Well folks, as your “sherpas up the mountain” of food enlightenment we have stumbled upon a beautiful diamond in the rough. If you have talked to anyone recently about new restaurants I am sure that the name Cockeye BBQ has come up in conversation. This is truly an oasis amongst the desolation of inner city blight. It evokes a whole new feeling to the term revitalization. You can find Cockeye’s in the most unlikely of places—on the west side of Warren, Ohio on Parkman Road. Growing up in Warren this area has become known more for its crime rate and desertion after the loss of our steel mills. In the expanse of closed businesses and disintegrating housing, the neon lights of Cockeye BBQ are sure to draw your attention as you stroll down the lanes of Warren’s west side.
As you step through the front doors it is as if you are transported to an alternate dimension. You can imagine that the black and white of Warren, Ohio fades into this technicolor restaurant and your initial thought is, “we’re not in Kansas anymore”. Upon entering we were delighted at the friendliness of the staff, including co-owner and chef, Erik Hoover. At first glance Chef Erik seems to have walked straight out of the show Sons of Anarchy. However, as we watched him gracefully walk the dining room cleaning up, holding the door for patrons, and conversing with first time customers it is clear that he has a heart of gold. His experience in fine dining has translated quite nicely into the fast casual world of BBQ.As you walk down the proverbial yellow brick road to BBQ Oz your first stop is at the front counter. The ordering process is quite simple but the menu can be complex. You can find all sorts of slow cooked proteins and other Southern cuisine. On our initial trip we decided on the brisket, pulled pork, an order of shrimp étouffée with sides of mac n’ cheese, cheesy potatoes, coleslaw, and hush puppies. Also, a freshly fried hand apple pie and rhubarb pie for dessert. If you haven’t noticed Spade and I like to eat. You also have your choice of craft beers and hometown sodas. Being that we were going to be dining on Southern cuisine, I found it only fitting to grab a Cheerwine. We finally got to taste the much anticipated BBQ. The pulled pork had a rich flavor that was only added to by the acidic flavor of the Carolina style BBQ sauce. The brisket was so tender that it literally melted in our mouths. You can tell the meats have been hand-selected and smoked for just the right amount of time. The cheesy potatoes and mac n’ cheese had a wonderful, creamy texture that complimented the BBQ. The hush puppies were fried to golden perfection and warmed the soul as they entered your mouth.
Now the only time I have ever encountered shrimp étouffée was when visiting New Orleans. I must say that I feel this meal was better than what I had when in the Deep South. We were truly elated as we shared the decadent dish. It had a robust, creamy flavor foiled with a spicy Creole seasoning. The final course of desserts did not let us down either. I’m not sure but I think the clouds broke open and a heavenly course sang to us as we broke open the apple pie. It was warm and gooey on the inside with a flaky crust on the outside. The rhubarb pie reminded me of being at my grandmother’s house in southern Ohio when she would bake on the weekends. It had the perfect mix of sweet and bitter that closed out the meal beautifully. Maybe this only happens for some of you on Thanksgiving, but this was one of those meals that when you were done you had to loosen a few buttons because it was too good to stop.Between the food, customer service, ambiance, and the well-oiled machine that Cockeye’s seems to be, this is a place that will surely go down in the history books of “Food in the Valley”. This saucy joint fully embodies what it means to own your craft. From the attention to every detail and the demographic of guests, this eatery leaves no one left out. It is pure representation of home-cooked Americana. As I sat there and took it all in, I think my heart grew two sizes that day (as did my stomach). A friend of mine that grew up in East Tennessee once made the statement about Cockeye’s, “I would eat at Cockeye’s every day except Monday—only because they are closed on Mondays”. They surely get the Jimmy and Spade stamp of approval, and we will be sure to return with friends and family for years to come.