At Pappas Delta Blues Smokehouse, the smoked brisket is the star of the show—the prime-grade Creekstone brisket literally has its name in lights on a marquee above the front door.”That meat’s gotta be perfect,” says chef Michael Velardi, who has been with the Pappas restaurant group for 27 years, 15 of which have been spent with its barbecue joints. “If it’s not, we won’t serve it.” Alongside restaurant group founder Harris Pappas, Velardi knows the expectations that come with such a display.
That brisket was perfect on my first visit. You get a choice of lean, fatty, or both. I asked for both. The lean slices were everything I wanted in a brisket. It had smoke, a peppery bite on the well-formed bark, and the fat cap over the juicy meat was perfectly rendered. I thought I’d gotten lucky—with the servers, smoked cocktails, and all those steaks on the menu, Pappas Delta Blues seemed too fancy to be focused on consistently great brisket. Then I came back a few months later and nothing had changed: the brisket and the bark were still stellar. Velardi, who attributes the great bark to rubbing the raw briskets with safflower oil before seasoning them, wasn’t surprised. “I’ve got fresh brisket all day long,” he said, noting that briskets are scheduled to come off the wood-fired Oyler smokers in three or four shifts throughout the day.
The first time I visited Pappas Delta Blues, I sat down at the bar and tried not to eat every one of the warm rolls served with Plugra butter that were plopped down soon after I took a seat. I listened to the bartender describe the barbecue to other patrons, and rolled my eyes behind his back when he said the brisket was seasoned with nine kinds of pepper and three kinds of salt. He may have been exaggerating, but as I sampled the brisket crab cakes and sipped a cold glass of lambrusco wine, it sounded appropriate. The crab cakes are really deep-fried balls of lump crab, mixed with smoked brisket and topped with “Carolina butter sauce.” It’s certainly an interesting way to use up leftover brisket, and I enjoyed them more than I’d like to admit.