- Griffin Swartzell
- Even the bacon cheeseburger at Slingers deserves some love.
The ownership team behind Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon promised the world when they invited the Indy to their soft opening. In addition to a sit-down barbecue joint and bar, co-owner Greg Howard (former proprietor of McCabe’s Tavern) told us to expect a vegan/vegetarian menu, a Nashville hot chicken menu and an Italian menu, all for pickup and takeout only — “ghost restaurants,” as they’re called. But as of late January, not quite two months into the spot doing business, none of these three have manifested. Neither has the craft cocktail menu we were told about.
And yet, we aren’t mad. Things take time, and it’s no mean feat to stick the landing with a new restaurant concept. For now, we’re more than happy to knock back a pint in the lightly renovated interior, which formerly hosted Rhino’s Ranch Saloon, while we chow down on some damn good barbecue. It’s regional style-agnostic barbecue, smoked over applewood and oak, according to recipes developed by co-owner Jay DesRoches.
Everything can be smoked at this saloon, and that includes the salad. The Smokin Greens salad’s smoked strawberries and blackberries confuse my taste buds, but they work with the mixed greens, feta, red onion and balsamic vinaigrette, something different if not revolutionary. Also successful among non-meats: the jalapeño cheddar hushpuppies come borderline cake-tender inside with a crispy, salty exterior and a taste that favors the peppers’ flavor over their heat. Don’t miss the spicy house pickles and onions (and carrots), either, which hit a near-ideal balance between sweet, sour and spicy.
On to the main event: We’re blown over by the chicken wings. They’re smoked for four hours, chilled for four hours, flash-fried for two minutes and served dry, seasoned only with a rub, though we’re offered a squeeze bottle of house Buffalo sauce. The thing is, between the smoke, that peppery rub and the sheer juiciness of them, they don’t need sauce. As more proof that the magic is real, consider the pork belly jar that offers diners crispy cubes of rich pork belly that are, somehow, enhanced by house berry barbecue sauce. Tangy, spicy and bursting with true-to-fruit flavor, it refreshes the palate and pairs with every flavor in that pork.
We try them on their own and in an #ALLTHEMEATS entree, which includes pulled pork, brisket, turkey breast and Polidori Sausage-made kielbasa. The sausage sings with smoke and spices, and we’re happy enough with the smoky, well-seasoned turkey breast. We’re a touch let down by the pork, which lands a skosh dry, but it’s best friends with house North Carolina-style vinegar-based barbecue sauce or South Carolina-style mustard-and-tomato-based sauce, both bursting with flavor.
Our brisket gets the job done with a beautiful smoke ring, which sings alongside the molasses-forward house Kansas City-style barbecue sauce we add. But for brisket, we prefer the B.E. and B. sandwich, which pairs burnt ends — the pointy end of the brisket smoked a second time, a KC specialty — with bacon jam and onion straws on a soft bun for a chewy, smoky sandwich with more bark than a chihuahua in a purse. Another awesome sandwich, the venison burger, is delicate but its gaminess presents a killer flavor combo with smoky-sweet-rich onion-bacon jam, which makes for a cleaner finish to each bite than the meat would on its own.
We manage a dessert on top of all that: chocolate chip bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and praline pecans, served in a Mason jar. The ice cream melts into the cubes of hot custard-saturated bread as we dig in, and those pecans add texture to a dessert that would otherwise be smooth and creamy. Darker chocolate chips would be nice with all the sweet going on, especially given the amount of whipped cream and salty caramel sauce atop. Still, it’s Southern-sweet and no crime for it. At this point, sure, we’re excited to try the Nashville hot chicken, the vegan/vegetarian menu, the craft cocktails and of course the Italian food Slingers eventually plans to offer. But for now, waddling away with bellies full of meat, we’re more than content with what we have.