Bad Boys BBQ and The White Rabbit Bar & BBQ, 30 MacCurtain St, Cork, 021 4503706, www.badboysbbq.ie
By the time I reached an age that permitted unsupervised roaming, the once-thriving, formerly handsome thoroughfare of MacCurtain Street was on its uppers.
The recessions of the 70s and 80s seemed to reserve an especial spite for the street most redolent of Cork’s colonial past, its Empire-era, Victorian architecture marking it out from other provincial Irish towns.
Those ubiquitous red bricks were blackened by decades of traffic fumes, businesses were failing and, though some old commercial aristocrats still lingered, the overwhelming atmosphere was of abiding seediness. Perfect for a louche young teen, consuming seediness like air.
Music was a huge draw: As a budding rock’n’roll star, I haunted Crowley’s Music Shop and scavenged for offbeat albums in the secondhand bins of the Leeside Music Swap Shop. I went to random club nights in the Windsor Hotel and, each October, embraced the glorious carnage of the Jazz Festival in its Metropole Hotel HQ.
Back when gay-bashing was as acceptable as coursing, a gay friend in the restaurant where I worked part-time confided that the stirrings of an underground gay scene were to be found on the street. The decrepit Palace cinema, where I saw Christiane F., a harrowing Berlin-based tale of heroin addiction and teen prostitution, might as easily have passed for one of the film’s locations.
There were (and still are!) some cracking pubs but little food of note, other than the once-renowned O’Brien’s ice cream parlour seeing out its final years and the fact that Myrtle Allen’s architect father had designed the Metropole Hotel didn’t fill any bellies. But the arrival of Isaacs and Greene’s, in the 90s, began a revival and, nowadays, the street is awash with dining options. Though much is ‘fast food’, even that is no longer always a pejorative.
‘Low and slow’ BBQ is the slowest ‘fast food’ around and Bad Boys BBQ began life as a popular food truck. Their behemoth of a wood-smoker oven dominates their bijou premises, a handful of tables shoehorned into a narrow passageway on one side where Captain Foley and I and a scattering of our respective progeny settle.
The Pulled Pork sandwich is a generous serving of tender, shredded meat in a bap; the Beef Burger, a monster patty. Pork Ribs are so uniform and tender, they may well have been steamed first. But while all the meat is cooked to optimum tenderness, save some smoky undertones, it is lacking in distinctive flavour and in sore need of extra ‘attention’; Mexican Chilli, for example, is criminally short on actual chilli.
There are just two sides: coleslaw and average chips, and even the kids spurn them. Time, possibly, for these ‘Bad Boys’ to rediscover the food truck magic that first made them.
In The White Rabbit Bar and BBQ, food is treated on a par with beverages yet the venue retains the exuberant clatter of a lively and dedicated drinking den.
A young, mixed crowd means the bould Captain Foley and I (another night, childless) are the elder lemons, grateful the low lighting conceals wrinkles, bellies and incipient bald spots. Though a cold beer is the perfect BBQ beverage (commendably, there are Irish craft beers), we further emphasise our withering on the vine by ordering fruit of the vine, an acceptable rioja from a short, functional wine list.
Pork Ribs are flavoursome though tough and need more cooking time and, as we end up drowning underwhelming chicken in admittedly very good in-house BBQ sauce, I pine for the fine brisket devoured on a previous visit.
Pork Belly is slow smoked, sliced into ‘rashers’ and pan-crisped, a very more-ish technique indeed. Sides are decent: green beans, corn on the cob, potato salad, coleslaw and deliciously earthy Boston Beans. All in all, substantial value at a tenner for a meat dish and two sides.
These days, 21st Century MacCurtain Street grows ever more vibrant and funky and if a 2013 City Hall plan to revitalise the street as a ‘Victorian Quarter’ ever sees light of day, it might finally re-open the eyes of the citizenry at large to a long-neglected treasure and what is also fast becoming the epicentre of Cork’s ongoing epicurean evolution.
Bad Boys BBQ €43
White Rabbit Bar & BBQ €53.70
Open daily until 11.30pm; 12.30pm Fri & Sat.
IN A SENTENCE:
MacCurtain Street – a long neglected treasure, fast becoming the epicentre of Cork’s ongoing epicurean evolution.
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