(03/27/10) (03/28/10) (03/31/10) (04/17/10)
Jerry Remy's Sports Bar Grill is located behind Fenway Park, with a front entrance on Boylston Street and a rear view facing the ballpark across Van Ness Street. Convenient (but sometimes pricey) parking is available behind the restaurant; metered parking is surprisingly easy to obtain on Boylston Street. Upon entering you're greeted by an array of huge plasma televisions that would fit perfectly in a Vegas casino or a network studio. A long bar with plenty of extra standing and mingling space runs half the length of the room. The dining area features tables and deep leather banquettes that can seat six comfortably. The televisions away from the bar area are numerous and understated (and there are three not-so-understated televisions in the men's room). The sports memorabilia is also understated. And yes, you can buy Remy-related souvenirs at the hostess stand, but that's understated too. Although barbecue is prominently featured on the menu, this is clearly not a barbecue joint. Jerry Remy's is first and foremost a full-scale restaurant with some sports bar, barbecue and upscale touches. With 2-time James Beard award winning chef Todd Hall in the kitchen, it appears that Remy's is taking the food seriously.
Interestingly, the term "barbecue" is not used on the menu other than in mentioning the inclusion of BBQ sauce on some items. "House Smoked Favorites" is the preferred term, and the description mentions that the meats are also cured (which is immediately confirmed by the unusual, mostly-attractive pink color). Platters on offer include brisket, smoked pulled pork, smoked beef short ribs, smoked half chicken and smoked pork ribs. As for the pork ribs, it's not clear whether babybacks, St Louis spares or both will be offered going forward (I've had both, but the menu has changed slightly, and I once received babybacks when St Louis ribs were the one listed pork rib).
Appetizers include the familiar wings, nachos, chili, quesadillas, chicken tenders, onion rings, crab cakes, fried calamari and cheese fries with bacon and sour cream. Less predictable are the bacon wrapped prawns, hummus with warm pita bread and chilled Vietnamese style shrimp spring rolls. The Green Monster is a $35 group-sized appetizer that combines 18 wings, 6 beef and cheddar sliders, cheese fries and onion rings, with "dipping sauces and table reinforcements included."
Three of the four salads include meat or seafood. A deep burger roster includes an austere Angus burger, the signature Remy Burger (cheddar, grilled onions, bacon on fried dough), a veggie burger and assorted burgers topped with pastrami, brisket, a fried egg or cheese and jalapenos. Other sandwiches include pulled pork, a smoked turkey club, a chicken BLT and beer battered cod.
Non-barbecue entrees include a rib eye steak, a skirt steak, two fish dishes and a pasta.
I visited three times for dinner with guests during the week before the Red Sox season opener, which was about two weeks after the restaurant opened. A fourth visit a month later tried a saturday lunch.
Some online menus I viewed for Jerry Remy's prior to the first visit had a slightly different barbecue section, with two rib types (babybacks and St Louis ribs) and 3-item combinations. The actual menu didn't have combinations available, so I asked the server if it was possible to mix and match. A short while later a manager arrived at the table and said that the chef was able to create a special sampler plate featuring all of the barbecue selections for the price of a full rack ($22), so we opted for that as a starter (little did he know that there would be much more ordering ahead). When the plate hit the table the first thing that struck me was the artistry of the plating. The barbecue sauce may have been Kansas City style, but we certainly weren't in Kansas any more.
Selections on the platter included chicken, pulled pork, brisket, two babyback ribs and cut slices from beef short ribs. St Louis ribs were listed on the menu but not available that night (and babybacks are not listed on the menu). I'll describe the rib selections further down, because for ribs what was on the sampler was representative of what followed on platters. The chicken, pork and brisket were different enough from the platters to describe here.
Pulled chicken was the only item on the sampler that failed to impress. All of the pieces were smoky but dry. In retrospect, this was a curious inclusion, because a) there's no pulled chicken sandwich on the menu and b) the impressive smoked half chicken plate I dug into the next night was nothing like it flavorwise, moisturewise or anythingwise.
Pulled pork on the chef's custom sampler was a small pile of mostly pink pieces with a good ratio of bark, topped with a heavy drizzle of dark brown barbecue sauce. The meat toward the bottom was moist even without the sauce, and all of it had an assertively smoky flavor. It might have been ever so slightly overcooked, but it had a nice consistency that avoided mushiness and avoided being over-chopped. The molassesy Kansas City style sauce wouldn't be my first choice, but it worked well with the smokiness and light spiciness of the meat.
Brisket was the highlight of the sampler platter, with the pinkest color (remember, the meats are cured as well as smoked), good crust, and a texture that was slightly chewy but very tender. Flavor was intense like beefy bacon, with plenty of smokiness. I didn't detect much (if any) rub, but that brine and smoke worked wonders.
Bacon wrapped prawns ($12) featured perfectly crisp, chewy bacon around fist-sized shellfish. At two per plate and $6 apiece, they're a little pricey but delicious enough that I could eat six if these were passed appetizers at a wedding. The fiery dipping sauce was nice, if typical. It might be the same sauce that's used for the homemade chips.
The Remy Burger ($10) was the item that caught my eye most ("Served on fried dough") on my first glance through an online menu, so it was a given that this would be ordered on the first visit. The dough turned out to be not as sweet as the carnival snack but just sweet enough and rich enough to complement the burger well. The patty was a mound of meat that seemed larger than claimed (two different servers reported 8 ounces and 9 ounces). Cooked to a perfect medium rare on the first visit, the burger oozed juices and supplied about as much flavor as you could expect from the now-common ground Angus. The cheddar was competently melted on but the bacon was a little limp on the first burger.
Also ordered medium rare on two later visits, the Remy Burger came out well past medium (that's twice now in three attempts), with a fried dough bun that was stiff instead of pillowy. The overcooked meat had a bouncy texture and not much beef flavor, especially considering that it's touted as Angus. On a friend's burger with fried egg, the meat was cooked to temperature but the overcooked egg had no runny yolk to speak of, defeating the purpose of ordering a burger with egg in the first place. But back to the Remy Burger: after three tastings, the burger I once envisioned as a possible "destination item" and a sure fire inclusion in the top half of a future "Best BBQ Joint Burger" list, is ultimately a disappointment.
I still can't figure out why the Remy Burger, which is the only one on the menu with bacon and cheese included, is the least expensive. Or how, with a deep fried whole pickle and a large cone of fries or chips also included, this can be priced at only $10 in the shadows of Fenway Park, but why wonder?
Pulled pork sliders ($10) on the third visit were a trio of pulled pork sandwiches served on mini buns with cole slaw beneath. The meat was very moist and very pink, but as with the second visit's pulled pork sandwich (see below), the flavor was much more subtle here compared to the other meats. The buns were simple but fresh.
Brisket ($19) may have been the unanimous highlight of the chef's sampler plate but was undermined by the excessive fat in the full fledged platter. Three voluminous slices were more than 50% fat, making it hard to eat and the only overpriced item of the night. Flavor was still very pleasing, with a strong, bacony smoke presence that had a distinct fruitiness. On visit 3, the fat level was equally high and the meat was much tougher than that perfectly cooked slice from the sampler.
Beef short ribs ($19) is a misnomer: one of my top pet peeves is using plural ("ribs") on the menu, then delivering singular ("rib") on the actual plate, and Jerry Remy's was technically guilty of this. Fortunately, this single rib is a monster affair that offers enough beef (probably over a pound) to feed a family of four. It's an item that's fairly common in New York City barbecue restaurants (Daisy May's, RUB, Southern Hospitality, Wildwood) but rarely seen in the Boston area aside from an occasional special. The beef short rib I shared on the first and third visits had a thick bark (that I wish had more crispness and rub), perfect tenderness, good moistness and less "hamminess" than the other meats (the natural beef flavor is what spoke loudest, with a slight "corned beef" taste from the curing process). The short rib can be a fatty cut but was properly cooked to render it out, flavoring and moistening the meat along the way. This was an outstanding representation of beef, and one I'd take in a heartbeat over most steaks. And if the brisket plate was pricey, the short rib was a steal.
A pulled pork sandwich ($11) on visit 2 was a little unusual, but in a good way. I was expecting something along the lines of sauced pork on a seeded hamburger bun but was pleasantly surprised by the generously lengthy Ciabatta bread that housed a layer of spicy cole slaw topped by large chunks of unsauced pork. The pork here came in much larger pieces and supplied much less pink, less bark and less smoke than what was on the previous night's sampler, but was cooked closer to ideal texture (think turkey thighs) and was still very moist (ditto). Overall, I preferred the previous night's rendition, but this was still satisfying. Helping the cause were the house-made potato chips.
When the smoked half chicken ($17) hit the table on visit 2, the otherwise attractive skin looked startlingly loose and rubbery; it ultimately it proved inedible. But the meat beneath was supremely moist and succulent, even the breast. Much of the chicken was pink but all of it was fully cooked; tenderness was spot on. This was some of the smokiest chicken I ever ate, but a very pleasing, mellow brand of smoke. The curing process must have put a brine in play; I didn't detect much rub. Whatever the methodology, this bird had some serious flavor. A repeat order on visit 3 yielded the same positive qualities as in the first bird but with a more done, edible (but not quite crisp) skin. If they can get that skin crispy, Jerry Remy's has a serious contender for a future Favorite Chicken list.
Babyback pork ribs ($12 half rack) on the first visit bore a pink sheen that drew us in like beacons to the sampler plate, and the intensity of the flavor (hammy, porky, smoky, spicy) made it an obvious candidate for a second round reprise. That second round was supposed to have been the St Louis ribs but turned out to be babybacks. The tenderness was perfect, allowing the meat to pull easily off the bone without falling off. Bark was thick, crusty and tasty. Saucing on the second round was heavy, but as with the pulled pork, the sweetness of the sauce made a nice foil for the spiciness of the meat. Still, the memory that lingers is the intoxicatingly concentrated, smoky, cured-tasting flavor of the pink inner meat.
St Louis cut pork spare ribs ($12 half rack) on the second visit were sold out, but at the end of the meal were available again for a makeshift dessert. And low and behold, they were really St Louis cut ribs. These were a little shorter of bone than the babybacks, but thicke, allowing more moistness to be retained. Ordered and delivered unsauced, the St Louies had all of the flavor intensity of the previous night and then some. I never expected to be saying this, but Jerry Remy's—a place I incorrectly imagined as a hokey, cheesy cliché of a celebrity owned sports bar—served me some of the best barbecued pork ribs I ever ate. A full rack on the third visit proved just as good.
A single dark, sweet Kansas City style sauce is served on or with the meats. There are no squeeze bottles on the table, but if you ask for sauce on the side, you get a warm bowl of it. The sauce is mostly molasses, but with a little spice thrown in for good measure. I liked the complexity, but hardly used it, as all of the meats were flavorful enough and moist enough not to need saucing.
House-made potato chips are a clearly superior choice to the fries as an included side with the sandwiches. The seasoning is a little lighter than I like, but the texture (simultaneously crispy and chewy), abundance (served in a paper cone about six inches high) and dipping sauce (a typical but competent spicy aioli) make it all work.
Fries are the bland, skinless, frozen, industrial style. Get the chips instead.
Cole slaw that's creamy (though lightly dressed) and slightly spicy gets bonus points for being served in an edible tortilla shell.
Garlic mashed potatoes are a step up from typical barbecue joint mashed potatoes, boasting red skins and maintaining more of their original potato integrity. The upscale touch here is that they're corralled inside an edible potato waffle.
Baby carrots and asparugus spears (two or three of each) acccompany most of the barbecue platters along with the garlic mashed.
Bacon mac and cheese ($3) led expectation and reality to diverge once again. I envisioned traditional mac and cheese with bacon mixed in; the actual dish was a breaded, deep fried block of mac and cheese wrapped with a strip of bacon-as-ribbon. I liked the spiciness of the crunchy exterior and the contrast between it and the creamy interior. I didn't like that the bacon was used more as a wrapper than as part of the dish.
Other Thoughts and Observations
When I first heard of this project, I was skeptical. Any celebrity-owned sports bar can put barbecue on its menu, but how real will it be? And if it's real, how good can it be? At Jerry Remy's, it's real and has on occasion been spectacular.
Overall, I think there are more bargains than overpriced items, but pricing is all over the place. Some items, like the brisket platter ($19) and the shrimp with bacon ($12) seem a little steep. But the short rib ($19 for a huge slab of beef) and the Remy burger ($10 includes cheese, bacon and fries or chips) that would be good deals outside Fenway are absolute steals given the location and clientele. A trio of pulled pork sliders is $10; for an extra buck you can get the pulled pork sandwich, cut each half in half and feed a larger portion to four instead of three (and get a huge side of chips or fries to boot). In early April, Remy's will be offering sandwiches and burgers at half price during Monday and Tuesday lunches.
Granted, even though the meats are smoked, Jerry Remy's Sports Bar & Grill isn't exactly a barbecue restaurant. That said, I'd still like to see a brisket sandwich, I'd like to see cornbread, I'd like to see more barbecue sauces and I'd really like to see 2- and 3-item combination platters.
Service was outstanding on all three visits. Each server excelled at fielding barbecue-related inquiries, sauce and plate requests and refilling drinks with little to no prodding.
The joint is loud, and I have not attended on a game night yet.
The meats are not just smoked, but cured too. I'm all for this and I really enjoy the uniqueness, but I can see someone finding the offerings closer to what you'd get at an Italian salumeria or a Jewish deli than at a barbecue joint. I can already hear some purists grumbling, "This isn't barbecue." Trust me, it's barbecue. Embrace the diversity.
The bottom line: There are still some minor kinks to work out, but overall, Jerry Remy's Sports Bar and Grill is a winner. The atmosphere, service and value are all there, and the barbecue is both unique and occasionally very good. I could go for another round of those ribs right about now.
Boston Herald report on Jerry Remy's "Season Passes"
Yelp reviews of Jerry Remy's Sports Bar & Grill
Urban Spoon reviews of Jerry Remy's Sports Bar & Grill