Now, I know reviewing barbecue places is a dangerous game . . . people tend to have their favorites and become fiercely loyal. I’m here to say, though, that whatever style you like, you just might find a new favorite at 4 Rivers Smokehouse.
4 Rivers has been very popular since opening a few months ago at the corner of MacDill and Swann in South Tampa, but you can actually find a parking spot in the lot if you don’t wait too long after rush hour. In a hurry? Call ahead and use the pick-up window on the MacDill sidewalk. And yes, they now have their beer license (in my view a necessity at a barbecue place!).
The nice atmosphere is what I’d describe as retro-industrial-meets-barbecue décor. The long communal tables are there, but in butcher-block and steel legs rather than the picnic tables or booths of honey-colored pine so common to the genre. Large historical photos of Tampa scenes hang on the walls, as well as a Texas long-horn steer’s head. The food is served on simple brown paper on a tray, and there are plenty of napkins and hot or sweet sauce selections at the table.
I’ve been working my way down through the “Signature Stackers” sandwiches; these feature combinations of flavors. The Texas Destroyer is brisket, onion rings, jalapeños and provolone. The Messy Pig is pulled pork layered with cole slaw and pickles and jalapeños on the bun. The Longhorn is brisket and sausage with onion and provolone. And I’m not done yet. My favorite? So far, one of the previously mentioned (maybe the Messy Pig!) but it is hard to choose. I enjoyed their Smokehouse Cuban and Smokehouse Sliders (your choice of burnt ends, brisket, pulled pork or chicken) but they can’t beat the Destroyer or Pig or Longhorn.
My wife loves the basic pulled pork sandwich with sides of coleslaw and baked beans or sweet potato casserole. 4 Rivers has a good variety of sides. In our last visit I had a generous portion of tender fried okra and a couple of spicy smoked jalapeños. They’ve also got individual and combo dinner plates of brisket, pork, turkey, sausage, chicken, prime rib, St. Louis style ribs …you get the idea. There’s a lot to like.
They’ve got a small but serviceable collection of kid’s options with hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly if brisket, turkey, pork or chicken sliders won’t satisfy the little ones. A barbecue place probably wouldn’t be the first stop for vegetarians, but 4 Rivers does offer some salads, vegetarian-friendly sides, and a Vegetarian Quesadilla composed of corn, cheese grits, cheddar cheese and chipotle aioli that intrigues me. We’ve never gotten to the deserts, though I’d love to try their bread pudding and I’m curious about the fried Oreos.
I encourage giving 4 Rivers a try. It doesn’t have the old-southern bungalow-in-an-oak-hammock ambiance of Kojacks, the no-nonsense hole-in-the-wall feel of Holy Hog, or the fried catfish of Hank’s, but in my opinion 4 Rivers’ food is every bit as good!