Concord's Loudon Avenue is littered (literally in some cases) with every
chain restaurant and fast food joint imaginable—except Dairy Queen,
which was converted two decades ago to Arnie's Place. The ice cream
remains, with a mix of soft serve and house-made hard varieties. What's
been added is a compact, slow-smoked barbecue roster. Service is
over-the-counter, with dining available at the outdoor picnic tables or
the comfortable circus-themed dining room. The "Arnie" behind Arnie's is Tom Arnold, a KCBS-trained barbecue judge. The joint is seasonal, but the season is long, starting in February. On Tuesday nights, the lot gets filled with the chrome and tail fins of classic cars.
The barbecue menu at Arnie's Place has but three choices: pork ribs, pulled pork and Texas sausage. All are available as individual platters and 2- and 3-meat combos. Ribs can also be had as half and full racks; the pulled pork is also sandwichable. Unsmoked options include burgers and dogs.
I visited Arnie's solo for a Saturday lunch early in the 2012 season.
Appetizers as such aren't available here (I asked about the onion rings, but they're not made on the premises). That's not so bad, as it allows more room for ice cream if you desire.
Ribs: The two St Louis cut pork spare ribs on my Goin' Hawg Wild platter ($12.95)
were small of size but big on crust and flavor. The exterior looked like it had received a few sauce bastings to crisp things up, and you could see the generous rub sprinkling right through it. The cross sections lacked the pink coloring to complete the picture, but the first bite confirmed that smoke was definitely in the mix. And not just that, but that smokiness was much more aromatic than the flavor that usually accompanies ribs smoked without a smoke ring. More notable was that rub, which had a nice tingle to contrast the slightly sweet crunch of the crust. The rub also worked its way into the inner meat, which was certainly not lacking for flavor. Texture was a mixed bag: doneness was just about right, with a good tenderness that left a little snap in place, but the moistness was limited. The menu guarantees that the meat will fall off the bone, but thankfully it needed just a slight tug, pulling off very easily and without overcooked mush.
There were a few minor nits, but overall these ribs were very enjoyable. All things considered, when comparing these ribs to others I've had, I might just put them in the top third.
Pulled pork: Like the ribs, the pulled pork didn't offer much in the way of color,
but there was bark to compensate. Saucing was light, lending just a little
bit of moisture to the pork without soaking it. Flavor shined through
with porkiness and light smoke but not much rub. Texture was bouncy, though
this was an obvious reheat.
All things considered, when comparing this pork to others I've had, I'd probably say middle third.
Sausage: Two nitpicky things jumped out right away. First, the sausage arrived pre-cut into 1/2" (or thinner) slices, meaning the inner juiciness got compromised, though they avoided being dry. Second, the "Texas" sausage tasted a lot more like Italian sausage—not that there's anything wrong with that. Aside from those details, the sausage wasn't bad, as the combination of peppery zip, light smoke and tender bounciness was hard to resist.
All things considered, when comparing this sausage to others I've had, I'd probably put it in the middle third.
A trio of sauces is available in squeeze bottles—all fairly thick. The Sweet is a brown Kansas City style. The Smoky looks and tastes like ketchup; I missed the smoke. The Hot is similary ketchupy, with some hot sauce mixed in. Overall, the sauces were a bit of a disappointment.
Cole slaw: This looked like store-bought, but the menu indicated otherwise.
The first forkful confirmed it: homemade and very good. It was crunchy,
very creamy and bearing a very unique flavor. I'm not sure what the
secret ingredient is, but I like it.
Baked beans: Another item that looked store-bought, but the simple condiment suggested otherwise. These weren't smoky or even that flavorful but the addition of onion and pulled pork throughout was nice.
Cornbread: A large pale block was a little cold and a little bland.
The Bottom Line
Arnie's Place was a pleasant surprise. I wouldn't expect ground breaking barbecue or anything that's going to make my top 10 list, but I'd definitely revisit if in the area or even close. I know I'm going to try those ribs again.
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