Archives: December 2007
Connecticut BBQ: Long Day's Journey Into Pork
Yesterday I spent the afternoon with two of the Northeast BBQ scene's preeminent competition pitmasters for a Southeastern Connecticut BBQ crawl. We started at Big Bubba's BBQ at Mohegan Sun, then drove to New London for visits to Chester's BBQ and Bank Street Roadhouse. Good eats, good conversation, good times.
I'll make Chester's my next review before I resume the reviews from the pre-Christmas Long Island BBQ crawl. The Chester's review will have an added twist, so stay tuned.
(12/29/07) (second post)
The Hill Country Image of the Week #5
This is the final installment of the Hill Country image of the week; next Saturday starts a new theme.
Yes, this photo was taken in the Hill Country men's room. No, nobody else was in there when I took it.
I like when today's barbecue joints in the Northeast pay homage to their legendary predecessors in the South or even within the area. Hill Country itself is an interpretation of Kreuz Market in Lockhart TX. But above this urinal, one of that Texas town's other famous barbecue joints receives the honors: Black's Barbecue, which in this vintage photo claims to be "the finest in central Texas." Today, Black's Barbecue claims to be Texas's "oldest and best major BBQ restaurant continuously owned by the same family." It's also reportedly a favorite of President George W. Bush.
Long Island BBQ: Freedom BBQ Reviewed
Today I posted my review of Freedom BBQ (Island Park NY), the sixth Long Island BBQ review and the 127th review overall. I'm still writing two more reviews (Harbor Q, Swingbelly's) from my Long Island crawl, and I'll probably also update Smokin Al's, whose review preceeded my use of the camera. See the review via the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
(12/28/07) (second post)
RUB Las Vegas Now Open at the Rio
Image courtesy of RUB BBQ.
The "west wing" of RUB BBQ opened last night to a packed house. The 9,000 square foot, 230-seat restaurant supplies a lot more room than the New York original, with a 30-seat bar and a stage for live music. The west coast pitmaster is Skip Steele, former co-owner of the St Louis area Super Smokers BBQ chain and holder of numerous competition awards, including First Place Whole Hog at the 2000 Memphis in May. Executive chef/pitmaster and RUB partner Paul Kirk, with more than 400 barbecue awards under his belt, is still very much involved and is slated to make regular appearances.
As at the New York outpost, the barbecue at RUB Las Vegas will be prepared fresh daily, so when it's gone, it's gone. Look for steaks and other high end fare to be offered in addition to the classic barbecue menu.
After two years, RUB's website is now live, with full menu descriptions, tips and recipes from "Baron of BBQ" Paul Kirk, video from Kirk's appearance on the CBS Early Show and owner Andrew Fischel's appearance with Jay Leno, and some pretty cool graphics. www.rubbbq.net
What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
Maybe it's not so early in the game, but I have a few suggestions just the same:
East Coast Grill (Cambridge MA) will have a four-course prix fixe menu with five options for course 2 and four options for the entree, with seafood and grilled meats equally represented. There are so many good looking choices that choosing will be tough. Reservations are accepted for parties of all sizes. www.eastcoastgrill.net
Tremont 647 (Boston MA) is also offering four-course prix fixe menu, with multiple options for each course. The lobster pot pie and the "fudge for the table" options both caught my eye, as did the special New Year's Day brunch the next morning. Next door at Sister Sorel, they're going to party like it's 1989, with eighties music and cocktails, and a jello shot toast at midnight. www.tremont647.com
Route 7 Grill (Great Barrington MA) has a 3-course menu, with a choice of baked stuffed sole or prime rib for the entree. www.route7grill.com
Hill Country (New York NY) will feature dancing and live music with the Jack Grace Band starting at 11PM. For food and drink there are three options requiring reservations: a "chow down" tasting menu, "just drinkin" from an open bar, and chow down plus open bar. The everyday Hill Country marketplace menu will also be available all evening with no reservations required. www.hillcountryny.com
If I missed any BBQ joint New Year's events that you know of, send the info along and I'll add to this list. All restaurateurs are welcome to submit event listings any time.
Long Island BBQ: Hog House Reviewed
After three visits, I posted my review of Hog House Barbecue (Huntington Station NY). See the site's 126th review via the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Speaking of Hog House, their now-defunct Merrick location is redefining itself, under the same ownership, as a burger joint called Goldgell's American.
Long Island BBQ: Big Ed's No More
One of the joints that was supposed to be included on last Saturday's Long Island BBQ crawl was Big Ed's Barbeque (no relation to the Big Ed's in New Jersey). A sign in the window said they were closed for vacation, which makes sense a few days before Christmas. But a quick check of their phone revealed that it's no longer in order, and a few neighbors said they've been closed a while.
(12/26/07) (second post)
Swingbelly's Makes Newsday's Top 10
Today's Newsday included Swingbelly's Beachside BBQ (Long Beach NY) in their list of the Top 10 Dining Deals on Long Island. Here's what they said:
Swingbelly's Beachside BBQ, 909 W. Beech St., Long Beach, 516-431-3464, swingbellysbbq .com. At this whimsical Long Beach barbecue joint, pitmaster Bryan Forgione does what so many other barbecue chefs seem unable to. His slow-smoked brisket and ribs rely on a crust of spices, not a sweet barbecue sauce, to seal in juices. His macaroni and cheese is al dente, not the conventional mush. Desserts, such as the house-made bourbon pecan pie, add to the allure.
I've already written two reviews following last Saturday's Long Island BBQ crawl. I'll post reviews for Hog House Barbecue (Huntington Station NY) and Freedom BBQ (Island Park NY) this week, and for Swingbelly's after the New Year.
Long Island BBQ: Christmas Island
I'm back from a long weekend for Christmas at the in-laws on Long Island. While there I had an opportunity to get together with Phil, James, Steve and Vinny of the BBQ Brethren for a Long Island BBQ restaurant crawl. I had a fun afternoon just shooting the breeze, sampling 'cue from some new joints and getting to know some of the unique personalities in barbecue. Some of the food was very good, some wasn't so good, but the company was great and I appreciate their hospitality.
Between that crawl and some independent exploration I managed to visit Swingbelly's (Long Beach), Freedom BBQ (Island Park), Harbor Q (Port Washington), Hog House Barbecue (Huntington Station) and Smokin' Al's (Bay Shore). I'll have at least two reviews later this month, one as early as tomorrow.
"Pork is the Meat of Kings"
There are mutant versions of this on YouTube, but click here to see the masterful original from weebls-stuff.com, perfectly looped so that it never ends. Thanks to Don for this great find.
The Hill Country Image of the Week #4
Meat. This one speaks for itself.
A Christmas Pig Cartoon
Goodbye Hog House, Hello Boneyard
Here's the latest batch of Joints directory additions and deletions, spanning four states. This time, there are six new joints and three into the dead pool.
Boneyard Barbecue & Saloon (Seekonk MA) opened this Sunday. A friend whose opinion I trust had lunch there on Monday and liked the ribs. www.boneyardbarbecue.com
Pig's Ear BBQ (Lincoln NH) is long overdue for addition. I discovered it nearly a year ago while judging the Winter Sizzler BBQ competition on the same property. I haven't heard any reports about the 'cue.
Bubba Bean BBQ (Hudson NY) is yet another Hudson Valley addition. I have no advance scouting on this one either.
Bob's Southern Bistro (Boston MA) and Sit 'n' Bull Pub (Maynard MA) both closed in November, as announced earlier that month.
Hog House BBQ (Merrick NY) shut its Merrick doors recently after just 9 months of operation, to "consolidate" its efforts into its original Huntington Station restaurant.
Indigo Smoke (Maplewood NJ) is the second location for the "Kansas City BBQ and Soul Food Boutique" whose original joint is in Montclair. www.indigosmoke.com.
Smitty's Smokehouse (Lyndhurst NJ) is one of the few New Jersey BBQ joints from last week's internet search to actually be open. I wish I could tell you more about it, but their website always crashes my browser. www.smittysbbqjoint.com
Smokey Joe's BBQ (Teaneck NJ) may be the nation's only Kosher BBQ joint. Formerly closed on Saturdays for the sabbath, they now open at 8pm after sundown. www.smokeyjoesbbq.com
Making a List and Checking It Twice
There are some good restaurant directory websites out there, and there are some not-so-good ones too, but the struggle for all of them (and this one) is keeping the information current. If a restaurant closes, the management isn't going to notify every site that links to them or posts their phone number. It just doesn't happen. What does happen is the gradual decay of the various web databases, to include some restaurants that have long since departed, and to not include newer restaurants that have been around a while. My Joints directory is far from perfect, but I'd like to think it's pretty up to date.
Over the last couple of weeks, I searched the internet for some northern New Jersey joints to add. Of the 20+ candidates I found, less than a handful made the cut for tomorrow's update. Most had closed and many of the ones that were open weren't really barbecue.
Yesterday I performed a random check of some of my Joints directory's web links. That's one of the ways to find out if a restaurant is still in business, or if they've expanded to include new locations, or if they've developed some new, irresistable menu item that's worth a drive. Because it's usually paid for a year at a time, a website will often survive a dead restaurant, only to fade away a few months later. On the other hand, it's amazing how many websites go belly up even when the restaurant is still chugging along.
Here are a few examples:
Bendle-Beans BBQ (Pembroke MA): Still open.
Big Bully's BBQ Burgers (Attleboro MA): Recently opened in Attleboro after the Beverly MA location closed, this burger joint with some BBQ offerings seems to be trying to distance itself from the original establishment in more ways than one. I'd expect a different website down the road.
Biscuit (Brooklyn NY): Still very much open, but in the process of updating their site.
The Rib House (East Haven CT): Still open.
Smokin' Jim's (Gloucester MA): Closed for the season but taking calls for catering appointments in 2008.
Smokin' Lil's (Northampton MA): Still open. I corrected the phone number in the directory (the one I had was probably their fax number).
I found a few other dead links that may or may not indicate closings. I'm still researching those.
This Just In: Restaurants Have Websites
Between calling the suspect old restaurants and the new breed in New Jersey, I must have asked 30 people at the other end of the line what their restaurant's website was. Only one person was able to answer the question single-handedly and without hesitation. The rest had no clue or had to scream out to someone 40 feet away for help with the web address. Shouldn't the person assigned to answer the phone know these things?
One woman from New Jersey, upon being asked, "Do you have a website?" got so disgusted with the question that she immediately bellowed, "You have the wrong number!" and hung up on me. What kind of website did she think I meant?
Rhode Island BBQ: LJ's BBQ
On Saturday, I joined a new friend on an interstate barbecue crawl, starting at LJ's BBQ (Pawtucket RI). I had enjoyed their ribs before but wanted to try a brisket Reuben to include in yesterday's list. I liked the sandwich, just not as much as some of the renditions available elsewhere. We also tried the chili, which was a competent version of your basic beef and bean chili, with more beef (ground in this case) than bean. A pulled pork sandwich was decent. The service was much better than on my last visit.
Connecticut BBQ: Chester's BBQ
Saturday's second stop was Chester's BBQ (New London CT), the top joint on last week's Most Wanted list. We shared beef ribs, pork ribs, burnt ends, brisket, pulled pork and three sides. I'll share more details in my upcoming review, but the quick version is that this is a good one. My recent M.O. with joints like this (Big W's, BT's Smokehouse, City Flame Smokehouse) has been to make another visit to get a better handle on its standing before posting a review, but I think I'm going to just post a review next week, even if I wind up revising it down the road.
One huge mistake I made at Chester's was not ordering the brisket on a sandwich. The brisket sandwiches I saw leave the counter on thick cut white bread (think Texas toast, untoasted) looked really impressive. There's always next time.
You Gotta Love the Reuben
Today is the 76th birthday of Canadian actor/comedian Dave Madden, most famous for playing the role of Reuben Kincaid on TV's The Partridge Family in the early 1970s. Back in the day, girls may have tuned in every Friday night to watch heartthrob David Cassidy, but boys tolerated the show for one reason only: the comedic chemistry between Madden and young Danny Bonaduce.
But today's post is not about the acting ability of Madden or about Reuben Kincaid, but about the Reuben sandwich. This classic combines pastrami or corned beef with Swiss cheese, Russian dressing and sauerkraut or cole slaw inside grilled or toasted rye bread.
With as many as five sources of fat, the Reuben is a sandwich that's full bodied in every sense. But the key to the sandwich goes beyond the richness of the ingredients. For me, this sandwich is all about the contrast of textures and temperatures and the quality and harmony of the ingredients. When it's done right, it sings. When it's done right with a barbecue meat, it rocks.
Barbecue Reuben Rankings
Here are rankings of the barbecue Reubens I've tried* in New England, New York and New Jersey.
1. RUB, NYC (pastrami)
2. All Star Sandwich Bar, Cambridge MA (brisket)
3. Bailey’s Smokehouse, Blauvelt NY (brisket)
4. Way Back Eddy (seasonal), Westport MA (sliced pork)
5. Willie B’s BBQ, Bay Shore NY (pastrami)
6. LJ’s BBQ, Pawtucket RI (brisket)
7. Jake’s Dixie Roadhouse, Waltham MA (brisket)
All are good but only one gets to stand at the top of the list. RUB earns the nod for its Reuben Crusher, made with house smoked pastrami. I've said it before and I'll ay it again: the pastrami at RUB is the most underrated item on the menu, and the Reuben Crusher is the best way to have it.
The Reuben Crusher at RUB, NYC.
All Star Sandwich Bar's rendition has probably the best bread of the bunch, and the cumin cole slaw is a huge plus.
Bailey's covered all the bases, with good ingredients and good ratios. They get extra style points for brisket hanging out of the edges of the sandwich.
The Willie B's Reuben had some of the ratios off and didn't blend the ingredients as well as the others, but the pastrami itself was excellent and incredibly abundant.
Served on a toasted sesame seed burger bun, the Reuben at LJ's loses a few authenticity points. The Jake's Texas Reuben is good, but would also benefit from the use of rye bread.
*I have not yet tried but fully intend to try the Reubens at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (New York NY) and Bobby Q's (Westport CT). If you know of any other barbecue Reubens, drop me a line.
The Hill Country Image of the Week #3
Here's the third installment of my new Saturday image feature on New York City's Hill Country, and it's the reason I'm calling it the Image of the Week instead of the Photo of the Week. It's an illustration of Hill Country by Zohar Lazar that appeared in the "Goings On About Town" section of the October 22 New Yorker magazine. It's a great little illustration, although a few details make me wonder if the artist ever set foot inside the restaurant.
Long before I started this site and had reason to "cover" New York, I was a New Yorker subscriber. I'm a huge fan of art and illustration, and I believe this magazine is the ultimate showcase for illustrators today.
Some Recognizance on Georgia's Eastside
One of the reasons I put Georgia's Eastside BBQ into yesterday's Most Wanted list is that you hear a lot of commentary about it, but you never really hear anything from anyone who's actually visited. I've been meaning to post this for some time now, but on Roadfood, there's a Georgia's review with photos.
I updated my Links page to include direct links to all the Roadfood reviews for joints within the region. I updated the Ted Lorson section as well, to include his Hill Country review.
Complete Annihilation On Hold?
The most highly anticipated football game of the year will be played this Sunday, and I'll be in my recliner watching the action. This is another grudge match between the Patriots and the Jets, with the hatred kicked up a notch from game 1's VideoGate. Unfortunately, the weather may render the 76-3 drubbing I envisioned impossible, but I'm still picking the Patriots by at least 20.
My Fall 2007 Most Wanted List
Technically it's still fall, so I can call this my Fall 2007 list of the ten places I most want to try in the coming weeks. There are still plenty of holdovers from previous lists that I still very much want to visit, with Fette Sau (Brooklyn) and Front Street Smokehouse (Elizabeth NJ) leading the way.
#1 Chester's Barbecue, New London CT
This looks like my kind of place: simple, over-the-counter ordering with a limited menu that emphasizes barbecue, barbecue and more barbecue. No pastas, no salads, just barbecue. The online photos look very promising.
#2 Bourbon BBQ , Wyckoff NJ
This joint also emphasizes barbecue, but in addition boasts a classically trained chef. I like the butcher paper, pickles and onions treatment. The photos from Jason Perlow's Off the Broiler blog had my mouth watering. This might have been #1, but it's in New Jersey.
#3 Harbor Q, Port Washington NY
I recently viewed the online menu of this Long Island joint, and I get the feeling that this might be one of the few "something for everyone" places where the barbecue is good. They have Kreuz Market sausage, several creative appetizers and a custom salad ordering system with checkboxes.
#4 Georgia's Eastside BBQ, New York City
Looking at the online commentary, I've determined that you have to either love this joint or hate it. The ribs are steamed, then finished on the grill. That may seem blasphemous to the barbecue purist, but there is a steaming component in many popular smokers (Backwoods, Weber bullet) and smoking methods ("the Texas crutch") used on the competition circuit. I'm not saying I'm optimistic, just that I'm going in with an open mind.
#5 Indigo Smoke, Montclair NJ
Sometimes you roll your eyes when you come across a restaurant that calls itself "Kansas City BBQ and Soul Food Boutique." But sometimes you take notice and get there as fast as you can. Upscale barbecue? Bring it on.
#6 The Piggy Bank, Beacon NY
This restaurant, just east of the Hudson and just south of I-84, is so named because it used to be a bank, with the bank vault itself now the wine cellar. I was actually in there once during for a Friday lunch and waited 15 minutes for my order to be taken. Nobody took my order (or even acknowleged that I was there), so I left. I decided to wait a year before another attempt, and I've heard some good things about the place from a friend I trust.
#7 Smokey Joe's, Stamford CT
I've heard some poitive things about this joint, though not from anyone I know. Despite being less than a mile off I-95, its location (in the shadows of the WWE building) has made it tough for me to visit. It's not close enough to my native Boston to just hit it on a whim, and it's so close to New York that I'm still full when I'm heading home from a Manhattan crawl. I'll make it a point to go here as a destination unto itself and not just as an afterthought. Maybe Vince McMahon can join me for lunch.
#8 Mo Gridder's, Bronx NY
I don't even have a Bronx section yet, but this joint would be a good start. I first learned of Mo Gridder from a March 2007 New York Times feature on barbecue restaurants in and around New York City.
#9 Poppa B's, Dorchester MA
This is a soul food restaurant that's open for breakfast. For lunch and dinner items, the menu uses the word "smoked" instead of "BBQ" and that's a good sign.
#10 There is no number 10. I'm making Fette Sau and Front Street Smokehouse, from my previous list, my co-10s, because I really want to visit them.
Spring 2007 Most Wanted List
2006 Most Wanted List
Food Blog Awards
This week the Well Fed Network selected the finalists in 14 different categories for the 2007 Food Blog Awards. If you’re a fan of food writing, food photos and recipes, I’m sure you’ll discover some new sites among the finalists, and you can cast your votes through the end of the week. Congratulations to all the talented writers who were nominated. I know the demands of maintaining a blog, and I salute your persistence and your creativity.
My Spring 2007 Most Wanted List, Revisited
Back in April, I offered my Spring 2007 Most Wanted List of the ten barbecue restaurants that I hadn't yet visited but most wanted to visit. So far I've managed to hit only 4 out of the 10, but all of those were in the top 5. Here are my thoughts so far:
#1 Big W's, Wingdale NY
Technically I had visited Big W when I first posted the list but not before I wrote the piece. I liked the ribs even better the second time around and was blown away by the chili.
#2 Fette Sau, Brooklyn NY
I still want to hit this joint. I really want to hit this joint. Their not being open for lunch and my lack of navigational wherewithal in Brooklyn have been the obstacles so far, but the food is very much in my radar.
#3 Chico's, Guilderland NY
This Albany joint came with a strong recommendation from a fellow NEBS barbecue competitor and judge. I had a very nice lunch there, but I suspect my visit right after July 4 wasn't a true test of how good Chico's can be.
#4 Route 7 Grill, Great Barrington MA
This year-old joint in the boonies of Western Massachusetts came with two recommendations from people I trust within the competition community. One said the beef ribs were the best she'd ever had. I wouldn't go that far, but they're up there, as were the pork spare ribs. Sides were good too.
#5 Hill Country BBQ, New York City
Pitmaster Robbie Richter sent shockwaves through the barbecue community when this joint opened the same weekend as the BBQ Block Party last summer. Right out of the gate, Hill Country established itself as not only one of the city's best but one of the best in the region. Their brisket (take your pick from the moist or the lean) is the gold standard by which all other briskets must be judged. Now I'm wondering why I only ranked Hill Country #5 to try back in April.
#6 Smoke 'n' Bones, Oak Bluffs MA
It's on Martha's Vineyard and last summer for me was not a great time for travel. Next summer for sure.
#7 Norm's, Portland ME
My turbulent summer impacted this one too, but with other joints in the area, Norm's has winter crawl potential.
#8 Front Street Smokehouse, Elizabeth NJ
I'm already working on a January 2008 crawl that will finally include these guys.
#9 Parker's Maple Barn, Mason NH
The lure of this joint is eggs and ribs for breakfast. Someday.
#10 Dallas Jones, New York City
This joint gets lost among all the New York City headliners, but I haven't lost their address. I'm guilty of too many visits to RUB and Hill Country, partly because they're so close to each other and partly because they're both so good. But I need to branch out.
I'm compiling my Fall/Winter 2007 Most Wanted List now and will post it in a few days or early next week.
Weekend Wrap Up: HomeCookin', Blue Ribbon
This Saturday I fired up the smoker and cooked some beef short ribs (see yesterday's post). Catching my wife and me eating home on a Saturday night is even rarer than catching my friend Anita without any lipstick, and believe me, that's rare. But I'm on a mission. I plan to use my Big Green egg at least every other week throughout the winter, so that by the time summer hits, I'm not just producing barbecue, but great barbecue.
Yesterday my wife and I visited Blue Ribbon (W. Newton MA), where we had chicken, ribs and pulled pork. The highlight? None of the above, even though there weren't any problems. But their Creole cabbage, my favorite of their special sides, stole the show. With bacon and plenty of spices, you can't go wrong.
Saturday's Beef Short Ribs
Here are some shots of Saturday's beef short ribs: glazed (top photo) and unglazed (second photo).
Both sets were rubbed with salt, coarse black pepper and cayenne and smoked over hickory, pecan and mesquite. The glaze was a mix of a commercial sauce, cherry preserves and guajillo peppers.
The first ribs out of the smoker, shown below in the only photo I took of that batch, cooked for four and a half hours, reaching a temp of 170. I left the remaining ribs in for another half hour, thinking they'd be more tender and more photoworthy than the first batch, but the first ones were better.
Overall, I was pleased but not satisfied with the results. I liked the salt-pepper-cayenne rub, similar to what they use at Hill Country (New York City), and even though it was 20% cayenne, it wasn't too spicy. I'd keep the same ratios next time but use more rub. I also liked that my Big Green Egg held at a steady 240 for the duration, in a colder environment than I've cooked in before. But my real enemy wasn't the colder weather, it was the lack of daylight. I usually aim for 200 to 220, but I cheated to make sure the ribs would finish before the sun disappeared. I'll start earlier next time.
I prepared two of the short ribs using a whole grain mustard slather before applying a homemade rub inspired by my first visit to Bailey's Smokehouse (Blauvelt NY). It's a more complex rub consisting of assorted chile powders and crushed seeds. I'd offer more details, but I'm still tweaking the recipe. These ribs wound up being the best of the bunch, although I'd still like to get a crispier crust.
The other major correction for next time is to not try to cook too many meats at the same time. In addition to the ten short ribs, I also smoked nine sausages in two batches, and mixed in some chicken thighs down the stretch. Between shuffling meats in and out and double checking the temperature using a thermometer inside the smoker, I opened and closed the lid much more than I should, hurting the overall quality. Tomorrow I'm going to buy a replacement thermometer for the outside of the egg online, even if the shipping is more than the thermometer itself.
Beef Short Ribs at the Halfway Point
The weather in suburban Boston is sunny and 44 degrees, and my Big Green Egg is humming along at almost 200 degrees above that. Here's a shot of some beef short ribs that are halfway done. These were rubbed with a simple mix of salt, coarsely ground pepper and cayenne and are cooking over hickory, pecan and mesquite.
The Hill Country Image of the Week #2
Here's the second installment of my new Saturday image feature, with a different image each week that shares a common theme. This month, it's New York City's Hill Country.
Lainey, the younger of our two dogs, enjoys a Hill Country beef short rib bone the night we got back from a special Saturday tasting event.
So Many Restaurants, So Little Time
There are only 7 days in a week and 52 weeks in a year, so it's a balancing act trying to keep up with the new joints while not losing touch with the old. The joints whose photos grace the right panel of this page are often determined by where I happen to be that weekend, who I happen to be meeting, whether my wife will like it and whether another joint I need to visit happens to also be nearby.
Sometimes months go by without visiting an old favorite, and it's not a sign of a snub or a downhill slide. Looking at my computer's photo folders, I noticed that it's been two months since my last visit to Blue Ribbon (West Newton MA), almost four months since my last visit to Goody Cole's Smokehouse (Brentwood NH), more than four months for Chili Head BBQ (West Bridgewater MA), and eight months since I last visited All Star Sandwich Bar (Cambridge MA).
This weekend, Blue Ribbon. Maybe even tonight.
Manchester BBQ: City Flame Smokehouse Review
Today I finally posted my review of City Flame Smokehouse (Manchester NH). See the site's 125th review via the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
City Flame has been receiving some media attention lately (a feature on Chronicle, a review in the Hippo Press), and the obvious hook in each story––which I'm guilty of in my review––is the fact that owners Ventz and Milena Simon are from Bulgaria. But make no mistake about it, this is traditional American 'cue. How good is it? Check out the review.
For One More Day: The Ten Dead BBQ Joints I Most Wish I Could Visit, Part 2
Here's the second half of my list of barbecue joints I wish were alive for one more day. This list includes a few that I heard great things about but was never able to confirm in person.
Armadillo Depot, Worcester MA (closed 2007)
This joint on Park Avenue had been hailed by Chowhound.com founder Jim Leff as one of the best examples of Texas barbecue in the Northeast. I liked the way they smoked their meats but not how they reheated them, receiving cold food too many times. Now that I'm working in Worcester, I'd love to get those flavorful ribs just once, even if it meant investing in a toaster oven to finish the job back at the office.
Jake and Earl's, Cambridge MA (closed 1996)
I visited the original Jake and Earl's only once or twice in the early 1990s, but that was before I discovered East Coast Grill, the more upscale restaurant next door that shared the same kitchen (and owner, Chris Schlesinger). ECG eventually expanded into the area that was Jake's. I'd love to go back to see some of the talent who once manned that joint before branching out on their own: Andy Husbands (Tremont 647 and Rouge), Jake Jacobs (Jake's Boss BBQ), Chris Janowski (Blue Ribbon), Don Yovicsin (Jake's Dixie Roadhouse).
Pearson's, NYC (closed 2005)
From all I've heard and read about this place (as well as the pitmaster's earlier joints in Long Island City and Stratford CT), "English" Bob Pearson was ahead of his time. This former hairdresser from England had the audacity to serve a super smoky brand of barbecue without barbecue sauce, and it developed a cult following. One reader reminisced not just about the excellent barbecue but also how well it paired with the fresh Portuguese rolls Pearson obtained from a bakery in Bridgeport.
Poppa Rick's, Woodbury NYC (closed 2006?)
I'd heard good things about Poppa Rick's, including this from barbecue maven Josh Ozersky in a 2005 Newsday piece: "Crude, simple and magnificent, these monsters fairly burst with pork-fat flavor." I once spoke to pitmaster Rick Anselmi over the phone in 2005, to find out if they were open. But I never found the time to make the visit on that trip to the in-laws, and I lost my chance.
Slade's, Boston MA
Supposedly it's still operating as a jazz club, but in the 1960s, when it was owned by Boston Celtics center Bill Russell, it was the place for ribs and sports celebrities.
For One More Day: The Ten Dead BBQ Joints I Most Wish I Could Visit, Part 1
Sportswriter turned author Mitch Albom has created a cottage industry out of his series of books revolving around love and death. His most recent is called For One More Day, and it's been adapted into a TV movie that will air this Sunday night on ABC. It explores the question: What would you do if you could spend one more day with a lost loved one?
Here are the ten barbecue joints that I'd most like to be alive again, if only for one more day:
Holy Smokes, W. Hatfield MA (closed 2007)
This converted church was a fun place, with stained glass windows, pews turned into picnic benches, and hanging painted sculptures of flying pigs. But what made this place really fun were the pig and other meats that flew out of the smoker. Their beef shortrib topped my list in that category, and their pork ribs and chicken were both excellent. Add artisanal made-from-scratch sauces and some of the best sides I’ve ever had in a barbecue restaurant, and you’ve got a winner who’s run was cut too short when the place burned down last summer.
Rouge, Boston MA (closed 2006)
This upscale New Orleans style eatery with a bordello vibe gradually morphed into a barbecue joint for the hipster set, with memorable cocktails and special event dinners. I liked this Andy Husbands restaurant in all its incarnations, whether I was there for the chiles rellenos, the New Orleans BBQ shrimp, the Wedge salad, the Rhode Island style calamari, the sage rubbed skirt steak or (usually) the barbecue “Samplah” plate. Their cherry glazed pork rib prompted an awed 2005 dining companion to blurt, “So this is what a good rib tastes like!”
Jake’s Boss BBQ, Jamaica Plain MA (closed 2005)
Located across the street from Doyle’s, the oldest bar in Boston, Jake’s was the most recent joint run by Kenton "Jake" Jacobs, the man Chris Schlesinger calls the “living legend of barbecue.” For a long time, their pulled pork shoulder was the best you could possibly find in any Massachusetts city not named Newton or Arlington. The ribs were about as reliable as their HVAC system, but every third visit, they were on a par with the best I’d tasted, with an assertively spiced thick crust that yielded to a tender, smoky interior. I’d heard good things about their brisket, so I’d love to try that.
Porterhouse Café, Cambridge MA (closed 1999?)
At one time Jim Fahey (now at the Forest Café, a Mexican joint a little further south on Massachusetts Ave) was one of the Boston area’s leading practitioners of ribs. This dimly lit dive in Cambridge’s Porter Square served a rack of “monster babybacks” that hung off the edges of a sizeable plate. It’s the first place that ever served me fried pickles, and it's the first joint I fell in love with. I’d love to go back to see if I’d hold Porterhouse Café in the same high regard now as I did more than a decade ago.
Spitfires, Canton MA (closed 2007)
Located just a few miles from where I used to work, Spitfires started out as a poor man’s Blue Ribbon and ended as more of a homeless man’s Blue Ribbon. They usually had serviceable ‘cue, but the thing I’d go back for is their elusive Tex-Mex potato salad, created by their first pitmaster who's now back at Blue Ribbon. It's still the best potato salad I ever had and the only one I've ever craved.
(to be continued)
Weekend Wrap Up: Firefly's Gets Eggy With It
Yesterday Firefly's (Framingham MA) unveiled their new Sunday brunch buffet that now includes eggs and other breakfast items. The Marlboro location started this two weeks earlier and Quincy is forthcoming. In addition to the previous choices (most barbecue items, fried chicken, Dixie Kisses, just about every side on the menu, brownies and Red Velvet cake), they now have biscuits and gravy, bacon, ham, breakfast sausage, blueberry and cranberry breads and and omelette station.
Weekend Wrap Up: Route 7 Grill
On Saturday, my wife and I were in western Massachusetts, so we stopped into Route 7 Grill (Great Barrington MA) for our second visit. Temperatures were in the mid teens, so we sat by their impressive stone fireplace to keep warm. This time we tried the chili, made with ground beef and topped with cheese that was finished creme brulee style.
Route 7 recently made some changes to the menu. New appetizers include spiced shrimp and scallops wrapped in bacon. Sweet potato fries and fried onion strings are now available as sides. Entrees now feature pasta Bolognese with local beef and a BBQ tasting for one.
I tried the tasting platter ($26), which included ribs, brisket, a mini pulled pork sandwich and two sides. Usually I order my meats without sauce, but I decided to just let it come out of the kitchen however they normally do it. The ribs were juicy and tasty, and though the sauce was a little heavy handed, it was better than on my first visit and complemented the ribs well. I didn't think this was the case with the thinly sliced (almost deli style) brisket, which got lost under it. The pulled pork was very tender and had a nice porky flavor, though I would have liked to see some bark in there. My wife's barbecued chicken was again succulent and generously rubbed. Sides were again very good.
The Hill Country Image of the Week #1
I'm going to try a new Saturday photo feature, with a different image each week that shares a common theme. This month, it's New York City's Hill Country. I've seen mentions and photos on many blogs and review sites, but I've never seen a photo of their ventilation system. Here's one I took on a Saturday in November while exploring the flea market behind the building.
Last week was extremely hectic at work, with the extra hours resulting in Friday being a weekday without a post for the first time in a while. November was also the first month without a review. Part of that is the natural ebb caused by my 2-week October vacation to Hawaii, which didn't feed the pipeline of new joints to review. When I got back, I spent more time revisiting old favorites and comfortable standby joints rather than seeking new turf. The next few months will afford more time for exploration and writing.
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