Archives: December 2006
What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
I was toying with the idea of whipping up a New Year's resolutions list or a look back on some of the highlights of 2006, but I'll save that for another time. Although many restaurants, including some of my favorites, will be featuring special New Year's Eve menus and festivities, my wife and I will be staying in, enjoying some wine, cheese and a few smoky treats. Whatever you do tonight, be smart and be safe.
Another Long Island Review
Today I posted my review for Bobbique in Patchogue NY. This brings the total to 93 reviews. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
A Long Island Review, Another Trip to Manchester
Today I posted my review for Tennessee Jack's BBQ in East Islip NY, as well as a slightly updated review of KC's Rib Shack in Manchester NH. This brings the total to 92 reviews. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Yesterday a friend and I had a nice lunch (3 meats, 6 sides) at Premier Palette in Manchester NH. It's that rare soul food place where the meats are truly smoked. Interestingly, they don't serve pork, but they do offer beef brisket, beef ribs and terrific fried chicken.
Then we headed over to Sausage Heaven, a place I've been meaning to try for a while, even before they started serving BBQ lunches. It was too late to sample the hot lunch items, but we both bought a good amount of sausages to take home. I can't wait to cook some up for New Year's Eve. We wanted to also hit KC's Rib Shack or Down 'n' Dirty BBQ, but ran out of time.
Updates and Reviews
I've been doing some behind-the-scenes work on the site over the last few days: writing four new reviews, updating a few others, making some changes to the Joints directory and fixing some broen links.
Today, I posted a slightly updated review of Tennessee's in Framingham MA to include their surprisingly good chicken. Tennessee's isn't one of my favorites, but for a quick meal on the way home, they're much better than fast food. I like the fact that Tennessee's offer three sides with their combo meals. If you want to use one on cornbread, fine. If not, you get a bonus side that you wouldn't ordinarily get.
Over the next few days, I'll be posting several more reviews, to include my Long Island crawl and an updated review of KC's Rib Shack in Manchester NH.
Meanwhile, here's one of my favorite photos from my visit to Willie B's BBQ in Bay Shore NY. Temperatures on the island last Saturday reached the mid 60s, so I was able to tailgate.
From New York to New Hampshire
I've said previously that KC's Rib Shack in Manchester is the best BBQ joint that I've only been to once, and that's no longer true. My wife and I ran an errand in New Hampshire yesterday, so we used that as an opportunity to pay a second visit. The huge ribs were even better than last time, with a bright pink color and bacony flavor. I got these as part of the "Mondo City Hog Troff" combo that features four meats (also pulled pork, sausage and a chicken breast), three sides plus cornbread. It was a very good meal that I didn't come close to finishing.
Long Island BBQ
I returned home yesterday after spending a few days on Long Island visiting the in-laws for the holidays. Despite family obligations that managed to occupy all of the dinners, I managed to hit 5 Long Island BBQ joints: Seconds BBQ in Amityville, Hog House in Huntington Station, Tennessee Jack's BBQ in East Islip, Willie B's BBQ in Bay Shore and Bobbique in Patchogue. I only got a small taste of the first two, so I won't have a review until I hit them again. I'll have reviews for the last three by the New Year. In the meantime, check out the photos on the right.
Making Spare Ribs Bright
Even though I wasn't raised in a Christian home, we always played Christmas music around the holidays. Not knowing any better, I thought the line in Jingle Bells following "Bells on Bobtail ring" was "Making spare ribs bright." At that time, spare ribs (Chinese, not barbecue) were among my favorite foods, and who was I to know that it wasn't necessarily the case among normal families.
I still enjoy Christmas music. There's something about it that reminds us that we can all get along and it's a big part of what makes this time of year special, no matter what your deep religious beliefs are. So without further adieu, here's a list of my favorite Christmas albums, along with some of my favorite factoids. I'll get back to serious barbecue matters in a couple of days.
Ella Fitzgerald - Wishes You a Swinging Christmas
This album, released the same year I was born (1960) really does swing, particularly the aforementioned "Jingle Bells" (originally written for Thanksgiving, not Christmas). Because it's not trying to be too religious, it's very accessible. More importantly, it's upbeat, catchy and oh so good. One of the songs ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas") was featured in "The Holiday."
Jimmy Buffett - Christmas Island
Now don't get me wrong, I like Jimmy Buffett, but let's face it: he's not the best musician in the business and he can't really sing that well. But you've got to love a guy who's created a cottage industry out of a bunch of songs mostly about eating ("Cheeseburger In Paradise") and getting drunk ("Margaritaville" and dozens more). This album is a fun mix, where Buffett puts his personal stamp on all of the standards and creative covers and throws in an original or two. It's a worthy addition to any Christmas collection and an absolute must for Parrotheads.
Johnny Mathis - Merry Christmas
This smooth crooner's Christmas album is rightly one of the all-time classics. Not only is the singing crisp and festive, but the orchestral arrangements (Percy Faith) are top notch too. His is the definitive version of "Sleigh Ride." Little known fact: Johnny Mathis was on a high school basketball team that included future NBA legend Bill Russell and future baseball legend Frank Robinson.
Kingston Trio - Last Month of the Year
You'd think this album would be a bunch of boring coffee house jive, but these songs are a lively mix of very traditional (almost Dickensian) arrangements with some occasional gentle humor.
Aaron Neville - Soulful Christmas
This is my dog Duncan's favorite album of all time. He can go from full growl to deep sleep in seconds just by listening to this Louisianan's dulcet tones. Neville is a bit like Mathis on steroids, with a lot of reverb thrown in. I find it interesting that he doesn't look anything like he sounds. Actually, he looks like he eats a lot of barbecue.
Brian Setzer - Boogie Woogie Christmas, Dig That Crazy Christmas
Trust me, you won't fall asleep to either of the former Stray Cat's two Christmas albums. This is big band music with a kick-ass rock and roll edge and a light dollop of humor. The former includes a nice version of "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Ann-Margaret, recorded about 40 years after the version she did with Al Hirt (in the Hirt version, her vocal more than lives up to her "sex kitten" billing).
Chris Isaak - Christmas
I really want to hate this guy. He's older than me, yet looks half my age. He made one of the all-time classic music videos with a scantily clad Helena Christiansen. He dates hot actresses (Bai Ling). But he's very likeable and can really sing too, almost like a modern day Roy Orbison. This album does a really nice job covering the classics (with help from Stevie Nicks on "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"), and most of the five originals are good enough to be on a real album.
SoulFire Now Has Beer
Yes, Boston's new kid on the block got its license to sell beer and wine after a nearly six month wait. I checked them out Friday.
Christmas Wish Lists
- Tickets to the Red Sox 2007 opening game. No, not the home opener against
Seattle on April 11. I'm talking about the season opener in Kansas City on
April 2. Arthur Bryant's, anyone?
- Some good meals. I often get gift certificates of $25 or more to one
of my favorite BBQ joints, but I'd much rather be taken out for a $12 meal
than get a gift certificate for $25. The BBQ is great, but the camaraderie
is just as important.
- Another Weber Smokey Mountain cooker. This smoker has served me well
over the last two years. Its only real drawbacks are lack of surface area
and a lower rack that can't be accessed without having to lift the top rack.
The results I've achieved on it have been good, so I'd like another of
the same smoker to be able to pump out a little more volume and use
different woods at the same time. I wouldn't mind a J&R or a Backwoods or a Big Green Egg either, but I'm being realistic.
- Links. If only half the people who talked about linking to this site
actually did so, I'd be ecstatic.
- Chicken fried bacon. A few days back I had a link to a YouTube video on chicken fried bacon, and I'm dying to have some of my favorite BBQ restaurateurs consider doing this as an appetizer special.
For some BBQ restaurants:
- A real web site for RUB. Yeah, they have a URL and a basic info page, but I'm looking for more, like menus, specials and events.
- A bigger men's room for Brother Jimmy's. It's so narrow I'm a few good meals away from getting stuck.
- Real napkins for Tennessee's. That coarse, brown, industrial-strength roll of paper towels doesn't cut it.
- A liquor license for Blue Ribbon. It would be nice to have a beer with my barbecue, but I know it's not in the cards. Geoff has a good thing going already without beer, so he's not interested in adding that element. OK, so make that a liquor license for SoulFire. But guess what? After weeks of saying it's only two weeks away, they've got one.
- Continuous improvement. I want all the iffy joints to get decent, all the decent ones to get good, all the good ones to get great and all the great ones to keep it going.
Those of you who've heard this story before, please indulge me.
A few years ago, back when I was doing consulting work, I joined Boston Sports Clubs, because it allowed me to work out near my home or near the multiple places I had jobs. One of the Boston Sports Clubs is located two doors down from Blue Ribbon in West Newton. At that time, my wife was really against my eating barbecue, and could always tell when I'd been there from the barbecue scent on my clothes. That's when I masterminded an ingenious plan: I'd work out, not shower, change into a new set of sweats, have my duo combo at Blue Ribbon, go back to the gym, then shower and change. All of the evidence was washed away.
That was then, this is now. My wife has grown to like Blue Ribbon and actually asks to tag along or have me bring some pulled pork or cabbage home for her. Ironically, I was in great shape then and not-so-great shape now. Yes, I know I said I'd be under 200 lbs by January 1. With 10 days to go, I can tell you it ain't happening this year (but it will by springtime). I guess the evidence is there afterall.
Thoughts on Tipping
A few days ago, we received a nice Christmas card from our paper delivery man, tucked inside the paper. He conveniently put his name and address on the envelope and even had the courtesy to not lick the envelope. Such a nice gesture, but this was obviously a hint for a holiday tip. Now, I'm a generous guy, and not only do I not mind tipping, I thoroughly enjoy tipping when it's warranted. For our thoughtful newspaper delivery man (whatever happened to paperboys? don't kids want to work anymore?), it's not warranted. My newspaper rarely arrives before 6:15 and I leave for work at 6:00, observing the (competitor) newspapers in my neighbors' driveways as I speed away. When my paper does arrive on time, it's often buried under a shrub or under my car. If it's raining, my paper is sure to be in a puddle. Sorry, dude, no tip.
My mailman, on the other hand, does deserve and receive a generous tip each year. This guy actually gets out of the vehicle to make his deliveries, and does it in all sorts of weather. If there's an important looking package or envelope, he takes it to the door, rings the bell and hands it to me. This isn't just right before the holidays, in a Sugar Ray Leonard-like attempt to come on strong and sway opinion. This is year 'round. Good guy, good service, good tip. I've asked around the office and I'm amazed that most people don't tip their mailman. The way I see it, if you can tip the coffee girl a handful of change every day, that's at least a dollar a week or $50 per year. The mailman works harder, has less creature comforts on the job, does much more for you and can be trusted with credit card statements and other sensitive items. Tip your mailman and tip him big.
OK, now to the part about barbecue (actually, any restaurant):
- For a full-service restaurant, if your server keeps your glass full the whole night, tip well.
- If you need to install a LoJack on your server to ensure seeing him or her again, don't tip so well.
- If you show up with a bunch of friends and split a bunch of dishes, asking for extra plates, extra serving spoons and the like, tip better than well. It's extra work, so show some love.
- If it's a buffet, let common sense prevail. Some say tip the usual amount (15-20%). Others say 10%. Try to judge how much effort's involved (clearing plates, refilling drinks, bringing out special hot sauces, etc.) and tip accordingly.
- Some people never tip for counter service, figuring that the order taker just punches your order in, hands you a ticket and that's all. Sometimes they show something extra, like the nice girl at Daisy May's who offered me a sample of the borbon peaches. Or the pros at Blue Ribbon who keep the line moving without losing that personal touch. When you have a crew that knows what they're doing, don't screw up a good thing and allow turnover to happen. Show the love.
- If the food's not good, it's the kitchen's fault, not your server's. If the food's not what you ordered, it is your server's fault for not checking. If it takes several minutes after being seated to have a server greet you, it may or may not be your server's fault. If your burger arrives without ketchup and it takes several minutes to get ketchup while your burger gets cold, it's your server's fault. Tip accordingly.
- Sometimes you wind up with a really hot waitress, and that can be a good thing. If she has a nice personality, responds favorably to flirting and happens to be a great server, go ahead and tip big. If all she is is hot, then please don't encourage her.
- If you're a regular at your favorite place and you get a free dish or some free drinks, factor those in when determining the tip. Your server is still working to bring and clear those items, even if they're free. And if you get your whole meal comped, don't just tip your server; tip generously.
- Nothing can kill the morale of a server like a slow night. When you're getting about $2 an hour to restock the salt shakers and ketchup for most of your shift on a rainy Monday night, you really appreciate that unexpected great tip during the hour or so that you're actually serving. Make somebody's night some night.
Last Friday and Saturday I visited two Boston area joints where it's all about the wet ribs. On Friday it was Firefly's in Framingham MA; on Saturday it was Uncle Pete's Hickory Ribs in Revere MA.
At Firefly's I learned some hot news about the restaurant's expansion (see the News page for details).
At Uncle Pete's, a friend and I split a bunch of items for a filling lunch. I tried the brisket sandwich for the first time and thought the meat was closer to teriaki than brisket, and a little dry. The ribs (especially the beef ribs) were pretty good though.
Two Links, One Challenge
The Well Fed Network (of blogs) just concluded the nomination process for the 2006 Food Blog Awards. It would have been nice to receive a nomination, but there's always next year. If you like food blogs dealing with restaurants, eating, cooking or whatever, I urge you to check out the nominations in 18 categories. I found several really cool blogs that way.
Chicken Fried Bacon
One of the new blog discoveries had a link to a YouTube video on chicken fried bacon. That's right, chicken fried bacon. The videoclip is a television segment on Frank Sodolak's Original Country Inn in Snook, Texas. About 7 years ago (assuming the clip is current), Sodolak made culinary history by inventing the deep fried treat. You gotta love it. What's better than bacon? Battered, deep-fried bacon.
Now for the challenge. This video has been circulating around the net for a while now, so the time is right. I'm challenging every barbecue restaurant owner from New York to Boston to do some experiments and put chicken fried bacon on your menu, at least as a special.
Yesterday the periodontist removed the plaster from my mouth and said I'm healing wonderfully, so a co-worker treated me to lunch at Blue Ribbon to celebrate. I wasn't 100% sure if I could handle a rib, so we each got a brisket sandwich and augmented that with some ribs. Success.
The periodontist said that plenty of protein and liquids will help the healing. Ribs and beer. I think I can handle that.
Pretty Pictures of What We Ate
I've been organizing all of my computers lately and happened to stumble upon this photo of a pulled pork sandwich I took at Hula Grill in Maui six years ago. I believe it's the first food photo I ever took. Hawaii is famous for its luaus, where whole pigs are smoked all day in a pit covered with banana leaves. Over a six year period my wife and I visited Hawaii (mostly Oahu) five times, and I can tell you the food across the board is fantastic.
For cheap eats in Hawaii, there's the plate lunch, which includes a good portion of meat (usually grilled), plus an ice cream scoop each of rice and macaroni salad, for about $6. One of the largest practitioners of the plate lunch is L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, which has dozens of stores in Oahu and an outpost in lower Manhattan (sadly, the branch in Connecticut is no more). If you're in the mood for something different, give it a try.
Ending the Drought
After four days of soup and wet noodles following last Wednesday's oral surgery, I ventured out into the cold on Sunday and had my first real meal. I wasn't stupid enough to attempt ribs yet (that will be next Saturday). The safest approach was to drop into Blue Ribbon for some burnt ends. Needing soft foods, I also uncharacteristically opted for the mashed potatoes. Both were very, very good. I really liked the thicker, barkier chunks of beef that comprised the tender burnt ends.
Blue Ribbon is now offering sauces for sale just in time for the holiday season.
Other Guides to BBQ, Part I
When I checked my AOL mail yesterday, my eye quickly caught the graphic below. Evidently it's time for AOL's best barbecue balloting for major cities. I did my duty and cast my ballot for Boston (Blue Ribbon) and NewYork (RUB).
Other Boston BBQ joints on the ballot included East Coast Grill (another one of my favorites), Midwest Grill (Brazilian BBQ), Redbones (an on-again, off-again favorite that's on at the moment), Tennessee's, Texas Roadhouse (a chain and not a particularly good one) and Village Smokehouse (you've got to be kidding me). I would have liked to see Uncle Pete's, SoulFire, and Firefly's on that list over Midwest and the last three.
Other New York BBQ joints included Bar BQ, Blue Smoke, Daisy May's, Dinosaur, Pies-n-Thighs, Pig'n Out, Spanky's and Virgil's. I can't really argue with any of the Manhattan nominees.
Long Island had the longest list: Big Daddy's, Farmer Bar, Hog House, RS Jones, Smokey's, Smokin' Al's, Spicy's, Tennessee Jack's, the Spare Rib (you've got to be kidding me) and Turtle Crossing. I've only been to a few of these, so I didn't vote. By early 2007 I will have gone to most of them.
At some point soon AOL will have winners, but I don't put a whole lot of stock in the results.
All Messed Up With Nowhere To Go
Usually, I have some plans formulated for weekend barbecue by Thursday. It's Saturday morning and I know it ain't happening. Last Wednesday's oral surgery still has my jaw a little sore, and the plaster covering a third of my lower teeth prevents any real chewing. Splurges over the last few days have consisted of wonton soup and pasta; I may throw caution to the wind tonight and upgrade to chili. The plaster comes out Wednesday, so I should be rib-ready by next weekend.
Today I posted my review for Big Bubba's BBQ at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. This brings the total to 91 reviews. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
I did a little math recently and realized that Big Bubba's was the 100th barbecue joint I've visited in the Northeast. There are the the 89 establisments included in the 91 reviews, plus the pending joints, plus unreviewed joints of the past such as the Boston area's Sports Saloon, Rouge, Jake's Boss BBQ and my first true barbecue love, the Porterhouse Café in Cambridge.
Big Cuts, No Meat
Well, yesterday morning I said that oral surgery wasn't my biggest problem this week, and I was right. The layoff I was expecting to happen today happened today, and I was part of the roughly 1/3 of the employees let go. The good news is that I've been extended for two more months, so my first day as a free agent is February 5. More good news is that the severance package is pretty good.
I'm not as sad as I thought I might be, and I'm actually excited for what the future will bring. In the short term, I've got a great chance to get myself in better shape, to devote more time to my artwork and to focus on writing longer pieces for this site. There may even be a roadtrip or two that will take me further south than New Jersey. Once March rolls around, I'll make a serious commitment to smoking my own meats as often as I did 2 summers ago.
Yesterday's oral surgery went relatively smoothly, although I'm still experiencing some discomfort. Barbecue is a long way off.
Today I posted my review for Buck's Naked BBQ in Freeport ME. This brings the total to 90 reviews. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory. I'll have the Big Bubba's BBQ (Mohegan Sun) review no later than the weekend.
Going On Injured Reserve
Today I'm having oral surgery. A few weeks back I had what I thought was a toothache and, long story short, two dentists discovered that there's some bone loss in my jaw that needs to be remedied with a bone graft. I've got a feeling I won't be eating any barbecue for a week or so. Well, at least it's soup season.
Laying Off (the BBQ and otherwise)
Oral surgery isn't my biggest problem this week. The company I work for (I'm a technical writer in the semiconductor industry) was bought out by its behemoth archrival a few months ago. On Monday they officially cancelled the project that had the most people assigned to it and announced that there will be a significant layoff this week. Needless to say, I'm hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. I'm worried for myself and for my colleagues, many of whom I consider good friends. I've shared many a barbecue meal with some of these guys, and they convinced me to create a real website out of the informal reviews I emailed after each new discovery. A bunch of us have standing agreements to meet for lunch next week, no matter what happens.
A Good BBQ List
Sometimes you have to think outside the box. Barbecue encompasses not only the version popularized in the American South, but international varieties as well. Yesterday's Hampton Smoker blog had a good list of some of the best barbecue joints in New York City, compliled by Amanda Kludt on gridskipper.com. I'm especially looking forward to trying Big Lou's Breakfast and BBQ in Queens.
Today I posted my review for the Sit 'n Bull Pub in Maynard MA. This brings the total to 89 reviews. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory. I'll have at least one more review tomorrow.
The Land of Smoke
After a few weekends in a row of not going anywhere new, I managed to have back-to-back first visits. There was the lunch Buck's Naked in Maine on Saturday, and then Sunday dinner at Big Bubba's BBQ at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville CT. Both joints were on my Most Wanted List that I compiled on November 14, and both joints were very good. All of Big Bubba's meats supplied a good dose of smoke, and that's a good thing. Before and after the meal, though, I had to endure the wall of tobacco smoke that was the casino, and that wasn't such a good thing. Would I endure it again to visit Big Bubba's? Ab-so-freakin'-lutely. I should have a review in a few days.
I finally made it to Buck's Naked in LL Bean country, enjoying a ribs and pulled pork combo for lunch. I'll have a review in a few days.
Turning the (Calendar) Page
December is upon us. Time for get-togethers with family (read: eating) and friends (read: drinking). And also time for shopping. My wife and I both bought iPods in the wee hours of the morning after Thanksgiving, and loading them has turned into an almost full time job. The initial burst of enthusiasm took some of my attention away from this site, but I'm back.
I'm quite disappointed that for the first time in several years, I cannot find a "Girls of the Orient" 16-month calendar. Oh well. Speaking of calendars, there really ought to be a barbecue-related calendar. I'm serious. There probably isn't a market for a calendar with photos of RUB, Uncle Willie's and Redbones, but I could easily see a glossy edition with photos of Kreuz Market, Arthur Bryant's, Sonny Bryan's, the Salt Lick, Rendezvous, Neely's and the like. Somebody could make some money with a calendar like this. I know I'd buy one.