You never know what delights you will find on New Circle Road, the artery so dominated by chain businesses that it often takes a combination of purposeful attention and an eagle eye to spot the more interesting independents
Brooks BBQ No. 2's brick-red exterior and compact structure, however, are eye-catching from the ring road. The spanking-clean interior is a pleasant contrast of plenty of natural light and a simple color scheme of white and red. This family business manages to provide friendly service and delicious affordable barbecue while doing take-out, drive-through, catering and a food truck in fortunate, unfettered Georgetown. Amazing.
These 'cue masters have been in business for more than 40 years. The original Brooks BBQ, aka Brooks BBQ No. 1, is in Sheffield, Ala. The restaurant owners bill their style as "north Alabama," known for its hickory-smoked flavor and a traditional basting sauce that is mayonnaise-based. You don't taste the mayo, but it must function as a tenderizer. That whole concept was new to me, I admit, but I like it: How could anything slathered in emulsified egg yolks and oil not be good?
Whatever you order — ribs, pork, chicken or brisket — will include two sauces: a brown one that is what ketchup would taste like if it crossed over to tangy, and one that's the color of mustard with a jolt of vinegar, so deliciously spicy and tart that you will squint and pucker.
The smoky, succulent ribs melt in your mouth, but that shouldn't stop you from sucking the bones just in case you happened to miss a morsel. A similar smokiness pervades the mountain of pulled pork that comes in a single, generous order; some bits are small, some large. Make a nicely textured sandwich by piling the meat on a burger bun with "Brooks' special slaw": crunchy carrots and cabbage in a slightly sweet, bright orange dressing. You'll be glad you did.
Premium white breast meat makes up the quarter-chicken plate, another slightly salty and smoky treat.
It was Brooks' brisket, however, soft and beefy with an almost marrowy quality that blew me away. Bits of fat along the edges only increased that heavenly sensuous mouthfeel. It's the best I've had in town.
There is the traditional selection of sides, some predictable, others a cut above, all done with a light hand. For example, the white slaw is simply your basic combination of cabbage and carrots, mayonnaise, celery and celery seed. But the cumin-laced baked beans with bits of onion are sweet, a little peppery and contain the ideal amount of salt — not such an easy ratio to accomplish. Ditto for the long-simmered green beans that were seasoned to perfection.
Potato salad and mac 'n' cheese offer infinite interpretation, and opinions range far and wide. If you like the spuds with the skin on and creamy dressing, or your pasta in a thinner, milkier sauce, this is the place for you.
Keeping the accompaniments less heavy turns out to be sensible because barbecue should include dessert, which down South often means bread pudding. Save room for a couple of spoonfuls — probably your limit anyway, because this iconic final course is decadently rich. Its buttery bourbon sauce is lashed with sugar and vanilla and studded with pecans. I can't imagine a better finale to a sensuous down-home meal balanced with a whole lot of soul.
Brooks BBQ No. 2 is proof that, while navigating responsibly around and around New Circle Road, there are rewards in seeking the unexpected.