You could say that I’m a barbecue addict. How so? Well, I’m the kind of guy who tops ice cream sundaes with barbecue sauces and searches online for hickory-smoked colognes.
To some, it might seem crazy to head to three barbecue restaurants in one weekend. Then again, there are probably barbecue aficionados who do this on a daily basis. If you count yourself among the latter, Kissimmee’s for you.
There are about a dozen barbecue restaurants in Kissimmee. Although their menus share a common thread, the choices for barbecue dining are actually a rich tapestry, ranging from new start-ups to long-time local favorites to large national chains.
I’d venture the impressive number of these restaurants is due to the town’s ranching heritage, which lends itself to barbecue. Barbecue is so popular around here, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn locals assume the four major food groups are ribs, pulled pork, brisket and barbecue chicken.
On a Saturday, my wife Nancy and I headed over to taste-drive three local favorites: Fat Boy’s, Rosie’s Smokin’ Hot Bar-B-Que and Big John’s Rockin’ BBQ.
Our server put the platter down, and from portion and appearance we knew we were off to a good start
Sitting down at Fat Boy’s, we noticed the dining room was adorned with varnished wooden signs; each seared with the distinctive brand of a local rancher. It was the brand of the Jennings Overstreet family that caught my eye. Years ago I had the honor of interviewing Mr. Overstreet for an article in a local magazine. He was the patriarch of a ranching family that had arrived in Kissimmee in the mid-1800s, and I recall him sharing stories of his life as a cattleman, and of his 10,000 acres, which he knew like the back of his hand. He spoke of his days among the pines and palmetto, and the sounds of nature he knew in this empty country. In an instant I felt a connection with the city’s heritage. It was a heritage reflected in this restaurant, owned and operated by the Scheirer family since 1971.
The interior could be described in a single word: warm. There were decades of images, including signed photos of local personalities and notable celebrities, action-filled shots of Silver Spurs rodeo cowboys and publicity stills of Silver Spurs pageant contestants, along with dozens of snapshots of prize-winning pigs and steers. At long tables, grandparents, parents and their children sat together and sampled from huge platters of barbecue paired with corn on the cob, coleslaw, sweet potatoes, cornbread and sweet tea. Judging by the servers’ familiarity with their customers, I was certain many of those grandparents first dined here as teenagers when Fat Boy’s opened.
Knowing there was more barbecue ahead, Nancy and I settled on a combination plate of chicken and ribs, baked beans, fries and a sweet potato with extra cinnamon. Our server (whose genuine hospitality reflected Fat Boy’s Southern heritage) put the platter down, and from portion and appearance we knew we were off to a good start. The chicken was cooked just right, with a tender, juicy taste that I accented with a sampling of mild, hot and mustard sauces. I found the ribs had been fired to perfection and basted with an incredible sauce. In fact, this was one of the rare occasions when ribs were so well prepared that I didn’t even need to slather it with any sauce at all. The side dishes, too, were done just right. Placing them between us in a row, Nancy and I grazed among the beans and fries—but she claimed the sweet potato for herself.
Looking for Rosie's Smokin' Hot Bar-B-Que along busy 192, I knew I was in the right place when I saw what looked like a back roads juke joint
Looking for Rosie’s Smokin’ Hot Bar-B-Que along busy 192, I knew I was in the right place when I saw what looked like a back roads juke joint. Front porch picnic tables were sheltered under a tin roof, retro-style signs announced ice-cold drinks and a fiberglass longhorn steer stood sentinel at the entrance.
Inside, the menu was as creative as the decor. They give barbecue a new twist by serving pork, brisket, sausage and chicken in burritos, salads and bowls—which not only increases the variety of selections, it adds entirely new levels of taste. I chose the bowl and Nancy selected the barbecue burrito for our entrées and they deserved a few companions: red garlic potatoes and corn on the cob. It’s always a treat to take a spin around corn on the cob, especially when served hot and drizzled with butter, and seasoned with salt and pepper (and alternated with samples of soft and buttery garlic potatoes). Everything was savory and tender, and we found that when you apply a kaleidoscope of Rosie’s sauces and adjust the taste from sweet to smokin’ it’s absolutely mouthwatering.
There was even room for a traditional post-barbecue dessert: banana pudding (with two vanilla wafers) and a slice of pecan pie. As other diners worked on their platters, we were unhurried and content, working slowly and methodically on spoonfuls of banana pudding and savoring the heated pecan pie served, in true barbecue style, in a metal pan.
Experience has taught me that after filling up on barbecue, the best thing to do is to fill up on more barbecue. This time Nancy and I were heading to Kissimmee’s main avenue, Broadway, where a small eatery is making a big splash.
After years of serving up his recipes at church gatherings and school functions, John Glover started to believe his friends when they suggested he open his own restaurant. Smart. Just months after Big John’s Rockin’ BBQ’s grand opening, the lunch crowd of first-timers joined newly minted regulars. Some sat in the bright and inviting rock ’n’ roll-themed restaurant, others gathered at outdoor picnic tables to enjoy the warm winter sunshine.
While awaiting our order (brisket, baked beans, fries, coleslaw, cornbread, stewed cabbage and sweet tea) I found my attention focused on walls of rock ’n’ roll memorabilia. Curious about the rock ’n’ roll theme, I assumed it was because in a previous life, John (who looks like he’d be comfortable shredding a guitar) had led a band. Instead, I learned, it was just his fascination with the music that found him following “all the great bands,” which led to a collection of posters, pictures and signed album covers. Music’s loss was barbecue’s gain since, in our opinion, John Glover is now a certified barbecue rock star.
When we sat down with our meal, we realized our timing was perfect—brisket is so popular that it sells out quickly. If you’re late for lunch, you’re late for brisket. The beans? To die for. The cabbage? With a dash of salt and green-pepper sauce, perfection. And this was the first time I can recall refilling barbecue sauces as often as I refilled my sweet tea. Four choices offered us 256 different combinations to choose from, so we quickly began working our way through the entire range with Sweet, Rockin’ Mustard, Rockin’ Red (a touch spicy) and Johnny’s Crimson Hot (it’s hot).
Sitting where I could view the front door, I watched as a steady stream of customers arrived. I could taste the reason why John’s friends were so encouraging.
Polishing off the last crumbs of cornbread, sipping the last drops of sweet tea, and trying to figure out ways to pocket a squeeze bottle of Rockin’ Red, I was heading out the door when I noticed a red cowbell marked with the message, “If You Like.” I rang it loudly.
In fact, whenever I think of Kissimmee, barbecue will ring a bell.