Archive - August 2010
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning four states. This time there's only one new joint, four closings, one temporary close due to fire, one contraction and one new website.
Seconds BBQ (Amityville NY) is now done. I suspected as much when they weren't open for operation on my last visit, and now the website is defunct and the phone is not working. Thanks to Robert for the lead. www.secondsbbq.com
Uncle Bones (Brooklyn NY) is a new barbecue joint whose two Yelp reviews both rave about the fish tacos: nice extra or faint praise? Thanks again to Robert for the lead.
Eddie B's Comfort Food & BBQ (Portsmouth NH) is a new joint with more emphasis on the comfort food than barbecue, and like that other new Portsmouth joint, they offer breakfast. Thanks to Steve for the lead.
Smokin' Barbecue (Cornwall CT) is no longer in business. Thanks to Daniel for the info. www.smokincornwall.com
Ed's Barr-B-Q (Barre VT) is no longer in business. Thanks to Tom for the info. www.edsbarrrbq.com
Brother's BBQ (New Windsor NY) is temporarily closed due to a fire that hit about two weeks ago. Thanks again to Tom for the info.
Uncle Brotha's BBQ (Modena NY) is no longer operating the roadside shack on wheels. First there was a "for sale" sign, then a disappearance. Thanks again to Tom for the info.
CnDs BBQ (Wakefield MA) has a website: www.cndsbbq.com
BT's Snack Shack (Sturbridge MA) closed last night. When it was one town over from the former Brimfield main location, the tiny satellite shop in the side of a liquor store made sense. Now that BT's Smokehouse has moved to Sturbridge and the two locations are so close that even Johnny Damon could throw a baseball from one joint to the other, the Snack Shack is a redundancy. Thanks to Brian for the info. www.btsmokehouse.com
Massachusetts BBQ: T Bones Reviewed
The site's 183rd barbecue joint review is now posted for T Bones Roadhouse (Plymouth MA). Check it out via the Reviews page, the link above or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Massachusetts BBQ: Po's Ribs and Barbecue Reviewed
The site's 182nd barbecue joint review is now posted for Po's Ribs and Barbecue (Acton MA). Check it out via the Reviews page, the link above or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Massachusetts BBQ: Firehouse BBQ Reviewed
The "one and done" barbecue reviews just keep on coming, this time for Firehouse BBQ (Amesbury MA). Check out the site's 181st barbecue joint review via the Reviews page, the link above or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Less than two weeks after they opened, I made an appearance. Less than a week after that, I'm posting my review in an effort to improve my reaction time for new joints and to reduce the number of joint visits per review. I know that reviewing a joint after only a few weeks of operation isn't the best practice—not because it's not "fair" (it's no more unfair than a new joint charging me for the meal) but because what I'm describing here may not be indicative of what's being served a few months from now after some things improve, some things get worse, some things get added, some things get dropped and some things simply get changed.
Oh, about those reviews I'm working on for joints I've hit a few times—they're coming too. Next in the queue are the long overdue Po's Ribs and Barbecue (Acton MA) and Smokestack Urban Barbecue (Worcester MA). Farm Bar and Grille (Essex MA), Big Daddy's (Massapequa NY) and Roundabout Diner (Portsmouth NH) aren't too far behind. And I'm working on updating my reviews for Harbor Q (Port Washington NY) and BT's Smokehouse (Sturbridge MA). But who knows, maybe a joint I hit next week will get the quick treatment.
Long Island BBQ: Big Apple BBQ Reviewed
Here's yet another of my "one and done" barbecue reviews, for the newest Big Apple BBQ in Port Washington. I'll tip the content ever so slightly by saying that unlike the previous two "one and done" reviews, this one is classified as such only because it was compiled after a single visit, not because I wouldn't go back. To see just how badly I'd want to go back, check out the site's 180th barbecue joint review via the Reviews page, the link above or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning seven states. This time there are nine new joints, two closings, one re-opening, one move, one looming takeover, one new website and one website with long overdue content.
American Glory BBQ (Hudson NY) is a promising new joint that not only specializes in "legendary regional BBQ of the United States and classic American comfort food" but also claims to have the coldest beer in the country. Thanks to Eric for the tip. www.americanglory.com
Firehouse BBQ (Amesbury MA) is a two-week-old joint in the Bay state's northeasternmost town. The interesting menu has good appetizer flexibility, and the one that caught my eye most was the smoked, bacon-wrapped chicken. Thanks to Wayne for the lead and for accompanying me on my first trial. www.amesburybbq.com
Smokey's Char Grill (Hamden CT) is a new roadside burger joint that also has a smoker and the full arsenal of standard barbecue fare from ribs to pork to chicken to brisket. Thanks to Teague for the lead. www.smokeyschargrill.com
Buck's Roadside BBQ (Auburn MA) is a converted bagel shop on Auburn's Route 12, in the main drag not too far from the Mass Pike's exit 10. Smoked turkey drumsticks are included among the menu offerings that mostly sticks with the basics. Thanks to an anonymous tipster for the info.
Binga's Stadium Smokehouse (Portland ME) is named for its location across the street from the Cumberland County Civic Center. The space is as huge (several game viewing options) as the menu is tight (wings, pulled pork, ribs, meatloaf). www.bingasstadium.com
Ladder 133 (Providence RI), according to one mole, closed briefly then re-opened under the ownership of the Foxy Lady strip club. Thanks to the Milford Marauder for this still-unconfirmed info. www.ladder133.com
Hill's Top BBQ (Bartlett NH) is a North Conway area joint whose barbecue roster includes a unique pulled pork sandwich on garlic bread that a trusted source calls "one of the best I have ever had." There's also a fiery wing challenge. Thanks to Jay for the tip. www.hillstopbbq.com
Mexicue (NYC) is a roving barbecue truck (see site for locations) offering a fusion of smoked goodness and Mexican flavors. Each meat is smoked with a different wood; salsas and peppers augment the sauces. www.mexicueny.com
Slippery Pig BBQ & Saloon (Holbrook NY) is a new Central Long Island barbecue joint. Thanks to Sledneck for the tip.
Po's Ribs and Barbecue (Acton MA) now has a website and soon will have a review. www.posribs.com
Smokestack Urban Barbecue (Worcester MA) had a website from the beginning, but within the last week or so it started to show content. I've been meaning to weigh in and will do so shortly. A tentative review is already written, but this joint is so close to my office I may visit one more time before pulling the trigger. www.bbqstack.com
Picnic Smoked (NYC) has moved to a different location, now at 1 State Street. Thanks to Kevin and Robert for the heads-up. www.mypicnick.com
Sports Depot (Allston MA) has closed. The 'cue wasn't as good as at neighbor SoulFire and the beer wasn't as good as at neighbor Sunset Grill, but their TVs kicked butt during game time.
Jersey Shore BBQ (Belmar, NJ) is a recently opened joint close enough to the beach to ride the wave of both barbecue popularity and Jersey Shore popularity. Some of their online photos look good and their events schedule has a number of pig roasts looming, so this could be the real deal in an otherwise bleak barbecue area. Thanks to Robert for the lead. www.jerseyshorebbq.com
Connecticut BBQ: Route 22 Reviewed
Here's another of my "one and done" reviews, because I was able to channel the great Judge Wapner and render a decision in under 15 minutes. The site's 179th barbecue joint review is for Route 22 Restaurant (Stamford CT). Check it out via the Reviews page, the link above or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
New York City BBQ: Daisy May's Visit Report
My second July trip to New York City saw my first visit to Daisy May's in quite some time. Here's my recap:
Chili: Ranked numero uno on my favorites list, the Daisy May's chili was one of the most anticipated items of the busy day, and it did not disappoint. I did notice that there was less heat than usual and a little more sweet. It also seemed that the meat and the broth were only recently introduced to each other, as if this were more of a "meat and sauce" item than a unified chili whose ingredients had been melding for hours. But that's okay, because the upside of this approach (if that's what it was) was that the exterior of the meat retained its bark, with many of the pieces still carrying a good amount of rub and two-tone flavor.
Ribs: My BBQ buddy and I split six dry rubbed ones rather than my usual mix of three wet and three dry. As usual, they featured an abundance of rub, which is one of the reasons I enjoy Daisy May's ribs so much. The cut was fairly thick; the smoke ring appeared faithfully. The meat was pleasantly smoky and full of the flavors imparted by the rub throughout. Unfortunately, the temperature and texture tandem wound up being the deal breaker, as the ribs were a blatantly obvious reheat with temperature lower than usual, juiciness lower than usual and the abundant rub more chalky than crispy this time. Perhaps "deal breaker" is too strong—these were still good ribs, just far from the Daisy May's standard that I still regard as one of the top three pork ribs in the city (RUB and Wildwood are the other two).
Oklahoma beef rib: My, how time flies. The last time I had this (about three visits and 18 months ago), it was around $18 and included two sides. Now it's $28 with no sides or $33.50 with two sides. I know we're talking about New York and I know we're talking about a big cut of meat (new signage indicates, in near-apologetic spin control, that there's 20+ ounces), but $33.50 for paper plates and plastic forks over the counter? We passed on this one, at least this time.
Pulled pork sandwich: I'm not sure when things changed, but there's a new bun now. Some might call it brioche, but to me it seemed closer to challah. Opinion was divided (I was in favor) on whether it was a good choice. The meat within was mostly finely chopped and a little heavy on the sweet sauce, with the standard inclusion of cole slaw providing a needed complement. Ultimately, it wasn't about the bun or the slaw or the sauce, but the meat itself, and though it was cooked properly, I didn't get much flavor. It's a nice sandwich, but not in the same league as the ribs or chili, nor in the same league as at least a half dozen New York City pulled pork sandwiches I could rattle off with ease. Considering their 2005 American Royal first place trophy for pork, you'd think Daisy May's would have a better pulled pork sandwich than the one at Virgil's, but they don't.
Sides: Baked beans were very satisfying with a nice al dente texture, plenty of burnt ends (cubed about the size of diced carrots) and a condiment that supported the dish without hijacking it. Collard greens—a new side for me at Daisy May's—were cooked to a doness exactly halfway between the edges of al dente and wilting, and had a faint sweetness to the thin broth that let the vegetable do the talking.
Overall, this visit would be a promising one for many other joints, but it was a disappointing one for Daisy May's, which I still hold in high regard for now. The ribs were the biggest disappointment, but the real problem is the pulled pork. The ribs I chalk up (pun intended) to an off day, which every joint has sooner or later. The pulled pork, which really didn't have any specific problem, failed once again to even come close to wowwing me. And this gets at the thing holding Daisy May's back from greatness. I call them the "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain" of barbecue joints, because once you get past the best items—pork ribs, chili—there's a steep drop down.
New York City BBQ: Recap of Another Manhattan Barbecue Crawl
Stop 1: White Castle
Breakfast on these trips is often a quick snack at a White Castle in the Bronx. It's a chance to stretch my legs and empty my bladder before the final descent into the city. It's also a chance to pop one of their eponymous sliders to take the edge off. This time a pulled pork slider was available, so I went with that instead. Enjoyment and disappointment are often linked to expectation, so with expectations low, this sandwich cleared the bar. The meat was somewhat finely chopped, but not nearly as mashed as I feared and it wasn't as soggy as I feared. Sure, there was a lot of sauce to spread the meat further, but it wasn't horrible (and I've had worse at a few real barbecue joints). There was even an instantly recognizable smokiness, though probably of the liquid variety.
Stop 2: Shake Shack
Midtown Manhattan was the focus of this crawl, so a visit to the one month old Theater District Shake Shack was in order. Just like the original, there was a line to get in at the 11:00AM opening. Inside, the seating consisted of booths, tables with chairs and stools at a community table. The counter was like a fast food operation, with three or four order takers. The line was bank teller style: a single line winding around gates, with no need to guess the fastest moving cashier. The burger was basically the same as at the Madison Park original, and that's very good. I thought with the larger setup, bacon might be an option, but no such luck.
Stop 3: Virgil's
Start intertwining all eight of your fingers (thumbs aren't needed) and prepare to lower them to about a foot off the ground, because I need a lift onto my soapbox. Virgil's gets very little respect among the major media and next to nothing among the bloggers, but I'm a fan. Virgil's is not just overlooked but actually sneered at, partly because they predated all the cool kids of NYC BBQ and partly because of their tourist trap location. But they do have a smoker (Southern Pride) and they do cook over wood. As for their 'cue, though clearly not in the same league as RUB or Hill Country, it does deserve to be in the mix of (possibly) second- or (more likely) third-tier New York City BBQ joints.
I like a lot of the little touches at Virgil's. The towels instead of napkins. The inclusion of corn muffins on a barbecue platter (automatic cornbread is common in Boston, but in New York it's rarer than an honest cab driver). The homage on their placemats to legendary barbecue joints throughout the country. The courteous and knowledgable service. One thing I will concede, as I step down from the soapbox, is that the prices at Virgil's reflect that tourist location. Most sandwiches are $13. Wings ridiculously hover around the same price. A rack of ribs is nearly $30.
Wings: These were almost an exact duplication of the wings I enjoyed here a little over a year ago. The smoke was strong;the exterior had a serious grill flavor yet fell short of crisp; the sauce combined heat, sweet and savory to yield a unique and delicious blend. I didn't notice the citrus that accented the wings a year earlier. Although not crisp, these were fantastic wings. I fully stand by their inclusion in my wings list from last year. If they could get them crispy, I might just put Virgil's wings in the top 3.
Pulled pork sandwich: Once again, this was a very solid sammy that claimed as its plusses a super fresh sesame seed bun, a thicker-than-most pile of pork, recognizable smokiness, not too-fine a chop, light saucing and a tasty mustard-based slaw as a secondary condiment. On the downside, the sauce was fairly neutral and the cole slaw was a stingier portion than I remembered from past orders. Overall, this was enjoyable.
Sides: Cole slaw was a different style from what was in the sandwich. Sweet, crunchy and slightly creamy, it was similar to but more of a homestyle version of what they serrve at KFC. Potato salad was better, supplying a good amount of spices in the otherwise straightforward (read: no egg) mix. Mac and cheese, ordered as a separate side, was fairly ho-hum, made with Cheez Whiz.
Stop 4: Daisy May's
I'll post about this separately on Monday.
Stop 5: RUB
This visit was nearly identical to my previous visit in terms of what was ordered and what was good, so I won't go into detail other than the two items that were different. The wow factor was a little more pronounced on the previous visit due to it coming after such a long absence, but both visits were excellent.
Onion strings: These are a favorite and these did not let me down. Thin and crispy, they're as much about the rub that tops them as the batter and onion.
Sausage: A blend developed by RUB and made offsite to their specifications, this had crispness on the outside, a nice snap, light smokiness and crumbly pieces under the skin. Juices flowed upon first bite. We only tried the hot link, which had nice heat. It leaned a little more toward an Italian flavor palette than what I would think of as a "barbecue" sausage, but it was very good, ranking right up there with the Kreuz sausage available elsewhere.
Boston BBQ: Of Jakes and Roadhouses
Perhaps you saw the weekend airing of "The Best Food Ever" barbecue episode on TLC that included Blue Smoke (NYC) and Jake's Dixie Roadhouse (Waltham MA). The latter is now closed, which also closes the book on the quartet of extinct metro Boston BBQ joints I often called "The Jakes and the Roadhouses." These were frequently confused with each other, partly because the names were similar and partly because of the overlap in personnel. Here's my overview of who's who, in chronological order of their opening.
Jake and Earl's (Cambridge MA)
The original Jake and Earl's in Cambridge, opened by Chris Schlesinger in 1990, was the highly acclaimed barbecue offshoot of East Coast Grill. Occupying the same space that would in 1996 become ECG's "Lava Lounge" expansion, Jake and Earl's was a tiny room with over-the-counter service and just a handful of stools. It was a minimalistic look that served as a model for both Blue Ribbon (West Newton, opened in 1995) and Tennessee's (Framingham, 1997). Although Kenton "Jake" Jacobs once manned the pits, the "Jake" in Jake and Earl's was none other than Chris Schlesinger's one-eyed dog (and "Earl" was his partner's father-in-law). Many of the Boston area's best known barbecue restaurants have been opened or run by Jake and Earl's alums, including Blue Ribbon (Chris Janowski, Ruben Garza) and Rouge (Andy Husbands).
Jake's Boss BBQ (Jamaica Plain MA)
Barbecue journeyman Jake Jacobs—the man Chris Schlesinger calls "the living legend of barbecue"—had been involved with the craft long before his days at the original Jake and Earl's. A native Marylander, Jacobs spent significant time in Texas, where he became a fan of the brisket that would later become his signature item at joints in Roxbury, Lynn and this time Jamaica Plain. Opened sometime after Jake and Earl's, Jake's Boss closed in 2005 within months of winning the coveted "Best of Boston" award from Boston magazine. A fixture at barbecue festivals (Lowell MA, Merrimack NH), Jacobs has participated in high profile events such as the Big Apple Block Party (NYC) and has won numerous People's Choice awards.
Jake's Dixie Roadhouse (Waltham MA)
Opened in 2000 by Don Yovicsin—a Parker House alum who rubbed elbows there with young Emeril Lagasse, Jasper White and Lydia Shire—this Jake's was originally called Jake and Earl's. That's because Yovicsin got out of fine dining and into barbecue, interned at the original Jake and Earl's—this time rubbing elbows with Andy Husbands and Jake Jacobs—and eventually licensed the Jake and Earl's name and recipes from Chris Schlesinger. Schlesinger and Yovicsin later parted ways, resulting in the name change to Jake's Dixie Roadhouse (now named after Yovicsin's son Jake). There has been lingering overlap: the barbecue preparations were still somewhat similar; former ECG chef Jason Lord had worked both kitchens concurrently at one point and ECG remained a frequent participant in Jake's annual "Rib Wars" event that also has drawn Blue Ribbon and Andy Husbands as contestants.
Roadhouse (Brookline MA)
Opened in mid-2008 by Publick House owner David Ciccolo, the equally beer-centric sister restaurant nailed the brew but struggled with the 'cue. Several menu tweaks, chef changes and mediocre reviews later, Jake Jacobs was installed as pitmaster in late February 2009. "I'm so happy I could cry," gushed Ciccolo. Within months, he'd be crying for a different reason: the surrounding neighborhood, much of which was residential, complained (and campaigned) so vigorously about the smoke emanating from the J&R that it led to a shutting down of the smoker, the questionable layoff of Jacobs and a revamp of the menu. The closing was not far behind.
Massachusetts BBQ: Barking Pig Reviewed
At the risk of giving the review away, I'll note that this is the first of several "one and done" reviews to be posted over the next few months. Back in the early days of this site, many of the reviews were written after a single visit to a barbecue joint. But over the course of time I began to consider multiple visits before posting anything official. Some joints require that, whether it's because of a broad menu, changes from visit to visit, my own need to be certain or simply getting too busy to write it before several visits have stacked up. When a conclusion can be reached after a single visit, I'll try to just post something, knowing I can always do an update later. I now have a handful of reviews based on one visit, just like in the early days.
That intro may just be longer than the site's 178th barbecue joint review for The Barking Pig (Chelmsford MA). Check it out via the Reviews page, the link above or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
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