And the smoke.

View in Alibi Chowtown Chowtown

The Cube BBQ

1520 Central SE
243-0023
thecuberestaurant.com


Hours: 11am to 10pm, Tuesday to Saturday
Noon to 8pm Sunday
Closed Monday
Booze: Beer and wine
Solid? Platonic
Extras: Geeks Who Drink every Thursday at 8

The Alibi recommends: Sausage, sweet potato praline pie

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