Archives: September 2008
New York City BBQ: Bourbon Tasting at Southern Hospitality Tonight
High end restaurants often have sommeliers to assist you in choosing the right wine to match the dishes you ordered, your budget and your palate. Southern Hospitality (NYC) has a Bourbon sommelier, and tonight at 7:00PM, he'll be providing instruction on five different small and single batch Bourbons to celebrate National Bourbon Heritage Month. Varieties for the tasting include Four Roses, Blantons, Rock Hills Farm, Elijiah Craig and Fighting Cock. The event is $25 and requires registration at www.going.com/SHbourbontastingSept.
Long Island BBQ: HarborQ Introduces All You Can Eat Rib Nights
HarborQ (Port Washington NY) is adding two all-you-can-eat offers to its weeknight menu, starting tonight. On Tuesdays, it's all you can eat St Louis cut pork ribs. On Wednesdays, it's all you can eat beef ribs. Both specials are $22.95. www.harborq.com
Connecticut BBQ: Another Good Visit to SouthernQue in Meriden
A friend and I braved the Monsoon-like weather on Saturday for a 3-stop Connecticut crawl. Only one of the stops was a barbecue joint, as this mission's focus was his passion (and a second one of mine), and that was burgers. Since stop numero uno was Ted's Burgers in Meriden (featured on Roadfood and in George Motz's Hamburger America), it made sense to pay another visit to SouthernQue in Meriden just a few miles away. I had a blast turning him onto the driveway operation with a log cabin on wheels.
In my now 16-month-old review, I said that that SouthernQue's pulled pork was among the best I'd tasted, and I'm not backing off that declaration. The sandwich is stuffed with perfectly textured strings and bark, topped with a sauce that provides a little heat, a little tang and a little sweetness without overpowering the smoky, porky meat. The ribs were a little better than last time but again not in the same league as the pork. The interesting mac and cheese was tight, a little buttery and faintly sweet. Pepper-studded collards were tangy, spicy and cooked to the point where there's still some crispness but enough "give" to make for some good eats.
SouthernQue now offers its sauces and all of their smoked meats online via their website: www.southernqbbq.com.
Don Washington of SouthernQue,
with his new bottled sauces.
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of Joints directory activity, spanning four states. This time there are five new joints, one closing, one new web site and two joints on the verge of moving to new locations.
Ed's Barrr-B-Q (Barre VT) is a barbecue sauce and catering operation that has graduated to the restaurant level. The restaurant is still under construction, but there's a limited take-out menu available at lunchtime on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11:00-2:00, with dinner served Fridays only from 5:00 to 8:00. http://www.edsbarrrbq.com
B-B-Q Inc. (Rockville Center NY) is a new joint that offers a happy hour every weeknight (except Tuesdays when they're closed) from 5:00PM to 7:00PM. Thanks to Eric for the lead. www.bbqincrvc.com
Sausage Heaven (Manchester NH) has entered the dead pool, and that's sad news. Their sausages had always been fantastic, but the beginning of the end came nearly two years ago when they stopped serving barbecue lunches and then moved their operation from a storefront to a warehouse. Thanks to Marty and a different Eric for both tipping me off.
Barbecue Island (Brooklyn NY) is working on a move from their Coney Island location as the weather gets colder. Details will be coming soon.
Hog Pit (NYC), according to one of my moles, may be moving rather than shutting down when its current lease in the Meat Packing District expires in January. This is still an unconfirmed rumor, but my source tells me the new location will be—get this—directly across the street from Hill Country. www.hogpit.com
The Good Steer (Lake Grove NY) is a Long island joint that's been around for years. Fifty years. Thanks to White Trash BBQ for steering me to this one. www.thegoodsteer.com
New Moon Cafe (East Quogue NY) is another Long Island joint, but it's only been around for 30 years. Thanks to White Trash for this one too. www.nmcafe.com
Fatty Beltbuckles (Rocky Point NY) has a website with a coupon for 15% off your entire bill: www.fattybeltbuckles.com
Double R Chicken and Ribs (Oxford CT) is, according to a report on Chowhound.com, either part of or next to a Mobil station on Route 67.
Competition BBQ: Sledneck and R2BQ Take the Grand Championship at Westport
A belated congratulations to Steve "Sledneck" Zeravica, whose R2BQ barbecue team won the grand championship at the Blues, Views and BBQ contest in Westport CT last Sunday. He's been a great source of information on the Long Island barbecue scene and is responsible for many of the listings in my Joints directory. And if Phil Rizzardi is the heart and soul of the BBQ Brethren, Sledneck is certainly its funny bone, but now we know he can cook too.
Boston BBQ: Bourbon and Barbecue Dinner at Tremont 647, October 13
If you missed the Bourbon and BBQ dinner at Brix last night, fear not: the Fearless Chef himself, Andy Husbands, will be hosting his third annual Bourbon and Barbecue Dinner at Tremont 647 (Boston MA) on October 13. "Whiskey Professor" Bernie Lubbers will conduct a Bourbon Tasting, and the Tremont 647 mixologists will be opreparing specialty cocktails for purchase all evening long.
Some goodies from the first annual Bourbon and Barbecue dinner.
The four-course extravaganza includes:
Passed Appetizers & Bourbon Cocktail Reception
Fresh Corn and Oyster Fritters,
North Carolina Pulled Pork Sliders,
Crisped Zucchini Bread,
fresh corn chow chow
Local Tomato Salad
buttermilk ranch dressing, cornbread croutons
Family Style Dinner
“White Rubbed” Chicken
Memphis Dry Rubbed then Glazed Ribs
All the fixin’s:
Maine Blueberry Bread Pudding
Knob Creek brown sugared bananas & peanuts
Making the Recent Eats More Recent
Things have been a little hectic lately, so I'm just catching up with the Recent Eats column, which now includes visits to Blue Ribbon last Thursday, another visit to Roadhouse on Sunday (compare the pulled pork with the opening night version further down) and a first visit to Country Good BBQ in Fitchburg MA on Tuesday night.
Boston BBQ: Village Smokehouse To Open Lowell BBQ Joint in a Matter of Weeks
High Street Grill (North Andover MA) isn't the only barbecue joint opening in a converted factory north of Boston. The Village Smokehouse (Brookline MA) is also in the final stretch of construction of their second outpost in Lowell, on 98 Middle Street.
This restaurant is a much larger space than the Brookline location, with multiple rooms, possibly multiple levels and a bar that's almost as long as the Lowell Connector. As with the High Street Grill, the Village Smokehouse in Lowell will retain much of the building's original industrial era charm. On Saturday the smoker was executing a test run and the electricians were doing everything they could to meet their projected October 1 opening date. Previous target dates were April and September, so the smart money is on the over on this one. But I'm eager to see this place open, as it fills a BBQ void in the stretch from Burlington MA to Manchester NH.
On Middle Street in Lowell.
Coming soon, authentic Texas BBQ. We'll see how authentic.
Boston BBQ: High Street Grill Is Gearing Up For October Opening in North Andover
Kristi Morris, former manager at East Coast Grill (Cambridge MA), is opening High Street Grill in North Andover early next month. It will offer a similar combination of barbecue and "Equatorial" cuisine with big, bold flavors.
The space is a converted textile factory, with the original brickwork, high ceilings and steel gears left intact. High Street Grill will feature an open kitchen, a curved raw bar, a large standing area in the bar, an outdoor deck (an outdoor fire pit is in the planning stage) and total seating of just over 100. The construction is progressing at a fast a and furious pace to make the projected October 2 opening date.
Chris Schlesinger, chef/owner of East Coast Grill, is involved in the project as a partner and consulting chef. High Street Grill's pitmaster and executive chef is John Porreca, formerly a sous chef at Sasso in Boston. He has his own smoker at home and is a big fan of smoked meats and fish.
The smoker at the restaurant is a J&R. The kitchen also includes a rotary spit to roast chickens, as is done at East Coast Grill, and a wood fired grill. Despite these similarities, Porreca promises that the barbecue will have its own identity and not try to duplicate the cuts and flavors of East Coast Grill. The ribs will be St Louis cut, and be sauced in a Kansas City style. They're also looking to integrate babyback ribs and prepare those in a similar manner as the Asian style "wet bones" that have graced the ECG menu for years.
Last Saturday I stopped in for a sneak preview.
High ceilings, steel gears.
An open kitchen.
Curved bar. To the right is a large open space for gathering.
The J&R smoker. It will never be this clean again.
John Porreca, Kristi Morris.
The wood fired grill.
A preview of the menu is available of the High Street Grill website: www.25high.net
Massachusetts BBQ: BBQ and Bourbon Dinner at Brix With Brian Treitman of BT's Smokehouse
Some say you pair barbecue with lemonade; others some like beer. A select few like wine, and then there's the hard core who go straight for the Bourbon. But not just any Bourbon. Tomorrow night at Brix Wine Shop in Boston, chef Brian Treitman of BT's Smokehouse (Brimfield MA) will be conducting a six-course pairing featuring Bourbons that have been aged up to 27 years. Here's the line-up:
Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage
Smoked Cheddar and Bourbon Soup
Old Fitzgerald “1849” Bourbon
Apple Bourbon Smoked Wings
Bernheim Wheat Whiskey
Ham and “Beans”
Maple and Molasses Cured Smoked Fresh Ham on Bean Bread with Bourbon Mustard BBQ Sauce
Rittenhouse 4 Year Bonded Rye
Lightly Smoked Pan Seared Scallops
Corn Soubise and Crisp Pancetta Chip
Elijah Craig 18 Year Bourbon
Smoked NY Strip
Spaghetti Squash in Maple Bourbon Butter
Parker’s Heritage 27 Year Bourbon
Fresh Ginger Cake
Toffee Pecans and Bourbon Mint Sauce
For more details, contact Brix Wine Shop at (617) 542-BRIX.
Lists: My Rankings of the "Big" BBQ Joints
Tomorrow is the release of the Sex and the City movie on DVD, and those of us who liked the series enough to catch it on HBO but not quite enough to see it in the movies will be able to finally find out whether Carrie Bradshaw marries Mr. Big (or simply "Big").
So in commemoration of this big DVD release, here are my rankings of the Big BBQ joints (anything with "Big" in the name). Even more so than my other lists, this isn't a "best of" list, as your mileage may vary. Since I'm ranking all of the "Big" joints I've been to, I don't necessarily recommend all of them.
1. Big W's BBQ, Wingdale NY
This was an easy choice. The ribs are glorious, the chicken tastes like chicken, the brisket is moist, both versions of their chili absolutely rock and the mountain of a pulled pork sandwich is more than most people can eat in one sitting.
2. Big Bubba's BBQ, Uncasville CT
This Mohegan Sun joint is a solid runner-up. The melt-in-your-mouth ribs are a little too done for my liking, but the brisket here is a sure-fire entrant to my favorite brisket list to be posted someday. The wings are good too and the beans remind me of RUB's.
3. Big Frank's BBQ, Waterbury CT
This is an interesting little place and one that can be a lot of fun as long as you set your expectations appropriately. It's a fast food version of barbecue, similar to the Tennessee's chain in the Boston area. You're not going to get barbecue to write home about, but you'll get a fast, decent meal at a reasonable price. Be sure to add a hotdog to whatever you order, because it's a great vehicle for their signature relish.
4. Little Mark's Big BBQ, Vernon Rockville CT
It's decent if you're in the neighborhood.
5. Big Fatty's, Hartford VT and Burlington VT
They didn't have a smoker on my first visit but they've added one since.
6. Big Bully's BBQ, Attleboro MA
Primarily burgers. I'd stick with the burgers.
7. Big Lou Rib House, Revere MA
Ribs, yes. Barbecue? Not even close. Head to Uncle Pete's, about a half a mile up the street.
Boston BBQ: A Hoedown for a Cause
On Saturday night I attended Hoedown III, a fundraiser for Lovelane, a therapeutic horesback riding program for disabled and special needs children. Held on a farm in Dedham MA, the event featured celebrity chefs putting a creative spin on "state fair" foods.
Just a few of the participating chefs were Ming Tsai (Blue Ginger), Michael Schlow (Radius, Alta Strada), Jasper White (Summer Shack), Michael Leviton (Lumiere, Persiphone), Marco Suarez (Eastern Standard), Tom Berry (Temple Bar) and Geoff Janowski (Blue Ribbon).
My favorite item was Marco Suarez's lamb burger sliders with pork cracklins, local feta cheese and house pickles. Great lamb flavor, perfectly cooked, with some added crunch from the deep fried pork fatback. I learned that one of the chef's previous gigs was at Rouge, the now-closed barbecue restaurant owned by Andy Husbands. Another highlight was the kobe beef corndog on a stick, served by Seth and Angela Raynor (Boarding House, The Pearl).
The pulled pork sliders served up by the gang at Blue Ribbon were a special treat, incorporating the "mix ins" concept I've been championing so long. The pork was shredded and mixed with fresh peaches, two kinds of peppers, onions, cilantro, grilled salted sweet corn and a "cocktail" of vinegar and passionfruit. Traditional, no, but quite tasty.
The Gang at Blue Ribbon
Mixing the cocktail into the pork
Blue Ribbon's sliders
Geoff Janowski of Blue Ribbon
Marco Suarez of Eastern Standard
Eastern Standard's slider
Michael Schlow of Radius
Jasper White of Summer Shack
kobe beef corn dogs
Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger
Connecticut BBQ: Blues, Views and BBQ Festival Is This Weekend in Westport CT
An exciting first year event called Blues, Views & BBQ is ready for action tomorrow and Sunday on the banks of the Saugatuck River in Westport CT. The Westport Downtown Merchants Association, led by Bob LeRose of Westport's Bobby Q's barbecue restaurant, is putting on a two-day event that promises something for everyone and is an absolute must for the barbecue fan, judge or competitor.
Competitions include a backyard contest (chicken, ribs, chef's choice) Saturday afternoon, an Iron Chef contest Saturday night and the traditional KCBS barbecue contest Sunday afternoon, along with a sauce contest. The total prize money for these contests is $10,000.
There will be beer sampling from a host of microbreweries, sauces and other specialty food vendors, family activities, street performers and live music both days. Barbecue will be available from vendors both days, and Westport restaurants will also be offering grilled fare. If you're just getting into barbecue, the cooking demos and barbecue education will be right up your alley.
For more information as the details come into focus, check the event website: www.bluesviewsbbq.com.
Guest Post on Long Island BBQ: Eric Devlin on Smoking Sloe's in Northport and Their Gluten Free Menu
Here’s another in what I hope will be a continuing series of guest posts, this time by Eric Devlin, the owner of the Home of BBQ website whose focus is on non-region-specific BBQ. Interviews, product reviews, musings and contests for free sauces can be found by visiting the frequently updated site. Eric is also the organizer of the upcoming Battle of the BBQ Brethren barbecue competition, a fund raiser for Breast Cancer Help Inc., to be held October 24-26 in Sayville NY. Outside the barbecue world, Eric enjoys moonlit walks on the beach, the word ‘cloying’ and anyone who abhors SPAM.
I joined Gary for a BBQ road trip a few months ago. We visited Smoking Sloe’s and Fatty Beltbuckles, then Gary and another BBQ fan continued their low and slow sojourn without me and hit one other place as well. I recently went back to Smoking Sloe’s and thought that I would provide an update with a bit of an esoteric focus.
Smoking Sloe’s is located on the north shore of Long Island in the town of Northport. You can find their address and contact information here.
Everything I ordered was gluten free. Speaking with the owner, Roger Montague, I was informed that the gluten free item menus were not separate versions of their standard menu items. These are not watered down culinary Frankenstein creations that are pieced together to target a narrow audience. If you order the chili (which I did) you don’t get a choice of gluten free or standard. You just get damn tasty chili that happens to be gluten free. Nothing is sacrificed for taste. If I wasn’t told that it was gluten free I wouldn’t have known.
Roger was interested in providing a product for an underserved niche. His venture into the world of specialty foods has started with the gluten free items (there are two menus, one with just the gluten free items) but rumor has it that he is also looking into bottling his excellent sauce.
My order consisted of the Mac Daddy (special rice pasta mac and cheese), coleslaw, chili and brisket. The chili was very interesting and very good. It is certainly not a traditional chili, but I don’t let tradition stand in the way of my enjoyment of any food. The heat was very mild, but had a nice lingering flavor. The chili was sweeter than most without being cloying (that’s for you Gary). There were substantial chunks of pepper that mingled amongst the beans (I mentioned that it wasn’t traditional) and meat.
The Mac Daddy had pasta that was indistinguishable from non-gluten free noodles. They were elbow in form and resisted the congealing and disintegration often found in mac and cheese that has been sitting too long. The flavors were fairly muted and could have used some pepper, but it was enjoyable and better than most mac and cheeses that I’ve had in restaurants.
The coleslaw was a fairly standard mayonnaise based slaw. It was a little sweeter than most (echoing the chili) and significantly more wet than normal; but it was good enough for me to regret when I hit the bottom of the container. I’m a fan of coleslaw, especially on pulled pork sandwiches, and this one didn’t disappoint.
The brisket was noticeably better than on our previous visit. There was a slight, but distinguishable smoke ring. It was a bit overcooked, but had a nice taste. The flavors weren’t as overwhelmed by the spice as on our last trip to Smoking Sloe’s. The brisket had a nice ‘smokiness’ and its consistency was closer to competition ‘cue than many other BBQ joints on Long Island.
Celiac disease and wheat allergies afflict up to 7 percent of children under the age of three and more than 2 percent of all adults. That means that there more than 150,000 people on Long Island alone who need to concern themselves with a gluten free diet.
It’s nice to know that they have somewhere to stop and get some good food. Smoking Sloe’s is at the forefront of what may turn out to be a growing trend.
Boston BBQ: What A Difference A Week (or more) Makes at Roadhouse
On Sunday my wife and I visited Roadhouse (Brookline MA), making it my third visit in their first seven days of operation. The idea was to get the final tastings in so that I could do a review this week, while there's still high interest among Boston BBQ fans for this new joint. I think I'm going to wait just a bit. That decision's not based on any desire to get them a better review or gather enough ammo to justify a bad review. I'm waiting because I want the review to reflect the quality (good or bad) of the food at the time it's published, not what it happened to be during week 1, before they changed it.
Boston readers may remember that a year ago, I also visited nearby Smoken Joe's (Brighton MA) on their first night, then purposely waited and visited twice more (talk about taking one for the team) before posting a review.
But back to Roadhouse. I'm still standing by my original assessment that it's a beer house first, smokehouse second. And that's okay. I don't go to all these barbecue joints just so I'll have fodder for ths site. I go because, just like that surfer in search of the perfect wave, I'm looking for that perfect barbecue joint. Until I find it, I enjoy the fact that each barbecue joint is different, with different strengths, different weaknesses and different features. Blue Ribbon (W. Newton MA) has no service, no adult beverages and cramped seating on a dozen stools, but their generally high caliber of barbecue over the years has offset those obstacles. Roadhouse, on the other hand, excels in the beverage component and is providing a level of barbecue that I'm calling "serviceable" for now.
Attempting to review Roadhouse now would be like reviewing a moving target. Sure, I've reviewed many places based on just one visit, but they weren't changing things up at the time.
Here are a few of the changes I've noticed at Roadhouse from night #1 last Monday to night #7 on Sunday:
Sauces were originally available in large pump-them-youself jugs, with plastic cups to take back to the table. Sauces now are provided upon request.
The consistency and flavor of the sauces has also changed. The Carolina sauce that was not too far from ketchup on night #1 has gradually become more vinegary and more flavorful. The overly thick house and spicy sauces have been thinned down somewhat.
Mac and cheese has changed dramatically. On opening night it was tight, thick, orange and cheesey in the mild Velveeta tradition. On night #7 it was looser, white and sharper in flavor, with a much more adult taste. The old version was just okay, but the new one is really good.
Speaking of loose, the pulled pork sandwich on opening night was a sudsy, sauce-happy affair that undermined the otherwise excellent flavor in the meat itself. I haven't tried it again on follow-up visits, but the sandwiches I've seen go by look like they're using a little more restraint.
Cornbread was a disaster on opening night, among the worst cornbread I've ever had. I liked that they offer two versions, plain and jalapeno. I didn't like that they were spongy. And when I say spongy, I don't mean spongecake, I mean literally the consistency of a sponge. By night #3 it was toned down a little. By night #7 both varieties weren't just better, but among the best cornbread I've ever had. The brown, slightly crunchy exterior gave way to a soft but coarse interior that tasted like corn, with a baking powder taste to cut the sweetness. I'm craving it right now, and I never would have thought I'd say that a week ago.
Pork ribs were moist but bland on opening night, dry and bland on night #3. By night #7, they were moist with a flavorful interior, but still could use some more crust and spice on the exterior. I'm hoping the progression continues.
The brisket platter on opening night looked good, but the tenderness and flavor were lacking. The brisket sandwich I tried on the second visit (night #3) was pretty good, and would certainly hold its own with most joints in the Boston area. I'm hoping the first was the aberration and the second more indicative, and I'll find out soon.
As I said, it's still early in the game, but if you looked at the Brookline-Allston-Brighton area and rounded up all of the BBQ joints (Roadhouse, Village Smokehouse, SoulFire, Smoken' Joe's) and quasi-BBQ joints (Sports Depot, Sunset Grill, Redneck's), you'd have a hard time ranking Roadhouse—even as currently constituted—any lower than #2 behind SoulFire (Allston). It would be a distant #2, but it's a start.
click here to see my updated Roadhouse Brookline photo preview
New York BBQ: Celebrate the End of Summer With Bottomless BBQ and Beer at Southern Hospitality
To me it seems as though summer never arrived, at least on weekends. So it's only fitting that an "End of Summer" bash be celebrated midweek at Southern Hospitality (NYC). Tonight they're offering an buffet style BBQ dinner for $32.95 featuring Memphis dry and wet ribs, fried chicken, cornbread, mac and cheese, corn on the cob and their famous sweet tea. For an extra $20, you can also add an all-you-can-drink draft beer bar from 7:00 to 9:00PM.
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of Joints directory activity, spanning two states. This time there are three new joints, one closing, one suspiciously still closed for renovations and one new web site.
Willie B's Award Winning BBQ (Bay Shore NY) joins the dead pool, as reported here previously, and they will be missed. Willie is still available for catering, sauces and rubs. www.williebsbbq.com
Little Red Smokehouse (Carver MA), reported as closed for renovations for a while now, is fast becoming the Generalissimo Francisco Franco of BBQ: still closed. The phone is temporarily disconnected and the website promises they really are reopening and that they'll post progress updates, but the last update was more than six weeks ago. www.thelittleredsmokehouse.com
Roadhouse (Brookline MA) has been open a little more than a week. Located just down the block from Publick House, it has the same ownership and the same lineup of beers. There's also an adjoining provisions store where you can buy the same beer offered by the bottle, beer glassware, cheeses, breads and other gourmet party fare.
Smokey Mountain BBQ (Springfield MA) is a new joint that's reportedly under the same ownership as Bub's BBQ (Sunderland MA). Thanks to Marty for the lead.
Fette Sau (Brooklyn NY) has a new website, though it's still in its early stages. www.fettesaubbq.com
Three Brothers Butcher (Bayside NY) is a Queens butcher shop that offers barbecue for take-out or consumption on the premises. Thanks to White Trash BBQ for the lead. I waited until he posted a review before announcing here. www.threebrothersbutcher.com
Competition BBQ: I Smell Smoke Win Mass State Championship; IQue Takes Reserve
New England's top two teams finished at the top of the heap once again at the KCBS barbecue contest at the Harvard Fall Festival (Harvard MA). I Smell Smoke rebounded from a disappointing finish last month at Hudson Valley to take the Massachusetts State Championship, ensuring a berth to the Jack Daniel's competition next fall. They'll be at the Jack this fall too, along with reserve grand champions IQue.
Trophy winners for individual categories were Puddledock Porkas for chicken, Lunchmeat for ribs, Good Smoke BBQ for pork and IQue for brisket.
New York BBQ: Are You Ready For Some Football (and Wings)?
RUB, Dallas Jones and Dinosaur are. Check out this video from LX.TV, the content creation company owned by NBC. They named RUB for the most unconventional wings, Dallas Jones for best kept secret and Dinoasaur for hottest wings. There's some face time for RUB pitmaster Scott Smith, Dallas Jones owner Sam Bahri and Dinosaur owner/pitmaster John Stage.
But were the New York Jets ready for the Bradyless New England Patriots? Nope.
Boston BBQ: Roadhouse, Take #2
Wednesday night was day #3 of operation for Roadhouse (Brookline MA), and I made my second visit. Brisket, ordered this time as a sandwich, was smokier and more tender than on opening night. Ribs were lackluster both nights. The opening night deep fried ribs were perfectly crunchy outside, perfectly juicy inside, though light on seasoning. The second visit's sausage trio, featuring not links but three inch-thick slices of smoked fatties, was the smokiest and most spice-intensive dish on the menu.
I'll have more details later, most likely in a full review in the next week or so. I'm sticking to my original assessment that this is a bar first, barbecue joint second. The beer is stellar, the barbecue merely serviceable. Just how serviceable depends on what you order, the execution that day and where else you've been for benchmarks.
click here to see my updated Roadhouse Brookline photo preview
Redbones It Is
Today's catered lunch at work turned out to be Redbones (Davis Square in Somerville MA), who stayed for most of the day to handle two different shifts. Eats included pulled chicken, ribs, brisket, sausage, vegetables, rice and beans, potato salad and cornbread.
A Company BBQ Lunch Today
Last week the posters hit the walls at my office, announcing that there would be a "Bike and BBQ Rally" company function today.
Instead of the usual anticipation, I was filled with a lost feeling. I've been with my new company for a little over a year now and am still adjusting to what high-priced consultants refer to as the "corporate culture." People arrive in the morning without saying hello and leave in the afternoon without saying goodbye. Getting a "Bless you" when you sneeze is a major achievement. Even the birthday cakes are strange here: they're left in the lunch room for people to randomly stumble upon, take a slice and eat silently at their desks. I don't necessarily need singing, but it would be nice to gather everyone in the same room at the same time, wish the birthday boy or girl good luck, have a little cake and get back to work in five minutes. Not here.
There was no chatter about the Red Sox the morning after they won the World Series or about the Celtics after they won the NBA championship. Not a word after the Patriots lost the Super Bowl in heartbreaking fashion. On Monday morning, there was some brief discussion about Tom Brady's season-ending injury, so maybe there's hope.
At my last company, there was much more (probably too much) of a social aspect. I was known as the barbecue guy, so whenever they needed advice on catering or ordering, I was in the loop. I don't expect to have that status now, especially since I'm also in a different building from the people who plan those things. And the company I work for now is much more stable and profitable, with better and more frequent bonuses, so in the grand scheme of things, I have no complaints. But it still feels weird. I'll find out who's catering the barbecue lunch later today along with everyone else, and it will probably be someone I know. After I take my plate, I'll write something up as I eat silently at my desk.
Cape Cod BBQ: Dave's Ribs Reviewed
The site's 148th review is now available for Dave's Ribs in Harwich MA. Check it out via the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Boston BBQ: Roadhouse Now Open
As scheduled, Roadhouse (Brookline MA) opened its doors to the public last night, and I was one of their first paying customers. A couple of friends and I surveyed a good cross section of the menu and weren't blown away (not even close) but didn't run screaming either. As with many BBQ joints, they do some things well, some things not so well. I'm going to visit again in a few days and weigh in with a more detailed report. Until then, I'll let the photos do most of the talking, but my quick read on the place: beer is the focus, barbecue is the sideline.
click here to see my Roadhouse Brookline photo preview
Why Are So Many Long Island BBQ Joints Closing?
Last week Willie B’s Award Wining BBQ (Bay Shore NY) was the latest barbecue casualty to hit Long Island. It wasn’t that long ago that the Long Island BBQ scene was booming, but now it seems like barbecue joints are dying out faster than they’re popping up. Here are some of my theories on why that’s the case.
I’m not going to ignore the elephant in the room, so I’ll state the obvious right up front: as a general rule, the caliber of restaurant barbecue on Long Island leaves a lot to be desired, and that’s putting it mildly. That said, I think Willie B’s was one of the best barbecue joints in the area, and Willie B himself is one of the more colorful characters in the trade. There are obviously other factors at play with Willie B's, but for the most part, Long Island BBQ has been the survival of the fittest with not too many that would be fit to serve 'cue in Boston, New York and New Hampshire.
Where Willie B’s fell short was in the bells and whistles department: no seating, no atmosphere, no service, no booze, no entertainment. The ‘cue was more than satisfactory, but that wasn’t enough to make it what I call “Saturdayworthy.” And during the week, barbecue might not have the lure it once had. Because barbecue isn’t cheap, I think today’s tougher economic climate is especially tough for the local barbecue joints like Willie B’s, whose business is primarily take-out. People are still going to enjoy their Saturday night splurges, but they’re rethinking the occasional Tuesday or Wednesday night barbecue take-out order that’s a significantly more costly commitment than a whole pizza.
Barbecue isn’t cheap from the restaurateur’s perspective either. There’s very little profit margin in ribs, whose cost keeps rising thanks to the popularity of the chains.
The pizza on Long Island, incidentally, is generally better than what you'd find in greater Boston. Italian delis and sandwich shops are far more numerous. Diners and Jewish delis, practically non-existent throughout most of New England, are a big deal on Long Island. All of these present major competition to the barbecue entrepreneur.
Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, there was only one barbecue restaurant—if that—for every two to five million people. When people got a hankering for barbecue, they’d go to that familiar place and that place only, which kept that niche business afloat (I'm not so sure how well many of them would float if they were to start today). Now that barbecue’s popularity has grown, there’s much more competition, with dozens of barbecue restaurants jockeying for that same niche. So instead of that one go-to barbecue joint, the barbecue consumer is dividing his patronage among a rotation of three or four favorite joints. With chain restaurants jumping on the barbecue bandwagon, even more business is being pulled away from the local guy, making it harder to be profitable.
From the steady stream of emails I receive, it’s apparent that there are literally hundreds if not thousands of hardcore barbecue fans in the Northeast who, like myself, think nothing of driving for two hours to visit a new barbecue joint. We’re sick. We need to try them all. That makes for a great little hobby, but it might not be helping the barbecue businesses, which depend on steady regular customers. For Long Island specifically, the lure of Manhattan’s barbecue explosion may be pulling would-be customers away. Some of the best barbecue in the area is being produced at restaurants like Hill Country, RUB, Daisy May’s, Dinosaur, Blue Smoke and Wildwood. It’s so easy to find good barbecue in the city now that Long Island commuters may be getting their ‘cue fix there rather than in their own back yard.
Speaking of back yard, the growing popularity of barbecue has not only brought more restaurants to the area but more backyard barbecue hobbyists as well. People are now cooking ribs and pork butts themselves on their own smokers. The internet has a wealth of resources for smokers, woods and smoking techniques, making surprisingly easy to produce restaurant quality (or better) barbecue at home. If you’re really serious about barbecue, you’ll smoke your own, and that has to affect the restaurant business somewhat.
Whether it’s from sampling different kinds of ‘cue at different restaurants or making it at home, today’s barbecue consumer is a lot more savvy than his counterpart from a generation ago. Once you’ve had good barbecue, you aren’t going to settle for the ‘boiled-and-broiled’ approach that may have succeeded in the past. As I said earlier, some of the Long Island barbecue joints that have closed simply weren’t producing a caliber of barbecue that’s worthy of repeat business. And although Long Island has had some good barbecue restaurants (I count Willie B's in that group and Swingbelly’s in Long Beach is another good one), as a whole they don’t stack up to what’s available in the city.
People are eating healthier now, and barbecue has never been associated with healthy eating. A few years back, the popularity of the Atkins diet was a boon to barbecue restaurants, but that diet’s popularity has faded: one man’s low carb diet is another man’s high cholesterol diet, so people are re-thinking whether eating all that meat is a good thing. This shouldn't affect Long Island more than anywhere else, but it's possible that the generally higher quality elsewhere makes barbecue more of a temptation to the dieter than Long Island's Freedom BBQ or Hog House or Smokey's Rib Pit.
Barbecue is a tough business to run. The long cooking times (6 to 12 hours, depending on the meat) require long operating hours. As discussed here previously, there is as much—if not more—of a challenge in holding and reheating barbecue as there is in smoking it. Different customers have different philosophies on what ‘authentic’ barbecue is, making it difficult to please everyone. It’s a lot of work, so you have to have a passion for it. Those who truly have that passion usually succeed. Those who are just jumping on the barbecue bandwagon are often finding themselves being pushed off.
Are You Ready For Some Football?
The 2008 NFL season has begun, and for those who need extra incentive to eat barbecue, wings and other meat-intensive delicacies, there's some good news. In New York City, Southern Hospitality is offering a Monday night all-you-can-eat wings and all-you-can-drink Coors Light special for $20 from 8:30 to 11:30. And in the Boston area, Chili Head BBQ (West Bridgewater MA), after tending the farm on Sundays during the 2007 season, is once again open on Sundays to provide brew and 'cue to accompany all of the NFL action.
Boston BBQ: Bacon Care of Business at Jake's Dixie Roadhouse (in Chocolate Covered Fashion)
Don Yovicsin doesn't know when to stop. After experimenting with bacon vodka (see the 8/29 post), he's now added chocolate covered bacon to the menu at Jake's Dixie Roadhouse (Waltham MA). My wife and I stopped in to try some on Friday night and we were both pleasantly surprised. Just as with chocolate covered pretzels and chocolate covered peanuts, the combination of sweet and salty was a winner. With the chicken fried bacon appetizer he test drove last fall, the bacon needed to be thick to stand up to the batter. As a dessert, a thinner cut was the way to go, ensuring a tug-free bite and allowing the chocolate to take the lead. My wife and I laid off the barbecue that night, but I'll probably return with some cronies sometime in the next month or so for a status report.
Boston BBQ: Roadhouse to Open Monday
After Wednesday's post about the Roadhouse opening "in a week or so," I received an email from a tipster saying it was going to open that night as originally planned. There were reports of a private function (friends and family) Tuesday night, so it seemed to make sense, but it wasn't happening. A number of people stoped by to look at the menu posted outside; some were ready to walk in and eat without even checking the menu. According to the pitmaster, the Boston Globe report of a Wednesday opening was made without consulting anyone who actually knew the real story. The sign out front announced a September 8 opening.
The posted menu lists pork ribs (no details on the specific cut), beef ribs, sliced and chopped brisket, pork, pulled chicken, mixed smoked sausages, hickory smoked wings, smoked turkey legs, deep fried babybacks, a burger and a veggie burger, a roasted portobello sandwich, fried chicken, chicken fried steak, grilled Porterhouse steak, grilled pork chop, American chop suey, BBQ shrimp, two kinds of chili. Most of the usual sides are there, but it's worth noting that there are two kinds of cornbread (regular and jalapeno), hand cut fries, sweet potato fries and onion rings.
[see the 9/3 post below for more photos and observations]
Weekend Wrap Up: The Cape Crusader Hits Dr. Frank 'n' Swine and Dave's Ribs
Now that it's already Thursday, it's time to fill you in on the second half of my weekend BBQ exploits. Sunday was the perfect day for a trip to Cape Cod: the weather was agreeable and it was the middle day of a 3-day weekend, making the traffic down and back even more agreeable. My wife agreed to join me on a day trip to visit Dr. Frank 'n' Swine, the competition team that's now a seasonal, weekends-only barbecue stand in Orleans MA. With the summer days dwindling, it was do it on Sunday or wait until next year. It turns out that this upcoming weekend may be the last of the season for Dr. Frank 'n' Swine, but they promise to return next year at the same location (the parking lot of the Masonic Temple, on the way to Nauset Beach). For anyone thinking of taking the trip down this weekend, I'm presenting my quick review today.
On the way back from Orleans we stopped at Dave's Ribs in Harwich MA (about halfway across the Cape). Since they'll be open longer, I'll post a review in the next couple of weeks (the photo in the Recent Eats column should give you a pretty good idea).
Cape Cod BBQ: Dr. Frank 'n' Swine Reviewed
The site's 147th review is now available for Dr. Frank 'n' Swine, the seasonal, weekends-only BBQ stand at the Masonic Temple in Orleans MA. Check it out via the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Boston BBQ: Roadhouse to Open in Brookline "Probably in a Week or So "
The owners of the Publick House, Brookline's go-to spot for craft beers, is spinning off a barbecue joint called simply Roadhouse possibly as soon as tonight. Roadhouse is located at 1700 Beacon Street in the space previously occupied by Vinny Testa's. A Boston Globe report last week said the plan was to open today with a soft opening yesterday, but based on some personal observation over the weekend and a phone call yesterday, it might be a few days more.
On Saturday I asked in person when the opening would be and was told, "Sometime next week." Thinking a first taste might happen as soon as yesterday, a 4:00 phone call to the parent restaurant yielded a "Probably in a week or so" response.
My poking-around visit on Saturday found some very good signs:
The space is huge, with a respectable pub feel, wooden floors and two distinct bar areas.
The smoker is a J&R. Made in Mesquite TX, this is the brand used by RUB, Dinosaur, Blue Ribbon, East Coast Grill, Jake's Dixie Roadhouse, Goody Cole's Smokehouse, City Flame Smokehouse and Redbones. To me, this choice shows they're not just all about the craft brews but serious about the barbecue too.
There's a large outdoor seating area with picnic tables.
"Grilled fish" gets equal billing with the barbecue on the outside signage. I'm generally not fond of the all-things-to-all-people menu approach, but some varied options will help lure my wife in the door. Given the ownership's brewpub track record and choice of smoker, this element could be a yet another catalyst for high traffic leading to high barbecue turnover that's essential to maintaining high quality. Let's hope.
Chris Hart: the Pigtrip Interview, Part 3
The Chris Hart interview is now posted in its entirety. In the final segment of our conversation, the competition pitmaster and former restaurateur talks about some of his his favorite restaurants, reveals his favorite all time food and describes what his barbecue restaurant is going to be like.
The Chris Hart Interview, Parts 1, 2 and 3
Boston BBQ: Visits to Uncle Pete's, Redbones
Since it was a long weekend and since I started even earlier and managed to get visits in to four BBQ joints, let's divide the weekend wrap-up into two parts. Although this phenomenon is more prevalent in New York than in Boston, it seems that the newer BBQ joints are getting all the attention while the legendary joints who've been around for more than a decade are treated as yesterday's news. I like going back to some of the old school, tried-and-true joints, and this weekend I hit Uncle Pete's with a friend on Thusday and Redbones with my wife on Saturday.
This Revere joint is all about the ribs, and they have an interesting if far from traditional (and far from Buffalo) chicken wing, so those are what I almost always wind up getting. Usually it's some combination of pork loin ribs, babyback ribs and beef ribs. We did that with the pork loin ribs (smallish this time but very tasty) and beef ribs (humongous and perfectly tender inside, with a crisp caramelized crust outside). I said last week that the pork ribs at SoulFire are probably my gold standard for the area. For beef ribs, at least east of the Connecticut River, it's Uncle Pete's.
The meal started with a complimentary quesadilla appetizer, which they've been doing for a few months now. For our official appetizer we started with the burnt ends that started as a special about a year ago and have been on the menu ever since. For $16.95 you get a huge mound (roughly a pound) of thickly sliced brisket deckle stuffed inside a crisp taco and served with tomato and jalapeno slices and two deep fried pickle spears. The meat is tender and flavorful even though it's not sauced. We also tried the cornbread, which I'd been hesitant to order because it's made with cheese and that just seems odd. Topped with maple butter, it has the consistency and flavor of pancakes and you can't really taste the cheese. After the meal we shot the breeze with Uncle Pete.
This Somerville joint, located in Davis Square halfway between Harvard and my alma mater Tufts, has been a favorite BBQ hangout for students and grads alike for more than two decades. For my entree I went with the beef ribs and pork ribs combo, and both meats were decent. Both were only mildly smoky, with the pork ribs juicy and the beef ribs merely moist.
The real reason for the visit was to sample a bunch of the sides. At the end of my original Redbones review I called the sides "mediocre," and upon further reflection, that seems a bit harsh. I'm still not crazy about the cole slaw and the beans that are the standard sides with platters and combos, and the collard greens are just ok. But you can substitute any side for a small additional fee, and most of those are excellent. I like that the sides and appetizers are morphed into a single list and that the portions and prices are geared to mixing, matching and sharing. Fried okra was decent, but its accompanying dipping salsa was superb. Excellent hand cut fries were perfectly crisp outside, full of potato essence inside. Oysters were solid. House made sausage, also excellent. But the shining star of the show was the chili verde. I've ordered the regular chili often but never the chili verde, and in retrospect this was a huge mistake. Like its counterpart, this chili doesn't pack a lot of heat, but the whirlwind of flavors is outstanding and it really does taste green. I have a feeling we'll be back soon just for this chili.
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