Words and Photos by Liam O'Brien
Despite being a melting pot for a diverse range of food options, the city of Boston has long lacked in one major American dietary staple: barbecue. The hallmark food of Southern-style cooking has traditionally failed to make a home for itself among the shivery concrete jungles of Massachusetts, leaving Bostonians yearning for the taste of pulled pork and chicken that thrives below the Mason-Dixon line.
However, Fenway’s Sweet Cheeks Q, owned by Top Chef Season One runner-up Tiffani Faison, attempts to bring the taste of classical American home cooking to the New England region. Just blocks from Fenway Park, the restaurant prides itself on delivering Texas-inspired barbecue to Boylston Street’s booming dining scene.
Upon pulling up to the restaurant, you can immediately envision yourself on the streets of Austin if you are able to block out the noise of the MBTA buses spiraling past the bustling enclave. The restaurant is adorned with a vintage metal sign spelling out “BBQ” in a vertical pattern emblazoned with lights, capturing the essence of an authentic Texas barbecue joint.
The layout appears to be more modern, similar to a stereotypical bar, with large wooden tables and a sprawling bar with ESPN playing in the background. Despite its predictable appearance, the inside brings a blissful smell that the usual bar fails to capture. The unmistakable scent of barbecued meat fills the air, leaving customers drooling for their meal to arrive just upon sitting down.
Being a huge fan of chicken while also attempting to ball on a budget, I decided to order the natural pulled chicken sandwich served on a bulkie roll. Each sandwich order includes your choice of one cold “scoop” or warm “scoop,” the restaurant’s term for side dishes, along with your meal. For $3, you can choose one of each category, so I decided to splurge and order a side of potato salad and collard greens. For $12, the total price was nothing to complain about and was rather wallet-friendly compared to the price of an entree and multiple sides at some of the neighborhood’s surrounding eateries.
Upon receiving my order, I immediately delved into the main course, and I was not disappointed. The cherishable taste of mesquite emanated off of the pulled chicken directly upon placing it into my mouth, while a smoky aroma filled my taste buds with glee. Each bite of chicken was juicy, and the meat was served in thick chunks that were not chewy at all, much to my delight. The chicken was tender enough to melt in your mouth and the flavors thrillingly translated directly into the bulkie roll.
The roll itself was toasted to undeniable perfection. In fact, it was more comparable to a slice of toast or a biscuit rather than the thick, overpowering potato roll that I envisioned at the time of my order. It was extremely crunchy and a little charred on the outside while doughy on the inside, which blended well with the flavors of the chicken. Its firmness allowed it to remain intact upon contact with the juices of the meat, allowing for a clean eating experience. Additionally, the roll was excellent when doused with the sweet barbecue sauce that accompanies the meal. This dark maroon, pepper-infused sauce displayed an ideal mix of sugar and spice and paired excellently with just about everything on the plate.
Following the conclusion of my sandwich, I then moved on to the cold scoop of potato salad. The concoction presented tremendous flavor, rich in both dill and onions, which packed a memorable taste. Thick chunks of potato filled the generous portion, and the salad paired tremendously with the aforementioned barbecue sauce.
Perhaps the recommended move when visiting Sweet Cheeks Q is to stick with the cold scoops, because the hot scoop of collard greens was not as “hot” as the menu might suggest both in terms of temperature and flavor. The collard greens were not served teeming with warmth and they possessed an excessive amount of oil to add to a messy serving. While this side did have a rich flavor infused with a tinge of sweetness, it could have used some pepper seasoning to spice up the taste.
The order also came with another barbecue sauce, one that was less concentrated and resembled duck sauce that you would receive along with a meal at a Chinese restaurant. It was light red and appeared to have some spice inside of it. However, its smell brought to mind the stench of glue and a taste was absent when paired with the bulkie roll, a distinct contrast from the more flavorful barbecue sauce that I added to the other options on the plate.
The dish was accompanied by a side of pickles and onions as well. Upon the darker appearance of the pickles, I became ecstatic at the thought of biting into a deliciously sweet pickle. This bite failed to meet my expectations, as the pickles tasted as though they arrived straight out of a traditional dill pickle jar that had been sitting on the shelf for eight months. The chopped onions were nothing to write home about either.
When ordering at Sweet Cheeks Q, duly note that the cold scoops are the best option and be sure to hold off on the deceivingly intriguing side of pickles and onions. Overall, however, Sweet Cheeks is an enticing addition to Boston’s booming landscape of restaurants. The meat was intensely savory and elegantly combined with the bulkie roll to create a delectable, unforgettable sandwich.