Boston: Sweet Cheeks Q

Let's Eat by Kitty Kaufman

Cheeks logo Yes, we know how late we are for lunch at Sweet Cheeks Q. Look at it this way: now owner Tiffani Faison has awards to go with her finish on Top Chef. Now, she has 5,000 Twitter followers and 5,000 Facebook friends. Cheeks has 3,000 likes and 29,000 people have been there. And right now she has another place, Tiger Mama, next door that opened with more press than you can shake a stick at. Facebook notes 400 fans. I mean, really, could a girl ask for more? She could, but wait.

Cheeks cukes No matter how often they write about you, who complains another story is too much? I don't think it's Faison. She says she's competitive. Okay, but really, no more press, please, it's enough? And she comes from BBQ. Her favorite meal, according to her site, was barbecued chicken, corn, fried okra and mashed with gravy that Mom made. I'm sure it isn't past tense. You could say she's gone to her roots and then some. Chef de cuisine Daniel Raia has been quoted that he likes making people happy with food. It's true and he's busy. I checked the bible, LinkedIn, and it says he's still at Rocca, which we know closed long ago. Anyway, the team's made themselves quite a match.

Cheeks pie Finally and at last, Roseanna and I are here. And we are not alone, it's busy. This stretch of Boylston Street, which for years was fast food alley, has a raft of places to eat even if you're not going to Fenway. There's a new Target. The old Star Market is still across the street. You could, if you want, live in one of the six-pack of new highrises and never move your car to eat or shop. Fast food, however, is no longer a choice. Right beside Sweet Cheeks, where the triangular building used to be, there's a hole in the ground. The building was purple before it died, and it was sometimes a sandwich shop and sometimes music studios, The hole's filled with trucks and cranes. We predict more eaters.

Hot Cheeks Anyway, we're at the bar with many men and us. Roseanna goes for the tray meal, "intended to be a complete meal for one person," Berkshire pulled pork. She opts for collards with cucumber and onions. The purist wants Northern brisket with potato salad on a tray too. Drinks show up in Ball jars. They do this in other Southern joints. Then, it struck me as affected. Here it is apt, even for water, of which one will want gallons. Or beer. This food begs for beer. Before the trays arrive, the air is redolent of BBQ, not a word I've used before, but Cheeks takes smoked to another level. For me, then, the patio would be perfect. It's November, however, and though it's warm and sunny, the patio is off limits. Our host agrees, he wears shorts. Maybe he always does.

Cheeks potato salad Trays come fast. Meat is the order of the day, unadorned, and this means you get to add your own sauce. Or not. The purist obviously hails from the 'or not' clan. I take no credit, I learned this from The Thin Man one summer we spent eating only BBQ. You ask why? I don't know, it got to be a thing. And he would only eat where they serve ribs dry. And it turns out he's right. Now you get meat dry, as in no sauce, everywhere thank goodness. My take on the sauces, above: BBQ is slightly sweet and complicated. The habanero makes my ears hurt. And Carolina vinegar takes the shine right off your teeth. Still.

Cheeks brisket The pork is not salty, yet smoky and rich. It tastes great but photographs badly. Collards are briny with vinegar. The brisket is moist, rich and meaty (left). It might even have a touch of red but cameras play tricks. There's potato salad with dill that's a bit over-creamy. The crunchy cucumbers, or pickles as they call them, and onions work if you love your vinegar. But the meat is perfect. If we had brisket like this at home, some of us would not have left.

It's not just meat. Cheeks makes a point of hot/cold scoops as vegetarian options: broccoli, collards, blackeyed peas, mac 'n cheese, cole slaw, wedge and farm salads would make a fine meal. Sandwiches include the pork, chopped brisket, Northern brisket and pulled chicken on hot griddled Texas toast along with a scoop. They term salt and pepper potatoes () 'snacks' along with a bucket of biscuits (). I heard about these biscuits and honey butter so please let me know.

Cheeks pie Roseanna and I are not leaving without dessert. I'm not sure why, but it's today. Kevin, tending bar, says there's pumpkin chess pie. You see it on the lunch menu as pumpkin cheese pie and for dinner as chess. It is chess. He doesn't know what it means but we're in. The crust is heavy and the filling is a mix of spicy, maybe allspice, sweet, maybe bourbon, maybe not, vanilla, cloves, ginger and nutmeg with pecans and whipped cream. If you decide you're skipping lunch entirely, this pie will hold you til dinner. The extra eggs and corn meal in the crust? Or the filling? No one seems to know. And in the end it doesn't matter as it's now off the menu. Go with berry cake.

The room is intimate with barn beams, paneling and picnic seating. Trays come parchment lined. If you want to catch a game, do it here on five screens with a draft. Someone mentions Kentucky bourbon barrel ale and I'm told it's beer that tastes like light bourbon. Fine, and it looks like any beer you want is here. Or just watch the chefs do what they do best. It's all in the smoke without the mirrors.

Sweet Cheeks
1381 Boylston St (Fenway)
Boston, MA 02215
617. 266. 1300

© December 29, 2015 Roseanna Spizzirri knows wine. Kitty Kaufman drinks wine. See more of their food adventures at Corporate Edge and Twitter
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