The other day I found myself doing a little post-holiday shopping at the fresh hell that is the Ellenton Prime Outlets. While waiting for my girlfriend to try on some marked down jeans with three legs instead of two, I decided to consult the all-knowing oracle that is Urbanspoon to see if there were any good places to eat in the area that weren’t a Subway or a Wendy’s.
I came upon a highly rated place called Hickory Hollow BBQ. I was excited at first because I thought this might be the whimsically magical restaurant where all of the Disney fairies hung out when not fluttering about Disney World. I was incorrect. There were no fairies. There was no magic.
The place looks a little rough on the outside, but I was not deterred, as that can be a sign of quality at many a barbeque joint. The inside didn’t fare much better. There was a lot of wood paneling and a lot of greenery. I couldn’t tell which greenery was just there for Christmas. Much of it was festively lit.
We gave our orders to our not exactly friendly waitress. She was terse and obviously wanted to be anywhere else. And eventually she went to that anywhere else because another girl took her place. A much friendlier girl this time.
I ordered the Eastern North Carolina style pulled pork. Apparently in Easter North Carolina they like to make their barbeque vinegar-based. I’ve never had that style of barbeque before, so, fair warning, I can’t vouch for its authenticity. I also ordered a side of steak fries, fried okra, and a sweet tea. The sweet tea was less than mediocre. A bad start to the evening.
My lovely dining companion ordered a traditional style pulled pork, steak fries, and baked beans.
My pulled pork was interesting. At first. The vinegar was enjoyable for the first few bites. After that, not so much. The vinegar taste compounded and compounded on my tongue until it became too much. And then I got angry that someone would ruin perfectly good pulled pork with vinegar. Also, the pork was very dry.
We were given two barbeque sauces: sweet and spicy. Both were nearly identical except for some heat agents added to the latter. The sauce was tomato-y and not very memorable.
The steak fries were generic but they were crisp and hot and well-salted. My experience with the fried okra was the same as every other experience I’ve ever had with it. Excitement on ordering. Enthusiasm when it arrives. Delighted by several mouthfuls. Disgusted by the rest. The okra was ok. It was fried and it was okra. Nothing to write Tinkerbell about.
I had a bite of their traditional style barbeque. It ran into the same dryness problems and wouldn’t rank anywhere near the top of my pulled pork sandwich list. My girlfriend thought it tasted like a family pot roast. Not a good thing.
The baked beans didn’t have much going on either. It tasted like they were from a can but with a few added flourishes from the head chef.
My plate came with two corn fritters: giant corn hush puppies. They were easily the best thing we had. They were soft, moist, and packed with cornbready goodness. The fritters had the only assertive flavors in an otherwise bland meal.
The morbidly obese pig staring at me from the windowsill, certainly didn’t add to the enjoyment of the meal. Another negative was that this place only accepts cash, which is fine if you’re Peter Luger Steakhouse, but when you’re serving sub-par barbeque, it’s ridiculous.
What did add to my enjoyment, however, was the fact that there was an elderly couple seated next to us. The woman sounded EXACTLY like the grandmother from Squidbillies! And then they played “Who Let the Dogs Out?” over the restaurant speakers! It might have been the most awesome moment of my life. Plus there were goats walking around on, what I’m guessing is the owner’s adjacent property. And lastly, their website is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.
Hickory Hollow was filling up quickly when we left. The place is popular. Good for them, but I don’t get it. The barbeque is just not that good. No wonder the Disney fairies don’t hang out here.
Hickory Hollow BBQ
4705 U.S. Highway 301 N
Ellenton, FL 34222