There’s The Rub

By Jennifer Uhl

» Some like it dry, others like it slathered in sauce. But however it’s served, barbecue — and a patio seat to enjoy it — is synonymous with summertime in the Midwest. Here, four southside restaurants that put the pig front and center.

Triple Play BBQ
»We know, we know — the sign says “BBQ.” But despite the name, Triple Play BBQ isn’t just barbecue. The menu at this downtown Franklin newcomer also features steaks, chicken, even a vegetarian sandwich. But with pit master James “Big JT” Tindell presiding over the smoker, it’s a tough call to opt out for a salad. Tindell’s brisket tied for first place out of more than 600 entries at the American Royal Open BBQ cook-off in Kansas City last year. Little wonder, then, that co-owner (and former Franklin mayor) Fred Paris and general manager Ron Dwenger tracked Tindell down and also installed him as co-owner of the restaurant.

Triple Play’s official dining area and bar are cozy, so nab a roomy, umbrella-covered table on the Pavilion, the large indoor patio with a retractable glass roof, a stage for live music, large TVs and a screening wall for sporting events and Tuesday kids’ movie nights.

You’ll need the elbow room, especially if your hungry group orders the $85 family style meal of brisket, pulled pork, hot links, smoked turkey and ribs, accompanied by three housemade sides and generous planks of jalapeno cornbread. Party of one? You can still try a little bit of almost everything on the hefty Triple Play Cheese Steak Burger, topped with brisket, pulled pork and bacon.

186 W. Jefferson St., Franklin,

The Pig’s Tail Smoke Hause & Eatery
»The pink pig outside the red, three-car garage-sized building might look cute and cheeky, but the menu inside this Trafalgar coffee shop turned barbecue joint is all business. Owner Rita Mastrobito and cook Perry Richardson team up to put out a spread of pulled pork, beef brisket and baby back ribs — even turkey ribs — all smoked just feet away from the nicely appointed (and surprisingly large) dining area and patio out back.

The $7 pulled pork sandwich combo with a cornbread muffin and a housemade side of, say, baked beans or macaroni and cheese is a best-seller, made even better accompanied by at least one of the five sauces sitting at the counter.

You could play it safe with the standard house (mild and sweet), but you’d be missing out on the more unusual sauces, including the Apricot Cajun, Bourbon Barrel Jalapeno Hot and the Smoking Cherry, which Richardson says is the most popular. (Portions are generous, so consider taking half to-go and nabbing a bottle of your favorite sauce for $6.50.)

And while dessert selections of cookies and pie change daily, the signature cornmeal pie is always available — a sinfully good custard concoction that calls for more sugar than a gallon of sweet tea.

105 N. State Road 135, Trafalgar

Johnson’s BBQ Shack
»Barbecue aficionados who follow Keith and Nate Johnson’s food trucks from the Greenwood Freedom Festival and Mallow Run Winery to events in Marion and Monroe counties finally have a reason to stay put on the southside: The brothers, along with partners Jay Isenberg and Tom Peterson, have put down permanent roots in the form of Johnson’s BBQ Shack in Bargersville, which opened in February.

The dark gray cinderblock building with room for 40 to 50 customers inside and patio space for 50 to 60 is nestled between the railroad tracks and the fire station, and just a stone’s throw from Taxman Brewing Co. But Isenberg says there’s plenty of room for another independent restaurant in the Center Grove area, especially where barbecue is concerned.

“We do a lot of events and catering with the food trucks,” Isenberg says, “but three of us are from Center Grove, and we saw the southside needed another restaurant in Bargersville.” Pops of orange brighten the restaurant space, which features a whimsical sauce station: “Udders” hanging from a ceiling box dispense four different sauces upon being squeezed. The soda selections are also unique; instead of carrying Pepsi or Coca-Cola products, all fountain drinks are from Handcrafted Beverages, a locally owned craft soda business based in Avon.

As for the menu, diners will find the same items they enjoy from the food trucks, like the best-selling pulled pork sandwich and brisket, and housemade sides including a sweet, creamy corn casserole. Johnson’s also gives diners the chance to shop locally for their own barbecue seasonings, with a wall of the house sauces and $5 rubs named for Keith’s children.

The one drawback to this newcomer? It’s only open Friday through Sunday, but there’s a biergarten in the works to make up for the wait.

82 S. Baldwin St., Bargersville,

Hickory Hills BBQ
»There’s a good chance that every table — all five of them — will be taken around lunchtime at this small southside establishment. But that’s OK; diners carrying their red lunch trays will find plenty more seating in the garage out back and under the shelterhouse. The latter is also where the hickory wood is kept handy for the smoker that turns out Hickory Hill’s five daily specials (the restaurant is closed Sundays and Mondays), such as smoked chicken and hot sausage. Tuesday’s special surprises with a gumbo dinner and garlic toast, but otherwise, menu offerings follow what we’d hope to find served alongside a rack of ribs, right down to the smoked baked beans and the sweet and mustard-based sauces and hot sauce up for grabs.

Manager Glen Johnson says at last half of those tables inside the knotty-pine-walled dining room are often filled with National Guard soldiers from nearby Camp Atterbury, who favor the best-selling Boss Hog, a half-pound of slow-roasted pulled pork. For diners who won’t be doing pushups after lunch, smaller appetites, or those who just want to save room for the housemade key lime pie, there’s the aptly named Piglett, which is half that size.

16021 N. U.S. 31, Edinburgh