7712 SE 13th Ave Portland, OR 97202
Rating: 3.0 / 5.0
Billing itself as “your neighborhood smokehouse”, Reverend’s BBQ is tucked away in the heart of the Sellwood area, far from the hustle and bustle of downtown. While Reverend’s was opened in 2014, making it a relative newcomer to the Portland barbecue scene, it is owned by the same group that operates Laurelhurst Market and Ate-oh-Ate, so they have some restaurant street cred already. The word on the street is that Reverend’s is putting out good barbecue with a Northwest twist, landing it on my Portland BBQ Tour list. Let’s see where they fit in with the rest of Portland’s barbecue joints.
As usual, check out the “Quick & Dirty” section for a quick summary of my visit to Reverend’s. Otherwise, see the “Long & Winded” section for a full account of my dining experience.
Quick and Dirty
Barbecue choices are limited in the Sellwood area of Portland, so the scent of oak smoked meats lingering in the air beckon to local barbecue lovers like a desert oasis to a thirsty traveller. Unfortunately, this oasis might just be a mirage as I am not convinced that Reverend’s popularity is due to its phenomenal barbecue. Rather, the full tables at Reverend’s might instead owe their due to the fact that this place offers arguably the best restaurant atmosphere on 13th street for hanging out with friends and grabbing a pint of local brew.
Don’t get me wrong, the barbecue isn’t terrible, but it isn’t amazing either. Reverend’s does a decent chopped pork shoulder that is tender and juicy with big chunks of flavorful bark mixed in. Their hot links and andouille sausage, paired up with mustard sauce and house pickles, are delicious too. I’ll even admit that the creamy potato salad with a mustard bite is delicious and the griddled polenta, with crisp crust and delicate custard middle, is some of the best I’ve had. However, the rest of the barbecue offerings are hard to love; the ribs are chewy, the brisket is dry, and the rest of the sides are forgettable.
That being said, Reverend’s is probably a decent standby if you are unwilling to travel further in search of your plate of smoky meat or are just looking for a place to grab a drink with friends and nibble on some food. If you do find yourself at Reverend’s, order up a pint of a local brew and enjoy the atmosphere. I hear the fried chicken is delicious and you really should try the polenta, but if you are looking for the best barbecue in Portland, you won’t find it here.
Long and Winded
It’s a Friday night and the wife and I are looking to knock another barbecue joint off my tour list. We’ve zeroed in on Reverend’s Barbecue for tonight’s eating adventures. Nestled in on the North end of 13th street in the heart of the Sellwood area, the sweet smell of smoked meat beckons from Reverend’s like a sirens song for passersby to come on in for some barbecue. It’s a rainy, but relatively warm evening and Reverend’s looks like just the kind of cozy locale to wear away the hours while grabbing a drink and a plate of delicious barbecue.
Walking in, we are greeted by warm lighting, a lively atmosphere, and extremely friendly staff. A large horseshoe shaped bar occupies the center of the restaurant and the walls are adorned with an eclectic array of art and other knick-knacks. Cozy, warm, and inviting, the ambiance at Reverend’s is easily the best I have encountered so far on the Portland BBQ Tour. It’s busy and the place is packed, which is usually a sign of good things to come. After a brief 10 minute wait, the hostess informs us our table by the front window is ready, so we shuffle on over and take a seat.
Browsing over the menu, I am slightly disappointed to see there isn’t a sampler plate option for the barbecue. However, they do offer meats by the pound so it is possible to make your own mix-and-match plate, albeit at an increased cost. Since I’ve dragged the wife along with me again, it turns out to be a better option for us to order a pair of plate dinners to share. We settle on the smoked Carolina-style chopped pork shoulder and brisket plates. To make sure none of the meats feel left out, we add a half order of the smoked trio of sausages and a couple of pork spare ribs too. For sides, we pick coleslaw, mac & cheese, barbecue beans, and potato salad. The nice couple next to us recommend the griddled polenta, so we throw in an order of that as well. Finally, I order up a local microbrew and settle in to wait for our food.
Several sips into my beer the food arrives and nearly consumes our entire small table. At first glance, everything looks delicious, except for the brisket that has visibly too much un-rendered fat. Reserving final judgement until tasting, I start with the sides as usual.
After trying each side, only the polenta and potato salad really hit home for me. The griddled polenta has a delicious crisp exterior and custard-like interior — it’s almost like a savory polenta french toast. I’m loving the clean corn flavors and spicy chili pepper kick in this polenta. The creamed corn topping with Tasso ham adds a salty and creamy richness to the dish as well. I’ve never had polenta like this, but it’s fantastic and I would definitely order it again. The potato salad is creamy, with a mustard bite, a little spice, lots of egg, and perfectly cooked tender potatoes. In short, it’s delicious.
The rest of the sides are average renditions. The mac & cheese has a crunchy cornflake top and creamy tender shells, but is sorely in need of more cheesy sharpness to liven it up. The coleslaw is on the limp side and lacking flavor while the barbecue beans are tender, with a mild sweetness, but lacking depth. I take another bite of the polenta and move on to the meats.
Since the Carolina style chopped pork shoulder is on the plate in front of me, I give that a try first. The pork is tender, with large chunks of smoky bark and dusted with a little barbecue rub. It’s a decent chopped pork and yet somehow I am having a hard time calling this Carolina style pork. I keep looking for that vinegary bite and spiciness that comes from being tossed in a delicious Carolina vinegar sauce, but it is nowhere to be found. Instead, I am getting mostly sweet undertones that are reminiscent of teriyaki beef jerky. There is a vinegar sauce on the table I could add, but should it be up to me to make this a true Carolina style chopped pork? That being said, it’s not bad and I find myself coming back for more. Next up, the brisket that is wearing a bit too large fatty coat.
The brisket needs a little help. The fat cap was probably only trimmed to 1/2 inch and most of it has not rendered down. I don’t mind a bit of fat on my brisket, but I prefer it trimmed to 1/4 inch and properly rendered. While flavorful, the brisket also borders on dryness and I am primarily getting sweetness from the rub where I usually like a salt and pepper punch. It could use a little more bark development as well and judging by the condition of the slices, they were likely sliced off the brisket and kept warm instead of being sliced to order. It’s not the worst brisket I have had on this tour, but it is a far cry from the best. Hoping for better, I move on to the ribs.
I like the flavor on these St. Louis ribs. They are not undercooked and have a sticky sweet barbecue glaze that is delicious. However, the ribs are rather tough and chewy on the outer parts, making the eating experience less enjoyable than it could be otherwise. Like the brisket, these ribs could be worse, but they could also be better. Time to give these sausages a whirl.
The sausage plate comes with house-made pickles and three types of sausage: Louisiana Hot, Montbeliard, and Cajun Andouille. The hot link is well seasoned and has an intense peppery heat. It has a great texture and pairs well with the pickles and mustard sauce at the table. The cajun andouille sausage has good garlic and pork flavor, but lacks the medium heat I normally like to see in this type of sausage. Still, the andouille is pretty good. Unfortunately, the montbeliard sausage is bland and easily the worst of the three. It is extremely mild and doesn’t bring much smoky flavor along with it. Overall, the sausages are good, but I would ask to substitute another hot link or andouille for the montbeliard if I were to order these again.
My hopes were high coming into Reverend’s, but the barbecue proved to be hit or miss and I just couldn’t find myself loving this place. While the chopped pork shoulder, Louisiana hot links, and andouille sausage are worth a try, the rest of the barbecue could use a little work. Reverend’s does have a great ambiance, a good local beer selection, and I hear the fried chicken is delicious, so you could do worse if you’re in Sellwood and merely looking for a cozy place to grab a drink with friends. However, if you are seeking out the best barbecue in Portland, it’s time to look elsewhere.