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First Bite

Terry's Southern BBQ

By Heather Irwin

Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. We invite you to come along with our writers as they--informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves--have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.

Dissing the dry rub in Texas could very well earn you a free ride on the back of an angry Longhorn, just as putting tomatoes in Eastern Carolina barbecue is about as welcome as a Blue Devil in Chapel Hill. When it comes to the 'cue, not all sauces are created equal. You've got to know the score, and whose team you're on.

After all, whether it's Alabama white, Kentucky black or Memphis red, when you're born to a Southern family, sauce recipes are a matter of family pride, and straying one iota from Grandpappy's legendary marinade will have you out of the will faster than a duck on a June bug.

Here in Sonoma County, the few barbecue joints that survive are mostly devotees of Memphis-style barbecue, with its sweet, smoky tang and finger-licking goodness. And Terry's Southern Style Fish & BBQ follows suit. The tantalizing smell of Big Momma's Boss Sauce wafts through the open screen door of the kitchen, sending you down to Dixie in a sniff.

Despite being newly remodeled, the restaurant isn't fancy. In fact, the day we went, the front door was busted, most of the tables weren't bussed and the waitress dropped a bowl of collard greens on my foot. All part of the come-as-you-are, family-style charm.

The menu is similarly simple. Fried catfish, pork ribs, tri-tip, chicken and pork chops dominate, along with uniquely Southern sides like hush puppies, corn bread and those greens. No stumbling over exotic ingredients or names. Catfish ($11.95) was the obvious choice, fried up in cornmeal and still sizzling in the basket. No go. The night we went, they were reportedly sold-out, which happened another night a friend visited. Does something smell fishy here?

Foiled, I settled back on my second choice, barbecue ribs ($13.50). Hot damn, they rocked my world. Pulling off the tender meat and gnawing on the bones was a soul-satisfying experience, which, when paired with a platter of crispy, thin fries and the bitter collard greens, rendered me only able to nod and mumble incoherently for the remainder of the meal, head-down.

Boy went for the beef version, tri-tip ($13.50) smothered in Momma's Boss Sauce and sided with coleslaw and hush puppies. A sometimes-Southerner, Boy knows his puppies, and gave a thumbs-up to the crispy outside and tender, cornmeal inside studded with onions and herbs. The only disappointment was the cornbread, which was dry, cold and unimpressive.

I regretted not tasting the homemade sweet potato pie ($2.50), but only until we got a piping hot bowl of peach cobbler ($2.50). Now, I've had a lot of fancy-pants desserts in my day, but this was one of the best, considering that it's dessert at a barbecue joint. The crust was crisp and covered in grainy bits of sugar, topping layers of warm, gooey, slightly tart (OK, canned) peaches. I'm not usually a fan of shortcuts, but considering the time of year and, well, the fact that canned fruit is so darned authentic, it seemed perfectly right. Served up in a cheap plastic bowl with spoons for everyone to share, the earnestness of it all felt like home.

Terry's Southern Style Fish & BBQ, 3345 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa. Hours TK. 707.526.9090.

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From the April 27-May 4, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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