When you walk into a barbecue place in upstate New York and the guy behind the bar is wearing a cowboy hat, you might consider that a good sign.
The hat’s just a tiny part of what makes Desperados feel right. There aren’t many full-service restaurants in the Village of Angola, but fans of smoked meat in the Southtowns might be pleased to find that one is a bona fide barbecue place.
The Desperados building is a century old and counting, and the insides are decorated to fit the part, with saddles and steer horns and other Western accoutrements that seem at home among all the old wood trim. It wasn’t all shiny like instant decor chain restaurants, more like crunchy western. Only the bathroom sinks seem oddly modern.
We descended upon Desperados for a late weekday lunch, and ordered with abandon in a nearly empty dining room.
Rack of spare ribs ($20.95 with two sides), check. Pulled pork sandwiches and pulled chicken sandwiches (large $6.49, one side), check. A beef brisket plate ($12.99, two sides) rounded out the meat selections. Desperados sells barbecued “Kansas” chicken, too, but it’s not available until after 4:30 p.m.
Sides ($1.99 a la carte) add much to a barbecue bonanza, and we ordered a round of cornbread, plus southwestern beans, corn pudding, coleslaw, mac and cheese, and a special side, cinnamon mashed sweet potatoes. Soups sounded good on this frigid day, and we asked for bowls of chicken gumbo and chicken wing soup ($3.75), and a cup of spinach tortellini ($2.75).
The chicken gumbo was a welcoming, hearty bowl of soup, but it lacked the dark toasty undertones of a great gumbo’s roux base. Plenty of chunks of chicken, bell peppers and soft rice, though.
Chicken wing soup turned out to be rich and creamy with a pepper-sauce tang, vaguely reminiscent, in a lighter way, of nacho cheese. It sported nuggets of smoked chicken, but more would have been welcome.
Everyone grabbed a piece of the moist, pale cornbread, sweet with a honey soaking. It would have been better warm, but it was still the first thing gone. Corn pudding looked similar, but this slab was richer, with corn kernels and more sweetness.
The mac and cheese was soft elbow macaroni in a Velveeta-esque cheesy sauce. The beans had a noticeable dose of smoke, and I could have lunched on a bowl with a big hunk of cornbread.
The coleslaw was cold, sweet and crunchy cabbage and shredded carrot, with lots of celery seed. The sweet potatoes were reminiscent of sweet potato pie filling, aromatic with cinnamon.
The main event was the meat, of course, and our amiable server pointed out that there were bottles of sweet, spicy and smoky barbecue sauce on the table.
Our carnivores tore into the spare ribs with abandon. The pork was extremely tender, such that the meat was breaking off the bones as I tried to slice between them. The ribs had the sweetness of slow-cooked pork, but no crust to speak of, and I like more smoke flavor permeating through my barbecue. I was the dissenting vote, as they were the nearly unanimous favorite of the meal among our stable of eaters.
The brisket, sliced thin and fanned out on a plate, was tender, with a few streaks of fat running through it, a good thing in my book. The slices were moist and popular. Again I wanted more smoke, and again my companions judged me too picky.
The pulled pork was moist and tender enough, but rather bland, and we reached for the sauce bottles. The pulled chicken was terrific, well seasoned without resorting to the gloppy barbecue sauce coating you often encounter.
Desserts included peanut butter pie, peanut butter brownie, cranberry pie and rice pudding. The kids loved the nutty, creamy mousse of the pie, while the peanut butter brownie, in cupcake form, met but did not exceed brownie standards. The rice pudding was too hot to eat when served initially, but cooled to a creamy cinnamon pudding with lots of raisins. I liked the cranberry pie the best, a buckle-style dessert with dense cake over tart berries and walnuts.
Desperados will scratch that barbecue itch, even if smoke freaks like me end up wishing for more woodsy flavor.
Tender pork and hearty side dishes headline at Angola’s barbecue outpost.
WHERE: 29 Commercial St., Angola, 549-5413, desperadosbarbecue.com
HOURS: Noon to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Soups and salads, $3.25-$7.99, sandwiches, $5.49-$9.95, platters, $5.99-$35.99.
PARKING: On the street and lot behind building.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Through back door.