By Heidi Knapp Rinella
Las Vegas Review-JournalThe state of barbecue in Las Vegas — both restaurants, collectively, and the genre in general — seems to drift like so much hickory smoke. At times we have an embarrassment of riches, with numerous good 'cue spots across the valley, but then they seem to fade away to leave us with virtually nothing, until another group takes root a few years later.
Right now, Southern Nevada barbecue is in the midst of an upward trend, and one of the best of the newcomers is Bell's BBQ in Henderson. I was tipped to Bell's by a co-worker who raved about it (but lamented the fact that they don't serve cornbread), so I decided to give it a try.
No, there's no cornbread, but I doubt you'll miss it, because Bell's, which proclaims itself "chef-driven," offers quite a few side dishes, many of them kind of offbeat for a barbecue place. There's the usual greens and cheese grits and mac and cheese and barbecue beans, but also the likes of smashed potatoes with smoke-roasted garlic, four-cheese crusted corn coblets and Caesar slaw.
The platters we ordered each came with two side dishes, so we did some mixing and matching. The crispy sprouts were awesome. Chefs are doing all kinds of great stuff with Brussels sprouts these days, and these were a prime example, the leaves fried and crispy and not heavily seasoned, which is a positive with something as assertive as Brussels sprouts.
Crispy fried onions — skinny and crunchy — were a treat, too, with their dipping sauce of house-made barbecue ranch. JB's Cole Slaw was crisp and cold, tossed with a dressing that seemed to split the difference between mayonnaise and oil and vinegar. The Deviled Egg Potato Salad needed a little oomph, but we did like its creamy richness.
But I'll bet you'd like to know something about the barbecue, right? Well, as I said, Bell's is one of the best of the newcomers, with some serious smoking going on here (no, they don't have a hundred-year-old brick-lined and grease-infused pit like some of the 'cue joints in Texas, but let's be realistic). The brisket ($14.95 as a platter, $9.75 as a chopped sandwich) was, the menu promised, smoked for 14 hours over hickory, and it was suitably deeply flavored. It also was fork-tender, which is quite a feat considering brisket's gradations in texture and thickness. If it was maybe a little on the dry side (we were divided on that), that was remedied quickly with a few squirts of the slightly sweet, molasses-y sauce on the table.
Chicken ($13.95 for the half-chicken platter we had, $12.95 for pulled or $9.50 for a pulled sandwich) is awfully easy to dry out in a smoker, as anyone who has tried it knows. That wasn't the case here, though; the chicken had a crispy skin and very moist meat imbued with smoky flavor.
Bell's BBQ is a counter-service place, where you're given a numbered flag of sorts and the food is brought to the table on a metal tray. It arrived quickly, and all of the employees we encountered were exceptionally pleasant and helpful, with several regularly making the rounds of tables to ensure nothing was amiss.
Decor is simple but pleasant, slightly rustic and very streamlined, with music (at a reasonable level) that ran the gamut from blues to country to '80s pop. Decorative lettering on one wall touts the restaurant's Sweet Jars, and justly so; they include such temptations as S'mores, with ganache, panna cotta, mousse and toasted marshmallow.
Those were out of the question for us, but we know we'll be back. The flavor of Bell's BBQ is the sort of thing that haunts.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com and follow@HKRinella on Twitter.