Archive - March 2010
New Hampshire BBQ: A Long Overdue Return Visit to KC's Rib Shack in Manchester
First off, an apology. About a month ago I posted my list of the 15 joints that went all of 2009 without a visit that I most wanted to revisit. KC's Rib Shack (Manchester NH) should have made that list and placed in one of the top three spots. That 2009 went by without a visit to KC's is more of a testament to my busy schedule and the serendipity of which friends can meet me at which joints on which days than any judgment of KC's itself. I rank it in my top 2 for New Hampshire barbecue and somewhere in my top 20 (possibly top 10) for the Northeast region. It's a fun place with a fun menu that doesn't restrict itself to just barbecue, but also doesn't veer into all-things-to-all-people blandness.
OK, now for the visit. On the heels of a visit to Goody Cole's Smokehouse in Brentwood, I wanted to make a triumphant return to KC's, and I did so a week later. My petite lunch companion at KC's wasn't able to muster the same ferocity for tackling the menu as my sturdier barbecue buddy at Goody's the previous week, so we limited our sampling to wings and ribs.
Wings: These didn't strike me as smoked but they were solid, with a good size, semi-crisp crust with a little char and very tender meat inside. The sweet barbecue sauce was applied in just the right dosage, managing to keep the chicken moist without overpowering it. There was no wow-factor here, but the wings were far above average. (I acknowledge that their creative roster of flavors is wow-worthy; my bad for not ordering something more exotic.)
Ribs: These were definitely wow-worthy, and for a variety of reasons. First, the size. I love big, honking, full-cut spares, and that's exactly what KC's ribs have always been. On this day one extra gargantuan rib had my name—as well as dripping porky succulence— all over it.
The rest of the batch also boasted good size, texture and flavor. The bark was nice and crusty from repeated basting during the home stretch of cooking; half of the ribs additionally had a "grill slather" applied during a grilling finish (this is a new option at KC's, with a choice of Apple Tree Slatha, Kansas City BBQ, Chipotle BBQ, Honey Garlic BBQ and Sweet Memphis Apricot). The Apricot slather we chose added just enough extra flavor and moisture to accent the rib. Both the dry and wet varieties were good, with perfect tenderness, good moisture and a fresh tasting texture that was unexpected on a Sunday lunch visit. Smoke was light but noticeable. Rub was also light (KC's used to put much more of it on back in the day, but cut back around 2007), but that didn't interfere with my enjoyment.
So the first visit back to KC's Rib Shack was a good one, with the only disappointment that I wasn't able to try more (I have heard very encouraging reports about their brisket). I'll be back with reinforcements next time.
Massachusetts BBQ: A Visit to Tennessee's
Earlier this month I visited the Tennessee's Framingham outpost on a Saturday night to celebrate my nephew's birthday and found the place nearly packed. Ribs are their strength and it had been a while since I tried the beef variety, so I opted for the Blues Rib Combo with two bones each of three different rib types.
Beef ribs: Crust was well developed; texture was good, with tender meat and juices flowing easily; fat content was annoyingly high; flavor was dominated by the grilling that finished them more, with minimal rub flavor.
St Louis cut pork spare ribs: Crust, texture and tenderness were all similar to the beef ribs; there was no fat problem; flavor here seemed more from fruitwoods than the charcoal finish; rub—though not strong—was at least noticeable.
Babyback pork ribs: Ditto on the crust, texture and tenderness, though there was more resistance and less juiciness to these than the St Louis ribs.
Sides: For healthiness I stuck with my three C's (cole slaw, collards and cucumber salad). As usual, the portions were large and everything was fresh. Although I wouldn't want it every day, I like the matchstick style of the cole slaw. The collard greens are as "green" tasting as any and would probably show up somewhere on a collard greens list if I had one.
Overall, a decent visit, though the ribs had one clunker (beef) and nothing close to wow-worthy. But for over the counter, fast food style 'cue, this hit the spot, especially the satisfying sides.
Brooklyn BBQ: At Long Last, Fatty 'Cue
The Zak Pelaccio / Robbie Richter Maylasian BBQ joint that's been in the planning stages for two years is open this week. The fascinating menu is closer to Pelaccio's Fatty Crab than what most think of as classical barbecue, with non-mainstream spices and a myriad of vegetables and smoked seafood, but that's a good thing. This is a groundbreaking turn for both Brooklyn BBQ and for Asian cuisine.
See the menu on Menupages.com
New Hampshire BBQ: A Visit to Goody Cole's Smokehouse
Two Saturdays ago I joined a barbecue buddy for comprehensive lunch at Goody Cole's Smokehouse (Brentwood NH). Here's the run-down:
Ribs: Good pink color and reddish-mahogany bark made these very attractive despite their smallish thickness. Interestingly, some larger, thicker, untrimmed spares appeared on adjacent tables. Upon bite the meat gave way very easily, though I wouldn't call these ubertender bones overcooked (just a little close). I liked the overall flavor, which had a little sweetness (honey perhaps) in the light glaze that helped build up that bark. Smoke was more than noticeable; rub was slightly noticeable. They felt and tasted very fresh, especially for a Saturday lunch. I'd say these ribs were among the better ones I've had there and easily in the top 20 percent or so of all the ribs I've had.
Brisket sandwich: I've had brisket sandwiches at Goody's before and I've had chopped brisket at Goody's before, but this was the first time I asked for a brisket sandwich and got chopped by default. There's a choice of how meaty you want it; even though I went with the larger of the two options, this had a startlingly high pile of meat. Much of it was bark and much of it had the recognizable and welcome flavor of fat, without any unwelcome blobs of fat in the way. The meat had a faintly spicy, slightly salty flavor with a stronger smoke component, and all of it was moist. The bark wasn't as crisp as I like, but the texture was very good, with a nice bite and none of the pot roastiness I often encounter with brisket. I secretly wished I wasn't sharing that sandwich, because I wanted it all.
Pulled pork sandwich: Pork has been the weak link at Goody Cole's over the years—it's not so much that there's anything wrong with it (my earliest visits had some overcooked pork) as much as that the other meats overshadow it. Such was the case on this visit. Texture was fine; bark level was fine; moisture was about average. This was nowhere near the best pulled pork sandwich I've ever had and nowhere near the worst.
Pulled pork quesadilla: We had this before the pulled pork sandwich, and it was better than the pork that was in the sandwich. It seemed to have a lot more bark, a lot more pink color, a lot more moisture and a little more spice. Maybe it was the cheese and the thinner vessel, but I believe this was simply a good batch of pork. Regardless of the reason, it was quite enjoyable.
Chicken: This often overlooked item at Goody Cole's is a hidden gem, and for my money ranks right up there with the brisket for must-order status. This time the juices didn't gush as freely as at their peak, but the chicken was definitely moist—even the white meat—with crisp skin. There was a nice smokiness to the meat that tasted fruitier than simple hickory. The skin had a good amount of rub and what I suspect may be a very light glaze.
Sliced brisket: As is typical of Goody Cole's brisket, this was thick cut, mostly dark with no smoke ring, but full of beefy, smoky, juicy goodness. Moisture, smoke content and overall flavor were high, though the smokiness was a slight drop from usual. With this brisket I experienced the same phenomenon as on recent visits to RUB and Hill Country in New York City: the previous Goody Cole's visit set the bar so high that this visit, though still quite good, fell a little short of expectation. Part of this might have been the influence of the visual: the slices were plated with the bark facing the bottom of the plate. I'd still easily rank this brisket in the top 20 percent.
Chili: I've likened Goody Cole's chili to marinara before and this was not much of an exception, though I enjoyed the heightened prominence of chunky, smoky brisket. I also like the cornbread that it's served with, along with optional cheese and onions. My only issue is that it seems like the chili was made minutes ago rather than hours (or better yet, days) ago, not allowing the flavors to really sink into the tomatoey base. The bottom line is that it's a decent chili that could be a lot better considering how good the brisket is.
Sides: Refreshing cucumber salad, sliced thin an well seasoned, had an interesting oregano essence. Mac and cheese was tight, mild and a little dry. Moist, dense cornbread was again excellent, straddling the line between sweet and savory.
I'm not sure how this run-down reads. As anyone who's read my Goody Cole's review or spoken to me about New Hampshire barbecue knows, I'm a huge fan of Goody Cole's and consider it the best of the New Hampshire barbecue joints (with Manchester's KC's Rib Shack a close second). I've had one visit where the ribs were phenomenal, two visits where the brisket was phenomenal (so much so that I ordered more, and I'm not a brisket guy) and two where the chicken was phenomenal (so much so that I brought some home). This time even though nothing really stood out as through-the-roof great, just about everything was very good to excellent. I feel a little like Simon Cowell in that I may seem overly critical, but Goody Cole's is at a level where they're judged not against everyone else but against their own past successes. Goody's might not have topped any of their previous highs that Saturday, but they came close enough across the board that it was a good visit, keeping them as not only my favorite New Hampshire barbecue joint but one of my favorites for the whole Northeast region.
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning six states. This time there are four new joints, one expansion, one contraction, one move, two closings that are precursors to moves and one menu change.
Fatty Beltbuckles (Rocky Point NY) has closed; whether it's because their recently-opened Farmingdale outpost was more of a move than an expansion is not certain. The website was working recently but not as of Thursday. Thanks to both Paul and Guy for the info. www.fattybeltbucklesbbqrestaurant.com
Mogombo's International BBQ (Albany NY) is a new take on barbecue that uses a completely different palette of flavors. Along with the more predictable items are African peanut stew, lamb and oxtail stew, jerk chicken, Cuban black beans, watermelon and tomato salad. A recent review points to inconsistency, but the interesting menu items make it worth a shot. Thanks to John for the info.
Brother Jimmy's (New York NY) opened another unit two Mondays ago, maintaining their expansion rate of about one new location per year. www.brotherjimmys.com
CnD Barbeque (Wakefield MA) is a new barbecue/soul eatery that has a decent selection of barbecue items. Thanks to Ron for the initial lead and to Brian for noting that upon a recent visit, it didn't look like a smoker was in play..
Mrs. Jones (Dorchester MA) has had a thing going on for a long time and to much critical acclaim, but this Boston soul food joint that has also eluded the directory too long. Thanks to Ling for reminding me of this glaring omission.
Muddy River Smokehouse (Portsmouth NH) is converting to a seafood restaurant. I'm guessing the downtown location and high tourist traffic will ultimately make this a wise decision. Until further notice, the barbecue is still available. Thanks to Sean for the info. www.muddyriver.com
Muddy River Marketplace (Eliot ME) shut its doors at the end of February and has already begun work on a new location in a former pancake house at the Portsmouth Rotary. There'll be a new name (Roundabout Diner) and a new concept (roadhouse comfort food along with the barbecue).
MoJo's BBQ Shack (Portsmouth NH) is the third point on this Portsmouth BBQ love triangle. MoJo's outgrew its tiny location with minimal parking on Islington Street and has moved around the corner to a larger, full service operation with a parking lot, beer license and expanded menu at the former Brewery Lane Tavern. By the way, the "Mo" in MoJo's has moved on. Thanks to Marty for the lead. www.mojosbbqshack.com
Uncle Willie's (Waterbury CT) has closed its flagship location in Waterford and should be opening to a new location in Seymour by early April. Known for its wanderlust, Uncle Willie's has had at least three different locations in the New Haven area (they're currently still open in West Haven, literally a stone's throw from I-95) and now at least as many in greater Waterbury.
Belted Cow Bistro (Essex Junction VT) is Vermont's only restaurant helmed by a Jack Daniels BBQ grand champion. Chef John Delpha, formerly of Campania (Waltham MA) and a member of the nationally ranked IQue competition team, offers a barbecue menu every Tuesday and features a rotating assortment of smoked items on the intriguing regular menu. Thanks to Chris for the reminder and to John for the info. www.beltedcowvt.com
A New Ride
This week I picked up my new vehicle and contary to popular belief, it was NOT the vehicle shown below. Well, that's one obstacle out of the way, but I'm so busy on so many fronts that this site's updates have slowed down quite a bit lately. For those who fear that the future of PigTrip is shakier than a Bernie & Phyl's commercial, fear not. For now, I not only have a new vehicle, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel
Massachusetts BBQ: BT's Smokehouse Follow-Up Visit Report
At the beginning of the year I hit BT's Smokehouse (Sturbridge MA) a few times to get a feel for the new indoor space and to test drive some of the earliest menu additions. After a few weeks passed, I returned a few Saturdays ago for a late lunch that also served as my dinner. It gave me a chance to try some old favorites (brisket mini, ribs, sticky rib tips, Buffalo burger) and some new items (onion rings, gumbo, mac and cheese).
Brisket mini: This is not only a steal at $3, it's some of the best brisket to be had in the region. BT's brisket is a blackened meteor of beef that might not be much to look at, but once it's sliced it grows on you. The bark was not only well formed but full of crunch and full of spice, with heat and salt leading the way. The well lubricated inner meat retained the spicy, salty flavor along with about as much smoke as you'd ever want. The meat was fully tender without falling apart. That salt I mentioned is spot on for my taste and accompanied by other flavors, but if you're watching your salt intake or don't care for a lot of salt, I'd recommend you opt for a different choice. But otherwise—even if you're not generally a brisket fan—I urge you to try BT's best and most consistent item.
Rib tips: My third batch of this item was pretty much par for the course. These are trimmed off the rib before cooking (transforming each full spare rib into a St Louis cut rib and a rib tip), smoked, then braised and finished as ordered on high heat. The exterior gets a little char like a Chinese rib, but the flavor is much more intense and more in the competition barbecue realm. The sweet sauce works well on these because it's part of the ensemble along with the spices and smoke that assert themselves just as vigorously.
Mac and cheese: A deep dish of elbow macaroni modestly coated with a creamy, mostly mild cheese gets a baked finsish. I liked it, but unlike some of my favorite menu items here, it wasn't the kind of dish I'd rave about the entire way home.
Bison burger: Mixed with smoked brisket burnt ends and some other secret ingredients before cooking, this delivers a myriad of textures and flavors that had already catapulted this burger (technically more of a meatloaf than a burger, but who cares) to the top of my Favorite BBQ Joint Burgers list. Even though I knew what to expect, the burger blew me away and was better than what I'd remembered. There are a couple of problems, however: 1) Like the brisket, it can look a little sloppy; 2) If you're thinking that this burger is going to be healthy because it's made with bison, think again. I can easily deal with these problems. The ketchup is homemade; additional condiments by the sauce station include pickled jalapenos, honey habanero carrot chips and BT's Meat Heat hot sauce.
Onion rings: The onion is cut thick but the coating is very thin to the point of being delicate. It's made with a beer batter whose result is a cross between a corn dog and tempura. This is a very different onion ring, and I had fun giving these away to the more than modest Saturday crowd. (Yes, it's true: I don't eat every bite of everything I order, which explains how I'm able to order as much as I do at these barbecue joints and still walk out of each place without assistance.)
Gumbo: I liked this enough that I ordered an extra bowl to take home. The broth was a little thinner and the heat more subtle than I expected, but flavors in there danced. My takeout container was arranged in layers like a parfait, so I'm guessing you can omit some of the ingredients if necessary.
Ribs: As I said in a previous post, I've been a fan of BT's brisket from the beginning, but the ribs in the old days were a weak link. That's not the case anymore. Whether it's the new smoker, the new environment, the new reheating equipment, the new karma or simply more experience, the ribs have been reliably good to very good at BT's in all four of my visits to the new indoor location. The texture is what has improved the most: the thick crust is still there but not as dark as in the old days; the inner meat is consistently moist and tender. Like the brisket, the ribs have a tendency to be a little salty, but the other rub flavors and the dead-on texture make it work. On this visit, even after sitting on the kitchenside stool watching the reheat take place, I had a hard time believing these ribs were a reheat.
Cole slaw: As usual, a thinner version of creamy with a strong vinegar component and enough heat to gear it to an adult palette. This is one of my favorites.
Potato salad: Ditto all around, but a little creamier, not as hot but packed with more herbs.
Cornbread: A mini loaf, coarse and fresh tasting. Texture and sweetness level are closer to a plain donut than the prevalent Twinkie-meets-yellow-cake style of cornbread.
Boston BBQ: Bacon Maple Ice Cream Coming Next Week to Jake's Dixie Roadhouse
A Moody Street collaboration between Nick Pappas (Lizzie's Ice Cream) and Don Yovicsin (Jake's Dixie Roadhouse) has yielded a bacon maple ice cream that will be available next week at the Waltham MA barbecue joint.
Image courtesy Jake's Dixie Roadhouse. Used with permission.
Massachusetts BBQ: Salem BBQ Shack May Open in a Former Men's Room
Last week through Boston's Hidden Restaurants I learned of a possible new barbecue shack to open later this year at Salem Willows. The recent proposal described in a Salem News article envisioned "slow-cooked barbecue entrees, such as chicken, ribs and pulled pork, but with a
Caribbean twist." If it comes to fruition, the fact that it was once a men's room really isn't that significant. Assuming the 'cue good, I'd think of it as the Shack Shack of barbecue, only 250 miles Northeast.
read the Boston's Hidden Restaurants post
read the Salem News article on proposed BBQ stand in Salem
Long Island BBQ: Harbor Q Profiled on TV
Lauren Glassberg and the rest of the WABC news team seemed to enjoy the 'cue from Harbor Q (Port Washington NY) during the airing of a video profile on the Long Island BBQ joint last Friday night. I've had the "Buffalo Soldiers" egg rolls there and still remember how good they were from a visit two years ago.
see the video profile of Harbor Q
Connecticut BBQ: A Return to Big Bubba's BBQ at Mohegan Sun
As I mentioned in a previous post, Big Bubba's BBQ (Uncasville CT) is one of the Connecticut BBQ joints I was looking forward to revisiting after not hitting it in all of 2009. It has a touristy feel that's not helped by its Mohegan Sun casino location and the in-your-face gift shop, but over the years their 'cue has been good enough that I considered it one of the best (if not the best) in the state. Two weekends ago I finally made it back to see if that assessment was still true.
Burger: One of the goals for this trip was to try the Bayou Burger, which years ago was listed as a 10-ounce behemoth but has since been scaled down to a more typical 8 ounces. Taking that mod into consideration, a friend and I split a bacon cheeseburger instead, finding it much rarer than ordered and nothing really special about it. The bacon was also woefully underdone.
Wings: Some were charred a little more than others, but none of them were crisp. That liability aside, the wings were on their game, reaffirming their position on my 2009 Wings List. They were tender and moist within, and you could taste the smoke and rub. The sauce's heat and light citrusy component made these stand out from the rest of the BBQ wing crowd.
Ribs: Included (as are all of the remaining barbecue items) on the Bubba Q sampler, these had a nice crispy bark and lots rub flavor, but were fairly small and really felt/tasted like reheated leftovers. Granted, this was a lunchtime visit. And granted, most ribs at most joints ordered at any time of day aren't exactly pulled fresh from the smoker. But these should have been fresher than they were. There were four of them, which is nice on a 5-item sampler.
Pork: Lightly sauced with vinegar, these had a very good flavor, where the rub and smoke again shined. But the meat was a little dry and once again the reheat was really obvious.
Brisket: Things picked up here, which is consistent with previous visits. Sliced thin with a light smoke ring and thin layer of bark, it certainly looked promising. And it mostly delivered: the bark wasn't crisp but it had good flavor; the texture was perfect with good mouthfeel and moistness; there was a faintly sweet backdrop to the pleasing overall flavor. Big Bubba's brisket has the potential to make a future "Favorite Brisket" list.
Chicken: This had a strong barbecue and grill presence. The skin was crisp; an abundance of flavor inside makes me think some marinade was involved; outside I could really taste the rub but not the smoke.
Sausage: A little spicy and nicely grilled, this was competent but not really memorable.
Cornbread: A mini loaf studded with jalapeno slivers was tasty but dry.
Beans: Once a poor man's version of the baked beans at RUB (NYC), these tasted more like a typical canned version.
Cole slaw: Mayoey but zingy and refreshing.
Potato salad: Mayoey and just maoey.
Overall, a lot of ups and downs, but the pluses outweighed the minuses for sure. I'm sure a dinnertime visit would fare better for Big Bubba, especially since it was the freshness of the ribs and pork that most contributed to the possibility that they might have slipped a notch. Even if they have, it's a joint (if you can call something this slick a "joint") I still recommend and one that I still rank somewhere among the best of Connecticut BBQ.
The PigTrip Pigmobile won't be going on any more pig trips. During last week's snow event, another driver in another lane was driving too fast for the conditions and lost control of his vehicle, swerving into me and taking us both into the guard rail. Both of us got out of our cars without a scratch, but my car's next trip will be to the junkyard. All of the logistical ramifications have slowed down my site updates over the past few days, but I expect to have things wrapped up soon. The process can be a bit of a hassle, but I like the idea of ditching an old jalopy for a shiny new one.
Brooklyn BBQ: Pies 'n' Thighs Reopens
Nearly two years in the making, the re-opening of Pies 'n' Thighs (Brooklyn NY) became a reality this Monday. Thanks to White Trash BBQ for hooking me up with this report in Gothamist.
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