Good barbecue is something of a moving target in New Orleans. The short-lived but very promising Smokin' Buddha BBQieux in Metairie has reconstituted itself as a catering operation called NOLA Smokehouse (www.-nolasmokehouse.com) that now does a twice-weekly pop-up at the Avenue Pub (1732 St. Charles Ave., 586-9243; www.theavenuepub.com) on Sundays and Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Meanwhile, McClure's Barbecue (www.mccluresbarbecue.com), which had been operating five days a week inside Dante's Kitchen, is on hiatus for now, but in July proprietor Neil McClure intends to do a pop-up gig inside Company Burger (4600 Freret St., 267-0320; www.thecompanyburger.com) on Tuesday nights, when that Freret Street standout is normally closed. McClure says he's also looking for a permanent location to open his own restaurant.
This ever-shuffling deck shouldn't phase local barbecue aficionados, who are accustomed to logging a few miles in pursuit of a proper rack or brisket. There were fewer barbecue options in the years before Hurricane Katrina, but back then the search for smoke often led barbecue hounds to the door – and bullet-proof serving window – of H&P Bar B-Q Masters. Found at the edge of the St. Roch neighborhood, it was a bare-bones, takeout-only hole-in-the-wall with a history going back to 1972 and a regular following. H&P didn't reopen after Katrina, but something like its reincarnation has quietly emerged on a Gentilly side street.
That's where brothers Oronde and Sekou Robertson have opened Bar-B-Q Kings (2164 Milton St., 949-2210). Their uncle, Hugh Robertson, had operated H&P Bar B-Q Masters, and while he moved to Washington, D.C. after Katrina, the family recipes and approach to barbecue live on at Bar-B-Q Kings, right down to the mammoth beef ribs for which H&P was known.
Earlier this year, I reported in a longer feature on New Orleans barbecue ("Pit Bosses," March 6), but it's worth singling out here, if only for the sake of those ribs, a specialty that few other barbecue purveyors offer. The size of tomahawks, the protruding bones the color of burnished brass, their meat gives a little fight before coming off the bone. The crust of the exterior, combined with the thick, slightly sweet sauce, gives it almost a candied texture.
Like H&P before it, Bar-B-Q Kings does charcoal-smoked barbecue, which carries some smoky flavor but doesn't have that deep, redolent wood-smoke aroma of the Southern pit-style barbecue making inroads around town. It's much more about old-school neighborhood New Orleans barbecue, with an emphasis on the sauce, and it's a nice blast from the barbecue past for people who remember when finding H&P was such a pleasant surprise.