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A floor-to-ceiling image of a hump-shouldered black angus bull covers the back wall at Miss Moonshine's, the centrepiece of the biggest development in Ponsonby since Ponsonby Central.
"Abandon hope, all ye vegetarians who enter here," it seems to say and the one-sheet menu confirms the point: there's cornbread and butter, chickpea-stuffed mushrooms, some side dishes like cauliflower cheese and a couple of salads but after that, non-carnivores need to look away.
On a laneway between Richmond Rd and Mackelvie St, Miss Moonshine's, open barely a fortnight, is the latest manifestation of Southern barbecue, which has now come of age in Auckland. Restaurants (Hog Heaven) and mobile operations (Dixie, Bare Knuckle) blazed the trail, but the "slow and low" pit-smoking method, which avoids direct heat in favour of low temperatures -150C or less - and long cooking times, has also been adopted by established players at Molten, Woodpecker Hill and Orphans Kitchen.
Ryan Clarke, who owns the new operation with his wife Annelise, says they are not slaves to Southern tradition: they are aiming for the succulence that Kiwi barbecue-lovers expect.
Their 1.5 tonne smoker, imported from Kansas, is fired with pohutukawa and manuka, and the pork, beef, chicken and lamb that head chef Simon Den Boogert extracts will have started cooking as early as 3am on the day you come in.
The Paul Izzard design is probably very nice, although it's hard to make out by night. Clarke's "smoky, sexy, speakeasy" atmosphere is really a Stygian gloom, if you ask me.
Occasional splashes of light elsewhere in the room suggested I was not the only person resorting to the smartphone's flashlight to read the menu and discern what was arriving on the table.
The three starters from a list of eight were uneven in quality: I am not sure that I would have known that the tater tots - deep fried croquettes - contained smoked kahawai without the claim on the menu that they did. I also thought the generous coil of wild boar sausage slightly characterless, although the slow-cooked lentils (with bits of ham hock or lardon? I forgot to check by torchlight) were a treat, as were the spinach-flavoured cornmeal balls called hushpuppies.
The standout was a dish of fried chicken tenderloins, whose sensationally crunchy cornmeal coating popped to yield the droolingly juicy meat. It was smothered with a great avocado and corn salsa and I would happily have ordered a couple more of those and called it dinner.
But the main event awaited our attention: the 16-hour beef brisket was superbly tender, with the requisite quantity of burnt edge, and the pork knuckle, big as a wharfie's fist, combined crackle and chewiness with melting fat and lean in precisely the right proportions.
It didn't surprise me that the short rib, the crowning glory of Southern barbecue, eclipsed them both. By the time it arrived - late, thanks to a waitress who is too clever to write things down but not clever enough to remember them - we were a bit punch-drunk, to be honest, but my companions, including a Chilean who knows a bit about meat-eating, managed almost all of the soft, rich beef.
An unseasoned and unadorned side dish of boiled kale and spinach didn't really deserve the name collard greens, but in the scheme of things it seemed a minor slip. Miss Moonshine's, which was packed on night five, is the real deal.
Better still, it's part of a mini-precinct that includes a kitchen where pop-up teams such as Lucky Taco, Coreano and Judge Bao, take over, by turns, for a night.
Wrap up warm and get there soon.
• Starters: $6-$16; meats $24-$32; sides $6-$9; desserts $12
Verdict: Meaty, beaty, big and bouncy.
By Joelle Thomson, joellethomson.com
Feel the big reds
Two tastings, one night. France or Italy?
Burgundy or Barolo? Second mortgage or half your right arm?
Half an arm is less far-fetched than it sounds. Barolo is a bit of an insider's red and made in northwest Italy from the nebbiolo grape, which is so highly prized the hands of thieves of it were chopped off a few hundred years ago. Now, it just feels like it costs that much.
Barolo is code for "second mortgage" or telling your partner those bottles you just stashed in the downstairs cupboard were "not much pricier than usual". Since Barolo is in even shorter supply than Burgundy, we headed to Paul Sharp's Auckland pad to try some. Barolo is made in Piemonte, whose name means foot of the mountains. This region is surrounded by 550km of snowy peaks, which act like a giant air conditioner to the high priced real estate that blankets the rolling foothills near the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco.
Aucklander Sharp has just begun to import wines from there, and my picks so far are: 2010 Cantina del Pino Barbaresco, $55; tastes like delicate red fruit (cranberries and cherries) with massive, dark, savoury, dried herb flavours; 2006 Castello di Verduno Barolo; classic, staunch, big, smooth tannins and surprising floral aromas.
The wines are available at Accent on Wine in Parnell or find out more at: wineconsultant.co.nz/.