Started as a popular food truck in 2014, Wood Shop BBQ has opened a brick-and-mortar location in the Central District (2513 Jackson St., 557-8090). Before we get to the food, a tip: It’s worth a visit if only to put an end to the confusion over regional barbecue styles. On the wall is a marvelous sparsely drawn map with key barbecue regions highlighted in black script: North Carolina, Memphis, Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee, and Kansas City. This last is where owner and “Pit Boss” Matt Davis grew up, and his co-owner, James Barrington, comes from Texas, so there’s pretty solid representation here.
The map is incredibly detailed, from the type of meat and amount of sauce and rub that predominates to the species of wood the meat is typically smoked on. Take a picture and pull it out next time your friend is trying to school you on what’s what in the world of barbecue. Continue walking along the wall and you’ll come upon another black inked infographic, this one of the house smoker, “Old Willy,” with call-outs for things like the firebox and the cooking surface. (Aficionados: Call for an appointment to meet Old Willy and see for yourself where the smoke and magic begins.) Finally, toward the back of the restaurant, your education is completed with a rendering and flavor profile of the various trees (hickory, alder, apple, etc.) that supply the wood for smoking, and a cow and pig with the cuts of meat labeled.
So what type does Wood Shop serve? According to Davis, mostly the Kansas City style of his childhood: pork, chicken, and beef, cooked with oak and hickory and served with tomato-based sweet sauce. He explains that compared to say, Texas, where the rub is quite simple (usually just salt and pepper), Kansas City barbecue is a complex blend of seasonings, which he believes is essential for pork. However, since beef can get easily overpowered, that gets the simpler Texas-style treatment here. He also doesn’t believe in serving meat drenched in barbecue sauce, so it’s provided on the side—sweet and a tad tangy, but with a delicate touch of heat on the back of the throat.
He’s right. On our visit, the ribs were so incredibly flavorful and moist, with a gorgeous 1/8-inch dark, caramelized crust on the outside, that sauce was really unnecessary. The pulled pork and chicken, however, needed a boost—a surprise, given Davis’s enthusiasm for flavoring. A side of pit beans—small white beans and some stray red kidney beans with so much pulled pork in them they could have been called pork with pit beans—was perfectly seasoned. Sadly, they were sold out of what I love most about barbecue, the brisket: Texas-style with an option for fat or lean meat. Apparently, I’m not alone in that predilection.
A little primer on how the menu, which is scribbled in pencil on a piece of butcher paper on the wall, works: Meats (brisket, pork, chicken, Polish sausage, beef or pork ribs, or a vegetarian portobello mushroom) can be ordered by the pound and come served over a slice of white bread with pickles ($18 for most, but $24 for brisket). Otherwise, you can get any meat served on a sandwich for $10. There are also Mac Bowls: Pick a meat (or chili) and they’ll pile it over the jalapeño mac ’n’ cheese, which is actually not in the least bit spicy, but creamy and delicious just the same. There are also a variety of sides to choose from, which is a great way to try things like the mac or the chili without committing too much money or stomach space. Definitely get those pit beans! The buttermilk slaw is fine—not sweet at all, which I appreciated—but unmemorable.
While there are a handful of tables to sit at after you order at the register, the bar is the heart of the space, a convivial spot where everyone seemed to be involved in one big conversation, and where the bartender whips up a selection of craft cocktails that are heavy on whiskey, including a punch that I desperately wanted but knew would knock me off my stool. There are featured shot and beer specials too. Come spring, an outdoor patio awaits, which, given the indoor crowd on a rainy Wednesday night, should prove an impossibly difficult place to snag a seat.