Holy smoke! A latecomer to the US-style dude food party is serving some of the best American barbecue in town. Forget the flame, this is 14-hour slow smoked brisket, ribs and pork shoulder that pull apart into meltingly soft shreds. Get the bibs out and let the meat sweats begin.
Restauranteur Brody Petersen (Riley Street Garage, The Stuffed Beaver) and chef Brendhan Bennison have transformed the former Table for 20 site, in Surry Hills near Taylor Square, into an all-American beer bar. The decor is drenched in American memorabilia — think neon signs, old school beer ads and 6 football-blaring TVs competing for limited wall space. A break from the city's dark and moody cocktail scene, Surly's is a loud and boisterous tavern serving no-nonsense drinks and a diet-be-damned menu.
Steering clear of boutique brews, the on tap selection features a few big shots from Colorado, including Coors lager, or better yet Blue Moon, a Belgian-like witbier spiced with orange peel and coriander. There's a list of cocktails too, but don't expect fancy glassware and elaborate garnishes. The Old Pal ($14.50) — which is described by the menu as "nothing fancy" — combines Jim Beam, Campari and sweet vermouth, while the Margarita ($15) is dead strong, served in a short tumbler with a 2 inch salt rim. No mucking about there.
The menu is a collection of every dish you've ever wanted to eat but forbidden yourself to. For a hands-on bar snack, try the Buffalo hot wings ($12), battered onion rings ($12), cheesy jalapeno nachos ($10) or crinkle cut fries covered in melty cheese and bacon ($10). There's also a good-looking Handsome Mike's ($16) sandwich, which is stuffed with tender brisket shreds and a scoop of gooey mac 'n' cheese, which is as soft and creamy as rice pudding. Don't expect any respite from the menu; even the salads are packed with blue cheese, smoked bacon and creamy ranch dressing.
The house specialty are the slow-smoked American barbecue plates, which come in beef brisket ($18), pork and beef spare ribs ($20/$25), pulled pork ($15) and chicken thigh ($11). The ribs have a thick layer of succulent meat topped with a juicy strip of white fat, while the crispy skin has been dry rubbed in a peppery spice mix. If you find your chicken is a little pink in the middle "calm down for chrissakes" reads the menu, "it's just the meat's reaction with the smoke." Duly noted. The barbecue plates come with a golden muffin of buttery, crumbly cornbread, plus your choice of two sides. Take your pick from mac 'n' cheese, coleslaw, beans, potato salad and crinkle-cut fries.
With no desserts on the menu (not even one sugary doughnut), the evening comes to a sticky end.
Photos by Bodhi Liggett.