Baring it all: Dining in with NakedQ
By Jeff Kronenfeld, May 2020 Issue.
Two men held an
impromptu tailgate party as I pulled into the parking lot for NakedQ in
Scottsdale. Don’t worry, they were more than six feet apart. I could smell the
meat roasting in oak and pecan wood even as I parked a safe distance away.
HonorHealth Scottsdale Shea Medical Center loomed across North 90th Street,
bringing to mind the patients and healthcare workers battling within. I counted
my blessings, pulled on a scarf and went to pick up my order.
This was a few days before Governor Doug
Ducey issued a statewide stay-at-home order. Like all restaurants still open,
NakedQ shifted to exclusively dine out or delivery. Of its three locations, two
are still grilling. Not being in delivery range of either this store or the
Phoenix location, I made the quick trip north on a snowbird-less freeway.
Oren Hartman opened NakedQ in 2014. He
traded a job as an executive at a Fortune 500 tech company to run his own
meat-smoking startup. Before exiting the corporate life, Hartman visited
barbecue joints from Texas to the Carolinas and beyond on his travels for work.
While august grill masters still debate which region’s special sauce has the
most magic, Hartman puts his faith in the flesh.
In fact, the restaurant’s au naturel name
derives from Hartman’s simple but effective philosophy of barbecue: good meat
doesn’t need bells and whistles. Starting with high-quality cuts, the meat gets
a simple rub then it is off to the smoker. That’s pretty much it, but this
doesn’t mean you can get that sauce you’ve been craving either. NakedQ offers
four basic sauces, including a sweet, a spicy, a North Carolina vinegar-based,
and — last but not least — a South Carolina mustard sauce. The inclusion of the
latter golden variety is just one instance of NakedQ going above and beyond. I
love the stuff, but I am biased, hailing myself from the Palmetto State.
Another instance of NakedQ’s
exceptionalism is its response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They have been
distributing free food to healthcare workers, first responders, laid-off
hospitality workers and anyone else who needs a meal. The foods they’ve given
out by the hundreds include chicken sandwiches, BBQ, spaghetti, and chicken
soup. “We know that so many people in our community are going through some
tough times right now, not just restaurants,” reads a post on the restaurant’s
Facebook page. “We’re proud to be a part of the Arizona hospitality community
that’s pulling together and helping to feed people in need.”
The two men manning the store and half-ton
rotisserie smoker proved as friendly as the message. My meal was neatly
prepared and packaged upon arrival. When I threw them a curveball by adding a
pound of pulled chicken at the last minute, they didn’t flinch. The meat by the
pound option is a little like the gift that keeps on giving. We used the smokey
soft chicken for sandwiches, chicken salad and to spice up other meals during
this extended staycation from hell. Wet naps are available, almost as hot of an
item these days as toilet paper.
Once I had already committed to leaving my
house, it seemed reckless not to go very big. Thus, I ordered a pair of two
meat platters. To be gluttonously clear, that was two just for yours truly. For
the first, I choose sliced brisket and pulled pork. You can get the brisket
chopped, but the staff recommended sliced, so, of course, I listened. I listen
to the experts for my meat as well as my health. The brisket’s exterior was
charred dark as a tree trunk in a forest fire, albeit much tastier. The rich
smoke had visibly saturated the first quarter inch or so of meat below the
caramelized surface. This yielded to the lighter inners, which were tender. The
light marbling of fat rounded out the flavor.
The pulled pork burst with its own unique
flavors. It was savory, a little sweet and even had a hint of that umami or
monosodium-glutamate-like goodness. I closed my eyes, masticated and forgot to
be anxious for a few precious moments. Like everything at Naked, this complex
taste emerged organically from the meat itself.
For the second two meat platter, I went
with jalapeno hot links or ribs. The sausage was spicy, but not overpoweringly
hot. With toilet paper hard to come by, this helps conserve a
hopefully-temporarily scarce item. The heat played well with the deep smoke
oomph. The flecks of fat smoothed out the mix, especially when the dog is
lavished with a generous coat of that South Carolina gold. Likewise, the ribs
had the right mix of crunch on the outside and tender fattiness inside. I
coated mine in a blend of the spicy and sweet sauces.
For my significant other — a teacher
learning how to be a YouTube channel and IT specialist — I ordered the sliced
turkey sandwich. She is far less carnivorous than I but dabbles in the
occasional slice of bird. She particularly loved the mustard sauce, describing
it as oozing with an almost honey-like sweetness. I, of course, had to sample it.
I found it as tender and moist as she reported.
The barbecue is the main attraction for
sure, but the sides are nothing to sneeze at, even if you are wearing a face
mask. We shared them, but platters come with two sides and cornbread, while the
sandwiches come with one side. The cornbread is chock full of corn kernels,
jalapenos and butter. They were delicious and I didn’t regret ordering extra.
The mac and cheese shined with smoked gouda and a peppery kick.
The beans were like something an old
prospector might feed you around a campfire. They were soft, filled with pork
flavor and even had a few meat treats thrown in like marshmallows in a
children’s cereal. We tried both varieties of coleslaw. The traditional creamy
kind was satisfactory, but I definitely preferred the vinegar variety. It’s not
for everyone, but I found its pungent astringency refreshing. It’s an excellent
pallet cleanser as well. The potato salad was creamy and disappeared quickly.
In a final piece of excess, I also grabbed one of their oversized sea salt chocolate chip cookies. If you have never had the pleasure of a salty cookie, there’s no better time than quarantine to pick up a new bad habit. When you order or pick up food, don’t forget to give people plenty of space. Even better, have it delivered. You can ask to have the food left on your doorstep, minimizing the chance of exposure for you or your food-bearing delivery angel. Most apps offer this option now as well. And, most importantly, tip everyone generously. It’s the most we can do until we address the systemic issues that allowed this predictable outbreak to get so out of control.