The public is invited to the Lawrenceville brewpub to “add atmosphere” to the show.
At the corner of Hamilton and North Braddock avenues in Homewood, across the street from a church and next door to a boarded-up food mart, you’ll find a spot called The Dream. And it is — for fans of barbecue and sides from the South.
Any day of the week around 11 a.m. owner Dave Jenkins stands on the sidewalk, behind one of three grills and a smoker. Wearing a T-shirt, a black apron and a gold rope chain, he wields a pair of tongs, turning turkey ribs and chicken thighs as the skin browns over grates.
Occasionally he’ll go to the giant smoker to flip slabs of ribs. As he lifts the handle, smoke wafts from the barrel.
Mr. Jenkins, 49, has been at it for 10 years now, building a clientele for lunch, dinner and takeout. In a stretch where food is hard to come by without access to a car, the Dream joins Birdy’s restaurant and Baker’s Dairy a quarter mile down on Hamilton in feeding the neighborhood.
While William Baker, the proprietor of Baker’s Dairy, has been selling lunch meats, canned goods and prepared foods since 1968, Birdy’s is best known for breakfast. Mr. Baker took over the restaurant next door to his shop about a year ago and named it after his daughter, whose portrait graces the sign.
The Dream, on the other hand, beckons passers-by with the scent of wood smoke and grilled meats. It’s not just the warm weather and his sidewalk show that draws customers. More people want barbecue, Mr. Jenkins says, now that it’s football season and tailgating time.
A car cruising by The Dream slows down to honk and wave to Mr. Jenkins. Another passenger rolls down the window to yell, “The Dream makes the best ribs around!” They interrupted his catching up with his friend, who sat on a stoop in a doorway behind the grills. She was dressed in scrubs, her hair in braids.
When I walked up and asked about his cooking, she pointed out that The Dream may stay open until 8 or 9 p.m., but it’s best to arrive early, before the food is gone.
Last week, she came at 2 p.m. and Mr. Jenkins had run out of everything, even though he preps six to seven cases of pork ribs a day, with each one running about 35 to 40 pounds.
Sometimes The Dream gets a group visit, like the motorcycle club from around the corner, when “guys come in droves,” he said.
He also mentioned the time Joey Porter, the Steelers’ former linebacker-now-coach, was wrapping up a visit when a busload of Cincinnati fans pulled up and saw him.
“They were getting into it,” he said. “It was 20 minutes of back-and-forth trash talk.”
Mr. Jenkins knew the Cincinnati fans, too. They’ve been driving down from their hometown and stopping by his place before football games for five years.
Although the grills and the smoker serve as on-street advertising, diners step inside to order at the counter, where Mr. Jenkins has a “taste before you buy” policy.
The menu is a white board hanging in the corner that lists a “just meat” category that runs from half slabs for $12 (with sides for $15) and slabs for $22 (with sides for $27). Rib sandwiches are $8 while the meat lovers special — bones and three wings —costs $6. The dinners are also popular, from the ribs and two sides ($11), chicken and two sides ($10), meat lovers with two bones, three wings and two sides ($10) to the turkey ribs with three bones and two sides ($10).
Sauce comes “regular” — a Kansas-City style — although there’s an even sweeter honey and a hot sauce, too. Mr. Jenkins will mix sauces, if you’d like. I like the dry rub on its own, with the sauce on the side if at all. I want to taste the meat: pork ribs not quite falling off the bone, or juicy wings with a lively rub.
Two guys in khakis and flip-flops walked in with a blond woman in shorts. “What did I get last time?” one of them asked. He recalled how much he liked the sides.
The maple-sweetened baked beans remain vegetarian along with yams, served so soft and so good. While these, along with cabbage or mac and cheese sum up the non-meat items, the greens, ironically, are not; they’re cooked in turkey stock and, thankfully, you can taste it.
Mr. Jenkins grew up in the neighborhood, and his grandmother lives a few streets away. Even so, he said he doesn’t know everyone who walks through the door.
“For one reason or another,” he said, “new people are always coming by.”
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.