“Under new management” has got to be one of the least appetizing phrases in the restaurant biz. Clearly it’s a confession that your place was no good to begin with, and it’s hard not to conjure up images of a new manager, in coach pants, lecturing about the finer points of spatula-turning to a cynical, jaded kitchen staff. Plus, there’s the whole Domino’s “we admit our pizza always sucked” connotation—not good company.
But with the newly opened Ashley’s Que, things are a bit different. First of all, previous pulled-pork and open-mic tenant Lo-Cash Live was sold. Second, the re-named Walker’s Point location joined forces with the pitmasters at long-appreciated Ashley’s Bar-B-Que. The partnership between Lo-Cash owner Jay Carter and Ashley’s owner Darnell Ashley brings a beef-injected dose of North Side tradition to a newly blistering neighborhood of foodstuffs. But is it enough to challenge our previous notions of reinvention and self-improvement? Or is it really just another Matt Foley back there in the kitchen, motivating? Either way, we never miss a chance to ingest slow-grilled animal proteins on the company dime.
The space: Glass-half-full types might find the joint refreshingly “no big deal.” The rest of us, or anyone who has ever stepped foot in a Target “Home” section, might bemoan the lack of any kind of decorating sense whatsoever. Sure, it’s nice that the wood finish is not all “repurposed” and faux-rustic, and that fireplace recommends some forthcoming wintertime chats with hot cocoa and beef brisket. But the space itself feels too big, the half-circle bar bloated and purposely stretched to fill the room. The few dollar bills tacked on the wall aren’t helping matters, either. Maybe Manute Bol eats here frequently and likes leaving his tips on the ceiling instead of the table. But we’ve never been quite sure why this is a thing. And we are even less sure why, other than the dollars and the flat-screened NFL network, there wasn’t anything even hinting toward ambiance on the walls.
The service: Doting; near to the point of glad-handedness. Everyone checked on us, from the bartender to the manager to the cook stopping at the bar for a refill. There’s only so many polite thumbs-up to be given when true gut-stuffing has commenced, and we found ourselves avoiding the bathroom for pending chance that an avuncular attendant would inquire as to how everything was coming out. We’re the last to complain about friendliness, but isn’t there something cleansing, something humbling about the complete indifference from employees at, say, Speed Queen? When it’s time to coat your fingers and face with sugary barbecue sauce and grilled animals, we’ll opt for the path of least conversation.
The A.V. Club’s food: If you bring our appetizer at the same time as the entrée, you might as well head back toward the kitchen and just keep walking. It’s a near irrecoverable faux pas, especially when said app is the uninspired, lukewarm mess that was the Ashley’s Fry ($8.99). This is a ubiquitous thing nowadays in the fat-slinging world of bar food: to soppily coat fries like they were tortilla chips and call it a day. Yet there was something undeniably sweet and slick happening with that underlying slow-cooked piggy, and once we turned our focus to the Rib Dinner ($12.99), complaining was far from our mind. The five long bones were big, thick, meaty, and whispering of smoke. Here, dry rub mixes with heavy sauce in a bipartisanship act of delicious compromise. And while we found the sauce a tad goopy and sweet, the teamwork and the servings of Louie’s Demise ($3) were putting us in a contented air of conciliation. Plus, the rub/sauce debate was moderated fair and even by the nicely-salted, fresh-feeling greens ($3.99, or two sides come with a dinner).
Then there’s lunch. The Prince Sandwich ($7.99) has a name less apt in terms of royalty, and far more for the glandular athlete who used to represent our hometown on the diamond. This is a fat, slugging bruiser of a hoagie. Steak, lamb, cucumber sauce, pepper mix, mayo, onions, and shredded cheese hammer for the fences of the cushy confines of the Sciortino roll. While a bit sloppy and extremely saucy, the unique combos danced around our palate: bovine vs. sheep, Greek vs. American, egg yolks vs. tzatziki, eat like a man vs. use a fork.
As standalone sides, the baked beans ($2.99) tasted suspiciously like doctored Bush’s, but the mac n’ cheese ($3.99) was pleasantly large-shelled, soft, and cheddary. And while the Catfish Sandwich ($6.49) was expertly fried, the cheese was intrusive and it could have used a kick in the sauce pants. (Note to po’-boy-slinging restaurants: New Orleans sandwiches are “dressed” simply: lots of mayo, shredded lettuce, and sliced pickles. Easy. Can we all get on the same page?) But with a squirt-container bottle of homemade hot sauce readily at hand—not even asked for!—we’ll keep complaints under our meat-breaths. Even when the waitress comes back with more questions.
The verdict: A hugely edible, surprisingly affordable addition to the bustling, bursting dining scene that lucky-jerk-residents of Walker’s Point get to feast on daily. Now, if only the joint would hit up a poster sale or something.