Sumptuous Barbeque Right Around the Corner
Is there a more uplifting and deliriously joyous sight than a liquefied slice of white bread residing within a puddle of tangy barbeque sauce? Assorted items may rest atop that hidden slice and may even dare to assume the title of entrée, but whether it be succulent and tender ribs, addictively crunchy fried chicken or plump and decadent fried fish, the sopping Wonder Bread lives up to its name and steals the show.
True, there are a few other foods that make for a similarly engrossing presentation and a wondrous mélange of deliciousness. As a Philadelphian, I’d be chided for not mentioning that rare and total convergence of crusty Italian bread, heated Cheez Whiz, ketchup and steak grease that bespeaks our city and shaped my childhood. Though nothing can top that cheese steak, for sheer comfort, immense delight and bizarre surroundings, Hot Sauce Williams Barbecue, a regional barbeque legend, has yet to meet its match.
Located in a somewhat decrepit area just past the Cleveland Clinic, the primary location of Hot Sauce Williams stands out as a pink monstrosity amidst empty-looking buildings and vacant gas stations. A plume of smoke beckons beyond the rear of the restaurant at all hours of the day, as Hot Sauce Williams is one of the few places in Cleveland where people can go looking for a late-night snack. Hot Sauce also offers a drive-thru service, supplying delight to those who cherish eating out of Styrofoam containers, which are suitable both for eating in a parked car (don’t drive with sauce) or carrying to one of Cleveland’s under-appreciated scenic views, such as the lake by the art museum.
As for the food, it is gloriously simple and terrifically prepared. When we drove up to the drive-thru window, we were pleasantly surprised to witness a chaotic mixing of about a dozen people, all working, smiling and yelling to each other. But the strange thing was that, as far as we could tell, we were the only ones who even were waiting for an order. Those who expect fried chicken to be quick just because it comes through a drive-thru will be disappointed, but not by the finger-licking saliva-inducing care to which this bird is subjected. It’s hard not to respect a place that will set up a drive-thru but won’t diminish the quality of its product in the act. (Does pre-fried chicken seem like a sin to anyone else in this world?)
Almost all the items are slathered in the same barbeque sauce (upon request, but how could you ever say no?) which supplies a unique blend of peppery spiciness and sharp tanginess without too much sweetness. The ribs and the pulled pork are a delicious blend of smokiness and tender juiciness. Though the beef ribs seemed chewy against the plethora of falling-off-the-bones meat before us, they made up for that one shortcoming in sheer, unadulterated flavor. The coleslaw was light and vinegary, a refreshing contrast amidst the sauce. The surprise standout of the menu was the fried chicken, which though literally bathed in a puddle of sauce, had a sizable and sharply crunchy shell, with tender and succulent meat beneath.
Good food, like any great art or mystical experience, has the ability to leave one speechless or simply spouting meaningless and spontaneous exclamations. The chicken was such an experience, leaving this partaker in a state of gleeful shrieks, accompanied by expletives of disbelief. At once I took back all the bad things I had ever said about Cleveland, the all-too-easy complaints and patent whining, and cried a solitary tear of joy. And then I saw it, glistening, beckoning, a vibrant square of burgundy shaded by a beige crust. Upon my first bite of that glorious slice of bread, juices poured out. I couldn’t repress another shout and all was right with the world.
Hot Sauce Williams Barbecue
Multiple Locations, including
7815 Carnegie Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44103