The last thing you’d eat on Earth—should you have the choice—is a weighty matter. It’s no small decision to pick the food you’d go out on, and I keep a tight rein on my own shortlist. But the list grew by one when I crossed the river to New Albany on a dark December evening to visit Feast BBQ.
The former saloon was already packed at 5 p.m. Struck dumb by the barbecue selections presented on the tall blackboard wall, I joined forces with my husband Brian to order a bit of nearly everything. You place your orders at the bar—actually, to a member of the staff who meets you at your place in line, iPad (in a clever holder designed to look like an old-fashioned slate board) in hand, so there’s no dilly-dallying while you decide. We considered the lineup of four presidential meals, with portion sizes increasing in correlation with the bulk of their namesakes. The Taft ($23) weighs in at two pounds of meats and sides. We each ordered a Roosevelt ($13), the second-to-smallest meal of two quarter-pound meats and two sides, plus cole slaw (choose creamy or vinegar—creamy, duh), pickles, red onions and roll.
Just in case this wasn’t enough—brunch was so many hours ago, and besides, how could you not order something so alluringly named?—we asked for crispy pork cakes ($6), too. I looked longingly at the tater tots, but had to be realistic about my stomach capacity.
We took seats at the bar, partly because no tables were open, but also because it’s endlessly entertaining to watch the goings-on at a lively bar. Ryan Rogers, the classically-trained chef behind Feast who hails here by way of the Oakroom and Zanzabar, hustled behind the bar along with “head master” Chip Hartley, also from the Oakroom (which provided a pastry chef, to boot). Working in the back, Ryan told me, is a former Sonny’s BBQ manager. French Culinary Institute pedigree or no, there’s no pretension around here. As we waited for our food we watched bourbon flow—a lot of Old Forrester that night, the $3 bourbon of the week. They like to give Feasters the chance to discover new bourbons here, and as the only thing small in this place, the price tag draws fans. I ordered a Maple Bourbon Sour ($7), a slightly sweet and easy-drinking cocktail recommended by Chip.
Our hefty platters arrived soon. Brisket, chicken, pulled pork, smoked tofu, sweet potato fries, mac and cheese, baked beans, collard greens—dish after dish. I tore into my plate with full intentions of finishing all of my dishes and tasting everything. And it was a valiant attempt. “I am impressed,” my husband said in reverent tones as I plowed through the spread.
The food was so very, very good that it didn’t take any particular skill on the part of this professional eater to polish off a significant portion. The creamy, peppery mac and cheese led perfectly to the crunchy cole slaw, which was the perfect segue to the savory, succulent pulled pork, followed by the surprisingly complex tofu and capped off with the perfectly crispy, sweet and savory sweet potato fries.
As an intermission to every couple of rounds, I dug into the meal’s crowning glory, those crispy pork cakes. For me, the ideal (and most addictive) food incorporates sweet and salty tastes, crunchy and creamy textures, tang and heat. And pork. This dish was created for me. Imagine the best crab cake you ever ate. Now, instead of crab meat, begin with beautifully smoky pulled pork. After the cakes are fried to crunchy ecstasy, rest them on a blanket of sultry barbecue sauce. Now scatter some cole slaw. Do you see? No matter how tight and round my tummy grew, I couldn’t stop eating the crispy pork cakes. I may have even swatted away my husband’s fork at one point, despite how generously he shared all of his food with me.
In the end, I met my match. I couldn’t finish my feast. I took home enough meat and sides for an abundant lunch the next day. But I cleaned the aluminum pan bearing the pork cakes till it fairly shone, declaring it—just maybe—my choice for last meal. And on the way home plotted how soon we might cross the river again, because Feast is well worth the trip.