You can’t beat an impromptu get-together – especially when it involves loads of meat. So when my sister-in-law suggested on a Sunday afternoon that we check out a place near their house in Coventry for a catch-up that night, it seemed like a no-brainer. That was before I checked out Hickory’s Smokehouse website and decided that teaming good company with ribs, wings, brisket and all manner of smoked, slow-cooked dishes was the perfect way to wave a fond farewell to the weekend.
Hickory’s is part of a group, with branches in Burton Green in Coventry, Castle Bromwich, Chester, Rhos-on-Sea, Wall Heath and West Kirby. Of course, it’s not the only place doing Deep South-style smoked goods. It’s all the rage these days, and Mr M and I are no stranger to them. Remember our visits to Smoke Stop? Or Grillstock? Yes, it’s like a smoker just summons us subconsciously.
For a Sunday night, it was pretty busy. And while I haven’t been lucky enough to visit the Deep South of the United States myself, I imagine it does a good job of resembling some of the places out there. After all, the people behind Hickory’s proudly talk about their travels across the US from Texas to Tennessee and Missouri to Mississippi, leaving them with the desire to bring the foodie fun of the Southern States back home.
Snuggled into a cosy booth, we started with the lengthy menu of beers, sodas, spirits, cocktails, wines and shakes to transport ourselves across the pond. As tempting as some of the cocktails were, we settled on a bottle of wine and started on the food.
There’s something about places like this that just induce the need for a feast, so we agreed not to shy away from the prospect of eating ALL the food. The food is also conducive to sharing, so we started with some ‘frickles’ (fried pickles if you were wondering), Burnt End ‘Popcorn Bites’ and two portions of slow smoked chicken wings – barbecue and some of the hardcore ‘suicide’ version.
As opening tasters go, these were pretty darn promising. The frickles were crispy both outside and in, yet in a completely different, contrasting way without too much grease oozing from them. Good on their own, and even better coated in the creamy ranch dip they came with.
The burnt end ‘Popcorn Bites’ were good but not as good as the frickles. I’ve had burnt ends before but think I prefer them as they come, without the addition of the cajun rub or crunchy coating. Pleasant but not mindblowing.
The wings were my favourite. Predictably, the suicide version were a tad too hot for me but it wasn’t actually an awful, tastebud-terminating heat and still had a decent flavour. Underneath the coating of sauce, the wings had a crunchy outer with a fair bit of meat underneath. I’m no wing expert but these ticked the box for me.
The main course menu is a tempting mixture of all your indulgent favourites, from burgers to hot dogs and fajitas, steaks and salads plus a whole ‘Smokehouse’ menu featuring ribs, pulled pork, smoked sausage and brisket. In short, it was a tough choice.
Our sister and her partner continued the feasty theme, opting for the Smokehouse Platter – a whopping spread of ribs, smoked sausage, pulled pork and pit beans and Texas style beef brisket, along with fries, house slaw and pickles. It was easily as impressive as the sharer Mr M and I had at the Smoke Stop and just as good. I liked the rustic presentation that saw it all laid out on a board with the pulled pork and pit beans taking their place in a camping-style mess tin.
I had gone for the ribs too – Kansas Style Barbecued – so I can tell you about it all in one go. My portion was MASSIVE. I’d been toying with the idea of a full rack but was helpfully warned about its size by our waiter. Thank goodness. These ribs were big. And good.
None of that hard, tough measly meat that you have to battle to get off. These were covered in generous amounts of meat that fell apart as you tore it and covered in a rich, sweet barbecue sauce. Like the place itself, they were just how I imagine the real deal should be.
The ribs were part of Claire and Dave’s platter, along with some dry ones minus the barbecue sauce, but they had a load of extra goodies as well. The smoked sausage was surprisingly enjoyable but for me there were two showstoppers on that board – the pulled pork and pit beans and the brisket. The former was a rich mess of beans that still had a bit of bite to them, laced with small chunks of slow-cooked pork in a kind of amazingly pimped-up version of those cans of baked beans and mini sausages my family always used to have when we went camping.
But I think of the two the brisket was a winner. I often find brisket can be a bit hit and miss but this was definitely a hit. So tender I reckon you could cut it with a butter knife and packed with a deep, meaty flavour that penetrated far beyond any surface smokiness. I found myself wishing I’d ordered this and vowing to next time we go back.
While the rest of us were embracing the Deep South-inspired dishes, Mr M had his usual craving for a steak so chose one of Hickorys’ ribeyes, complete with fries and peppercorn sauce. It got his seal of approval for all the right reasons – good quality meat, cooked right, served simply with no fussiness. A steak that makes one happy boy!
I feel I always say this. Well, more than I should. But I want you to know that I’m well aware we should have stopped there. We’d had enough. More than enough. But between us all we just couldn’t resist a dessert menu that has some old faves as well as a few quirky treats to tempt you in. All of these aside, I would have been happy with a bucket of their frozen custard ice cream but was drawn in by the kind of things you see in the movies – like table-toasted campfire marshmallows and s’mores.
I chose the latter. Mainly because they’re the kind of thing I’ve seen in countless cheesy American movies I love to watch when Jamie’s at work. It certainly looked impressive – a cloud of slightly-toasted marshmallow laying on top of an iron skillet, covering an insanely sweet ginger nut biscuit base slathered in melted chocolate. It was the kind of dessert that makes your eyes sweat with the sugar content and makes you laugh out loud at how ridiculous it is.
Unfortunately I found the ginger nut a bit too much and for me it just didn’t quite work. But given I haven’t had S’mores before, I’m not sure how much that can be attributed to the venue rather than the fact that perhaps I’m just not cut out for this level of pudding.
Someone else went for the waffles – a ‘classic’ drizzled with maple syrup with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Simple but effective. But the winner was the rich chocolate brownie which came with homemade rocky road and frozen custard ice cream. A gooey, sickly, chocolatey mess that is the stuff of dreams for kids and chocoholics alike.
Definitely done by this point, we waddled out feeling full and happy after enjoying an evening of pretty good food, good service and a nice relaxed atmosphere that was chilled enough for a Sunday or weekday catch-up, but somewhere I can imagine is bustley and fun enough to make a good Friday or Saturday night venue.
As far as I’m concerned, while there may be plenty of places around nowadays doing the Deep South smoked meat low’n’slow thing, to a non-expert like me Hickorys is pretty good. Not to mention it ticks the boxes on things like service and ambience too. Definitely one to try, in my humble opinion.
We paid in full for our meal at Hickorys Smokehouse. They didn’t know I was a blogger.