If you go
Simply Southern BBQ
Where: 600 Goodlette-Frank Road, Suite 101, Naples
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; closed Mondays.
Information: 239-403-3663; www.simplysouthernbbqfl.com
NAPLES — For 10 years I was an unwavering vegetarian. Convinced that veggie burgers were just as delicious as hamburgers, I piously eschewed any food that had once had a face.
And then, in one moment of delicious, lust-driven, meat-sin, my 10-year streak was over. With a plate full of picked-clean rib bones staring up at me, I realized that my morals — no matter how strong I'd imagined them to be — were no match for good barbecue.
I haven't looked back since. So when the sign went up in a little strip mall off Goodlette-Frank Road advertising Simply Southern BBQ was opening soon, I practically stalked the place until it opened.
The little takeout spot, which is Naples resident Mikkel Brinson's first restaurant venture, certainly looks and feels like an authentic barbeque joint. Out back, a portly black smoker belches a steady stream of aromatic smoke into the air, while inside, chalkboard menus and diagrams of cuts on a pig keep the place feeling casual. Behind the counter, Brinson greets every customer like an old friend and still somehow manages to do all the cooking.
If the name Brinson sounds familiar, it's because he's worked as a caterer in Naples for the last few years. And although he's entirely self-taught, Brinson's love for food is absolutely contagious. During our interview, he spends a good 10 minutes waxing poetic on the virtues of homemade barbecue sauce, ketchup and mayonnaise.
And it's his attention to details like house-made sauces and sides that really make Simply Southern BBQ a standout. Any one of his handcrafted sides, like his sweet-yet-spicy baked beans and his tangy coleslaw, are worth the trip alone. I became particularly infatuated with his mac 'n' cheese, which combines hearty rigatoni noodles with luscious cheese, topped by a glorious layer of browned breadcrumbs and, yup, more cheese.
When I ask Brinson if there's something unusual in the coleslaw — a certain lightness makes me think yogurt — he just smiles and says, "Nah, I make it just the way my grandma made it."
A lifelong resident of Naples, Brinson's passion for food started during his childhood when he says, "There was always something cookin' on the stove." As we talk, he reminisces about the sights and smells of his mother's kitchen. This nostalgia obviously plays into his menu, as recipes for things that might have come from your own mother's kitchen dominate the offerings.
Now, when it comes to great barbecue, this girl has some serious expectations. First, I want to sink my teeth into a perfectly formed layer of bark before I even get to the sweet meat. Bark is crucial for that initial crunch, before the perfectly tender rib or brisket gives way and you dive, incisors first, into your lunch.
Next, I expect a decent smoke ring. A smoke ring is the result of nitrogen dioxide from wood combustion mixing with the meat's natural water content during cooking and forming nitric acid. Chemistry aside, a smoke ring is basically a way to prove the meat has been cooked long and low over smoke. Yes, there are ways to fake a smoke ring, but I still find myself looking for one.
Finally, the meat needs to have an intense smoky-salty-fatty flavor without actually being fatty and should be exceedingly tender. Because you usually barbecue with very tough cuts, this is where things can go south fast. Butts and shoulders are full of connective tissue, which is essentially made up of collagen, which is essentially what doctors inject into aging women's faces. Collagen, while good at fixing wrinkles and plumping lips, is very chewy. But — and this is the magic of barbecue — somewhere between 140 degrees and 160 degrees, collagen begins turning sinewy tendons to smooth, gluttonous gelatin.
The act of getting the meat to 160 degrees, and keeping it there for just the right amount of time, is where people spend years of their lives perfecting their personal 'cue techniques. And, for Simply Southern BBQ, it's still somewhat hit or miss. The first rack of ribs I got was very tough. Like, saw-through-them-with-my-plastic-knife tough. But, a week later, I went back and they were fine. Both times they had excellent flavor and bark, with plenty of extra sauce on the side for those who like 'em saucy.
On the other hand, the pulled pork sandwiches are perfectly executed. The meat was tender, flavorful and served in a very generous heap. I had to ask for extra sauce, as the pulled pork was served dry with a choice of sweet or Carolina-style vinegar based sauce, but they were happy to provide the extra I requested.
As for Simply Southern's brisket, I'm conflicted on whether to recommend it or not. First, the flavor, smoke ring and bark on the brisket were all spot on. The problem was that the pieces were so fatty it was almost impossible to eat. A better trimming job pre-smoke session could have taken the sandwich from almost inedible to my new favorite thing on the menu.
The same day I struggled through the fatty brisket, Brinson had a homemade smoked sausage special. The little sausages — though they would never win a beauty contest — were absolutely outstanding.
Overall, Simply Southern BBQ has a few kinks to work out, as most restaurants do in the first few weeks of business. However, the love and attention to detail being put into each dish really show that Brinson is on the right track and has a bright culinary future. It's a business that this rehabilitated vegetarian is happy to have in the neighborhood.
CORRECTION: The days and hours of operation for Simply Southern BBQ were incorrect as published in the Showcase section on Friday, Nov. 25. The local barbecue, 600 Goodlette-Frank Road, is open 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Naples eatery is closed Mondays.