In 1994, Virgil’s Real BBQ opened their original eatery in New York City’s Times Square, and it quickly became my go-to restaurant for impressing friends and family visiting from out of town. With an iconic location, fantastic, down home country fare, and a noisy, bustling atmosphere, it was equal parts tourist attraction and urban barbecue joint.
In December of 2016, Virgil’s premiered its newest establishment here in Las Vegas, and trust me, it did not disappoint!
Located on the LINQ Promenade, the menu, vibe, and decor at Virgil’s Las Vegas were consistent with its NYC location - the interior design was studiously countrified, with pre-distressed wood, exposed brick, and other rustic touches. There was also a honky-tonk feel to the place, with Vegas-style strip lights over the ample bar, retro neon signage, and a stage for live music performances.
My favorite detail, hearkening back to the original NY venue, were the rolled up purple face towels at every place setting. Hey, good barbecue is messy, so you don’t get napkins here, you get towels!
My friend and fellow foodie, Russ, joined me for lunch, and our server, Julie, made us feel at home immediately. Outgoing and friendly, she knew practically everything about the menu and had great suggestions, so we put ourselves in her capable hands.
I’m not usually a day drinker, but we began with a couple of their cocktails, served in glass mugs the size of large beer steins! I had the Kicked Up Lemonade - homemade fresh lemonade mixed with a choice of fruit flavored vodkas. I chose peach, and the combination was like a mouthful of southern sunshine: smooth, refreshing, and not overly sweet. Russ ordered Virgil’s Big Bloody Bull Rider - vodka and house made Bloody Mary mix, garnished with lemon, celery, olives, homemade beef jerky, and dry rub spices coating the rim. While it had a spicy kick, it was still very tomato forward, the jerky was tender and a bit salty, and the dry rub lent the drink a touch of smoky barbecue flavor. If you’re a fan of this traditional pick-me-up, Virgil’s was excellent.
We were eyeing quite a few of the appetizers, but Julie helped us narrow the selection down to three, which we shared. First, the Fried Pickles. Virgil’s gives this particularly southern specialty a unique twist by using sweet pickles instead of dill. I’ve never liked sweet pickles, but Julie sold us on them, and I must say, we really enjoyed them. They didn’t have the familiar acidic zing of dill pickle chips, but the spicy remoulade sauce that accompanied them, balanced out the sweetness, and made them addictive! Next we tried the BBQ Chicken Wings - 4 huge wings, smoked, then finished on the grill. The spice rub used to prep the wings imparted flavorful smokiness, the texture of the skin was almost that of an oven roasted bird and the meat slid off the bone effortlessly. As Russ doesn’t care for food that’s heavily sauced, we asked for the tangy, spicy wing sauce on the side, but to be honest, they were excellent with or without sauce, and the Maytag blue cheese dip - pungent and earthy, with subtle citrus notes, provided the perfect cool down! Lastly, we sampled the BBQ Nachos - light, crispy chips with a sweet barbecue sauce, topped with barbecued pulled chicken, Carolina pulled pork, and Texas beef brisket. While Russ found the dish too sweet, I felt the interplay between the sauce, the savory meats, and the jalapeño slices created a harmonious bite.
One of the true southern staples we spotted when choosing our entrees, was the Georgia Chicken Fried Steak. Now, for those still confused about this, there’s no chicken involved! Chicken fried steak is a beefsteak cutlet, pounded flat, breaded, floured, pan fried and drenched with gravy. Virgil’s spin on this classic involved coating the cutlet in a mix of corn flake, potato chip and saltine cracker crumbs, a preparation I’d never seen before. The steak itself was perfectly cooked; thin and tender, not as heavy as some I’ve tried, and the crust was wonderfully crisp. And while the gravy was underseasoned, and in need of some heat, the dish was still a winner. Of course, we wanted to try some real barbecue, but we had difficulty choosing from their specialties - two different BBQ Combos included choices of Carolina Pulled Pork, Pulled Chicken, Texas BBQ Beef Brisket, Memphis Smoked Pork Spare Ribs, Smoked BBQ Chicken, or Trash Riblets, and then there was a Pig Out Platter, which included ALL the barbecued meats, plus two side dishes. Those selections seemed a bit heavy for lunch, so Julie steered me toward the Southern Style Surf & Turf - a skewer of grilled shrimp, that I paired with their barbecued beef brisket. The natural sweetness of the shrimp was accented beautifully by the smoky, tangy house sauce, and while the shrimp were terrific, the brisket was absolutely sublime!! I love good brisket, and this was some of the best I’ve ever had! Lean, tender, beefy, and not overpowered by the barbecue sauce, I could’ve eaten it all day!
We also sampled several sides: Collard Greens - rough-cut, made with real fatback and a touch of vinegar, they were tasty and authentic. The Mac & Cheese was homey, delicious and creamy, like someone’s Mom was in the kitchen. The Beets were sweet and earthy, and the Hickory Smoked Baked Beans were excellent - made with onion, green bell pepper, applewood bacon, bits of brisket, and a touch of brown sugar, they were lighter than the usual molasses tinged variety served in most barbecue joints. Unfortunately, the only misstep was the Cornbread. A bit uninspired, flavorless, and missing that wonderful rough, grainy cornmeal texture, it seemed more like a soft corn muffin bought at a supermarket.
Despite the big lunch, we both wanted to try some dessert, and though I only managed a bite or two, they were fabulous! The Banana Pudding, made with sweet custard, fresh banana, crispy housemade vanilla wafers, and a layer of whipped cream, was smooth, creamy, absolutely delicious, and brought me back to my childhood. Russ chose the Peanut Butter Pie - a traditional graham cracker crust with a thick filling of real peanut butter folded into luscious pastry cream. Topped with fresh whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and a piece of real peanut brittle - all made in-house, it was rich, decadent, and packed a huge peanut-buttery punch!
Virgil’s Real BBQ has been voted one of America’s top 10 barbecue restaurants, and I can understand why - the fabulous food, an atmosphere that’s casual and fun, if a bit on the noisy side, and servers like Julie, who love their jobs and take great care of their customers, all make for a great dining experience. Vegas locals even get 20% off their checks, so whether you live in the area or if you’re a hungry visitor craving down home comfort food, unroll that big purple towel, because, as I said, good barbecue is messy, and Virgil’s serves up some of the best!