Wildwood BBQ is a name that reminds me more of drunk teenagers and medical waste washing up on the Jersey shore than the Texas roadhouse this joint seeks to invoke, with its cavernous space bracketed with a charmingly askew beamed ceiling, barn siding and the greatest hits of Southern Rock adding to the din. The 50-foot bar, with comfortable seats and epic beer and bourbon lists, is the best thing about Wildwood, though I’m still a bit wary of their signature raspberry vodka and Orange Crush cocktail.
Packed and blaring, the scene may be fun for some — I’m looking at you, Midwestern account managers — but the ‘cue should be the thing, and with “Big Lou” Elrose, famed pitmaster who formerly turned out stellar smoked meat at Hill Country, it seemed a sure bet. It wasn’t.
Everything from the smokehouse — actually, the whole kitchen — except a fine and fatty smoked brisket, was woefully underseasoned. Carolina Pulled Pork ($10) was the worst offender, looking and tasting like ABC pork (Already Been Chewed), and lacking the vinegar sauce on the menu, with which our overaggressive waiter was unfamiliar. Memphis Baby-Back Ribs ($26/rack) were properly firm and had a nice smoke ring, but their chipotle raspberry sauce clashed with the smoke. BBQ Chicken ($11.50) was delightfully juicy, but its apricot BBQ sauce obscured any flavor not meant for dessert.
Likewise, the pricey sides were underwhelming. Creamed Spinach ($7) was more cream than green, but lacked seasoning and flavor. Mac & Cheese ($7) had a cheddary bite, but lacked any balance of flavors and quickly became a chore to eat. And a $5 skillet of cornbread was excessively sweet but dry and unyielding. Carrot Cake ($7) with coconut cream cheese frosting was superb but didn’t feel like an end to the meal. It was, after all, hardly sweeter than any other dish. And that includes the Caesar Salad ($9), with its evil honey-caramelized croutons.
These huge quasi-chain restaurants rarely seem to work for me, though BBQ is something they should be able to pull off. They end up feeling artificial and sterile, and the details that make a restaurant such a pleasure get overlooked. Unfinished drinks disappeared. Dirty heirloom bathroom fixtures do not belong in a multi-million dollar space. Sugar should not be the only seasoning. We’re blessed with some good BBQ joints and so many great independent restaurants that it’s a shame to waste your time, money and soul at Wildwood.