If you follow any Pittsburgh barbecue circles at all, odds are good you'll hear the name Clem's Cafe come up time and time again.
This spot in Blairsville is located about an hour east of the city and has a die-hard following of many Pittsburghers who make the drive just for their meat.
Intrigued by this prospect, I made the trip out to Blairsville to give them a try.
A Road Side BBQ Joint with Tender Meat
You'll know it when you arrive at Clem's Cafe. The large building off the side of the highway isn't a spot you think would be home to a popular barbecue joint at first glance, but one dead giveaway helps it standout- the building is topped by a large pig wearing a black leather jacket and sunglasses.
I liked it already.
You order at this one cafeteria style and your meat is handed to you within seconds. I opted for the barbecue combo that includes a quarter rack of ribs (four ribs) as well as a half pound of pulled pork (costing just over $10!) as a means to try a few of their offerings.
As soon as the plate was put in front of me I knew I was in over my head for visiting this one without Angie (but on the other hand, one could call this my idea of barbecue heaven- a whole plate for me!)
In a more practical sense, my plate was a hot mess of an absurd amount of meat and sauce. So much sauce, in fact, that I had no idea where the ribs started and the pork ended.
As a sauce connoisseur of sorts, I was happy to see that Clem's Cafe provided theirs amply. But at the same time also would've liked to had the chance to taste the meat on its own as it was almost impossible to find a piece that was not covered in sauce.
So I sat down, found the ribs, and proceeded to cut them with a plastic fork- the tines passed through with no effort on my part. I picked a rib up and almost all of the meat fell off back onto the plate.
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This is the tender meat I seek in good barbecue.
Both of the meats were as succulent as they come and were as close to that melt-in-your-mouth glory you want. There was no bark to speak of on either meat, but in cases like these we'll be more than happy to take the alternative.
Unfortunately, the sauce that goes along with it is a bit more of your generic tangy barbecue sauce that had no discernible spices jump out, and the abundance on the plate overshadowed the meat substantially (that being said, we're told you can just as easily get the sauce on the side which is what we'll do in future visits- I simply didn't know any better before visiting).
Sides at Clem's Cafe Are a Miss
While the meats at Clem's Cafe win it for us on the tenderness aspect alone, the sides are a bit of a miss.
The mac and cheese is a fairly conventional iteration and the sweet potato pie is also fairly generic in its flavor (but it is fairly sweet, so we'll take that). Had I not known any better I would not have thought these came from an acclaimed barbecue restaurant and felt they detracted from the meal a fair bit.
That being said, with the price of the meat platter and the pure tenderness of the meat I don't really care what the sides are like at all- I'm going for the meat and will make the 60 minute drive for that alone.
With meat like this, nothing else matters.
Clem's Cafe is located at 1985 US-22 in Blairsville, PA- about an hour east of Pittsburgh.
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