On ’Cue: Henry’s BBQ delivers home-style favorites in New Monterey.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Barbecue. It’s a word that gets people fired up for debate. Pork or beef, smoke or spice, tangy or sweet, who does it best, which state reigns supreme, when to apply the sauce, how long to cook it, and on and on. Barbecue specialists, both active and armchair, can go at it for hours.
When long-time local butcher Henry Junsay opened up a joint on Lighthouse Avenue, I gathered up my barbecue beliefs and biases and set out to investigate.
I first stopped in for lunch and immediately went for the pulled pork sandwich ($8.75), a standard by which many a barbecue operation can be judged. It contained a generous amount of shredded pork, topped with coleslaw and Henry’s very own barbecue sauce, and arrived with a small cup of beef and bean chili and the macaroni salad I chose as my side. I found the meat fairly tender but short on flavor, although the sweet yet slightly tangy sauce came to its rescue. The true struggle, however, was the pork’s broth, which causing the roll to falter and me to go fork and knife on the remainder. The house made mac salad displayed the same scarcity of spice, and I couldn’t help thinking the chili came from a can. I left full but not completely satisfied.
I decided to return with one of my more carnivorous friends to further sample the appropriately meat-heavy menu. My friend chose the two-item barbecue platter ($13.75) while my curiosity led me to add a third item ($15.25). All the barbecue meals come with chili, choice of fries or potato/mac/green salad and either garlic bread or Bert’s bacon-cheese bread, so bring a healthy appetite.
We both found the tri-tip a bit fatty and tough, even though it was sliced unusually thin. The boneless pork loin rested beneath a spoonful of barbecue sauce and was deemed enjoyable. My bone-in chicken breast was neither juicy nor dry, and it dressed up nicely with Henry’s sauce, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My third item was the pork spare ribs, the true and final test of any reputable barbecue joint. Henry’s version immediately fell off the bone, its smoky pink meat nearly fork tender, and was partially glazed over with caramelized flavor. Rounding out the meal were sides of house made coleslaw, thin and crispy fries, and bacon-cheese bread, the last a unanimous highlight that only reinforces my motto that everything is better with bacon.
Unfortunately, blandness was a recurring theme. Fortunately, I have a simple way for Henry’s BBQ to combat this: Rather than topping the meat with sauce after it’s cooked, they need only repeatedly swab the meat during the slow-cooking process to allow the flavors to penetrate.
Henry’s menu also features home-style favorites like meatloaf and mashed potatoes ($10.75), beef stroganoff ($11.25), and chicken picatta ($11.25), plus a kids menu ($3.50) and a few desserts for all. Henry grinds his own beef, and rumor has it that his burgers are second to none. Vegetarians will struggle – eggplant sandwich, fettucini alfredo, and house salad the only options – but let’s face it, barbecue is for meat-lovers.
The preferred wine pairing for barbecue is beer, and Henry’s has a limited selection of domestic and import brews ($3.50-$5.50). I particularly enjoyed the Firestone Double Barrel Ale with Henry’s sauce, both of which are sold by the pint. Reasonably priced Hahn wines are available by the glass or bottle, as well as iced tea and assorted soft drinks.
The interior is homey to say the least, with a fireplace, window valences, diner-esque wall hangings, and lots of red, white, and blue. There’s a large patio with a fire pit and mushroom heaters out front and ample parking around back. You can get Henry’s by dining in, taking out, or catering to go.
Overall, Henry’s is not going to stand up against true legends like the “Ain’t Nothin’ Like ‘Em, Nowhere” ribs of Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, the Texas-style brisket of Austin’s Iron Works BBQ, or dedicated, hole-in-the-wall joints serving only the half-rack or full rack.
Then again, Henry’s offers more than paper plates, picnic tables and rolls of paper towels – it’s “backyard barbecue” at its most convenient, and a welcome addition to a largely barbecue-depraved Peninsula. When the weather is not cooperating or you just don’t feel like busting out the ol’ Weber, head down to Henry’s for large portions of respectable food at fair prices. And go heavy on the sauce.
HENRY’S BBQ 401 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey • 11am-9pm Mon-Thu, 11am-10pm Fri-Sat, 11am-7pm Sun • 646-6999.