The quest for barbecue in Prague

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An offering from Bad Jeff's Barbecue in Prague. Photo by Sean Hull.

Sean Hull

Special to the Ledger

[Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of study abroad column entries from student Sean Hull.]

Prague is an increasingly international city, which means there’s plenty of options when you’re craving something other than the traditional Czech food. Duck confit and potato dumplings are amazing, but I quickly found myself longing for Kansas City’s best export: real barbecue.

Barbecue in one form or another isn’t really hard to find. Many fast food exports from America like Burger King and KFC offer a barbecue sandwich, but I wasn’t willing to settle for mediocrity. After a bit of digging over a stretch of two months, I found some more promising options.

Old Prague Ham

Going the traditional route, Czech cuisine didn’t have much to offer. Assorted grilled meats are a common staple, but I was craving something with a bit more smoke. Luckily at the Autumn market that populated St. Wenceslas Square, I found a beautiful and welcome sight. A large hunk of glistening pork roasting on a spit over an open flame, aromatic smoke enveloping the meat. This was it I thought, as close as I am getting to home. I ordered a slab, which they cut right off the spit over the fire. The ham is served with two slices of bread, and mustard if you wish. Paired with the legendary Pilsner Urquell beer, it was satisfying in its own right, but not quite what I was looking for. The meat was juicy and salty as ham should be and the bread was perfect to soak up the juices, however it was missing the distinctive smoke I needed. And so the search continued.

Bad Jeff’s Barbecue

“It takes a bad man to make great barbecue” is the slogan at Bad Jeff’s. A chef from Chicago named Jeffrey Cohen opened up shop in Prague, hoping to bring some classic American style barbecue to the Czechs. I was insanely excited when I heard about Bad Jeff’s, even more so when I found out it’s just a block away from my dorm, located ironically on Americke (America) Street. I went with a roommate from Memphis, with whom impassioned and slightly inebriated discussions about barbecue have nearly led to catastrophically uncoordinated brawls in our apartment. One simple fact united us though — we love barbecue, and we needed some.

We both ordered the tasting menu. It came with a starter of chicken wings and the main course featured brisket, a half slab of ribs, cornbread, beans and truffle mac and cheese. Immediately I was taken aback by the beauty of the restaurant. Not that it was particularly gorgeous, but because it was lacking that rugged homestyle feel I’ve come to expect from barbecue. However, when our food came out, it was ultimately disappointing. Overall, the sides were underwhelming. The jalapeno cornbread was bland, the mac and cheese was good but unnecessarily pompous and the beans would be moore appropriately titled Santa Fe style instead of baked beans. All that was forgiven though, we were there for the meat. The ribs were fairly standard. They were tender and coated in a pleasantly sweet sauce, but nothing stood out. The brisket was the highlight of the meal, it was tender and fatty just as it should be, but we were only given two meager slices each. If you’re in desperate need of barbecue in Prague, Bad Jeff’s is the place to go, but temper your expectations.

The Tavern

The Tavern is another American-owned restaurant located in a trendy neighborhood called Zizkov. While it advertises itself as an American-style burger joint, they offer a pulled pork sandwich they are very proud of, and rightfully so. The pulled pork is some of the best I’ve ever had. It’s offered three ways, as a standalone sandwich, atop a hamburger or on cheesy fries. They also make their own barbecue sauce using slivovice, a traditional Czech brandy made from plums. I had it on top of a patty in a burger they call the “big smokehouse barbecue cheddar.” The pulled pork really cut through the burger with a strong blast of salty and sweet and a bit of smokiness. The slivo barbecue sauce is delicious but lacking any distinguishable slivo flavor. Though not a barbecue restaurant, this is the best place in Prague for a quick barbecue fix for your money.

Obviously, Prague isn’t going to be rivaling any American city in barbecue any time soon, but it’s refreshing to have the occasional comforts of home in a foreign land.

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