“Play hard, eat well and don’t forget to share.” As we gazed around the highly electronic room—lots of televisions and other kinds of diversions—at the new Lee Roy Selmon’s in Bradenton, the slogan seemed perfect. The restaurant is a division of the burgeoning Outback Steakhouse restaurant group; and in contrast to my reaction to most chain restaurants, I look forward to more meals at Lee Roy Selmon’s.
This came as a bit of a surprise. Confession: I’ve never been that keen on barbecue. There are too many uncertainties. Utensils never get to the juiciest parts of ribs or chicken, but should I really pick up a rib with my fingers? Then there’s the sauce issue. I swear there are more barbecue styles than classic French sauces. But barbecue is suddesnly popping up at roadside stands and at parties in Sarasota’s best back yards, and I have to admit I loved what I tasted at Lee Roy Selmon’s.
Lee Roy’s is the latest in a long history of barbecue joints originating in the southern United States, where grinning pigs are a roadside staple. There are conflicting theories, but the most plausible origin for barbecue is traceable to a West Indian term, barbacoa, which denotes a method of slow-cooking meat over hot coals. Barbacoa became “barbecue” in the lexicon of early settlers. Hogs hugely outnumbered cows in the South, thus barbecue became associated with pork—unless you’re from Texas, but that’s a different story.
How did Lee Roy Selmon, who was the first Tampa Bay Buccaneer to be enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame and who was raised on a farm in Eufaula, Okla., become a barbecue expert? His mother, Jesse Selmon, is credited for all of the Selmon recipes, and who cares if she really does make quintessential fried green tomatoes? The tomatoes are firm and flavorful and hold up under the batter and fryer. And her horseradish sauce is ideal for spicing things up.
Smokin’ quesadillas are another good choice. Select your favorite barbecue meat—pulled pork or chicken—or have both, which was my choice, of course. The meat is spread on a tortilla along with onions, mushrooms and cheese, and grilled. It’s served with a sour cream liberally infused with barbecue sauce and was a huge hit at our table, where we were following the slogan by sharing.
Of course, Selmon’s has wings, but with ribs, pulled pork and pecan pie already part of my dinner order, I knew I’d have a hefty price to pay at the gym for the next six weeks. So you discover them for yourself. Appetizers are in the $6-$10 range.
The chopped salad includes several kinds of lettuce, red peppers, corn, tomatoes, Monterey Jack cheese, bacon, chicken, and probably more that I’m missing. All are tossed with honey mustard dressing and on top, crunchy fried potato “sticks,” a take on the fried onion rings you can buy in a can. I mean it as a compliment when I say that you could find this salad at a church supper. There are other salads, too, like citrus shrimp, smoked chicken and the usual iterations of Caesars. Salads are large and easily can be shared or taken as a righteous dinner, most priced around $10.
Ribs, slow-smoked using hickory wood, are billed as “St. Louis-style” pork ribs. St. Louis-style ribs are also called spare ribs. Technically, what that means is that in carving the ribs, the chine bone and the brisket bones are removed from the bottom of the rib rack. That’s just a little piece of rib trivia you can quote while taking a breath from inhaling the ribs. And inhale them you will—the meat is that good.
Chicken is smoked, then grilled in the barbecue sauce; the result is chicken so tender you can cut it with a fork. Finally, I loved the pulled pork, a staple of Memphis-style barbecue. The pork is smoked for 12 hours, and it’s sweet and infused with that lovely, smoky flavor from the hickory. And the Memphis-style sauce, molasses-based, is fabulous with the chicken.
Selmon’s does steak, too. You can have it smothered in gravy with grilled onions, or prepared in their proprietary way—grilled and topped off with Parmesan garlic butter.
I would skip the steak and go for the killer meat loaf. It’s another Mama Selmon recipe, a blend of ground pork and beef with chopped green peppers and onions in the mix. It’s baked and then grilled with a light brush of the Kansas City sauce—excellent.
The twisted Southern chicken is also a winner. Chicken breasts on top of mashed potatoes are topped with creamed corn (there’s a hint of bacon and maple flavoring there), along with cheese and sour cream. Think of a nacho on steroids.
Entrées run from $9 to $19 and arrive with your choice of side dishes. The cheese and bacon grits were so rich I had to reluctantly push them away. Apple-jack coleslaw adds the crunchiness of fresh apples to the cabbage mix to bring a different, tart taste to the mix.
If you can find the room, several desserts beckon. The pecan pie, which I did save some appetite for, was the only disappointment of the night. It’s served with ice cream and praline sauce, which is overkill on this űber-sweet pie. Other desserts, all in the $4-$6 range, include bread pudding and peach cobbler.
This is the sixth Lee Roy Selmon’s to open in Florida, with a seventh planned for Fort Myers. Lunch is another option, with burgers, barbecue sandwiches and a kids’ menu to tempt all comers.
LEE ROY SELMON’S
8253 Cooper Creek Blvd., Bradenton
Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Friday 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Saturday 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Sunday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Parking in shopping center lot
All credit cards