September 16, 2010 at 1:00 am

Molly Abraham Restaurant Review: Lockhart's BBQ, 3 stars

Lockhart's BBQ pairs classics with savory sides

The Lockhart Special: 1/4 slab of ribs, beef brisket, smoked sausage and pulled pork with two sides. )

There's really no mistaking what's going on in the sturdy brick building on the corner of Third and Williams in downtown Royal Oak. The scent of barbecue wafts in the air all around it.

Lockhart's BBQ, named for the town in Texas noted for its smoked meats, occupies the first floor of the building, and it's the source of the enticing aromas.

Open just since Aug. 26, it already is attracting an enthusiastic crowd for its pork and beef ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork and chicken, all smoked over Michigan oak and hickory.

The supporting cast of interesting and unexpected choices includes a version of shepherd's pie that uses macaroni and cheese instead of mashed potatoes atop brisket and onions, a dish that would be even better if they'd toss a few green peas into the mix.

First to arrive at the rugged wooden tables is a Ball jar of pickles, a touch that co-proprietor Drew Ciora, a native of Texas, says is a tribute to his pickle-making grandmother, and it's one of the details that adds personality to Lockhart's.

The centerpiece of the big, high-ceilinged dining room is the open L-shaped kitchen where a gaggle of cooks prepare the food. The smoker brought from Mesquite, Texas, is the heart of the operation, and it's where the dry-rubbed meats are low-temperature smoked for eight hours; but the best visual components are the Santa Maria grill, with its big wheel that raises and lowers the grates, and the butcher block where meats are sliced.

Main dish barbecue choices are served atop butcher paper on metal trays, and each includes a slice of white bread to soak up the juices and the barbecue sauce -- should you be inclined to add any.

Despite the fact that four house-made sauces are on the tables, the meat really doesn't need much help in the flavor department.

The small, delicious pork ribs are served in 1/4 rack size in a pairing with a choice of brisket, chicken, sausage or pulled pork and they may also be had in a more substantial portion that includes brisket, sausage and pulled pork. At $18.99, it's one of the more expensive combos on a menu that tops out at $20.99.

The ribs are excellent, but the real stars of the menu are the sliced beef brisket and the burnt ends, the intensely flavored beef brisket tidbits. Burnt ends make a great sharable appetizer at a reasonable $8.99.

A choice of two sides, chosen from the list of 14, comes with all of the barbecue plates. The hierarchy among the sides starts with the sweet potato fries and the vinaigrette coleslaw that is a much better accompaniment to barbecue than the creamy kind.

Those who prefer the creamy variety may have that instead, and other choices of sides include collard greens brightened with slices of red pepper, corn, baked beans, potato salad, cornbread and fried okra.

Does anyone have room for dessert after barbecue? Yes, when the desserts are as appealing as those commissioned by Lockhart's and made by the venerable Hermann's Bakery.

Our table loved the chocolate Dr. Pepper cake, a moist cake with a fluffy, light chocolate icing. Other options that might seem more compatible with barbecue are berry or peach cobbler, with or without ice cream.

Ciora and his business partner, Rick Ghersi, who also are involved in the nearby Royal Oak Brewery and the Detroit Beer Company in downtown Detroit, have a hit on their hands.

Abraham67@comcast.net">Abraham67@comcast.net (313) 222-1475

Find this Quadruple Bypass with sweet potato fries and a King Dong at ... (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
Stephanie Johnson serves lunch at Lockhart's BBQ in Royal Oak. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)