Perhaps my hopes were too high for the main BBQ joint in Hope, Arkansas. When I first ate there in 2008, the place had just opened and I ate what was easily one of the best BBQ meals I have ever had. Seriously. Four years later, everyone in my party was pretty disappointed.
When Big Jake’s first opened, we found a wonderful light aroma of hickory smoke in a spacious seating area, just the right mixture of spice, subtle sweetness, and wonderfully flavorful, moist meat. The sensory stimulation lingered in our memories and we often talked about what great BBQ we had. We anxiously awaited our next opportunity to eat there again. Our next venture there simply can’t compare.
We arrived at about dinner time on a Saturday night and were surprised to find the parking lot was not jam-packed. Perhaps we had beaten the evening rush? We were on a schedule so we decided to get our meals to-go. We all noticed the lack of smoke scent in the air. I ordered from polite counter-staff (we all got the pulled pork sandwich) and tried to keep from drueling while our order was filled — even the sweet potato fries were memorable from four years earlier. When we got our order, there was a problem in that one of our meals was missing, and it had not even been rang up. No sweat — things happen. We ordered it again, paid for the missing meal, and sampled the sauces while we waited(the sweet and smokey is my favorite). We anxiously headed to the car to get situated for the road when we found there was another problem with the meal — one of our sandwiches wasn’t a sandwich… we had no bread or bun. Pulled pork is not exactly finger food on the road.
By this time, an employee was heading to the parking lot having realized they had made another mistake. We needed to go back in and get our order sussed out. We did, although there was no real apology, but recognition of their mistake. Things happen. People make mistakes. New employees need training (et cetera). All of that I can handle. But not the BBQ disappointment.
The meal we had looked forward to for so long was not at all in the same league as the meal we had when they first opened shop. This time there was hardly any perceptible smoke flavor and most importantly, the pulled pork was pretty dry. This is surprising because anyone who knows about pulled pork knows it is from a very forgiving cut of meat. Several easy things can be done to ensure the meat is moist and flavorful without making it swim in sauce. I felt like I had to drink the entire glass of ice tea and loads of sauce get the whole sandwich down.
Could it have been dumb luck? I suppose. But disappointment is hard to overcome. Will I try Big Jake’s again? Maybe. But my heart was broken. At least the sweet potato fries were good.
If you are so inclined, check them out and let me know how your experience goes. You can find them here.