Anyone familiar with Tiffani Faison's resume (Top Chef, fancy hotel dining rooms, Nantucket) probably wouldn't have predicted that her latest move would be a barbecue joint. But when Rocca shuttered suddenly last year and Faison (at the time, the upmarket Italian resto's executive chef) found herself ready for a new gig, the 34-year-old tapped into her Southern roots, studied up on Texas barbecue, purchased a 4,700-pound smoker, and, just last month, opened her first solo venture called Sweet Cheeks.
The feel of the 115-seat Fenway smokehouse is more well-groomed (but relaxed) sports bar than barbecue pit. The communal tables are fashioned from refinished church doors and bowling alley lanes, and the walls are decked out with flat-screens. The bar is stocked with handpicked microbrews—all domestic. When the warm weather picks up, Faison will open up the outdoor beer garden.
The menu is predictably meat-focused, and we sampled an embarrassingly large cross-section of it on our first visit. Brisket (available fatty or lean—you want fatty), pork belly, mammoth short ribs, and turkey legs are house specialties, and the proteins are all top-quality, including "Never Ever" beef (no hormones, no antibiotics, ever). What's even more remarkable is the range of non-meat options: from Southern staples like batter-fried okra, black-eyed peas, and coffee cans full of hot biscuits, to a pair of more refined salads—one of which is a holdover from her old Rocca menu. If you like Nutter Butters, you'll love their giant version that's flecked with sea salt and oozes creamy peanut butter filling. And rumor has it the soon-to-come late-night menu will feature a "fat-kid's dream": mac and cheese bejeweled with burnt ends.
Need any more convincing? Stop in and taste for yourself.
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Associate Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances for a number of Boston publications. Mari Levine is a culinary school grad and an online editor at a national food magazine.