Pulling It Off

Photo by Tim Robison

Photo by Tim Robison

In a mere couple of miles, and with no real warning, Merrimon Avenue turns into Broadway turns into Biltmore Avenue turns into Hendersonville Highway. That’s hard enough for Asheville’s tourists and the area’s newer residents to puzzle out.

But the wacky-infrastructure game got even trickier with the abundance of restaurants bearing the name “Mo/Moe” that all happened to be located within a single city block. At one point, Ashevilleans enjoyed Chef Mo’s and Mo Daddy’s Bar & Grill (both recently closed), and, still thriving, the chain restaurants Moe’s Southwest Grill and Moe’s Original Bar B Que.

The fact that the franchises are alive and well while their indie brothers have sunk is a story for another time. Meanwhile, let’s welcome Moe’s Original Bar B Que to downtown Hendersonville, where at least it doesn’t have to compete with a disparate family of same-named brothers (one is reminded of George Foreman and his five sons, all also named George).

Moe’s is a small Southern chain that manages to retain the flavor of a hometown joint, both gastronomically and atmospherically. The young woman taking our order at the counter at the Hendersonville Moe’s was as friendly as banana pudding, answering questions without a hint of the attitude one encounters in Asheville’s more acutely hip BBQ eateries.

Photo by Tim Robison
The décor takes a stab at rustic, but the prime vibe is sports bar, with four large flat screens grid-ironing the room. Happily, the TVs were all muted: Patrons who care can watch updates on their favorite teams, while uninterested fellow customers at least don’t have to hear about it.

The owners’ love of live music almost takes the top note. Framed posters honoring Phish and Widespread Panic, among other jam bands, are everywhere. There’s even a painting of Ol’ Dirty Bastard of Wu-Tang Clan fame — trendily glassed inside a vintage window frame, no less. (I’d like to take home a dollar for every tourist who can correctly identify the late rapper from this intriguing, untitled portrait.)

Moe’s shtick is its “Southern soul food revival,” and while the bill of fare doesn’t stray too far from the expected, if “revival” means the return of wonderfully tender meat — sometimes overlooked in the quest for gourmet sauces or ever-cleverer sides — then I’ll OK the hype.

Ribs that slip off the bone, pulled pork that’s juicy enough to skip condiments, smoked chicken and turkey with the taste of white meat but the texture of dark — at Moe’s the secret is here, and not in the sauce.

But the sauce must be mentioned. Like it or not, it can distinguish one barbecue joint from the next, despite all other factors. Moe’s offers two sauces: a tomato-based red, fairly spicy, and rather salty, and a mayonnaise-based white. Bottles are kept heated — a cozy touch. Like warm pancake syrup, warm barbecue sauce is a treat that’s hard to come back from.

The tender factor extends to the beef brisket and wings, as well. Moe’s also offers fried catfish and a shrimp “moe-boy” sandwich.

Sides are less uniform. The grilled cornbread is a cute innovation. The slaw tastes fresh and light, no mayo in sight, while the potato salad is firmly of the old school: gooey enough to do any church potluck proud.

The baked beans, while apparently slow-cooked, are, like the house sauce, salty. I can usually drill through some barbecued baked beans like a weevil through cotton, but here I had to stop after a few bites.

That said, Moe’s macaroni-and-cheese is some of the best around.

Whether it’s being served straight up in a grocery deli or doctored with Gruyère in a high-end bistro, mac-and-cheese arguably remains the “foodie-est” side item on the planet. And every purveyor insists its mac-and-cheese is homemade. I call some of them liars — and I am never taken in by obfuscations such as “Ultimate Cheesy Mac,” either.

When mac-and-cheese really is homemade, you just know it. Moe’s nails this dish. It’s juicy and tender (you’ll notice a theme by now), and baked to deep goodness.

Pasta that’s merely drizzled with cheese is not really mac-and-cheese, no matter how impressive the source of either ingredient. Macaroni has to be well acquainted with its cheese to taste right. And Moe’s seems already to be well acquainted with a regular patronage in Hendersonville. Despite being open only a half-year, the counter menu already shows shiny bare spots.

Those worn words read quaint. A chain Moe’s may be, but if the inevitable repetition includes a stream of smiling regulars, the restaurant has already established what, indeed, is in a name.

Moe’s Original Bar B Que

114 North Main Street

Hendersonville

Open 7 Days

www.moesoriginalbbq.com

828-595-9200

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