Belle Belle's Cue Brings Tender Ribs And Brisket To Chinatown
It's hard to pin down the public perception of barbecue. On one hand it's got a populist slant; mention "smoked brisket" and every salivary gland in a ten-foot radius goes into overdrive. On the other, it's developed a kind of cultish milieu of foodies that, to a certain degree, brings to mind the crowd of craft beer enthusiasts.
Take my friend, for instance. We're at the newly-minted Belle Belle's Cue in Chinatown, and he's expounding on the hallmarks of a properly-cooked brisket. "You dangle the brisket with your fingers and you should be able to tear off the meat with only a slight touch," he says. I am presented an IRL example of the "pull test."
When can we eat?
Joking aside, the meat does come off easily at Belle Belle's Cue. The spot, which opened back in January (replacing the former Lobsta Shack), has a somewhat pared down menu, but it hits the major marks when it comes to the realm of smoked meat. The brisket, especially when ordered "wet," is exquisitely marbled—the fat runs like little rivulets through the meat. The texture and the smokey flavor is even throughout, a sign of the glacial, painstaking process that had gone into it; we're told that the smoker gets going as early as three in the morning. The ribs, of course, are similarly tender and delectable. They're dashed with a sauce that gives a kick of flavoring, but is also understated enough to let the meat come to the forefront.
If you like having your ribs (and brisket) drowning in condiments, Belle Belle's Cue has an arsenal of barbecue sauces at your command. Among the selections are the habanero sauce, which has the strange quality of being too tepid with one slathering, but blazingly hot with two (though this is far from being a bad thing). And the honey sauce evokes that irresistible dichotomy of tang and sweetness.
As for the sides, you get the usual rogues' gallery of mac and cheese, cole slaw, and baked beans. While they're all perfectly formidable as side plates, it's the creamed corn and the potato salad that stand apart. The creamed corn is coyly sweet, bearing a consistency that's both soft and substantial. The potato salad, not mashed, has sizable chunks of potato that are tossed with red onions and (!) rib-tips. The rib-tips, crunchy and peppery, are also found in the baked beans; they're like some kind of bastardized crouton that's been blacklisted by the American Heart Association. They are, unfortunately for us, too fun to eat to pass over.
Weirdly, the portions here are unassumingly big. We were feeling pretty sated halfway through our meal—a bit shocking when seeing how modest the spread seemed to be. Is it because the sides are so tightly packed in their containers? Or maybe it was just the richness of the meal? At any rate, the pecan pie is a worthy inclusion as a nightcap if you have some room leftover. The pie, we're informed, is made in-house, rather than sourced via another locale like the nearby Endorffeine (as we'd expected). The dessert bears a fragrance that contrasts with the dark tones of the smoked meats and the flashing headlights of the sauces and the sides. The pie, then, is a nice way of leveling out the experience.
Belle Belle's Cue has had a relatively under-the-radar debut. This is possibly because it landed outside of the much-coveted nexus of the Far East Plaza (i.e. Chego, Howlin' Ray's). Has the fast-casual bubble grown too big in Chinatown? Either way, Belle Belle's Cue deserves consideration as it plays to a niche that still has ample room to be filled: the on-the-fly barbecue joint. This is especially true with the current hiatus of a certain legendary barbecue spot. No, we're not making comparisons, so re-sheathe your daggers. We're just saying that they smoke a mean brisket at Belle Belle's.
Belle Belle's Cue is at 701 W Cesar Chavez Avenue in Chinatown, (323) 897-9227.