Las Vegas is where barbecue goes to die.
Mike Mill’s Memphis Championship Barbecue may have held down his wilderness forts over the past two decades, but at the same time, places as passionate as Struttin’ Gates, Paul Kirk’s R.U.B. and Salt Lick have crashed upon the twin, palate-parched boulders of tourist and local’s collective eating idiocy. What remains are awful chains like Lucille’s and Famous Dave’s, and even awful-er local joints like Buzz and T. C.’s Rib Crib — all standing for the proposition that Las Vegas never met a piece of smoked meat mediocrity it didn’t embrace.
Into this sorry state of affairs we now have a place named after a has-been (and we mean has-been!) band from the 70s, that has gotten more mileage out of two hit songs than anyone since the Ohio Express. What is obvious from the second you see it is, this is a licensing deal made by MGM Resorts with whatever company owns the rights to whatever can be sold with the name of a has-been (and we mean has-been!) Southern rock band on it. Think of it as a barbecue joint tacked onto a t-shirt shop and you’ll get the idea. Take a taste of the food and you’ll get the idea too.
It is a testament to ELV love of ‘cue that even a place promising to be as bad as this could get us into the Excalibur Hotel — somewhere we hadn’t set foot in over 15 years. “Well,” we thought to ourselves, “those noted barbecue experts Brock Radke and Max (“On Wisconsin”) Jacobson have both written positive things about it.”
“But then again,” we thought, “Brock loved Mastro’s (seriously denting whatever food cred he has been accumulating), and Max (a Wisconsin-er ite by way of Massachusetts), has spent about as much time in the South as we have in Mozambique, so maybe we shouldn’t get so excited.” (In case you’re wondering, ELV, even in his thoughts and dreams, always refers to himself with the imperial “we.”)
So we trundled in, sort of against our own will, and found this big, empty room, smack dab in the middle of the casino, with a giant video screen playing an eclectic mix of music (thankfully, no “Freebird”), and serving barbecue from steamer trays. Yes, steamer trays. Which it tasted like — more on that below.
We ordered from a sexy, little brunette who sat at our table and explained how we were supposed to take our ticket up to the feeding trough….er..uh…buffet line, and tell them what we wanted and they’d check it off on the ticket that we would bring back with our cafeteria tray of food. We got two lunch special sandwiches for ten bucks each and two sides. We couldn’t resist the allure of the “Lynyrd Skynyrd” beer and got a mason jar of that as well. The beer was an inoffensive pilsner, with perhaps a little more body than the carbonated water fans of this sort of music (and this sort of food) usually enjoy. In retrospect, though, it was one of the highlights of the meal.
All of the lowlights concerned things you actually had to chew. Jacobson and Brock both bloviated about how they’ve “imported the style and recipes of the legendary Kreuz Market,” in Lockhart, TX — taking their cues on this ‘cue straight from the press releases — and how “spectacular” the meats are…which only signals to us either 1) their laziness; or, 2) their cluelessness about ‘cue. Or probably both. They also gassbagged about how the real owners (something called Drive This Entertainment) drove all over somewhere searching out the best barbecue. Which means not a thing unless you employ someone who actually knows how to season and cook the stuff.
Neither of our meats (brisket and pork) had even the merest hint of smoke to it. Whatever vaunted “rub” so enthused our two clueless critics wasn’t discernible on either pile of tangled, mangled meats. That mangling was most malevolent on the pork. Neither chopped nor pulled, it looked like something a careless cook would hack from a cooked roast and haphazardly throw into some bread. Which was exactly what happened before our eyes. The meat tasted steamed and canned, again without a hint of smoke or kitchen talent behind it. The brisket was slightly better, if only because there is but one way to slice it. And the buns were stale — at least a day past their peak condition.
On the plus side, fans of gummy, gloppy, overly sweet barbecue sauces will be in hog heaven, and the cheese grit fries and collard greens were both darn tasty and worthy of a place at any Southern table.
And our waitron had a nice caboose on her….so at least there was that.
Our lunch for two with a single beer came to $33 — including a four dollar tip for that nice caboose.
LYNYRD SKYNYRD BBQ & BEER
In the Excalibur Hotel and Casino
3850 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109