Update: no longer open.
With the recent trip to Q Barbecue, and their disappointing sides still haunting me, I had to get myself pronto to the less than month-old barbecue joint, Bebe's Barbecue, to see if I could find better.
Named for the owner's grandmother, Bebe's is a casual Southern barbecue joint residing in an unlikely site -- the heart of South Philly's Italian Market. What Bebe's has going for it is the owner and chef is a real Southerner -- North Carolina-born and Mississippi-raised Mark Coates -- so I thought for sure I'd fare better than my last Southern side adventure.
Not only did I fare better, but I struck gold!
Ah, this is how you present a barbecue house! Bebe's is very simple inside, with only stools and a long counter lined with small paper trays of complimentary roasted peanuts, mustard tins filled with wet-naps, paper napkin dispensers, and bottles of hot sauce running along one wall , and, across the way (real estate is narrow in Philly), a register and Mark himself scooping up barbecue and sides from a line of warming pans.
All the sides at Bebe's are vegetarian, which is certainly not the norm -- collards and beans, baked or otherwise, at most places usually have pork -- but making sides vegetarian is easy to do without compromising the dish, and is very much appreciated by this girl. We ordered one of every side available that day (fresh corn wasn't available) and chose to walk around the corner to dine at Bardascino Park, which conveniently has picnic tables.
You know I ate the mac and cheese first! It looks right -- not made with a cheese sauce, but real Southern mac and cheese with bits of cheese visible. And it tastes right -- cheesy, but not greasy. This is the real deal Southern mac and cheese, not the ubiquitous, fancy "restaurant" stuff. Bebe's mac and cheese is done right without being overly greasy, as grease is the downfall of most Southern-style mac and cheeses. It's the closest I've ever come to eating mac and cheese like my Mom makes, so Bebe's hit the ball out of the park with this one, and won my affections!
The coleslaw is a finely shredded, Dixie-cut cabbage and carrots with mustard seeds, and dressed with a sweet and slightly spicy vinegar dressing. I have maybe a slight preference for coleslaw with creamy dressings, but loved this vinegar heavy coleslaw. Honestly, I love all styles of coleslaw.
The collards are scooped out of a hot bath of pot liquor before landing on your plate. The large leaves are slow cooked in the traditional way, so are soft, but nothing near as mushy and over boiled as I've experienced at some places.
The cornbread is just as it should be -- not sweet! I actually like both non-sweet Southern cornbread and sweet Yankee cornbread (yeah, that's what it's called), so can go either way, but if you're serving Southern cuisine you can't serve sweet cornbread without being called out as a fraud. My partner thought the cornbread was dry, but I had to remind him that this is not the sweet, cakey kind, and, in fact, Bebe's cornbread is not dry (I've had dry cornbread before, and it's nearly impossible to swallow, and this was certainly not the case with Bebe's cornbread).
One of Bebe's sides is sweet potato puree, and I have to admit that I've never had sweet potato puree. Bebe's sweet potato puree is a little too sweet and a little too heavily spiced with cinnamon and other spices, but certainly plate-licking enjoyable. I thought the puree was a little thin and difficult to eat out of the foil cups Mark made to keep the puree from running all over the plate, and would be much better presented as sweet potato souffle -- essentially a less runny sweet potato puree that's been baked and stiffened with egg. If sweet potato souffle -- a favorite family dish right up there with mac and cheese -- took the place of the puree, I'd slap a dress on Mark and make him my surrogate mom!
Bebe's offers little pies for dessert, and on our visit sweet potato pie with a struesel top was the pie of the day. Other than maybe needing a couple more minutes in the oven to brown the crust a little more, this firm and creamy sweet potato pie was right on. I felt like I was sitting at my family's Thanksgiving table! And you gotta have iced sweet tea! Bebe's sweet tea is excellent...sweet enough to be called sweet tea, but not so sweet it makes you cringe. And certainly not made with some fancy fruit tea blend, which has it's place, but not here. Just straight-up, righteous sweet tea!
Bebe's also serves biscuits on Sunday. I returned on the Sunday immediately after my first visit in an attempt to sample a biscuit (and get some mac and cheese and coleslaw), but, sadly, they were closed for Mother's Day. I'm gonna get a biscuit, and, when I do, I'll report back. Update: got 'em!
Of course, I can't tell you about the barbecue, but if the sides are any indication of the quality and authenticity of the food Bebe's is serving, that barbecue is sure to be good. It looks good!
1017 South 9th St., Philadelphia, PA 19147
The website printed on Bebe's business card (BebesBarbecue.com) doesn't seem to be up at the time of the writing of this post (update: site's up!), so here's a scan of their rotating menu. Click to enlarge.