Few culinary pursuits are more subjective, or more geographically specific, than barbecue. The idea of a Texas barbecue joint opening in a former taco stand in the valley between Church and Union hills strikes me as calculated precision rather than random chance.
Certainly the cooking methods are global. Meat slow-roasted over a flame almost guarantees yum. Variables are the type of wood used for the fire and the preparation. Is it brined or braised, rubbed or marinated? Answer those questions and you have a fairly accurate culinary global-positioning system.
The Alamo switches things up a bit by Southern standards. Meats are the usual: chicken, pulled pork and beef brisket, served in consistently huge portions for the money. Flavors speak of mesquite smoke, a spice rub and a hint of vinegar. Lunch is around $7; a full meal for $10 includes sandwich, side, drink and dessert. The side sauce is sweet and spicy, no tomato anywhere to be seen and a pleasantly intriguing finish — what is that? Pomegranate? Blood orange? I'll have to keep going back until I figure it out.
New menu additions include blackened mahi tacos and some of the best ribs this side of the Slip. Now that the buzz is seriously afoot and business is booming, the Alamo's decided to make every day rib day. Though I found them a little heavy on the rub for my palate, they were falling-off-the-bone tender with a nice smoky flavor. I just wish I could taste the meat more than the rub.
The sides are a steal at $1.50 and include a palate-cleansing black-bean salad with cilantro-lime vinaigrette, and corn chips with a roasted corn and black-bean salsa that boasts fresh, flavorful tomatoes. In July all tomatoes should be fresh, and yet that's not true everywhere.
Among the weaker offerings is a slaw that varies widely in its preparation; at one meal it seemed someone mistook “t.” (teaspoon) for “T.” (tablespoon) in the recipe, which is a lot of celery salt. Potato salad was woefully middle-of-the-road.
The tiny hut hosts no fryers, so don't expect fried starch — no hush puppies, onion rings or sweet-potato fries. But wait. We're not in Richmond. We're at the Alamo. Instead, it offers exceptional house-made cowboy beans with chunks of pulled pork and jalapeno mac and cheese. Both taste great, but I won't be enjoying them again until they come in something other than Styrofoam. I just can't do it. As a chef, I hate what it does to food. Ever had fries wrapped in Styrofoam? Mush. As a parent, I hate how it crowds landfills. And there are plenty of options; many carry-out joints in our city use biodegradable boxes.
But overall the Alamo gets kudos for cutting carry-out trash. Most items come in reusable containers or better yet, paper. As they settle into their success, perhaps offering family-sized side options would further reduce packaging. Maybe owners can even manage curbside pickup.
I'm a committed regular at the Alamo carry-out. Some things are better left to practiced hands and guys who want to spend time with fire and wood chips and smoke. Now that there are ribs every day, I might stop by more frequently. But then my tastes are variable and I'm just as likely to crave the local rendition — Ronnie's in the parking lot near 25th and Main on my way out of town. S
The Alamo ($)
2202 Jefferson Ave., Church Hill
Call ahead for specials, most orders ready to go in five minutes at the window
Carryout daily: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
Limited patio seating
Editor's note: The business no longer packages orders in Styrofoam.