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Big, easy barbecue

South Florida now has more in common with New Orleans than a knack for hosting hurricanes: a new breed of restaurants that blend Cajun spices and entrees with traditional barbecue. Enter VooDoo BBQ and Grill, a Louisiana-based chain of quick-food eateries making a push in South Florida with the launch of a restaurant in Pembroke Pines and, coming soon, a location in Kendall.

Given all the mediocre barbecue joints that litter South Florida, it's safe to say VooDoo brings much-needed jazz to the party. You're going to find some quality meats at the price, and delicious, Cajun-inspired rubs.

The small, casual restaurant hams up its New Orleans roots with a soundtrack on the overhead speakers straight out of Mardi Gras, a festive purple and yellow palette and a menu with "bur-gahs," "voodoo chicken" and "N'awlins shrimp tater" (translation: a burger, a loaded bacon chicken sandwich and a baked potato with shrimp on top). Orders are taken at the front counter. Someone will bring out your food, and occasionally come by to check on your table.

Now, telling folks what sort of barbecue sauce they should eat is akin to talking religion and politics. However, it's safe to say that the sauces here are polarizing. If you like highly punchy, tangy sauces, you'll be satisfied with the three offered at VooDoo BBQ: "cane sugar tangy," "mango crystal spicy" and an also-tangy "mojo sauce" (calm down, Cubanitos, it's not the garlicky stuff). VooDoo offers none of the earthy, brown sauces you find in other barbecue restaurants, which may alienate some fans of the cuisine. But the rubs are so outstanding, you'll be tempted, as our group was, to skip the sauce altogether and let the meat stand on its own merits.

Of the appetizers we sampled, we'd go right back for the Big Easy chili fries ($4.99): Cajun-spiced fries topped with a delicious, hearty chili made with meat trimmings. We also loved the NOLA soup sampler ($7.99), with three soups: that same chili, an enjoyable crawfish bisque and some nice, poignant chicken and sausage gumbo. Better left alone are the barbecue nachos ($7.49), which came with cold chips and a too-pungent sauce.

The acid test for any barbecue place is the beloved pulled-pork sandwich, and VooDoo passed with flying colors ($4.49 regular, $5.99 regular). This is the tastiest pulled-pork sandwiches I've had in a long time. We loved the tender meat and the spiced rub.

Jerk chicken ($3.99 for a quarter-pound, $6.49 for a half-pound and $11.99 for a pound) isn't what you'd expect, but give it a chance. This version is all white meat and neatly sliced. But once again, the Cajun rub won us over, resulting in a fragrant piece of chicken that we picked clean.

The barbecue shrimp ($9.99) is a high-on-value platter of jumbo shrimp simmered in a Worcestershire and herb-butter sauce that had our tongues celebrating. It's easy to miss on the back of the menu, so take a look.

We sampled a spicy HooDoo burger ($4.49 for a quarter-pound, $6.49 for a half) with pepper Jack cheese and pikliz, a delicious Haitian coleslaw, but the kitchen burnt the flavor out of what was not an impressive meat patty to begin with, so we'd pass next time. Baby-back ribs ($9.99 for a half-rack, $17.99 for a full) were promising, with those same outstanding rubs at play, but it seems as if these would be a better bet at lunchtime, since the ribs on our nighttime visit had the too-soft exterior typical of end-of-the-day barbecue.

We enjoyed all the side dishes ($1.99 for a small portion, $2.79 for a regular). The baked beans are just how I love them: thick and saucy without being soupy, a hearty amount of brown sugar and just the right amount of tanginess to make them interesting. Sweet-potato soufflé was also a hit, especially at the price, so we cajoled ourselves into ordering another round, despite being bloated by the end of the meal. Fries here have a nice Cajun seasoning, and the mac and cheese is perfectly gooey.

Dessert is mostly a miss here, though it didn't offend for a barbecue place. The warm brownie ($2.99) was tough. The bananas Foster ($4.99) was undercooked. White-chocolate bread pudding ($3.49) looked delicious in the photos, but wasn't rich or gooey enough.

All told, we found an excitingly different barbecue experience for South Florida in VooDoo BBQ. The variety of accessible Cajun dishes, delicious meat rubs, upbeat atmosphere and quality meat means we'll be back for a little more New Orleans-barbecue magic soon.

151 N. Hiatus Road, Pembroke Pines, FL 33026


Cuisine: Barbecue, Cajun

Cost: Inexpensive

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Reservations: Not accepted

Bar: Daiquiris and beer

Sound level: Moderate

Outside smoking: No

For kids: Highchairs

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

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