Las Vegas has had its share of ambitious barbecue joints over the years. Perhaps you recall Red Rock Resort’s experiment transplanting Texas’ Salt Lick Bar-B-Que, which didn’t work out nearly as well as the Yard House that now occupies its space. Kansas City chef Paul Kirk tried to do his thing at the Rio with RUB—Righteous Urban Barbeque—but that one fizzled, too. Then there was the infamous Lynyrd Skynyrd BBQ at Excalibur, which imported the smoked-meat style of Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas. It didn’t last long.
I’m not sure what it is about Las Vegas that doesn’t equate with these attempts at bigger, bolder barbecue, but I am sure the latest such endeavor, Town Square’s new Pot Liquor Contemporary American Smokehouse, is stronger than those other three. It certainly qualifies as ambitious, but the guys behind the meat—partners Flip Arbelaez and chef Doug Bell—are experienced, qualified and capable, and they’re serious about becoming Vegas’ go-to ’cue.
This is a Southern restaurant. Pot liquor is the term for the leftover broth used in cooking greens together with smoky chunks of meat and fatty bones to create rich, robust flavors, and that’s what Pot Liquor is going for—eye-widening, punch-you-in-the mouth deliciousness. It’s a big restaurant, too, more than 250 seats in a neat, rustic space with chandeliers made from Mason jars.
Bell spent a few months touring and tasting the South to find inspiration and guidance, and his menu stirs in plenty of classics to go with rock-solid staples like dry-rubbed spareribs, Carolina-style pulled pork and hand-sliced beef brisket. The pork stands out. The dry ribs ($18.95 half or $25.95 full rack with two sides) are just smoky enough, and I only slightly prefer them to the sauce-mopped baby backs. The pulled pork ($17.95 half or $25.95 full pound with two sides) is juicy and chunky with near-crisp edges, and doesn’t need any sauce enhancement. But if you are the saucy type, Pot Liquor makes its own stuff: one kinda sweet, one spicier, a tangy vinegar blend for that pork and zingy Alabama white sauce (great on chicken).
As impressive as its meats are, Pot Liquor’s appetizers, sides and alternative Southern-inspired entrées are even better. Stuffed trotters ($10.95) are the apprehensive eater’s gateway to pig’s feet, crisp little cakes with peppery greens and braised apples, and no one can pass on crispy pork belly over Cabot cheddar grits ($9.95). The dish I can’t get out of my head: grilled prawns with a brilliant boudin noir (black blood sausage) and crisp celery salad with pickled onions and orange vinaigrette. That’s the punch in the mouth.
The collard greens in pot liquor are, of course, unmissable, and the mac and cheese and grilled corn succotash will satisfy paired with any meal. For those interested in other meats, there’s a skirt steak over oxtail ragu ($24.95), pan-seared striped bass in tomato-fennel broth ($21.95) or old-school chicken pot pie ($15.95).
Pot Liquor is ambitious barbecue but also more than that, and we don’t have another restaurant like it.
Pot Liquor Contemporary American Steakhouse Town Square, 702-816-4600. Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight.