Up in Smoke
The latest evidence of Ambler’s restaurant renaissance comes in the perfectly smoked form of Rosey’s BBQ
by Brian Freedman

Twenty minutes into a recent dinner at the pig-perfect new Rosey’s BBQ in Ambler, one of my dining companions glanced up from the communal tray of meats and juices and sauces and rubs, looked momentarily surprised with herself, and said, “I just realized I’ve been going at the meat without a break out of fear that someone else might get to it before I do!”


That’s the kind of place that Rosey’s is, and her reaction, I’d imagine, is not terribly uncommon. The best barbecue, after all, is emotional food, a carnivore’s time machine that transports us back to caveman days of sitting around the campfire and tearing smoky flesh away from the bone with our teeth. If food is love, then good barbecue, for many of us (vegetarians aside, of course), is an obsession of sorts.


The problem is that, historically, there has been a depressing lack of decent barbecue in these parts. And as with film and music, skewed perception and diminished expectations have, for far too many of us, served to raise the mediocre to the level of the acceptable. For all too many of us, one of America’s greatest contributions to the world’s culinary heritage has been reduced to ribs pre-boiled to ensure that the meat falls from the bone, overly sweet slicks of mass-produced sauces more expressive of high-fructose corn syrup than any sort of spice, and sides as generic and uninspired as Muzak-friendly smooth jazz.


And then there’s the new Ambler outpost of Rosey’s, a burnt-red space anchored by a wall-sized chalkboard menu on one side, black picnic-style tables and benches on the other, a TV up in the corner and the sweet, funky smell of smoke and charred flesh wafting throughout. In this humble space, presided over by local barbecue hero Chad Rosenthal and Memphis transplant (and smoke star in his own right) Jarvis Morris, redemption sizzles away on the grill.


Meats start off with a proprietary blend of spices, which are then treated to varying amounts of smoke and grill heat once rubbed into the flesh. It’s fascinating to taste how the different proteins react to the process, some speaking more of the smoke (like the chicken and brisket), and some of the hot metal of the grill (gloriously fatty spare ribs). Like a great concept album—Green Day’s “American Idiot,” perhaps, or, going back further, Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of The Moon”—the individual tracks may be different, but all jell together into a coherent, even necessary, narrative.


Sides, too, stand above so many others in the region. Baked beans, so often tricked-up piles of mushy, canned morsels, are here soaked with care, studded with shreds of pork, and arrive luxuriating in a sweet-tangy bath of sweet-souled love. Sweet potatoes are like the glorious offspring of deep-flavored tuber and butter. Worry about the fat tomorrow and put in an extra mile or three on the treadmill then: This is food for the here and now, consequences be damned. Dense, hearty mac-and-cheese sticks to the ribs and teeth, as the best versions should. Corn muffins are sweet and moist and almost ambrosial when used to sop up the meats’ oils and spices from the tray.


Desserts, though you’ll likely have no room left, are required eating. Pineapple upside-down cake is as moist and refreshing as most are plodding and heavy handed. Bread pudding sings with the perfume of nutmeg.


All of this is served in an atmosphere as devoid of pretense and preciousness as the food itself. And the value is remarkable: Bring along a six-pack of beer (it’s a BYOB) and a serious appetite. One recent dinner for four—an unrestrained, unrepentant feast that still left us with enough food for two or three lunches the next day—cost less than $90 with tax and tip. I’d like to believe that the thrill of that kind of bargain got my heart racing enough to burn off some of the meal’s calories.


But even if it didn’t, who cares? This is food of joy, of primal pleasure. This is barbecue as it’s meant to be, and as it far too often isn’t.


Rosey’s BBQ

9 N. Main Street, Ambler




Brian Freedman is a food and wine writer based in Philadelphia.

Rob Hall is a photographer based in Plumsteadville.