It’s barbecue — Northwest-style

The Pacific Northwest is known for a lot of things, but barbecue is not one of them.

But Ben Howlett is out to change that.

“We’re Northwesterners, so we love the Northwest but the Northwest isn’t famous for its barbecue,” Howlett said. “You don’t run around and find a lot of Northwest barbecue sauce. But if ever anyone is going to make the Northwest famous for it’s barbecue, we’re going to try and make that happen.”

Howlett and his wife Phyllis have brought their unique take on barbecue and all the fixin’s to Port Orchard, taking over the vacated Fiesta Mexican Restaurant at 682 SW Bay Street with the newly opened Fat Rascal’s barbecue.

And while the last couple of attempts in that location have failed, Howlett is confident his product will flourish.

“We’ve gone through the issues with the naysayers that say, ‘What makes you think you can make a go of that place when nobody else has for some time?’” Howlett said. “We’re of the thought process that if you provide people with a good product and something that doesn’t exist in the area, then they are going to come to you. And I don’t know of another barbecue place in the area that makes barbecue like we make it.”

Howlett is somewhat of a barbecue expert, having literally tried just about every style one could think of. Besides running his own place in Virginia years ago, he’s sampled the best barbecue that Texas and Kansas City have to offer, as well as the different stylings found in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and the Carolinas.

“I’ve cooked barbecue and I’ve sat at the feet of the masters and the wannabe masters all over the Southern United States,” Howlett said. “Everywhere where people make barbecue and are famous for barbecue and sauces, I’ve eaten it or prepared it or learned about it from the people that made it.”

With all that in mind, Howlett set out to create a unique Northwest-style that takes from the best of the best. And, he said, it would all come down to the sauce.

“Phyllis and I spent about three weeks making sauce,” Howlett said. “And what we decided to do was take the best of every sauce regionally from around the country … and create a fusion and its Northwest. It’s Fat Rascal’s Northwest barbecue sauce, and if anyone knows sauce, they’ll taste different aspects from different areas.”

And the former owner of Jensen’s Smoked Meats and Fish in Bremerton seems to have found a pleasing one.

While preparing for a soft-opening on July 15, Howlett cooked up enough food to last the weekend – or so he thought. By 5 p.m. on that first day, Howlett found himself out of food and spent the rest of the weekend in front of his brand new, 17-foot grill cooking for a packed house each day.

While Howlett, the pitmaster, cooks up the usual barbecue fare – ribs, brisket, chicken and sausage -  over a hickory fire, Andrew Gordon, who worked as a chef for six years at Port Orchard’s Family Pancake House, oversees the fixin’s, like hot ’n smokey or sweet ’n smokey beans, cole slaw, fries and the like.

Howlett has changed little of the existing building besides adding a few more tables.

The outdoor eating area will remain open while the back bar will be converted into a fountain area.

And while things have been constantly busy the last week and a half, Howlett said catering is definitely in the future. And maybe even marketing his own barbecue sauce.

But for now, he said, he’ll stick to what he does best – feeding people.

“Our philosophy, as small business owners, has always been that small businesses succeed when they find out what they do best and do more of it,” Howlett said. “We’re doing what we do best — making barbecue and feeding people.”

Fat Rascal’s is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

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