By Culinary Expert Karen Feldman
9 barbecue spots where you can chow down with the locals
Barbecue is a lot like pizza and Chinese food – everyone has a favorite and yours won’t necessarily be the same as mine. There’s Texas barbecue, famous for its brisket smoked over oak and served sans sauce. Kansas City is renowned for its burnt ends, the fatty nubs of the brisket that are smoked to a deep, dark deliciousness over hickory and doused with sweet barbecue sauce. North Carolina has two sides – the eastern style that comes drenched in a vinegar-based sauce and usually involves an entire hog or pork shoulders that are the signature of Lexington style barbecue. Then there are individual styles to be found in places like Memphis, Alabama, Kentucky…. well, you get the idea.
Given the diversity of styles, and the fact that some spots mix it up on the menu, we’ll name no grand champion in this column but will provide the information you’ll need to explore and do some taste testing on your own at some of the most popular barbecue joints in Fort Myers and surrounding areas. If it’s one of the chains you crave, they are easy to find on your own. We’re here to help you ferret out the local flavors. You can decide for yourself which one satisfies your craving for well-charred meat and/or sauce, which may or may not be sweet, sour, tangy or all three.
BIG8 BBQ brings together several culinary delights: there’s the barbecue, of course, including sausage made in house from the freshly smoked brisket, and jambalaya made with house-smoked meats, pulled pork, jerk chicken and other smoked meats, then adds cornbread, mac and cheese, and greens as sides. It also pays attention to dessert, with offerings like peanut butter pie and banana pudding. Many products used here are locally and sustainably sourced, including Mr. Tom’s Spirits from List Distillery used for its signature cocktails, part of its full bar offerings.
Jonesez BBQ truck is serving Thursday through Sunday over the summer. You can check its website for hours – and order online if you choose – then pick it up at the truck parked just east of downtown Fort Myers. They also have a takeout location on Palm Beach Blvd. This is a family operation, and they know their barbecue. The crisp bark on their ribs, the smoked goodness of their chicken and pulled pork is worth the drive. All are served with traditional sides like mac and cheese, collards, cornbread and baked beans. Try to save a little room for dessert because those are homemade, too. How good is the food? Even celebrity chef Tyler Florence was smitten when he discovered the Jones family’s food in 2019.
Mitchell’s Bar-B-Q is the newcomer in the group. It took over the location Sonny’s BBQ had occupied for 36 years on Winkler Avenue in Fort Myers in January. Pit favorites include St. Louis ribs, sliced or pulled pork, chicken, beef eye round, turkey, shrimp, all with two sides and garlic or cornbread. There’s a salad bar, various combos and interesting sides like fried pickle fries and cheese curds.
While the quaint downtown of a subtropical city might seem an unlikely spot for a ski-lodge-type restaurant, that’s what The Lodge is. Along with the manly décor comes the barbecue and brews menu, including brisket burnt ends (a house specialty), smoked wings and a menu from which you can choose two or three smoked meats and two sides. Still not enough meat? Try the combo, with ribs, pulled pork, brisket and chicken, plus three sides in servings for two to four.
The Saloon isn’t a barbecue joint but does devote a section of the menu to American Craft BBQ, which includes apple wood smoked beef brisket, slow roasted St. Louis ribs, a combo of the two plus pulled pork and hickory smoked chicken wings. It also offers a raw bar, a full liquor bar and lots of other options including items that would suit a vegetarian.
Smoke’n Pit Bar B Que is a long-time favorite in North Fort Myers. For the hardcore carnivore, consider the Bar-B-Que Feast, which includes chicken, pork, beef, turkey and spareribs, a choice of potato plus barbecue beans, cole slaw, corn on the cob and garlic bread. Smoke’n Pit also has the usual suspects, such as baby back ribs, chicken sliced or pulled pork and sliced beef. Other options include catfish sandwiches and burgers. Add some buffalo chips (sliced potatoes that are deep fried and topped with Cajun seasoning. You can get a free dinner plate on your birthday.
Tony Phelan and his family are best known in these parts for their Pinchers seafood joints, but the patriarch got a hankering for barbecue some years back and launched Texas Tony’s Rib & BrewHouse. As the name suggests, the style here is dry Texan, with the meat slow smoked with dry rub. Choose from smoked wings, barbecued pork sandwich, beef brisket, pulled pork, chicken, sausage or ribs (St. Louis style or baby back). Save room for the bread pudding.
That BBQ Place specializes in Texas barbecue in the funky little community of Matlacha (mat-la-SHAY) just west of Cape Coral. Meats are slow cooked over hard woods. Choices include brisket, turkey, pulled pork and meatloaf, sliders. Meat is offered on sandwiches, platters or combos. Dine in or take out.
The Tubby Pig Brew Pub may be hard to define at first glance. It’s a barbecue joint. It’s an artisan brewery. It’s an Asian restaurant. Yes, on all counts and then some. The owners call it American Thai fusion. The members of this talented family have diverse passions and customers reap the benefits. Try the pulled pork in a sandwich or platter or maybe opt for ribs or smoked wings. Personally, I also love the scallion pancake and crab Rangoon (made with real crab) or the fried green tomatoes. Specials found on the board change daily and run the gamut. And then there’s the craft beer.