By Nicole Shein | Photo by Brandon Vick
At Henrietta’s Sticky Lips BBQ, they don’t do things by halves. Nope, things here are huge: one ton of charcoal per month; 11,000 square feet; over 300 seats; and 53 beers on tap. And then there’s the Atomic Bomb Challenge, in which an intrepid eater faces down a daunting five pounds of food in the short span of 30 minutes.
Yet owner Howard Nielsen is also impressively attentive to detail. Take the gorgeous red oak bar, which he stained himself; the 150-year-old beams salvaged from a Sodus-area barn and used to frame a raised seating area; or the custom-built sound system that helps that area double as a stage when Sticky Lips serves up live music, Wednesday through Saturday nights.
Nielsen, an avid antiques collector, is a Rochester-area native, and shows his hometown pride through the local memorabilia on display in his restaurant. Old RTS signs, brewery advertisements, photographs, curiosities and conversation pieces (a stuffed black bear on skis, giant circus posters) provide a fun, fascinating backdrop for the Sticky Lips food experience.
First and foremost, there’s meat–and plenty of it. Ribs, beef brisket and pulled pork are all smoked, using a combination of apple and hickory woods, until they are tender and ready to be topped with one of Sticky Lips’s house-made sauces. While the All-American BBQ is probably the most popular, don’t skip the Cherry Bomb (well-balanced spice and sweetness) or the Betty’s Burning Lips (flavorful, with lingering medium heat). Ordering Uncle Frank’s chicken? Put the sauce aside, and focus instead on the crisp skin, juicy meat and smoke flavor that’s penetrated clear down to the bone, thanks to the aforementioned hardwood charcoal.
Sticky Lips stays true to the BBQ tradition with its sides–collards, mac-n-cheese, several varieties of fries, mayo- and mustard-based slaws, BBQ or black beans. Here, the requisite square of cornbread is firm yet moist, with a moderate level of sweetness and an appealing golden crust.
Unlike many meat-centric restaurants, whose only nod to vegetarians is a salad with some grilled salmon slapped on top, Sticky Lips offers several noteworthy veggie mains. Included are a bourbon-marinated BBQ tofu steak, a lentil burger served “garbage”-style over sides, and an etouffee of peppers, squashes, eggplant and okra, combined in a mild tomato-based sauce and served over deep-fried tofu slabs and white rice. It’s a thoughtful lineup of meatless selections, which should make vegetarian diners feel appreciated.
Also on the extensive menu are chicken and pulled-pork sandwiches, hamburgers, steaks, jambalaya, a few seafood options and the intriguing “Ultimate Mac & Cheese,” which adds Zweigle’s hot dogs and chili to the usual carb-and-cheddar mix. Appetizer aficionados can choose from the usual (nachos, fries with assorted toppings, chili, spinach-artichoke dip) and the unique (deep-fried pickles, grilled chicken drumsticks, and “Pig Wings,” fried pork ribs doused in Buffalo sauce).
Tempted by that Atomic Bomb Challenge? You’d better be hungry–it’s a pound each of hamburger, pulled pork and fries, eight strips of bacon, a half pound of meat sauce and a quarter pound of cheese, all piled on a giant bun with lettuce, tomato and onion.
Sticky Lips’s Henrietta location lives up to its billing as a “Juke Joint,” showcasing local bands whose music runs the gamut of genres: alternative, funk, rock, rockabilly, country and blues. There’s also line dancing on Tuesday nights, which Nielsen says “has become unbelievably huge”–like so many other things at this BBQ restaurant.