Archives - November 2008
False Promises and Poor Service, Week #5
This is a rare Sunday post, because it has nothing to do with barbecue and nothing to do with food. But it is related to Sunday—more specifically the Sunday Boston Globe. Today marks week #5 of the failed Boston Globe delivery experiment.
For years I had been a loyal customer of the Boston Globe. I've always preferred it to the Boston Herald, although I like the Boston Herald too. And although the content has slipped a little from what it was a few years ago, the Globe is still a great paper. My problem is not with the newspaper itself but with the delivery. About a year ago, after too many papers found their way under bushes, into puddles, under my car, delivered too late or not at all, we cancelled our subscription. It was easier to just pick up the paper as needed: on Sundays, on Wednesdays for the food section and on any day after a big Red Sox win.
After we returned from our Hawaii vacation in late October, we decided to give the Globe another chance, starting only with Sunday delivery. If it panned out, we'd upgrade to daily delivery.
Week #1, Sunday
Week #1, Monday
My wife called the Globe the next day to let them know about the problem and make sure that day's paper was deducted from the bill. Instead of an apology my wife received a reprimand for not calling on Sunday.
Week #1, Thursday
In the mail was a bill for the paper we didn't receive, and not only that, it said past due. Wow, that was fast. If only delivery were that efficient.
Week #1, Friday
My wife called the Globe to ask why we were receiving a bill for a paper we didn't receive when she was assured on Monday that it was deducted from the bill.
Week #2, Sunday
Again, no paper. This time my wife called the Globe a little after 8:00AM. That might seem a little early, but we wanted to allow plenty of time for the message to eventually reach the proper channels and materialize a paper somewhere in our yard before we planned to leave the house. By 10:00AM, still no paper. My wife called again and told them not to bother. We'd buy the paper ourselves while out on errands, so please cancel the subscription.
A little before 11:00AM, the doorbell rang. At the door was a smiling foreigner who proudly held the paper up as if it were a prized heirloom. "We don't want it now," I said.
Week #2, Monday
My wife called the Globe to make sure that the previous day's cancellation was recorded. An eager and persistent customer service representative named George tried to convince my wife to give the Globe another try.
"Sorry, we're not interested," she said. "We like the Globe but not your delivery system. We'll get it ourselves periodically, or maybe subscribe to the Herald."
Those were fighting words and George wasn't about to lose a potential customer. "If we deliver the Sunday Globe for free for the next four weeks, will you consider a full daily subscription?"
"We'd consider it, because that's what we wanted all along, but based on your track record I don't think that will happen. But we're not interested in a subscription that kicks in automatically. If we receive the papers, we'll call you to set up a subscription."
Week #3, Sunday
My wife was right. Again, no paper.
Week #3, Monday
My wife called the Globe and asked to speak with George.
"Please cancel everything. We don't want it, even if it's free."
"Please give us one more chance. I assure you the paper will be there next week."
Eventually George had his supervisor speak with my wife, who insisted that we were done. At least that's how we thought we left it.
Week #4, Sunday
I heard a thud outside the house, looked out the window and saw a paper (actually a plastic bag containing a paper) at the edge of our driveway as a pickup truck backed out. About ten minutes later I heard the engine of the pickup again and a car door open. Was the driver taking our free paper—the one we didn't want—back? No, he exchanged the first bag for a different bag, now placed about six feet closer to the front door. At this point we had no idea whether this was a relentless attempt to keep our business or yet another mistake. I'd pay the price of a Sunday paper just to know what was in that first bag.
Week #4, Saturday (yesterday)
We received another bill from the Globe, with the amount due now reflecting four papers: two that would have been on our dime but didn't arrive and should have been credited, and two that were supposed to be free (one of which never arrived).
Week #5, Sunday (today)
While typing this post I hear the now-familiar thud, and the free paper we don't want is now in our driveway. That's two weeks in a row now, so things appear to be looking up. But a free paper isn't free if you have to spend hours waiting for it, wondering about it and managing the people who manage the delivery. I'd much rather just buy the paper myself. I'd have a lot more time left on Sundays to go to the gym, which is where I'm off to now. I'm calling George myself tomorrow.
Recipes: The Original, Authorized Recipe for Inner Beauty Hot Sauce
The framed original recipe for Inner Beauty in Chris Schlesinger's office. Yes, that's an Andre the Giant figurine next to those dog biscuits.
Photo courtesy Art Mullen. Used with permission.
Chris Schlesinger of Cambridge's East Coast Grill is what some might call a culinary renaissance man: chef, author, restaurateur, occasional television personality, mentor, sandwich authority, grilling maestro, seafood savant and international cuisine pioneer. But if his culinary accomplishments were limited only to his legendary Inner Beauty Hot Sauce, he'd still have legions of dedicated fans.
Once available in retail outlets and more recently one of the most popular hot sauces on the internet, Inner Beauty is a mustard-based, habanero-infused Caribbean style hot sauce that combines tropical fruitiness with intense heat. I think it works best with poultry, hence the timing on Thanksgiving Eve. But it's also perfectly suited to beef, pork, vegetables, fish and potatoes. I also use it as a kicker-upper for other sauces. It has a well deserved cult following, so there are several bastardized and illegally posted versions of the recipe on the internet, but I'm proud and thankful to be able to provide the authorized and original version here.
Because the peppers vary in heat from batch to batch, so does the sauce itself. I've made the sauce at home several times from the recipe in Schlesinger's Big Flavors of the Hot Sun, and the best advice I can offer is to let it sit for a day before trying it. Have faith that the mustard will lose its "yellowness" with the passage of time. And the longer you let it sit, the better the flavors mingle.
The Historic Original Inner Beauty Hot Sauce Recipe
(courtesy Chris Schlesinger, East Coast Grill)
5 lb scotch bonnet or habanero peppers
1 gallon yellow mustard
1/2 lb brown sugar
1 quart orange juice
1/2 gallon white vinegar
1 cup honey
1 cup molasses
46 oz. papaya juice
46 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 gallon peanut oil
6 oz. each of cumin, chili, curry, tumeric
2 oz. all spice
salt and pepper
The Home Style Inner Beauty Hot Sauce Recipe
(courtesy Chris Schlesinger, from Big Flavors of the Hot Sun)
12 to 15 scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, roughly chopped
1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and mashed
1 cup cheap yellow prepared mustard
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon prepared curry powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 cup molasses
salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
If you're getting some last minute Thanksgiving groceries tonight, stock up on the ingredients above and make some Inner Beauty on Thanksgiving morning. Leftover turkey sandwiches will never be the same.
New York BBQ: Open Bar Tonight, Thanksgiving Dinner Tomorrow at Southern Hospitality
Tonight Southern Hospitality is throwing what it calls "the biggest Thanksgiving Eve Party on the Upper East Side." From 10:00PM to 2:00AM, enjoy the premium open bar for $45 per person. Southern Hospitality will also be open on Thanksgiving Day, offering a three course prixe fixe menu, also for $45 per person. The appetizer course is a choice of smoked turkey sliders, smoked hunter's chili (beef/pork) or autumn salad. The main event is a choice of smoked turkey breast with gravy, a wet and dry rib sampler or a fried shrimp platter. For dessert, it's bourbon pecan pie or chocolate cobbler.
New York BBQ: RUB and Hill Country Redux
On Sunday I was in New York City for the second time in eight days, and for the second time in eight days I stopped into Hill Country and RUB. Normally I would have covered new ground, but with some cancelled plans came opportunity to just relax and enjoy my two favorites, along with some good football. It seemed like Sunday's line-up of games had good ones from beginning to end.
Before setting foot inside the joint, I discovered yet another reason to add to last week's list of reasons why someone might choose the Hog Pit, the joint that just moved in across the street, over Hill Country. While most of New York's football fans wanted to see Jets-Titans at 1:00 and/or Giants-Cardinals at 4:00, the Hill Country big screen aired Cowboys-49ers at 1:00 (understandable for a Texas joint), followed by Redskins-Seahawks at 4:00 (huh?). If football meant much more to the visit than the 'cue, the Hog Pit would be the better bet. For me it was a no-brainer: Hill Country's 'cue and the Cowboys. I could always catch the second half of the Jets game at RUB (Patriots-Dolphins would be my first choice but I'm a realist).
Both a week ago and on Sunday I ordered the brisket and both times it was superb. Early on I preferred the lean brisket to the moist, but I've gradually come around. The moist brisket these days seems to have greater definition to the bark, more liberal use of rub and better trimming of the fat, all justifying the $22 per pound price tag. Another thing that might have changed is the composition of the rub itself. Maybe it's just me, but I'm fairly sure the basic rub now has a greater salt-to-pepper ratio, or at least a less coarse grind of the pepper, than in the days when Robbie Richter ran the pits. It also seems like the cayenne has been backed off somewhat. Regardless of whether it's perception or reality, that brisket was great—and I mean great—both times, with both the flavor and the juices running rampant.
Football and wings go hand in hand and it had been about a year since I had them at Hill Country last, so I made sure to sample some on Sunday. These were also fantastic, with a gentle smokiness and a much more complex rub that featured hints of sugar along with more pronounced heat. The skin was crisp on the outside yet slightly chewy; the inner meat was tender. I'm a huge fan of RUB's wings, which are smoked, then fried, then tossed in an exotic hot and tangy sauce, but Hill Country's unsauced wings are a worthy challenger.
I performed an experiment at Hill Country that I've been meaning to try for a while. My theory had been that per pound, the sides at Hill Country might be even more expensive than some of the meats. So I placed a small order of chili and a small order of Texas caviar (a black eyed pea salad) on the scales and both weighed in at a half pound. You don't really notice, since the sides are sold at fixed prices, but that makes the chili $11 per pound and the caviar $8 per pound. I'm only passing information, not judgment.
My next stop was RUB, just four blocks away. I caught the second half of the Jets game, nursed a few beers and didn't have anything to eat until after the game.
From my perch at the bar, I inspected every platter of 'cue that headed from the kitchen to the dining room and it all looked great, even on a Sunday afternoon. There was one half rack of ribs that I wanted to at least photograph if not nibble on, but my time would come. I should mention that last Saturday's lunch at RUB, ordered at around 11:45, was better and fresher than most joints offer on a busy Saturday night. When a barbecue joint can get lunch right, you know you've picked a winner. Sunday's post game platter was even better, with a melt-in-your-mouth quality to the burnt ends and a perfect blend of pork, smoke and rub in the ribs. As I've said before, there are other joints in the city who can outduel RUB's ribs for heft, but for pure flavor I'll take RUB's, with Daisy May's ribs a close second and Wildwood's spares not too far behind.
Ordering is much like the choice of the joint itself: there's always a part of me that wants to go back to the old favorites for comparison purposes and another part of me that wants to cover new ground. The only new ground on Sunday's RUB visit was the choice of the fries as one of my sides. These are fresh, hand-cut potatoes with a liberal drizzling of rub for a finish, much like their onion strings.
Speaking of new ground, pitmaster Scott Smith is now working on RUB's next great offering: smoked pig jowls. The details are still forthcoming, but look for something that combines the crispness and flavor of bacon with the size and texture of the burnt ends. I can't wait to try the final result.
Scott Smith may not have made Eater's Hottest Chef in NY poll, but here's what matters most to me:
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of Joints directory activity, spanning five states. This time there's one new joint, three expansions, four closings, six seasonal closings, one catering comeback by a former restaurant pitmaster, one new website and two website corrections.
Tennessee's (Leominster MA) is now open, making it the fifth Massachusetts location for the mini chain. www.tennbbq.com
BT's Smokehouse (Brimfield MA) opened their "Snack Shack" location in Sturbridge MA last Saturday, as reported here last week. The menu is abbreviated (sandwiches, chili), but the cooking times are full-fledged. www.btsmokehouse.com
Marconi Beach Restaurant (Wellfleet MA) closed for the season in late October but the Cape Cod BBQ-meets-seafood joint be open again next spring. www.marconibeachrestaurant.net
Willie B's BBQ (Bay Shore NY) closed in July, but is back as a barbecue catering outfit just in time the holidays. As reported here last week in the Thanksgiving Turkey Deals, the new name is Fat Willie B's BBQ and pitmaster Will Breakstone can be contacted at (631) 678-1726 or via email at FATWILLIEBSBBQ@optonline.net. For a lengthier announcement, check out last week's White Trash BBQ post about Fat Willie B's.
Jezebel (NYC) is a soul food institution that closed in the summer of 2007. My bad for not noticing sooner; thanks to Vinny for setting me straight.
Texas Smokehouse (NYC) on Second Avenue is another closing whose date eludes me, but evidently customers eluded it. Thanks again to Vinny.
Shaker Mountain BBQ (New Lebanon NY) has a non-working website and a disconnected phone number, so I'm graying this one out. This was a fairly recent addition, so I'm wondering what the specifics are.
PJ's Bar-B-Que (Saratoga Springs NY) is closed for the season. They'll kick off their 26th season in April of 2009.
Sunset Ribs (Waterford CT) is another seasonal closing, with plans to reopen in the spring of 2009. www.sunsetribs.com
Wood's Pit (Bantam CT) has a website that wasn't available when I originally added them to the directory. www.woodspitbbq.com
Grill Zilla (Damariscotta ME) is a seasonal joint that is closed until next May. I also had a bad link that has been corrected. Thanks again to Vinny for the catch. www.grillzillabbq.com
Little Dan's BBQ (Lewiston ME) is still open, but I corrected a bad link. Thanks again to Vinny for the catch. www.littledansbbq.com
T&G Smokehouse (Waterville ME) was a roadside location that's closed for the season and is looking for another site for the spring of 2009.
Crazy Dave's BBQ (Ellsworth ME) is another seasonal location that's closed for the season and is also looking for another site, but the timeframe for this one may be mid winter. Stay tuned. www.crazydavespitbbq.com
Backwoods BBQ & Grill (Westwood NJ) opened this summer at the Center Square Mall. Owner Jay Lippin was the winner of a 2006 WFAN rib cookoff. Beyond the usual suspects, the menu incudes kobe beef corn dogs and antelope chili. www.backwoodsbbqgrill.com
Broad Street Smokehouse (Ridgewood NJ) has been closed since last spring.
Smokin' Al's (Bay Shore NY) opens its second location in Massapequa Park this Friday. www.smokinals.com
New York BBQ: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Eying Capital Area Expansion
In these tough economic times it's great to see that some restaurants are still able to grow. Last Friday's Schenectady Daily Gazette reported that Dinosaur Bar-B-Que may be looking toward the Albany area for its fourth restaurant and its first expansion since the Harlem outpost opened in 2004. The former Fresno’s Southwest Restaurant on the Troy waterfront was named as a possible target.
read the Schenectady Daily Gazette article on Dinosaur expansion
New York BBQ: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Moving to New Harlem Location in 2009
While the potential Dinosaur Bar-B-Que expansion is only in the exploratory stage at this point, the New York Times three weeks ago reported that a move for the Harlem branch—even if it's only a one block move—is a certainty for the barbecue juggernaut in 2009. Their current location in a former meatpacking warehouse on 12th Avenue and 131st Street and is owned by Columbia University, who now has plans for the site as part of a 25-year campus expansion. The Times article reports that a new location has been secured in another former meatpacking warehouse on 12th Avenue and 125th Street, oddly just one block away.
read the NY Times article on Dinosaur's move
Long Island BBQ: Newsday's Joan Reminick Isn't Digging B-B-Q Inc. in Rockville Centre
If you've read Newsday with any regularity, you know that Joan Reminick has a soft spot in her heart for barbecue, but on their Feed Me blog she show no soft spot for B-B-Q Inc. in Rockville Centre. Much of the frustration with her experience at B-B-Q Inc had to do with the service, but a lack of smoke was also cited. Maybe that's because, according to a report by Eric Devlin in the BBQ Brethren forums, "they smoke the meat for 2 hours and then have them in an oven for another 6 to 8."
read Joan Reminick's Feed Me post on B-B-Q Inc.
read Eric Devlin's BBQ Brethren post on B-B-Q Inc. (requires membership)
I had a chance to chat with Joan a few months ago and I could tell in an instant she knows her stuff. I recently added the Feed Me blog to my Links page.
Boston BBQ: Jason Lord of East Coast Grill Is A Cover Boy
Check out the latest issue of Stuff@Night magazine featuring cover boy Jason Lord, who worked his way up the ranks to chef at East Coast Grill (Cambridge MA). I can personally vouch that he's not only one of the Boston restaurant scene's most creative minds but also one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.
For nearly a decade, my wife and I have taken our usual grillside seats to marvel at the choreography of the East Coast Grill kitchen. Jason Lord exemplifies grace under pressure and he talks about that required skill in the accompanying article.
read the article at Stuff@Night website
There's some sad irony to the timing of this article—l'll address that tidbit further down the road.
Massachusetts BBQ: BT's Smokehouse Opens "Snack Shack" Location in Sturbridge
Last Saturday, BT Smokehouse (Brimfield MA) unveiled their new second location in Sturbridge MA, just 3/4 mile west of the Mass Pike (I-90) interchange. It's at the front right corner of the Yankee Spirits building behind Burger King. BT's has a BYOB option, so you can even pick up some beer at Yankee Spirits and bring it into BT's to enjoy with your barbecue.
The Sturbridge location is a tiny space designed for quick over-the-counter take-out, but there's a small dining counter (think Gray's Papaya in NYC) where you can set up shop and slurp down some hot chili on a cold day like today. The abbreviated menu includes pulled pork and beef brisket (available as mini and full size sandwiches, pints and quarts), BT's award winning brisket chili, homemade soups and Nathan's™ hot dogs (when you move into a hot dog stand, it makes sense).
All the meats are smoked daily by chef Brian Treitman at the original Brimfield location, which will continue to offer its full menu that also includes pork ribs, beef ribs and chicken.
BT's Snack Shack is open Tuesday through Sunday 11AM to 6PM. The week after Thanksgiving, the Brimfield location will be trimming back to winter hours of Thursday through Sunday, 11AM to around 8PM.
Massachusetts BBQ: Beer, Wine and 'Cue From BT's For A Cause
Tonight BT's Smokehouse, along with Sturbridge's Public House, will be participating in a fundraiser to help support the REAS Foundation (Residential Energy Assistance for Seniors), by pairing some fine BBQ with local beers and wines from around the world. This event is open to the public and will be held at the Public House Tap Room and Pineapple Room from 6:30-10:30PM. The cost is $35 per person or $50 per couple.
Massachusetts BBQ: Tennessee's BBQ Opens Fifth Massachusetts Location in Leominster
A stone's throw from Route 2, Tennessee's BBQ opened late last week in a mini strip mall in Leominster MA. It is the fifth Massachusetts outpost for the barbecue mini-chain, which opened its doors in Framingham MA in the spring of 1997.
I stopped in last night for a visit. The space is consistent with the other Tennessee's locations, mixing corrugated aluminum, plenty of stools among the booths and tables, and a clean overall look. There's a deck outside (behind the railing) that might offer al fresco dining in the spring. With winter on the way, a working fireplace inside with soft benches is a nice touch.
The smoker is a Southern Pride and the service is over-the-counter (the Milford branch offers table service).
The 'cue? Just like the other branches: real, yes; spectacular, no. But for a quick lunch hour meal or supper between shopping or errands, it usually hits the spot without breaking the bank.
Have Yourself A Smokin' Little Thanksgiving
Here's the deal (or make that deals) on the Thanksgiving offerings among BBQ joints in the Northeast. If you're entertaining a large crowd next Thursday, why not have a smoked turkey in addition to the traditional roasted one?
Click here for the Thanksgiving deals at Northeast BBQ joints page.
If you are a BBQ restaurateur and would like your deals listed, just drop me a line at GARYatPIGTRIPdotNET.
New York BBQ: The New Hog Pit Isn't a Pit At All permalink
I was in New York City Saturday, so it was a good chance to check out the new incarnation of the Hog Pit, located on 26th Street just west of Broadway. I knew the new location would be across the street from Hill Country (I reported it first), but I didn't realize how close the two barbecue restaurants are from each other. I was thinking stone's throw, but this is more like spitting distance.
"Across from Hill Country? What were they thinking?" I actually said it out loud, and that's the thought that kept flashing through my mind on the way in. That is, until it got replaced by another double question mark thought, also uttered out loud: "Squeaky clean? The Hog Pit?"
If you've ever set foot in the Meatpacking District original, you know that the Hog Pit is a rough and tumble affair—literally. The new Hog Pit has ever so slightly worn wood floors and a boar's head mounted on the wall, but that's where the similarity ends (except for the food; more on that later). Surprisingly, the Hog Pit 2.0 has freshly painted, bright red walls, tasteful framed photographs, stately wooden booths and tables. The bar is smaller and more modern and there's a clean-cut, yuppie vibe all around. Somehow it just doesn't seem right.
Having had Hog Pit's "barbecue" previously and not considering it anywhere near Hill Country's league, I asked myself what could possibly be the lure to draw potential customers away from Hill Country. A few theories emerged:
The Cost. Even as good as Hill Country is, the thought of paying $22 per pound for their signature moist brisket or $5 for a small side or $6 for a cupcake may not appeal to your average New Yorker, especially in these tough economic times.
The Bar. Let's face it: not everyone is as into the food as you or I. Some people just want to walk in and have a cold one, without obsessing over who the pitmaster is or what woods they use or how the brisket compares with other joints throughout the city.
The Hassle. I'm the type who likes to go up to the Hill Country meat counter several times, ordering in small batches, but I can see even the most fervent New York BBQ fan tiring of having to deal with the lines (twice if you get sides).
The Menu. The Hog Pit has burgers and Hill Country doesn't. The Hog Pit has pulled pork (not necessarily barbecued pulled pork) and Hill Country doesn't. The Hog Pit has a fryolater and Hill Country doesn't. If any of the first three bullets in this list rang true for you, some deep fried pickles or a corn dog or a big order of fries may have serious appeal, regardless of the execution. There's also skillet fried corn, collard greens and mustard greens.
Mind you, none of the above reasons would sway me from entering Hill Country, but I can see the logic for someone else.
Now, for the food. My wife and I shared a pulled pork sandwich, with the collard greens and the cabbage and bacon for sides. It's billed on the sandwich menu as "Juicy Pulled Pork," with no mention of smokers involved. The pork is served on sourdough toast—a nice touch, actually—and it's piled high.
The "juicy" was a tough sell judging by the top surface of the finely shredded meat, which appeared dry. A cross section revealed that gravity took effect, causing whatever moistening agent was used to sink to the lower layers.
I liked that the sauce was served on the side, allowing me to choose how much of it to pour onto the sandwich. The sauce itself was heavy on the tomato (close to marinara) with some tartness tossed in for balance.
Random samples of individual pieces of the pork weren't impressive for either taste or texture, but a big bite of the sandwich as a whole, with a dab of sauce, wasn't entirely horrific. It wasn't barbecue and it wasn't particularly good, but I've had far worse. Both sides were decent enough, but fell short of my memory of the sides at the original. I took a few more bites of the sandwich to confirm my original impressions, then pushed my plate forward. There were more stops to make and this sandwich wasn't going to deter me.
Later this week: my visits to RUB and Hill Country.
East Coast Grill, Tremont 647 Named in the Boston Globe's 30 Best Brunch Plates
By the time you see this, it may be too late to act upon in the same day, but here's a heads-up anyway. Today's Boston Globe magazine features a list of the city's 30 Best Brunch Plates, and two of the included dishes are from restaurants in the Pigtrip Joints directory. East Coast Grill gets a mention for its fish tacos; Tremont 647's shining item is Joanne's Pop Tarts.
read the article online
Some Boston and New York BBQ Comparisons permalink
Last night the New York Jets defeated the New England Patriots on their own turf, adding further evidence to my earlier assertion that in both sports and barbecue, New York Is Boston, Boston Is New York.
Below are some general comparisons and observations about some of the differences between New York BBQ and Boston BBQ.
Spare Ribs (edge: Boston)
If you’re going to feast on ribs in the first place, you might as well be feasting on the juiciest, most bodacious ribs you can find, and those would be spare ribs. They’re meatier than babybacks and have more flavor too. But because of their size and uneven shape (much wider at one end than the other), they take up more space in the smoker and cook somewhat unevenly. This has led many barbecue joints to instead offer the St Louis cut, which uses the same ribs as the spares but trims off the edges in such a way that every bone has the same length.
In the Boston area, spares have become much more elusive in recent years, dropping off the menus at Blue Ribbon, Firefly’s and Lester’s. But you can still find them at East Coast Grill, SoulFire, Tremont 647, ChiliHead, Jake’s Dixie Roadhouse, Redbones, Texas BBQ Company and KC’s Rib Shack in New Hampshire. In New York City, the only proponent of spares with the same girth that I can think of is Wildwood.
The One Bone Option (edge: Boston)
This is a concept that's fairly widespread in greater Boston but practically nonexistent in New York, unless you count the by-the-pound joints like Hill Country and Fette Sau. Rather than a two-meat combo, you can simply add a rib or two to augment a pulled pork sandwich or even a (gasp) non-BBQ entree. The single bone (typically $2 to $3) is an option at East Coast Grill, Blue Ribbon, Redbones, SoulFire, Jake's Dixie Roadhouse, Firefly's and High Street Grill.
Freshness (edge: New York)
The post-renaissance (2002) batch of New York BBQ joints seem to exemplify the “from the smoker to the plate” ideal more so than their counterparts in Boston, with RUB and Hill Country leading the way. Even those joints that reheat can do so with some level of predictability, as the population that’s about five times the size of Boston creates higher traffic. Sure, metro New York probably has five times as many restaurants as metro Boston, but they don’t have five times as many barbecue joints.
Beef (edge: New York)
With all due respect to the folks at Uncle Pete’s, Redbones and Texas BBQ Company in the Boston area, the beef offerings in New York City are vastly superior. The humongous beef short rib you can find at Daisy May’s, Hill Country, RUB, Smoke Joint, Southern Hospitality and Wildwood is a true marvel that really ought to be added to some Boston BBQ joint menus. Similarly, there are Boston area joints that offer burnt ends, but the style and execution are nothing like the twice-smoked beauties that are the signature item at RUB. And when it comes to beef brisket, the first joint that pops into your head should be Hill Country. Here’s another free money-making idea to the restaurateurs in the Boston area, barbecue or otherwise: get yourself a burger that compares to the Pat LaFrieda blends available at Blue Smoke, Shake Shack (same owner as Blue Smoke) and Wildwood.
Vinegar (no edge)
This one’s not really a comparison, simply a non-judgmental observation. In the Boston area, vinegar seems to be much more prevalent in the sauces and in the treatment of pulled pork. The Boston BBQ fan’s palate is much more accepting of vinegar, possibly because many of the barbecue joints in the area have a connection to Chris Schlesinger, a transplanted Virginian with a taste for Carolina style barbecue. His pulled pork sandwich is one of the tartest in the region; his kitchens have spawned many of the pitmasters and chefs who’ve gone on to run their own kitchens elsewhere. In New York, pork gets a much sweeter approach or is left au naturale. As the saying goes, “not that there’s anything wrong with that…”
Over The Counter (edge: Boston)
Until a few years ago, you couldn't get barbecue in New York City without the commitment of a sit-down meal. Deciding on barbecue for lunch meant not only the extra consumption of calories but also the extra consumption of time to order, wait for the check, add a tip, etc.
The Boston BBQ scene is well represented with over-the-counter trucks (M&M), shacks (Pit Stop BBQ), joints (Blue Ribbon, ChiliHead), Boston Chicken lookalikes (Tennessee's) and McDonald's reworks (Lester's). Even a joint with a bar (SoulFire) has counter service.
In New York, the counters of Daisy May's, Hill Country, Smoke Joint Fette Sau have changed the trend slightly, but it's still predominantly a sit-down town.
Barbecue Sauces (edge: Boston)
As accomplished as they are with the meats, my Manhattan BBQ starting rotation of RUB, Hill Country, Daisy May's and Wildwood isfar less accomplished in the sauce category. At RUB and Hill Country in particular, the meat is so good it doesn't need sauce, but RUB's table sauces (3) are just okay and Hill Country's one sauce is awful. Wildwood has one that's good and one that's not. Daisy May's doesn't offer any. Blue Smoke has a couple of decent ones; Southern Hospitality has one that tastes store bought. Fette Sau's have been almost universally maligned, with one review suggesting that you smuggle your own sauce in. Dinosaur has a fantastic line-up of hot sauces that render barbecue sauce to second fiddle. I like Smoke Joint's sauces over in Brooklyn. Sadly and surprisingly, Brother Jimmy's probably has the best sauce roster in Manhattan.
Greater Boston BBQ joints seem to take more pride in their array of barbecue sauces. Maybe it's because there's more history, dating back to the days when even the most hard core barbecue fans considered the sauce more important than the meat. Among the joints with at least four sauces to choose from are Blue Ribbon, ChiliHead, Firefly's, Lester's, Redbones and SoulFire, plus KC's Rib Shack. Generally speaking, all of their sauces are pretty good to very good, and some joints—SoulFire, Firefly's (Quincy location only) and Memphis Roadhouse—offer them heated.
BBQ Joint as Sports Bar (edge: New York)
Barbecue and sports are both high testosterone pursuits, so it's only natural that they be enjoyed together, along with some cold beer. New York has the clear edge over Boston in this aspect. Not so surprisingly this time, it's again Brother Jimmy's at the top of my list for best sports watching venue among BBQ joints. Their barbecue? I could take it or leave it (usually I leave it), but the number of TV sets, selection of games and high volume of the play-by-play make it a winner, and the hotties behind the bar don't hurt. For highest combined score of the barbecue element and sports element, go with the downstairs room at Hill Country. Outside the city, Bailey's in Blauvelt NY is another favorite.
I'm starting to receive notices from various restaurants about their Thanksgiving catering offerings. If you are a barbecue restaurant owner or know a restaurant that's offering a barbecue spin on Thanksgiving, please send any info to GARYatPIGTRIPdotNET and I'll post all of the listings sometime next week.
Hudson Valley BBQ: Piggy Bank Reviewed
Sometimes in my eagerness to post essays and restaurant news I get distracted from what the core of this site is: barbecue restaurant reviews. The site's 150th review is now available for Piggy Bank in Beacon NY. Check it out via the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Jason Varitek, Pitmaster
Here in Red Sox Nation, there's much speculation and debate over what the Red Sox will do and should do with veteran catcher Jason Varitek, who is now a free agent.
Cold blooded pragmatists say let him go. He batted only .220 with limited power this year, so at age 37 when next season rolls around, he's more likely to be trending downward than ripe for a rebound year.
Sentimentalists say keep him around. He was part of two championship teams and despite declining offensive skills is still instrumental to the success of the young pitching staff. The difference between .220 and .270 is one hit instead of an out every 20 at bats (roughly once a week). Isn't his game calling worth at least one out per week?
Then there's the group I'm in, who see the logic in both camps and say keep him if you can, but only for a short contract (2 years). Pay him a premium—partly out of loyalty, partly to buy time to develop a bridge plan for the future, but mostly for the luxury of not being tied down to a longer contract.
What does this have to do with barbecue? Hear me out.
Let's get back to the game calling. Only a buffoon would disagree with the premise that Varitek's knowledge of American League hitters and handling of the Sox pitching staff are two big reasons the Red Sox have won the World Series twice in the last five years. But here's my question: where does all that knowledge lie? Is it in Jason Varitek's head? Or has some of that knowledge and strategic mindset rubbed off on the pitchers? Or the coaches? Has it been documented in Varitek’s notebooks? If so, does the team own said notebooks? They should. If they do, maybe the Red Sox can get by with those notebooks and the skills of an up-and-comer.
In the high tech world I work in, contracts are signed that concede patents, inventions and intellectual property to the company paying the checks. Why not baseball? Why not restaurants? Every pitmaster wants to own his own place, but in today’s economy it’s often necessary to toil for “the man” whose deep pockets make up for his lack of deep barbecue knowledge.
If the pitmaster gets hit by a bus or hit with an offer to work somewhere else for more money (just as Varitek may), it’s nice to know that the show can still go on. Sure, you might be able to get a two-week period where the new guy gets trained, but wouldn’t you want to already have everything documented, with timetables, temperatures, foiling details, holding methods, reheating programs and every recipe from collard greens to cole slaw known and tested? I certainly would.
Then again, if I were the pitmaster, I’d want to keep my secrets secret. Just like with Jason Variek’s future, it all comes down to negotiation.
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of Joints directory activity, spanning three states and one US territory. This time there are two new joints, two closings, two expansions, one move with a name change, one expansion that's more of a move, one website change, two towels thrown in for temporarily closed joints that never re-opened and one final week of operation announcement for a joint that's closing (they say) only temporarily.
Hog Pit BBQ (NYC), opened its new location on Friday night, right across the street from Hill Country. This is more of a move than an expansion, as the lease on their original Meat Packing District location expires in January. They'll operate both locations through the end of the year. www.hogpit.com
Lookout Hill Smokehouse (Brooklyn NY) has been closed for a month. Whether it's a bad location (Biscuit BBQ had also failed there earlier) or simply bad barbecue is open to speculation.
A&M Roadhouse (NYC) has been closed since mid-summer. My research indicates a move from 57 Murray Avenue to a new location on 6 Murray Avenue that may or may not have happened, but either way, it's done. Thanks to Vinny for the info.
Poppa Rick's BBQ (Woodbury NY) has been closed for over two years, though their website promised a relocation for quite some time after that. With no resurgence by now, I think it's time to give up hope.
Little Red Smokehouse (Carver MA) had promised website updates ever since mid-summer announcing progress on their re-opening after "renovations." With no website update in over three months and finally a cryptic "Goodbye" message late last week, I'd say any re-opening is unlikely to happen in that same location. I hope I'm wrong. www.thelittleredsmokehouse.com
BT Lane's (Griswold CT or Jewett City CT, depending on which source you believe) is now in its final week of operation at its current location. If they stick to the plan unlike the previous two joints, their website will announce a new location. www.btlanesbbq.com
Barbecue Island (Brooklyn NY) is no longer in Coney Island and has resurfaced in Bed-Stuy as Kings County BBQ Truck, with seating on the way. Thanks to Kate for the info. www.kingscountybbq.com
Chester's BBQ (New London CT) has a second location that's been operating since summer in Groton CT. Thanks to Chet himself for the info. www.chestersbbq.com
Village Smokehouse (Lowell MA) is now open, as reported here earlier, with a location that dwarfs the size of its Brookline MA flagship. www.villagesmokehouse.com
High Street Grill (North Andover MA) is also now open, also as reported here earlier. www.25high.net
Big Fatty's (Hartford VT and Burlington VT) has a new website with a slightly different address: the "P" in "Piggery" is now upper case, rendering previous links unlinkable. They also have a new all-you-can-eat pork and chicken special on Sunday and Monday nights in their Burlington outpost only. www.maplestreetcatering.com/Piggery.html
Brother Jimmy's (NYC), just two months after opening its fifth outpost at Lexington and 31st, has been operating its furthest outpost open since early September at the El San Juan hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This 220-seat location is outfitted with 22 high-definition flat panel televisions and a mechanical bull. Beyond barbecue, the San Juan branch will also offer local cuisine such as plaintain crusted snapper, rum glazed pork tenderloin, yucca chips and tostones. It will host the Ultimate Super Bowl Party on February 1, with celebrities and NFL players in attendance—as long as you're a hotel guest, you get an invite. Thanks to Robert for the lead. www.elsanjuanhotel.com/jimmybrothers/index.cfm
Some Links Updates
I like to keep my Links page a work in progress, expanding the list of sites to reflect my regular reading habits. I haven't dropped any links yet, though the thought has crossed my mind on a few. I added some new ones today, with some in the list below already in there a while. So take a look and see what you might like.
Photo courtesy Lisa Fain, Homesick Texan. Used with permission.
Homesick Texan has been part of my regular reading regimen for quite a while now, but I had been waiting for more barbecue content before adding. Although the barbecue sensibilities are there, it's not a barbecue site but always a good read, with interesting stories and recipes. Although her recent corn dogs post received some play on one of the "Big Dog" sites, it was her In Search Of West Texas Asado post (see photo above) that sealed the deal for me. When the weather gets a little cooler, I'm all over it.
One Food Guy is another mostly-cooking blog that I got into after its author and I exchanged several emails discussing the merits of Boston BBQ. His restaurant list of Boston Area Favorites is eerily similar to mine.
The Feed Bag is the new online home of Josh Ozersky, who previously was the editor and loudest voice over at Grub Street. It's primarily New York City restaurant news and gossip, with an amusing writing style and frequent use of video.
Better BBQ Bureau and Smoke In Da Eye are new additions to the Northeast BBQ Competition teams section. Smoke In Da Eye recently won the Grand Championship at the Battle of the BBQ Brethren event in Sayville NY. If you have a barbecue team that competes in the Northeast and would like your blog or website added, just drop me a line: GARYatPIGTRIPdotNET.
Election Night Food Porn?
No, I'm not ripping off Lakeside Smokers again, just reporting that Election Night history was made not just in the voting booths across America but also in a tiny Knights of Columbus in Methuen MA. It was Lakeside Smokers Pulled Pork Sandwich Night, the first step toward retail barbecue for the award winning competition team.
So how did this compare to competition? "The only similarity you have is the deadline," said pitmaster Mike Boisvert. "You need to be set up and serving at a decided time, but after that it's kind of slow paced; none of the adrenaline like you feel at a contest."
Also unlike competition, the people judging the food aren't nameless, faceless and off in a tent hundreds of feet away. That may fluster some, but not Boisvert: "For me, when a total stranger at a bar buys a sandwich, then comes back to buy second, then tells you it was awesome... that was very satisfying."
My pulled pork sandwich was as good as any I've tried in a restaurant, made with shoulder that was smoked and served on the same day, with no refrigeration in between. The top secret barbecue sauce, which combined sweet, heat and a little bit of tart, was offered separately in a heated plastic squeeze bottle. The only disappointment? No oatmeal raisin cookies from their most recent Friday Night Food Porn.
Competition BBQ Roundup: Northeast BBQ Teams Dominate at the National Level
I'm still playing catch-up from my vacation a few weeks ago, and one of the things that slipped through the cracks was the "coverage" of competition barbecue as some local teams proved that you don't have to be from the South to take barbecue trophies home from some of the most prestigious competitions in the South.
Before I continue, I need to serve up a few disclaimers. First, when I say "coverage," I use big fat quotation fingers because I'm essentially only providing the results that are available from other sources: the New England BBQ Society site, the BBQ Brethren forum, the KCBS website, specific contest websites and specific competition team blogs. Second, my goal here is not to compete with these sources for scoops or to pretend that I'm providing regular in-depth reporting and analysis. I'm just trying to offer a bit of exposure to the contests and teams that make up the competition scene to readers who are primarily interested in restaurant content. When an I Smell Smoke or an I Que gets repeated mentions here throughout the competition season, that helps establish some recognition down the road when the competition and commercial BBQ worlds collide. Charlie Pini of I Smell Smoke served BBQ at the Salmon Chase American Bistro in Keene NH two summers ago; Chris Hart of IQue has already announced that he is looking to take his barbecue to a restaurant setting.
It just so happens that those two teams, I Smell Smoke and I Que, have been continuing their winning ways not only at local contests but also at the national level against some of the best cooks in the country.
I Smell Smoke (Malden MA), the reigning NEBS Team of the Year, competed at the American Royal (Kansas City MO) in both the invitational (90 teams) and the open (475 teams), finishing 20th in both competitions. Even more impressively, they also took home a first place trophy for chicken at the invitational. A few weekends later at the Jack Daniel's (Lynchburg TN), they finished 14th overall, with a 6th place in ribs and 8th place pork.
I Que (Hopkinton MA) also cooked back to back events at the Royal, taking 30th place overall in the invitational (with a 15th place ribs) and 8th place overall in the open (with 8th place chicken). At the Jack Daniel's, I Que finished 20th overall, with a first place chef's choice (the second time this team has achieved the feat).
Lunchmeat (Rockland MA), another of the area's perennial top teams, won their third consecutive Oinktoberfest in Clarence NY. The Grand Champions also took home a first place trophy for brisket and finished 2nd in pork and 5th in chicken. At the Jack Daniel's, Lunchmeat finished 5th overall, with 2nd place in brisket and 14th in pork.
Transformer BBQ (Canton MA) finished 117th overall with 11th place ribs at the 475-team American Royal open.
The BBQ Brethren competed at their first Jack Daniel's, finishing 36th overall in a field of 78, with 20th place ribs and 23rd place pork. A few weeks earlier at the American Royal invitational, they finished 33rd
overall and received a call for 13th place chicken.
Purple Turtle Catering Company (Norwalk CT) competed in the Best of the Best open in Douglas GA, finishing 5th overall, with first place trophies for both brisket and whole hog.
Massachusetts BBQ: Tennessee's BBQ To Open Fifth Massachusetts Location in Leominster
According to the Tennessee's website, it's already open, but the Leominster MA location is still about two weeks away. A stone's throw from Route 2, Tennessee's Leominster will be the fifth outpost for the barbecue mini-chain, which opened its doors in Framingham MA in the spring of 1997. I took a peek inside the restaurant, which is still under construction but looks like it will be ready to roll soon. It's very nice looking in a Panera sort of way, with cozy fireplace seating in addition to the standard tables.
Hungry Potato Now Offering Arthur Bryant's BBQ Sauces and a 10% Discount Through November 15
Now that Halloween is behind us, it seems like we're already starting to get ready for the Christmas season. Decorations are coming out of the woodwork, every store is promoting its daily "Biggest Sale of the Year" and the parking spots at malls are dwindling by the day. If you're looking for something different and a chance to get ahead on your holiday shopping, allow me the indulgence of a plug for my sponsor at HungryPotato.com, the website that offers food and gear from restaurants all across the country—regardless of whether they're from a red state or a blue state.
Hungry Potato now offers a complete line of barbecue sauces and rubs from Arthur Bryant's, the legendary joint from Kansas City. If you've been meaning to get that T-shirt or autographed cookbook from East Coast Grill (Cambridge MA), Hungry Potato is your online source. And through November 15, you can save 10% on your Hungry Potato purchase (excludes gift cards) by using the word "SPUD" as the Voucher Code at checkout.
Providence BBQ: It's Election Day at Rick's Roadhouse Too
On Election Day, you'll have two choices, and if you're like me, it may be difficult to choose. Rick's Roadhouse (Providence RI) is offering a similarly difficult choice on election night: pulled pork (red) or BBQ ribs (blue). If you vote at Rick's Roadhouse on November 4, you'll receive a $5 coupon for your next visit.
New York City BBQ: Election Night Specials, Bourbon Tasting at Southern Hospitality
Southern Hospitality (NYC) has 14 televisions, and all 14 will be tuned to Election Night coverage on Tuesday. Election night specials include $2 Donkey and Elephant shots, and a free hour of top shelf Hundred Grand Margaritas. If your candidate wins, you can even celebrate the next night with Southern Hospitality's $25 Bourbon Tasting event, featuring five small and single batch bourbons.
Thoughts On Last Thursday's Kitchen Nightmares, Featuring J Willy's BBQ
OK, it wasn't really about a barbecue restaurant. My bad.
I probably should have realized that while Gordon Ramsay knows how to facilitate efficient and profitable kitchens, he's hardly a barbecue savant. Whether it's because he's an Englishman or because he operates on an arguably higher plane than barbecue, I can't say. But I can say that I was a little disappointed to see a show about a restaurant Ramsay himself renamed as a "Barbecue House" offer no footage or mention of smokers, rubs, woods, low temperatures or long cooking times. No talk of Cambros or steam tables or Salamanders or Alto Shams. No talk of how to hold the pork butts or whether to chop or pull the meat. No talk of brisket flat versus brisket point, or whether to inject, or whether to slice or chop. I'm guessing that the barbecue sauce Ramsay concocted was used not on actual barbecue but on oven-baked or quick-grilled ribs. The fact that Ramsay identified a glob of fat on a rib and said it was poorly trimmed is a tip-off: if they were smoked low and slow, the fat would have been rendered away.
As with most Kitchen Nightmares episodes, the familiar mantra of using only fresh ingredients was repeated throughout the episode. You'd think creating homemade dishes instead of using slop out of a can would be a no-brainer. Why would you need Gordon Ramsay to tell you the obvious? Well, what's obvious to you or me may not be so obvious to the clientele of a place like J Willy's (South Bend IN). Despite the popularity of the Food Network, more cooking magazines on the shelf than ever before and the rise of food blogs, I'm guessing the average mid-range restaurant customer doesn't know or care whether the fries are fresh or frozen, or whether the ribs are smoked or boiled. The typical restaurant owner would rather lose you or me as a potential customer if it means adding or keeping 10 others who are less discriminating but more watchful of menu prices.
Then there's the related issue of slipping standards. Whether it's the groove in the carpet or the acceptability of poorly prepared or plated foods, the slippage is usually gradual. In a way, it's just like a messy room or a diet gone awry; there's no clear demarcation between right and wrong, but one day it's so wrong you wonder how you got there. That's where management comes in. If you're not going to get behind the grill yourself, you should at least be able to identify when something's not right, so it doesn't continue or gradually get worse (if a cook can cut corners, he will). If the ribs don't have a lot of meat, make sure there are a few extra to compensate. If the lettuce is brown, replace it. If the pork looks dry, don't serve it (it can be reworked or re-allocated later). The role of management/ownership needs to be more than that of a cheerleader: "Come on guys, it's getting busy!" isn't exactly contributing anything to the equation. Anyone can hang around the front of the house, lead parties to their tables and ask how everything was, but if you really want a successful restaurant, you have to be able to recognize, anticipate and solve problems before they happen.
Which brings us to partners John, Rick and Tricia. It's not so surprising to hear one owner/manager throw another owner/manager under the bus. Not only does this happen in hundreds of restaurants every day, it happens in every industry: everything wrong is because of you, everything right is because of me. If the restaurant's in trouble, simply blaming the man at the helm (John) may be accurate, but it's not going to solve the problem. If you recognize a probem and let it continue, you are just as culpable, if not more. Rick and Tricia (husband and wife) couldn't be at J Willy's, they said, because they live three and a half hours away and had another restaurant to run. How well the other restaurant was faring wasn't mentioned in the show, but if it's faring well, you have to suck it up and make that commute and get the job done. Tricia, you hold down the fort at your other restaurant. Rick, you spend two days a week minimum in South Bend and stay over in a cheap motel if you have to. If I can drive three and a half hours from Boston to New York to have lunch at RUB, you can drive three and a half hours to save your entire life's investment.
October 2008 archive
September 2008 archive
August 2008 archive
July 2008 archive
June 2008 archive