If you picked up Backwoods BBQ and dropped it 50 miles from Midland, Texas, near a short copse of trees and a dried-out ravine, it would be like Frank Lloyd Wright architected it to harmonize with the plains. As is, the Corona location is properly hickified with neons and longhorns and is still very much in place. It sort of pales the Juice It Up’s and Wamu’s around it.
As you approach the entrance, which is somewhat like a Cracker Barrel porch area sans rockers, the hideous sounds of K-FROG’s rotation threatens everything. Sugarland, Toby Keith and Rascall Flatts, dude, a nightmare jubilee streaming at uncomfortable levels (read: stentorian levels). But like a lasso from Lockhart, the drifting smells of mesquite barbecue pulls you through.
Once inside, with a large open dining area with sawdust and peanut shells underfoot—along with a big-bellied cigar store Indian presenting you the specials—the experience becomes rustic and dern near personal. The bar has Shiner Boch (check); Southwestern referentia any which way you crook your head (check); flat panels with college Bowl games on (check); an all-you-can-eat side bar (check); women in worn-in cowboy hats at the bar (check)—a grown man like me felt like crying. Like shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die. You know what I mean?
But this was not supposed to be a sentimental journey; this was to see if Backwoods was a portal to Texas ‘cue. And by the smells of it, by the completely incompressible tang in the air that comes from pork fat dripping onto coals, we were in for nothing less. Backwoods, it should be noted, is also a steakhouse, with half the menu dedicated to those more bucolic tastes for a slab. For us, it was St. Louis-style ribs and the marinated chicken breast (two meat BBQ combo) and a catfish sandwich just to brag.
We ordered some sweet potato fries to begin with (half-dollar sized medallions with brown sugar sprinkled over top, and syrup to dunk into) and enjoyed the courtesy peanuts and rolls. Dinners come with full access to the side bar, where any manner of home-cooked vittles can be had—salads, twice-BBQ’d potatoes, tri-tip soup, Steve’s beans, mac & cheese. But let’s pause at Steve’s Beans for a moment. Steve is Corona City Councilman Steve Nolan, the owner of this authentic slice of Lone Star living, and he’s onto something here. A sentence I never thought I’d write: If any politician says they can make a better pot than Steve, they are shamelessly full of beans. These were evenly salted, gravy-thick ranch-style beans of the finest order. I told my friend, I didn’t know about her, but I was done messing with Texas. I can read the signs.
Meanwhile the Sprites we ordered came in jars. The horns on the wall loomed with menace. That Colt McCoy threw a touchdown pass for the Longhorns against Buckeyes. Colt McCoy . . . that can’t be his god-given name, can it? Everything was going Texas’ way.
The meats came on handled plates, three narrow strips of chicken with a zigzagging drizzle of barbecue sauce, and two large St. Louis pork ribs, charred lightly on the outside and pink and nimble to the bone. The ribs proved to be every bit up as good as advertized, but the chicken was transcendent—succulent grilled breast meat with the lightest brushings of marinade and hints of inkept smoke. Backwoods calls the chicken the best, and you know something—that’s not hyperbole. Not that I’ve tried every mesquite grilled chicken dish in the world, but it was indisputably good.
Perhaps as a lesson to us once and for all, we were reminded once again that everything is bigger and better in Texas. Therefore, the catfish sandwich—a three-quarter-pound po’boy—came home with us after splitting up the meats and overgorging on the side bar. Dessert was laughable, no room.
It was only upon leaving that I noticed Brooks & Dunn singing that “Ain’t Nothing Bout You” loud and unembarrassed. As a testament to the barbecue, I had blocked out K-FROG completely for the entire meal. Luckily, when it came back, everything stayed down.
Backwoods BBQ, 370 N. McKinley Ave., Corona, (951) 734-4646, www.backwoodsbbq.com; AE, MC, V