Let’s be honest with (y)ourselves—New Englanders aren’t exactly known for their skills with a smoker.
Enter Tiffani Faison.
You may recognize Faison from a few stints on Top Chef or from her time at Lucky’s Lounge, Perdix and the sadly shuttered Rocca. Faison’s newest foray is Sweet Cheeks, a Texas-style joint that opened in mid-November in Fenway, that’s serving up some very sassy ‘que with a vibe that manages to be simultaneously upscale and unfussy.
Faison has roots in the South and remembers her mother cooking staples like fried chicken, black-eyed peas and collard greens when she was growing up—Sweet Cheeks offers this same kind of traditional cuisine with her own twists. To prepare, Faison visited some of Texas’s best-known BBQ spots for some very delicious research.
Add to that a 4,700-pound J&R smoker named Tootsie and the very best ingredients available, and you get some of the most incredible barbeque we’ve tasted north or south of the Mason-Dixon.
Let’s start, as we should, with the meat: all of it is top-quality, all natural, and largely responsibly raised. We think it says something profound about a barbeque place when you have three delectable house-made sauces right in front of you (brown sugar-tinged Texas-style, tangy North Carolina-style, and zingy hot) and you realize you’re not using them because the meat is so damn tasty on its own.
Infused with a smoky flavor you can see in the pink ring around the edges (courtesy of Tootsie), the Great Northern brisket and Berkshire pork belly (both $18) are so tender they may melt into your plate. But don’t forget about the turkey legs, short ribs, pulled pork, and more ($15-25)—all of them (as we say in the South) taste so good, they make you wanna slap yo mama. (But please, don’t. We hear she’s a pretty nice lady.)
Onto the sides. Each tray is served with a hot scoop and a cold scoop, which translates to options like mac ‘n’ cheese, collard greens, heirloom BBQ beans, coleslaw and carrot and raisin salad. Standouts on our table included a creamy broccoli cheese casserole so rich we kind of forgot it had vegetables in it, and the surprisingly hearty farm salad of roasted Brussels sprouts and leaves with farro and halved grapes.
The drink menu at Sweet Cheeks is all-American, featuring local and microbrew beers broken into clever categories like Nice Cans and Oh You Crafty Huh?, as well as spirits aplenty. The mixed cocktails ($10) are served in low-key mason jars and are divine, especially the rich Damn Yankee with bourbon, maple liqueur, maple bitters, and a house-brandied cherry, and the easy-going House Bill 819—tea-infused corn whiskey, lemon juice, mint, and simple syrup—named for a state law proposed in Georgia that would have made it illegal for restaurants to not have sweet tea on the menu. Yes, that really happened.
The atmosphere is very relaxed, with cherry wood walls and strung bulbs on the ceiling, giving an almost outdoorsy feeling. You have simple rough-hewn low-tops and communal high-tops made from repurposed church doors and bowling alley lanes. Once spring is upon us again, look forward to a large outdoor beer garden complete with a quaint porch swing.
Sweet Cheeks is serving up some seriously delicious, no-nonsense barbeque and accompaniments with a laid-back air, and we suggest you get after it as soon as you can. Everything here was a homerun, which we think is appropriate for Fenway.
Well, maybe not this season—HEY-OOOO!
Photos by Chris Sanchez.
1381 BOYLSTON ST.