First Bite at Sweet Cheeks

Fenway’s new barbecue spot turns on the charm.

Photograph by Ekaterina Smirnova.

Photograph by Ekaterina Smirnova.

Done right, a barbecue joint is to Americans what a true pub is to the Irish: a place where diners of all ages and stripes can kick back over lunch, dinner, or late-night eats and while away hours on end. Done like most places around here, though, it’s just a place
to eat smoked meat.

Enter Tiffani Faison’s solo restaurant debut, Sweet Cheeks. The former Rocca chef takes inspiration from Texas-style  ’cue, serving pork ribs ($19, above), short ribs ($25), and brisket ($18) on butcher-paper-lined trays with DIY fixings of white bread, pickles, and shaved white onions, plus delightfully unsophisticated hot and cold sides.

The setup might throw folks who are used to barbecue of the Redbones variety — there’s no cornbread, and the meat is mostly sauce-your-own — but they’d be wise to get over it fast, and get into those sides. Collards, black-eyed peas, carrot-raisin salad, et al. are portioned as “scoops” ($6–$7 for a small à la carte portion; $9–$12 for a large). Haute cooking standards don’t apply; the broccoli-cheese casserole was a mushy, hot mess, and it was delicious.

As for extras, the fried green tomatoes ($7) came with a thin buttermilk dressing for dipping, and the meeting of crunch, tang, and heat with cool creaminess was fantastic. The “white-trash fruit salad” ($6) reminded me of picnic desserts made with Cool Whip and Jell-O, only tastier; Faison does hers with homemade Fluff.

While it’s worth dining in to enjoy what might be the city’s most genial waitstaff — they’re quick with recommendations, beer-savvy, and family-friendly to boot — the takeout service gets it right, too. Brisket and ribs weathered the ride home perfectly, as did sides of mac ’n’ cheese and coleslaw. Though no sauces were provided in the takeout bag, we solved the slip-up with a bottle from the fridge and took comfort in the gratis tub of banana pudding with crushed Nilla wafers (“Thanks!” was scrawled on the lid). Faison and her team seem to know what it takes to make great  ’cue: a giant smoker and a whole lot of heart.

1381 Boylston St., Boston, 617-266-1300, sweetcheeksq.com.

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  • Ward

    Really enjoyed the ribs, but the sides were adequate at best. Had just come back from Austin, Tx, where I had great green beans and slaw w/ribs. No fried chicken on the menu when I went either. Oh well, Popeye’s is nearby, and if it’s good enough for the Sox …