If there is one thing Southerners like to debate — other than the relative merits of their states' college sports teams — it is the relative merits of their states' barbecue. Will it be Memphis-style pork ribs, heavy on the sauce; or Texas' beef and brisket, often served sauce-less, or as they say in the Lone Star State, "naked?"
That's a debate that will doubtless rage on without any definitive answer. However, if you're looking for some of the best 'cue to be found in Lexington, Blue Door Smokehouse is a leading candidate.
If ever the phrase, "hole in the wall" could be used to describe a place, it's this 26-seat spot on Walton Avenue just off Winchester Road. Except for the electric blue door, very little effort was put into décor. It has none, unless you count the two Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels as you enter, a picture of the University of Kentucky's Wildcat mascot and framed posters of the anatomy of a pig, chicken and cow.
If you're looking for Martha Stewart ambiance, go elsewhere. But if you're looking for great barbecue, pull up a (rickety) chair and sit down ... that is, if you can find one. The Blue Door is that popular.
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Those who subscribe to the theory that great barbecue is all about the grilling and smoking pack the Blue Door at lunch time and well into the early afternoon. If you want condiments, drinks, napkins and the like, you have to elbow your way through hopefuls waiting for a table as well as those waiting in line for carry-out orders.
Like the restaurant, the menu is compact, offering four main dishes: beef brisket, pulled pork, pulled chicken and smoked sausage, either as a sandwich ($5-$5.50) or as a plate, served with a slice of white bread, pickles, onion and two sides ($9-$11).
You can also get ribs — a half rack ($12) and a full rack ($21) or a salad (although, why would you want to?). If you just can't make up your mind, they offer a Blue Door special, which includes all the meats, for $20.
On my first visit, I ordered the pulled pork, which was so tender that utensils were optional. Equally tender were the ribs ordered by one of my dining companions; the other ordered the smoked sausage (two links for $10). All three were delicious, but what I've been hearing is that the brisket is the star of the menu.
On my second visit, I decided to see what all the fuss was about for myself. According to the pit master, the only thing added to their justly celebrated brisket is salt and pepper. The smoke does the rest. It was so flavorful I could have eaten it with nothing on it, although the sweet sauce that came with it gave it an extra kick. If you're not into sweet, they also have tangy and spicy, the latter not overly so.
The platters come with two sides, a choice of two types of cole slaw (creamy and vinegar), potato salad, ranch beans and collard greens. Blue Door also considers a bag of potato chips a side.
I found the beans a little bland paired with the barbecue, though to be fair, they are advertised as ranch beans, not barbecued beans. My dining companion, ordered collard greens, and proclaimed them among the best she'd ever had.
"Most of the time, greens aren't properly seasoned," she said. "These are, with nice big chunks of ham."
The three desserts (berry bars, chess bars and peanut butter and chocolate fudge brownies) come from Sweet Lelu in Versailles, and are so sugary it might take you two sittings to finish them.
If the food and setting are friendly, the service is even more so. Rob, who was behind the counter on both of my visits, greets each customer (many by name) with the enthusiasm of a carnival barker and has an uncanny knack for remembering what repeat customers like.
If you're going to be one of those customers, be aware: Lunch is your best option, and an early lunch at that. The later in the day it gets (the restaurant is open until 3:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday), the more likely it is they will run out of menu items, especially the popular brisket. To save yourself disappointment, it would be wise to check before you go to see what is still being served.