Review: Sweet Cheeks

All-American barbecue with a subtle, steady touch
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  December 14, 2011
4.0 4.0 Stars

For non-por fiends, there is pulled chicken, which also quite good. Barbecue places generally do not do well with chicken, another meat that has been modified too lean to hold smoke well. Sweet Cheeks gets decent chicken flavor in pink pickings from lean and dark meat. I'd go with the Carolina sauce here, too.

All meats come with a garnish of really good shredded onion and thin-sliced mustard pickles. For cold scoops, the cole slaw is chunky and made from red and green cabbage for a homemade effect. The potato salad mixes red and gold slices in a mustard-mayonnaise and might be a little cheffy and underdone for some tastes. Carrot-raisin salad is gussied up with walnuts and blue cheese.

Hot scoops include an amazing version of collard greens — fully done yet still slightly crisp, with a subtle ham flavor. Black-eyed peas were slightly underdone but very nicely seasoned. Macaroni and cheese, supposedly an heirloom recipe, did not impress me. Mine was dry, short on cheese and creamy sauce, and topped with crumbled saltines. If it were my heirloom recipe, it would die with me.

When you get to fried items, however, another world beckons. Sweet Cheeks' hush puppies ($7) are epochal. There are five to a serving, each about the size of a racquetball, and they so perfectly balance a little salt and a little sugar that the white corn flavor comes through. There is a dip like sweetened sour cream, but I just couldn't stop eating them as they were. Fried green tomatoes ($7) are six disks in a crunchy cornmeal breading, impeccably fried, with a dip that complements their sour side, perhaps a buttermilk ranch-dressing derivative.

I used the whiskey list to get another taste of our own Berkshire Mountain Distillers' "corn whiskey" (after all, the Berkshires are an extension of the Appalachians). On the rocks ($9), there was alcohol on the palate, like real moonshine, but it tamed down to a bourbon-like flavor with a splash of "branch water" from my other mason jar. A short but useful list of draft and bottled beers are another option, and they do stock some craft sodas.

Desserts are few, but the sweet-potato hand pie ($6) is not to be missed, if you have any room left at all. It is a turnover you can pick up like a pasty. Despite double crust, the flavors are brighter and sweeter than most sweet-potato pies. Banana pudding (now off the menu) was too loose but sweet and flavorful. The replacement is butterscotch ($7), and it was too dense, and the stodginess dominated the caramel flavor. It was opening night for butterscotch pudding, and they will get it right.

The place has done good business from the jump, and the food (and lots of TV sets; we are near the ballpark, after all) tended to distract me from crowd assessment. I do know that this food is juicy and there are sauces, so wear clothes you can launder.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at robtnadeau@aol.com.

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