Archives: August 2007
Hudson Valley BBQ: Big W's Bar-B-Q Reviewed
Squeezing in four reviews this month was a lot like squeezing into my pants each morning: despite some uncertainty, I got the job done. Today I posted the site's 119th review: Big W's Bar-B-Q in Wingdale NY. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
This week I started a new job, signing on as an employee at the company where I was contracting. The hire, they said, was conditional upon a drug test, which I took last week. Today I find out the results. I've got nothing to worry about, but if meat is a drug, I'm sunk.
Tomorrow: my review of Big W's Bar-B-Q in Wingdale NY.
Hudson Valley BBQ: Biggy's BBQ Reviewed
Today I posted the 118th review: Biggy's BBQ Bistro in New Paltz NY. It's a short review, but I think I got all I needed. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Happy Birthday All Star Sandwich Bar
Okay, so Chris Schlesinger's latest venture isn't a full-fledged barbecue joint. It's, as the name states, a sandwich bar. But the smoked meats from big sister restaurant East Coast Grill make their way onto the menu on a part time basis with great success. The pulled pork sandwich is excellent, the Texas Reuben is a classic and the smoked brisket chili is one of my favorites. It was one year ago today that they opened their doors officially.
Chris Schlesinger: the Pigtrip Interview
This one's long overdue. Shortly after All Star Sandwich Bar opened last year, I sat down with the chef Chris Schlesinger, who also owns the legendary East Coast Grill, to talk barbecue.
Pigtrip: Growing up with barbecue in Virginia, how often did you trek to North Carolina and points further south?
Schlesinger: Barbecue for me was whatever we ate locally. Every so often, my father used to arrange a pig pickin' at our house, and the guys he hired would show up around dusk and start working on the pig. They'd be sitting around and drinking beer while tending the pig, and I used to watch them and even help out a little. Well, when I woke the next morning I'd see the same guys stitting in the same chairs drinking the same beer. And they'd chop up the whole pig, and the skin would be really crisp, and that was what barbecue was. I remember whenever we'd fly back to the airport, the first thing we'd do was check out a particular barbecue place my father was fond of. He was really into food and always had his favorite spots for different things, like Howard Johnson's for the hotdogs. But I didn't usually travel that that far for barbecue until I was already in the restaurant business. That's when I went to Memphis in May. We actually had a team that competed. I met John Willingham there—he was a two-time Memphis in May winner—and he was instrumental in helping us with our pit. He did mine and also Robert's over at Redbones.
Pigtrip: What kind of smoker do you have now?
Schlesinger: We have a J&R smoker, and we've been really happy with it.
Pigtrip: Did East Coast Grill and Jake & Earl's [the small, BBQ-only joint next door that closed in 1996 to make way for ECG's Lava Lounge] both open at the same time? What were the early menus of ECG like?
Schlesinger: East Coast Grill was open for about five years before we opened Jake and Earl's. In the early years we were doing pretty much the same thing we're doing now at East Coast Grill. A lot of grilled meats, with a little bit of seafood, though not to the extent that we're doing now. It's a little embarrasing to say this now, but in the very early days, we were actually boiling the meats to get them cooked, then finishing them up on the grill.
Pigtrip: Who was the "Jake" of Jake and Earl's? I thought I read in one of your books that it was someone's dog, and I've also heard it was Jake Jacobs [who worked at Jake and Earl's and later opened Jake's Boss BBQ in Jamaica Plain].
Schlesinger: The Jake part was named after my one-eyed dog, and the Earl was my partner's father. We used to always hang out for hours after work at Jake Jacobs's original place down in Roxbury. So Jake Jacobs, the Living Legend of Barbecue, didn't join us 'til later on.
Pigtrip: I've heard you say more than once that the Boston area is establishing itself as
one of America's premeire cities for BBQ.
Schlesinger: Well obviously, there's Memphis, Kansas City and Texas and the Carolinas that are the real hotbeds of barbecue, but once you get past those areas, there are probably more barbecue places cooking with wood here than anywhere in the country.
Pigtrip: I read that the Rendezvous in Memphis uses charcoal, not wood.
Schlesinger: Actually, in Memphis as a whole, it's predominantly charcoal.
Pigtrip: Lemonade, sweet tea, beer or wine: what goes best with barbecue?
Schlesinger: Beer. Definitely beer.
Pigtrip: If you were going to have wine with barbecue, what would it be?
Schlesinger: I'd say the Rhone varietals would go best. Maybe a Syrah.
Pigtrip: Do you think you'd ever open a BBQ-only place, kind of like Jake & Earl's or the Way Back Eddy?
Schlesinger: Probably not, since we've already done that, so we'd most likely do something a little different.
Pigtrip: Your latest new place is the All Star Sandwich Bar. Why sandwiches?
Schlesinger: During the low carb craze, I got away from eating bread. After a while, I started to miss sandwiches, and I was just tired of seeing wraps. Sandwiches are also a uniquely American art form. Other cultures have countless varieties of meats and vegetables inside a dough filling, but a burrito isn't really a sandwich any more than a sandwich is a burrito. Plus, I think having the sandwich shop is a nice addition to the area.
Pigtrip: Are the smoked meats coming from East Coast Grill?
Schlesinger: Yes, we do those here.
Pigtrip: I tried the chili and the flavors were amazing, but I was surprised it wasn't hotter.
Schlesinger: Yeah, we're working on that. We want it to be nasty—the kind of chili that's so hot you can't even eat it.
Pigtrip: Speaking of hot, I'm holding out hope that I can buy a bottle of Inner Beauty in the supermarket again someday. What are my chances?
Schlesinger: Not very good. We wound up selling the licensing rights because we realized that it wasn't really a lot of fun being in the hot sauce bottling business. But you can always get it here, and I'd be happy to give you the recipe for it. [The recipe is included in Schlesinger's Big Flavors of the Hot Sun].
Pigtrip: Do you have any new cookbooks in the works? Would you ever do a Hell Night cookbook?
Schlesinger: We're working on some grilling books that are geared to an international audience. I'm still working with John Willoughby, who's in New York now, working as the executive editor of Gourmet magazine.
Pigtrip: What's your favorite barbecue restaurant in the area?
Schlesinger: Most of the barbecue I eat is at parties and get togethers we have at my house down in Westport. But to be honest with you, I don't really eat a lot of barbecue. Every now and then, what I'll do around here if I'm feeling really hungry is take a little of the smoked shoulder, mix it with some of our beans, and some cornbread, and mush it all together and eat it like that, and it's really good.
Pigtrip: Is it harder to cook good barbecue, or keep good barbecue?
Schlesinger: In the South, at most of the traditional barbecue joints, they typically open only on the weekends, or maybe from Thursday through Sunday. They cook a certain amount and sell it fresh, and when they run out, they run out, just like we do over at the sandwich shop with our beef on weck. In a restaurant environment, it's not practical to do it that way, so we have to stay ahead and hold it. We still manage to keep it tasting fresh, like adding vinegar to the shoulder only as it's ordered. But holding the barbecue is where the real challenge is.
Pigtrip: What's the future of barbecue? Will we ever see a place with two pork shoulders to choose from, one traditional and one with an exotic rub? Or four different spare ribs to choose from?
Schlesinger: I think to a great extent you're seeing that now. You're seeing a lot of different international styles of barbecue becoming popular, kind of what we're doing with our Latin brunch. It's the same smoked shoulder and ribs, and we're still using wood and slow smoking them, but the flavor profiles are completely different.
Pigtrip: Andy Husbands, a former chef at East Coast Grill and now of Tremont 647, has gone in the other direction, going more traditional. His competition team, IQue, is doing really well.
Schlesinger: [Leans closer to microphone] I want to say, on the record, for the first time in print: I taught Andy Husbands everything he knows about barbecue. [smiles]
(08/27/07) (second post)
A Strange Craving
It's often said that the sides at Manhattan's Hill Country don't live up to the same high standard as the phenomenal smoked meats. That may be true, but let's not get carried away. I'll gladly take Hill Country's sides over at least 80% of the sides I've tasted throughout the region. This past Saturday, when the temperatures approached a sweltering 100 degrees, I found myself craving Hill Country's Texas caviar, featuring refreshingly cold blackeyed peas.
My wife had been hinting lately that she'd like to visit the Yankee Candle factory store in western Massachusetts. My counter-hinting that it would be a great idea to go there without me while I'm off judging a contest somewhere had failed to stick, so I decided to get it out of the way before football season. I also decided that we'd be eating at Bub's BBQ in Sunderland on the way back. So Sunday we hit both.
With today's barbecue boom, it's hard to imagine that Bub's was one of the only practitioners of barbecue in the area during the 1980s. With favorable writeups from Jane and Michael Stern of Roadfood, mentions in the New York Times and thousands of UMass alums as patrons, the joint has a large following. In my review early next month, you'll see whether that following includes me.
On Thursday, I fulfilled my civic duty and served on a jury in Lowell MA. Although I was really hoping to have the case dismissed and be relieved of jury duty in time to get down to New York City (so many new joints to try now), my backup plan to hit Goody Cole's Smokehouse (Brentwood NH) was a good one. There I had a brisket sandwich and part of a combo plate whose leftovers lasted a few meals. When I processed the photos I realized that it had been over 6 months since my last visit. That's too long for a joint that I consider to be one of the best in New England.
This week I'm planning to revisit a joint whose status has been "Pending" for far too long. It's time to get off the fence and commit to a review. Meanwhile, I'll be posting two reviews this week.
Special Sauce Indeed
On Wednesday night, I saw G. Love and Special Sauce at the Bank of America Pavillion in Boston. At the concert gear stand, I wasn't thrilled with the T-shirts they had for sale, but I picked up a few bottles of his hot sauce.
A Strong Opinion on Timberlake's BBQ Joint
Earlier in the week, Andrea Strong's The Strong Buzz newsletter had a piece on Justin Timberlake's new Manhattan barbecue restaurant Southern Hospitality. The New York Post columnist led off the piece by admitting, "I am fairly certain I am the last writer in New York City’s food world to report on the opening of Southern Hospitality." That may be true, but she's one of the first to actually write about the food, which she sums up as "somewhere between serviceable to good depending on what you order."
read Andrea Strong's full commentary
My Top 10 Favorite Beef Ribs
It's been a while since I posted my list of my top 10 favorite freebies, and I just did a review of a joint whose beef rib was touted as best ever, so here's my list of my favorite beef ribs in New England and New York. Note that I say "favorite" and not "best," because your mileage may vary. For whatever reason, it seems like most of the beef rib expertise lies west of the Connecticut River.
1. Holy Smokes, W. Hatfield MA (closed due to fire)
2. Hill Country, NYC
3. RUB, NYC (Monday and Tuesday nights)
4. Daisy May’s, NYC
5. Route 7 Grill, Great Barrington MA
6. Uncle Pete’s, Revere MA
7. Blue Smoke, NYC
8. Redbones, Somerville MA
9. Danny’s Little Taste of Texas, S. Windsor CT
10. Texas Barbecue Company, Northborough MA
Western Massachusetts BBQ: Two Reviews
Earlier in the month, my wife and I visited Route 7 Grill and Shaky Jake's, both in Great Barrington. I'm posting reviews of both today, pushing the total number of BBQ joint reviews to 117.
I've spent much of the last few days working on what's supposed to be the core of this site: reviews. It's been a while since the last review, but tomorrow I'll post two: Route 7 Grill and Shaky Jake's, both in Great Barrington MA, a few miles off the Mass Pike's exit 2. By month's end, I should have another two.
On Sunday I judged the KCBS barbecue contest at the Hudson Valley Ribfest in New Paltz NY. On the way over Saturday afternoon, I stopped for a second visit to Big W BBQ in Wingdale NY. There I tried two kinds of chili—beef brisket and chicken—before tackling a "try it all" combo. The chili can also be ordered as a side, which is a nice touch. Both versions were loaded with meat and both were good. On my first visit, the chicken was the "star" of the combo; this time it was the ribs. I'll have more details and many more photos in my review next week.
Just before heading into the Ribfest to socialize with a few of the teams the night before the contest, I made a pitstop at Biggy's BBQ Bistro in New Paltz, where I tried a pulled pork sandwich (a few bites, anyway).
BBQ Joint Pet Peeves II: the All Quotes Edition
Here’s another assortment of pet peeves, this time a collection of things people say that cause me to bristle. Sometimes they’re said by servers, sometimes customers, sometimes owners and sometimes even me. Most of these are service-related and most are just as likely to happen at any restaurant in America. I’ve arranged these in chronological order, from the time you’re greeted to the time you leave.
“I'll be taking care of you.”
The full version of this one is something like, “Hi, my name is Jen and I’ll be taking care of you tonight. Can I start you off with a drink?” Unless it comes out hyper-rehearsed, it doesn’t become a peeve until Jen lets 20 minutes go by without taking our food order. Or lets my beer glass reach the empty mark. And remain so for 20 minutes while she compares nail polish styles with another server. Or forgets to check back to see if everything was ok after our entrees were served by a runner instead of her. If that’s taking care of me, I’d hate to see what not taking care of me is like.
“Is this your first visit?”
This often gets squeezed in between “I’ll be taking care of you” and “Can I start you off with a drink?” It’s also not a peeve as long as they have something informative to offer other than “Welcome back!” if I say no or “Well, you’re in for a treat!” if I say yes. I’m looking for helpful nuggets like whether salads are included or whether you can make substitutions or what the house specialty is.
“We’ve got the best pulled pork on the Island!”
This is an actual quote from a restaurateur on Long Island, responding to my question on which sandwich to order. Sometimes statements like this are the result of an inquiry like mine, and sometimes they flow naturally as a follow-up to the “Is this your first visit?” question. Either way, it’s a peeve on too many fronts to count, but I’ll offer a few. 1) It’s too self-serving to be taken seriously even if you honestly believe it’s true. 2) Unless you’ve tried every pulled pork on the Island (and you probably haven’t), you have no basis to believe it’s true. 3) Not only did it not turn out to be the best pulled pork on Long Island, it was one of the worst I’ve ever tasted. I know, I know, I was the one who asked, but he could have simply said, “I’d go with the pulled pork, it’s our house specialty!” (Although he should have said, “I’d go with the pulled pork, it doesn’t suck as much as our brisket!”)
“How was everything?”
I’ve often found myself in a sit-down joint where the owner makes the rounds, marching down the aisle, asking customers how everything was. In most cases, it’s apparent that this is merely an exercise, because he’s going so fast, there’s only time for a 1- or 2-syllable response before he asks the next table. “How was everything?” “Great!” “How was everything?” “Awesome!” “How was everything?” “Incredible!”
If you’re going to ask how everything was, be prepared to respond with something meaningful when a customer who’s not going along with the routine says, “The ribs were miniscule and cold, the pulled pork was the driest I’ve ever had and this brisket I wouldn’t even feed to my dog!”
“We’re going to be opening up several of these.”
If I had a dollar for every time I heard a restaurant owner say this, I’d have enough money to buy a 64-ounce Porterhouse steak at Peter Luger. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a restaurant owner say this before he had his first house in order, I’d have enough money to buy two 64-ounce Porterhouse steaks at Peter Luger.
“I’m going to open up a barbecue restaurant that’ll put all the others to shame.”
This is one that I hear a lot, and from different camps. From competition cooks during an all-nighter at a contest. From smoker-owning friends as we leave the parking lot after yet another disappointing barbecue restaurant meal. And I’ve even said it a few times myself. The reason it’s a pet peeve is that in most cases the claim isn’t based on reality. Sure, the barbecue you cook in your back yard is great. So is mine. But that doesn’t mean you know how to run a restaurant, where you have to worry about missed deliveries and employee theft and turnover and food waste and customer complaints and equipment failures. It’s not easy.
New York BBQ: Hudson Valley Ribfest
This Friday, the third annual Hudson Valley Ribfest gets underway in New Paltz NY. The 3-day event will host a grilling competition on Saturday and a KCBS barbecue competition on Sunday, with musical entertainment and barbecue available from vendors all three days. This year's vendors include Jack McDavid (PA), Big Moe's M&M Ribs (MA), Smoken Dudes (PA), Hickory Barbeque (NY) and Elia's Texas Connection (NY).
A Few New Links
While researching BT's Smokehouse (Brimfield MA) the other day, I stumbled across a very entertaining site called Suicide Food. This site
rates the offensiveness of restaurant logos, packaging and promotions that feature an animal practically asking to be eaten. While it may seem like they object to these logos and campaigns, it becomes obvious that this is more of a celebration of the graphics that make barbecue so fun. There are barbecue logos galore, but my favorite image is the one below.
I added Suicide Food to my Links page, along with a permanent link to Hot 'n' Saucy Wings, the Buffalo wing site I linked to several weeks ago. It's part of my effort to represent other foods that appeal to the barbecue fan, like A Hamburger Today, the go-to site for burger fans.
Since it was so unseasonably cold last Friday, my wife and I decided to hit Firefly's (Framingham MA) for one of my favorite bowls of chili. The rendition they've been serving since May is supposed to be a blend of brisket, pork and sirloin chunks, but the bowl I had Friday was 99% pork (not necessarily a problem) with more of a sweet barbecue sauce flavor than the usual chili flavor (major problem). Wings were decent, providing a vehicle to try several of their new hot sauce arrivals.
On Saturday, we drove to the Berkshires to finally visit Route 7 Grill (Great Barrington MA), where we sampled chicken, pork ribs and the beef short rib. This was a mostly good visit, and I'll have more to say in my review that should be ready later in the week or early next week.
Further north in Great Barrington on the way back, we spotted billowing smoke by a roadside shack with a Jamaican theme, so I immediately pulled over to get the details (and order a few items). It's called Shaky Jake's and it's been open two weeks. They have a smoker by the roadside shack, but you eat in a small restaurant further back. It's run by an American who spent two decades in Port Antonio, Jamaica, the birthplace of jerk. The menu consists of Jamaican fare: jerk ribs, jerk chicken, patties, ackee. I love barbecue and I love Jamaican, so this fusion sounded like a great concept and had me ready to fall in love before my first bite. Good thing I didn't, because the execution was shaky. I'll provide the details when I post the review the same day the Route 7 Grill review goes up.
Sunday was a beach day at Westport MA, posing another opportunity for a smoked pork Reuben for lunch at the nearby Way Back Eddy.
The roadside smoker and shack at Shaky Jake's, Great Barrington MA.
Massachusetts BBQ: One More Joint
I just added another new discovery to the Joints directory: BT's Smokehouse in Brimfield MA. It's a trailer operation on the Village Green Campground, open Thursday through Sunday. Pitmaster Brian Treitman is a classically-trained chef (Culinary Institute of America) who has previously worked with Ming Tsai. Thanks to Kathy for the lead. You can read more about BT's Smokehouse over at the Nikas Culinaria blog.
I haven't tried the food yet (that will come soon), but I already like the logo.
New England BBQ: Two More Joints
I just added two more entries to the Joints directory: River Run in Plainfield VT and Chester's BBQ in New London CT (thanks to Mark for the leads). The former has a much-talked-about cookbook; the latter is an over-the-counter operation on the same street in New London as Bank Street Roadhouse. Looks like I'll be planning a long day's journey into pork.
Rhode Island BBQ: Who's Best?
Rhode Island Monthly has its August issue on the stands, and their annual "Best Of" issue has no listing for barbecue.
Previous winners included LJ's BBQ in Pawtucket, Wes' Rib House in Providence and even Memphis Roadhouse across the border in Massachusetts. But there is no barbecue honoree this year.
It seems like the barbecue boom that's evident throughout much of New England, New York City and Long Island hasn't swept through Rhode Island yet.
How To Tell If A BBQ Joint is Going To Be Good
A few months ago, barbecue personality Remus Powers (Ardie Davis) wrote an article in the Bullsheet (the Kansas City Barbeque Society's monthy newsletter) talking about the five rules that determine whether a barbecue joint is worth a
visit. In June, White Trash BBQ summarized these rules for What Makes a Good BBQ Joint.
I mostly agree with them, as long as you apply them loosely. After visiting more than 100 barbecue joints, I've developed a few of my own:
1. Can you smell any smoke?
If you can smell the smoke, it’s a good sign. For years I lived about a block from a Burger King and the fragrance each night was amazing, but that’s not what you want to smell. I’m talking about the sweet aroma of burning fruitwoods. When Blue Ribbon (W. Newton MA) still did their smoking onsite (it’s now done at an offsite commissary under owner Geoff Janowski’s supervision), I could smell it all the way from the treadmill at the gym next door and it would cut my workout time in half. Ideally, you shouldn’t smell the smoke as far as a block away, but notice it just before you walk in the restaurant’s front door. At Goody Cole’s (Brentwood NH) and Holy Smokes (W. Hatfield MA), I don’t always notice it that much while I’m there but can pick it up on my shirt after I get home. Burning wood means smoked meat. The joint might still not get it totally right, but at least you know they’re not cooking your ribs in an oven.
2. Do the other diner’s plates look good?
If it’s a sit down place where the hostess leads you to your table, do some advance scouting along the way by checking out the plates at other diner’s tables. Does the brisket look dry or juicy? Are the ribs meaty or thin? Is the pulled pork served in big chunk and long strings, or overmashed? Is the ‘cue too dependent on the sauce? I’m not saying you should leave based on your observations, but they might steer you into ordering the meat they do best, or possibly a fail-safe burger. I also like to look at other diner’s plates during and after the meal, as a sanity check. There’s always the chance that I just happened to wind up with a more-meaty, less-meaty, drier or wetter rack of ribs than is the norm.
3. Do they only serve babybacks?
If the restaurant’s menu says they only have babyback ribs, that’s cause for concern. Babybacks are great when they’re done right, but too often they’re just a shortcut. They’re already tender, so you could get away with just grilling them, which I’ve seen too often at barbecue restaurants. The greater risk is that they’re going to be the soggy, overcooked dreck that’s commonly served at all the chain restaurants. There are exceptions, of course. Buck’s Naked (Freeport ME) only serves babybacks and Willie B’s (Bay Shore NY) started out with just babybacks, but both joints completely defied the babyback stereotype, serving smoky, well-seasoned ‘cue that’s real and good.
4. Does the menu emphasize breadth over depth?
Barbecue joints that are heavy on breadth and light on depth scare me. By breadth, I mean a wider than wide-ranging menu full of non-barbecue items like pastas, salads, steaks, fish and the like. I understand the need to diversify the menu—it’s almost a necessity to attract the diverse customer base that can sustain the restaurant’s profitability. But straying too far from the barbecue basics can have two effects: less attention paid to the barbecue items and slower barbecue turnover. The first effect is self-explanatory, but the slower turnover could be even more devastating. Fresh ‘cue requires a large and steady volume. Adding all those other items may be good for business, but you may be hijacking your own customers and hurting your barbecue.
By depth, I mean barbecue options. Are there different cuts of pork ribs? Do they only serve beef ribs? Rib tips? Can you get sliced brisket and chopped brisket? Do they have burnt ends? Do they go beyond the basics and offer smoked pastrami, lamb or duck? Depth is a good sign, especially if they offer something out of the ordinary. What if there’s a glaring omission, like the lack of pulled pork at Hill Country (NYC) or the missing brisket at KC’s Rib Shack (Manchester NH)? If it means they’re focusing more attention on other meats instead, that’s okay. As long as it doesn’t mean more pasta.
5. Is there an open kitchen?
If there’s an open kitchen or anything close to it, that’s a good sign. I’m not saying that those who don’t have one always have something to hide, but some do. If you can follow the path your meat takes, from the time it leaves the smoker (ideally) or a holding bin (the next best thing) to the cutting board to the plate, you’ve got a high probability of getting good ‘cue. Sometimes you only get to see the last few steps, like at Lester’s (Burlington MA), Big W (Wingdale NY). Other times you have to peek through a window specifically designed for the voyeur, like at Q (Port Chester NY) or RUB (NYC). I’m a big fan of the grillside table at East Coast Grill (Cambridge MA), where you can sit within arm’s reach of the warming racks of ribs and spit-cooked chickens, observing the entire operation from the fry cooks to the grill team.
6. Is the joint near the ocean or in a tourist area?
I haven’t had good luck with barbecue joints near the ocean or near vacation spots in general, and it’s probably not just a coincidence. Restaurants in tourist areas typically don’t depend on repeat business. They know you’re probably not coming back anyway, so why jump through hoops to impress?
7. Are there more than four TVs?
Some joints have a television set or two because they know there are some customers who want to check a score during a sporting event. It also gives the lone diners something to do besides stare at the other diners. Sports bars can be a lot of fun, but if there are more than four TVs, they become less of an amenity and more of the main attraction. At a good ‘cue joint, the barbecue is supposed to be the main attraction. The most notable exception is Bailey’s Smokehouse (Blauvelt NY), which would also be an exception to a “Do they serve pizza?” rule.
Boston Magazine Names Blue Ribbon Best
For the second year in a row, Blue Ribbon (W. Newton MA and Arlington MA) took the Boston BBQ crown in Boston Magazine's annual "Best Of" issue, available on stands now.
Last month, Blue Ribbon failed to repeat as Boston's Best in Improper Bostonian, losing out to Brookline's Village Smokehouse. That's the barbecue equivalent of passing up Robert DeNiro and giving the Oscar to Scott Baio.
On Friday night my wife and I stopped into Jake's Dixie Roadhouse (Waltham MA) to try their new fried green tomato appetizer with a basil red pepper drizzle. I liked these, especially the thick cut of the tomato that allowed the natural tartness to shine through. I wish more restaurants would feature fried green tomatoes. We wound up making a meal out of appetizers, including an all-pork chili.
Sunday was a beach day at Narragansett. On the way back, we joined some friends at the Mempis Roadhouse (S. Attleboro MA), a joint that's not related to Texas Roadhouse or any other chain. I wound up getting the ribs and pulled pork combo, with the ribs unsauced. The ribs had a nice smoke ring and a light smoky flavor, with a hint of bacon taste. The meat was very tender, practically falling off the bone. Some love that, but to me that just means overcooked. Still, these were pretty good. Pork was served in big chunks of mostly white meat from deep within the shoulder. Walking around after we ordered, I watched the kitchen staff cutting some brisket for another order and it looked really good. Next time.
Where's the Beef?
Character actress Clara Peller, who two decades ago gave America one its greatest catch phrases, was born 105 years ago today. In a 1984 commercial for Wendy's, Peller uttered, "Where's the beef?" as she and two other elderly women gazed upon the tiny burgers of a Wendy's competitor. The phrase became such a part of the era's lexicon that presidential candidate Walter Mondale used it to question rival Gary Hart's candidacy.
So, within the world of Boston and New York barbecue, and everywhere in between, where is the beef? A few places come to mind:
- Blue Smoke (NYC): Though not in my top few Manattan barbecue restaurants, they've got a better burger than any place in my directory. Some say it's the best burger in New York City, period.
- Goody Cole's Smokehouse (Brentwood NH): I like their sliced brisket, which is simple, with smoke and a little bit of salt for flavor. I like their chopped brisket, cut from the deckle, even more.
- Hill Country (NYC): Hill Country's brisket is the gold standard by which all other briskets must be measured. They have moist (deckle) and lean (from the flat), and I surprisingly prefer the lean, which is still pretty darn juicy. Their beef rib is excellent and their smoky hot links, made from beef and pork, will explode juices in your mouth.
- Holy Smokes (West Hatfield MA): Now re-grouping after a recent fire, this restaurant last year served me one of the best beef ribs I've ever had.
- RUB (NYC): The scintillating burnt ends, which I'll take over a steak any night of the week, almost made me re-think the name of this site. The Monday/Tuesday beef rib is colossal and the brisket is first rate. But their pastrami may be the single most underrated item on any barbecue menu in the region.
Names and Concepts for BBQ Joints
I long ago stopped thinking up names for bands and now just focus on names for restaurants. Here are several million dollars worth of ideas, free for the taking:
Pulled Pork Sammy’s
The name comes from the urban slang for “sandwich,” but the concept is a pork shoulder-driven menu. It’s the cheapest and most profitable of all the barbecue meats, the easiest one to hold and reheat, and the healthiest option after chicken. There would be Carolina style sandwiches with slaw and super tart vinegar (my choice) and more Yankee-friendly versions with sweet sauce. There’d be cold pork salads with vegetables and herbs. There’d be different shoulders on display with different flavor profiles: mustard slathered, Mayo slathered, Jamaican jerk, Italian fennel seed, Sichuan peppercorns, you name it. And there’d be a nod to ice cream legend Steve Herrell: pork with mix-ins ranging from crispy smoked bacon cubes to dried apples. There would be enough choices that ribs wouldn’t even be necessary.
I don’t know why, but this is a name that requires dim lighting, white tablecloths, linen napkins and a serious wine list. The kind of a place where you’d expect to see roasted quail and smoked rack of lamb. The emphasis would be barbecue, but there would be steaks rivaling those at the major steakhouses.
I just like the name because it’s not only a cut from the pig, but also the event at which you eat it. It’s one of those one-word-singular names you’d find in Manhattan.
Mosi Tatupu’s Big Island Luau
Here’s a combination that can’t fail: all-you-can-drink tropical cocktails, all-you-can-eat barbecue with Pacific Rim influences, tiki kitsch décor, live hula dancers and a Patriots-themed sports bar (old logo only) with a focus on Tatupu, the Samoan running back for the New England Patriots in the late 1970s and 1980s.
This pork haven is basically a Hooters rip-off, where the waitresses (sorry, no waiters here) would wear revealing pink shirts and their hair in pigtails. Completing the ensemble would be a pink pig tail, Playboy bunny style, at the appropriate location. The food? I haven’t gotten around to that part yet.
Kosher pork on pumpernickel or rye. No milkshakes here.
This is an almost-rip-off, basically a more barbecue-centric version of the Bugaboo Creek chain. Amid Canadian wilderness décor, you can feast on barbecued venison, spit-roasted elk and (of course) Canadian bacon. The sauces would all include maple. And the name of the restaurant would be pronounced with both F’s, just as in the 1966 episode of F Troop that featured Paul Lynde as the Burglar of Banff. I can see it now: “Welcome to Banff, is this your ffirst visit?”
I thought of this one at least 20 years ago, long before I got hooked on barbecue, but it makes more sense with barbecue than with anything else. Imagine small, college-dorm-sized refrigerators, each filled with a different assortment of smoked meats, cheeses, creative condiments, fruits and vegetables. I’m talking smoked turkey legs wrapped in foil, chunks of smoked ham (or SPAM), smoked gouda, a slew of macaroni and potato salads, seasonal fruit, etc. You’d order the fridge of choice based on size, sight unseen, then your waiter would wheel it to the table and plug it in. You’d get carving knives and bread to make sandwiches, but the rest is up to you.
Everything’s fried. Fish, chicken, even burgers. Bacon, smoked then fried. Sausages, smoked then fried. You want sides? Fried green tomatoes, onion rings, shoestring fries, fried cauliflower, fried fennel or fried artichoke hearts. This wouldn’t be like the Just Shirts store that also has pants. Everything’s fried, period. At the end of the meal you don’t just get a wetnap, but Clearasil and Lipitor too.
This watering hole’s name is borrowed from Underdog’s #1 nemesis, but other than that, there wouldn’t be any tie-in. I just like the name.
- Asian Pan (pan Asian)
- Pork Avenue
- Dip (what they call sauce in North Carolina)
- Low Calcutta (Indian food for the dieting crowd)
- Cheesesteak Factory (you'd get sued but think of it as advertising)
- Belmont Steaks
Pigtrip is One Year Old Today
What a year it's been: 230 joint listings, 115 barbecue reviews, 267 posts, nearly 2000 photos and a whole lot of good times and good food. Along the way, I've made some new friends and—maybe—made just a tiny bit of difference in the world of restaurant barbecue.
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