Back Alley Blues & BBQ – “Best Sides in Tulsa”

By on June 17, 2011

“These are the best sides in Tulsa!” I exclaimed as we fought over the last onion ring. “And maybe the best beans anywhere.” “Certainly the best fried okra,” said Cathe. We used the word “best” a lot that evening. Usually I feel a twinge of guilt when I review a place that’s been open only a few days. But Back Alley was at the top of its game. Usually a big city’s hipster district rendition of country shack food never holds even a guttering candle to the food you’ll get in that country shack. But this place is an exception, perhaps because it approaches its country shack heritage with respect and affection. I can’t think of another Tulsa restaurant that does Oklahoma country cooking so well. These sides are what you’d hope to find at Sunday dinner in a little farmhouse 30 miles out of town.

You enter Back Alley Blues & BBQ through a back alley. If you can’t find the alley, just do as we did and use the back entrance, which is located right on Elgin, next to Blake Ewing’s other fine establishments, Joe Momma’s and The Max Retropub. If you do that, you walk down a long corridor paneled with boxcar siding to the high-ceiling, airy dining room. A few months ago this was an empty, desolate room in an abandoned warehouse. Someone’s done a great decorating job.
Back Alley BBQ Tulsa Interior
We ordered a slab of ribs ($23, including two sides). After a short, hungry wait, that came. It was such a delight to see!
Back Alley BBQ Tulsa Ribs
And it tasted as good as it looks. Great flavorful crust, moist tender meat. The flavor was so good that for the most part I didn’t use any sauce. This was a good thing because the sauce… innovative, flavored with herbs, lots of chili kick … was wonderful for the first few bites and then you got sick of it. (Though they don’t advertise the fact, and we didn’t know, they will provide Head Country on request.)
Back Alley Meat Closeup
That photo above should convince you that you don’t need sauce at all.

Now about those sides. I’ve never been to or even imagined a barbecue joint where the barbecue would play second fiddle to the sides. Now I’ve found one. Sides are only $2 (or $1.55 if you want extra sides with your dinner, which comes with two), and if you walked in, ordered 4 sides and made that your complete meal, that would be a smart thing to do.

Let’s start with the side that came last. The beans. It came last because when we arrived, they told us that they’d run out. (No surprise.) So I said that if a new batch was ready before we had finished eating, they should bring us some, and they did. It was wildly good! It’s simmered low and slow with sweet red peppers, sausage and molasses. It’s an incredible recipe. In fact it was one of two side dishes for which Blake Ewing organized a talent search a few months ago. Entrants would cook their recipe and bring it for the judges in a big hall just east of downtown. The winner got $1000. That recipe is worth more. A lot more.

Now for the side that’s the biggest value. Imagine having 4 plates like this for your $8.
Back Alley Mac and Cheese
It’s a lovely mac and cheese. “Not as good as my recipe,” said Cathe, and okay it isn’t, but if you’re a fan of that Velveeta-inflected mac and cheese that made the Brook restaurant famous, you’ll love them. Also in the photo are the great cornbread muffins served with cinnamon-honey butter. They are the amuse-bouche. In the photo of the slab of ribs above, you can just see the onion rings. We all wished the portion were larger! They are a lot like the thin ethereal rings I found out near Muskogee at Baker’s Fish Camp. The Baker’s onions, I wrote, “were so good I grabbed handfuls of them and shoved them in my mouth and it took all my willpower to stop.” These are just about as good. If not quite as good, certainly a tough contender. Worth fighting for. The okra was excellent too, and Cathe thought it might be the best she’s ever had. Light, pillowy cubes. “We use the best oil and we change it often,” said the manager. It shows.

And then, just when you’d think the meal was over, we ordered this.
Back Alley Peach Cobbler
This recipe too came from a talent search and a prize. It just could be the best cobbler you’ll ever eat.

Back Alley Blues & BBQ
116 S Elgin (back entrance)
728-8300
www.backalleytulsa.com
Menu: http://backalleytulsa.com/menu/Menu.pdf
Open every day from 11 AM to 2 AM

Back Alley Blues and BBQ on Urbanspoon

Brian Schwartz:

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society.  www.theomegasociety.com

I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.

“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

Brian Schwartz

About Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola. “A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

10 Comments

  1. LOL

    June 17, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    They painted BB King as being left-handed? LOL

  2. Brian Schwartz

    June 18, 2011 at 8:18 am

    I should add that the service was really good. Our waitress Nicole (she’s in the photo) was friendly, knowledgeable and efficient. The food came when it should. That’s pretty rare on opening week.

  3. Brian Schwartz

    June 18, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    I just found out that Back Alley owes two important things to the competition BBQ circuit. The baked beans recipe, which I imagined was created by a genius cook grandma on a farm was actually created by Jeff Hughes, a veteran prizewinner who has competed in numerous BBQ competitions. (The second prize bean winner was a genius cook mommy on a farm.) And their smoker is also a BBQ veteran, at least the design is. It is a top of the line Cookhouse that is used by many winning BBQ teams. Here is more info, and, if you like, an order form so you can buy your own for $18,000.

    http://store.cookshack.com/p-132-fast-eddys-by-cookshack-fec750.aspx

  4. K

    June 18, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    I agree that the sides are fantastic. Thanks Brian!

  5. Thomas

    June 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Ate at BAB today for lunch. My chicken sandwich was great. The side of homemade potato chips were spot on and I ate all of them(I’m a sucker for homemade potato chips). The fried pickles had way too much cornmeal on them. I only ate a few. The potato salad was average. My buddy got brisket that was way over seasoned. A colleague of mine told me he had the same issue with brisket yesterday when he went. I had one bite of the brisket and was thankful I didn’t order it. Overall, I really enjoyed my meal. The atmosphere is great and our service was way above average. I also think the prices are very reasonable. I will most definitely be back for the chicken sandwich and potato chips, but will pass on the pickles and potato salad next time. If you are in downtown, I highly recommend checking this place out.

  6. CMB

    June 23, 2011 at 10:07 am

    Gotta whole heartily disagree with this review for the most part.

    First of all, omega member or not, the corn bread rolls are NOT an amuse-bouche. Please learn what one is before you try to impress us….

    You are right the mac n cheese is lousy. The beans are interesting and well prepared, but too sweet for my taste – that’s just my opinion, and I don’t downgrade a place for me not liking a particular recipe, most of my review is based on preparation.

    Getting to that, the ribs were tender, but the rub was bland and they didn’t have enough smoke. The brisket and pork were lean, overcooked, and again, not near enough smoke. The hot links and sausage were terribly overcooked. They may own an expensive smoker, but they need practice using it.

    The onion rings had potential, but unfortunately, they were really burned. Simply left in the deep fryer too long. Mistakes happen, but they can’t let food go out like that. Burning food happens, but the crime is letting go out to the customer.

    I’ve been around the country eating BBQ for years – and there just isn’t a good place in Tulsa. Sorry. I was disappointed here.

    For all your travels, take an easy trip one state south. Pick up the top 100 BBQ joints next time Texas Monthly puts it out. You’ll learn what good BBQ. Just off the top of my head, Cooper’s in Llano, The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Kruez Market in Lockhart (try both the original and the family splinter one. Interestingly, as many places in Texas, you DO NOT get sauce with the BBQ. Purists claim it smothers the taste of the smoked meat…. “Good BBQ doesn’t need sauce” is their mantra. I’m not that much of a purist) and while in Llockhart try Blacks.

    Sorry for being so harsh….

    • Thomas

      June 23, 2011 at 3:58 pm

      Kreuz Market in Lockhart is pretty darn good. Hard to beat. Even without the sauce.

  7. Jeff n Lori

    December 15, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Me my wife and daughter ate lunch there on a Sunday and received excellent service. Best ribs in Tulsa(besides mine at home). My wife had the brisket and loved it. The waitress was great with my daughter too. We will go back.

  8. Mitchael

    July 18, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    The sides may be good but the BBQ is as bad as it gets. I will say I went at 5pm and perhaps they weren’t ready for the dinner yet but the ribs were dry, the brisket even worse and hot wings just down right uneatable. Why travel to this place when consistent BBQ at Elmers is right around the corner. This place will be out of business soon.

    • Colin

      July 23, 2013 at 8:27 am

      I’ve got to agree. I went for lunch a few weeks ago and was really disappointed. Sometimes I wonder if Blake Ewing goes to his restaurants and sees what’s going on. The food was very average and really over priced. I can’t imagine Back Alley will be able to sustain such overall bad performance much longer.

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