APART from the corny aphorisms on Woody's walls, this isn't the kitschy interior often typical of barbecue restaurants. The decor is rustic western, but restrained, with a raftered ceiling, pale lemon walls and tomato-red, rough-hewn wood panelling half way up. Hanging lamp shades of inverted metal pails add a sleek look and diffused light. There's the essential roll of paper towels on the tables, which are well spaced, and the although the wooden chairs aren't padded, they are comfortable. The place was less than half full on my visits, so the noise level was bearable, but the television sets were also silent, so no guarantees.
Woody's is a franchise restaurant, and any franchise unit is only as good as its management. I'd heard several severe complaints, so I was surprised to find myself enjoying some of the barbecues (especially those made of pork) and wondered what had made the difference. Were the complaints the result of early growing pains? Was there a change in ownership? Or, possibly, the owner had taken the complaints seriously enough to make some necessary changes.
A la carte prices range from $13.99 for a quarter chicken to $25.99 for 12 ounces of smoked prime rib, but most of the meats also turn up in combos of various sizes -- the biggest is the Family Feast of barbecued pork, St. Louis ribs and barbecued chicken at $39.99 for two or $54.99 for four. Woody's also offers takeout and delivery, but several of the prices on the takeout menu -- in red print on a dark brown background -- are annoyingly obscure.
Even if you knew nothing about the menu, the smell of smoke would tell you you're in barbecue country. Actually, the smoke flavour was relatively mild in all the meats and none were particularly spicy. For those who'd like more heat, there's an assortment of hot sauces on each table.
My top choice would be the nicely sauced baby back ribs, which were juicy, falling-off-the bone soft, and particularly flavourful. There was no sauce on the St. Louis style ribs, which were served pre-cut into separate bones, and although I thought they actually could have used some sauce, they were firm, tender and tasty. Keeping in mind the complaints I'd heard, I made a point of trying both kinds of ribs on two different occasions and they passed on both. The portions, however, were decidedly skimpy -- the half racks of both the St. Louis ribs and the baby back ribs consisted of five ribs each, the smallest half racks of my experience.
One unexpected treat was the plump Alabama sausages, which were faintly smoky, seasoned with spices that tasted Italian, and delicious. Thickly sliced barbecued pork tasted pretty much like any good roast pork. Pork may rule here, but there was one pretty good beef dish as well. The perfectly geometric grill marks on the smoked prime rib looked a little odd, but the meat tasted better than it looked -- it could have been juicier, but it was tender and quite beefy.
Two other meats, however, were completely disappointing. The barbecued chicken was the most generous serving of all the meats on the Family Feast -- misplaced generosity, as it happened. The massive portion was coated in a gloppy but not bad sauce, but the flesh was flavourless and dry throughout, and so tough we had trouble cutting through it, even with serrated knives. The other dud was the beef brisket -- also utterly juiceless and flavourless.
All main courses include a mini corn bread and two sides from a list of 10. The best of the lot was the consistently delicious barbecued beans, which also contained little pieces of pork. The corn bread was OK, if slightly dry, and the coleslaw was innocuous. But the Mac 'N Cheese was gummy and bland, and the rice of the day, despite a hint of heat, was just blah, dotted by the occasional wee slice of tasteless sausage.
Satisfaction with the sides is hard to predict since the standards may vary from day to day, and from side to side. On one visit mashed potatoes tasted unpleasantly sour, so the good, freshly made fries of another night were a particularly pleasant surprise. The Southern Side of the day is often okra -- on one visit, just slices of the veggie in a sauce that tasted like diluted tomato paste, but on another, a delicious stewed mixture with onions and tomatoes which, with a little more spice, could almost have passed for an Indian bhindii masala.
Other meat options on the menu include pulled pork, smoked turkey breast, burgers and barbecued meat sandwiches. Also available are fried dill pickles, nachos, wings, breaded catfish, breaded shrimp and smoked, gilled salmon fillet.
The apple crumble tasted freshly made and good. The key lime pie, however, was dreadful, with a passable filling but a crust that was flabby and tasted inedibly rancid ($5.99 each). There are two white wines and two reds by the glass or the bottle, and a variety of beers, in bottles or on tap. Service was helpful and attentive.
To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.
Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.