Retirement didn’t suit Tom Carfrae.
Not long after the founder of Tomaso’s Pizza decided to pass that business on to his son Nick, he realized slowing down wasn’t really his thing.
So Carfrae, 65, decided to jump back into the restaurant business, opening Ez Fast BBQ in early May.
The tiny white building, painted with “American Gothic” on the front, would be easy to miss by drivers zipping by on Blairs Ferry Road. It is small, just 250 square feet, and tucked into the corner of the Blue Lagoon Car Wash parking lot.
A meat smoker sits outside the hut where staff serve up fresh barbecue through two windows, one for drive-through, the other for walk-up traffic. There is a picnic bench out front, but nowhere else to sit — this is lunch on the go. The menu is short and to the point — a pulled pork sandwich, a brisket sandwich or ribs, with coleslaw or potato salad as side dishes. Customers can also order meat by the pound, and the business offers catering.
“I think of this as a food truck without wheels. It’s tight, fast and a small menu,” he said. “Our whole deal is fresh.”
That means the meat is smoked daily — the ribs go on at 6 a.m., and the pork butts and brisket cook overnight — and the side dishes are made from scratch. Keeping the menu concise makes it easier to keep that feasible — they start serving at 11 a.m. and stop when the food is gone, usually around 1 or 2 p.m.
Just as pizza was a hobby before becoming a career when Carfrae opened Tomaso’s 21 years ago, barbecue has long been one of his interests. He started out cooking for friends and family, then began learning more, traveling to shows and entering contests, eventually becoming a Master Judge for the Kansas City Barbecue Society.
“I’ve been up to my eyeballs in barbecue for a long time,” he said.
He uses oak and hickory wood to smoke the meat. Oak, he said, is very mild, while hickory has a lot of flavor. By mixing the two, he can control the flavor of the meat.
The sauce he serves alongside the meat comes in two versions — mild and zippy, aka “sweet or sweet-with-heat.” He’s working on a hotter version to kick the flavor up a notch. He buys the sauce base from Kansas City and then adds his own flavoring to get the variations he’s looking for.
For the meat itself, he sticks to a salt-and-pepper rub, a “Texas-style” influence. But he said he takes a little bit of influence from all the barbecue traditions he’s tasted over the years.
“You get this far north, it’s hard to be a purist,” he said. “What I do here is automatically an amalgam of every place I’ve ever been and eaten. I really like the variety of education I’ve had.”
WHERE: 288 A Blairs Ferry Road NE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 11 a.m. until sold out, Monday to Saturday
DETAILS: (319) 899-8537, ezfastbbq.com