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Foodie File: Plenty of American tradition — and good food — at Brian’s Bar-B-Q

Restaurateur by chance — Brian Hill, pictured at right, didn’t intend to own a restaurant, but when he went to work for Barney’s Bar-B-Q after college, he developed a passion for the business and a love of barbecue.

Restaurateur by chance — Brian Hill, pictured at right, didn’t intend to own a restaurant, but when he went to work for Barney’s Bar-B-Q after college, he developed a passion for the business and a love of barbecue.

BEACON PHOTO/TOM STEVENS

A delicious barbecue meal from Brian's Bar-B-Q. 

A delicious barbecue meal from Brian's Bar-B-Q. 

BEACON PHOTO/TOM STEVENS

Vegetarians welcome — For anyone looking for a less meat-centric meal, the all-you-can-eat salad bar at Brian’s Bar-B-Q stands out for its satisfying variety. Everything I expected from a salad bar was there and more: hummus, artichoke hearts, a mix of fruits, coleslaw, pickles and pickled okra, cheeses. The chicken salad is especially good, and distinctive for its smoky flavor. 

Vegetarians welcome — For anyone looking for a less meat-centric meal, the all-you-can-eat salad bar at Brian’s Bar-B-Q stands out for its satisfying variety. Everything I expected from a salad bar was there and more: hummus, artichoke hearts, a mix of fruits, coleslaw, pickles and pickled okra, cheeses. The chicken salad is especially good, and distinctive for its smoky flavor. 

PHOTO COURTESY BRIAN’S BAR-B-Q

Brian’s Bar-B-Q sits unassumingly along State Road 15A in DeLand, set back by a large parking lot. Walking toward the restaurant, I had time to take in the classic roadhouse facade, with wood plank walls, an American flag posted above a metal roof, and picnic benches out front.

Inside, the AC was cool. I smelled hot barbecue and caught a glimpse of prepared meals ready to be delivered to tables.

The 170-seat dining room is cozy and airy. Strings of incandescent bulbs run over the booth dividers, throwing lukewarm light over the smooth hardwood décor and tiled floor. A steer head is mounted by the door, and a salad bar is situated near the front.

On one wall, framed photos of John Wayne in his gunslinger get-up hang end to end. Though I don’t have any special liking for the old movie star, it made me faintly nostalgic for silver-screen-era Hollywood, and how those old American movies had a clear sense of justice and moral rightness.

Anyone who spends a lot of time dwelling on the moral ambiguity in American politics might feel the same way upon entering Brian’s Bar-B-Q.

It feels strange to put this in a restaurant review, but what I’m getting at is, the restaurant seems confident in the way it exudes cushy American traditions; a love for classic “country” lifestyle, sitting down with friends and family, and hearty indulgence in slow-cooked meats. It’s kind of reassuring.

Of course, the most notable of traditions here is the slow-cooked meats. I asked owner Brian Hill if barbecue meant anything special to him, or more to the point, why he came to own a barbecue restaurant.

“Initially, the restaurant found me, so to speak,” he said.

After studying finance at Stetson University, Brian just needed a job, so he worked at what was then called Barney’s Bar-B-Q, part of a small chain.

At first, he didn’t love it, “but then, when I got into it, I realized it was important. Going to a restaurant is an event. It’s a little bit less about the food, and more about getting together.”

Brian intends the restaurant to cultivate a sense of “community peace,” as he calls it. When I first visited Brian’s, I sat at a big circle table with my grandmother, my aunt and uncle, and cousins. The wait staff were very friendly and quick to take orders. The dining room was full without feeling crowded. Country music played softly in the background.

After stepping into full ownership of Barney’s and renaming it, Brian decided to go to culinary school. That’s when he started to develop a deeper appreciation for good food and the role of a restaurant.

He has had experience with multiple cuisines, but as a cook and as a restaurant owner, none has been as enjoyable as barbecue.

Brian’s Bar-B-Q is a “scratch kitchen,” meaning everything on the menu is cooked and prepared on-site from fresh ingredients. Even the barbecue sauce is made at the restaurant.

The menu features a strong repertoire of barbecue staples, each served with a bun or garlic bread. Barbecue sandwiches with pulled pork, brisket, chicken, or turkey. Baby back and prime ribs, burgers, steaks, and seafood entrees. Each entree also comes with two choices of sides, including steak fries, mixed greens, mac & cheese, coleslaw, and other options.

I ordered the half-chicken dinner. It was cooked perfectly — tender enough to separate easily from the bone and a little crispy on the outside.

Every table was stocked with at least one variety of Brian’s “Award Winning” BBQ sauce. (That’s another American barbecue tradition. Every barbecue restaurant has something award-winning.) Although it didn’t really stand out to me as anything exceptional, it went well with the meals.

There’s more to be said about the barbecue than I can fully attest to. I wish I had had the chance to try more of the menu, because several times a year, Brian and the restaurant staff compete in state barbecue championships throughout the Southeast.

At these events, barbecue is treated as both a traditional craft and a creative art form.

“We’re usually one of the few restaurants there. It’s typically all barbecue enthusiasts,” Brian said.

They camp out all night and prepare the best barbecue they possibly can, without the logistical constraints of cooking for a restaurant. It’s not a race. It’s competitive, but the atmosphere is friendly and communal.

The competition gives Brian and his crew the chance to see and taste what other barbecue experts around the country are doing. Sometimes, they come home with new ideas for the restaurant.

Periodically, they offer competition entries as special entrees, like the Competition Chicken (smoked, marinated chicken breast wrapped in bacon) and maple smoked pork belly. The Smoked Honey Garlic Wings basket is also the result of a competition entry.

What impressed me about Brian was how earnestly he pursues the business side of his restaurant while still finding time to be a bona fide barbecue guy. The restaurant shines as both a cordial business and an excellent barbecue spot.

I could recommend Brian’s Bar-B-Q to anyone. You can get a full barbecue dinner for $9-$12, or the salad bar for $9.50. You can also take advantage of certain daily deals, like Nickel Beer Night on Mondays, and all-you-can-eat ribs on Thursdays. They also do catering and takeout, and they’ll even smoke a turkey for your Thanksgiving.

- Tom Stevens, info@beacononlinenews.com


Brian’s Bar-B-Q

Location: 795 N. Spring Garden Ave., DeLand

Hours: 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Seating: 170 indoor seats; picnic tables outside

Pet-friendly: Outside only; service animals inside

Kid-friendly: Yes

Beverages: Beer, wine and soft drinks

Special diets: Gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options

Contact: 386-736-8851 or visit www.briansbbq.com.

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