Archives: May 2007
Maine BBQ: Denny Mike's Reviewed
Today I posted my review of Denny Mike's Smokehouse in Old Orchard Beach ME. This is the sixth new review this month and the 111th review overall. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
On Sunday, my wife and I took a day trip to Maine. We wound up as far north as Old Orchard Beach and stopped into Denny Mike's Smokehouse for a late lunch. I'll probably have a review posted by tomorrow, along with some additions to the Joints directory.
More Southington CT BBQ: Smokin' With Chris
On last week's central Connecticut trip, I visited Smokin' With Chris in Southington for an early dinner before my drive back home. Originally, I was only going to grab a menu for future reference. But when I pulled into the parking lot and smelled the smoke behind the restaurant, I was past the point of no return. Seeing a plate of ribs on my way in sealed it for me. Because the varied menu has some upscale touches, the space is comfortable with entertainment on weekends and I liked most of what I had, this is one of those places I'd return to with my wife. I'll hold off on a review until my next visit.
I will say this much: both at Smokin' With Chris and Denny Mike's, the brisket was the thing I liked best, which is unusual.
This weekend is the time most Americans get their grill on. Whether it's burgers and dogs or ribs and brisket, Memorial Day means barbecue. But let's not forget the real reson we have Memorial Day: to honor the men and women of the armed forces who died while serving our country. We're able to kick back and enjoy barbecue and cold beverages on our porches today because of them.
A Year of Goody Cole's
Exactly one year ago today, I made my first visit to Goody Cole's Smokehouse in New Hampshire. At that time they were still at their original location in Exeter. Now, they're a few miles away in Brentwood.
I remember not having really high expectations, for a really silly reason. Their logo seemed a little too slick, leading me to believe it was going to be one of those cheesy least-common-denominator restaurants, the kind that use phrases like "falling off the bone," "cooked to perfection" and "smothered in barbecue sauce" on the menu. I could not have been more wrong, and I'm really glad I was. The 'cue was smoky, fresh and tasty, with the brisket every bit as good as the ribs. And their barbecued chicken is probably the best I've had. It's been a few months since my last visit, so I'm overdue.
Connecticut BBQ: SouthernQue Reviewed
Today I posted my review of SouthernQue in Meriden CT. This is the fifth new review this month and the 110th review overall. I also made a minor update to the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que review to include other opinion. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
My First Visit to SouthernQue in Meriden
Today I spent a good part of the day in central Connecticut. Since it was a sunny Thursday, I jumped on the chance to swing over to SouthernQue in Meriden CT. I had heard of it a few years back, but learned the operation had been shut down due to zoning issues (it's run from a trailer parked in the pitmaster's driveway). Last February I was delighted to learn via BBQ competitor Ted Lorson's review that SouthernQue was up and running again after owner Don Washington got a zoning variance.
Overall, it was a good visit. I agreed with Ted on some points and disagreed on others; I'll have details in my upcoming review. It may be ready as soon as tomorrow but I'm guessing early next week.
Brannigan's Is Back In Business Today
Any barbecue fan who ever drove past exit 32 on I-84 in Connecticut has heard of RG Brannigan's. It's famous for the sign on the side of the building claiming the best ribs in the state. In recent months, Brannigan's has been officially "closed for rennovations," but since its website and phone were both non-functional, it seemed more likely that it had gone out of business, possibly to be opened as a different restaurant. I stopped in today to learn that it was day 1 of the re-opening, under new management. The ribs are still on the menu and the Irish aspect is now de-emphasized. I'll leave it for another day to determine whether the ribs are in fact the best of Connecticut.
Southington CT is BBQ Country?
A couple of weeks ago, I was marveing at the number of BBQ joints in small towns: Kingston MA has two; Merrick NY has three. Southington CT has four:
- Henhouse BBQ
- RG Brannigan's
- Pig Out BBQ
- Smokin' With Chris
I'll have more details later.
IQue's Chris Hart in Today's Boston Globe
With Memorial Day right around the corner, it makes sense to spotlight outdoor cooking. In today's Boston Globe Food section, there's a story on the Big Green Egg, one of the more unusual cookers on the market. The article features Chris Hart of the IQue competition team that's been dominant on the New England Barbecue Society circuit for the last few years. The Hopkinton resident offers brine and rub recipes for barbecued chicken.
article in Boston.com
I Smell Smoke's Charlie Pini in Last Week's Boston Globe
Last week's Boston Globe Food section featured a member of the area's other dominant barbecue competition team. "Charcoal Charlie" Pini of the reigning champion I Smell Smoke team is now cooking 'cue every Wednesday at the Salmon Chase American Bistro in the E. F. Lane Hotel in Keene NH. The barbecue feast runs from 5:30 to 9:00 PM Wednesdays only.
article in Boston.com
BBQ Restaurant Ordering Strategies
By the Pound
I like joints that sell barbecued meats by the pound. In the Northeast, you’ll see this at RUB (NYC), Fette Sau (Brooklyn), Wilson’s (Fairfield CT) and Bendle-Bean’s (Pembroke MA). This method gives you the ultimate flexibility to create any combo you want and eat as much or as little as you want, in the ratios you want. An added bonus, of course, is getting it when you want, ensuring that everything’s as fresh as possible: "We’ll start with a pound of the burnt ends and a half pound each of the pulled pork and pastrami. Then, in a half-hour or so, could you please bring us a pound of sausage and a half pound of brisket? Oh yeah, and Diet Cokes all around!"
Usually, barbecue sold by the pound gets served in a pan, basket or cardboard boat lined with butcher paper. It’s great for sharing, because you can just pass the boats around the way you would Chinese entrées at a family style restaurant. And nobody’s cole slaw is worse for wear.
I’d like to see different prices for different quantities, though. A half pound of pulled pork? That’ll be $7. A full pound? Make it $12. A pound of meat that’s a quarter pound each of four different meats? That would have to be $14.
By the Piece
For meats with bones, it makes more sense to go by the piece. I like BBQ joints that sell ribs not only by the rack and half rack, but also as individual bones. This seems to be more prevalent at Massachusetts BBQ joints, like Blue Ribbon (W. Newton and Arlington), East Coast Grill (Cambridge), Jake’s Dixie Roadhouse (Waltham), Redbones (Somerville) and Firefly’s (Marlboro, Framingham, Quincy). Some places, like Uncle Willie’s (Waterbury CT and New Haven CT) and Hen House (Southington CT), have separate prices for nearly a dozen different permutations of ribs and/or chicken. It makes things a lot easier for groups to order and be able to share, without anyone getting left out.
The single bone is also great as an add-on when you feel like ordering something else (sometimes not even barbecue, as I often do at East Coast Grill in Cambridge), but still want a little taste of rib. Single bones nowadays run as much as $3 per bone, which makes sense for an add-on, but I’d like to see something like whole racks for $22, half racks for $12, additional bones $2 and single bones $3. That way if you’ve got a group of 3 and you want 3 bones apiece, you order a half rack plus 3 bones.
In that vein, I’d also like to see sausages sold by the link. Five guys? Five links. No guesswork.
You could even apply the "by the piece" concept to sides, as is often done for cornbread. If you want cornbread, add it on for 75 cents or so. If not, why waste it?
I’m a big believer in the theory that it’s best to order the largest size of any one meat that makes sense. If you order a 4-meat combo with ribs, pulled pork, brisket and chicken, you’ll probably wind up with a piece of chicken that’s nowhere near as good as the whole chicken over at the next table. And your two or three ribs probably won’t be as good as the ribs on that full rack at another table. Racks always taste better than half racks, which always taste better than individual bones. Whole chickens are better than half chickens (which aren’t noticeably better, other than for peace of mind, than quarter chickens). If you and I both feel like ribs and pulled pork, we’re probably better off splitting a rack or half rack along with a pulled pork sandwich. The "Go Large" concept isn’t about getting more food—it’s about getting better food. If you go to the same joint every week and always get that same 4-meat combo, try getting a 2-meat combo instead, alternating the meats from visit to visit. You’ll get better quality.
The obvious drawback of the "Go Large" method is the sharing aspect, which has two components. First, you can only share food with people who share your philosophy on manners. You don’t want Saliva Sam sticking his fork into the tub of potato salad if he just licked the barbecue sauce off it. Or double-dipping his rib into the shared container of barbecue sauce. Always ask for communal serving utensils and make sure you only use them to handle the shared food. Or eat with people who don’t mind swapping spit. The second sharing drawback is making sure there’s not one guy at the center of the table hogging all the ribs. I’m lucky to have a good group of people that I go with, so neither of these pitfalls has ever been a problem.
The Sandwich Route
Sandwiches aren’t just for lunch anymore. They’re a great way to get maximal meats with minimal commitment. If the accompanying sides can be changed up with each sandwich, even better. When alone, I’ll often get a sandwich and two ribs. The sacrifice here is the cornbread (if the two-meat platter includes it), but it’s a small price to pay. With groups (especially even-numbered groups), it’s a lot easier to split a sandwich into two halves or four quarters than it is to divvy up a plate of pork. This strategy lets you sample all the barbecue meats while still leaving room for ribs or other specialties not available as sandwiches. It’s also a great way to enjoy sandwiches that are creations unto themselves, such as the BLFGT (bacon, lettuce and fried green tomato) and the Reuben Crusher at RUB (NYC).
On Friday night, my wife and I visited Jake's Dixie Roadhouse in Waltham MA to try the chicken fried bacon in its ready for prime time format. This new appetizer special consists of four nearly-foot-long strips slab bacon, cut thick enough to not get lost in the crunchy outer shell, with a bowl of cream gravy for dipping. Trust me, it's as good as it sounds.
For Sunday lunch, we hit Blue Ribbon in West Newton MA. The ribs were noticeably thicker, juicier and barkier than they've been in recent visits.
The Best Warner Brothers Pig Cartoon Ever
One of the cool things about the Hog House in Huntington Station NY and Merrick NY is the never-ending reel of pig cartoons on the TV behind the counter. I didn't see this one, my all-time favorite and an absolute classic that I'd always keep an eye out for on Saturday mornings. It's Three Little Bops, a beatnik jazz riff on the Three Little Pigs. view on YouTube
Frankie D's Reviewed
Today I posted my review of Frankie D's BBQ in Kingston MA. This is the fourth new review this month and the 109th review overall. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Chicken Fried Bacon: Dream Becomes Reality at Jake's Dixie Roadhouse
Last night a friend and I returned to Jake's Dixie Roadhouse in Waltham MA to follow up on last week's good visit. With my initial review of Jake's written months ago and my updated review just completed, I decided it was time to reveal to owner Don Yovicsin that I was the author of Pigtrip.
The three of us chatted at length about our various barbecue affiliations and influences, the various promotional events at Jake's and the unusual specials that make their way to the Jake's menu. That was my chance to suggest chicken fried bacon, whose cause I've been championing ever since I saw the YouTube video featuring its inception at Frank Sodolak's Original Country Inn in Snook, Texas.
What I thought was just a suggestion for the future materialized within minutes. The combination of the temperature, crispness, flavor and overall excess make this a winner. There's still some experimentation to be done to come up with just the right batter, presentation and dipping sauce, but this will be a special on the Jake's menu, possibly as soon as tonight.
battered and in the vats
crisp but needs another minute
a little gravy for dipping
Rib Wars at Jake's, June 11
More news from Jake's: the annual Rib Wars competition that usually takes place in late July or early August will be held a little earlier this year. The event will happen on Monday, June 11. Six or more barbecue teams from the restaurant world and the competition circuit will supply two ribs to each customer in a blind tasting, with winners announced at the end for the celebrity judges' choice and the people's choice. The line-up, which is still being expanded to get as many as eight entrants, now includes:
- Jake's Dixie Roadhouse (Waltham MA)
- Blue Ribbon Bar-B-Que (W. Newton MA)
- East Coast Grill (Cambridge MA)
- SoulFire (Allston MA)
- Holy Smokes BBQ & Whole Hog House (W. Hatfield MA)
BBQ and Bourbon at Tremont 647
Last night I took in the "BBQ and Bourbon" event at Tremont 647 in Boston's South End. A representative from Jim Beam provided background on the bourbon tastings while chef Andy Husbands worked on the 'cue. My seat at the bar gave me a greater appreciation of the effort and craftsmanship that goes into making some of the more complicated cocktails, especially when an order for 9 Mint Juleps came in.
After the passed appetizers (hush puppies with maple aioli, crawfish Johnny cakes with pickled onion relish), we moved on to a nice plate of root beer glazed St Louis ribs. The main course was served family style, with a sampling of spare ribs, pulled pork and fiery wings. As with any Andy Husbands event, this was a fun night out with good food, top notch service and a festive party atmosphere.
making 9 mint juleps
root beer glazed StL ribs
family style ribs, wings, pork
A Link and a New Way to Think
I probably won't have a real update until later this afternoon, but I can promise some good content for the remainder of the week. Meanwhile, check out yesterday's Off the Broiler post, where Jason Perlow declares that it's now "BLT Season" because of the quality of the tomatoes. I never thought of it in quite those terms before, but he makes a lot of sense.
Barbecue-wise, it was a much more subdued weekend than the previous one. On Thursday, a friend and I did a barbecue crawl of sorts in Waltham MA, with Jake's Dixie Roadhouse the highlight of the night. If I were playing the Family Feud bonus round and Richard Dawson said to name a barbecue joint in the Boston area, Jake's wouldn't be my first response, but I consider it a solid option nowadays. I like a joint that has smoky 'cue, shows some creativity, offers lots of choices and is always improving, and Jake's does all of the above.
On Saturday, my wife and I stopped into Frankie D's BBQ in Kingston MA. I'll have a review later on in the week. As barbecue becomes more and more popular, it's interesting to see where new joints pop up. There are some fairly large cities (Worcester, Springfield, Lowell, Nashua, Bridgeport) that you'd expect to have a lot more barbecue joints but don't. Then there are small towns that have multiple joints, like Kingston in Massachusetts or Merrick on Long Island. Kingston has a population of around 12,000 and two BBQ operations. Merrick is about twice that size and has three (and a fourth just across the town line in North Bellmore). Odd.
Some Fun Weekend Art
This oil painting is by California artist Ron Keas, who wrote me a few months ago. Who knew people in California had any interest in New England and New York BBQ? But that's one of the great things about the internet. The painting, featuring Clint Eastwood, is called High on the Hog. You can see larger versions of the painting and read the story behind the story at www.3dviewmax.com.
Mitch's BBQ at Ryles in Cambridge Reviewed
Today I posted my review of Mitch's BBQ at Ryles Jazz Club in Cambridge's Inman Square. There are now 108 reviews available. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Some Happenings on the News Page
Just a small update today. I added the Redbones Bike Party (Monday) to the News page and supplied a little more detail on the BBQ and Bourbon Dinner at Boston's Tremont 647 (Tuesday).
And don't forget this weekend's Brooklyn Pigfest and the upcoming whole hog dinner at Holy Smokes in West Hatfield MA.
Westside Steak & BBQ Reviewed
Today I posted my review of Westside Steak & BBQ, the 4-month-old joint on the outskirts of Worcester MA. There are now 107 reviews available. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Stepping Up the Pace
I'm going to try to get more reviews in this month than I have in a while. A look at the total reviews for each month shows that the number has been dwindling.
|May 2007 (final)
Part of the drop off has to do with the backlog I started with when I launched the site in August 2006. At that time, I had reviews and photos that I had been compiling since January 2006. Then, the joints that were a regular part of my "rotation" were still fodder for reviews, so I didn't have to choose between visiting a place I liked and visiting an unknown place for a review. Around the end of October, I also started focusing on the "blog" aspect of the site, striving to post new thoughts 5 or more times a week. More recently, my travel opportunities have been curtailed for a variety of reasons, but that's about to change.
The August 2006 total of 58 reviews won't ever be duplicated, but I'm going to shoot for 4 new reviews per month.
True Blue BBQ Reviewed
Today I posted my review of True Blue BBQ, the roadside trailer in Kingston MA. There are now 106 reviews available. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Look for at least one more review this week, probably two.
It was a filling weekend, with a Friday lunch visit to Westside Steak & BBQ (Worcester MA), a Saturday dinner visit to Ryles (also known as Mitch's, Cambridge MA) and a Sunday lunch visit to RUB (NYC).
At RUB, I tried their sausages (two different varieties) for the first time. The flavors were bold and they had a very interesting mouthfeel, with a crisp casing and hot, crumbly meat inside. I also tried the much-talked-about deep fried oreo dessert. It was fantastic, like a warm homemade doughnut with an oreo filling. But I can't make this a habit.
I can honestly say that I'm looking forward to having a salad for dinner tonight.
It's My Birthday Today
Here's one of my presents: a bacon wallet.
Paul Kirk and RUB in June Food & Wine
I just received the June issue of Food & Wine magazine and was pleased to see a feature by BBQ legend and RUB pitmaster laureate Paul Kirk. The Baron of BBQ supplies recipes for barbecued brisket and burnt ends, smoky barbecued chicken, Kansas City style barbecue sauce and Grandma Kirk's baked beans. There's also a grilling feature by Steven Raichlen, so this issue is a must-have.
Happy Birthday James Beard
He'd be 104 today if he were still alive. Most famous for the James Beard awards given annually to restaurants, chefs and others in the cooking community, James Beard the man was one of the leading proponents of outdoor cooking a half dozen decades ago.
I hope to explore this topic further when I have time.
Rhode Island BBQ: Smokehouse Cafe Opens Today
In downtown Newport RI, the Smokehouse Cafe opens for the season today. It will be open weekends only through Memorial Day, then will be open 7 days a week for the summer. I haven't tried Smokehouse Cafe yet, but I've passed by a few times and they look promising. They're a true rarity: a sidewalk barbecue operation, in the city but still very close to the beach, that serves beer. Newport is one of my favorite beaches, so I know I'll have a review no later than the July 4 weekend.
A Visit to True Blue BBQ
Over in Kingston MA (roughly halfway between Boston and Cape Cod), the True Blue BBQ opened for the season three weeks ago. This is a roadside operation with a trailer, picnic area seating and a smoker you'll see as soon as you walk up. It's located on the grounds of Kingston Nursery, so you can take your barbecue into the garden for a true picnic meal. I showed up a little before 5:00PM and tried a few different items. I'll have a review early next week.
Best of Worcester Announced
I've been thumbing through last week's copy of Worcester Magazine, searching for the results for the best barbecue in the city.
So who won? Nobody. There's no listing for Best Worcester Barbecue. You know why?
[Insert best Sam Kinison voice here] Because there's no barbecue in Worcester!!!
Ironically, there's a new Worcester BBQ joint, open just three months, that a reader alerted me to just yesterday. It's called Westside Steak & BBQ. I added it to the Joints directory today and will have a review for it next week.
Joltin' Joe and BBQ
On this day 71 years ago, Joe DiMaggio played his first major league game for the New York Yankees. One of the all-time great Yankees and arguably the greatest center fielder to ever play the game, DiMaggio will always be remembered for his grace on the field and his quiet dignity off the field.
DiMaggio was an intense perfectionist who led by example and always hustled, regardless of the score or the standings. "Because there is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time, I owe him my best."
There have been many times when I've been to even some of the better barbecue joints and asked myself, had this been my first visit, was it good enough to return? Too often the answer is no, but they get a pass based on previous performance.
I know, barbecue is one of those things that can't be perfect every time. Even the great DiMaggio had some 0-for-4 afternoons. But he never coasted on reputation, and wasn't satisfied with just one championship. The effort and dedication were always there, and the standards were set high. There are some barbecue joints that can also make that claim, but there are a lot more that can't.
Getting Way Too Dippy
On Sunday night I was enjoying some sushi (no, I don't always eat barbecue). Or at least I think I was enjoying the sushi. You see, I'm a big fan of wasabi, which I like to mix liberally into my bowl of soy sauce for serious dipping. I'm also a big fan of pickled ginger, which I like to use—equally liberally—as a topping. There's nothing technically wrong with doing either of these things, but it's not how a serious sushi eater would do it.
If you order five different kinds of sushi, they should all taste great but but not identical. Mine all tasted like soy, wasabi and ginger, just how I like it. Eventually, I'll ease up on the flavor enhancements and learn to appreciate the nuances of the different sushi varieties as well as the art of creating great sushi.
1. I like to overwhelm my sushi with soy, wasabi and ginger.
2. I know it's wrong.
3. I'll try to learn to taste the flavors of the sushi.
4. I might actually like my sushi better with fewer intrusive flavors.
5. If I continue to eat sushi the way I have, that's OK too.
You probably saw the barbecue analogy coming way back in the first paragraph. It may seem that on this site I'm always putting sauce down. I'm not. I like barbecue sauce, and I some of the better ones I've tasted really enhance the flavor of the meat.
What I'm against isn't the sauce itself but a few things related to it:
sauce being used as a crutch to rescue old/tough meat
simply adding barbecue sauce to boiled or oven baked meat and calling that barbecue
oversaucing perfectly good barbecue to the point where you can't taste the meat
But just like with my sushi, I'm not telling you not to use sauce. Eat what you like and like what you eat. My hope for this site is not to have everyone agree with me, just to help people find the barbecue joints that they're likely to like.
May is National BBQ Month
May is here and the National Barbeque Association is on a mission to promote and celebrate barbecue in restaurants and back porches across America. In the Northeast, there's plenty of opportunity now that the cold and rain are behind us. And Cinco de Mayo, Mother's Day and Memorial Day are perfect times to get the grill or smoker going.
Seasonal BBQ joints are awakening from hibernation and it's better driving weather to explore new joints that are far away. In the competition world, the most famous contest of them all takes place in Memphis starting May 17.
Two years ago the California blogger BBQ Junkie celebrated National Barbecue Month by visiting and reviewing seven restaurants in seven days. I'll have to see if I can do something similar. Hitting seven joints in seven days for me is a piece of cake. Hitting seven that I haven't already reviewed is another story. But now that the weather is favorable, I should be able to investigate some of the more remote joints on my 2007 Most Wanted List. This will probably happen toward the end of the month, as I'm dealing with some other challenges at the moment.
A Trip to Uncle Pete's
Last week a friend and I made a pilgrimage to Uncle Pete's Hickory Ribs in Revere MA for a barbecue lunch. The $6.95 lunch specials at Uncle Pete's are one of the best deals around. With your sandwich or three ribs, you get two large sides and a sweet potato biscuit. This time I sampled the pulled pork sandwich and I didn't think it was up to the level of the ribs. The meat was a little dry and chalky, and the dark brown sauce was better suited to ribs. But we did enjoy the pork ribs and especially the beef ribs (one of the better renditions in the Northeast and maybe the best among joints East of the Connecticuit River). A good rule of thumb at Uncle Pete's: stick to the ribs.
April 2007 archive
March 2007 archive
February 2007 archive
January 2007 archive
December 2006 archive
November 2006 archive
October 2006 archive
August/September 2006 archive