8400 Oak St
New Orleans, LA 70118
Napoleon's Rating - **/*****
In the sweep of abundant great barbecue stretching from North Carolina, through the Deep South and west through Texas, New Orleans stands out as a missing link. Somehow, the pit master's tradition just didn't take hold in this city. But a handful of locals have been trying to add more barbecue to the mix, and one of the newest examples is Squeal. The barbecue itself is decent, though more recently a slate of creative menu changes shows an unconventional new direction for the restaurant.
Squeal is found in an Oak Street building that still looks like a big Uptown house despite a long run as many different restaurants. It is a large space cut up into a few different dining rooms. The many windows lend an airy feel and the covered, outdoor seating area is a good space for groups. A separate room in the back could host a small convention or a large bachelor party.
Barbecue should come out quickly, and it certainly does at Squeal. The place is large and rarely crowded, so you can sometimes feel a bit forgotten if you're sitting outside or on your own in the dining room far from the bar. Overall, though, the people here can serve you fast and are friendly.
While I've never been blown away by Squeal's barbecue, I am impressed by the creative new ways the kitchen is using its smoked meats throughout the menu. For instance, the appetizers start with smoked pork cakes, which are like crab cakes made with bits of pork, fried and topped with chili sour cream and salsa. These are intensely rich but undeniably good. Another oddity is the eggroll filled with black-eyed peas, hunks of andouille and bits of bacon, fried and served with ranch-style dressing. I wanted something crispy and fresh cutting through the eggroll, but as it stands it's an imaginative and interesting new option. Smoked pork makes a compelling topping for a huge platter of nachos, one big enough to serve four people, and any of the meats can be added to the otherwise plain house salad for a different take on lunch.
Squeal starts with the basic barbecue joint line-up of smoked pulled pork, chicken or green onion sausage plus St. Louis-style ribs. The ribs are the best choice, with caramelized skin and a lean, dense, thick band of meat rising high from the bone. The barbecue sauce has a bit of tomato in it, but also some vinegar and it tends to be spicy with black pepper and ginger. An interesting option is the Squeal pie, which is like a shepherd's pie with a generous amount of pulled pork baked beneath a thick cap of peppery corn maque choux, mashed potatoes and cheddar. Squeal also makes little tacos with its barbecue meat, garnished simply with red onions and cilantro. These make nice, quick bites. Soggy and plain coleslaw was a letdown among the side dishes, but peppery spice and vinegar spike up the collard greens. Bubbles of the sweet corn set off rich grits, which are also speckled with black pepper.
Crumbly-crusted cobbler with ice cream will take care of whatever could possibly be left of an appetite after a meal here.
There is a full bar with a small selection of draft beers. The bartenders also make a few creative cocktails, like the refreshing watermelon mojito.
Prices are moderate at Squeal. Basic barbecue plates are around $9 but get the ribs or the combination plates and you're at about $14. Portions are very large, and you should be able to put away a good meal here for less than $20.
Squeal isn't the place I would take barbecue fanatics from, say, Houston or Memphis to convince them that the tide has changed for New Orleans barbecue. But it is a place I'd recommend as an easy way to quiet cravings for barbecue in a town without many options, or just for a big meal of smoked meats and sides. It's not a classic barbecue joint, but it is applying more creativity than most to turn its smoked meats into interesting new dishes.