As anyone who has read this Blog for a while knows, I focus on seafood and Cuban restaurants when I’m in Florida: no barbecue. Inspired, however, by Robert Moss’ ‘Cue Sheet article on some good barbecue in Tampa, not to mention my ever-present desire to eat some good barbecue, I decided to try to find some good places in Palm Beach County. Nancy and I were staying in Palm Beach Shores, the poor section of Palm Beach, and I did some serious research on the local barbecue opportunities before I headed south. As it turned out, Nancy had a mahjong group every day from 11:30-1:00. That left me free for lunch.
A word on methodology: I did some internet research to identify some possibilities, and then sent messages to each likely spot asking how they cooked the meat — what kind of cooker they used, and whether they used wood only or wood assisted by gas or electricity. Most places wouldn’t give me a straight answer — a leading indicator of reliance on Liquid Smoke. Off Tha Bone admitted using a Southern Pride smoker (all Southern Pride smokers are gas-assisted), but swore up and down that they only use only wood, no gas. I had to see for myself.
So it was off to Off Tha Bone. It’s in the North Tamarind area, north-northwest of downtown West Palm. Off Tha Bone is in a small repurposed building at 15th and North Tamarind, set in a low-rise residential neighborhood. The building has been nicely repainted. There are only a couple of parking spaces, but street parking is easy.
I took that picture from the car as I was leaving. At the time, I completely overlooked the sign advertising shrimp and grits for breakfast. Dang!
As you approach the building from 15th Street, you’re greeted by a wood fire next to a pile of scrub oak logs — actually it’s myrtle oak, quercus myrtifolia , which is all over Florida — and a big old Southern Pride smoker.
Inside, there are two 2-top tables and some room for people to stand around waiting or gossiping. Decor is mainly HBCU college pennants. It’s Spartan, but a very comfortable place to sit and chat and, of course, eat. There’s a television, which while I was there was playing episodes of Sanford and Son. I had forgotten just how funny that show was.
I ordered a rib sandwich and collards.
The sandwich was delicious. The rib meat was off the bone, of course, at least for the most part. There were a few of those rib tip bones, which was fine with me. That’s a pretty crust on the ribs, isn’t it? And toasting the bread is a nice touch in terms of flavor, although the toasting diminishes the bread’s flexibility for wiping your fingers. Off Tha Bone has its own rub — some salt and pepper, garlic and paprika — nothing to compromise the flavor of the meat. It was a great sandwich.
I also enjoyed the greens. They had a very good flavor.
Off Tha Bone has a couple of sweet sauces and a mustard sauce, which is only a little sweet. It’s pretty good, but the meat really stands on its own.
Daniel Spann is the genius behind Off Tha Bone, and he cooks True ‘Cue.
(That’s a pretty bad photograph, but take my word, he’s an affable guy who knows what he’s doing.) Spann does use a Southern Pride smoker that I’m guessing he picked up used, but he went to the trouble of disabling the gas feature so that he could cook only with wood — hickory, to be specific. For that alone, my hat is off to him.
Spann started off cooking ribs by the side of the road, which he says was a good thing. He built up a loyal clientele that way, and he had a line waiting at the door when he opened his brick and mortar place three years ago.
It turns out that the fire in the small smoker is advertising. The oak smoke perfumes the area, while the smoke from the Southern Pride goes “straight up into the sky” and doesn’t really affect the neighborhood: it attracts no crowds.
Off Tha Bone is a good place. I’ll be there on my next trip to the area for another rib sandwich, and I’ll probably stop by to check out the shrimp and grits for breakfast. I highly recommend that you give it a try.
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