Friday, February 25, 2011

Percy Street BBQ - A Meat Lover's Dream Come True

As a barbecue lover (if not a barbecue aficionado), I've made it a personal goal to find the best barbecue in Philadelphia. Little did I know that I wouldn't have to wait more than a few weeks after landing in this fabulous foodie town!
On one of my first strolls through South Philly, I passed by Percy Street Barbecue, located on South Street between 9th and 10th. After glancing through the menu and peeking inside to check out the extensive number of picnic tables (yes, picnic tables!), I decided I had to make it back there -- for both the food AND the ambiance. Tall windows letting in lots of light, intoxicating aromas of beef and pork wafting through, barbecue lovers hunched over ribs and cole slaw. A meat lover's dream come true.

Within the last several months, I've actually made it back here twice! And on both occasions, I not only had amazing service, but also the best barbecue in Philadelphia-- YET.

To kick off my most recent meal there (with serious eaters I met through Serious Eats), we ordered the mac 'n cheese -- a version made with sharp cheddar and homemade breadcrumbs. While I must admit that I prefer my own homemade version with three cheeses, Percy Street did a great job here -- a wonderful balance of creamy and crunchy.

To supplement our massive collection of meats, we ordered four different sides: the German potato salad, the beet salad, the cole slaw, and the collard greens. Ben and Nancy raved about the German potato salad (of which I did not choose to partake), but I thought the beet salad had just enough acid and the collard green had just enough salt. Both of those dishes were well-seasoned, and prepped our palates nicely for what was to come.

Because we were all serious eaters, we were determined to sample the bulk of the Percy Street menu -- in one sitting. That said, we went with the pork belly (which I'd thoroughly enjoyed on my first visit with my BFF Ivana), the pork spare ribs (a staple of any visit to any barbecue joint), and the brisket (Nancy's personal pick given her experience and expertise with North Carolina barbecue).

While the three of us delighted in the quaint packaging and presentation of our meats (all wrapped up in wax paper and delivered in plastic trays), the meats themselves varied somewhat in terms of flavor and texture. For example, the pork belly was well-seasoned and well-prepared. Each piece was a lovely combination of a thin crispy edge, a juicy meat layer, and a creamy fat layer.

The pork spare ribs were also fairly consistent in terms of flavor and texture, with the meat falling easily off the bone. The preparation offered a definite contrast between the crispy exterior and the moist meat, making for a very satisfying eating experience.

On the other hand, the brisket left a lot to be desired. Unlike well-prepared brisket, which melts in the mouth, what we got was dry and stringy, suggesting that the meat was overcooked. As there is very little that can be done to salvage overcooked meat, the dish may simply need to be tried again on the next visit. That said, the combination of our chosen meats and sides left us quite satiated.

And while I'm personally a fan of Texas barbecue (i.e., dry rub, no sauce), Percy Street attempts to cater to ALL barbecue lovers, by providing a range of well-named barbecue sauces: Sweet Thang, Old Faithful, Hot Mess. They're worthy trying -- if only to say you've done so.

Even with our completely full stomachs and our completely satiated appetites, how could we leave without satisfying our sweet tooth as well? We decided a slice of key lime pie and two orders of banana pudding was in order. The key lime pie offered a nice tang and a great crust, but could've been slightly creamier. The banana pudding (like the version at Baby Blues BBQ) was simply nowhere near as good as my homemade version with meringue. Like the pie, the pudding could've been creamier as well. In addition, it could've (and should've) better integrated the Nilla wafers, which seemed to be more of an afterthought (as they tend to be these days).

All in all, Percy Street still offers some of the most delicious barbecue I've yet to have in Philadelphia. The meats make a strong show, as do the sides. In addition, the menu offers a fair number of vegetarian options by way of appetizers and sides (including a vegan chili), which acknowledges AND serves diners who may not be as carnivorous as the rest of us. I'll certainly be back, and hopefully with a whole new bunch of barbecue lovers in tow.

Percy Street Barbecue
900 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147

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