Archive - October 2010
Massachusetts BBQ: The Chicken Connection Reviewed
Another one-and-done assessment is the site's 190th barbecue joint review for The Chicken Connection (Haverhill MA). Earlier this month I said I'd have reviews for Lobster Q (Hampstead NH) and Buck's Roadside BBQ (Auburn MA), but last week's visit to Blackstrap BBQ (Winthrop MA) and some unforseen family health issues got me backed up a little. Those two reviews are still on the immediate horizon, but the Chicken Connection presents a much easier review to complete: fewer meats, fewer photos, no need to "average" the multiple visits, simple conclusion. Check out my review of the Chicken Connection via the Reviews page, the link above or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Boston BBQ: Burnt Ends at SoulFire, Saturdays
Prior to October, it had been a few months since my last visit to SoulFire BBQ (Allston MA), but I hit them three times over an eleven day period earlier this month. One reason is the recent addition of burnt ends as a Saturday special (platter with two sides or sandwich with one side). These cubed chunks of brisket are taken from the moistest, most flavorful section of a smoked brisket, then rubbed again, smoked again and lightly sauced, similar to the preparation at RUB BBQ in New York City. The flavor is intense, with some heat mingling with the smoke. The crispiest chunks are my favorites.
The other reason for the bunched visits is SoulFire's sustained excellence. They've been a favorite for years, but for two visits in a row, just about everything that reached the plate (spares, babybacks, brisket) was a home run, and the third visit (spares, fried wings, brisket) came close. The remainder of this post is a trip report that spans all three visits.
Spare Ribs: In two recent posts I used the term "gushingly juicy" to describe a level that the joints being discussed did not achieve, but SoulFire served up gushingly juicy spare ribs on two consecutive visits. The spares were perfect 10s for texture and 9s for flavor, with the only thing holding them back being a lighter rub level than RUB, Lester's BBQ (Burlington MA) or SoulFire itself in its earliest days. But all around, I wouldn't trade those ribs for anybody's. Smoke level was ideal: high enough to make you notice but without being so smoky that it might turn some customers off. As one friend put it, "It's a clean smoke." Aside from the smoke, the flavor was quite porky and had that indescribably magical quality that results when rub, pork and smoke achieve the ultimate balance.
Babyback Ribs: These are an item that I rarely order, but I tried them on two of the three visits. Two home runs. Surprisingly, these were even smokier than the spares, though understandably a little less juicy due to the lower fat level. Same porky flavor and they sure were meatier than your typical babyback. As with the spares, the doneness was ideal: fully tender, but with a little bite left.
Brisket: Cooked to the right doneness on all three visits, the brisket had crisp edges, moisture and a pink smoke ring consistently there too, but flavor varied a little. On two of the visits the bacony quality that marks SoulFire's brisket was there in spades; on the third visit the meat was more plain. Slowly but surely, Soulfire's brisket is moving past just good and is creeping its way up my favorites list. The first visit's brisket was their best ever and would be among top 5% I've tasted. Even the third visit's brisket would easily be in the top 10%.
Fried chicken wings: Also pictured above, the Southern fried wings are SoulFire's underrated gem, executed identically every time. Even though SoulFire has built a loyal following on the strength of their all-you-can-eat wing nights every Monday, I prefer the bigger, juicier Southern fried wings that pack what I call "inside out flavor" from the 48-hour brining process. The crunchy, medium bodied (not too thick, not too thin) batter also has a nice flavor but is light on the surface seasoning, so I sometimes hit them with a little rub from the cannister at the sauce station.
Pulled pork: The barbecue meat I consider SoulFire's second strength behind the ribs surprisingly only hit the plate one time in the three visits. For some reason (maybe lighter color), it didn't look as appetizing as usual, but the flavor was as robustly porky/smoky as ever and the moisture was more than sufficient.
Sausage: This is a new custom blend that's a little beefier and a little less breakfasty than the previous model. As usual, the edges were crispy and glistening at the same time; the inside was also moist. I liked the cameo return of the South Carolina mustard that was once a part of the sauce station roster.
Chicken: I've always considered the smoked chicken to be SoulFire's one just-okay barbecue item, so I hadn't ordered it on any of the three visits. But on that third visit I was captivated by not one but two half birds that made it out to nearby tables, and I was surprised by how good they looked: larger, darker, crispier. To be continued...
Sides: Overall, SoulFire's sides have been fairly consistent and all at least solid but without any real standout. Collard greens are still slightly sweet but are slowly morphing toward a standard collard green profile that has vinegar and spice but lets the vegetable do the talking. Maybe their side standout is their rice and beans, with plenty of seasoning, big chunks of tender onions and the only rendition that's moist without being too wet. Cole slaw seems to be gaining more oomph as time goes along. Cornbread is reliably thick, moist and one of the best of the cakey breed.
Boston BBQ: My First Take On Blackstrap BBQ, Now Open in Winthrop
On Tuesday of this week Blackstrap BBQ (Winthrop MA) opened for business. The kitchen features not only a Southern Pride smoker in full view but several alums from East Coast Grill (Cambridge MA).
In deference to the Celtics' opening night on Tuesday and to the schedule of the friend who joined me, I waited until night #2 on Wednesday to give Blackstrap BBQ a test drive. Given its pedigree, I was confident going in that Blackstrap would at least be pretty good. The questions I had were how good, how different from ECG and how smooth they'd be at the outset. I already know I'm going back, so I'll hold off on a formal review for a while. But I'll break my usual pattern of verbal restraint after early visits and offer this detailed first take.
See my run-down on Blackstrap BBQ here
Boston 'Burbs BBQ: Southern Tapas at Firefly's
After a visit to my mom in the hospital last week, I scooted over to nearby Firefly's (Framingham MA) to check in on some of the changes that are underway. The bar has received a complete facelift, with the tall wooden shelving cocoon removed to give it an airier look. Now hanging above the bar are four flat panel TVs facing two directions. Another six TVs (with more on the way) grace the periphery.
But changes at Firefly's usually mean menu changes, which are also on the way and are now being previewed/tested via nightly specials. I checked out a few that night, starting with the Cincinnati 4-way chili. I'd been missing the chili that was once a Firefly's menu staple, so I was glad to see a return—of sorts. This one isn't your basic bowl of brisket hunks, ground chuck and beans though. The ground beef is mixed with a cinnamony, nutmegy spice blend familiar to chili fans in the Southern Ohio area, then served on top of spaghetti with melted cheese and onions. Even though I usually prefer my chili straight, I liked the novelty of both the preparation and flavor profile. I also liked the ratios and just-slightly-greasy mouthfeel, which reminded me a little of pasta carbonara.
My appetizer-sized chili will soon have a smaller sized version on Firefly's upcoming "Southern style tapas" menu. The next special I tried was the pulled beef shortrib, served on an herbed potato cake. This is one of the neater, cleaner ways to eat beef shortrib without getting all of the fat and without having to make the commitment of ordering a $20+ entree to do it. Texture was just right (though a little sauce happy). Flavor had a light smoke with a more pleasant beefiness than you'd find in typical beef brisket. I liked that potato cake too, but it lost some of its crispness covered up by the wet beef. It would make a good addition to the Sunday brunch buffet as a kicked-up offshoot of hash browns.
Other items on the Southern style tapas menu tentatively include jumbo lump crabcake with chipotle lime greens (shown below), smoked chicken salad sliders, deviled eggs, shrimp and grits, steak chimichurri, baked mac and cheese topped with pulled pork, and smaller portioned carryovers from the standard barbecue menu.
The other big menu development is a "Burger Heaven" section that will offer nearly two dozen toppings, including the usual sauces and vegetables plus fried pickles, fried egg, pulled pork and the like, allowing you to customize the burger to your liking. I've already suggested ladled melted liquid cheese—we'll see how it goes.
Not BBQ, Not Even Ribs: The McRib Is Back
The infamous McRib sandwich, a creation that was called a "conglomeration of pork waste" in a recent Wall Street Journal article, is back out of hibernation—but only in select locations across the United States. Fortunately, one of those locations is a mile from my home, so last week I did what I usually do: rushed there with great anticipation, took a few bites of my less than great sandwich, threw the rest away and left with no plans to order another one until the next resurfacing in a year or so.
There's a niche of Asian vegetarian restaurants that have been struggling in vain for decades to make tofu taste like pork. Defiantly, McDonald's has mastered the technique of making pork taste like tofu.
To find the participating McDonald's location nearest you, check out the McRib Locator mentioned in the Journal article.
Catching Up On Some Recent Eats, Part 2
Here's part two of my quick run-down of joints that made the Recent Eats column to your right without additional mention until now:
True Blue BBQ, Kingston MA
A quick snack on the way to T-Bones (Plymouth MA) divvied a half rack of babybacks three ways. Served unsauced, these had a noticeable smoke, plenty of snap left, very light moistness and a fair amount of rub. The two sauces I tried seemed more like salsa than barbecue sauce.
Frankie D's, Kingston MA
As with my first visit a few years earlier, I liked just about everything, didn't love any one thing, but left thinking it was worth another visit if I was in the area. If I were local, I'd alternate between True Blue and Frankie D's, but if forced to choose one over the other I'd probably pick Frankie D's, possibly for its wider menu and more comfortable digs.
Joey C's, Milford CT
All I had was a pulled pork sandwich and a side of collards. The former was bland and uninteresting except for the unique Portuguese bun. The latter were more up my alley, with big leaves, deep flavor and cooked barely to the point of bending. The two sauces I tried were both good.
Pete's BBQ, Dracut MA
This over-the-counter joint looks like a pizza shop. The 'cue is smoked, but it reminded me of the kind you'd get at a pizza shop: not that smoky, a little overtender and a little too reliant on generic sauce. I favor the ribs over the mushy pork here. Onion rings were the puffy kind (not my preferred style) but a good example.
CnDs BBQ, Wakefield MA
My Sunday afternoon visit not too long after they were featured by a local media outlet caught them with no ribs left, so I settled for a pulled pork sandwich and an order of wings. The latter were fried, not smoked, with the (pretty good) sauce providing all of the flavor. That's okay for wings, but the pulled pork sandwich had the same characteristics. This is a takeout-only joint where the "barbecue" is grilled, not smoked (as they were putting new ribs on the grill, I asked how long until they'd be ready and the answer was "45 minutes").
Blue Ribbon, West Newton MA
I went twice to try the rib tips; they were available only once. By the time I tried them they were redesigned as rib strips—cut to use the same knuckle meat from the end of the spare rib, but cut Kalbi style perpendicular to the bones to include about five bone cross sections. I like the concept and the execution was good, but the portion was large enough to make me prefer just sticking with their regular ribs. Blue Ribbon is another joint in need of a review update, as the smokiness is less of a component than it was when the current review was written in 2006. That said, the ribs, brisket and pork have all been a little less steamy and a little more smoky on my last few visits.
New Hampshire BBQ: A Trip Report From Goody Cole's Smokehouse
Ten days ago I paid a weeknight visit to Goody Cole's Smokehouse (Brentwood NH), and as has been the case on my last couple of visits, the good news is that every at-bat resulted in a hit, but the bad news is that nothing got hit out of the park. So whether the visit overall is good news or bad news depends on your perspective.
Ribs: These short but meaty St Louis cut spares had a little more of the light coating of sweet finishing glaze than usual, and carried enough rub and smoke to balance it nicely. Texture combined just enough give with a little snap. That flavor and texture combination place Goody Cole's ribs among my favorites, and this batch was one of their better ones. But in a way, Goody Cole's is a victim of past successes. The ribs I had there on the 4th of July weekend in 2006 were among the few best I've ever had, so I keep hoping that batch will be duplicated. So far, they haven't, but the ribs I had last week were quite satisfying. Comparisons to KC's Rib Shack (Manchester NH) are also inevitable, so I'll cut to the chase: if forced to choose, I'd give the edge to KC's ribs, but I really like them both, and both would make my (thus far only imaginary) top 10 list.
Brisket: Once again the brisket resembled chunks more than slices, and each one was well lubricated, moderately smoky, lightly salty at the crisp bark, cooked to just the right doneness and very good all around—just not their best. While Goody's best would make my top 3% and a spot in my top 10 list, this one sample was "only" good enough to make the top 15% or so.
Chicken: A generously large half bird on the 3-meat combo had wonderfully crisp skin, moist inner meat and less smoke (for the third straight chicken sample there) than in years past. Overall, this was some good smoked chicken whose smoke was more evident the next day when I had it in a sandwich (a rare case of leftovers). Compared to the smokier, more gushingly juicy (while still crispy) birds of past visits, this chicken didn't stand up. Compared to most barbecue joints, this was fine, probably making the top 15% as well.
Chili: OK, here's one where there was no haunting from the ghosts of Goody Cole's visits past. Ordered as one of my two sides, this version of the chili represented the lone improvement, with more of a chili flavor than usual (I've compared it to marinara in the past) and more of a barbecue flavor as well, with bigger, smokier chunks of brisket.
I still consider Goody Cole's the best barbecue joint in New Hampshire and favor it slightly over KC's, but lament their recent "home run" drought. Goody Cole's has a higher batting average; KC's hits the long ball more often but also strikes out more often. I've had some fairly recent (if a year ago counts) home runs at Goody Cole's, so I know it's just a matter of time before another one goes over the wall. For now, I'll take the 4-for-4 with a single and three doubles. Waiting out that next home run is part of the allure of barbecue.
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning three states. This time there's four new joints, one resurfaced joint, one new website and one joint no longer serving barbecue.
M&M Ribs (Dorchester MA) now has a website: www.mandmribs.com
Red Rose Cafe (Weymouth MA) is no longer serving barbecue.
The Chicken Connection (Haverhill MA) is a longstanding chicken joint most famous for its fried chicken, chicken pot pies and chicken tenders, but their menu now also includes smoked pork spare ribs and pulled pork. www.thechickenconnection.com
Rubbin Butts Bar-B-Q (Schenectady NY) is a mostly take-out joint open since October 15 in a former deli location. It's the second outpost of Rubbin Butts located further west of the undefined PigTrip borders in Cobbleskill NY. Thanks to Sledneck for the lead. www.rubbinbutts.com
Our Town (Peterborough NH) is a semi-longstanding pizza joint that's now serving smoked pulled pork, brisket, ribs, and wings. Thanks to Jeff for the lead.
Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grille (New London, NH) is an all purpose restaurant majoring in pub food and minoring in barbecue, with the ribs and pulled pork both claimed as smoked. Thanks again to Jeff for the lead. www.flyinggoose.com
Joff's Backyard Grill (Bellingham MA) is a burger/barbecue hybrid that mysteriously disappeared from the directory, probably a result of a file overwrite problem of a few years ago where I replaced missing joints by hand and forgot about that one. www.joffsbackyard.com
Massachusetts BBQ: Great New England BBQ Festival at Wachusett, This Weekend
This weekend's Great New England BBQ Festival is a new event at the 27th annual Applefest at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area (Princeton MA). Vendors include Firefly's BBQ (Marlborough MA), M&M Ribs (Dorchester MA), Slow Pokes BBQ (Concord MA), Porky's BBQ (Cape Cod MA) and Buck's Roadside BBQ (Auburn MA).There will also be a whole pig demonstration by local competition team Uncle Jed's BBQ, sponsored by the New England Barbeque Society (NEBS). The festival hours are 10:00AM to 5:00PM Saturday and Sunday. Applefest features over 60 craft exhibitors, farmers market booths and "special family fun side shows with traditional New England flair."
Catching Up On Some Recent Eats, Part 1
The barbecue joint reviews and in-depth recaps have increased in frequency of late, but I've fallen short on a goal I set a while back. I said I'd mention at least something about every barbecue meal that generated a photo in the Recent Eats column to your right, but I haven't been as disciplined as I'd hoped. For new or unreviewed joints, I often figured I'd just wait until I had enough firmness of opinion to post an official review. In some cases, I intended a follow-up visit and a single-post mention of both visits, but that second visit got postponed. In some cases, I simply got too busy.
Here's part one of a quick run-down of every joint that made the Recent Eats column without additional mention over the past few months:
BT's Smokehouse, Sturbridge MA
As far back as January, when the Brimfield BBQ trailer became a Sturbridge BBQ restaurant, my goal has been to construct a new review for the new location. BT's is not just a case of a new address where a new review would update the exterior and interior shots. No, this is a completely different operation with slightly altered flavors and textures in the core 'cue, plus a host of new appetizers and experimental fare. I keep thinking my latest visit is the last one I need before I do the review, and then within a week someone new wants to try it with me, so I go back without any arm twisting. The specials (like pork dumplings with local apple slaw, below) are in the same class as some of Boston's fine dining establishments. The ribs have benefitted from better holding methods. And if I haven't said it already, I'll say it now: BT's serves my favorite brisket in all of New England.
Lobster Q, Hampstead NH
This one will get a full review before month's end, but I'll tip some of it ahead of time. A change in ownership (and restaurant name) took a well established seafood menu and supplemented it with a sparse barbecue menu that includes pork spare ribs, kielbasa and pulled pork, plus grilled steak tips. The ribs are the standout, with nearly the size of nearby KC's Rib Shack, nearly the smokiness of nearby Goody Cole's Smokehouse, and more rub than the two combined. After the ribs, I like the kielbasa but am not as fond of the pork and steak tips. Barbecue sauces are interesting and good. Like those other two joints, Lobster Q allows chili as a side.
Buck's Roadside BBQ, Auburn MA
This is another one that will get a full review this month. Buck's is an over-the-counter joint with a small barbecue menu that varies slightly from week to week. All of the core items are decent, but no one meat stands out as a signature item; texture (always tender, often steamy) trumps flavor here. Fortunately, there are five well executed barbecue sauces. The baked beans are world class; the rest of the sides don't do anything for me.
Texas BBQ Company, Northborough MA
Unlike BT's, there's nothing new about this BBQ joint to trigger a new review, but this is a joint that's significantly better than it was when I posted my review after two visits in their first month (August 2006). I'm still not sold on the sauces and sides, but the meats are among the best of their area. I've mentioned Texas BBQ Company in various posts for having one of my favorite beef ribs and for making my list of the best New England BBQ joints outside greater Boston; now I need to update the review (after at least one more visit). As for my most recent visit, the ribs had a nice snap to them and featured a blend of black pepper and light glazing similar to Goody Cole's Smokehouse. The pork was moist with good barbecue flavor.
Smokey's Char Grill, Hamden CT
I hit this one on the way back from a New York BBQ crawl, when I was already full, so my memory is a little hazy on the details. I remember thinking that the barbecue was just okay on that day but saw enough signs to convince me that there could be significant improvement down the road.
Chicken Connection, Haverhill MA
This is basically a chicken joint (big surprise) that sidelines in smoked barbecue (pork ribs, pulled pork). I'll post a quick review soon, but the short take is this: skip the barbecue, stick with the fried chicken. Memo to the Phantom Gourmet's Michael Andelman: If you think the Chicken Connection has "the best chicken fingers on the planet," either you need to explore more of this planet or you pulled that claim out of Uranus.
New York City BBQ: Pink Cupcakes for a Cause at Wildwood Barbeque, Through October
Throughout October, Wildwood Barbeque (NYC) is offering pink cupcakes to observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The cupcakes with pink frosting, breast cancer logo cookie and berry filling are $5 each, with 75% of the proceeds donated to the Breast Treatment Task Force.
Queens BBQ: Strawberry's Serving All You Can Eat Ribs, Wednesday Nights
Strawberry's Sports Grill (Queens NY) now has a Wednesday night all-you-can-eat deal on babybacks. www.strawberryssportsgrill.com
New Hampshire BBQ: A Trip Report From KC's Rib Shack
Last Saturday's dinner was a return to KC's Rib Shack (Manchester NH). I've been delving more deeply into New Hampshire barbecue of late, so a trip to one of that state's oldest and best practitioners was in order. The strengths and weaknesses this time closely mirror my last visit, but it still bears mentioning. Here's the full run-down:
Wings: Ordered these with the appletree slatha sauce and they were nice. Not smoked, but a well executed deep fried and grilled version with the inner meat moist, the outer meat crisp while uncharred and the sauce generous without overkill. No threat for my all time wings list, but a solid, tasty wing.
Ribs: KC's go-to item checked in excellent as usual: lengthy, meaty, good crust, plenty of juices, not too much fat, near-perfect texture. Rub was a little heavier than in recent visits though not as heavy as in 2007 and earlier. Smoke was also lighter than 2007 and earlier but still noticeable. On one of the batches we got the apricot grilling slather added, and this was a nice touch that amplified the moisture and flavor without dominating an already-good rib. Also nice was that the grilling didn't char the rib to death. Overall, these were some really good ribs, leaving me with the same impression as on the last visit: although the smoke and spice levels are still down from my first few years of hitting KC's, it's nice to know that they're reliably fresh and reliably very good. KC's Rib Shack's ribs are easily among my top five or so (or top 2%) for all of the Northeast.
Pork: Not as overcooked as on my last few visits, but a little overdone and more than a little oversauced. The sauce was an interesting blend of vinegar and tomato that had the consistency and color of a Franco American canned spaghetti sauce, but with more tanginess. I liked that the pork was mostly big chunks and long strings, but the doneness and saucing for at least the third straight visit have disappointed. I'd still rank this slightly above the median, but at one time I would have said top 10%.
Brisket: Once again the brisket was very good, with enough tenderness to bend easily while keeping a little "snap" in the texture. Edges were crisp and flavorful; inner meat had intensely pleasant flavoring from the rub or possibly an injection. Juices didn't gush but the meat was moist, both the slices from the flat and the chunks from the point. Until the last few years, KC's didn't even offer brisket because they thought they couldn't do it to their satisfaction; now it's one of their greatest strengths. I'd put this brisket in the upper 10%.
Chicken: A humongous bone-in breast had slightly crisp skin, plenty of seasoning on the outside and surprisingly good moisture inside. Although smoked, it didn't strike me as a smoked chicken in flavor, aroma, texture or color. If you're into smoked chicken, this might not hit the spot, but compared to Boston Market or equivalent, this is a huge step up.
Sides: Still a weak point here. Not that they're horrible or anything, but compared to other joints' offerings, I'd say they're average at best. Cole slaw seemed to have a little more oomph than usual, with a lot more celery seed flavor. Macaroni salad was fairly basic; rice was ordinary; collards were on the bland side. Onion rings on another table looked good, with a thinner, crispier batter than I remembered.
The reliable 1-2 punch of the ribs and brisket makes KC's Rib Shack a force. As for the rest of their deep menu, most of it they do well or well enough to keep them in my new rotation.
Three days after my visit to KC's, I made a similar return to another New Hampshire BBQ favorite: Goody Cole's Smokehouse (Brentwood NH). I'll describe that visit next week.
New Hampshire BBQ: Roundabout Diner Reviewed
Another one-and-done assessment is the site's 189th barbecue joint review for Roundabout Diner & Lounge (Portsmouth NH). I had hoped to make a second stop this summer, but that trip got postponed. The nicer weather is running out, so rather than let the review linger, I'll post what I have now and can always update down the road. Check out the review via the Reviews page, the link above or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Long Island BBQ: Oktoberfest This Saturday at Swingbelly's
Swingbelly's Beachside BBQ (Long Beach NY) is hosting an Oktoberfest event on Saturday, October 16 from 4:00PM to 10:00PM. The $40 spectacular features all you can eat German food, all you can drink Oktoberfest beers and prizes for the best lederhosen costumes. Get schnitzeled! www.swingbellys.com
Image courtesy Swingbellys. Used with permission.
Boston BBQ: East Coast Grill Heads Rib Contest This Sunday in East Cambridge
The East Cambridge Business Association "Smoke This" Rib Fest in will take place on Cambridge Street (between Fulkerson and Sixth Streets, not too far from the Cambridgeside Galleria) on Sunday, October 17 from 12:00PM to 4:00PM. Participating restaurants will include East Side Bar and Grille, Atwood’s Tavern, Pug’s Bar and Grill, New Deal Fish Market, Tupelo, Oleana, Formaggio Kitchen, Hungry Mother, East Coast Grill, and Bambara. The winning team will have $500 donated to their favorite charity.
Each restaurant will offer items for sale individually, but the only way to sample each team's competition ribs and vote for a winner will be via the "Taste Ticket" ($15) available at East Side Bar and Grille, Pugs Bar and Grill or Atwood's Tavern.
There will also be activities for kids, Pumpkin Whoopie Pies and plenty of non-barbecue fare.
Worcester BBQ: Firewood Cafe Still Not Close; Smokestack Urban Barbecue Review Update
A peek through the windows of not-yet-open Firewood Cafe (Worcester MA) last week revealed that they're not as ready to open in early October as hoped by the owner last month. My guess would be mid November, but I'd be pretty happy with sooner rather than later. And even though the sign promises "You're Gonna Love It," I'd be pretty happy just liking it. Or even not liking it but liking their barbecue.
Smokestack Urban Barbecue, the Worcester BBQ joint I said I like despite not liking their barbecue, now has a slightly tweaked review.
Sorry it took a little longer than I wanted (a couple of weeks instead of a couple of days). After my initial review posted, a few regular readers and a few people who accompanied me on visits there said I went too easy on them. Rather than just going back to the review and beat them up a little as a reactive move, I tried to clarify and amplify what was already there to better convey what I liked and what I did not. Most of the update is the addition of summaries at the end of the Appetizers and Meats sections to condense the ups and downs into a few sentences.
Besides eliminating their lunch service, adding more burgers and revamping their menu, Smokestack has added a Sunday brunch buffet. While usually not the best indicator, maybe the buffet is the best way to test drive the 'cue with a built-in contingency plan.
The latest issue of Worcester's Pulse Magazine has a glowing review of Smokestack Urban Barbecue—no surprise given that Smokestack is an advertiser. What I find interesting, even though you have to weed through the love bouquets, is that the barbecue gets mentioned but awkwardly so, with more description and verbal tapdancing than actual commentary.
NYC BBQ: Wildwood Beef Ribs A Hit
Wildwood Barbecue (New York NY) was the second stop on last weekend's spur of the moment Manhattan barbecue crawl. Their rib lineup has gone through some changes in the past year, so that was the focus of this visit.
The Wildwood lamb ribs that I once called the most compelling item on the menu are no longer available, but they've been replaced by a beef rib that's nearly as good. There was already a beef short rib on the menu, so the new entry is more akin to the beef back ribs at Hill Country and Blue Smoke. I was pleased with the quality of the meat itself: plenty of girth, hardly any fat and plenty of liquid rendered fat fueling the moisture and flavor. There was just enough savory/sweet rub and smoke to mingle with the beef, which sang lead. Smoke was moderate. Tenderness was nearly ideal, allowing a clean bite.
If I were to make comparisons to other similar beef ribs around town, I'd say that the Wildwood rendition is significantly more meaty than the ones at the aforementioned Hill Country and Blue Smoke, less rub dusted than at either joint, not quite as crispy as the one at Blue Smoke and free of the annoying membrane you get at Hill Country. The rub and smoke are both lighter than the beef short rib at RUB and the tenderness is a little firmer (in a good way) than the smoked and braised beef short rib at Daisy May's.
On a Saturday afternoon the beef ribs tasted reasonably fresh. Our group of three ordered the quartet of beef ribs with three unsauced ribs and a lone sauced one for comparison (we divvied it up with forks and knives). While I like Wildwood's chipotle barbecue sauce (the darker of the two offerings), I'm not a fan of the house sauce that normally adorns the beef ribs. It's too tomatoey and obscures the natural beef flavor beneath. Make the special request and get these unsauced.
We followed that starter with a rib platter that included babybacks with the chipotle sauce and spare ribs unsauced. These were also satisfying. What I found interesting here is that the tenderness and moisture varied greatly among the ribs in the same rack. Some were excellent, some were just okay. All of the spares had a crispy, bumpy bark, but it was the shorter end of the rack that had the superior ribs with juice gushing moisture and better flavor. A rib from the longer end had more of a pork chop consistency and flavor. Smoke level was moderate on the spares and heavier on the babybacks, which were cooked to competition tenderness (with a little bite left to them rather than the mushy, fall apart texture you find at the chains). Saucing was fairly restrained. Flavor was fresh, porky and slightly hammy.
Sides didn't fare as well as the ribs. Baked beans and collard greens were both on the bland side. Skillet cornbread saved the day, supplying one of the best renditions I've had: warm throughout, super crisp on the overflowing top surface and moist underneath.
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning five states. This time there's six new joints, two joints that have replaced previous joints in the same building, one move across the street, one existing joint that's now serving barbecue, no closings, one new phone number, one seasonal closing and two notations of hours.
Backyard BBQ (Enfield CT) is a new joint in one of the few areas of densely-'cued Connecticut that needed one. It's received rave reviews from a blogger, but either his photos don't do justice to the food or he and I have different opinions on what good barbecue is. Luckily, neither one of us is right, because unless there's deception about whether the meats were smoked, there is no right or wrong in barbecue. Thanks to Brian for the lead.
Lily Flanagan's (Islip NY) is an Irish bar that recently began offering the barbecue of Will Breakstone, formerly of Willie B's BBQ (Bay Shore NY). The Sunday tailgate event throughout football season will have Breakstone serving 'cue from his Lang smoker. Thanks to Will, Eric and Sledneck for the info. www.lilyflanagansbar.
Three Dogz Diner (Lawrence MA) is an authentic Worcester diner car on the banks of a canal. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, with Southern barbecue available at least on Saturdays, possibly all week. Thanks to Dave for the lead.
Bear Bonz BBQ (Naples ME) is more lakeworthy (between Long Lake and Sebago Lake) than oceanworthy and may prove to be a foliageworthy detour on a future Maine BBQ crawl. Thanks to nobody for this one. I had to find it on my own.
Hunter's Grill (Glen Cove NY) is the "new" barbecue joint that's taken over the space formerly occupied by Big Apple Barbecue (the joint that expanded to a second location after only three months of operation, then closed both locations within three months of that). The menu, with the "Monster" ribs, is suspiciously similar. I'm guessing this is the same joint, with a new name for accounting or legal purposes. www.huntersgrill.com
Strawberry's Sports Grill (Queens NY) is a sports bar in Flushing/Douglaston fronted by former Mets/Yankees star Darryl Strawberry. I meant to add Strawberry's to the directory in August when they opened, but this one slipped through the cracks (or dribbled through my legs like a Mookie Wilson grounder). This joint is co-owned by the same group who brought us Southern Hospitality in Manhattan, so set your 'cue expectation accordingly. I wonder how long before Strawberry pulls a Timberlake and denies ever owning the place. www.strawberryssportsgrill.com
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (New York NY), as reported here earlier, closed its Harlem location in late September and reopened practically across the street with minimal downtime. They're now at 700 West 125th, right across from the Cotton Club. The phone number is the same. www.dinosaurbarbque.com
BBQ Restaurant (Milford CT) closed a few years ago, then recently reopened (with a disappointing sign inferior to their vintage neon of yore). I mentioned the reopening here but forgot to un-"gray" the listing in the directory. There's now a new phone number as well. Note that this is primarily an old-school restaurant that specializes in seafood than a barbecue joint, but they do have pork and beef ribs.
Jake's Roadhouse (South Glens Falls NY) is a new addition that's been around for a while but may have only added barbecue recently. The 'cue is limited to ribs and pulled pork sandwiches, but the rest of the menu of "Classic American comfort food" looks even more inviting. www.jakesroad.com
MexiQ Kitchen & Draught (Queens NY) is an Astoria fusion restaurant that includes smoked pork carnitas, smoked brisket and ribs (not smoked) among its diverse offerings. This is not to be confised with the MexiCue roving truck that peddles its wares in various NYC locations.
Charlie's BBQ (Queensbury NY) is a Hudson Valley BBQ joint now flagged in the directory as seasonal. It's closed for the season and plans to reopen around Memorial Day weekend 2011. I think I'm going to try to just note the various seasonal joints as seasonal rather than attempt to keep track of when they all open and close.
Smokin' J's BBQ (Wilmington VT) now has its hours noted: 3:00PM to midnight, Thursday through Sunday. With foliage season upon us, that's a likely Vermont BBQ destination, so be sure to arrive later in the day if you go.
Big Country's Hickory Pit BBQ (Wallingford CT) now has its barbecue trailer hours extended to include Saturdays. Thanks to Michael for the info.
Cattlemen's Steakhouse (Port Jefferson NY) is now open at the former Rib City Alehouse location. This is the second unit for the mini chain that's also in Lindenhurst. www.cattlemenssteak.com
Maine BBQ: Binga's Stadium Reviewed
Coverage of last month's 3-stop Maine BBQ crawl concludes with the site's 188th barbecue joint review for Binga's Stadium Smokehouse (Portland ME). This sports bar that's an offshoot of a wing joint is another in a recent streak of impressive spaces. As for the food, check out the review via the Reviews page, the link above or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
NYC BBQ: Dinosaur Has Moved; Now Open in New Location One Block Away permalink
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (New York NY) closed its doors at 646 West 131st Street last week and re-opened Thursday at their new location at 700 West 125th. That sounds like six blocks away but because of the way the streets run it's barely a block away, almost diagonally across the street. I visited on Saturday and found the new location roomier, brighter and less dangerous looking than the old one, with a much larger bar area. The picnic tables made the move, and apparently, so did the Harleys (I saw two parked by the rear door).
The grafitti didn't make the move to the new men's room, but some 1950s girly magazines did.
So with all the commotion tearing down the old building and readying a new one, how was the food? Not bad, especially for a Saturday visit. Here's a quick run-down.
Pulled pork sandwich: Ordered as an appetizer for the table, this sandwich had good tenderness but a turkey thigh consistency, very little smoke, very little moisture and practically no flavor, which was a surprising departure from my previous four Dinosaur visits where the pork was one of the highlights. The Wango Tango sauce on the table helped. While not an outright disaster, it was hardly a good start to the meal.
Ribs: The ribs took the opposite route. My first four visits to Dinosaur yielded average to above average pork ribs, but never the home run I'd heard so much about. On this visit they were fantastic. The exterior had a nice bark with some bumps from the rub; the interior was perfectly tender while retaining a nice snap; the saucing (more of a layered basting) was generous enough to impart extra flavor into the meat without taking over the show; smoke was noticeable; the flavors of smoke and spice penetrated all the way to the interior of the meat.
Chicken: The chicken served on the combo platter with the ribs had semi-crisp skin and a light glazing of sauce. Inside, the meat was tender and moist (even the breast), but the flavor came mostly from the sauce. Smoke was barely noticeable.
Brisket: Also on the combo platter, the brisket was sliced fairly thin, had some good pink coloring and the crispy edges I like. The flavor was also quite likeable, with a faintly hammy taste that complemented the beef flavor nicely. Texture was ideal, with good tenderness and just enough bite-back.
The B&B: Another sandwich rounded out the tasting: the bacon and brisket, topped with cheese. The brisket here was just as good as, if not better than, what was on the platter, and what sandwich is not improved by bacon?
The Sides: Overall, the sides were good to very good. Greens reminded me a lot of RUB's in that they were a mix of a few different vegetables, chopped a little finer than I like, but cooked perfectly and with a lof of supporting flavors that contribute a little sweet, a little savory and a little heat while letting the leaves do the talking. And bonus points for being served in a boat rather than leaking all over the plate. Barbecue fried rice for the second time surpassed by far the how-can-we-repurpose-leftovers expectation, with lots of meat and a dazzling flavor whose main ingredient I'm guessing is the liquid from caramelized onions. Cole slaw was thick, creamy and tangy all at once. Carrot and raising salad was pretty standard, but competent. Ditto the corn muffin, one of the few free ones in New York City. Oddly, it's only the historical joints (Dinosaur, Virgil's) and the faux 'cue joints (Live Bait and their ilk) who include cornbread without an extra fee.
Other thoughts: It's nice to know that even with Dinosaur Nation's hurricane of activity (closing the old Harlem location and opening the new one within days of each other; gearing up to open a fourth outpost in Troy later this month), it's possible to get a high quality meal at lunchtime on Saturday.
Final thoughts: Most of the reaction to Dinosaur seems to fall into two camps: the Dinosaur worshippers who think the food is spectacular and the Dinosaur bashers who think the food is vastly overrated at best and horrible at worst. After five visits I'm in neither of those camps. I've been served some items that made me wonder what all the fuss is about. And I've also been served some items that have been very good. Saturday's meal supplied a little of both, but most of it was very good.
permalink with more food, interiior and exterior photos
Long Island BBQ: Willie B Is Back
Will Breakstone, formerly of Willie B's BBQ (Bay Shore NY) is back in the game. He's now cooking at Lily Flanagan's (Islip NY), heading a weekly tailgating event on Sundays that features 'cue direct from his Lang smoker. Throughout the rest of the week his award winning barbecue is available inside. more details via Newsday
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