by Mike Sula
And yet my skepticism waned the first time I stepped onto the store's rooftop parking lot and caught a powerful gust of the unmistakable alchemy of smoke working its slow magic on flesh and fat. Down on the second floor, next to the sushi bar and across from the deli case, a line had formed in front of the counter, behind which a worker was slicing whole briskets, pork shoulders, and racks of Saint Louis spare ribs before a Southern Pride offset smoker set into the wall. Each are sold by the pound—$13 for the beef, $9 for the pork, except the bones, which are $1 apiece. You can get sandwiches too, but if you want to evaluate strictly on its own merits you might be surprised—I was astonished—that Mariano's has the confidence to automatically serve sauce on the side. That's a good thing because the three varieties—in Carolina, Texas, and Kansas City styles—are tooth-crackingly sugary. But the meats themselves are even more surprising, particularly the smoke-kissed brisket, which is fall-apart tender, its luscious fat countered by a crunchy, salty bark. I'm not saying it can stand up to Smoque or Green Street Smoked Meats, but Todd seems to know what he's doing. The ribs and pork are a little more dried out. The former require a respectable tug to separate meat from bone and have their own likeable lacquered armor over the telltale pink smoke ring. That's duplicated in the pork shoulder, which isn't pulled so much as it's cut into large irregular chunks.
Apart from four sides and the occasional smoked chicken special, that's it. This supermarket chain, intent on dominating grocery retail across the region, seems to understand that barbecue works best when it's focused and simple. Show your face Todd. There's nothing to be ashamed of.