By Stefan Snijders
With the new Baxter Arena and the swelling popularity of Aksarben Village as a destination for hangouts and dates, seating in some of the neighborhood restaurants will be at a premium.
Diners in pregame mode won’t want to wander too far away from the Village to eat before they hike the stands to catch the Mavericks’ home games.
That’s why I want to tip you off to a hot joint not even two miles from the arena – Parker’s Smokehouse at 7425 Pacific St., which puts it just within striking distance for a pregame dinner.
Parker’s is a Nebraska small chain barbecue place owned and operated by Jeff and Emily Parker. They opened their first restaurant in Lincoln 10 years ago. The success of that restaurant allowed them to expand their operations to include locations in Ashland, Nebraska City and now Omaha.
Although open for just over six months, the Pacific Street site already has a small but loyal regular customer base, according to employees of the restaurant. This is why I recommend checking it out before word really spreads around town. That said, you would want to arrive with plenty of time to consume a bounty of food.
I arrived on a Saturday afternoon, around 4:30 p.m. I was seated immediately. The crowd was sparse, likely due to the Husker football game. My server came quickly, informing me of the specials including their smoked prime rib, which is only available on the weekends. I ordered a beer and the sampler platter for its variety of wings (BBQ or Cajun, I opted for the Cajun), sweet potato fries in place of the chicken fingers, Cajun catfish strips, and rib tips. I held off deciding on my main dish while I purveyed the assortment in front of me.
Catfish fingers seem simple, but are quite delicate. The meat has to be the right cut, the oil not too hot to dry them out, and of course they cannot be overcooked. You want a slightly heavier breading that offsets the lightness of the fish, but also has spices in it that complement the fish. Parker’s has done that and beyond with their catfish strips.
Their wings were delicious, with or without sauces, and we’ll touch on the sauces later. The rib tips were a bit bone-heavy, but moist and flavorful. Finally after a little of everything from the platter, I ordered my main course: the three-meat combo of Texas brisket, Georgia pork, and BBQ chicken, with sides of coleslaw and baked beans. I got a couple of spare ribs for added measure.
Parker’s smokes their meat all day onsite. The kitchen staff is busy from early morning until closing time. It is evident in every bit of their meat selection they put plenty of time, skill and passion into their work. Their brisket is savory and melts in your mouth, the chicken and ribs are moist and mouthwatering, but I think their masterpiece is the Georgia chopped pork.
Smoky, feathery-fine, and light but not dry, it would make a wonderful sandwich filling, or topper for another dish, just as much as it stars on its own.
The restaurant serves sandwiches as well, including a French dip, a Reuben made with smoked prime rib, smoky wood-grilled burgers and chicken sandwiches. The corn bread is the right amount of moist, and sops up their just aver-age baked beans quite nicely. Their coleslaw is crunchy and flavorful, but not overly vinegary.
Décor is sparse but tasteful. It reflects the casual atmosphere of the restaurant. Prices are reasonable too. I ordered a large variety in order to have a great selection to review, but my tab still came in under $50 for the afternoon. That’s roughly what you’d expect to pay for two people ordering straight off the menu at a big chain restaurant. Two people can easily eat well for the same amount. To say the portions are generous is an under-statement.
A major point-winner for the restaurant, finally, is the sauce selection. The server brought out a small complimentary portion of steak fries determined by the size of the party. Their steak fries, by the way, are nothing to sneeze at. The server then squeezed out a small amount of each of the sauces on a plate for me, explaining to me each flavor and which meats each complemented best. It is intended to help the customer decide which sauce they might prefer before squirting one they might not like on their food. It’s a considerate touch that helps put this restaurant a notch ahead of others.
Overall, Parker’s is an excellent option to grab some food with friends before a movie or the Mavs’ next game. However, its casual atmosphere might not make it an ideal date-night excursion, unless you and your date don’t mind extra napkins. Check it out if you get the chance.