Barbecue lovers around Hot Springs will agree that McClard’s sets the standard for ’cue. But that doesn’t stop a plethora of other Spa City ’cue-meisters from putting out some delicious meat and fixings. Occasionally you’ll hear the “it’s better than McClard’s” tag about some of them (though nobody, but nobody, touches McClard’s tamales). That’s crediting both establishments.
The buzz we’ve heard lately has been about Roland’s Bar-B-Que Company, a popular small restaurant near Hot Springs Village before it opened up two large dining rooms across from Oaklawn Park at the Central Avenue and Higdon Ferry Road intersection. (Roland’s isn’t to be confused with Rolando’s, a new Latin-style eatery up Central across from the Arlington Resort Hotel.)
Roland’s offers pure smoked meats and sides and two proprietary sauces that it sells by the quart. Outside of that, there’s nothing fancy, and that’s fine with us. The price for what you get is outstanding; large appetites will appreciate the large plates, which run $7.95 for one meat to $10.95 for the major-league combo of three meats, plus three sides.
The barbecue guru we took with us, who likes it spicy and plentiful and knows every stop in that town, said the ribs are maybe the best in town, with an almost fall-off-the-bone quality. We chose a half-rack (maybe it was even nine bones) of meaty spare ribs St. Louis-style, with deep red rich hot sauce ladled on top. Two big spoonfuls of wonderful potato salad, some average slaw and a large cup of nicely seasoned beans came on the side. Four ribs into this meal, we still hadn’t made a dent in the plate. The help obliged us with a Styrofoam to-go box.
Our connoisseur’s favorite meat from Roland’s, though, is the sausage with its crispy outer casing, though he was willing on a recent visit to forego the usual pork for turkey and ham. The turkey was still moist after lengthy smoking; the ham wasn’t out of the ordinary, but good.
You’re served cafeteria style at Roland’s; you point out the type of meat you want and whether you want it sliced or chopped. You choose your sides, your dessert, and you’re good to go. You get your fountain drinks on the opposite side of the food line, grab your plastic utensils, pick a spot, and enjoy Bob Wills or some other Western Texas music icon emanating from the sound system.
Roland’s motto, “Arkansas’ Taste of Texas,” is probably based on its spicy and tomatoey sauces more than anything, but there’s some serious hickory, not mesquite, smoking going on here. And thank goodness pork is not a no-no.
The chopped pork sandwich on toasted bun is packed with meat. Get some slaw too: the blend of meat, slaw and Roland’s mild sauce is just right for any barbecue sandwich lover.
The sliced brisket is a nice change of pace for the usual pork eater, and rates with the best briskets we’ve enjoyed, with that perfect pink ring on the inside and a mild smoky taste.
BBQ salads, BBQ tacos, chicken and a Potato Que (a stuffed ’tater with meat sauce and sauce) are also on the menu. Sides also include corn on the cob, deviled egg and green beans. We highly recommend the ’tater salad, which is light on the mayonnaise and skips the mustard altogether. It’s got ample salt and pepper for seasoning.
We also appreciate the lagniappe of pico de gallo, which goes nicely with the green beans and about any other of the sides.
The banana pudding is a must-have for dessert lovers — the custard has been folded into the whipped cream and is filled with wafers and thick slices of banana. You get an overflowing cup for just $1.15.
One measure of a barbecue joint’s success is how much it’s called upon to cater. Our ’cue aficionado tells us that Roland’s is in high demand in that arena, too.
Roland’s Bar-B-Que Company
2100 Higdon Ferry Road
It’s easy to succumb to the usual desire for beef of pork, but at Roland’s the turkey, sausage and ham are all top notch. The $1.15 banana pudding is worth every penny and then some.
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Inexpensive. Credit cards accepted. No alcohol.