Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reviewing Colorado Springs' Most Popular Barbecue Joints: Front Range Barbeque, Bird Dog BBQ, and Firehouse Southern Style BBQ

Since my husband Aaron and I moved from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Colorado Springs, one of the restaurants we have missed most is Rudy’s Bar-B-Q, which offers tasty Texas-style barbecue at extremely reasonable prices. We have a bottle of Rudy’s “Sause,” a spicy and pepper-filled concoction, in our refrigerator as well as a canister of Rudy’s Rub in our cabinet. Texas-style barbecue involves slowly smoking beef or pork, usually over a specific type of wood like mesquite or hickory. The meat is generally served without barbecue sauce or with sauce on the side. We love this style of barbecue so much that we intend to buy our own high-quality, heavy-duty smoker within the next year. In the meantime, however, we have been on a mission to find the best barbecue in Colorado Springs.

When talking barbecue in Colorado Springs, three local restaurants always seem to become part of the conversation: Front Range Barbeque, Bird Dog BBQ, and Firehouse Southern Style BBQ. So, naturally, we set out to try all three. For comparison’s sake, we made sure to try the beef brisket, pulled pork, and ribs at each barbecue joint.

The first barbecue restaurant that we tried was Front Range Barbeque, which received the Colorado Springs Independent’s Best of Barbecue 2008 distinction. Though we have heard that the original Front Range Barbeque in Old Colorado City is the best, we found ourselves near the northeast location at 4935 Templeton Gap Rd. and decided to give it a whirl. Meal prices ranged from about $7 to $21, with a pound of brisket running about $12 and a full rack of ribs priced around $18. Front Range also offers several creative barbecue sauces to pair with its meat. The brisket was dry and did not have a hint of smoky flavor. Rather than tasting like barbecue, the brisket seemed as though it had been cooked in an oven or slow cooker – with inadequate seasoning, to boot. The pulled pork had a bit more flavor but was still largely unimpressive. We also tried the pulled chicken, sausage, and ribs. The ribs were probably our favorite, but none of the barbecue meat items really compared with Rudy’s. The only item that would attract me back to Front Range Barbeque is its award-worthy fresh cut fries, which were absolutely delicious.

Next, we drove all the way out to Powers and Stetson Hills to eat at the much-heralded Bird Dog BBQ. Bird Dog BBQ reportedly earned the honor of top barbecue restaurant in The Gazette’s Best of the Springs rankings for 2007 and 2008. Bird Dog BBQ calls its barbecue “Oklahoma-style,” which means oak-smoked meats, sauce made fresh daily and served on the side, counter-side service, and value. We found Bird Dog BBQ’s prices to be reasonable, with meals ranging from about $5 to $14, a pound of barbecue meat running $11, and a whole rack of ribs priced at $19. We sampled the sliced brisket, pulled pork, chicken, hot links, polish sausage, and ribs. We did not order any sides, as none appealed to us. While the meats were more flavorful than Front Range’s, they still didn’t compare to Rudy’s – except for the ribs, that is! The ribs may have been the best I have ever had, and I would drive all the way back to Bird Dog BBQ again just to eat them.

Our final barbecue destination was Firehouse Southern Style BBQ in Old Colorado City. We arrived at about 8 pm on a Saturday night. The smoky smell in the air was intoxicating, guests sat at tables positioned around a fire pit out front, and live music blared from inside the building. Unlike the other two barbecue joints, where guests order their food at the counter, Firehouse is a bit less casual in that it uses servers. It also seemed to be priced a bit higher.

We chose to sit outside. Our server brought us a menu and took our drink order. Not a minute later, she dropped off our drinks and asked if we were ready to order. We shared with our server that it was our first time at the restaurant, let her know we would need a few minutes to review the large menu, and asked what she would recommend ordering. “I actually haven’t eaten any of the food here,” she said. “It’s only my second day.” Hmmm. Moments later, we waited (and waited, and waited…) for our waitress to return to take our order. We watched the table beside us, who had arrived when we did, receive their food, and we were still waiting. Our waitress seemed to have vanished out of thin air. Finally, another man who worked at Firehouse Southern Style BBQ came over, asked if anyone had taken our order yet, and seemed a bit embarrassed when we shared that no one had.

We ordered a two-meat platter with brisket and pulled pork in addition to a half rack of ribs. For sides, we chose fried green beans, fried okra, fried cob corn, and Western beans. Maybe the poor service affected our perspective, but the brisket and pulled pork tasted pretty bland. The ribs, which were served “wet,” tasted ok but were not nearly as flavorful as those we had eaten at Bird Dog BBQ. Firehouse Southern Style BBQ also offered a few different sauces. Our favorite items at Firehouse were the sides. The fried corn on the cob was inventive and tasty, and the fried green beans were also a treat.

Firehouse Southern Style BBQ definitely offers the most comprehensive menu out of the three barbecue joints we tried, and its variety of appetizers and sides is a definite strong point. It must be noted, though, that the service is very lacking. Our drinks were only refilled once, we had to wait a long time to receive our check, and at the end of our experience we listened to those at a table beside us wondering aloud when their presence would ever be acknowledged. I was tempted to tell them to cut their losses and leave, but I figured I should give them the opportunity to make their own judgments about the restaurant.

BOTTOM LINE: If we could combine Front Range Barbeque’s fries with Bird Dog BBQ’s ribs and Firehouse Southern Style BBQ’s side dish, appetizer, and sauce selection, we would be in be in barbecue heaven, but none of these establishments stand on their own as a truly excellent barbecue joint. Maybe I should open a Rudy’s franchise after all!

Front Range Barbeque on UrbanspoonBird Dog BBQ LLC on UrbanspoonThe Firehouse on Urbanspoon

Please note: This is a reprint; my review was originally published on Associated Content.


Richard Whittaker said...

Hello, and welcome to Colorado Springs ;) For such a "western" town, we have surprisingly lackluster collection of BBQ restaurants. I've had both good and bad experiences at both Firehouse and Front Range BBQ (the one you went to is right by my house), and Bird Dog just struck me as "fast food", although it wasn't bad.

I would recommend Ephriams for ribs and brisket. In my opinion, they are the best, bar none. Their service can be lacking at times, but the food is always great. Be warned - unless you ask them to put the sauce on the side, they will slather it on the meat.

You should also consider trying Slayton's, near Vindicator and Rockrimmon. They are excellent, and close enough to my work that I eat there a fair bit.

If you like to eat out, I have a lot of information at - until recently, it was pretty much the only food blog in Colorado Springs, and I was starting to feel a bit lonely ;)

Kendrajoy said...

Did you hear we got a Ruby's? Out on Hwy 24, heading to Manitou. I can't wait to try it!

(Found you on Urbanspoon.~~)

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