No type of restaurant teases the anticipation quite like a good barbecue joint. The presence of smoking meat should fill the air with heavy, compelling aroma and fill the nose with expectation.
That's the greeting you get when walking into Tastee Bones, which was opened in the 8th Ward by husband-and-wife team Chris and Felicia Johnson. They have operated a Tastee Bones in Slidell for a few years and expanded with this version of the family business last year.
Tastee Bones is a few blocks up the road from the former Adams Barbecue Plus, a walk-up stand that didn't reopen after Hurricane Katrina. It serves the same role as a neighborhood place where people drop in for quick plate lunches or pick up family-size picnic packs to go.
Tastee Bones serves the conventional barbecue lineup. It's decent, though none of it achieves the tricky ideal of deep smoke and resilient succulence. Perhaps unintentionally, the restaurant's name provides some ordering advice, since the bone-in meats — ribs and chicken — are smokier and more tender than the periodically mushy pulled pork and reliably fatty brisket. I liked the brisket a lot more when it was loaded into crisp-crusted French bread with coleslaw for an offbeat barbecue po-boy.
Tastee Bones hasn't reordered my favorite local barbecue joints, anchored by The Joint in Bywater, Walker's Southern Style BBQ on the lakefront in New Orleans East and Hillbilly Bar-B-Q in River Ridge. Still, this is a convenient, inexpensive spot that has a few specialties worth checking out.
That list starts with "burnt ends," or the random bits and nubs trimmed from the edges of the smoked beef brisket. If these were any tougher and chewier they could qualify as jerky, but their blackened, almost candied edges have an irresistible texture and intense smoky flavor. Tastee Bones sells them by the pound. The rib tips, or irregular, dice-size trimmings of extra-crisped pork, have a similar appeal, without quite as much smoke.
Most sides are average in quality, but the one worth ordering on its own is collard greens. The house recipe is dense with pork fat and hard bits of meat, but also a copious amount of sliced jalapeno. Combined, it yields the most potent, slurp-worthy potlikker — a green, vividly flavorful liquid that might seem like a folk cure were it not so delicious.
The mild and spicy barbecue sauce options are less than inspired. They all are thick, cranberry-colored and sweet, like store brands revved-up with extra pepper and garlic.
Sweeter than the sauces, though, is the overall vibe at Tastee Bones. Gospel tunes and smooth jazz are piped through the sound system, making the short wait for orders a mellow reprieve on busy afternoons. There are a few tables, but everything is served ready for take-out in disposable cartons, and the upbeat staff is forever jotting personalized notes on the lids of those cartons, like "Please enjoy, sir!" or "ma'am" as the case may be. Tastee Bones is a long way from legendary, but the people here have the right attitude for a neighborhood newcomer.