I love recycling. Not the go-green, be-nice-to-the-planet kind, or the separating-your-trash kind. Those are all well and good, but what I really love is restaurant recycling. Whole restaurant recycling. Like when some owner without much money takes on a hastily abandoned space and sets up shop without bothering to do away with all the vestiges of the previous tenant.
A few years ago, a Korean restaurant moved into a massive former McDonald's on Parker Road. The new owners did nothing to disguise the fact that the space had once been a Mickey D's; instead, they simply used the same walk-up counter and door handles embossed with the big, loopy M and set up a bunch of tables where the old kids' play area had been. I've been to Chinese restaurants in old Taco Bells, Mexican restaurants in former grocery stores, neighborhood joints making use of all the fixtures of old gas stations. Every time I step into one of these recycled restaurants, I get a little buzz off the vibe of salvage — of having made something out of nothing.
And so I was primed to like the new Shead's BBQ & Fish Hut, because I'd liked the original Shead's on East Hampden, and this next incarnation had opened in a space recently (and rapidly) abandoned by the Tropical Grill. Stepping inside, I saw that the new owners had quite literally opened in that space. The dried grass that made certain ceiling angles look like the roofs of grass huts was still there, the giant chalkboard that had once listed the night's Polynesian and Pac-Rim specials was still there, and the fishing nets strewn with clam shells were still pinned to the wall. Even the paint — all tropical ice cream shades — was the same. The only new additions to the room were a scattering of Shead's takeout menus by the register and a new, full-sized menu hanging above the pass.
But still, the new menu was a Shead's menu, which meant that it had small ends — and small ends (the little, odd-shaped bits at the end of a slab of ribs) were exactly what I was in the mood for. Oh, and some hush puppies. Some potato salad. Some peach cobbler...
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And even if the hush puppies were burnt and the potato salad completely forgettable, the small ends were just how I'd remembered them: a generous serving of odd and scraggly bits cut from the end of a rack, some big and meaty, some small and fatty, some with tags of flesh from the pig's flank (my favorite pieces), all fresh from the grill and deeply, deeply smoky, swimming in Shead's own half-KC, sweet and spicy barbecue sauce. Chasing them with a big cup of peach cobbler (there's just too much juice to serve the cobbler on a plate) was the perfect way to get my weekend started and get me (finally) back in the habit of eating at Shead's. — Jason Sheehan