When it comes to 4 Rivers Smokehouse, I am a burnt-end sandwich ($6.99) girl with baked cheese grits and corn bread salad on the side. Or smoked jalepenos. Or green beans. Or fried pickles. Well, you get the idea. Add a self-serve unsweet iced tea and life is pretty good.
Since opening the first restaurant in Winter Park in November 2009, the folks at 4 Rivers have had me at the brisket. Locations in Winter Garden and Longwood followed in 2011 and the cramped original Winter Park eatery soon will move diagonally across Fairbanks Avenue into the old J&W Landscaping property.
Instead of going the cookie-cutter expansion route, each new restaurant has a signature touch. Winter Garden has a drive-through window and the newest addition in Longwood is rocking an adjacent outlet called The Sweet Shop.
With premium ice creams and artisan shakes, drop-dead gorgeous baked goods and gourmet whoopie pies, The Sweet Shop can be a scary place when you're teetering close to your daily Weight Watchers' point limit or you mistakenly let go of a child's hand in front of an over-the-top platter of cupcakes. First-rate coffee and teas complement the decadent menu and you will need the caffeine when the sugar high crashes.
But before we jump into the desserts, the barbecue restaurant next door (there is a connecting interior entrance) has the familiar signature 4 Rivers lineup. I ordered two items that I had not sampled before: the Santa Maria tri-tip steak stacker ($7.99) and the smokehouse prime rib sandwich ($8.99). The tender tri-tip was topped with a drizzle of smoky tomato chimichurri sauce. The topping was very good and we could have used a little more on the side for such a large serving. The prime rib had great flavor but the homemade horseradish needed a little more of a kick on the finish.
Afterward we packed up a cupcake-heavy selection of baked goods to share with colleagues.
The cupcakes ($3.50) are easily shareable. Four wedges for one cupcake gave just the right bite of sweet to four salivating adults. The Mountain Dew and Dorito combo and chocolate and potato chip cupcakes were upstaged by the Creamsicle-flavored and Cheerwine interpretations. The cakes on both were subtlety sweet with wonderful citrus and cherry notes respectively. The generous icing crowns on both were spot on with their namesakes' flavor, too.
If you can eat an entire bayou bar ($3.50), I salute you and your cardiologist's billable hours. The sturdy shortbread crust topped with a thick layer of cheesecake is cheek-tingling wonderful.
Mile-high layer cakes ($39.99 whole, $4.75 slice), creative takes on whoopie pies ($3.50) and cookies ($2.75) also vie for shoppers' attention. I couldn't even consider one of the specialty shakes. It would have been so wrong, but I'd wager pretty good.
Expansion for 4 Rivers is turning out to be a sweet move in many ways.
4 Rivers Barbecue and
The Sweet Shop
Where: 1869 W. State Road 434, Suite 230, Longwood (east of Interstate 4)
When: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
How much: $3.50-$21
Beverages: Soft drinks and specialty coffees
Extras: Outdoor dining, family-friendly, catering, ice cream shop and bakery and mail-order items
Wheelchair access: Easy
Noise level: Lively barbecue buzz
Online: 4rsmokehouse.com, Facebook and @4RSmokehouse on Twitter
Diningon a budget
Large servings and baked goods that are easy shared keep this popular destination in the budget-friendly category