The North End Barbecue & Moonshine

My boss asked me where I was going to dine that night. When I told her where I was going, she said she had been there before. “How was it?” I asked. “Not bad…” was her response, followed by a three second pause. I think that three second pause is the best silent description I have ever heard.

 

Location:

1250 E 86th St
Indianapolis, IN 46240
http://www.thenorthendbbq.com/

 

The North End Barbecue and Moonshine

  • North End is located at the forefront of Nora Plaza, housed in this spiffy looking building with dark, wooden accents inside and deceptively bright lighting during the night. No seriously, I thought this place was going to be another one of those dimly lit dining places to “set the atmosphere”, so to speak. Although to be fair, if you’re eating something as involved as barbecue, you’d probably want to see where that sauce just dripped on.
  • Fast forward through the whole seating hooplah, which was quick and painless, we perused our way on the menu. A fairly large drink menu with lots of beer and bourbon and whiskey and whatever drink you fancy. I figured I’d share that one with you.

 

Sauce Caddy

  • In between placing our order and waiting for our first item to arrive, our server brought us the sauce caddy. In it were four bottles with four different kinds of sauces, which they claimed to make in house:

    • Classic – Their classic sauce, hence the name. It was red and tasted eerily close to tomato sauce with your typical barbecue-related seasoning. Unfortunately, these two aspects disagreed like oil and water in the same container. You get the vinegary tomato sauce first, and then as an afterthought you get the seasoning. When actually placed on a piece of meat, the seasoning taste disappears, leaving you with vinegar tomato sauce.
    • Carolina Gold – Mustard-based sauce, although our server described it as more as honey mustard. Once again, vinegar heavy. Like vinegar mustard? This is the perfect sauce for you.
    • Texas Red – The only sauce with an added heat to it, but just a little bit. It’s pretty much the same as the classic sauce with a little extra kick but without the random seasoning taste at the end. Spicy vinegar tomato sauce!
    • KC Sweet – Molasses-based sauce. Sweet and sticky and pours a little slower than the other three (duh). When tasted by itself, it had a little bit of a bitter note because of the molasses but it went away when actually put on something. I’m not sure if this one has vinegar so I can’t call this vinegar molasses. Bummer.

 

Onion Rings

  • We decided on onion rings for our appetizer, which came to us in a platter. At first I thought the amount was a tad small, but I remembered that we were pigs but I was actually glad they only gave us that much and not one ring more. You see, during the first three rings, it stood to be one darn good ring. Nice and sweet breading that held together very well, housing an onion inside that didn’t drag its entire self out after the first bite. Each bite was actually breaded onion, not breading that had an onion earlier. However, by about the fourth ring something happened. Our nice and sweet breading became a grating and sweet-on-grease breading, and the onion inside was actually smaller than initially thought. Well, I guess that would explain that non-self-pulling onion sliver. Any other rings beyond that point became a chore to finish.
  • I must add that the onion rings came drizzled with the normal sauce most places give for anything fried onion related. While it was refreshing in a way that it wasn’t as painfully salty as other places, the flavor was held back a little too much. Instead of being a new dimension giver to the onion ring, it became a sauce that just happened to be there, not really doing anything other than sometimes making you want to dodge it.
  • Eventually our main courses arrived, served on a cookie tray lined with brown paper. Let’s discuss the lineup here.

 

Ribs and Brisket

  • My tray consisted of half-slab St. Louis style spareribs, beef brisket, fries, and collard greens. Time for more sub-bullets.

    • Ribs – The first thing I noticed was the lack of color. I’m not saying it was grayscale, although in terms of barbecue it might as well have been. Barely any char and no seasoning color, just brown meat with specks of black pepper. I suppose it was obligatory for it to be brown because otherwise it would have been pink and raw. I wrestled it with a knife to get a piece, and upon taking first bite it was tender. Not fall-off-the-bone tender though, but the kind of tender you get when you put some meat in the oven and let it cook in low heat. Soft but still somehow too firm. Moist but not juicy. Oh and that lack of color I mentioned earlier? Yeah, it was pretty much bland. I said it that way because it had a semblance of flavor into it, but it was about a mile too far to surface.
       
      North End does their barbecue dry, so this doesn’t come pre-coated with sauce. I suppose they want diners to mix and match with the sauce available, instead of imposing a sauce on them. Now that this is out of the way, let me tell you how the ribs tasted with sauce, with the exception of vinegar mustard because I don’t like mustard. Classic was too tarty and acidic even on the meat. Texas Red was nice at first but after a while the vinegar starts being an attention hog. KC Sweet made the meat sweet on the surface, but that’s it. None of them, especially KC Sweet, ever did anything to enhance the meat. All the sauces did was to coat the meat with something so you had some flavor to call your own. No new dimensions, no new identities, no higher level of flavor awesomeness. Just bland meat and some sauce which happened to be together at the same time because I said so.
    •  

    • Beef Brisket – I guess I can’t really call this colorless because cooked beef is brown by default. Same deal as the rib: marginally tender simply because it was cooked in a non-hardening way. However, this item won the blandness contest. Where the rib tried to have some flavor (albeit still failing), this one didn’t even bother. Not even a lick of salt. Thanks for my slab of cooked, unseasoned meat, I guess. Even the tip I found later during the meal that looked charred didn’t taste of anything. I contemplated on dousing it with molasses but I thought, “This is a charred tip. This has to have taste, right?” WRONG! I ended up chewing on a thick chunk of unflavored meat.
       
      I must discuss this interesting phenomenon with the brisket. Just like any other sane person, I doused each bite of my brisket with sauce so I can make it edible have some flavor to it. First, I tried Texas Red. I got the spicy vinegar tomato sauce flavor for a second but disappeared shortly after and left me chewing on unflavored meat. I tried a few more times but the same thing happened, so I decided to give Classic another try. Same deal: vinegar sauce for a second or less and then it dissipated. By that point I decided that if vinegar tomato sauce couldn’t do anything, I must attack it with sweetness. So I used KC Sweet on it… and the same thing happened. Sweet for a split second only. It’s almost as if the brisket has a flavor-repelling coating on it that makes any flavor just slide on by. Even after leaving it sitting on KC Sweet sauce overnight in our to-go containers, hoping that it would somehow suck in some flavor, the flavor-repellent was still in full force. That’s pretty amazing, in the wrong way.
    • Collard Greens – Doused with vinegar. LOTS of vinegar. The first few bites/forkfuls were fine, especially when eaten in conjunction with something else, but halfway through the little bowl the acidity started slapping me on the face. It had some small pieces of meat in there that also didn’t taste of anything. Imagine that. It was hard to finish, by the way.
    • Hand-cut Fries with Smoked Bone Marrow Butter and Jalapenos – How to smoke bone marrow and infuse it with butter. No seriously, I’d love to see the process because I’m genuinely curious. Not that it was anything worth the intriguing name, because all it did was give each fry a shiny coat and an occasional light smokey flavor. The fries, thankfully, were truly fresh cut. Every once in a while you’d get a spicy piece, having been sitting close to a not bottled jalapeno slice. Something happened (again!) at the bottom of the mound, however. Each piece became increasingly oily and spicy, thanks to the pool of oil sitting on the brown paper. There were so much oil at the bottom that the fries swimming on it became soggy.

 
Ribs and Pulled Pork

  • Wade-o got ribs, pulled pork, fries, and corn bread. You already know what the deal was with the ribs and fries, so we’ll discuss the pulled pork and corn bread.

    • Pulled Pork – For once I was glad to see a pulled pork that hasn’t been pulled to oblivion. Distinguishable strands of pork clearly pulled from a bigger source. I simply had to take a forkful to try it (or more accurately, Wade-o gave me a sample forkful), and it had a disgusting aftertaste like it had been flash boiled, cooked somewhere else, then flash boiled again. Here’s his take on his meal: he’ll talk about it later.
    • Corn Bread with Maple Bourbon Butter – You know those small, one-egg frying pans? This corn bread was about that wide, if not wider. Standing at about an inch thick, this isn’t just any corn bread serving. On top was a dollop of maple bourbon butter, softened so that it could easily be spread in and around the bread. It was delightfully sweet, thanks to the maple, with an edge at the end because of the bourbon. Pair this up with a sweet, firm corn bread that doesn’t crumble into a billion pieces with the slightest touch, and you get a nice bite that’s doubly sweet but never too much, with an interestingly smokey aftertaste. We liked this one.

 
Pecan Pie Parfait

  • We decided to share this Pecan Pie Parfait for dessert, because after seeing the pictures we decided we simply must have one. There was something about a pecan pie slice stuffed inside a mason jar, topped with vanilla ice cream that just sounded mouthwatering. Our first few spoonfuls were blissful: one part ice cream and another part of either pecan, pie filling, crust, or a combination of any of these items. However, as they say, all good things must come to an end. The ice cream was just another vanilla ice cream. Pecan was… well, a pecan (if it tasted like pistachios I’d be scared). The pie filling became too cloying, and even with the ice cream it was barely subdued. The crust was nice every once in a while, but just like the filling it got too sweet, as if it was made with nothing but sugar. We actually didn’t finish this one.
  • To be honest with you, I had a very high expectation of the place. It is well-liked online. It is a sister restaurant of another well-received place, Late Harvest Kitchen. They claimed their technique to be traditional American (see picture above and read it upside down). I was hoping for a local barbecue place that could give chain barbecue stores a run for their money. What we got was a bunch of items that were only good the first few bites, sauces diluted with vinegar (with the exception of KC Sweet), and flavorless meat that was characteristically closer to an oven-baked meat. I mean seriously, where else can you get beef brisket with flavor-repellent coating? Also, I think Wade-o is ready to talk now:

    Regarding the meat as a whole (and disregarding the fact that they were advertising it as barbecue), I thought the main thing they were trying to do was to have customers experience the natural taste of the meat with minimal seasoning. There are places around that specialize in such a thing, and they succeed. A good example of this would be St. Elmo’s Steak House where the main attraction is an aged steak, but still seasoned lightly. However, as I took more bites of my ribs and pulled pork, I kept getting the feeling that they were deathly afraid of components such as salt and pepper. After that I thought that maybe the main thing they wanted customers to do was to have them customize their barbecue their own way with the various sauces that they provided; however, it didn’t help when the sauces were, for the lack of a better word, complete crap (with the exception of KC sweet). All the other sauces just felt unnecessarily watered down (or as she already said, diluted with vinegar).

    Oh yeah, and my ribs? They were less cooked than hers. They were still pink inside. Not bloody, just some lines of pink.

  •  

  • I mentioned earlier that we took some food home. As it stands right now, we simply cannot eat it even though it is heavily coated with some of their sauces. Therefore, I’ve decided that I’m going to let the leftovers sit in the fridge for a few days and cook it again. I’m going to re-season it and see what happens, especially to the brisket. Come back here again for a detailed post on this whole experiment, including the steps I’ve taken and the end results.

 

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2 thoughts on “The North End Barbecue & Moonshine

  1. You are a hack. Go back to your supermarket and review some more lays potato chips and leave the good restaurants for those of us who can truly appreciate them for what they are, local and unique. Thanks for trying to make the general public care about your opinions although newsflash.. We don’t.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read some of my posts. I am truly sorry that we have differing opinions about North End. I wrote this piece with the intention of sharing my experiences during my visit, and am in no way trying to stop future diners from visiting. I am simply telling my story, to say the least. I am not writing definitive reviews and/or evaluations of restaurants and the occasional snacks, but rather my thoughts of them. As such, I welcome dissenting opinions as I believe that this is the best way to nurture healthy conversations, as well as a way of seeing things from another angle.

      I am happy for those who liked this establishment and am glad to see them support local businesses. For those who ended up not liking North End, at least we can say that we tried. If there is anything you feel I must improve upon, please let me know and I will see what I can do.

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