Losing My Religion 

Reverend's BBQ: You can do better!

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HYPE IS A HARSH DEITY. And few restaurant launches were more anticipated in early 2014 than Reverend's BBQ in Sellwood, for so many reasons.

The pedigree! A barbecue joint from the guys behind Laurelhurst Market, the city's undisputed best steakhouse? We pudgy-waisted gluttons salivated. The cuisine! Portland may not be in the South, but lawd-a-mercy do we queue up for brisket and fried chicken. The location! Sellwood is positively praying for some destination dining!

Then came the previews; piqued peeks at the menu and promises of a new challenger to the Podnah's Pit crown. Reverend's opened in March, and instantly lines were out the door. But early experiences involved obscene wait times and botched, greasy chicken. Today, the lines have thinned, as char hounds have figured out there isn't much reason to make the journey. In the cold light of post-hype frenzy, Reverend's proves to be simply adequate. And it should be far better.

Let's get down to what would be the core cannon of any BBQ bible: The brisket ($11.49 for a half pound). Its texture ranges wildly on the plate from too dry to too fatty, and it lacks a substantial bark, the dark, salty, crispy best part. It also comes with the house barbecue sauce—a nicely tangy tomato-based mix—already applied. This, in my opinion, is the definition of blasphemy.

Ribs are my personal favorite, and so the first thing I ordered was the $14.95 dinner platter with four ribs and two sides. Mercifully, they were not pre-sauced, so I could choose from the caddy holding vinegar, mustard, and two barbecue sauces, but these large pork spareribs were a tad chewy, and lacked the carmelization that makes the public display of getting totally gross and covered in grease and sauce worth it. Sides were uneven: The BBQ chip-topped mac 'n' cheese, a play on a similar dish at Laurelhurst, had good texture and cheese-to-noodle ratio. The collard greens also passed the test. But the kitchen team is still struggling to tweak basics like coleslaw—an early version was so finely shredded it tasted like baby food; a later visit had thicker cabbage shreds, but the whole dish was drowning in watery mayo. And, while not a side, it is downright cruel to offer fried zucchini pickles ($4.95) and not mention anywhere on the menu that they're sweet. Blech.

Reverend's jumped on the draft cocktail craze, offering four unbalanced options. The Wadin' Through Long Beach ($6), with silver tequila, lime, Campari, and Fort George IPA, made me wonder if the water on those shores is contaminated. A rotating Pfriem beer tap and other decent draft selections make beer a safer bet—and besides, it goes better with barbecue.

The cynical side of me wonders if Reverend's was opened as a moneymaker—a commercial venture from an auteur, like when Bowie signed with Mick Jagger for "Dancing in the Street." A place where people accept that the Montbéliard sausage that accompanies the wonderful Louisiana Hot Link and Portuguese linguiça—made at Laurelhurst and smoked at Reverend's—on the sausage plate ($12.95) verges on cloying. A place where two bros stared over each other's shoulders at one of three massive, inescapable TV screens, never uttering a word.

And yet, it's not all mediocrity. The fried chicken, dusted in a curry powder that provides color and kick, was delicious and crispy both on a sandwich ($8.95) with shredded iceberg, pepperoncini, and spicy mayo, and as a half-pound of boneless thighs ($5.95). Service was amiable, proficient, and willing to steer customers toward the best options. The deviled eggs with brisket burnt ends and piccalilli ($4.95) were perhaps the best showcase for the brisket. And for a few months now I've been craving a childhood fave: banana pudding with Nilla Wafers and whipped cream ($6). That hit the comfort-food spot.

Right now, Reverend's appears to be in purgatory—we're not yet sure if Sellwood will wind up in barbecue heaven or roasting eternally in the charcoal pits of damnation. I'm willing to convert, but I'm going to need a much better sermon

Sun–Thurs 11:30 am-9 pm, Fri–Sat 11:30 am-10 pm. Family friendly, with a full bar. No reservations, but to-go orders are welcomed.

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