I'm no barbecue snob. I don't give a shit about barbecue terroir (e.g., "the only REAL barbecue is the kind they make in Knoxville/Kansas City/Lampasas")—and yes, I can call it "barbecue terroir" because reverse snobbery is still snobbery. But I do have standards. When someone sells me meat that's as sweet as a Jolly Rancher and as tough as the bottom of my shoe, they lose the right to call it barbecue.

The trouble is, that's what passes for barbecue in most places in Seattle. Not to name names (Jones), but Seattle has settled for so-so 'cue for so long, it's started to taste like the real thing. Sure, there are a few standouts—the Carolina pulled pork at Roy's in Columbia City makes life worth living on a cold, rainy afternoon—but those are the exceptions that prove the rule. To get decent meat around here, you have to drive out of town, and who wants to go to all that trouble for a plate of beans and ribs?

Enter King Creole—a tiny barbecue joint that not only does not suck but is right in town, in a still-seedy-but-gentrifying part of the Central District. (Plan to order to go or be prepared: The only seating is along an awkward counter that faces out onto Cherry Street.) To gild the lily, King Creole not only serves barbecue—brisket, hot links, beef and pork ribs, and chicken—they'll also sell you two kinds of gumbo, one with chicken and andouille sausage ($10.95), and one with shrimp and crab ($11.95).

My advice: Bring a friend, skip the somewhat lackluster sides, ask for plenty of napkins, and share. The chicken gumbo ($10.95)—roux-thickened, served in a paper take-out bowl—was an unusual deep green (shredded greens? okra?), its broth so flavorful the chunks of spicy, earthy andouille sausage felt almost superfluous. A brisket sandwich ($9.95, including two sides), served on a mushy white bun (the optimal vehicle for the messy, spicy meat), was the platonic ideal, the sandwich to which all brisket sandwiches aspire: the meat so tender you could cut it with a plastic spoon, neither greasy nor dry, and topped with just enough spicy barbecue sauce to make it sloppy.

On a second visit, a friend and I stuck to the meat: barbecued ribs, barbecued chicken, hot links, and another helping of brisket (two-meat combo dinners are all $13.95). It's no exaggeration to say the ribs were the best I've had this side of the Colorado River. Smoky, perfectly pink inside, and, yes, falling off the bone—as my dining companion exclaimed excitedly, "I think you could actually chew through these bones." The hot links were handmade, spicy and unevenly textured—nothing like the homogenous, hot-dog-consistency links you get at the Oberto outlet store. And though I generally eschew barbecued chicken (why buy the chicken when you can have the cow, especially for the same price?), I found King Creole's version a revelation: juicy, thoroughly infused with smoke flavor, and covered with just the right amount of that same spicy-sweet barbecue sauce. A wing and drumstick were almost good enough to make me forget about the ribs sitting next to them in their Styrofoam container.

A few gripes. First, the aforementioned sides: A Styrofoam tub of coleslaw ($3.95) was bland and a little dry—the result, perhaps, of sitting too long in an overchilled refrigerator. The baked beans ($3.95), meanwhile, were a sticky mess, drowning in a surfeit of barbecue sauce. Second, a place that serves gumbo ought to have hot sauce, preferably several varieties sitting out on the counter in a recommissioned six-pack box for easy dousing. Third, the portions just aren't quite big enough to justify King Creole's steep-ish prices: If you're going to sell me a bowl of gumbo for $11.95, it had better be enough to fill me up. A 12-ounce take-out container doesn't quite cut it. Finally (if you'll allow this Texan one tiny moment of barbecue snobbery), barbecue should come with bread: white bread, for sopping up the sauce.

But those are all minor kinks, hopefully to be worked out while King Creole gets its operation up and running. According to the owner—a charming former New Orleanian in a crisp white apron and a jaunty chef's hat—plans are in the works to open up the space next door and expand the menu to include smothered pork chops, smothered fish, and other Bayou specialties that make my mouth water just typing them.

A lot of restaurants are opening in this tough economy, and many won't survive. With any luck, though, long live King Creole. recommended