Who and what you see in a parking lot outside a barbecue joint is a good indicator of the quality of the barbecue inside.
For example, workers in bright fluorescent vests having a post-lunch discussion in the parking lot are a good sign. Pickups, late model sedans and SUVs, a few 1960s or 70s clunkers with sagging bumpers, dented fenders, shattered brake light covers fixed with red duct tape are also a good sign.
At Hawg Jaw Fritz BBQ in Riverside, on any given day you could see all of that and more.
Inside there’s usually a mix of suits, business casual attire, retirees in leisure clothes and road crews in work attire.
Brothers Nick and Sam Silvio, with their sister, Gina, bought the restaurant from the original owners, Bud and Marley Laub. Bud and Marley retain 10 percent ownership.
Their contest trophies and ribbons, along with pigs, posters and other memorabilia, add to the ambiance. The Silvio family kept the name for the same reasons Bud and Marley chose it.
Why call it Hawg Jaw Fritz? Bud and Marley originally planned to name the restaurant after their competition barbecue team name, Porky’s Last Stand, until they discovered that a restaurant in Naples, Fla., already had the name.
That led them to name it after a Missouri Bootheel legend, a lady nicknamed Hawg Jaw Fritz, now deceased. Bud and Marley thought her name would bring them luck. Nick, Sam and Gina think likewise.
Catherine Thompson, one of the original pitmasters, was retained by the Silvio family. Nick occasionally does pitmaster duty when Catherine is off duty. Nick knows fire and smoke. In his other life he’s a firefighter.
The Silvio family also owns and operates Em Chamas, a successful Brazilian barbecue restaurant in Kansas City’s Northland.
Hawg Jaw Fritz uses a Southern Pride smoker with cherry wood for flavor. Bud and Marley’s original mild and spicy barbecue sauces are featured, along with Nick’s own Boss Man’s Sauce.
Hawg Jaw Fritz exemplifies Chow Town’s barbecue tradition outside, inside and on your palate. The customers and parking lot fit a desirable profile and the barbecue stands up to the excellence bar, with variables as at most places — meaning you’ll like some items better than others.
My favorites are beef, ribs, burnt ends, sausage and pulled pork. The beef is tender, with a kiss of smoke. The pork spareribs sport bark with tender meat and a kiss of smoke. The burnt ends are tender cubes of brisket with a hint of smoke, no bark. The thinly sliced sausage is mildly spicy with a hint of smoke. The pulled pork goes well with a touch of Boss Man’s Sauce.
My favorite sides are the beans and crispy seasoned fries — fantastic!
In the works is a plan to offer 30 brands of bottled microbrews, plus 15 small-batch root beers.
The tale of how Hawg Jaw Fritz’s nickname came about is thus far untold in print, but in Chow Town today the name stands for darned good barbecue.
Hawg Jaw Fritz is at 4403 N.W. Gateway Ave. in Riverside, 816-741-4294.
Ardie Davis founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on food shows and writes for barbecue-related publications. His most recent release is America’s Best BBQ (Revised Edition), with chef Paul Kirk.