Vegas isn’t a great town for ’cue, but it’s not for lack of trying.
Mike Mills of Memphis Championship Barbecue is a hit in New York City at Blue Smoke, but his Las Vegas restaurants are erratic. The Salt Lick from Austin enjoyed a mercurial run at Red Rock Resort. The Rub BBQ from New York was often terrific during a brief stint at the Rio.
Now we’ve got Lynyrd Skynyrd BBQ & Beer, named for the iconic rock group so worshiped in the American South.
It’s housed in an open space at Excalibur, with a team of 20 women multitasking as bartenders, cocktail servers and entertainers. While you eat, they’ll do choreographed dance moves on a fixed stage, occasionally encouraging the crowd to sing along. After 10 p.m., there are live bands as well.
The ’cue here is by pit-master Keith Schmidt of Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas, which is famous for places such as Smitty’s, Black’s and Chisholm Trail. Texas aficionados call it their barbecue capital, a veritable tabernacle of ’cue.
Meats here are served without sauce, although a trio of them will appear on your unadorned wooden table: mustard, mild and hot. That’s fine with me. I’ve long considered barbecue sauce to be nothing more than tomato sauce, sugar and smoke, unless I run into that rare great one.
And the meats speak for themselves. Schmidt uses red oak, cooking his charges “low and slow,” the only way to true ’cue. The result is the best barbecue available in the city, unless you’re willing to trek to North Las Vegas on a day when John Mull’s Meats is catering.
Meats are sold by weight, and other than drinks, the restaurant is self-service. You’ll get a tray and slide it down a cafeteria line. Utensils are plastic and plates are paper. It’s not a great date restaurant, but for ’cue-lovers, it’ll do.
First among equals here is the barbecued sausage—grainy, fatty, finely textured and unforgettable. Schmidt uses a 100-year-old recipe that hasn’t changed for generations. One is mild and sweet. A second has a sneaky hot finish, laced with cheese and jalapeño peppers. Watch out!
There are three types of pork: smooth-textured ham, meaty chops or large, unwieldy, fall-off-the-bone tender spare ribs, the best choice.
Texans worship brisket and this version is impressive, layered with a ribbon of fat and so tender it puts most Jewish delis’ versions to shame. The only other beef option I exercised was a slab of prime rib. At $6.95 per quarter-pound it’s easily the most expensive item on this menu. For a respite from red meat, there is chicken and turkey as well.
Sides are sold in two sizes, small and big, in plastic containers. They serve two or four, respectively. Chunks of brisket enliven collard greens, while the delicious dirty rice is mixed with sausage instead of the more traditional liver. Someone trendy sneaked in grit fries, long sticks of fried cornmeal. Pass on the too-sweet baked beans.
If you can handle dessert, ice creams are from Blue Bell Creamery in Brenham, Texas, and they’re just fine, especially the vanilla, on a slice of the excellent house pecan pie.
I may not be a Free Bird, but I do know how to eat like one.