What do you get when you mix a 1950s-style soda fountain with some earnest young adults, a Huey Lewis soundtrack, and a heaping helping of pimento cheese? If you guessed 1985’s highest grossing film, Back to the Future, you are darn close. However, if you said, Mt. Pleasant’s Fountain Cafe and BBQ, you’d be right on the money.
On both of our visits to this Oakland Market diner, the barbecue sales pitch was in full swing as we walked through the doors, with the folks behind the counter making the bold claim that Fountain served the best ‘cue they’d ever had in their lives. Who could resist such a proposal?
At first we couldn’t decide what to get: the Southern smoked pulled pork with Carolina slaw ($8) or the barbecue plate ($10). We opted for the barbecue plate, which featured a pulled pork sandwich with a small side of potato salad. Topped with a sweet, vinegary red barbecue sauce, the pork itself was moist and juicy with subtle smoky notes. Its soft kaiser roll had been buttered and grilled, which offered some welcome staying power against the sog-inducing innards.
Further examination of the chalkboard menu revealed that the potato salad ($2.50 a la carte) was not just any old potato salad. Oh no. It’s lauded as the “World’s Best Potato Salad.” Made with skin-on potatoes, mayonnaise, relish, and — defying the laws of physics — flavorless bacon — it was in desperate need of seasoning.
Despite the potato salad’s failings, the menu features some creative offerings. While we were tempted by the Egg Salad BLT ($8.99) — it seemed like a winning combo — the Pimento BLT ($8.99) seemed like the better option. We were wrong. If you’ve ever dreamed of sliding down a waterfall of cheese into a pool of cheese only to climb out under the hot cheese sun and towel off with some cheese, this sandwich is for you. The lettuce and tomato? Apparently, they would only get in the way, so they kindly left them off. That said, the cheese was pleasantly zesty with a slight after-burn, but the massive portion size, plus the thin bacon, ketchup — who puts ketchup on a pimento cheese sandwich — and a deluge of mayo, was like a heart attack wedged between two slices of lightly toasted white bread.
Similarly, it was around this time that the impulse to add on a chili dog ($3) began to look like a cry for help, but we did anyway. The thin, red dog was smothered in a dense, meaty chili. Nary a piece of tomato nor sliver of onion was spotted, and the ground chuck and chili powder took center stage.
Service, meanwhile, was friendly if a bit smothering. Guests can expect to be checked on three or four times, at least, but honest feedback is challenging. Most interactions are phrased as rhetorical questions, such as, “Isn’t that the best [insert whatever you are eating] you’ve ever had in your life?”
Although the meal never quite reached those heights, the Reuben ($8.99) was quite excellent. With no substitutions, replacements, unexpected creative touches, or, yes, ketchup, the lightly buttered, grilled rye bread was filled with Swiss-topped pastrami, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing. It’s exactly how it should be: melty, crunchy, savory, sour, and satisfying.
The homemade slaw ($1.50) is also worth ordering. It triggered in us an immediate bout of buyer’s remorse over our previous purchase of the slaw-less barbecue platter. Made with mayonnaise, yet still possessing a dominant vinegar profile, the finely chopped cabbage and carrots are mixed with big chunks of pickle, chives, and cracked black pepper, rendering it at once comforting and bright.
Willing to give the homemade pimento cheese another chance to wow, we ordered the Carolina Burger ($8). The star of this burger was the large, thin, hand-formed, well-seasoned Angus beer patty. Surprisingly, the shredded slivers of cheddar cheese valiantly resisted melting despite direct contact with the piping hot, freshly grilled patty. Nonetheless, the meat-to-cheese ratio was on point and the zesty pimento added a subtle zing. Topped with succulent tomato, crisp romaine lettuce, slices of red onion, and bacon, you can’t go wrong here.
But as good as the Carolina burger was, the Fried Chicken Club ($8) was a bit of a head scratcher.
When hungering for a club sandwich, something like “toasted white bread with sliced poultry, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise, and cut into quarters” comes to mind. Modern versions frequently have two layers which are separated by an additional slice of bread. Using that definition, Mt. Pleasant’s Fountain Cafe’s was more like a chicken burger. And like some of the other sandwiches, no ketchup was spared during its construction. Topped with melted American cheese, the breaded white meat was placed on a soft Kaiser roll and garnished with big slices of tomato, lettuce, and more of that thin bacon. All and all, it was an acceptable chicken burger, minus the fact we weren’t expecting to eat one.
The Fountain Cafe is just a few months old and no doubt is still getting its act together — the application of condiments need to be reeled back in for starters — the barbecue shows promise and the Reuben and slaw are on the money.