TLO Restaurant Review: Swadley’s Bar-B-Q
9:52 AM EDT on March 24, 2022
Editor’s Note: As Louis Fowler continues to recover and rehabilitate from a stroke, we’re going to republish – per his request – some of his classic TLO Restaurant Reviews from over the years.
With Swadley's "Foggy Bottom Kitchen" being in the news this week, I thought we'd take a look back at this fair, but tough and chewy, review of Swadley's BBQ from December 2020.
If you’d like to help out and donate to Louis’s stroke recovery fund, please do so here.
Right-Wing, Wrong Barbeque: A Soulless Saturday Night at Swadley’s Bar-B-Q
Before this assignment, I have never eaten at Swadley’s Bar-B-Q, mostly because I’d rather spend my precious time writing about the small-town, country-based roadhouse smokehouses where mom and pop serve some of the best barbeque this side of the Red River.
It never fails, however, that as soon as a piece is posted, some tasteless drone of popular opinion will invariably comment “Dude, you don’t know good ‘cue! You need to go to Swadley’s! They’ve got the best ‘cue in the state, brah!”
So I started to think…maybe they might have a point. I mean, Swadley’s has catered some of the biggest and best conservative events in Oklahoma over the past few years, culminating in last Saturday’s right-wing “Keep the Georgia Senate Red” shindig at Castle Falls, with such Okie politicos like Gov. Kevin Stitt, Senator James Lankford and Senator Jim Inhofe in attendance.
With people paying up to $5,000 a ticket, I figured this barbeque has got to be something special. The same Saturday of the Georgia event, I decided that it was time to go ahead and give Swadley’s a try, stopping by the restaurant at 2233 W. Memorial Road. It’s the one that has the large illuminated crucifix out front, a testament to the fact that Jesus would probably eat here, pork be damned.
I have to admit I was relieved when my ladyfriend and I scanned the cost-efficient menu upon entry, because I didn’t have $5,000 to purchase a plate of ribs. I mean, sure, our ribs might not be as good as the ones Stitt and his crew had munched on earlier in the day, but they’re the haves and I’m a have not, most of my life making do with the Two Rib Dinner ($12.99) plates of the world.
Even though our server brought me the wrong meal at first—an Oklahoma Sampler which, if I had kept my damned mouth shut, I could have (and should have) cost-effectively enjoyed—eventually we were brought our correct eats, with my ladyfriend dining on the Smoked Chicken ($11.99), which I found to be dryer than a fresh pair of Depends caressing Inhofe’s typically soaked loins.
And while I’m pretty sure that, to many manly right-wingers, chicken isn’t real barbeque—it’s not even real meat, you cuck-a-doodle-do—I felt sexually secure in my plate of hyper-masculine ribs, a duo of thick cuts of pure meat that, along with some sweet beans and spicy cream corn, will fill me up for a few hours, a cup of red sauce at the side ready to make these ribs great again.
Yet, as I bit down into the smoked flesh, while it looked like ribs and smelled like ribs and tasted like ribs, something important—something that defines what makes truly inspirational barbeque—seemed to be missing from the meats. I gnawed and suckled right down to the white bone looking for the lost ingredient.
“Soul…” my ladyfriend said. “This food’s got no soul.”
Soul. She was right. When I go to those home-grown barbeque joints out in the wilds of Oklahoma, there’s always a culinary passion that, like the thick smoke, sinks down into every layer of the blessed meats and you can taste it; here, at Swadley’s, it just wasn’t there. Instead, it was the ill-gotten taste of a teenage kid making minimum wage, mindlessly cranking out the meats, just waiting for that night shift to finally end.
But maybe that’s why Swadley’s catered this conservative event; I mean, does anyone truly see Stitt, Lankford or Inhofe asking for the hot barbeque sauce for their safe-as-milk meat treats? Anything besides ketchup, I’m sure, would be “too ethnic” for their dead tastebuds.
And while I’m sure this barbeque chain will continue to grow in Oklahoma—and good for them—it does leave me with this one burning question: with so many better places in town for good barbeque, places with actual soul smoked right into the meats, why waste your time with Swadley’s?
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