Archives: November 2006
A Taste of Allston
I thought I'd do something different and post three reviews of places that are all in the same area in Allston, about three blocks from each other. These include the Sports Depot in Allston (on Cambridge Street at the start of Harvard Avenue), the Sunset Grill (on Brighton Avenue at the corner of Harvard Avenue), and an update for SoulFire (further down Harvard Avenue near Commonwealth Avenue). I already reviewed Redneck's BBQ at the corner of Brighton Avenue and Harvard Avenue, but it's not worth another visit.
There are now 88 reviews available. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Well, there was the obvious: turkey, stuffing and gravy for a nice Thanksgiving dinner. Then on Saturday, there was the aforementioned SoulFire visit after postponing a tentative BBQ lunch. I was simply too full from the past few days of eating to eat out for both lunch and dinner.
On Sunday, my wife and I hit the Sports Depot, just a few blocks away from SoulFire, to catch some of the Patriots-Bears game. I'd been there several years and many plasma TVs ago. Man, they must have had more than 40 TVs in that place. Oh, and the barbecue? It was about what I expected, with the chicken a little better than you'd guess from the photo and the ribs a little worse. I should have a review by next week, with some dark and grainy photos due to the poor lighting.
I Was Your First
I love the excitement of a new restaurant opening, especially if it's barbecue. Somehow I managed to be the very first customer or among the first at these joints:
SoulFire, Allston MA: first customer ever
Spitfires, Canton MA: first customer ever
All Star Sandwich Bar, Cambridge MA: first day (and earlier preview)
LJ's BBQ, Pawtucket RI: first day at Pawtucket location
Firefly's BBQ, Framingham MA: first day at Framingham location
Texas BBQ Company, Northboro MA: second day
Uncle Willy's BBQ, New Haven CT: first week at New Haven location
Actually, I would have made it on the first day at Texas BBQ Company, but it was the hottest day of the year, with high humidity and temperatures around 110F.
Reviews for Texas BBQ Company and SoulFire went up fairly early, but in the last few weeks I've returned for meals at both.
Last night, it was SoulFire, and it was cool to see some black and white photos up on the walls. It would have been even cooler to have a beer with my barbecue, but it seems they're still a few weeks away from getting that beer and wine license. The food was pretty good overall, with the collards a little sweeter (molasses?), the beans a little meatier, the cole slaw less vinegary and more oniony, and the catfish juicier. Ribs and pulled pork were good: not as good as the previous bests I've had there but much better than their few off days. I tried the burnt ends for the first time, and they were decent, but tasted more like pot roast than barbecued burnt ends. The sauces were strill hot and still good, with some nice new additions: hot pepper relish and a shaker of dry rub. Overall, a good meal; I'm looking forward to going back.
A few weeks earlier it was Texas BBQ Company. The cornbread was much better, the service was better and the brisket and pulled pork lived up to their earlier promise. I'm looking forward to returning here again too.
A Time For Thanks
Sure, there's a lot that could be different or better in my life, but I'm very thankful for what I have. And grateful. And appreciative...
A Time to Eat
Today, it's time to trade in some pork for some poultry. Just about every BBQ restaurant is closed today, but Old Devil Moon in New York City will be serving a Thanksgiving dinner from 2PM to 7PM.
A Time to Eat ALL You Can Eat
The anticipation of today's feasting inspired me to compile this list of "All You Can Eat" specials offered at barbecue joints throughout the region. There are probably more, soif I missed any, please let me know.
Barnstormer BBQ - ribs and wings - Wednesday nights
Bendle-Bean's - ribs - Friday nights
Big Bubba's BBQ - ribs and chicken - Monday and Tuesday nights
Bob's Southern Bistro - brunch buffet - Sundays
Brother Jimmy's - ribs and beer - Sundays
Brother Jimmy's - rib tips, wings and beer - Mondays
Bub's - side dish buffet every day
Chili Head - wings - Wednesdays
Cookhouse - pick 3 BBQ meats - Tuesdays and Thursdays
Firefly's - brunch buffet - Sundays
Firefly's - ribs and chicken - Monday nights
Firefly's - lunch buffet - weekdays
Jake's Dixie Roadhouse - BBQ - Sundays (and Mondays?)
Lester's - ribs (wet or dry) and wings - Wednesday nights
Linwood - ribs - Monday nights
Muddy River Smokehouse - ribs - Monday nights
Redbones - wet ribs (leftovers from previous day) - weekday lunch and early evenings
Russell's Ribs - babybacks (Monday), beef ribs (Tuesday), pork ribs (Wednesday), chicken (Thursday)
Southbound BBQ - lunch buffet - Tuesday through Friday
Uncle Willie's - buffet - every day (Waterbury only)
My Favorite Kind of Sauce
"If life was a buffet I'd go back for seconds"
- G. Love, 2006
Last night in Boston I saw G. Love and Special Sauce, my favorite contemporary band. If I could figure out how to get back in time to do some Thanksgiving cooking, I'd consider another G. Love concert tonight in New York, where I could also get a RUB fix before the show.
G. Love is my music of choice for long distance BBQ research trips and for sitting on the porch tending the smoker. Defying classification into any one genre, it's a mix of folk, blues, rock, jazz, reggae and hip hop. No matter what you call it, it's a laid back sound that oozes summertime. With hits like "Baby's Got Sauce" and "Cold Beverage", G. Love involves food and drink into his lyrics more than any artist I can think of, including Jimmy Buffett. Lemonade is an obsession: it's referenced on at least 6 different songs, tattooed on G's upper arm and is the title of his latest CD release. His catalog, now spanning 7 albums, also mentions special sauce ("The Recipe"), sandwiches ("The Fishing Song"), caviar ("This Ain't Living"), Thai noodles ("Front Porch Lounger"), ham and swiss ("Fat Man"), milk and cereal ("Milk and Cereal"), chicken lo mein ("Soda Pop"), and Eggo waffles ("The Roaches").
I've been a little busy with a family project, so for the second weekend in a row I didn't try any new places. Instead, I returned for meals at Firefly's in Framingham on Friday (burger), Chili Head BBQ in West Bridgewater MA on Saturday (ribs, chicken, sausage) and Blue Ribbon in West Newton Sunday (brisket, sausage). I did take some time to update some of the earliest reviews to include more photos and links to larger versions of some of the existing photos. Remember, clicking on most of the meat photos gets you a larger image that's 1200 pixels wide. These photo updates include Memphis Roadhouse in South Attleboro MA, Armadillo Depot in Worcester MA and Uncle Pete's in Revere MA.
There are also a few new items in the News page.
Double Secret Probation
All Star Sandwich Bar in Cambridge has been making some major tweaks to the menu in the last week or so. Some are good, some not so good, and some dreadful.
First, the good. From day one (literally) I was a fan of All Star Sandwich Bar's chili that featured smoked brisket. With so much spice (cumin got the leading role) yet only a mild heat, it was very different from any other chili I've had. And it was great. Then they added tomato, cranked up the heat level but took away the spices that made it so distinctive. No longer unique, but still great. Now they've returned to the flavor of the first incarnation but with the heat of the second. This is the best of the three. Memo to Chris and Jim: stop messing with it, it's perfect.
Now the sort-of-good mixed in with some not-so-good. The burgers, which I rank among the best I've ever had, now come with cole slaw and fries instead of cole slaw and panzanella salad. Nice. The only problem is they raised the price $2, making the standard burger $10 and the bacon cheeseburger $13 now. Ouch.
Now the dreadful. The basic menu has been scaled back in the name of quality and efficiency. This is to allow the crew to make the sandwiches better and faster, but other than the Reuben, the sandwiches that are left don't really excite me. Some sandwiches, like the Clogger, the Gobbler and various griddled cheeses, are off the menu. Others, like the Texas Reuben (my favorite), the Pastraminator (my 2nd favorite), the Atomic Meatloaf (my 3rd), the Pulled Pork (my 4th) and the Monte Cristo, have been relegated to once-a-week status as specials.
In my Joints directory there are some places that are hardcore barbecue joints and others that are only peripherally barbecue. Realistically speaking, All Star is (or at least was) in the latter group. The bare minimum for inclusion, in my mind, is either having at least two barbecue meats on the menu or having "Ribs" or "BBQ" or "Smokehouse" or "Soul" or some similar iconic reference in the restaurant name. All Star made the cut on the basis of its pulled pork sandwich and its Texas Reuben (with sliced smoked brisket). Now that these are only available on a part time basis, the only true barbecue holdout is the chili. It's great chili, but it's not enough.
As I type this on Thursday afternoon, I'm wearing my All Star Sandwich Bar shirt. I'm the biggest All Star Sandwich fan there is. With the exception of the Cuban, every sandwich I've had there has been absolutely wonderful. Their burgers are juicy, beefy and delicious. Their chili rocks. But I want my sandwiches back.
I'm still a fan, and I'll be back, but I'm a little sad and disappointed.
What a Difference a (Time of) Day Makes
Or the day of the week. Or the passing of days.
Some joints (RUB in New York, Blue Ribbon in the Boston area, and Goody Cole's in New Hampshire all come to mind) are just as good at lunch as they are at dinner. Some joints are noticeably different at different times of the day. It's not that they're mailing it in at lunchtime (although some do). It's a simple barbecue fact that at most places, given the cooking times required, some meats crossing the counter today will have been smoked yesterday, possibly visiting the refrigerator before you eat them. Brisket may be your best bet at lunchtime: if loaded into the smoker in the early evening, it will be ready to eat just before lunch the next day.
A few joints, like East Coast Grill in Cambridge MA, don't even bother opening at lunch, allowing more focus on the evening meal.
I wish it wasn't always the case, but timing really matters. I try to visit joints at night and at busy times for that reason. I admit that some of my New York reviews suffer a bit from having lunches than dinners there. In all my reviews, I try to always mention whether the meals were eaten at lunch or at dinner, and even whether it was a weekday or over the weekend. You can decide whether to factor in that info or not.
Many joints simply change over time. Some start out strong, with an enthusiastic pitmaster who's always in the joint, only to lose a little focus with exansion or changes in personnel. Others start out slowly and eventually find their groove.
Today I posted two more reviews, for Tejano Loco in Ayer MA (west of Boston, outside 495) and Lester's BBQ in Burlington MA. Both joints serve as good examples of timing's effects. On a Saturday lunch visit, I wasn't impressed by Tejano Loco's meats. On a dinner visit a month later, everything was much better, as if I had gone to a different restaurant. Lester's also didn't wow me on my first visit (a weeknight). But I happened to be in the neighborhood about 9 months later, decided to try them again (Saturday lunch) and I was very impressed. I returned the next week and now include Lester's in my regular rotation.
There are now 86 reviews available. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
My Most Wanted List
There are still many New England and New York BBQ joints I've yet to hit. Although I don't already maintain a formal list as such, I thought it would be fun to compile
my "most wanted" list. Here are my top ten New England and New York BBQ joints I need to check out in the coming weeks:
#1 Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, NYC
A few readers reminded me that this is a gaping hole on my site. The
original is in Syracuse, another branch is in Rochester and the most
recently built outpost is in Harlem. With a recipe book, legendary wings,
and ribs many New Yorkers swear by, Dinosaur is easily the single most
"important" joint that I need to visit. www.dinosaurbarbque.com
#2 Buck's Naked, Freeport ME
I've heard wonderful things about this joint on Chowhound. It's possible
that this joint is praised solely because there's nothing better to compare it to in the area, but I strongly suspect the praise is warranted.
#3 Big Bubba's BBQ, Uncasville CT
The slot machines and spectacle of Mohegan Sun shopping are enough of a lure to justify a roadtrip, and possibly enough to
even offset a disappointing meal. But with BBQ legend Paul Kirk instrumental in getting it off the ground and a strong recommendation from BBQ competitor Ted Lorson (of QHaven), Big Bubba probably will do just fine. www.bigbubbasbbq.com
#4 Tremont 647, Boston MA
Chef/owner Andy Husbands is a member of the IQue competition team, one of
the most formidable on the circuit today. I admit it, I've been to Tremont
647 many times, enjoying the signature momos, fish wrapped in a banana leaf
and one of the best bread baskets in Boston. But I haven't been there since
Andy closed his BBQ restaurant Rouge, and I'm looking forward to seeing what
the "180" ribs are all about. I also would not be disappointed to see a reappearance of those amazing lamb ribs Rouge featured as passed appetizers at a few of their special Monday night dinners. www.tremont647.com
#5 Sausage Heaven, Manchester NH
According to a friend whose opinion I trust, this store in downtown
Manchester has been offering phenomenal sausages for years. Now they serve
weekday lunch barbecue that he's less enamored with, but I'm willing to take a chance, knowing I'll probably bat .500. If not, there's always KC's Rib Shack nearby. www.sausageheaven.com
#6 Waterfront Alehouse, NYC
This one was recommended by Hill Country BBQ's Robby Richter, one of the
rising stars of competition barbecue. This is more of a joint that serves barbecue than a barbecue joint, and that's fine by me. The fact that they serve two kinds of chili is a huge plus. I'm there. www.waterfrontalehouse.com
#7 Willie B's, Bayshore NY
This new take-out only joint has received raves from more than a few Chowhound readers, plus an endorsement from White Trash BBQ. With Smokin' Al's and Tennessee Jack's right around the corner, this could be the leadoff batter in a holiday BBQ crawl. www.williebsbbq.com
#8 Finkerman's BBQ, Montpelier VT
This is a long drive and might just be another one of those "it's good
because there's nothing else better around it" places, but if it's good enough to be featured in a rib book that includes just 10 joints in New England and New York, it's worth a try. www.finkermans.com
#9 Hog House, Huntington Station NY
There are just too many positive comments on the Roadfood and Chowhound boards to ignore.
#10 Bank Street Roadhouse, New London CT
I know nothing about the food, but a quick perusal of their website convinces me
I might like the service. www.bankstreetroadhouse.com
Four of the servers at Bank Street Roadhouse
I had a busy weekend dealing with a bunch of family matters, so I didn't travel all that far or vist any new joints. My wife and I had a Friday night dinner at Firefly's in Framingham MA and on Saturday I lunched at Blue Ribbon in West Newton MA.
On a rainy Sunday, after doing a lot of errands, I wasn't in a mood to expend a lot of effort on dinner, so we checked out the new Carolina and Memphis babybacks at the Chili's right down the street. Evidently, they weren't in a mood to expend a lot of effort on dinner either, because the ribs were horrible, even by their standards.
Let me say once again, just to be clear: I only went to Chili's because it was close and convenient. Chili's isn't barbecue.
Chain of Fools
Speaking of Chili's, you may have noticed that there are no chains listed in the Joints directory. It's not that there are too many to list, it's that I simply don't believe in them. I hate chains. In most cases, the food isn't smoked, and in all cases, there just isn't any care or passion put into the product. Every year or so, I'll go out of curiosity, and every time I'm disappointed, even though I go in with low expectations.
There is a slight distinction between chains that serve ribs (Applebee's, Chili's, and the like) and "barbecue" chains like Texas Roadhouse, Smokey Bones and Famous Dave's. The second group puts out a much better product than the first, and I think Famous Dave's is the best of that bunch, but they're still rib factories that pump out food without love. Being small and authentic doesn't always guarantee a better meal, and I've got some war stories that prove it, but I'll visit the mom and pop joint over a chain every time.
Bucking the Trend
I was getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks the other day and was amused by their posters for the "Pairs with" campaign. It used to be that
they'd feature a specialty coffee and announce that it "pairs with" their
cappuccino fudge brownie or whatever, just like a certain wine pairs with a
certain meat or fish. Now it's out of control, with posters of a maple
mochiatto that "pairs with" soccer kicks??? They should either stick with
pairing it with food or at least make it accurate enough to say "Pairs with
cellphone clutching, Volvo SUV-driving soccer moms" or maybe "Pairs with
highfallutin, designer eyewear clad, hipper-than-thou barristas".
In spite of their annoying corporate feel, I think Starbucks has the best coffee available. It's always hot, always fresh, always intensely flavored, always
good and always served by people who, despite the attitude, come across as
knowledgable, intelligent and passionate about the product. Being a
Bostonian, I was a loyal Dunkin' Donuts fan for decades. I tried Starbucks a
few times years ago and thought the coffee tasted like the shavings from a
pencil sharpener, steeped in boiling water. Eventually, I noticed DD's rapid
decline in quality and service, so I began to look elsewhere out of
necessity. I chose Starbucks grudgingly, but you know what? I liked it the
second time around, soon growing to love it.
So what does Starbucks have to do with barbecue? Plenty. First, Starbucks
coffee is great in a dry rub. One of my favorite homemade rubs is 20% fresh
ground Starbucks coffee beans, and it always draws raves from my guests.
Second, my experience serves as a perfect example of re-examining a place
you originally didn't like, and realizing it might be really very good. There are
some barbecue joints that may appear really hokey or overly commercial that
deliver surprisingly good food. So go ahead and hate the atmosphere, but you
might just love the 'cue. And there are places whose barbecue might seem
alien at first, whether for its style or smoke intensity. Try it again
someday and you might just love it. And if your taste buds haven't changed,
maybe the joint has; there are many that improve over time.
A New Smoker for Lester's
On Tuesday night a friend and I visited Lester's Roadside Bar-B-Q in Burlington MA, where we took advantage of their Tuesday combo deal to try a bunch of meats. Lester's recently installed a new J&R smoker, and after our meal we got a chance to watch owner Doug Shaffer load some briskets. I've had my review for Lester's in the works for a few months now and hope to post it by next week.
BBQ Near Fenway
Today I posted my review for Boston's Linwood Grill, the only urban BBQ joint I know of that has free parking. This brings the total to 84 reviews. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Boston BBQ fans will find both of these links amusing. One features Steve Uliss of Firefly's in a promo for the Phantom Gourmet. The other is Geoff Janowski of Blue Ribbon BBQ in a contest spot for TV Diner. Both restaurant review shows air Saturday mornings in the Boston area. I think both are worth watching, even though I take a lot of their ratings (especially the Phantom's BBQ ratings) with a grain of salt and a few handfuls of rub.
the Phantom spot
the TV Diner spot
Beefing up the Directory
I added a bunch of joints to the Joints directory in the Long Island section: Barbecue Bill's in Greenport, Jackson's in Commack, RS Jones in Merrick, Spicy's in Riverhead and Turtle Crossing in East Hampton.
I also added a trio of joints to the New Hampshire section: Moat Mountain Smokehouse in North Conway, and Sausage Heaven and Premier Palette in Manchester. Premier Palette is a soul food joint that specializes in fried chicken, and beef ribs and brisket, but does not serve any pork products.
My wife and I went to Boston Saturday night as planned, visiting the Linwood Grill. Located just a stone's throw from Fenway Park, the Linwood was good to me on my first visit, not so good the second. The third time, unfortunately, echoed the second visit. I'll have my review in a few days. On a bright note, I also visited Blue Ribbon Bar-B-Q in Newton MA this weekend, where I had some of the best ribs I've had in a long time. I also tried their turkey stew special for the first time, and it was very smoky and very good.
When most people my age hear that phrase, they think of the 1970s sitcom Welcome Back Kotter, set in Brooklyn NY. Fans of the show will remember that the opening montage showed a billboard claiming Brooklyn as the 4th Largest City in America. Brooklyn is still a major part of New York City, so it's only right that I include it in the Joints directory. Today's updated version now includes a Brooklyn section, with seven joints. And in the spirit of Welcome Back, one of those joints is none other than Biscuit, a Brooklyn joint that closed a few months ago, then re-opened in a new location just last week.
Man, it was cold this morning. It made me wonder about some of the seasonal BBQ joints that are no longer open, like Curtis BBQ in Putney VT. I was hoping to check them out this summer, but I'll have to wait until next spring. Interestingly, Curtis BBQ is one of the first joints at which I took photos. Today, I posted my brief review, which is basically a slightly-edited transcript of an email I sent to some BBQ buddies when I returned from my July 2005 Vermont BBQ trip.
That makes 83 reviews. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Adam Perry Lang on BBQ Championship Series
Adam Perry Lang of New York City's Daisy May's BBQ USA will be appearing as a challenger on Sunday night's installment of the Barbecue Championship Series on the Versus cable network (fornerly the Outdoor Life Network). Lang will be competing against champion Bad Byron Chism. Whether you're a fan of Daisy May's, barbecue competitions or barbecue in general, it's worth a look. I just hope Chism doesn't start crying if he loses, like he did on last year's All Star Barbecue Showdown. Although I enjoy it, I can say after watching one episode of the series that I prefer last year's version to this one. If I were competing, I'd want my fate in the hands of real barbecue judges like Ed Roith, not a "celebrity" panel. I also thought BBQ legend Chris Lily was a more knowledgeable and entertaining host. And where's Paul Kirk?
My wife and I might hit a place in Boston that we've been eying for a while. It's a joint I've gone to twice previously. One visit was pretty good, another was pretty bad. Time to break the tie and write the review. But things may change.
If Red Auerbach Did Barbecue
The great Red Auerbach, architect of the Celtics dynasty, died last Saturday. In the Boston area, memories of Red have dominated the media over the last few days. As most Celtics fans know, Red hated the whole idea of cheerleaders and music and any other "entertainment" being necessary at a basketball game. According to Red, if the product was good, you didn't need any of that other stuff.
I know that if, instead of coaching, Red ran a barbecue joint, he wouldn't be bothering with hokey cowboy decorations. Or a pile of wood by the door for show. Or the obligatory blues music. Or cutesie names for the menu items. No, he'd just have damn good barbecue, because he'd find a way to hire the best people and have the best system. I like joints that are run that way: not a lot of bells and whistles, just a great product. Rest in peace, Red.
Daisy May's Review Update
Today I posted an "updated" review for Daisy May's BBQ USA in New York City. I occasionally make minor tweaks to the reviews, but this update was based on a few more visits, where I had a chance to try more of the Daisy May's menu. I liked Daisy May's BBQ already, but after trying their beef rib and their chili, and getting another taste of their pork ribs, I now rank them among my favorites.
See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory. There are also a few new items in the News page.