Way Down South

The baby-back ribs are particularly amazing, deeply infused with the restaurant's proprietary peppery sauce and cooked in hot smoke until you can separate the ribs with the gentlest of tugs. They are recommended over the spareribs, as the latter are both less delicate and less interestingly flavored. An order of either consists of a sizable rack of ribs (a hefty portion for most) with coleslaw, sweet and spicy baked beans, and a slice of white bread. The ribs are greaseless and tender on the inside and crisp on the outside.

The pork shoulder is distributed between two small round sandwiches and tastes strongly of vinegar, which is how it should be. This meat too is marvelously succulent, tender, and rich, and comes with coleslaw and baked beans. While the slaw is fresh-tasting but ordinary, the beans are excellent, rich and sweet and tangy, with hints of orange and clove as well as molasses.

The catfish is another outstanding entree, perfectly cooked, buttery, and flavorful. But it's important to save room for the sides. The menu calls them "essential sides," and they are indeed a vital part of the meal, and priced to sell. In fact, it would be possible to make up a meal of just sides -- and tempting, too, since once you look at the list it's hard to think of any you don't want to order.

There's immorally cakey and buttery corn bread cooked in a cast-iron skillet, which means it stays piping hot at the table for a long time, for $2.25. There are braised mixed greens ($3.50), a down-home bitter greens assortment cooked in a spicy broth. Don't miss the baked beans ($2.50), if you happened to not get any with your entree. The biscuits are salty and perfect ($2.50). And the white corn succotash ($2.50), made with a creamy base, is a fine, fine specimen.

You'll no doubt notice a greasy paper cone in an artsy copper stand on your neighbor's table. Ask for one of those. It's filled with crunchy onion rings ($4.50), and comes with three dipping sauces: the standard Moonshine barbecue sauce, a delicious fresh-tasting tomato-based formulation; a hot mustard-based sauce; and a sweetish vinegar concoction. The first is by far the most interesting. (An order of onion rings is also, without a doubt, the snack you should get at the bar.) If you're curious about the sauce, and want to run a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis of it at home, you can buy a bottle for $5.95. The dry rub is also available for $6.95. Or, if you're not of a scientific bent and simply want to keep your hair in place, there's a Moonshine hat, bearing the official Moonshine logotype, for just $12.

When dessert time comes, if you're still hungry, more power to you. In true Southern style the desserts are very rich and very sweet. No refreshing little sorbet trios here. The pecan pie is very good, from the chunky and crunchy school rather than the syrupy. The buttermilk pie involves a custard between soft cakey layers, and is accompanied by tart preserved peaches. It's not too heavy, and reasonably buttermilky, but the flavor could be better. The honey pudding is a dense and delicious member of its species, tasting strongly of dark honey and escorted by excellent preserved figs. You might also want to try the hot chocolate bread pudding, if you're of the "no dinner without chocolate" persuasion. All desserts are $5.50.

Moonshine is slick enough to survive on Broadway, and refreshingly, the cooking hasn't been watered down to suit its image. The ambience may seem a little canned, but the food does not. And it's cheap, or at least cheaper than you might expect. And if the uniformity of the experience rings a little untrue, well, that's easy to overlook when you're face down in a bowl of Big Daddy's gumbo.

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