After Bryan Dooley spent 15 years as a chef at the luxurious Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, he opened Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue in Cave Creek. He left fine dining’s familiar foams and reductions to pursue his passion for perfecting his own interpretation of Wild Wild West comfort food. Locals line up around the block on the daily to feast on his finger-licking-good BBQ. If you find yourself road tripping through Arizona you should join the queue.
The restaurant’s entrance features a wee gate where a brass hog statue offers a mute, warm welcome. A massive saguaro towers over the patio out front, a reminder that we are indeed in the desert. Inside the vibe is cool casual, with a register where you line up to order, and along the same side, an open kitchen where you pick up your food from the counter.
Dooley and his wife Donna designed the dining room themselves, keen to showcase an homage to the old west while embracing a new west sensibility. Guests dig into dinner while black and white cowboy movies project onto the walls and Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn croon in the background. Bryan and his BBQ also have a sleek side, featuring clean, modern design (chrome chairs, acid washed walls, stencils of flying pigs) and a whimsical wit. With a leaping pig over Black Mountain on his logo to specials like The Firebird “the chicken from hell,” it’s clear that Dooley and Donna are hopeful that their guests will crack a few jokes or two.
Chef Bryan’s BBQ-centric menu reads as a curious mix of fancy pants meets down-home-delicious. The cashier informs me that Bryan smokes all of his meat over pecan wood, which he asserts is more mellow than hickory. The fridge is stacked with a stellar collection of top notch local craft beers and as I peruse many-an-unfamiliar label I chirp with glee after spotting a large bottle of Sam Smith Cider, a favourite I encountered a few summers ago but can rarely find on offer at the Toronto liquor store.
We sat in the centre of the dining room, tucked around a large circular table while hungry hands snatched crispy french fries, slick pork ribs, steaming brisket and spicy pickled jalapeños in an attempt to indulge in the ultimate taste test. With ten friendly folks sharing a fine feast it was easy as pie to sample through Bryan’s best. I first dabbled in life’s simple pleasures, sampling through the restaurants notable sides which include creamy dill flecked potato salad, crispy french fries and addictive olive coleslaw. The restaurants signature bacchanal is The Big Pig, a massive basket of french fries topped with artery clogging pulled pork, beans, sliced jalapeños, scallions, bbq sauce and whisper of sour cream. You could eat The Big Pig all on your own (and die of a heart attack) or share it with a family of ten.
I order the special of the day, Crispy Southern Fried Rabbit which arrives at the table accompanied by two wee bowls of black eyed peas and creamy grits. My neighbours nibble on ginger beer lamb shank, pulled pork sandwich, 1/2 BBQ chicken, vegetarian friendly “pulled” squash sandwich, beef brisket and fall-off-the-bone smokey pork ribs. My fork of course peaked and poked around the table so I could successfully claim I’d conquered every last dish on the menu. Before heading out the door to square dance at a cowboy saloon (as you do) we devoured mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches, because apparently we still had room for more. Gluttony darling, it’s a thing!
Sam Smith Cider
The Big Pig
pulled pork, beans, jalapeños, scallions, bbq sauce, sour cream, fries
Ginger Beer Lamb Shank
Crispy Southern Fried Rabbit
black eyed peas, grits
Pulled Pork Sandwich
baked potato salad
Vegetarian “Pulled” Squash Sandwich
famous olive coleslaw
1/2 BBQ Chicken
Ice Cream Sandwiches