The ribs are as they should be, but Dave Lee can’t help but think he’s eaten at somewhere like Rebel’s Smokehouse before.
The interior of new Beverley “smokehouse”’ Rebels is an explosion of Dixie flags, photos of the deep South and lots and lots of those anodyne “You don’t have to be mad to work here…” style witticisms. The seating is metal and wooden and pointy and not very comfy. It’s all a bit over-thought and forced and is the sort of place I would normally run a mile from. There is also a very large elephant in the room. An elephant called Red.
Anyone who has dined at the mega-successful Red’s True Barbecue in Leeds can’t help but have a feeling of déjà vu. When it opened last September I spoke of how I could see franchised versions appearing all over the North within months. This hasn’t happened yet – though with the sole branch never less than ram-jammed, it can only be a matter of time – and so it seems Rebel’s joint owners Jason Rowe and Sally McIntosh stole a march and opened their own version.
The real test, of course, is whether the food is any good? And it is. While not a trained chef, Jason knows how to put a menu together after his years running Dine On The Rowe (which resided in the same premises until it was swiftly shut down, apparently to make way for Rebel’s), and as Sally originally hails from Alabama, she brings a touch of authenticity to the cooking methods. There are enough burger, BBQ chicken and rib options to keep everyone sweating, the meat is locally sourced, there are some terrific imported beers and the pulled pork is delicious.
If you go, try my two favourite things. The fried pickles are just ace (though – sotto voce – exactly the same as Red’s) and the almond crunch sundae is a truly delicious and original dessert. Sally runs her own confectionary company and it’s her almond crunch, mixed with maple syrup and ice cream, that makes the dish properly sublime.
You may have noticed the inverted commas I placed around the word smokehouse in the opening paragraph. This is because Jason reckons to smoke all his own meat in-house. He may well do, but I didn’t get much of a smoked taste from any of the meat I tried. Smoking wizard Justin Staal is just up the road – maybe a couple of lessons from him would help things along? The ribs only come in a dry rub option, which I found a little hard to love and they were hotter than some people will like without prior warning. Also, most of the burgers looked simply too impossibly huge to eat with human hands, might be worth taking wicket keepers gloves with you. Additionally, the only sauce on offer – other than standard tomato and French’s mustard – is Sally’s secret family recipe BBQ sauce. I found it OK (if a little Heinz ketchup-y) but a choice of sauces would help add some variation to the endless piles of meat you end up ordering.
There are a few other notes I made, too, while I’m on my perch – some of the sides (I’m looking at you lot here nachos, beans and fries) are a little skimpy for the money, the over-dry slaw needs a rethink, the staff could be quicker, the cocktails are tasty but nothing to look at and the menu is screaming out for a decent milkshake or ice cream float – but by the time you read this Rebel’s will have been stacked out for weeks and someone from a town nearby will be thinking of copying Rebel’s and starting their own US-style smokehouse a little way up the road. Eventually there will be an unaffiliated chain of them, all diminishing in size and snaking like Russian dolls right across Yorkshire. Apparently there is already a similar set-up just opened in Scarborough. Honest.
It’s all very reminiscent of the UK hamburger restaurant boom of the 70s, when the arrival in London of McDonalds begat chain eateries from Burger King, Wimpy, Wendy’s and so on until every other eating option was a burger joint, the high street got over-saturated and eventually only the strongest survived.
Soon we’ll have pulled pork and corn dogs coming out of our ears. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, this type of cuisine is fun and relatively cheap, but it will almost certainly cause demand for trained cardiologists to reach crisis point sometime around 2020.
OK, so mentioning the similarities between Red’s and Rebel’s is perhaps unfair. Rebel’s isn’t as big or well-funded and consequently isn’t as slick or adventurous as Red’s, and Jason and Sally have every right to take inspiration from somewhere that’s doing well and start their own thing. However, the back of the T-shirts worn by the waiting staff in Rebel’s read, “Ain’t nothin’ like it nowhere”. If they read, “Ain’t nothin’ like it within a 50-ish mile radius” I’d really have no room to pick fault.
Rebel’s Smokehouse, 12-14 Butcher Row, Beverley HU17 0AB. Open daily 12pm til late. 01482 502269, www.rebelssmokehouse.com