Your guide to BBQ joints in Boston, New York and everywhere in between

 

 

Recent Features:

Wildwood review rebuttal

Phantom BBQ Beach Party

Blue Ribbon commissary

Wildwood BBQ Preview

Dr. BBQ Bash

Hill Country

Hill Country

Eric Devlin interview

Chris Schlesinger interview

 

Recent Reviews:

Smoking Sloe's

Poppa B's

Pit Stop Barbeque

Fatty Beltbuckles

Sparky's Texas BBQ

Smokin' Q

Georgia's Eastside BBQ

Rick's Roadhouse

Smoken' Joe's BBQ

Danny's Little Taste of TX (update)

Pig Out Barbecue

 

Joints by Region:

 

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Massachusetts BBQ

 

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Hudson Valley BBQ

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BBQ by City:

(coming soon)

 

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(07/31/08)

Long Island BBQ: Smoking Sloe's Reviewed

The site's 145th review is now available for Smoking Sloe's (Northport NY). This was another hard one to gauge based on only one visit, but I hope to return for another take. See the review via the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.

 

Boston BBQ: Pig Pickin' at Redbones to Benefit Somerville Homeless Coalition, August 4

Redbones (Davis Square in Somerville MA) will be holding its 7th Annual Pig Pickin' on Monday to benefit the Somerville Homeless Coalition. Whole hogs will be smoking in the custom made 'pig rig' in front of the restaurant all day. The $25 dinner includes real pit barbecue picked right off the bone, plus loins, bellies, cole slaw, corn on the cobb, corn bread, drinks and live music. www.redbones.com

 

Almost a Clean Sweep

I just realized this as I was doing today's update. Check the "Recent Eats" photos and you'll see that I visited barbecue joints in six different states this month: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. If I had the day off I might attempt Maine and New Jersey, but that's just not going to happen.

 

 

 

(07/30/08)

Boston BBQ: Boston Magazine Names Blue Ribbon As Best BBQ in the City

For the third 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.

 

Earlier this month, Blue Ribbon reclaimed their title as Boston's Best in Improper Bostonian, making the Boston Magazine nod their second dual recognition in the last three years.

 

Joints Directory Madness

Here's the latest batch of Joints directory activity, spanning four states. This time there are five new joints, one closing and one impending closing.

  • My Daddy's Barbeque at Trumpet Vine Cafe (Simsbury CT) is a Friday-through-Sunday (4pm to 8pm only) operation in a cafe with a quaint old-time feel and a gift shop to boot. This new joint, recently profiled by the Hartford Courant, is BYOB. Thanks to Brett for the info.

  • Smokin' J's Real Memphis Barbecue (Wilmington VT) is a joint that's not too far from Brattleboro, making it easily accessible to Massachusetts BBQ fans. Thanks to Gordon for the info.

  • The Sunset Grille & Tap Room (Stowe VT) is a joint that's been around 20 years, and pitmaster Rich Haab has won some awards on the competition circuit. Bumping into him this weekend at Harpoon reminded me that this joint needed to be added.

  • Pilgrim Bar-BQ (Ansonia CT) is a hole-in-the-wall, according to my source on Chowhound.com, located on Route 115, not too far from New Haven.

  • CC's Barbecue Pit (Haledon NJ) closed a few weeks ago. Thanks to Douglas for the info.

  • Peaches Market (Brooklyn NY) is another joint brought to you by the same people who brought you the Smoke Joint. The menu, which changes daily, includes barbecue offerings from the Smoke Joint, with high quality sides, southern specialties like fried green tomatoes and grits, plus an assortment of salads that are good to go. www.peachesbrooklyn.com

  • Willie B's Award Winning BBQ (Bay Shore NY) announced that they will be closing after Labor Day, but will still be available for catering and offer rubs and sauces online. www.williebsbbq.com

 

 

 

(07/29/08)

New York BBQ: My Rebuttal to Time Out New York's Hatchet Job on Wildwood permalink

As I mentioned yesterday, there are some reviews you agree with, some you don't. And then there are some that are so extremely positive, you're certain they're shilling, and some that are so negative that you can tell the writer had an axe to grind. Randall Lane's Time Out New York review of Wildwood falls into this last category.

 

Here's my paragraph-by-paragraph rebuttal of that review. Lane's original review appears in black italics; my comments follow in red.

 

“Have you eaten here before?” That was the odd question posed by my server at Wildwood Barbeque, given that the latest addition to Steve Hanson’s B.R. Guest juggernaut hadn’t been open all that long. “Well, you know we’re the first barbecue restaurant where the meats are all-natural,” she gushed, later adding that Wildwood is also “green” in terms of recyclables and such. She wasn’t defensive—with her perky cheerleader demeanor, and T-shirt emblazoned with the motto rub me tender, she was actually quite flirtatious—yet I couldn’t help thinking that the script (also recited on Wildwood’s phone system) was designed to gloss over its late arrival to New York’s barbecue renaissance.

 

Asking if you’ve eaten there before isn’t odd at all, although it’s much more common to a chain restaurant than a local mom and pop operation. Sure, it hasn’t been open that long, but one of my dining companions the night I ate at Wildwood—before the T.O.N.Y. review was published, mind you—had eaten there seven times already. So offering to spare him the spiel is a good thing, not bad.

 

All-natural meats? That’s a good thing. Going green? Also good. Being late to the barbecue renaissance? Please. If that’s a crime, we'd have to dismiss every barbecue joint that opens from this point forward, and that would be stupid.

 

The very 2008 hook—organic and environmental—masks a one-size-fits-all barbecue style that in fact feels quite dated. New York barbecue has come into its own over the past few years through a combination of better smokers and a focus on regional styles. For the same reasons that Hanson’s catchall Ruby Foo’s, while popular, isn’t a very good Chinese restaurant, Wildwood is not a very good ’cue joint.

 

It doesn’t strike me that Wildwood is trying to mask anything. Just as organic and environmental are separate characteristics from being late to the party, they also have nothing to do with barbecue style.

 

Yes, Wildwood is an amalgam of regional barbecue styles, but that in and of itself doesn’t make it “not a very good ‘cue joint.” Is Babbo not a very good Italian restaurant because it serves dishes from a few different regions of Italy? If it’s Wildwood’s execution you have a problem with, fine, but make your case there.

 

“Big Lou” Elrose should know better. Wildwood’s pit master (the former cop’s actual title is “corporate pit master,” which says in a nutshell what’s wrong here) comes over from the No. 2 slot at the outstanding Texas barbecue spot Hill Country, part of a wave of specialists, along with Kansas Citycentric R.U.B., that have helped make New York a respectable place for low-and-slow cooking.

 

You're right, Hill Country focuses purely on Texas barbecue, and they are excellent. And Big Lou can justifiably claim part of the credit for its success. I’m glad you brought up Hill Country. Back in the second paragraph, where you talk about better smokers? Hill Country and Wildwood both have Ole Hickory pits. Oh, and back in the first paragraph, where you slammed Wildwood for being late to the party? Hill Country wasn’t yet one year old when you dined at Wildwood, so are self-service and meat-by-the-pound their way of glossing over their late arrival to the NYC barbecue renaissance? As for “corporate pit master,” is the crime that Wildwood’s goal is more restaurants? If you ever spoke with anyone in the know over at Hill Country, they have the same plan of opening more Hill Country “units” in other parts of the country. RUB? Same plan. They’ve already opened in Las Vegas and began talks to open in the Palisades Mall in West Nyack. Even the legendary joints in Texas and Tennessee have multiple units. Although expansion often leads to compromises in quality, expansion in and of itself shouldn’t be a problem. So again I say, if it’s Wildwood's execution you have a problem with, that’s fine, make your case there. So far you haven’t.

 

The rest of New York City? They’re not exactly filled with regionally-focused barbecue restaurants. After Hill Country, Brother Jimmy’s is about as close as it gets to regionally-specific barbecue (North Carolina style), and I’m not all that fond of their execution. The first three joints to lead the barbecue renaissance—Blue Smoke, Daisy May’s and Dinosaur—all offer a barbecue tour of America, specializing no more than Wildwood.

 

Let’s get back to RUB—also excellent—which you cite as a regional practitioner, focusing on Kansas City barbecue. It isn’t Kansas City at all. Ask owner Andrew Fischel, and he’ll be the first to tell you they defy all regional styles in favor of what he simply calls “old time barbecue.” Sure, executive pitmaster (hey, that sounds familiar) Paul Kirk is from Kansas City, but their ribs bear no resemblance to the sticky, messy fare from Missouri. And their burnt ends also have no direct lineage to the Kansas City specialty but are instead an original (and fantastic) creation.

 

You started paragraph 3 by saying “Big Lou should know better.” Given all the erroneous facts and logic here, you should know better.

 

Inhabiting the carcass of Hanson’s failed Barca 18, Wildwood is everything you’d expect of a B.R. Guest barbecue joint: David Rockwell has filled the soaring space with reclaimed wood beams; the drinks list boasts 50 beers and 30 bourbons; and the music rotates between effete (Steely Dan) and roadhouse (ZZ Top).

 

Effete: good word.


The barbecue’s greatest-hits menu mostly misses. Given his pedigree, Big Lou should be ashamed of the Texas-derived offerings. The brisket was dry, overly lean meat as bland as leftover pot roast. The menu promises a rub, but I couldn’t detect one, unless you count salt. The Texas-style smoked sausages were even worse. At their best, Texas links boast crisp skin that encases meat so juicy it squirts you in the eye. Wildwood’s version reminded me of the “sausage” you see spinning in the rotating heater at a ballpark.

 

Glad to see you’re finally talking about the food. The brisket I had on just one visit was moist. Now I’m just a lowly blogger, but I’m holding out for a second visit before I post a formal review. I’m wondering how many visits your review is based on, because while I can imagine the brisket being drier than what I had every now and then, I can’t imagine it being dry for three straight visits. So if you based your review on just one visit, shame on you.

 

I agree about the rub (I wish they’d use more) but that’s a stylistic choice they made, not an error of execution. My favorite joints in the area—RUB, Hill Country, Daisy May’s, Fette Sau—use a lot of rub, so Wildwood’s lighter treatment does stand out, but I’d hardly call the meats bland. I’ve tried more than a hundred briskets, both at restaurants and as a certified barbecue judge, and this was one of the best I’ve had.


Wildwood’s Carolina efforts aren’t much better. The pulled pork, which had none of the characteristic moisture or piquant vinegar flavor, was bone-dry, as if it had been pulled off a pig hours earlier then placed under a heat lamp.

Although the pork was the weakest of the meats I sampled, it was quite moist.

 

With the arrival of the ribs, the results began to improve, albeit erratically. The most successful: Memphis baby backs, which use the tasty organic meat to good effect, with firm flesh and a nice chipotle barbecue sauce. The pork spareribs were also solid. A salt-and-sugar rub created a glistening shell, and the pork itself had the kind of deep flavor you’d expect from an expensive piece of meat. Besides the glaze, though, there wasn’t much complexity: Find this on a pupu platter and you wouldn’t blink an eye. The “Denver” lamb ribs were also skillfully cooked, but again, the flavor just wasn’t there.

 

I agree about the deep flavor in the pork spareribs, as they were among the porkiest I’ve tasted. “Lack of complexity” is just another way of saying again that you’re looking for more rub. That’s fine, just don’t imply that there’s something wrong. If I found them on a pupu platter, I’d say it was a damn good pupu platter.

 

Sides at barbecue restaurants are an integral part of the experience (I’ve driven extra miles in the South for a great mac and cheese or dirty rice). At Wildwood, they seem too much of an afterthought. Baked beans with burnt brisket ends, a Kansas City mainstay, were atrocious. The meat was drowning in cloying gruel—if Calvin Trillin were dead, he’d be spinning in his grave. The flimsy vinegar potato chips turned to dust in our fingers, and panko-dusted mac and cheese, a fair amount of aged cheddar cheese coating the elbow pasta, was just passable, as was the wet, tangy slaw.

 

I'd stop far short of “atrocious” but I’m basically with you on the sides. I'd probably rank Wildwood's sides sixth among the group of “BBQ Renaissance” joints that also includes (chronologically) Blue Smoke, Daisy May’s, Dinosaur, RUB and Hill Country. But I'll take Wildwood's barbecued meats over half of that group.

 

Ironically, the things done best at Wildwood have little to do with barbecue. Take the half chicken. Okay, technically Big Lou smokes it, but the dish works because of a caramelized apricot glaze that, when combined with the bird’s robust, gamey flesh, tasted more like duck à l’orange than a breast-and-leg special. There are also vibrant chicken wings, fried with panko crumbs and coated in Frank’s fiery RedHot sauce.


Big Lou’s burger, shockingly, is nothing short of great, mixing sirloin, chuck and brisket meat into a pungent, firm patty. A large slab of bacon adds just enough fat to make the whole sandwich succulent. Out of nowhere, it’s one of the best in the city. Desserts also outperformed the main event, with a creative chocolate-covered s’more using peanut butter and Fluff, and a first-rate ten-layer carrot cake with luscious coconut cream frosting.


That some fine dishes get lost in a sea of mediocre barbecue underscores why Wildwood doesn’t work. With those wings and that great burger, along with the large-screen TVs blaring Yankee games, perhaps there’s hope for the place—as a sports bar.

 

Despite Big Lou’s pedigree (Daisy May’s, Hill Country), Wildwood is trying to be more like Blue Smoke than Daisy May’s or Hill Country. They’re trying to appeal to a broader audience, trying to be more of a barbecue restaurant than a barbecue joint, with enough elegance and menu diversity to be what I call “Saturdayworthy”—a place you can take a date to and still impress her. They’re probably trying harder to take business away from nearby Olives than to take barbecue business away from RUB and Hill Country. So it doesn’t surprise me that the chicken is a little more upscale than you’d find at a barbecue joint and that they’d have some dishes that go beyond barbecue. It also didn’t surprise me that the chicken I tried was delicious. But these beyond-barbecue dishes aren’t getting lost; they’re getting ordered on a regular basis. If they’re one of the reasons for the restaurant’s success—along with some very good barbecue—I’m sure BR Guest will take that.

 

Obviously you and I had different impressions of Wildwood, and that's okay. But your review seems to be a vendetta against corporate restaurants in general and an attack on Big Lou specifically. Maybe you had a run in with Lou in his previous life as a cop; maybe he just rebuffed you as a potential witness in a case. Based on your Wildwood review, your testimony just isn't credible.

permalink with photos

 

 

 

(07/28/08)

Long Island BBQ: Willie B's Announces September 2 Closing

Sad news to report here: owner, pitmaster and namesake Will Breakstone announced on the BBQ Brethren forums yesterday that he will be closing his Bay Shore BBQ joint Willie B's BBQ on September 2. Fans of his smoking skills will have one more month to stop in, and a farewell bash in the Willie B's parking lot is planned for August 30. Willie B's will continue to offer barbecue catering services and sell rubs and sauces online.

www.williebsbbq.com

 

 

Competition BBQ: I Smell Smoke Wins at Harpoon; QHaven Take Reserve Grand

When you've been as successful as I Smell Smoke in recent years, two contests without a win constitutes a slump. I Smell Smoke ended the mini-draught by claiming the grand championship at the KCBS barbecue contest at the Harpoon Brewery in WIndsor VT on Saturday. This is their third state championship of the season, adding to their previous wins in Lowell MA and Merrimack NH. Since it's the last contest of the year (next month's contests constitute a new year), this all but guaranteed I Smell Smoke's inevitable crowning as New England BBQ Society (NEBS) Team of the Year on Sunday.

 

In other annual awards, I Smell Smoke also won Team of the Year honors for the categories of pork and brisket. Transformer BBQ was Team of the Year for ribs; the Purple Turtles were Team of the Year for chicken.

 

Reserve grand champions and brisket trophy winners QHaven also mounted a comeback of sorts. Bursting out of the gate in 2006, they placed third in their first contest and won the New Hampshire State Championship in their second contest, along with a trip to the Jack Daniel's and NEBS Rookie Team of the Year honors. Their sophomore year saw more trophies, including numerous top 10 finishes and reserve grands for grilling and barbecue, but not the heights reached previously. Saturday's reserve grand championship—in the toughest field they've encountered—marked a return to form with a shorthanded team (pitmaster Ted Lorson's wife Sheila stayed at home with their newborn son Max). With a new smoker and a new team member, things are looking up again for QHaven.

   

click to view larger image

Steve Farrin of I Smell Smoke

needs to clear some trophy space.

 

click to view larger image

QHaven, the pride of Norwich CT.

 

 

New York BBQ: Time Out New York Pulls a Hatchet Job on Wildwood

I was still recovering from a New York City BBQ trip specifically designed to try Wildwood when the Time Out New York review came out, so I only read it last week. There are some reviews you agree with, some you don't. And then there are some that are so extremely positive, you're certain they're shilling, and some that are so negative that you can tell the writer had an axe to grind. Randall Lane's review of Wildwood in T.O.N.Y. falls into this last category. Tomorrow I'll offer a paragraph-by-paragraph rebuttal of this review.

 

Time Out New York review of Wildwood BBQ

 

 

 

(07/25/08)

Worcester BBQ: Cactus Pete's, Already Closed One Year, Gets Smashed to Smithereens

It was exactly one year and one week ago today that I reported the closing of Cactus Pete's (Worcester MA), and yesterday the building was finally demolished. There were some that held out hope in light of the one year delay that the three-story honky tonk wouldn't become a CVS afterall, but those hopes were leveled along with the building around noon. A one-story replacement structure will house the new CVS, which is just one block from a Walgreen's and two blocks from another CVS. Just what the city needs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(07/24/08)

Some Service Glitches, Part 2

Our second burger of the week was at a restaurant that's not quite a chain, but with a few locations in the area would be loosely classified as a local chain. We go there mostly on Fridays and mostly because it's close. Over the years we've probably had every server at least once, and most of the core servers several times each.

 

The three servers we get most often have widely varying attributes (I'm leaving looks out of this one). Server A: good personality, very good server. Server B: no personality, pretty good server. Server C: great personality, questionable server. My wife and I usually hope to get server A, but we really like server C too, not realizing for a while that her bubbly personality made you overlook a multitude of service sins. Server B is like a robot: machine-like service skills and a machine-like personality to boot. Until recently we hoped to avoid her, but we slowly developed an appreciation for her consistent, error free approach.

 

This time we had server C, the one with the personality. The one who's everybody's friend and for good reason: she's a terrific person and a lot of laughs. But terrific server? I'm not so sure. It's great when the server interacts with you and makes the meal (and you) feel special. But when extended conversation at every table in her station (and the bar, and the kitchen) causes delays in every service step, it can get annoying after a while.

 

We ordered two bottles of beer. After a short wait we were told the beers we chose weren't available in bottles, would we like them as drafts? Yes. My wife ordered the 16-ounce, I ordered the 20-ounce. I went with the larger size because I knew from experience that it might be a while before I got a chance to order another. Well, it took 15 minutes to get these drafts. Do you remember that Sunday comic strip The Family Circus, when they'd show Billy's convoluted path? That's server C.

 

After the drinks were placed, we were ready to order, but our server was ready to greet another party (who just arrived) and take their order. Then she took our order. And then she took another table's order. And then she entered all three orders into the system. Although it's not exactly slap-you-in-the-face rude, it's one of my biggest service pet peeves. You should take an order, enter an order. Take another, enter another. Doing it her way just caused unnecessary delays while creating a logjam down the road by having all of the orders come out at once. Doing it my way spreads things out, allows a staggered delivery of fresh, hot food and avoids having three tables to bus at the same time as everyone leaves. But the biggest reason to do it my way? You turn the tables faster and you get more drink orders per table. That means more tips.

 

I forgot to mention that when I ordered, I asked for ketchup. This is one of those places that doesn't keep ketchup on the tables and doesn't bring it automatically with burgers. So I asked if I could get the ketchup ahead of time rather than asking once the burger arrived (a potential ten minute wait). It never arrived. A runner brought the burgers and I asked for ketchup; a minute later it arrived. Ten minutes later our server arrived with the ketchup.

 

Was it an awful experience? No, far from it. We still like server C. We left $40 for a $32 check. But we were there for well over an hour when we just wanted a quick burger before doing some Friday night errands. If a few things had gone differently, we could have ordered a second round, left a bigger tip and left a half hour earlier, clearing the table for another table and another tip. I guess it didn't matter.

 

 

 

(07/23/08)

BBQ Festivals, Vermont BBQ: New England BBQ Championships at Harpoon, July 26-27

The 2008 New England BBQ Championships take place this weekend at the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor VT. It’s widely regarded as a favorite barbecue contest by competition cooks and a favorite barbecue festival by 'cue fans willing to undertake a "pigtrip," and here’s why:

  • It’s out in the middle of nowhere, making it an ideal place to relax, forget about busy schedules and just cook/eat barbecue.

  • It’s held at Harpoon, makers of a fine IPA that’s a notch or two above the swill you’ll find at most barbecue festivals.

  • The accommodations are first rate. If you’re a competitor, you get free Harpoon beer, and that’s a great perk. This will be my first time judging this barbecue contest, but I’ve heard there’s free beer for judges too (after judging, of course).

  • The KCBS barbecue competition is on Saturday, not Sunday. With no overnight preparation required for Sunday’s NEBS grilling competition, Saturday night is as relaxing as it gets. (I said no overnight preparation is required, not that there won't be all-nighters.)

  • This is a hard contest to enter, as only elite teams are accepted. Not only will local favorites IQue and I Smell Smoke be competing, but nationally prominent teams like the Slabs and Smokin’ Triggers will also be vying for the grand championship. That means the caliber of ‘cue will also be a notch or two above what you’d find at most barbecue festivals.

  • That caliber of ‘cue isn’t just for the judges. Unlike at most contests in New England and New York, many of the competitors will be selling ribs, pulled pork and other barbecue favorites to the public on Saturday and Sunday. I'll take their 'cue over the carnival vendors masquerading as "barbecue personalities" any day, and I'd drive a good distance to do so.

  • Harpoon is open all weekend, offering brewery tours.

  • Parking is a breeze.

  • Cooking demos, specialty food vendors and live music add to the laid back atmosphere.

 

If You Liked Yesterday's Post

Yesterday's post was an homage of sorts to Waiter Rant, whose from-the-waiter's-perspective posts do a much better job with server/customer dialogue than I did, but it was fun to give that style a test drive. The Waiter Rant book will be released in less than a week, and I know I'll be one of the first to buy it.

 

 

 

(07/22/08)

Some Service Glitches, Part 1

I said the weekend was uneventful on the barbecue front, but earlier in the week my wife and I ate out twice, both times opting for burgers. Nothing special, just your typical chain restaurant both times. To say that I'm not a fan of chain restaurants would be an understatement, but sometimes you go because they're close, not expecting much. And each time I leave with even lower expectations for the next time.

 

The first visit of the week was to one of those chains that's been pushing their revised burger menu but is more famous for its salad bar. My mother joined us and we all ordered the salad bar and a different burger: a bison burger for my wife, a rare burger for my mother and a deluxe burger medium rare, hold the mayo for me. Ordering was a breeze and we made our way to the salad bar. I was thinking of asking our waitress to make sure to wait a few minutes before entering the burgers to allow time to navigate the salad bar, but I figured she already knew that. And the fact that my mother uses a walker might be an indication that it might take a while, but I figured again that our waitress would be on top of it.

 

We return from the salad bar and after two bites of salad our burgers arrive. A little annoying but not a big deal. "Who had the bison burger?" the runners ask before dispatching it to my wife. With enough certainty not to have to ask, they distribute the other two burgers to my mother and me.

 

After a few bites, I realize there's mayo in my burger. "Did you forget to hold the mayo?" I ask our waitress.

 

"That's our signature mayo, all our burgers come with that," she said, not aware that in a chain restaurant like this one a signature was more of a rubber stamp. "It's our signature garlic mayo," she reinforced.

 

"That's great, but I ordered it with no mayo."

 

"Why, is it too spicy for you?"

 

"It's not too spicy, I just prefer it without mayo."

 

"Well if you want, we can cook you another one," she says, in a tone that suggests I had a problem with the mayo after the fact, when in fact I ordered it without mayo just minutes earlier, when she had no problem with it.

 

"No, it's no big deal, I'll just finish this," I say.

 

A few minutes later our server returns. "Did you have the deluxe burger?" she asks. I nod. "That's not the deluxe burger, this is," she says, pointing at my mother's burger, which is far rarer than mine.

 

There was a burger mix-up. No big deal. "That's okay, don't worry about it," I say.

 

A minute later a manager arrives. "I understand you got the wrong burgers?"

 

"Yes, but we're okay. It happens."

 

"Is there anything you'd like me to do?" he asks. I hate that. I was happy just letting things ride. Well not happy, but I didn't feel a need to negotiate any settlement. If he wanted to offer us coupons or deduct one of the meals, fine, but either do it or don't do it. Don't put me on the spot. I just wanted to finish our dinner, not conduct a court hearing in booth #3.

 

"No, we're okay," I say. He remains in place for several long seconds without saying a word, the way interviewers do, hoping to get more of a statement.

 

"We're okay," I insist.

 

When the bill arrives, my burger, salad and drink are comped. Not necessary, but it took a little of the sting out. Not the sting of getting the wrong burger, but the sting of having to explain and defend myself while my burger got cold. Next time I'll keep my mouth shut. The funny thing is that the burger wasn't all that bad.

 

 

 

(07/21/08)

Competition BBQ: IQue Wins Troy Pigout; Smoke 'Em If Ya Got 'Em Takes Brookline

It was another strong showing for Chris Hart and IQue as they claimed the grand championshp trophy at the first Troy Pigout (Troy NY) yesterday, with a first place ribs trophy along the way. Transformer BBQ took reserve grand championship honors and a first place brisket trophy; The Anchormen placed third; Lakeside Smokers finished fourth and took home a first place chicken trophy.

 

In Brookline NH, Smoke 'Em If Ya Got 'Em were grand champions of the backyard barbecue event. Congratulations to Steve Sack and Wayne Carreiro.

 

 

Weekend Wrap-Up: Luau, Siesta

It was a pretty uneventful weekend on the barbecue front. We had some guests over on Saturday night for a Hawaiian themed luau, and I served a few of the dishes whose initial experiments I documented here: SPAM burnt ends, pineapple fatties, smoked huli huli chicken. A luau isn't a luau without smoked pork, so some shoulder cooked over Hawaiian kiawe wood was also in the mix, served with taro rolls and a pineapple and three pepper salsa. I was tempted to smoke a few racks of ribs as well, but that would be a little more labor intensive than I cared for in the 96 degree heat with high humidity.

 

On Sunday we contemplated a drive out to Troy NY or Brookline NH to extend our good wishes to our friends on the competition circuit. We also contemplated a trip to the beach and a trip to a new restaurant for review. Instead we did something we haven't done in a while: just stayed home and relaxed.

 

 

 

(07/19/08)

Hudson Valley BBQ: The Anchormen and Lakeside Smokers in the News

To drum up interest for the barbecue festival and KCBS competition in Troy ths weekend, an Albany Times Union story on Thursday profiled two competition teams who are seeking to win their first grand championship. It's nice to see quotes from Ray Depot and Eric Johnson of the Anchormen and Mike Boisvert of Lakeside Smokers. Check it out, it's a great read. I wish both teams the best of luck tomorrow.

 

 

 

(07/18/08)

New York BBQ: My First Visit To Wildwood

I had already set foot inside the place, checking out their kitchen and sampling a few items before they opened, but I've been longing for a full fledged "game conditions" visit since day one. On Sunday night I finally had a chance to stop in, enjoying a well rounded tour of the menu with two other barbecue aficionados.

   
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We bypassed the so-called appetizers, instead making an appetizer out of the rib sampler. I liked that the babybacks came sauced and the spare ribs didn't. I liked the full spectrum of doneness on the babybacks (crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside). I wished the spares shared that crispness, but they were still very good, and the meatiest ribs I have ever had in the city. What I liked most was that the ribs tasted like pork. I'm usually partial to a little more rub and more smoke than what I tasted here, but both rib types had a really nice, addictively porky flavor.

 

The beef shortrib was also a hit, with a dark, crusty exterior and moist, pink, just-fatty-enough inner meat. The beautifully arranged brisket platter featured slices from both the flat (the leaner end) and the point (the fattier end), and the tenderness and flavor were solid. I'm not ready to put the brisket in Hill Country's league just yet, but it's close.

 

The pulled pork was the only disappointment. I'm a vinegar fan, so it's not the vinegar, but there was something odd about the pork we tried that night, and it was also a little overdone. I took them out for the photo, but the pulled pork sandwich is served with a few onion rings inside the bun. Sides were just okay, but we weren't here for the sides.

 

So why am I saying all this here instead of posting it in a review? I think I want to make at least another visit before I do that. Overall, it was a very good first meal. Aside from the pork, everything was good to excellent. But there's still a part of me that was expecting just a little more, and I need another visit to put things into perspective. I want to hit Wildwood on a night when pitmasters Lou Elrose and Matt Fisher are in the house (both were absent Sunday), and see if that bumps things up a bit. Based on this visit alone, I can already say Wildwood is worthy of my NYC top four, along with RUB, Daisy May's and Hill Country. I'm already planning the next visit, and I can't wait.

 

 

 

(07/17/08)

Hudson Valley BBQ: Troy Pigout This Weekend

The "first ever" Troy Pigout will be underway this Saturday at 5:00PM. The two-day event will feature live music, fireworks and other entertainment, chefs demonstrations and barbecue vendors. On Saturday, the Certified Angus People's Choice Taste-Off will offer $1 beef tastings from the participants in Sunday's KCBS-sanctioned New York State Championship barbecue competition. Proceeds from the taste-off will be benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Sounds like a good time! www.visittroyny.com

 

 

 

(07/16/08)

New York BBQ: Southern Hospitality Now Offers Sunday Brunch; Lunch Service Starts Next Monday

The first food stop last Sunday was Southern Hospitality, a joint I had been meaning to revisit for a while now. My initial luke warm review predated the arrival of Ray Lampe ("Dr. BBQ") as executive chef/pitmaster. Although I enjoyed an impressive meal there earlier this year with Lampe not only in the house but joining us for the proceedings, it was a private function and not necessarily indicative of the quality I might find on a random visit. I was hoping Sunday's visit would shed some light on how far things had come since the early days.

 

 

Southern Hospitality now serves Sunday brunch from noon to 4:00PM. The good news is that you can get some interesting dishes like chicken and waffles, smoked brisket hash and eggs, chicken fried steak and eggs, huevos rancheros with pulled pork, a grilled portobello and cheddar omelet and biscuits with country sausage white gravy. The bad news (though understandable) is that the barbecue menu is abbreviated during these hours. That meant I would not get a reprise of the dry rubbed pork spare ribs and the giant beef shortrib that were the highlights of that private function.

 

Joined by one of the city's premier food bloggers, whose interests include but are not limited to barbecue, I sampled the hash and eggs, babyback ribs and sliced brisket. The hash was interesting, most of it crispy. The pieces that had some fat were moist and very flavorful; the other pieces were a little dry. The babybacks had a lightly smoky flavor and were superior to a chain restaurant rib, but had that same steamy, fall-off-the-bone overdoneness. Brisket, trimmed ever so neatly to rid all of the fat but also all of the bark, was also a little steamy.

 

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Southern Hospitality will be serving lunch every day starting next Monday, July 21.

 

There's not enough data to write an updated review just yet. I'm going to have to try Southern Hospitality at night. That will avail all of the menu and provide a truer test of the quality. I'm very interested to see how they do.

 

 

 

(07/15/08)

New York BBQ: Another Brother Jimmy's Opening Soon at Lexington and 31st

I spent Sunday in New York City, where I hit a few barbecue joints for breakfast, lunch and dinner. More on that later, but we'll open with a calorie-free stop. The tour started at the corner of Lexington and 31st to check in on the construction of the latest Brother Jimmy's, which will be their sixth outpost. The theme seems to be consistent with the other restaurants in the chain, with a sports bar emphasis and chicken wire separating the different sections. According to reports elsewhere, it should be open by month's end.

   
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(07/14/08)

The Art of the BBQ Crawl

Sometimes barbecue is best enjoyed in one spot, relaxing over a few beers and just hanging out and not really worrying about the greater meaning of life or barbecue. Other times much of the fun comes from surveying two, three or even more barbecue joints in the same day or night, comparing and contrasting your impressions with those of your friends. As a veteran of many barbecue crawls, both for site research and for the pure social aspect, I've developed many strategies and tips that will help you get the most out of a barbecue crawl:

  • The Personnel. Many believe "the more the merrier," but I think the best number for a crawl is four, the second best three and the third best two. Small numbers keeps the planning manageable and require at most one car. Since ribs are certain to be involved, a rack divides easily by four people (three apiece), three (four each) or two (six each). A half rack divides easily by three (two each) or two (three each). Six ribs per person is far too many for a serious crawl, and lugging leftovers complicates things. Three ribs apiece for four people is ideal. Four is also perfect for splitting sandwiches, one of my favorite appetizer techniques. Besides the right number of people, it's also important to have people you can count on to show up, people who have the stamina to last the entire crawl and people who are like minded on the philosophies of ordering, sharing, bill-splitting and tipping.

  • The Mission. A name ("Pulled Pork Palooza", "Operation Dessert Storm" or the like) isn't required, but the crawl should have a clearly defined purpose. Maybe it's a rib-focused crawl, where six rib fans split a whole rack at six different joints, or any similar crawl where one single meat is the subject of comparison and discussion. Or you could pick different meats at different joints, going with the specialty of the house. Hell, you could even do the masochist's crawl and visit seven different Dallas BBQ locations (NYC) in a single day. I'm not saying you have to have a theme or need to overthink things, but just ordering a bunch of dishes at each joint has a way of filling you up long before you've made it halfway through the intended restaurant roster.

  • The Planning. Do your homework. Check the menus ahead of time. Is there a must-order dish that demands juggling the order of the joints or a preparation method that requires special attention? Check the Pigtrip reviews. Not because my opinion is right (it isn't; it's just an opinion). It's because the photos may help you decide which joints are the keepers and which joints won't make the cut.

  • The Order. Give some forethought to the order of the joints. It's often assumed that the best route is the one with the shortest distance between joints, but spacing out the joints allows better digestion. If there are two joints close together, that's a good thing if they're #1 and #2 on your crawl, with an intermission before joint #3. If they're #2 and #3, it might be too much too fast. Since there's a natural tendency to not properly pace the eating at the beginning, it's a good idea to pick what you know or think will be the best joint for the leadoff slot. If your crawl takes a circular path to drop off and reclaim vehicles, the added benefit of this is a potential reprise at the end. If you just save the best joint for last, there's a chance you may be too full to enjoy it.

  • The Pacing. Pacing is the single biggest key to successfully navigating a crawl. If you eat three ribs at every joint while also sampling other meats and sides, you'll crash and burn too soon. Although I generally try to order two or three ribs per person, my rule of thumb is to eat one no matter what, two if they're good and three only if they're exceptional.

  • More Pacing. One rookie mistake I see time and time again is ordering too much food at once. It's not so much the quantity of food as much as the timing. Spreading the items out ensures you eat them while they're hot, prevents you from getting too full too fast, minimizes table clutter and allows good banter as you discuss each round.

  • The Pace Setter. For those themeless crawls where we just order whatever strikes our fancy at each joint, I still like to have a de facto item to order at the outset. For a two- or four-person crawl, a pulled pork sandwich is ideal and much easier to share than you'd think. For an uneven crew, wings are a good choice, but I only recommend these if they're smoked. The de facto first item method gets the ball rolling, spaces out the food and buys time to peruse the menu at your leisure. If that first item is a disaster, this method is also a fail-safe against ordering more bad food.

  • The Quantity. There's nothing wrong with ordering a lot of food at any one place, as long as: you're reasonably confident it will be good, you're not dead set on finishing it just because it's in front of you, and your crawlmates share your philosophy on spending and wasting. I'd rather over-order and leave much of it on the table. It costs more but I can try more things that way.

  • The Leftovers. I have no beef with anyone who wants to take home all the extra slices of beef brisket, ribs or whatever’s left over. I generally shun leftovers so that I can eat light, ethnic or upscale on my "off" days. Just make sure you bring a cooler if we're crawling in the summer heat.

  • The Timing. Brisket in particular should be eaten as soon as the plate hits the table. If you become engaged in the other offerings and make your way to the brisket last, you're not really eating the same meat as someone who struck first.

  • The Esoterica. Although most crawls involve the mainstream choices on the menu, a large size gathering is the ideal chance to try that obscure dish you might not order otherwise, so go for it. Just don't overlook those second tier items like chicken and sausage that often take a backseat to ribs, pulled pork and brisket. And don't lose sight of the big picture.

  • The Sides. Crawls are a great way to survey most if not all of the side dishes. It's best not to receive them all at once, so I like to order them in waves, trying to have each wave balance hot and cold, starch and vegetable, fried and not. You can always hold off on some of your choices and then double up on the sides you liked best. One thing, though: go easy on the baked beans, especially if you're riding in my car.

  • The Mis En Plate. If you're sharing, be sure to ask for extra knives for cutting and extra utensils and plates for serving, and make sure there's a bone plate. Whenever possible, I like to let the side dishes make their way around the table while I focus on the meat. Then, when there's only a little of each side remaining, I'll eat right out of the serving bowls. It keeps my plate cleaner and it keeps cole slaw juice and other debris away from my meat.

  • The Reveal. Don't be afraid to let your server or a curious manager overhear that you're on a BBQ crawl and will be comparing their 'cue to other stops on your trip. Knowing that you're into barbecue might lead them to put better stuff on your plate than they would ordinarily, and their natural desire to trump the competition may also bump the level up a little. The downside of this gambit is having to offer feedback at the end of the meal. If the 'cue is good, that can be a pleasure. If it's not, you either have to lie or give your diplomatic skills a workout as you awkwardly explain that their food is an insult to barbecue.

  • The BBQ Samaritan. I've been on solo crawls where I wanted to try a certain appetizer or two but knew full well I'd barely make a dent in them. My solution? Sit at the bar, order a beer and the fried green tomatoes. Before taking any for myself I offer some to the other bar patrons, insisting they take at least two each. I do this not for free drinks in reciprocation but rather for free information. I get a lot of good BBQ joint opinions and tips this way.

  • The Head. Restroom planning (also known in some circles as "waste management") is a critical component of an organized BBQ crawl. For reasons I won't get into, I don't like to take care of this at the restaurant. In certain parts of Boston, Cambridge and New York City, public rest rooms are hard to come by, so it helps to plan in advance. My gym membership, good at any Boston Sports Club and New York Sports Club location, has served me well in this regard.

 

 

 

(07/12/08)

Boston BBQ: Another Good Visit at SoulFire

On Thursday night my wife and I visited SoulFire (Allston MA) to celebrate an anniversary of sorts. The anniversary had nothing to do with us, but it was just a few weeks past the two-year mark (June 26) since SoulFire first opened its doors.

 

I was there on opening night—and was their first customer ever—and on that night I knew this joint would be around awhile. Whether or not you agreed with each stylistic choice, you could not doubt that the presentation had some thought behind it, that the soda jerk style pump-them-yourself heated sauces were a creative/technological breakthrough and that the unsauced meats were on flavor overdrive. If you ever chatted with owner/pitmaster Wyeth Lynch, it wouldn't take you long to figure out that he's a student of barbecue who's caught the bug big time.

 

Through a combination of steadier business and persistent experimentation, SoulFire has managed to turn out an increasingly fresher, more consistent product in the two years they've been open. Spare ribs are mammoth, exude a smoky flavor and almost always leak pork nectar. Brisket has made great strides, transitioning from just a hunk of brown meat in the early days to photo-worthy gems today, with a flavor to back up the presentation. Pork and chicken are reliable. Not only has the barbecue reached a level that rivals any in Boston and its surroundings, but their recently-added fried chicken may be the best I've ever had: the outside is loaded with crunch, the inside explodes with juices and the intense flavor hits you from the inside out.

 

In my now outdated review, I predicted that "if SoulFire can keep hitting the highs they’ve already hit while avoiding the few misfires, they could easily join the ranks of the better Boston BBQ destinations." I think they've done that and then some.

 

 

 

(07/11/08)

Boston BBQ: Blue Ribbon Named Best BBQ in Boston By Improper Bostonian

The annual "Boston's Best" issue of the Improper Bostonian is now out, and the winner in the barbecue category is Blue Ribbon (Newton MA and Arlington MA), who wrested the title away from last year's winner Village Smokehouse (Brookline MA). It's interesting that the write-up mentions the ribs, the brisket and the burnt ends—all very good—but holds back the love for the pulled pork sammy, which I consider the true signature dish at Blue Ribbon.

 

Long Island BBQ: Fatty Beltbuckles Reopens

I received a short email two days ago from the owner of Fatty Beltbuckles (Rocky Point NY): "We are open for business with a new chef. Things are starting to pick up again."

 

Closed since mid-June after owner George Leodis and chef Michael Kontanis were charged with committing first-degree rape and a first-degree criminal act against a former waitress (both pled not guilty), Fatty Beltbuckles re-opened its doors on July 5. According to an article in the Times Beacon Record, the replacement of Kontanis wasn't related to the rape charges but was a way to cut salary to keep in step with declining business.

 

 

 

(07/10/08)

Home BBQ: Peach Jalapeño Pork Salad

Sunday's two pork shoulders created quite a bit of leftovers and yesterday was the hottest day in a while, so another cold pulled pork salad was in order. Back in April, I used celery, chile peppers and vinegar sauce for a first attempt at pork salad. Yesterday I wanted something a little more complex, so I used chopped red onion, sliced jalapeños, cilantro, a thin vinegar and pepper sauce from North Carolina and a good squeeze of fresh lime juice. The surprise ingredient was fresh peach slices. For years I've had a vision of pulled pork with "mix ins" in the manner originated by Steve Herrel at his Boston area Steve's ice cream shops in the 1980s, and the sliced peaches I had on my mind made the most sense. You might not think of peaches as an appropriate complement to pork, but I thought the pairing worked perfectly.

 

At the supermarket I looked for the firmest peaches I could find, sacrificing gushing juiciness for structural integrity. I figured a texture closer to jicama would stand up better to the other ingredients, survive the tossing and have greater lasting power on a hot day. It also made the peach flavor less potent than a riper fruit would, preventing the peach from overpowering the other ingredients. This was a refreshing treat on a hot summer's night. I know I'll be making more.

   

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The ingredients.

 

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A summer pork salad.

 

 

 

(07/09/08)

Boston BBQ: Poppa B's Reviewed

The site's 144th review is now in the books, and it's for Poppa B's (Dorchester MA), the two-year-old soul food restaurant that has a few barbecue options. This was a hard one to write: while I liked some of the items there a lot, the fried chicken and sides fell short of what I've been lucky to have enjoyed at the now-closed Premier Palette (Manchester NH). But I know I'll be back, maybe for the breakfast or to finally try their pulled pork sandwich. See the review via the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.

 

 

 

(07/08/08)

Joints Directory Madness

Here's the latest batch of Joints directory activity, spanning four states. This time there are three new joints, one expansion, one delayed expansion, one web site change, one new web site, one menu, one temporary closing for renovations, one seasonal non-opening and one into the dead pool.

  • Doctor Frank 'n' Swine BBQ (Orleans MA) is a seasonal, weekend barbecue business (11AM-7PM Saturday and Sunday) that's been operating out of the Masonic Temple's certified kitchens since May 24. "We've been getting great acceptance and the word of mouth has been phenomenal," announced Frank Ferzoco, the joint's namesake and a familiar face on the competition circuit. The menu, which wasn't available when I first annouced the joint in May, now includes babyback ribs, spare ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, brisket sandwiches and chicken wings. Sides include garlic mashed potatoes, cole slaw, collard greens, baked beans and Southern style green beans with chorizo. The food is geared for take-out but may be enjoyed on the outdoor picnic tables.

  • Q Restaurant (Port Chester NY) opened their second location in Mount Kisco on July 1. From early reports on Chowhound, it's still somewhat under construction, but the 'cue is ready for prime time. www.qrestaurantbar.com

  • The Way Back Eddy (Westport MA) has no working phone and showed no signs of life when I stopped by last Thursday. According to a contact at sister restaurant The Back Eddy, the Way Back won't be opening at all this season but is planning on resuming operation in the summer of 2009.

  • The Pit Stop (New Britain CT) is a lunch-only hole-in-the-wall that's not too far from Hartford, and it got a pretty good write-up, for what it's worth, in the Hartford Courant.

  • The similarly named Pit Stop Barbeque (Mattapan MA) has no website, but I posted their menu for convenience here.

  • Southern Que (Meriden CT) now has a website: www.southernqbbq.com

  • City Flame Smokehouse (Manchester NH) has a different website, this time providing a truer representation of their menu: www.cityflame.com

  • Maple Tree Deli (Riverhead NY) isn't a full fledged barbecue joint, but they do offer Texas beef brisket and North Carolina style pulled pork on a daily basis, with ribs making an occasional appearance. Thanks to Valarie for the tip.

  • Little Red Smokehouse (Carver MA) has their phone temporarily disconnected, but the reason given on their website is extensive renovations that will be taking place through early August. Thanks to Marty for the heads up. www.thelittleredsmokehouse.com

  • The Village Smokehouse (Lowell MA) is a second location for the Brookline MA rib joint that was to have opened by now. Gourmet Gal, a blog affiliated with the Lowell Sun, reported on Saturday that the projected opening date for the Lowell outpost is September 1.

  • Smokey's Rib Pit (Wantagh NY) is now closed and replaced by a new barbecue joint, under different ownership, called Tennessee Jed's. I'm still working on getting contact info for this place and will add it to the directory when I do. Thanks to Sledneck for the tip.

 

 

 

(07/07/08)

Sitting One Out

With the weather mostly agreeable but not beachworthy, Saturday and Sunday especially would have been perfect for a longer drive to try a new barbecue joint. Even though the long weekend afforded many possibilities, I purposely did not seek restaurant barbecue, because a holiday weekend doesn't always show a restaurant—barbecue or otherwise—at its best. The pitmaster/chef may be on vacation, large portions of the staff may be on vacation, the menu may be abbreviated or with limited traffic, the food may be old. So rather than judge a new joint under less than representative conditions, I decided to wait.

 

I'll say this though: two summers ago during the July 4 weekend I had one of the best barbecue meals I ever had at Goody Coles (then in Exeter NH, now in Brentwood NH).

 

Jack McDavid Wins at Lake Placid; Yabba Dabba Que Wins People's Choice Ribs

His restaurant (Jack's Firehouse, Philadelphia PA) is a little outside what I like to call the "Pigtrip region," but Jack McDavid is a familiar face to New Englanders and New Yorkers, having made many appearances in the area at the Rock'n Ribfest (Merrimack NH), the Hudson Valley Ribfest (New Paltz NY) and the Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party (Boston MA). Yesterday Jack McDavid's Down Home BBQ took the grand championship at the KCBS barbecue contest held at the I Love BBQ festival in Lake Placid NY. McDavid took first place brisket and finished in the top 10 in the other three categories.

 

Dirty Dick and the Legless Wonders were reserve grand champions. Other first place finishers included Transformer BBQ (third place overall) for ribs, Purple Turtle Catering Company for chicken and I Smell Smoke for pork.

 

One of the highlights of the festival is the "buck a bone" feature, and the People's Choice for ribs was New Hampshire's Yabba Dabba Que.

 

Overnight Sensation

I conducted an overnight smoking session for the first time Saturday night, loading two pork butts into the Big Green Egg at 8:30PM and letting them smoke away at 230F through the night. I had the utmost confidence that the Egg would hold temperature reliably, but I'm a pessimist by nature, always wondering what might go wrong if I'm not there. By Sunday morning the house was still intact and filled with the sweet smell of pork and slow burning kiawe wood. By Sunday lunchtime the pork was done, reaching a temperature of 200F. Previously I'd always cooked pork to 190F, but the overnight cook allowed the luxury of those ten extra degrees that made the pork much more tender.

   

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A pig's natural thermometer: the bone

pulls out easily when done.

 

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When you make the sandwich yourself,

you get all the bark you want.

 

 

 

(07/06/08)

Home BBQ: Smoked Sausages, Grilled Clams

Last Tuesday's trek to KC's Rib Shack and City Flame Smokehouse (Manchester NH) happened for three reasons, two of which I mentioned yesterday. It was a chance to visit two of New England's better barbecue joints. It was a chance to socialize with some friends from the barbecue circuit. And it was a chance to pick up some sausages for the weekend at Manchester's Sausage Heaven. This former storefront on Elm Street is now a warehouse (open to the public) whose address is on West Auburn Street but whose entrance is on Canal Street. They were out of the jalapeño sausages I usually get, so I opted for the lamb with fennel (a favorite even though I'm not a real lamb fan), Sicilian pork (made with Asiago cheese and pepperoncini) and chorizo (or maybe chourico; I can never remember). I'm not usually fond of sausages with a lot of cheese, but the Sicilians kept the cheese ratio down and the flavor quotient very high. I'm adding these to my regular list for next time.

 

I set up my Webber kettle for indirect cooking, with a coals and hickory chunks on one side, the sausages on the other and the lid in place, with the air vent on facing away from the fire to draw the smoke past the meat. After a little more than an hour, I removed the lid, added a few fresh coals to the fire and cooked up some littleneck clams using a recipe from East Coast Grill chef/owner Chris Schlesinger's latest book, Grill It. This recipe is a riff on "Clams Johnson," named after chef Steve Johnson. Currently the owner and executive chef at the Rendezvous (Cambride MA), Johnson is a longtime friend of Schlesinger's, a former sous chef at Hammersley's Bistro (Boston MA), the former chef at the Blue Room (Cambridge MA) and the original owner and rib master at the Way Back Eddy (Westport MA). As with any Schlesinger recipe, there are flavors aplenty. In this case, the clams got hit with the residual wood from the fire before getting a bath in a mixture of butter, white wine, garlic, chile peppers and parsley.

   

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Sausages cooking on indirect heat,

clams over the fire.

 

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Clams in a bath of flavor.

 

 

 

(07/05/08)

Manchester BBQ: KC's Rib Shack, City Flame

I met four friends from three barbecue competition teams last Tuesday night to check out the eats at KC's Rib Shack and City Flame Smokehouse (Manchester NH). I was impressed that both places were doing brisk business on a Tuesday before a holiday weekend. Neither brought their A game that night (both have been outstanding in the past), but it was still a good time. Both joints are coming out with new menus soon, and KC's will feature a 5-lb burger challenge.

Hartford BBQ: New Menu at the Cookhouse

I felt like a weary minor league ballplayer or a one-man vaudeville act, traveling to Manchester one night and Hartford the next. On Wednesday I met another barbecue competition friend at The Cookhouse Cafe (East Hartford CT). I wasn't overly optimistic, since my last visit in February was a dud, but I kept an open mind. Barbecue in general is a fickle thing and the Cookhouse in particular is known for its wide swings in quality; I was just hoping to catch them on one of their better nights.

 

The Cookhouse had recently revamped their menu, adding several new items to all three locations and expanding the East Hartford menu to include some items that were previously only available at the Darien and New Milford locations. New salads include Cobb, Southern fried chicken and chopped fruit and nut. New sides include house made potato chips, potato salad, golden velvet mashed potatoes and a side salad. Pulled chicken is now available in regular and club sandwiches. The Tombo Combo, previously a 3-meat combo where you could choose the meats, is now a fixed 4-meat combo with ribs, chicken, pulled pork and sausage.

 

We started with "pig wings," their new appetizer. These are basically pork chops, wrapped around a bone to look like a chicken wing and similarly served with celery and bleu cheese dressing. They were a hit.

 

You can now get burnt ends and "Fat Tommy style" (sauced, extra tender) ribs at East Hartford. So that's what we ordered, along with sliced brisket and "Miss Darlene" style (unsauced, firmer) ribs. Maybe it's just me, but though both were well executed, it seemed like both rib types were the same, sort of a middle ground between the two descriptions. Unlike the smaller cubes I tried in Darien, the burnt ends this time around were large chunks of brisket point ("deckle"), the moister, fattier part of the cut. I was disappointed that there wasn't any extra rub or intensely flavored bark as is common in burnt ends, but the meat was moist and the flavor was pleasant. The sliced brisket had perfect tenderness and a nice, beefy flavor. Overall, a decent meal.

 

 

 

(07/04/08)

Guest Post: Jed LaBonte on Hot Dogs

It's a holiday today and I'm taking the day off. But Pigtrip never takes a holiday, so I'm enlisting the help of award winning competition barbecue pitmaster Jed LaBonte, who's serving up his thoughts on that most American of meats, the hot dog.

  • I like hot dogs cooked almost any way: grilled, steamed, broiled, fried.

  • A cooked bun is alway better than a plain one, and that goes for burgers as well. Jasper White says that you need to cook the bun the same way you cook the dog (grilled dog, grilled bun; steamed dog, steamed bun). I agree.

  • My favorite toppings are mustard, onions, relish and celery salt. When it come to mustard and hot dogs I prefer Gulden's spicy brown or good old yellow. Jalapeno mustard is good as well, Dijon, not so great. Not sure where the celery salt and dog connection came from. Speed's has a nice homemade relish on their dogs.

  • No ketchup on a dog unless you're under 10, and then it falls under the category of bad parenting. BBQ sauce, tomatoes, chili and salsa are all okay even though they have tomato or tomato product in them, but ketchup is definitely out.

  • I prefer dogs with a casing. Dogs without casing are okay, but they don't seem as special as those with casings. And the casingless dogs are too common. Brands that I like: Pearl, Kayem, Old Neighborhood.

  • Pet Peeve: someone who wants a well done dog. They are already fully cooked before you open the package.

  • I remember reading somewhere that you should alway dress the dog, not the bun.
  • Great places to go for dogs: George's (Worcester MA) for Coney Island dogs; Speed's (Newmarket Square, Boston MA) for a giant Pearl Speed dog; NY System (Woonsocket RI) for Coney dogs; Spike's Junkyard Dogs (various locations); Boston Dog (Salem MA) for different dogs (I like the Chicago dog); Frank's (Brockton MA). My personal favorite is Casey's (Natick MA), which combines my love of diners with dogs. Two all around with a root beer, please.

 

 

 

(07/03/08)

Weekend Wrap Up: East Coast Grill, Hungry Mother

It's almost the weekend, so I'd say it's about time I rattled off last weekend's eats. On Friday night my wife and I visited East Coast Grill, and for a few different reasons. First and foremost, we've been huge fans of ECG for years, so we were in need of a fix. I was particularly interested in the jerked bluefish that's on the current specials menu. Another reason was to pick up some lemongrass and other assorted barbecue ingredients at Christina's Spice Shop next door. And there was that other barbecue reason: earlier in the week there was a post on Chowhound that dismissed the barbecue at ECG based on one taste of a burnt ends sandwich. Some follow-up posters piled on while others defended ECG. I needed to get another data point on the 'cue there, ordering a pulled pork sandwich as an appetizer before my bluefish entree.

 

Here's the deal: the sandwich was generously filled, the pork was lightly smoky and arranged in large chunks, the meat was juicy and the vinegar flavor (which I like but many others don't) was much tamer this time around. Was it the world's best pulled pork sandwich? No. Was it good? Absolutely. Does one sandwich acquit them of their downhill accusation? No. Nor does one burnt ends sandwich—whose issue may have had more to do with style than execution—convict them. I will say this: it's pretty obvious that the seafood at East Coast Grill is the main attraction now, so the barbecue takes an expected back seat. On my visit, the sandwich was fine, but I can imagine nights where it might not be that way. I can also imagine Chris Schlesinger returning to 'cue in a big way in a new venture someday, much like Fast Eddie Felson showing who was king of the billiards in The Color of Money sequel to The Hustler. It can happen.

 

On Sunday we made our first visit to Hungry Mother, the small restaurant in Cambridge's Kendall Square that's a unique fusion of French and Southern cuisines. It's not barbecue per se, but they have a smoker and offer seasonal specialties (pork shank in the winter, ribs currently). My wife and I love any place that has great appetizers, but we're also fans of places that have smaller plates that are appetizers to the appetizers. At Hungry Mother, this section of the menu is called "To Tide You Over," and the star of these $3 to $4 selections is the beef tongue canapé. Rather than try to describe the avalanche of flavors, I'll just recommend ordering at least two if you go, and don't let the "tongue" word scare you away. We also enjoyed spicy pimiento cheese, deviled eggs, cornmeal crusted fried oysters, an interesting sausage and catfish pate plate, fried chicken and ribs. We skipped dessert, but strongly considered ordering another round of tongue.

 

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Texas BBQ: The 50 Best BBQ Joints in Texas

Chances are you're going to be spending the 3-day holiday weekend within New England or New York, but for that tiny demographic who might be hopping a plane today for a Texas vacation, this one's for you. The June issue of Texas Monthly identified the 50 best barbecue joints in the state. Sure, you've heard of the ones in Lockhart, Llano and Luling, but there are many more nuggets to be mined in this list, and it's available online:

www.texasmonthly.com/2008-06-01/feature10.php

 

 

 

(07/02/08)

Boston BBQ: Andy Husbands Is A Blogger

If you've read his book, seen his videos or had a chance to speak with him in person, you know that chef Andy Husbands of Tremont 647 is passionate about food and has personality in abundance. That's why I'll be a regular reader of his new blog, launched just yesterday, called FearlessChef.com. I'm not sure how much of his barbecue exploits (the original Jake and Earl's, East Coast Grill, Rouge, IQue) will be documented, but I know it will be a great read.

 

click to go to the Fearless Chef website

 

 

Worcester BBQ: Worcester Living Names Firefly's Best BBQ in Worcester

Worcester Living's annual "Best Of" issue is out, and its readers picked Firefly's as the best BBQ in Worcester. Quite an accomplishment, since its westernmost location in Marlboro is four towns away from Worcester. I guess that pretty much sums up the state of Worcester BBQ. You'd think New England's second largest city would have a decent BBQ joint within its own environs, but that's just not the case.

 

Boston BBQ: Tremont 647 Named on of Boston Magazine's 25 Best Restaurants for Outdoor Dining

The menu at Tremont 647 runs the gamut from highbrow to lowbrow, and the latter end features one of the better burgers and some of the best ribs to be had within the city. These are best enjoyed on the outdoor patio, where you can take in the night air and practice some high quality people watching. Boston magazine feels the same way, naming the restaurant one of the city's 25 best for outdoor dining.

 

Yet even more Tremont 647 News: July 4 Picnic Menu at Tremont 647

If the pending rain of the fourth has your barbecue plans in a holding pattern, one option worth considering is a good old fashioned picnic at Tremont 647. Their July 4 "Picnic Menu" is available a la carte and as a three-course, fixed price ($25) affair with choice of appetizer, main and dessert. Appetizers include lobster mac and cheese, field greens, "the Wedge" salad and their signature momos. Mains include fried chicken, a barbecue combo plate (ribs and rarely offered pulled pork), fried cod, eggplant parmesian and the grass fed half pound "Burger Daddy." If you order the burger, it's only $20. www.tremont647.com

 

 

 

(07/01/08)

Home BBQ: Lemongrass BBQ Chicken

If you're a longtime reader of this site, you know that my wife and I are huge fans of Hawaii, Hawaiian food and any convergence of Hawaiian ingredients and barbecue. You also know that I seek inspiration from the most unusual sources when it comes to trying new food ideas. So another convergence took place last week when we were enjoying a package of Terra Spiced Taro chips (taro is indigenous to Hawaii and the main ingredient in poi). With the flavor of the spices getting more intense as we made our way to the bottom of the bag, it hit me: these same ingredients would make one helluva rub.

 

On Friday night I bought some lemongrass leaves and on Saturday I put my trusty spice grinder to work, making a rub using the six key ingredients in the chip spices. I combined the freshly ground lemongrass (6 parts), salt (4), coriander (2), chili powder (2), ginger (1) and garlic (1). Visually, the final result doesn't look all that much different from any of the other chicken I've cooked, but the taste was intense. The lemongrass contrasted nicely with the sharper spices and worked as well on chicken as it did on the chips. I purposely didn't include sugar in the rub but I might try it next time.

   

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Terra spiced taro chips: not only

addictive but inspirational.

 

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The chips and the lemongrass

(whole and ground).

 

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Chicken in mid cook.

 

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The finished product.

 

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Recent Eats (click photo to view larger image)

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Ribs at Blue Ribbon Bar-B-Que, W. Newton MA.

 

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Chicken and ribs at Curtis BBQ, Putney VT.

 

Sponsors

Hungry Potato: Food and gear from restaurants all over the country

Hungry Potato: Food and gear from restaurants all over the country

 

 

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Pulled pork sandwich at Oak Hill Tavern, N. Kingstown RI.

 

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Beef rib at Wildwood BBQ, NYC.

 

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Brisket at Southern Hospitality, NYC.

 

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Spare ribs at SoulFire, Allston MA (Boston).

 

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Pig wings at the Cookhouse Cafe, E. Hartford CT.

 

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A rack of porch ribs at KC's Rib Shack, Manchester NH.

 

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Pulled pork at City Flame Smokehouse, Manchester NH.

 

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Pulled pork sandwich at East Coast Grill, Cambridge MA.

 

 

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