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In our experience, the best barbecue joints are the ones that make us feel at home as soon as we walk through the door, then follow that up with some hearty grub that leaves us ready to waddle off to the nearest bed for a well-deserved food coma and case of the meat sweats. We appreciate a good plate of barbecue, but we aren't of the worshipful class that elevates it beyond all other forms of cuisine. For many people, opinions about barbecue are like children — everybody thinks theirs are the best.
Perhaps that disqualifies us from talking about a place like Sassy's Red House on Fayetteville's College Avenue, but while we may not know all the esoteric secrets of the different ways fire and smoke can be applied to heat, we do know what we like putting in our mouths, and Sassy's did just fine on that score, leaving us satisfied with a big meal that didn't blow us away, but certainly left us feeling like we had gotten our money's worth.
We opened the proceedings with an order of Homemade Fried Pickles ($5.99), because when it comes to deep-fried treats we can't ever seem to turn down, fried pickles are right at the top of the list. Sassy's version of the Arkansas classic were of the sliced, textured hamburger-chip variety, dipped in a light batter and fried to a golden crisp. They're salty, utterly greasy and completely decadent when dipped in the side cup of ranch dressing with which they were served. There was nothing about these pickle chips that would set them apart in a blind taste test with a dozen others we've tried, but since we were after that salty-tangy taste of familiar bliss, that wasn't a bad thing.
Without planning it, our table managed to hit the holy trinity of smoked meat with our order, starting with brisket in the form of a jumbo beef sandwich ($7.65 sandwich, $9.99 combo). Brisket is one of those cuts that can be simply spectacular when done well, but all too often wind up bland, dry or overwhelmed by slimy fat. This beef was decidedly between those two extremes, because while we thought the exterior of the meat could have used more of that dark, smoky bark that is the sign of excellent brisket, the meat was moist and tender and not too fatty.
The regular pork sandwich ($5.25 sandwich, $6.99 combo) was closer to what our ideal barbecue sandwich should be, which might have something to do with the fact that we personally prefer pork — this is Arkansas, after all. The pork paired well with Sassy's signature Sassy Jones BBQ Sauce. Of particular note, too, is that despite our ordering a regular portion instead of the jumbo-sized sandwich (as we did with the brisket), this was still a large sandwich that we had no problem getting full from. Again, we could have used a stronger flavor of smoke to the meat, but in terms of texture and tenderness, the sandwich was right on.
Perhaps the weakest of the smoked meats we tried came with our chicken sandwich ($5.25 sandwich, $6.99 combo), which made us realize that smoked chicken really needs to be served on the bone and with the skin still involved in order to reach maximum flavor potential. This sandwich was decidedly bland, and while we think Sassy's is doing a great job with its house recipe sauce, we would have liked a little more flavor. Of course, we know people who refuse to even acknowledge that chicken has any part of barbecue whatsoever, and we can imagine them reading this with an "I told you so" expression on their faces. Texture was also an issue with the chicken — things were just a little too dry and chewy for our taste all around.
For our final dish, we stepped outside the barbecue paradigm altogether and went with the Fuego Burger ($7.99), a hot and hearty combination of peppers, buffalo sauce and pepper jack cheese that tingled the mouth and brought a little sweat out to the forehead. It's a huge burger, well cooked and juicy, and even though there were a lot of flavors going on with the toppings, the beef was the star of the show. Along with the brisket, we'd have to say that Sassy's is doing best when it's doing beef, and despite our desire to go back for ribs, we'll find it hard to branch out from the burger menu.
Like many barbecue places we've eaten at over the years, Sassy's side dishes were secondary. A thick, sweet version of barbecue beans was tasty enough and the cole slaw was perfectly passable, though neither did much to stand out from dozens of similar versions around. French fries were of the decidedly pre-frozen waffle-cut, making us long (as we usually do in these situations) for a barbecue joint that would make the decision to commit to really stellar hand-cut fries. Okra wasn't much better, and while we enjoyed our sweet potato tots with caramel sauce well enough, it's clear that the freezer is getting a workout here.
Despite these minor complaints, we'd have to say that Sassy's is an excellent value for a down-home lunch or dinner. We fed a table of four adults and one child for just north of $50, and that's an almost unheard-of thing outside fast food these days. Service was friendly and accommodating, and while we may not have had a transcendent experience, we left full and satisfied. With just a little more attention to its side items and the addition of a little more smoke to the meat, there's no reason why Sassy's couldn't be among the elite for Arkansas 'cue.
Sassy's Red House
708 College Ave. Fayetteville
Dining out with kids? Sassy's is just the place. Servers are quick with high chairs and booster seats, and will have some crayons and coloring pages in the hands of the little ones quicker than even the sweet tea hitting the table. In addition, kids' portions are relatively large, diverse and inexpensive.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Beer and wine, all credit cards.
The best pizza!!!!