"That's no Southern Pride cooker," Robb Walsh said, gazing with admiration at the two barbecue pits that sit behind the Nickel Sandwich Grill (5601 Lyons, 713-674-8020), belching fragrant gray smoke into the air.
"I know you hate Southern Pride," I laughed.
"I sure do," he replied with a grin.
I imagine the Nickel is named for the fact that it's located squarely in the Fifth Ward, much as the Third Ward is called "Trey" by some inhabitants or the Second Ward is referred to as "El Segundo." I do despair of the fact that no one's come up with an equally clever nickname for my own Fourth Ward (Montrose isn't really a nickname, per se), but I don't despair of the catfish po-boy at the Nickel.
At $5.49 with a bag full of fries, the po-boy is one of the least expensive things on the already decently priced menu. It comes as more of a sandwich on French bread than a po-boy, but it's hot and messy and built for two.
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I wish there was more of the sweet, tangy tartar sauce and fewer red onions (I'm restraining myself here from making a lame, Mel Brooks-inspired "Where are all the white onions at?" joke), but the amount of fresh and fried catfish you get here makes those concerns vanish.
The two-meat plate we ordered was a little less inspiring despite coming from non-Southern Pride smokers and -- again -- had red onions on the side, foul interlopers squatting next to the white bread and dill pickle slices as if I wouldn't notice them there.
The ribs and sausage were fair, but nothing to write home about. They certainly weren't bad, though, and enjoying them with a Dr Pepper on the screened-in porch at the Nickel, with a breeze blowing through and Earth Wind & Fire on the speakers, was a hell of a way to spend a nice afternoon.
I don't harbor any delusions that the Nickel is the kind of place where Fifth Ward residents come to get the finest, slickest barbecue in town, though. I imagine it's the kind of place where people do what Robb and I did this afternoon: sit, relax and catch up with each other over a good plate of food. And sometimes that's all you want.