The C.A.S. in Pot Liquor C.A.S. stands for Contemporary American Smokehouse, and in that context, the restaurant serves just what you’d expect: ribs, smoked chicken, pulled pork and brisket.
But then there are the stuffed trotters. The grilled prawns with boudin noir. The boiled peanut hummus. Even the restaurant’s namesake dish — pot liquor being the liquid that’s left behind when collards or other greens are cooked, which the savvy know to sop up with a piece of cornbread — is a rarity, at least in these parts. Pot Liquor’s partner chefs obviously are devoted to the art of smoking meat, but they remember the rest of the Southern culinary oeuvre, updating those time-honored dishes with their own creative twists.
Deviled eggs, for instance, which for some reason the restaurant refers to as Devil’d Eggs ($5.98). Pretty prosaic, yes; I ordered them mostly because deviled eggs are back, and I wanted to see what Pot Liquor would do with them.
What I found out: pretty prosaic, yes, the yolks mixed with gherkins and Dijon; no new ground broken there. But wait: an inspired touch in the chicken skin cracklings sprinkled on top.
And so it went. I’ve been eating fried-green-tomato salads for a couple of decades, but this one ($12.98) was unique, in that, instead of being essentially a green salad with some fried green tomatoes placed atop, was more of an old-fashioned composed dish, the tomatoes adorned with knobs of goat cheese and slivers of country ham and red onion and dressed in an olive-oil vinaigrette with capers.
Chili of all Chilis ($14.98), in the mother of all serving sizes, was deeply flavored and contained smoked pork and brisket in addition to ground beef and red beans, without which chili always seems to be lacking (I know, I know …). We loved that it was reasonably spicy without reaching the dare-you levels we encounter a lot these days, but maybe the best part of all was the large flat corn cake that supported it, which somehow didn’t get all soggy.
But yes, of course we had some barbecued meats as well. A starter of Kansas City Style Burnt Ends ($10.98) was far more tender than most burnt ends we’ve encountered, which may be a plus or a minus, depending on our perspective. We actually enjoyed the tenderness and the occasional barky piece.
Brisket is, as any true ’cuer knows, a challenge to get right (far more difficult than, say, pulled pork), but they get it right at Pot Liquor. Our 8-ounce portion ($18.98; 16 ounces is $25.98) was moist, falling-apart tender and a credit to the craft.
As were our Mopped Baby Back Ribs ($18.98 for a half-rack, $25.98 for a full), which were far meatier than most baby backs, and hit the other high points very nicely.
Barbecue wouldn’t be barbecue without sides, and two were included with each of our barbecued entrees. Fries with Alabama White Sauce were a surprise on the menu (well, at least the sauce part of it) because white barbecue sauce really is only regularly found in parts of Alabama. This was a good interpretation, the mayonnaise base (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it) well balanced by a generous dose of vinegar. Cornbread with Butter’d Honey was a workmanlike iteration, moist and flavorful. Macaroni and cheese was borderline sinful, it was so indulgently rich.
Ditto on the Brownie Bread Pudding ($6) with bourbon glaze with sea salt gelato, which did justice to all of those things and was pretty memorable.
Service throughout was exceptional, and not just from our server. Everyone we encountered was extraordinarily friendly. And that warmth was reflected in the interior, with wood and brick and several huge tables for large groups or communal dining, should you be so inclined.
But I neglected to mention our other side dish, collard greens in pot liquor. I’ll be honest; I dislike few foods, and collards have always been on that short list. This seemed like a pretty typical version, though not as mushy as many, which I guess is a good thing.
So no, I don’t like pot liquor. But we sure did like Pot Liquor, which is a worthy addition to the ever-more-interesting array of Las Vegas restaurants.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.
Pot Liquor C.A.S., Town Square, 6587 Las Vegas Blvd. South; 702-816-4600
Pluses: Updated American classics in a warm, friendly atmosphere.
Minuses: Collards (I know, I know …)