Dig in at Cedar River, and pass the sauce and wet wipes

Let's clear this up before the angry letters roll in. When it comes to barbecue debates, my answer is: It's all good. Texas BBQ? Memphis-style? North Carolina? All fine in my book. Beef? Pork? Dry rub? Wet mop? Yes, please.

Cedar River Smokehouse in Renton aims to satisfy a variety of barbecue fans with their Texas-style 'cue, and judging by the lunch crowds, they're succeeding. The line moves fast, though, and within a few minutes they'll call your number and you can pick up your food at a window. I like picking food up from a window, as long as it's not a drive-through.

At lunch, it's mostly sandwiches (all $5.75): brisket, turkey, pork, hot link. Or go for a half-chicken ($7.25) or quarter-chicken ($4.75). Lunch comes with one side, classic barbecue accompaniments like beans, chili, corn, macaroni salad or corn bread. They're missing my favorite side, greens.

At dinner prices are a little higher but still under $11 unless you want a three- or four-meat platter ($13.95), and the larger plates of meat at dinner come with two sides.

Aside from the nice exposed rafters of the ceiling, the decor at Cedar River can be described in two words: model cars. A couple dozen of them are displayed on the wall, a testament to co-owner Angie Strodtbeck's hobby. Business seems to be equally split between sit-down and takeout.

What really endeared me to Cedar River is their sauce-on-the-side policy. There are three choices of barbecue sauce (mild, medium and hot), and I'm a big fan of sweet and spicy Texas sauce. But when I'm served a rack of ribs already slathered in sauce, I feel like someone is trying to pull something. A lot of sins can be obscured with sauce.

The Smokehouse doesn't play that game: sauce comes on the side, so you can perform whatever meat verification ritual suits you, then add just as much sauce as you require.

So I'm not going to wander into a quagmire by telling you that Cedar River Smokehouse is authentically Texan or anything other than authentically tasty.

Pork and hot link sandwich: Slice a hot link, put it on a roll, and top it with smoked, chopped, pork shoulder, and you've got this unlikely sandwich, which is less over-the-top than it sounds. With the snap of the sausage cushioned by soft pork bits, it achieves meat synergy, especially with a hit of the hot barbecue sauce. Comes with one side; I chose cornbread, which was a sweet, dense individual-size loaf, also good for dunking in barbecue sauce. Did I mention Cedar River has really good barbecue sauce?

Half pound St. Louis pork ribs lunch: Cedar River's well-trimmed ribs are exceptionally tender and need only a dab of sauce. The side of sweet, one-dimensional baked beans was disappointing: too much ketchup, not enough of anything else.

Half pound beef brisket: Beef is what Texas barbecue is all about, but this brisket didn't make me pine for the Lone Star State (OK, I've never been there, and Texas scares me, but still). Nothing particularly wrong with it, but the brisket is a little light on spice rub and a little chewy — it's austere in a way that barbecue shouldn't be.

Brownie: For dessert, consider more meat rather than this gluey frosted brownie. (There's also a peach cobbler, $1.56, which I haven't tried.)

Itemized bill, meal for two

Pork and hot link sandwich $5.75

Half pound St. Louis pork ribs lunch $5.75

Half pound beef brisket $5.95

Brownie $1.25

Tax $1.74

Total $20.44

Matthew Amster-Burton: mamster@mamster.net

Cedar River Smokehouse

304 Wells Ave. S. Renton. 425-255-4820



Hours: Monday-Saturday: 11 a.m.- 8 p.m. Sunday: Noon- 8 p.m.

Beer / credit cards: Visa, MC / no smoking / no obstacles to access.

Rating: recommended