Despite assumptions to the contrary, Michael Symon’s new restaurant on East Fourth Street, in the space formerly occupied by La Strada, will not be another B Spot. Instead, it will be a barbecue joint.
“We had no limitations with what we could do with the space,” says Symon. “But at the end of the day, we just wanted to do something different — different for us, different for the city.”
Symon has long lamented the absence of great barbecue in his hometown. And those that do prepare barbecue, he points out, do so in a style ripped from other regions. He intends to change that when Mabel’s BBQ opens sometime this fall, when he introduces the nation to “Cleveland-style barbecue.”
“There are people here who do good barbecue, but they do a Kansas City-style, or a Texas-style or a Memphis-style, which are all delicious,” he says. “But Cleveland should have its own style, and we are going to do our best to develop a style unique to Cleveland.”
For years, Symon has been perfecting his Cleveland BBQ Sauce; a wonderful version of it appears in his second cookbook, “Carnivore.” It includes Bertman Ballpark Mustard, a touch of Ohio maple syrup for sweetness, some high-quality vinegar. “It’s so f-ing good, man,” he says just thinking about it.
The fact that Cleveland doesn’t already have a thriving, regional barbecue culture is surprising, says Symon, given our long tradition of smoked meats such as kielbasa. By combining that tradition and those ingredients with classic technique, the chef believes we can foster a local barbecue style.
Mabel’s will update the well-worn tradition of a meat-and-two joint, where meals will be served up by the pound on craft paper-lined metal trays. Those meals will feature oak- and applewood-smoked brisket, pork roll (smoked pork belly-wrapped loin), pork and beef ribs, pulled pork, chicken and kielbasa. Whole pigs can be shared by the table when ordered in advance. Sides include beans with burnt ends, sweet potato gratin with homemade marshmallow, and smoked beets with sour cream.
Meals will start with “snacks and pig parts” like smoked peanuts, pimento cheese dip and crackers, smoked chicken wings, fried pork rinds, crispy pig ears and tails, and pork pate.
Meats will always be naturally raised, hormone and antibiotic free heritage breeds, says Symon. If those are available locally, all the better.
Of course, adds Symon, “There will be a lot of beer, a lot of whiskey and a lot of moonshine.”
Symon’s barbecue concept not only is unique to the immediate area; it’s ideally suited for the amount of volume the restaurant is likely to experience. “You can put out barbecue fast because all of the hard work is done long before the customer walks in the door,” he explains.
The 100-seat restaurant is named after Symon’s beloved former bull mastiff, Mabel, “who was a little slow, like barbecue,” he jokes.
Symon says that the easy route for him and his restaurant group would have been to open another B Spot, a tried-and-tested concept with a proven track record. In the end, he went in an entirely different direction. Not because it’s the easy thing to do, but because it is something that excites him.
“Certainly there is a lot more risk to opening something like this than just putting a B Spot there,” he says. “There are a few different concepts that I love and would love to do in Cleveland. Barbecue is one of them.”
Michael Symon Restaurants also operates Lola, Lolita, Roast, Bar Symon and B Spot.