Hiking in upper 80s temperatures and high humidity can work up an appetite, one that calls for good and messy food. Barbecue, for example.
I had gone to Flint Creek Water Park in Wiggins to explore their hiking trail, and on the way back, I stopped at Belly Up Barbecue: A Smokin’ Joint in Gulfport for lunch. Back at Flint Creek, I swapped my sweat-soaked T-shirt and shorts for more presentable but still ’cue-friendly clothing.
Belly Up is conveniently just 1 mile off U.S. 49, on Mississippi 53 (technically, 15094 Mills Road). Let’s get this out of the way, if that address sounds familiar. Belly Up is indeed where The Shed’s Gulfport location used to be.
Much of the fun, funky decor remains from its earlier incarnation. When The Shed shed itself of its franchises, though, the Gulfport franchise owners stayed put and decided to do their own barbecue thing.
That’s where most of the similarity ends. The menu is all Belly Up, said manager Courtney McMullen, save for two sides.
I passed the “cowgirl kitchen” (old Roper stove, goldenrod sink and coppertone/rusted fridge) and other junktiques and entered the front door at almost 2 p.m. one recent weekday. As you might suspect, I missed the lunch crowd, so I had my pick of tables.
Go to the counter and place your order, then have a seat and your meal is brought to you. Choose from appetizers, sandwiches, plates, sides, desserts, drinks and Little Pig Plates for ages 12 and under.
I chose the four-piece baby back plate ($13) and a fountain drink ($1.95) and, to take out, an order of pecan cobbler ($4).
Appetizers are wings ($10), a sausage and cheese plate ($8), nachos ($8) and chicken or pork nachos ($10). Sandwiches from $8 to $8.50 are beef brisket, pulled pork, chicken and sausage.
Plate prices from $12 to $26.50 include the rib combo plate ($18) with choice of one meat and ribs; beef brisket plate ($13), pulled pork or chicken plate ($12); and the 12-piece baby back ribs plate ($26.50).
Each plate order includes a choice of meat, two sides, a piece of bread and pickles. Sides are mac and cheese, housemade chips, baked beans, sweet potato casserole, coleslaw, fried okra, potato salad and green beans.
My sides were the housemade chips and potato salad. I didn’t intend to be tater-centric; it just worked out that way. Any opportunity to try homemade chips, plus the potato salad has sour cream and bacon.
“Now, they’re spicy,” McMullen warned of the chips. That was fine.
She brought my order out with two squirt bottles of sauce, one regular, one spicy. I tasted each sauce first, by itself. The regular is thick, slightly sweet and dark with a hint of fresh black pepper; the spicy is thinner, a reddish color and definitely spicy, with some heat lingering in the back of my mouth.
The chips were spicy but not prohibitively so. They’re not as thick and solid as kettle-cooked chips and neither are they flimsy; instead, they have just the right thickness, texture and crispiness. I brought some back to the office and my editor really, really enjoyed them, too.
By the way, that’s not just a piece of bread that comes with a plate. It’s Texas toast with a bit of melted cheese on top, a childhood favorite.
The ribs arrive dark and sauceless so you can doctor them up as you please. I kept mine neat and squirted a puddle of regular sauce in which to dip the ribs.
The first thing you notice about the ribs is a crispy crust on the outside and moist and tender meat on the inside, but the meat isn’t falling off the bone. This, for me, is good.
The crust comes from dry rub plus, I learned from McMullen, Belly Up’s method of cooking.
“They’re smoked directly on the racks instead of in a pan,” she said.
The sauce comes from Starkville’s famous Little Dooey barbecue restaurant, she said.
If you’re like I was, you’re probably obsessing a bit about that pecan cobbler.
It is what the menu says, “delicious pecan pie crushed into a sweet, warm cobbler.” Something about that smooshing helps make the piecrust a little more like cobbler biscuits; maybe it’s the juice seeping into it.
It’s a portable way to enjoy one of my favorite desserts. Did I mention the pie is house made, as well as their banana pudding?
Belly Up came into being on June 1. McMullen said the ribs, pulled pork, potato salad and beans have been the most popular orders.
Belly Up Barbecue: A Smokin’ Joint
Where: 15094 Mills Road (on Mississippi 53, 1 mile west of U.S. 49 north)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Monday and Tuesday
Menu: Appetizers, sandwiches, plates, sides, desserts, drinks and children’s menu (12 and under). Little Pig Plates include choice of meat with one side and bread for $6; meat selections are pork, chicken or chicken strips.