In October 2009, 4 Rivers Smokehouse opened its doors on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park and the restaurant scene in Orlando has never been the same. We recently made a visit and we were pleasantly surprised and mildly disappointed at the same time. As someone who rarely eats meat, we decided that we didn’t want to miss out on all the buzz, we thought we would go and order a handful of the sides and make our own a la carte veggie meal.
On the menu you will find smoked brisket, pulled pork, BBQ sausage sandwiches and signature BBQ platters. However, we wanted to see if there was something that we, as non-meat eaters, could find and enjoy at this establishment that has developed a major cult following. We have yet to drive past any of the 3 locations and not find a line out the door.
Lucky for us, the line moves fairly fast. Almost too fast. I wanted to have the opportunity to ask a few questions about the “homestyle” sides, mostly which contained meat and which were meat-free but the line was moving too quickly (the whole service was counter style- place your order, move down the line, watch them schlep your order onto a tray and then pay.) We ordered a total of 9 sides:
-John’s Potato Salad
-Southern Green Beans
-Sweet Potato Casserole
-(2) orders of Fried Pickles
As I watched them putting together our order, I saw two giant pieces of bacon put on the tray- wait!!! It was too late, the girl behind the counter had already put together our order. Another gentleman behind the counter offered to remove the bacon wrapped baked jalapenos but eh….what was done was done. We do eat meat, just not a lot.
Anyway, we found one of the few open tables inside (they have a huge patio at the Winter Garden location to sit at- it was just a tad too windy for us and we didn’t feel like chasing napkins across the parking lot.) We dug right in.
First thing I tried was the bacon wrapped baked jalapeno. They weren’t too spicy, the bacon was smoked and the pepper was filled with cream cheese. Honestly, it was the best thing I had there.
The Mac and Cheese was good but nothing special. It was probably made on the premises but it easily could’ve passed as something pre made and trucked in. Same goes for the cornbread.
The Southern Green Beans were good- but be forewarned- if you do not want meat, you will not enjoy the bacon in there.
I very much enjoyed the Sweet Potato Casserole. It looked almost like baby mush food- however, it was sweet and full of spicy flavor. No marshmallow topping here either. This was the real stuff.
John’s Potato Salad was pretty tasty. Not too much mayonnaise, lots of fresh dill. This was also one of my favorites we ordered.
The coleslaw looked like the slaw you would find at Kentucky Fried Chicken (which happens to be my favorite coleslaw from back in my chicken days) only there was a bit of a bite of spiciness. My uneducated guess is that they added some type of a smoked seasoning but Chad disagreed. We both thought it was very good slaw, we just couldn’t quite put our finger on what the seasoning was..
While everything else was pretty enjoyable, our biggest disappointment by far were the fried pickles. It was more like fried batter with a side of pickles. Bleh. The pickle slices were buried in fried batter- I mean we did ask for “fried” pickles and “fried” pickles is what we got. We were just hoping for more pickle than batter- in the end I pulled my pickle slices out of the batter to just eat by themselves. Why get fried pickles if you can’t taste the pickles??
All in all we enjoyed the experience but I doubt we would wait in line like that again for the sides. Maybe if we decided to convert full time back to meat we would. We had to give it a shot. Back in the days when we did eat meat, we attended a cooking demonstration at our local Whole Foods by 4 Rivers Owner/Founder John Rivers and some of his staff and we fell in love with the brisket. But now that we have converted to mostly Veggie Head-ism there isn’t much of anything on the menu for us to enjoy. We would’ve given a fish sandwich a chance even. Oh well, I understand that they have had a tuna melt on the Friday menu but we alas went on a Monday. Wah. If you are a Vegan you will most likely be out of luck here too. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some type of meat broth base for some of the other stuff we ordered and just didn’t know it.
But hey, we did, after all, choose to eat at a BBQ joint so I don’t know what we expected. Four out of five sprouts- mostly just because we were so limited on what we could eat and that fried batter, I mean the fried pickles really disappointed us. 4 Rivers Smokehouse is perfect if you eat meat and a place to avoid if you don’t. Lesson learned.
Also keep in mind that all the locations (Winter Park, Winter Garden and Longwood) are all closed on Sundays. We love places that allow their employees to enjoy Church on Sundays and have family time. And a little birdie has told me that locations are currently being scouted in Jacksonville, Gainesville and near University of Central Florida in East Orlando. I also understand that they have a separate person who bakes all the sweet treats they sell in their stores. We didn’t indulge this time, maybe next time.