Archive - November 2013
Boston Burbs BBQ: Marathon Reviewed
The site's 299th barbecue review (yes, it really is a barbecue review) is for Marathon Burgers & Barbeque (Hopkinton MA), a family restaurant that recent morphed into a (somewhat) burger and (mostly) barbecue joint with a smoker on wheels in the back parking lot. Check out the review via the Reviews page, the link above or the red icons in the Joints directory.
See my review of Marathon Burgers & Barbeque
Boston Burbs BBQ: First Look at Slowbones permalink
Slowbones, located in a small strip mall behind the larger Burlington Mall, looks a lot like a Boston Market. But that's no surprise considering that it's the creation of Boston Market founder Kip Kolow. Many of the elements and much of the vibe are there: over-the-counter ordering, numerous homestyle sides, attempts at higher quality ingredients, seemingly healthy options and a handsome interior that shows good taste and some money behind it. Oh, and one thing Boston Market doesn't have: a Southern Pride smoker clearly visible behind the counter.
I was there on night one, paying my own way and checking the place out to get an early look that admittedly may not be 100% representative of future visits. Let me repeat that, and consider this a disclaimer: things will probably change, as they inevitably do with any restaurant opening. Some of the kinks may get worked out, some of the menu could get dropped, some of the portions could grow or shrink and some of the techniques may evolve.
Anyhoo... here's my quick take, which is not to be taken as a full review just yet. It's close enough that I'll get multiple visits in throughout the next month; expect a full review before the new year (and yes, along with Nashua's Riverside Barbeque and Portland's Salvage BBQ, among others).
Real quick: many choices, only one combo, but much flexibility thanks to "add on" items that allow you to create your own combo.
I ordered the barbecue sampler, which comes with two ribs, brisket, a quarter chicken and two sides. Note that cornbread is available as a side but counts as one of the sides—so if you want it, it's that plus one other side. I was asked if I wanted some sauces from their 10 or so varieties. I asked if they were on the side rather than on the meat and the server said yes. She asked me if I wanted a drink and I told her water. There was no receipt; she just asked my name and that was what was going to get me checked out at the end (where I again was asked if I wanted a drink and twice asked if I wanted dessert).
Ribs: As it turned out the ribs were sauced, though I think it was a standard house sauce, as opposed to either of the sauces I specified. I was very impressed with the cut (plump St Louies) and the height of the ribs. They had a nice pink color on the cross sections and looked like a higher grade of ribs from what most restaurants use. They were grilled with the sauce before service, putting just a hint of a crust on them (could have used more, though I appreciated their not being grilled to death). But the texture, while indicative of good doneness, had much steaminess that suggested there may have been a sauna involved between smoking and grilling. Actual juices were involved too, so it's wasn't just steamy moisture. Flavor was strong: not necessarily smoky (almost absent) and not necessarily rubby (rub did poke through the sauce, at least visibly), but an intensity that I enjoyed. Add a little bit more smoke and crisp that surface up a little more, and these would be very good ribs.
The two sauces I ordered never came with the clamshell arrangement used to house the meal. Now that I think of it, I wonder if there was a charge for those sauces. On the plus side, instead of receiving two ribs I received four that were connected and one extra one that was separate, making a bounty of five ribs. Not bad for a $15.95 combo.
Brisket: A little pale and a lot pot roasty, but it had potential. The pieces were larger than chunks but none of them would constitute what I would call a legitimate slice. All had good moisture (again mostly steamy with some real juices in there too); some had a semblance of crust. Flavor was very mildly smoky with no real rub flavor on the surface like many do. The steaminess and rubbery texture were the major issues for me.
Chicken: The sampler platter's poultry component was a quarter bird with some breast meat in addition to dark meat—more bounty . All of it was red from the saucing (basically sweet with a little kick) and most of the skin was crisp from the grilling. Just like the ribs, the chicken had a bumpy rub that poked through the saucing. The owner's background at Boston Market came through here, as the chicken had that same briny feel that was full of flavor, but with much more freshness and complementary flavors from the rub. Either this didn't have thesteaminess that I noticed on the other meats, or the chicken wears it a little better. Either way, it was the item I thought they did best that night. I have a feeling the chicken will be a better seller than the red meats, and will probably travel better on takeout orders.
Pulled pork: Not included on the sampler but I ltook note of all the meats in the steam trays as I mozied down the line, and this looked pretty good. More good in a "Chipotle's having a good day today" good than killer barbecue good, but it definitely looked good enough to prioritize next time. The bruiche buns also looked good.
Wings: Again, as I am wont to do, I studied plates on others' tables, and the wings looked more grilly than smoky. Not a priority, but I know I'm gonna get 'em anyway.
Sides: Cole slaw and cucumber salad were both complex, crunchy and flavorful, with some good spice on the former. More bounty: about halfway through the meal a server appeared at the table and said here are your beans. I replied that I didn't order beans and he said that's okay, just take them. Less flavorful, but a hearty"American" tasting version without the typical sweetness. Some meat inclusion helped.
Hard to say; it was only day 1. If forced to make a guess, I'd guess that I'm going to like SlowBones enough to consider it for a quick option while shopping, but never choose it to scratch that barbecue itch. But better than I thought, and time to improve. I'll keep you posted.
permalink with more photos
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning
four states. This time there are eight totally new joints, two new spin-offs, one opening that sort of opened previously and is now fully open, one closing, one that's still open but no longer doing barbecue and one new website.
NEW JOINTS and/or NEW TO THE DIRECTORY
SlowBones (Burlington MA) may or may not be open behind the Burlington Mall by the time you read this, but the contractions are getting close enough that it's worth listing. Two founders of Boston Chicken, who sold it off before it started tanking, are back with a "modern barbecue" approach geared for multiple locations. As for this first location, fear not: there's a Southern Pride smoker clearly visible in the kitchen. www.slowbonesbbq.com
Route 66 Smokehouse (NYC) is a new barbecue joint in Manhattan's Financial District that boasts 70 whiskey choices and a craft beer menu first and foremost, but the barbecue menu goes beyond the basics. They've got Kreuz sausage from Texas and my always-sought smoked wings, but the item that most catches my attention is Pork Clouds, described vaguely as "fluffy, crunchy, chili-dusted pork heaven." Oh, and for burger peeps: theirs is a LaFrieda blend of chuck, brisket and short rib. Thanks to both Chuck and Robert for leads on this. www.route66smokehouse.com
Greenhouse Wood Fired Pub (Mendon MA) is an Irish pub that does wood fired pizzas, burgers and a barbecue menu that includes smoked wings, ribs, brisket and pork. Facebook
The Village Tavern (Salem MA) is a multipurpose eatery across the street from the Peabody Essex Museum. They have entertainment every night and smoked wings, babybacks, pork, brisket and sausage on the menu that has much else to appease a diverse crowd. Thanks to Steve for the lead. www.villagetavernsalem.com
Gideon's BBQ Smokehouse (Glastonbury CT) is a four month old greater Hartford BBQ joint with a BYOB option. Thanks to Tom for the lead.www.gideonsbbqsmokehouse.com
Memphis Joe's BBQ and Sports Bar (Weymouth MA) is a revamped sports bar with 20 flat screens, promise of a large draft beer and bourbon selection and a new barbecue menu they claim is "the South Shore's best." We'll have to see about that. Thanks to Joseph for the lead. www.memphisjoes.com
Little Brother BBQ (Brooklyn NY) is a month-old littler brother to the first little brother, taking over a cafe owned by the same restaurant group as Smoke Joint. Thanks to Robert for the lead. www.littlebrotherbbq.com
Harlem BBQ Company (NYC) is a new takeout-only joint. Thanks again to Robert for the lead. Facebook
Smokin' Aces BBQ (Queens) is a new barbecue joint in the space that formerly housed Darryl Strawberry's brief attempt at barbecue. According to the website, the meats are seasoned "to perfection" and smoked in-house "to perfection," so we'll have to see just how perfect they are. Thanks again to Robert for the lead. www.smokinacesbbqny.com
MexiBBQ is a new Manhattan offshoot of the Queens eatery that melds (you guessed it) barbecue techniques and Mexican flavors. Thanks again to Robert for the lead. www.mexibbq.com
Nicky's Beer Garden (Bronx NY) dropped the BBQ from both its name and its repertoire.
Riverside Barbeque (Nashua NH) was announced here months ago, because the plan was to convert the former Sausage King into a full fledged barbecue joint at the time, albeit in waves. Turns out those waves were more of a stagnant puddle, but they've stormed back after a closure to fishish the job and are now rocking a full barbecue menu. Thanks to Marty and Joe for assistance with this ongoing saga. www.riversidebarbeque.com
Morgan's Brooklyn BBQ (Brooklyn NY) now has a website: www.morgansbrooklynbarbecue.com
Boston Burbs BBQ: JW's Burger Bar Reviewed
The site's 298th barbecue review (yes, it really is a barbecue review) is for JW's Burger Bar (Scituate MA), a burger joint with a smoker that serves pulled pork all day and ribs after 5PM. Check out the review (both barbecue and burger) via the Reviews page, the link above or the red icons in the Joints directory.
See my barbecue review of JW's
Boston Burbs Burgers: Skybokx 109 Reviewed
Time for another burger review, this time for Skybokx 109 (Natick MA), a "gastrosports" pub with some interesting burger options.
See my burger review for Skybokx 109
November has rushed upon us, which for Bostonians means the Red Sox championship run is complete (Boston Strong!) and the second anniverary (today) for Sweet Cheeks—the city's most anticipated barbecue joint two years ago and the most widely acclaimed since then. But since then? Boston's not so strong when it comes to emerging barbecue joints.
Maybe I'm expecting too much. Maybe it's because I look at what's happening in New York City. When PigTrip started in 2006, I used to say that there were around eight Boston area barbecue joints that if transplanted would've made a NYC top 5. Shameful, especially considering the 10-to-1 (metro versus metro) population advantage. The pendulum swung hard the other way shortly thereafter, but much of that could be attributed to the surging national popularity of barbecue and a natural correction based on population. Now? Barbecue is still exploding in New York City, and particularly in Brooklyn, where ventilation requirements are easier and rents are (theoretically) cheaper.
Let's take a look at the barbecue joints that have sprouted up in New York and Boston after Sweet Cheeks, starting with New York.
Butcher Bar (Queens)
Harley's Smoke Shack (Manhattan)
Nicky's Beer Garden (Queens) (no longer BBQ)
Little Brother BBQ (Brooklyn BBQ)
Blue Smoke (Manhattan expansion - Battery Park)
Fort Reno (Brooklyn)
Lone Star Bar & Grill (Brooklyn)
Smoke Pit (Queens expansion)
Wildwood Foods (Brooklyn)
Pork Slope (Brooklyn)
Ducks Eatery (Manhattan)
Fletcher's (Brooklyn, with a seasonal Manhattan outpost)
Mighty Quinn's (Manhattan, with seasonal Brooklyn outposts)
Strand Smokehouse (Queens)
Harley's Smokeshack (Manhattan expansion) (closed)
Smokeline (Manhattan - seasonal)
Tres Carnes (Manhattan)
Lonestar Empire (Brooklyn - seasonal)
Alchemy, Texas BBQ (Queens) (temporary) (closed)
Dinosaur (Brooklyn expansion)
Hometown BBQ (Brooklyn)
Morgan's BBQ (Brooklyn)
City Rib (Queens)
Beast of Bourbon (Brooklyn)
The Cecil (Manhattan)
AOA Bar & Grill (Manhattan)
Route 66 (Manhattan)
Not bad for two years; there are probably even a few that I missed. Rather than go through these joint by joint, and without mentioning any names, I'll just say that there are two (and another one on the way) that would definitely crack Boston's top five and another six joints that are threats on the right day. For the most part, quality is high, and even the ones that aren't so high at least have credible chefs, quirky/appealing spaces and inventive menus.
Now, let's take a look at Boston area (inside I-495) joints that have opened after Sweet Cheeks in that same time span:
Red Eyed Pig (West Roxbury)
Some inventiveness to the menu (pork belly donuts, smoked-then-fried chicken) but no bar and only three stools against a brick wall with no leg space. I'm due for a revisit, but I've found the sauces iffy and the 'cue lacking in texture and flavor.
Abigail's (Cambridge) (not a barbecue joint)
Like East Coast Grill, where many of the key players hail from, barbecue is a role player (a few items, barbecue brunch) that takes a back seat to the bigger stars on the Modern American menu. Unlike ECG, there's no J&R in the kitchen, so the barbecue items don't get the same love. I like the place—just not for barbecue.
Blue Ribbon trailer (seasonal)
Hard to argue with an expansion of one of the area's most beloved joints, especially when the level of 'cue here is arguably better than at the two restaurants. But remember, this is outdoors and this is seasonal only.
Sons of Shefanie's (Norwood)
A nice little shop in downtown Norwood has a nice little soul-meets-BBQ menu, but there's no smoker here.
SoulFire II (Boston)
Another expansion of a Boston area favorite slings fried chicken and respectable barbecue shuttled in from the nearby Allston SoulFire. But this small, mostly-takeout joint has limited seating and all the atmosphere of a tollbooth.
Bearded Pig (Somerville) (closed)
This overhyped dud lasted all of 15 dinners two Augusts ago. Supposedly, the owner couldn't maintain the first smoker location and couldn't find a suitable replacement (really? not in all of metro Boston?). I'm convinced he simply got stagefright, but it's probably for the best. (Would have been slotted into Tier 4 of the PigTrip rankings for Boston BBQ.)
Cask n Flagon (Boston)
Synonymous with pre-Fenway drinking for decades but never known for its food, the Cask rolled out a new menu this summer with "award winning" barbecue that didn't win any awards from me.
Marathon Burgers & BBQ (Hopkinton)
Named for the Boston Marathon that starts in the same town, this reinterpretation of the Marathon Restaurant has an outdoor smoker, indoor seating and a reasonably deep barbecue menu. A recent lunch there did not impress.
Memphis Joe's BBQ (Weymouth)
Another conversion of a longstanding restaurant, this has the feel of sportsbar first, barbecue second, but I'll find out soon enough.
And there you have it: Thirty (three of which closed or changed) for New York City and ten (one closed, one not claiming to be barbecue) for Boston. Looking at it per capita, Boston's done alright, if not better, but the openings here have simply not been anywhere near as impactful. Aside from the two expansions, which are nice but don't exactly represent anything NEW, the progress—or lack thereof—has been pitiful. Who's doing smoked lamb in Boston? Duck? Goat? How many are even doing pork belly and beef short ribs? Not enough, that's for sure.
There are some lights on the horizon. Slowbones, by the people who brought you Boston Market, is opening very soon in Burlington. The Malden expansion of Redbones has been pushed out to "early 2014" and the kosher barbecue Steinbones is slated for "summer 2014" in Cambridge.
But we need more. We can do better.
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