‘Guests are Not Just a Number’: Bryan’s Barbecue wins awards for atmosphere and good food

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Look around the airy and bright interior of Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue, and the wood walls are covered with awards from the eatery’s 11 years in Cave Creek.

Owner/chef Bryan Dooley chalks it up to good food and the staff’s caring nature.

“We’ve made a conscious effort in the beginning to make sure that we take people’s names,” Dooley says.

“Guests are not just a number. We want to get to know everybody by name here. We’re a small town. We like to be part of the community. Donna and I have worked really hard to create an atmosphere—especially one that was really welcoming.”

Dooley’s talents shine on the limited menu, which is offered in a cafeteria-style setup.

Sandwiches ($9.50 to $13.50)—filled with a quarter pound of pulled pork, beef brisket, pulled chicken or “pulled” squash—are served on a toasted bun with a choice of one 6-ounce side.

Plates and combos are available as well with a half-barbecue chicken ($14.95), half-pound beef brisket ($18.50), two-meat combo ($17.95), rib and meat combo ($17.95), pork ribs half or full slab ($17.95 or $26.95). These come with a choice of two sides—baked potato salad, olive coleslaw, six-pack cowboy beans, French fries or black-eye brisket chili.

Barbecue chicken is available as a whole or half, individually, for $15.95; pork ribs are whole or half slab, $24.95 or $15.95.

Pulled pork, beef brisket and pulled chicken ($16.95 to $17.95) are available by the pound as well.

Everything is homemade, and the recipes are Dooley’s original recipes.

“I would say our ribs are our signature dish,” Dooley says. “We have a small menu on purpose so we can really just concentrate on just the barbecue.

“We are a traditional barbecue restaurant. I’m the chef, but we try to have fun, with little twists and turns on our menu. But if I had to choose one signature dish, it would be our ribs, which were recently chosen as best ribs in Arizona by the Food Network.”

On special this summer at Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue is a summer tomato sandwich, which Dooley says is popular for a meat-based barbecue restaurant.

“It has a huge cult following,” he says. “That’s kind of a fun thing.”

A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Dooley was inspired to open a barbecue restaurant by his grandfather. He remembers collecting hickory from the woods around his grandfather’s house. Afterward, he’d watch him slow smoke pork ribs on a red brick barbecue pit. Dooley’s grandmother created signature barbecue sauce in the kitchen.

Just as important to Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue is Dooley’s wife, Donna. The two met in Texas, where he was a grill cook and she was the restaurant’s cashier.

“The setup in the kitchen was really weird,” she recalls with a laugh. “So we stared at each other all day. We moved up here and we worked at the Fairmont Scottsdale.”

The Dooleys knew it was time to open their own restaurant after he was injured ice skating with their children.

“I fell backward and broke my ankle,” he says. “I was in a cast for several months and I wouldn’t work in the kitchen in the hotel. It was off work for a while. Donna said, ‘Hey, you don’t want to go back, do you? You want to open that restaurant you’ve been talking about.’ We took advantage of that time that I wasn’t working—the first time in many years, 13 years—to think about it. She really pushed me just to make that decision and do it.”

Donna shares, “I had him trapped in a cast, and he couldn’t do anything. I drove him around town and looked at all the vacant buildings.”

A Realtor introduced the couple to the current spot in Las Tiendas off East Cave Creek Road.

“My whole career was about fine dining restaurants,” he says. “But we decided we wanted to do something a little bit more family friendly with comfort food.

“Donna had the ideas for the decor and what this restaurant was going to look like even before we started. Everything fell together relatively simply—except we opened during the recession back then.”

They acknowledge that couples who work together don’t necessarily stay together, but the Dooleys make it work. Their children, who are 21 and 23, help out around the restaurant.

Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue survived through the pandemic because, Dooley says, “barbecue translates well for takeout.”

“We did well enough to keep our head above water, and our customers were extremely generous with their gratuity,” he says. “It really helped maintain the staff.”

Now that the dining room is open, tables are socially distanced at 50% capacity.

“We pulled tables out,” she says. “We’ve made a waiting area so people don’t have to sit too close to each other. It’s been an interesting transition, an interesting year.

“We also had the fires. That was really scary.”

The Dooleys considered opening a second restaurant, but they stress they want to concentrate on this one and not spread themselves too thin.

“We want to make sure that we maintain the quality of the food and the service and everything here,” she says. “We’re closed Monday and Tuesday, and that’s great. We still come in one day or so and work, but we, fortunately, like each other.”   

Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue

Las Tiendas

6130 E. Cave Creek Road, Suite 2,
Cave Creek

480-575-7155, bryansbarbecue.com

11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Wednesday to Sunday

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