NORTH SIDE 'CUE: Corky's in NLR.
Why mess with a good thing? The owners of Corky’s Ribs & BBQ haven’t; instead they copied their highly successful Little Rock model when they put in a second Corky’s in the area, opening it two week ago on McCain Boulevard in North Little Rock.
It’s identical right down to the bluesy concert posters and portraits that signify a Memphis music vibe, and the Joe Kleine sports memorabilia on one of the walls (he’s one of the three owners, along with Vince Shalamberg and Tommy Hilburn).
We’ll be interested to see if this new Corky’s cuts into the West Little Rock restaurant’s sales, or if unexposed northern Pulaski Countians will be joining in on the parade for the good ’cue. The restaurant was doing brisk business when we visited the first week it was open.
Shalamberg was even helping wipe tables clean at lunch to keep the flow going; Corky’s knows how to serve throngs. We remember our first experience with Corky’s, the original in Memphis, and noting what seemed like 200 people waiting in line on a Saturday evening. While we were balking at what we were sure would be a ridiculous wait to eat, our host assured us that Corky’s knew how to get the food out quickly and move folks in and out, and we’d eat soon enough, as we did.
It’s the same with the Corky’s franchises here. Though food is hustled out quickly, it’s still mighty tasty and doesn’t appear pre-fab. They whip up the ribs they way you want them – wet, dry or both ways, which is how we requested – and they get appetizers out moments after you’ve ordered, get the tea glasses refilled quickly and only send you on your way when you’re good and ready.
The “Ribs & BBQ” name fails to note that Corky’s also does catfish and does it well. Really well. Massive fillets, and the daily catfish lunch special ($6.99) has four whoppers on the plate, along with a couple of sides.
Corky’s also serves up an appetizer tamales and chili plate that could serve as a meal itself. One of our acquaintances swears by the tamale plate ($4.99) over the ’cue, though we won’t go that far. These tamales aren’t in McClard’s league, but they are doused with both cheddar and jack cheese as well as the decent chili, and they might just serve as enough of a meal for some folks. It’s more like what we’ve known as tamale pie.
For this reviewer – and for some reason we’ve been running hungry these days – and his crack ’cue review team, it was just the start.
We sampled barbecue nachos (and please, Alltel Arena and Ray Winder Field folks, start serving something like this, as they do at the Memphis sports venues), an order of tamales (four per order), a whole fried onion loaf (go this route instead of rings, and eat away to your heart’s content), the aforementioned catfish lunch special with four fillets (seriously, who else serves up this much good catfish at so low a price?), a slab of ribs half-wet and half-dry, and a pulled pork sandwich.
Oh yes, we also had sides of corn on the cob (tasty enough without needing a dollop of butter), beans (very good), cole slaw (good) and spicy, seasoned french fries (lots of them with the catfish platter, and good.) The total bill ran us about $60 before tip, so you can get an enormous amount of food without breaking the bank.
Corky’s claims to have won “Best of” rib contests in the area eight years running. It’s hard to argue with the masses, but we’ve felt that though Corky’s ribs were smoked nicely all the way to the bone, they were a little too cooked for our taste (we’ve even been scolded to suggest that maybe they were parboiled). Ribs shouldn’t fall apart before you get them to your mouth; those rib “experts” who judge Memphis and Kansas City contests and write about them define a perfect rib as having meat that only separates from the bone with a gentle tug of your teeth. We’d agree.
But, we’re happy to report that the slab of Corky’s ribs we had in North Little Rock were closer to that level, not falling apart in our fingers this time. They cook all the slabs the same way, it seems, and just slather on sauce if you order them wet or shake an ample amount of paprika-dominated seasoning for dry. We’ll take them dry every time, thank you. Corky’s are meaty and offer a strong hickory-smoke flavor inside, a spicy kick on the out.
Our table’s only other complaint came from the holder of the pork sandwich, who wished Corky’s offered a sliced version along with the pulled shoulder variety.
We also didn’t notice a trace of barbecuing smoke in the place until we went to the back to the facilities just before leaving. The specialized ventilation system from the kitchen must direct smoke away from the patrons, and that’s a good thing if you don’t want to return to work advertising where you just ate. But, on the other hand, we love a strong whiff of hickory in the parking lot when we arrive at a barbecue joint.
Access to the new Corky’s is not directly off McCain. Heading west, you turn in just before Corky’s onto an entryway into Lakewood Village, then you’ll find the turn into Corky’s parking lot.
Corky’s Ribs & BBQ
2947 Lakewood Village Drive (off McCain Boulevard)
North Little Rock
Corky’s has enough non-barbecue items to make this a diverse family-style restaurant. The catfish is good.
11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Moderate to expensive prices. Credit cards accepted. Full bar (smoking allowed).