The American south is known for many things, chief among them barbecue, good ol' southern hospitality and banana pudding. You'll also find excellent examples of all three inside a former machinery shed on Arthurs Seat Road on the Mornington Peninsula.
Red Gum BBQ is the brainchild of Martin and Melissa Goffin, barbecue enthusiasts (but neophytes) who began cooking in a small, portable smoker they took to weekend pop-ups and festivals. After a few years, they found a permanent home in Red Hill and opened their doors in February 2017.
The cavernous space is bright and cheerful, thanks to skylights in the high ceilings. Seating is communal, picnic-style tables, and the menu is designed to be shared. Staff advise one meat and one side per person as a rough guide, though we ordered a bit more than that and did not regret our choices. There's pulled pork, fall-apart beef brisket with a gorgeous smoke ring, pork ribs, half or quarter chickens and homemade jalapeño cheddar sausage, which was rich and savoury, with enough spice to warm the belly.
The meats are cooked for somewhere between six and ten hours in one of pitmaster Martin Goffin's five-metre-long, Texas-style, offset smokers. Martin had them custom built out of repurposed LPG tanks, and it says something about the vastness of the space that they sit unobtrusively in the corner.
In addition to the mainstays, there's a rotating roster of specials, like beef rib, crunchy fried chicken and Buffalo wings, though they needed more spice and a touch more vivid orange colour to truly connect emulate those you'll find in upstate New York. The rib was the standout, fork-tender and with a thick smoke ring and a pink interior. The meat was rich and sweet, thanks to all the molten fat that had dispersed into the fibres.
We are of the opinion that great barbecue should be accompanied with great barbecue sauce. Every table at Red Gum comes with three housemade varieties: Red Gum Classic, a sweet-tangy Kansas City-style sauce made from tomatoes, apple cider and molasses; Red Gum Gold, a tangy, mustardy sauce of the type you'd find in South Carolina; and Red Gum Fire, which echoes the vinegar-based sauces of North Carolina and is infused with cayenne peppers for heat. If you have a favourite, you're in luck, because all three are sold retail at the front of the restaurant.
On the side, macaroni and cheese skews creamy rather than sharply cheesy; the brisket chilli fries are a mountain of hot chips beneath shredded brisket and sour cream; and the potato salad is made with house-cured bacon and mustard. Garlic and dill pickles are non-negotiable acidic crunchy foils to every heart-stopping calorie you've ingested thus far.
As you'd expect in this part of the world, the drinks list is entirely local, with the wines coming from no more than half an hour away. Beers and ciders are also Victorian, and they come in either a 475ml jar or a Viking-sized 900ml.
Go with tradition for dessert with a creamy banana pudding of the kind you'd find in every barbecue joint in the American south. It's one of Melissa's favourite desserts, and it is likely to become one of yours, too.