Even a blind man could find his way unassisted to the front doors of Hot Spot Barbecue on East La Rua, drawn in by the unmistakable scent of smoking meat spilling from the flues of big black smokers that never seem to rest. They do it up right here, taking the low and slow route to achieve meats so tender, juicy, and full of flavor that one bite will make you an addict. Barbecuing is an art form, a practice in patience that seems to standout in high relief against the frenetic pace of the world all around. There’s something comforting about its simplicity—its methods require nothing fancy or high tech. There are no touch screens or smart functions at play, no engineered gadgetry or elaborately designed systems behind its processes. True barbecue is the work of elements—of fire and wood—coupled with time and care. And those elements have long outlasted the advancements of the modern world to offer a reminder that sometimes life tastes better when you take it low and slow.
For the Hlubek family—a foursome made up of Jim and his wife Cheri as well as Jim’s parents, Paul and Sandi—that reminder is now a part of their daily lives. To hear Cheri tell the story, the idea to open Hot Spot was like the tender meat that fell off the bone while they themselves were taking it low and slow, waiting on God to give them a new direction for their future. And while their backgrounds in business may have been diverse, they all shared the commonality of knowing that the strongest businesses are all founded on one thing: serving people and making them happy. So when God gave them the answer they were waiting for, they literally went “whole hog.”
Since opening the restaurant in the summer of 2013, the Hlubeks have been tending their meats and their “Guests with a capital G” as Cheri calls them, “because they really are the main focus for us,” quickly becoming a local hot spot to get a great plate of food served with a side of true hospitality—not only from the Hlubeks, but from the staff that has become like family. “We’ve really been blessed with a wonderful staff, and they’ve been a huge part of our success,” Jim insists. Getting in on the family affair, Jim’s sister Paula joined the team not long after they fired up the pits, making their foursome an even more fantastic five.
Their time and their patience, along with their love for what they do and their unashamed and outspoken willingness to credit their success to God have been their secret sauce—and that’s a difference you can taste. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t in God’s plan, and sometimes, that’s really all we have to go on,” Cheri says. “But that’s been enough.” More than enough, perhaps, as they’ve been winning awards almost since day one, and their booming business is far from being a flash in the pan.
As one can plainly see—and smell—they’ve mastered the pit, and their big black smokers are hard at work earning their keep. Hour after hour they toil, turning raw cuts of pork and beef into heaven on a plate—meats that are fork-tender, juicy, and infused with the smoky notes of hickory and oak. At Hot Spot, they let the meat shine, using only a dry rub rather than mopping it with sauce during their time-intensive process. Saucing comes after the meats are pulled or cut, an optional add-on to meat that could stand well enough on its own—not that their house made sauce could be considered an afterthought. Quite the contrary, in fact, as bottles of both their black pepper laced tomato-based concoction and their dry rub spice blend are in high enough demand that the restaurant actually sells them. Perfect, perhaps, for enjoying with whatever leftovers you might have to take home—if there are any leftovers, that is.
Serving piles of tender hand-pulled pork, beef brisket, full cut pork spareribs, juicy sliced chicken breast, and a mild pork and beef sausage, Hot Spot is a carnivore’s dream come true, every morsel of meat cooked to perfection with just the right amount of smokiness. And whether you pick a plate or decide to double-fist a sandwich, each bite is full of the full-bodied flavor that comes through patience.
As any Southerner would know, no barbecue is complete without a side—or four—and Hot Spot has a menu full of side dishes so tasty it might be impossible to decide on a favorite. If cheese makes you melt, you’ll love their Smoked Ham Mac & Cheese, an ooey gooey mixture of creamy cheese, noodles, and chunks of smoked ham that’s worthy of licking the plate clean. Packed with pieces of brisket and pork their sweetly sauced brown sugar baked beans put plain ole’ pork and beans to shame, while the balanced fusion of mustard and mayo coating each forkful of their potato salad really creams the competition. For stew lovers, Hot Spot is an answer to prayer, full of sausage, brisket, and pork stewed together with veggies and spices in a tomato-based broth. And while meat holds their hearts, they also make a mean salad, perfect for pairing up with their smoky proteins or well-dressed enough to stand on its own two stems.
All that smokiness just might be begging for some sweetness to balance it out, and the dessert menu certainly has some sugar to share. Easily topping the charts is their Lemon Cream Pie, a light and creamy lemon confection in a graham cracker crumb crust topped with fresh whipped cream. Much like everything else they serve, no attention to detail is spared here, no corners cut in the interest of expediency. Each pie on their menu is a homemade slice of bliss, lovingly made by 84-year-old Paul, Hot Spot’s resident pie man and baker of all things in decadent. And if you want a cookie for cleaning your plate (or even just because), one of their fresh baked cookies will really make you crumble, each made with lots of love, lots of care…and lots of butter.
It has been a feast of faith, though they have certainly met their challenges and faced loss. They have laughed here and grown here. And when Sandi passed away in August of 2016, they most certainly grieved here. “She was the most enthusiastic of all of us when we started this journey,” Cheri says of her mother-in-law. “And we’ll always miss her—but we’ll never lose the gift she gave us with her beautiful spirit.” Getting down to the heart—or the meat—of the matter, Hot Spot is the culmination of a process, the answer to a prayer. And for the Hlubeks, that’s the most powerful flame keeping their smokers going.
Hot Spot Barbecue is located at 901 East La Rua Street, Pensacola, Florida 32501. Open Monday- Thursday 11:00 a.m.- 8:00 p.m., Friday-Saturdays 10:30 a.m.- 9:00 p.m. For more information, call (850) 497-6060 or Follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HotSpotPensacola/. For information on events or catering, call Cheri at (850) 712-7752.
Smoked Ham Mac & Cheese
1 lbs. elbow macaroni
1 1/4 cup mild shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/3 cup canned cheddar cheese sauce
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup whole milk
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
1/3 lbs. smoked ham, diced
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. black pepper
*1 cup mild shredded cheddar cheese (for topping)
In a large pot on high heat, bring water to a boil and add macaroni, cooking according to package directions until al dente. Drain water from pot and add remaining ingredients, stirring together until fully mixed. Pour noodle mixture into a large casserole dish and bake for 20 minutes at 250-275 degrees. Remove from oven, stir, and top with an additional 1/2- 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese before returning dish to the oven for an additional 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted well.