The Great "Tide-Me-Over" Thumbnail Reviews Barrage of 2017, Part 5
Remember a few months back when I posted my barbecue joint quick-takes intended as a stop gap solution for the lack of full-fledged reviews and updates over the last year or so? Here's the next installment.
Firefly's, Marlborough MA
This is a tough one. Firefly's has made great strides in quality over the last few years and I don't think they get their due when people start rattling off the best barbecue joints around Boston—partly because of its distant suburban location, partly because of its long association with the Phantom Gourmet TV show, and partly because they were once the most likely upper level Boston area barbecue joint to have the proverbial "off night." I've had some great ribs and pulled pork there at least a few times each over the past few years. I've also had examples that were pretty good but less than their best. What makes things interesting is that the superlative visits have often happened when owner Steve Uliss—who knows me—has either been there or known through intermediaries that I was there. So I'm a little uncertain as to just how far the pendulum has swung, but it's swung, and best day or not, Firefly's compares quite favorably to anything closer to Boston. Generally speaking, the items with the most consistency are pork (ribs, pulled pork, candied bacon), wings (get the Crazy Roo, not the whole wings) and burnt ends. Brisket still has a way to go, but it's improving too.
Tony G's, Belmont MA
I've visited a few more times since posting a somewhat bleak "first look" review, and the quality had improved, but not to the point where I could draw any firm conclusions. For a nine month stretch I passed by there multiple times per week during the dinner rush, and there wasn't much of a rush inside, so barbecue turnover isn't helping matters. Yes, I regret not stopping in to monitor the quality during that time.
Blue Ribbon, West Newton MA
This is probably the barbecue joint that has the widest disconnect between what the PigTrip review says (written in 2006) and what I currently think about the place. The downhill spiral started shortly after the review, connected most to the centralization concept that removed smokers from the restaurants (the other is in Arlington) and smoked all the meats at a commissary. The objective was to ensure quality, but what it ensured more was reheats. Around the same time, Blue Ribbon pulled several familiar faces out of the restaurants as well; some relocated to the commissary and some departed to parts unknown. In place of veteran meatcutters, Blue Ribbon employed baby-faced newbies with less of a connection to barbecue. They also experimented with different rib cuts and suppliers, switching to dinky St Louis cut for a while, then back to meatier spares, then back again, and back and forth. On some visits, it was a merely a slight drop from the Blue Ribbon I loved. On other visits, drop drifted into disappointment. And on a few, the drop and disappointment were so impactful that had it been my first visit, I probably would not have returned. Blue Ribbon never returned to the level of quality enjoyed shortly after the turn of the century, but they did show flashes of a potential to do so. There'd be one really promising visit, then a so-so one, then a dreadful one. And just when I thought they were through, they'd bounce back again. And sink back down again. And again and again. My most recent visit this week was a mixed bag: slightly firm, juicy, very smoky ribs (A-), steamy but very porky pulled pork (B), and bland, barkless, potroasty brisket (C-).
My intent for several years now—at least as far back as 2012—was to do an updated review, but without a conclusive trend it didn't make sense. There are probably some who think I gave Blue Ribbon a pass because I was a fan, but that's only partly true. Their solid past performance gave me hope that they'd rebound, and that it would only be a matter of time before they'd get the hang of the new commissary, the new smoker, the new cuts and the new personnel. It never happened—at least for my visits, and at least to the extent of returning to past levels. Don't get me wrong; go enough times, take the average and they're still above the regional average for ribs and pulled pork. But if I'm making a top 10 list of the best barbecue joints within an hour of Boston, Blue Ribbon no longer makes the cut.
Rusty Can, Newbury MA
This new joint in Byfield (a village within Newbury) is an easy-off-the-highway stop that's gotten a lot of positive buzz on the Massachusetts north shore. I say deservedly so; my two visits there have both been good. There's a hint of steaminess to some of the 'cue, but overall they're hitting the mark for texture, rub and smoke strength, as well as value (reasonable prices, insane portions). Sides are also very strong, with a mac and cheese that's got a velvety texture and nice sharpness.
PJ's Smoke 'n' Grill, Medway MA
This even newer joint also has buzz, along with numerous 5-star reviews on Yelp. My one visit was underwhelming, with burnt ends dry, pork belly 90% fat and ribs cold. But flavors came through for all of them, so there's hope that it's just a learning curve thing. It's in a geographical area that's light on barbecue (which may explain the high Yelp ratings), so it's a good addition that I'm hoping will thrive.
CK Pearl, Essex MA
This joint does barbecue but it's not the focus. Original pitmaster Jim Sullivan has moved on and now runs Rusty Can, and I haven't visited CK Pearl since then, so I can't comment on the current state of the 'cue there. I can comment on the clam chowder, topped with bacon and loaded with clams: it's fantastic.
BT's Smokehouse, Sturbridge MA
Here's another joint that's changed since my last review (2010), but it's mostly been a steady progression of improvement since then. I'll give my usual disclaimer that if you have issues with agressive smokiness, aggressive saltiness (recently curbed) or waiting in line, BT's might not be your cup of tea. But there's not another barbecue joint in all of New England where you're more likely to be wowed by explosively juicy meats fresh from the smoker and by specials worthy of discussion the whole ride home. For me, it's more about the standards: ribs, brisket, pulled pork. Around the time of the 2010 review, BT's reigned for brisket, with ribs good but not at the same stellar level as the brisket. Within a few years, ribs caught up. About year ago, pulled pork caught up as well. There's never a guarantee, but one of your best chances for a ribs-brisket-pork trifecta where all achieve greatness is at BT's. That was the case on two of my first three 2017 visits; the third one came close on all counts. The fourth visit saw a dip: ribs were underdone and stiff; pulled pork was just okay. On a recent fifth visit, ribs returned to their usual form, with pork and brisket both good though far from great; a sixth visit mimicked the fifth. Bacon bites, a new recurring special that combines savory and sweet along with crispy and tender, have been great all four times I tried them. My take for now on BT's is that there's been a recent dropoff: significant enough to notice but slight enough that they're still my #1 for Massachusetts and among my top 3 in the entire directory.
Sweet Cheeks, Boston MA
My most recent Sweet Cheeks review, posted two years ago, still reflects my current feelings about the place, so there's no need to get too detailed here. The gist of it is that the 'cue can be spectacular but is often a little old and a little steamy. Best of Boston? It once was; now it's a close call between it and Smoke Shop, which has turned in some spectacular and some steamy as well. A very recent Sweet Cheeks meal submitted ribs, pork and brisket all in the B to B+ range. Most noteworthy were the ribs, which were still cooked a little past ideal but brought deeper smoke and rub flavor than I've experienced there even during their prime. Sides have always been great there, and their beans might be my all-time favorite. Biscuits still get the most attention, and rightfully so: they're hot, crispy, tender, flaky and buttery even before the whipped honey honey butter.
Sweet Cheeks recently instituted a 3% back-of-house surcharge to every check. While I'm not a fan of this practice (I'd rather have them adjust menu prices and pay kitchen staff accordingly), I'm not against it. What I am against is the lack of transparency: it's mentioned by neither menu nor server; it's up to you to notice the fine print on a small laminated announcement buried in the silverware cannister.
Revenge BBQ, Irvington NY
This newcomer a couple miles south of the Tappan Zee Bridge is a small shop with limited seating, a compact Texas-influenced menu and an equally compact 4-day schedule. Compactness here has ensured turnover; the quality has been sky high for brisket and ribs (both pork and beef) in particular, with the rest of the offerings also excellent. The rub levels are high, the smoke levels are right around the middle, and the textures usually hit the marks for both crispness and tenderness, with free flowing juices more likely here than any other joint in the PigTrip directory. I've visited five times and have been wowed by at least something (usually multiples) on all five. With apologies to Jon Landau, let me say this: I have seen Northeast barbecue's future and its name is Revenge BBQ.
Joints Directory Madness, November 2017
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning four states. This time there are six new joints (or new to the site), one closing and one updated phone number.
NEW JOINTS and/or NEW TO THE DIRECTORY
Blackmoor Bar & Kitchen (Charlestown MA) is a modern gastropub with an ecclectic menu that includes a "from the smoker" section. Beyond the expected, expect jerk chicken, barbacoa-chipotle shredded beef and coffee rubbed boneless short rib. Combination platters can be customized to add extra meats for $5 each, and there's pizza, burgers, bowls and vegetarian fare to ensure universal appeal. Thanks to Bill for the lead. www.blackmoorbar.com
Grandaddy Frank's BBQ (Southwick MA) is a barbecue addition to the Westfield River Brewing Company in the same tpwn and keeping the same hours. The menu includes the usual suspects (ribs, pork, brisket, chicken) plus smoked wings and smoked bacon-wrapped meatballs. Thanks to Zeke for the lead. www.grandaddyfranks.com
242 Texas BBQ Company (Montgomery Center VT) is a roadside weekends-only food trailer located four miles from Jay Peak on (you guessed it) Route 242. Run by a relocated Massachusetts-born Texas pitmaster and his native Texan wife, the trailer's menu features sandwiches, some Mexican touches, and smoked bacon-wrapped stuffed jalepenos. Note that they'll be taking a month-long break trhen reopen in time for ski season, so call before venturing out there. Thanks to owner Dave for the lead. www.242texasbbq.com
Peach Lake Market & BBQ (North Salem NY) is a Hudson Valley joint, just west of the Connecticut border, that bills itself as "New York's premier BBQ and market experience." They open early, serving egg sandwiches and the like for breakfast, and then offer a mix of Italian, burgers, dogs, Philly cheesesteaks and barbecue. Smoked meats include ribs, brisket, pork, chicken and wings. Thanks to Steve for the lead. www.peachlakemarketandbbq.com
The Carolina BBQ Company (Cranston RI) is a catering company with a storefront now serving barbecue to the public. They serve what they're calling "Carolina style barbecue," with pulled pork smoked six hours (not a typo), plus pork ribs, beef ribs, brisket and chicken. Thanks to Eric for the lead. www.thecarolinabarbecuecompany.com/
Brooklyn BBQ: Izzy's Brooklyn Smokehouse Reviewed
The site's 356th review is for Izzy's Brooklyn Smokehouse (Brooklyn NY), a kosher barbecue joint open Sunday through Thursday. Check the review via the Reviews page, the link above or the red icons in the Joints directory.
See my review of Izzy's Brooklyn Smokehouse
Maine BBQ: Noble Barbecue Reviewed
The site's 355th barbecue review is for Noble Barbecue (Portland ME), a 3-month-old joint with a focus on smoked meat sandwiches and a Monday-thru-Friday schedule that expands to weekends in early November. Check the review via the Reviews page, the link above or the red icons in the Joints directory.
See my review of Noble Barbecue
Boston Burbs BBQ: Smokin' Betty's Reviewed
The site's 354th barbecue review is for Smokin' Betty's BBQ & Bar (Salem MA), a newish joint with a funky feel and some well established siblings around town. Check the review via the Reviews page, the link above or the red icons in the Joints directory.
See my review of Smokin' Betty's BBQ & Bar
Joints Directory Madness, September 2017
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning five states. This time there are nine new joints (or new to the site), five closings and one new website URL.
NEW JOINTS and/or NEW TO THE DIRECTORY
Bobby Q's Cue & Company (Norwalk CT) is a new joint about five miles away from the former Bobby Q's in Westport. It brings one of the deepest menus in the biz, with the usual smoker suspects flanked by smoked wings, burnt ends and sausage, plus a few different flatbreads, a few different burgers, a few different salads, fried smoked chicken, non-smoked babybacks, a spicy brisket hand pie, and much more. www.bobbyqsrestaurant.com
Brooklyn Pit (Brooklyn NY) is a Coney Island food stand offering the basic four plus turkey drums, sausages, smoked wings, pork belly and burgers. Online photos look much more promising than you'd expect from a joint dependent on beach traffic. Facebook
Danny's Smokehouse (Brooklyn NY) is another in the growing legion of kosher barbecue joints; as such, they're closed on Friday nights and all day Saturday. The lack of pork doesn't mean lack of diversity on the menu: look for brisket, pastrami, beef shortribs (on the bone and boneless), turkey breast, chicken, duck, Cornish hens, veal roll, and a deep roster of cold cuts and sausages. Thanks to Chuck for the lead. Facebook
Rusty Can (Newbury MA) is a new joint that might hit the spot on the way back from a vacation in Maine or New Hampshire. Smoker selections for entrees are limited to ribs, pulled pork and chopped brisket, but smoked wings and chicken fried ribs round things out. Thanks to John for the lead and to Peter for a reminder. www.rustycanbyfield.com
CPC Craft Meats Smokehouse (Southwick MA) is a barbecue joint from the folks at Congamond Pizza Company. Beyond the usual suspects, CPC offers gumbo, eggplant fries, homemade hot dogs, and salads topped with pulled pork, smoked chicken and smoked trout. Thanks to Michelle for the lead. www.congamondpizza.com/cpc-smokehouse
Noble Barbecue (Portland ME) is a new sandwich-focused joint open on weekdays only. It's located closer to Route 95 than the heart of Old Port, so Noble may have as much appeal to travelers as locals. Sandwiches include chopped pork, brisket, pastrami, chicken mole and black bean falafel. Those same meats can also be ordered solo by the pound. Thanks to Simon for the lead. www.noblemeats.com
Charlie's Place (Niantic CT) is a family restaurant that's a little bit of everything: breakfast, lunch, dinner, burgers, sandwiches, Greek, Italian, seafood. And barbecue, now under the direction of Pete Daversa (Hill Country in NYC and a number of BBQ stops in CT). The barbecue sticks to the basics, but Fridays and Saturdays feature smoked prime rib. www.charliesplacerestaurant.com
Bar BQ (Stamford CT) has closed. This was one of the forerunners in the BBQ-meets-small-plates movement as well as one of the advocates of the pretty-girls-dancing-will-fill-the-place movement.
Smoke Not Just BBQ (Manchester CT) has closed. It's hard to say it whether it was the location (three barbecue joints have shuttered in that space now) or the combination of high prices and low smoke levels. Thanks to Scott for the lead.
Two Southern Sissies (Provincetown MA) is closed.
Duke's (NYC) has closed its 19th Street location, perhaps not even recently.
Bayou Smokehouse (Groton CT) is closed as of yesterday.
These Are A Few Of My Favorite Wings
With the start of the 2017 NFL season comes my "quasi-annual" list of favorite smoked wings at thirteen different barbecue joints in New York and New England. In order to make this list, the wings have to be smoked, they have to be offered regularly and I had to have tried them within the last two years. Three new joints made this year's list (along with three joints that fell off and have returned), some ranking fairly high.
See the all-new 2017 smoked wing countdown
Long Island BBQ: Smoke Shack Blues Reviewed
The site's 353rd barbecue review is for Smoke Shack Blues (Port Jefferson NY), a one-year-old joint located in one of Long Island's most popular harbor towns. Check the review via the Reviews page, the link above or the red icons in the Joints directory.
See my review of Smoke Shack Blues
Connecticut BBQ: Taino Reviewed
The site's 352nd barbecue review is for Taino Smokehouse (Middletown CT), a joint located roughly 17 miles south of Hartford. Check the review via the Reviews page, the link above or the red icons in the Joints directory.
See my review of Taino Smokehouse
The Great "Tide-Me-Over" Thumbnail Reviews Barrage of 2017, Part 4
Another batch of quick-takes intended as a stop gap solution for the lack of full-fledged reviews and updates over the last year or so.
Hometown Bar-B-Que, Brooklyn NY
It's no secret that this is my favorite barbecue joint, and it's one that ranks right up there on my most visited, even though it's one of the farthest away. If I want to quibble, it would be that the line moves too slowly, or that lamb belly banh mi has gotten smaller or that the wings aren't as good presented whole as when they were separate wingette and drummette pieces in the past. But no other barbecue joint comes close to matching Hometown's combination of breadth, innovation and quality meat-by-meat. Come with a group and order a good cross section of the menu, and it's not a matter of whether you'll be wowed, but how many times during the meal. Ribs are now large full cut spares, now less peppery than in the past, now lightly glazed and finished on the grill. Wet Asian style ribs offer a different take, and because they take longer (brought to your table later), they're perfect for ordering as a round #2 item without having to wait in line again. Another key item where this ploy is effective is the pastrami bacon, a half-inch-thick slab of pork belly that'll melt in your mouth on most occasions. Pulled pork doesn't bring much bark, but the tenderness (very delicate) and moistness come through; it's best in a sandwich where the freshness of the bun and the cole slaw offer support without upstaging the meat. At Hometown, brisket and beef ribs are still the gold standards against which all other Northeast barbecue beef must be judged. Lamb belly should also be tried in its sandwich form for the full experience—and to mitigate the fattiness with the crusty bread and pickled vegetables—but it's captivating on its own. Chicken is now a grilled item, presented with a Mexican sauce. It's fine as a healthy choice, but for pure deliciousness, something has to rank at the bottom of the pecking order, and it's this. Hometown isn't cheap, but for a barbecue joint that's as close as you can get to a sure thing, it's worth the splurge.
Gotta Q, Cumberland RI
I stopped in on a Saturday for a visit whose combination of quality and service was shaky at best and return-preventing at worst; I haven't written them off yet but I'm not exactly eager to revisit. Gotta Q is hardly the sole reason for this, but I'm starting to rethink my original goal of visiting every joint, whether expectations are high or not, and even revisiting the joints that disappointed the first time in hopes that they'll improve. Is not revisiting a joint "unfair"? Hardly. What's "fair" is not giving one joint an advantage over another by only visiting at certain times, or tipping off the owner that I'm coming to get non-representative samples. And not jumping to conclusions about a supbar visit that might be explained by the time of day or time of year or the weather (a snowstorm the day before impacts a barbecue restaurant's quality). But as someone with limited calories, limited time and limited funds (it's not like I'm on someone's expense account), I no longer feel obligated to return to a joint I'm not likely to like just so I can have more evidence that I don't like it.
The Stand, Branford CT
Here's another new joint oozing with that modern barbecue approach, this time combined with a farm-to-table vibe reinforced by the fact that there's a farm stand (hence the name) on the compound. I only visited once, trying two meats from the stand (hence the ) at lunchtime. Ribs had that practically impossible combination of stiff and steamy; the peppercorn brisket was tender, legitimately juicy and quite good. Pricing is on the high side, seemingly compounded by the rigidity of the ordering, but they'll do a two-meat combo (not listed) if you ask. Sides were hit-or-miss for me. Barbecue sauces are very interesting, with a texture like motor oil—and I mean that as a good thing. Even though I'm skeptical of the whole "farm-to-table" thing, that pastrami brisket made a pretty good case, so I'd like to go back and give them another try.
Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue, Brooklyn NY
I haven't been in a couple years now, so I'm not going to make any assessment other than to say that my Fletcher's visits after I reviewed them were less successful than the ones in the review. In their case, it's folly to gauge improvement based on social media photos.
Smokehouse Tailgate Grill, Mamaroneck NY
I visited the newer northern outpost (the original is in New Rochelle) on the second weekend of 2017, trying them for lunch. Wings were excellent, with recognizable smoke, a strong rub that had Asian accents along with the more traditional ingredients, and a light agave glaze that added sweetness that fit well into the bigger picture. They'd easily make the next PigTrip Wings List and could quite possibly land in one of the top few slots. A pulled pork sandwich was more humdrum. Full disclosure: the kitchen staff noticed my phototaking and insisted I try small samples of some other items, like a couple slices each of pork belly, sausage and skirt steak, along with a rib. The freshness/quality of these items varied, with the ribs bringing up the rear (it was, after all, barely noon), but the sausage was impressive and the pork belly (more of that Asian-influenced rub) was outstanding. A recent second visit nearly duplicated the wings experience and improved an actual order of ribs, which came in a little overtender, crisp and lightly sauced. Fries were as potatoey as any I've had, so I had way too many.
Smoke Shop, Cambridge MA
The short story: it's good. Real good. But the long story—how good—is still unwritten, both literally and figuratively. Smoke Shop holds the record for most visits by me without logging a review; it's close to 20 now. Most of the reason for that is my having been too busy to get all the photos processed, but a part of it is that I haven't reached a full verdict for where Smoke Shop stands in the pantheon of best barbecue restaurants in New England and New York. My favorite analogy when discussing Smoke Shop to friends is that they're the barbecue equivalent of an NFL team that's a likely division winner, but they're closer to the 11-5 outfit I've experienced so far than the 15-1 juggernaut portrayed by their fiercest fandom. Smoke Shop's wings are a must and would have been the top choice of a 2016 PigTrip Wings List had I had time to do it. Their ribs are superb if you like 'em saucy (not that the sauce is a crutch). Brisket, though inconsistent, is the best in the city. Chicken, pulled pork, sausage and burnt ends have their good nights and their lesser nights, but unlike most joints, there's rarely a dud. Comparisons to Sweet Cheeks are inevitable. Sweet Cheeks has a better supporting cast (killer biscuits, beans, black-eyed peas and even salads) that ensure a good visit even when the meats are off, but Smoke Shop almost always comes through meatwise. "Coming through" and "achieving great" are two different things; while they've certainly achieved greatness more often than most joints in the greater Northeast region do, the question for me is whether they're in the top 10% (absolutely), 5% (probably) or 2% (possibly).
Boston BBQ: Shed's Reviewed
The site's 351st barbecue review is for Shed's Smoked BBQ (Boston MA), a Texas style over-the-counter joint open for weekday lunches only. Check the review via the Reviews page, the link above or the red icons in the Joints directory.
See my review of Shed's Smoked BBQ
The Great "Tide-Me-Over" Thumbnail Reviews Barrage of 2017, Part 3
More drivel that should have gone into full-fledged reviews.
Bear's Smokehouse, Hartford CT
This one claims to be Connecticut's best barbecue, right on the website, and has done so since day 1. I'll give them top 5. Just as with Taino (mentioned earlier), you can see the potential, and here on an even higher level, but what I don't see is anything on my tray that looks as good as the photos they post on Facebook. Much of what does hit the tray has hit the holding chamber for a long steam bath, affecting color, texture and flavor; the common word for all is "faded." Sometimes there's a breakthrough, although the wait from meat counter to cashier can easily undo a breakthrough. What I do like every time are the sauces (not my favorite style but done exceptionally well) and the sides (some of the best beans, slaw, fries and mac & cheese around).
Magnolia Smokehouse City BBQ, Brookline MA
This is a joint that seems to have flown under the radar, but for many who've tried it, Magnolia Smokehouse was as significant a 2016 addition for the Boston barbecue as Cambridge's Smoke Shop. Maybe it's the building: it previously housed Village Smokeshop, a joint known for its stack of pre-cooked racks of ribs finished on the fire pit and drowned in commercial tasting sauce. The fire pit is still there and still used, but the meats bring more smoke (hard not to), less sauce (read: none) and more overall flavor (definitely not stingy with the rub). Magnolia Smokehouse is also one of the few places left in New England that serves beef back ribs, available by the bone (perfect as an appetizer) or trio. The pulled pork sandwich shows some creativity, as do the sides. I had three good visits followed by a subpar one last year, so I held back judgement until seeing what the next one brought. I'm overdue for that revisit but am looking forward to it. The chef knows how to combine flavors.
HooDoo Brown Barbeque, Ridgefield CT
My travels have been scarcer over the past year or two, so when I do get an opportunity, I'm much more likely to favor New York City, Maine and Vermont over southwestern Connecticut. So it wasn't until very recently that I had a chance to try HooDoo Brown after the departure of its opening pitmaster to see if the quality held up. One visit hardly indicates a trend, but what I had that night compared very favorably—especially the fork-tender beef shortrib, the succulent brisket, the juice-gushing sausage and the crackly-meets-wobbly tower of pork belly. The humongous pork ribs are a level down from those items, with a bit of a pork choppy feel. I saw a few different trays of pork ribs emerge from the smoker area during my two hour visit, so maybe they're cooked higher and faster than the norm or maybe they're cooked ahead and reheated. Or maybe it was just the luck of the timing, which is always a factor in barbecue. A second visit was similar to the first, with the ribs a little better, the pork belly a little worse (the "faded" word again, and less juicy) and the explosively flavorful wings right up there with the best of the region. For those looking for the answer to the obvious question: yes, they've probably slipped a bit from their earliest days, but yes, they're still numero uno for Connecticut in my book, with no threats in sight.
Billygoats BBQ, West Dennis MA
Another Cape Cod barbecue joint, this one less impressive than Big Dogs (Oleans MA; mentioned earlier). Review soon.
Salvage BBQ, Portland ME
The execution has improved a little from the level I described over my first seven visits. Issues with dryness, overdoneness and freshness still surface, but less frequently, and now mitigated by more vigorous flavor. The chili, which was one of their strongsuits, has gone through a recipe revolution that's reduced it—literally, perhaps—to more of a spicy marinara (albeit a tasty one) than the chunky, garlicky conversation piece it once was.
Pig Rig, Wallingford CT
Here's a former food truck that upgraded to a brick and mortar location in a strip mall. Ribs are saucy, fall-off-the-bone style. Pulled pork is extra tender, extra soft, and extra mild. To say that smoke content across the board is mild would be a grand understatement. Not that there's anything wrong with mild, saucy and barely smoky, but if that's not your style, Pig Rig isn't your place. If you're tempted to try it, they're one of those places that's constantly on Groupon, so take advantage.
Mighty Quinn's Barbeque, NYC
Very few joints have had me at hello the way Mighty Quinn's did on my first visit, and they kept the bar at the highest level for another two or three visits. Then there was a drop-off, not coincidentally in synch with their expansion to a half dozen joints scattered elsewhere in Manhattan as well as into Brooklyn and New Jersey. I'm not talking drop-off as dramatic and disastrous as Daisy May's, but enough to knock them out of tier 1 and into tier 2 (of seven). My most recent visit, a President's Day lunch, swung the quality pendulum nearly all the way back to those first visits. The brisket was tender to the point of delicate and loaded with crisp bark and flavor. The ribs had much more life in them than some of the obvious reheats I encountered on visits after the first year. I didn't try the pulled pork, but it looked similarly impressive on neighboring tables.
Pink Pig, Warren RI
Three visits to the Warren location have been mostly positive; this is another candidate (along with Durk's) for best barbecue in Rhode Island and one of the better lesser known places in all of New England. Results among the various meats have been mixed: nothing's been bad or even close, but items that have been great (or close) on one visit were merely good on the others and vice versa. Then again, vacillating between good and (near) great isn't such a bad problem to have. The calling card for ribs and wings is a strong and heavily applied rub that brings much sweetness (with some contrasting savory) that doesn't need sauce. If sauce is what you prefer, there are some interesting options beyond the expected sweet and vinegary, like habanero-carrot-rum and jalapeno-tomatillo-garlic. Pulled pork, probably the best overall item. was very barky, very tender and adequately moist on the first two visits and a little tired on the third. Brisket was all point on two visits and all flat on the other, with good moistness on all and some pot roastiness on the flat. Wings had good crunch, tons of flavorful rub and token moistness. Sausage was steamy and tired one visit, juicy and lively the next. Pricing is very reasonable. All visits were weekend afternoons; I'd like to see what a later visit might yield.
The Great "Tide-Me-Over" Thumbnail Reviews Barrage of 2017, Part 2
More quick takes to pick up (at least some of) the slack from my slacking off on full-fledged reviews.
Izzy's Smokehouse, Brooklyn NY
I logged three visits to this kosher barbecue joint— titleholder for NYC's Brisket King competition—at various points of 2016, and enjoyed them all. There's enough promise that Izzy's is at least a contender to join the top tier of New York City barbecue, but more items came in at good than great, so I'd peg them at second tier for now. Among the great were two kinds of chicken: a juice gushing smoked version (once great, once good, once in between) and a crunchy-meets-tender fried version (once great, once good). A third kind of chicken is the only item they do sauced: sweet, thick-glazed wings. Brisket is solid but takes a back seat to the NYC triumvirate of Hometown, Mighty Quinn's and the recently (temporarily?) closed Delaney Barbecue. Beef shortribs are more than solid. Baked beans are very unusual (garlicky, I think), very good and very addictive. Be prepared for closed doors on Fridays and Saturdays, a packed house during peak times and some chaos in the ordering and receiving transactions; perhaps the service has or will become smoother with the passage of time. The 'cue is already well worth a look.
Battle Road, Maynard MA
This newish barbecue joint added to an existing brewery has a sports bar feel, with at least as much seating in the lively bar area as the quieter booths in a separate back room. The barbecue got raves in the The Boston Globe, but I was less impressed. Nothing tasted smoked, some of the items were dry and others had that sitting-around texture at dinnertime. There's still potential, as the food did have flavor—lack of smoke notwithstanding—and the Globe photo showed what they can do in theory. For now, they're the proverbial three stars out of five for barbecue, with beer flights helping the cause more.
Riverside Barbeque, Nashua NH
The good news: they've expanded into the adjacent space, added a spiffy new bar and introduced table service. More good news: the menu's been revamped to provide more configurability and better value. The bad news: even though there's a poster hanging above the bar proclaiming "Served fresh every day," the freshness is the same as before, as evidenced on a recent visit by reheated or long-held ribs, pulled pork and burnt ends. There's also a "BBQ done right" poster, but that proclamation is more subjective. Based on the dryness of the wings and ribs, the low smoke levels and the reliance on sauces for flavor, I'm inclined to disagree—but that's just my opinion.
Warehouse, Albany NY
This relative newcomer is the one of the two restaurants from last fall's four-stop Albany trip that I didn't review (and the other was only because I only had one item). While Warehouse was the most camera-ready of the bunch—incorporating every 2016 restaurant trend in the decor—it left much to be desired in the execution of the barbecue, even though it drew the best slot (dinnertime) of the bunch and even though its website tagline is "smoked to perfection." Wings were plated impressively but very dry. Ribs were an obvious reheat. Pulled pork seemed too heavily sauced, but there was enough going on under it that it wasn't just a crutch. Brisket cubes looked, tasted and felt microwaved. Warehouse was only a couple months old at the time of my visit, so there's still room for improvement that may have even happened. But at the time, it was more like the barbecue version of Johnny Bravo, whose questionable singing never mattered because the jacket looked good.
Big Dogs, Orleans MA
A Cape Cod barbecue joint located inside a bowling center not only has both bar and dining area, but also lets you order their 'cue from the lanes while you bowl. That ordering doesn't include any combos (a disturbing trend), but the appetizers include smoked wings, pulled pork sliders and a half rack of babybacks sans sides, so you can still get variety without breaking the bank. I liked the moist babybacks, served Memphis style with extra rub sprinkled over the crust. The pulled pork sliders were less fresh and more chickeny, but I did like the custom sesame seed mini buns that were a refreshing change from the wonderful but overexposed Martin's. Wings, available in many more flavors than listed on the current menu, were probably the biggest hit, combining crunchy crust, moist interior and lots of rub. Smoke across the board is noticeable but restrained. It's not barbecue elite or near-elite, but it's more than solid in general and more than a pleasant surprise for the Cape.
Terlingua, Portland ME
I never did a full review of this boutique Mexican/barbecue/cocktails hybrid, but my first visit report is still available. I've made three visits since then, trying the nightly 1-meat barbecue selections (again, no combos) available in two size options. Because the meat portions in the two sizes are described by the server in terms of ounces, there's a natural tendency to extrapolate to a per-pound-price upwards of $50—which is higher than any of the New York City joints with higher rents and higher brisket quality. But it's a composed plate with sides, not just a clump of meat. And Terlingua's barbecue meats at dinner have a higher chance of being fresh off the smoker than many of those NYC joints. I liked the freshness, juiciness and strength of both rub and smoke on the ribs all three times I tried them, and I liked the texture on the pork two out of three. You can avoid the stratospheric pricing with interesting renditions of red (brisket) and green (pork) chili, pork belly and burnt ends. That burnt ends appetizer, listed separately on the menu from the nightly fresh barbecue, was tasty on my one try but had a more-moist-than-juicy texture that made it a likely reheat.
The Great "Tide-Me-Over" Thumbnail Reviews Barrage of 2017, Part 1
In my annual self assessment earlier this week I mentioned that I'm disgusted with the pace of full-fledged reviews over the past year, and promised some immediate thoughts on joints both new and previously reviewed. Without further ado, the first batch from among 30+.
Mill City BBQ, Lowell MA
This newcomer to a city desperately in need of a barbecue joint is a little more soul than barbecue and a little more bar than barbecue, but they do smoke the ribs, pork and brisket that all take a back seat in the pecking order to the fried chicken. Mill City's recipes and presentations have changed somewhat over my three visits, but my overall impression hasn't: this is a joint that I really want to like—and I do to an extent—but it's got a way to go in the flavor, texture and value departments, from fried chicken (tasty but not always moist) to barbecue (sometimes moist, sometimes tasty) to sides to desserts.
Blue Smoke, NYC
If you told me ten years ago that there'd come a weekend where I'd visit Blue Smoke on back-to-back days, I'd have told you you're crazy. But it happened; times have changed, as have the pitmaster and my appreciation of the big picture. Even on nights when the meats don't wow you, the sides certainly will: the biscuits, the baked-to-order cornbread madeleines, the luscious herb-infused mac and cheese. And the beignets are addictive, thanks to the even-more-addictive chicory coffee creme Anglaise served as a dip.
But the meats have hardly disappointed. The wings that were reimagined about a year ago with Alabama style white sauce are among my favorites—mainly because the sauce serves as flavor accent, not flavor obliterator; you can taste the smoke and taste the chicken. Burnt ends impressed with crispness on the outside and succulence inside, reminding me of pork in the process (think cross between maple bacon and charred Chinese boneless ribs). And babybacks—not my favorite—came out on a Sunday brunch with straight-from-the-smoker freshness, strong rub and tender meat that required no sauce. If I also told you ten years ago there'd come a day when Blue Smoke would make my barbecue top 3 for New York City, you'd have certainly called me crazy, but they might just be in my NYC top 3 now.
On a recent NYC visit, I stopped into Virgil's more for a snack than a meal, so I tried only the wings—a former PigTrip Wings List honoree. As with past Virgil's visits, the wings were strong on flavor (stronger than usual) but weak on crispness (not as weak as usual). What brought them down more was the obviousness of the reheat; these wings were old. I've said many times that it's become fashionable to bash Virgil's based on its longevity and its touristy location, but I'm not in that camp. On the contrary, I've had some good meals at Virgil's and still rank them at least above average and certainly ahead of a few NYC barbecue media darlings that come to mind.
Daisy May's, NYC
My last few visits there, probably as far back as 2012, have all been brutal. Regardless of the time of day, the 'cue just hasn't been fresh. FOAs (friends of Adam) insist it's because founder Adam Perry Lang is no longer involved, but the steep decline preceeded that.
The Garage, Scarborough ME
This new joint in a converted service station near Old Orchard Beach has all the hallmarks of the modern barbecue joint as far as visual appeal is concerned, but they seem a little less concerned with the craft of barbecue. My evening visit during the first couple of weeks wasn't a disaster by any means; it's just that the flavors were faded and the textures a little steamy. Like many places hyper tuned to the latest trends if not the Food Network, their food sounds better on paper than what you actually get. That's not to say there's no upside, only that I'd want to give them more time before wading in.
Taino Smokehouse, Middletown CT
This is another of those places that's come close to getting reviewed, but I haven't had a visit conclusive enough to render a judicial verdict. After four or five visits, I haven't had anything awful and I haven't had anything great. Some of it has been good, and there's the potential for better things, but I see it as right around the middle of the pack or slightly above. I like the accessibility of the menu that allows easy add-ons. The sides are created with care. The service is usually friendly. If I'm driving an hour (which I'd have to), I can think of better places, but if I lived in the area, I'd probably be a regular. Believe it or not, I have a review written (though I still need to gather and layout the photos), so I'm hoping to post soon.
Durk's BBQ, Providence RI
With seven visits and counting, this hipster joint (it's evenlisted as such on Google) near Brown University has become one of the regular spots in my barbecue rotation and the visit leader for 2017. You order meats by the pound off a checklist, take it to the counter, watch them cut it, move through the line as they prepare the sides, then grab tin plates and cutlery; drinks are brought by your server. Quality has been uneven, but much of it has been great, and Durk's has hit at that level with at least something—usually multiples—on every visit. Durk's is that rare barbecue joint where the chicken is a must: it's billed as a leg, but includes the thigh too, along with a gloriously carmelized and rub studded skin that foreshadows the deep flavor within. Locally made sausage is tender, very moist (even sliced) and bursting with freshness and porkiness. Pork belly doesn't taste cured, but it does bring dependable tenderness and a crusty-peppery bark. Brisket is the one meat that had been only okay on the first few visits, but then hit its stride on the last three or four. Pulled pork has lacked bark but not tenderness; moistness has varied. The ribs are babybacks, thicker than what you'd find at the chains (and once as big as pork chops) and cooked to a doneness that hits tender without overextending to the less desirable fall-off-the-bone status. Sometimes they've been near dry; sometimes they're near perfect. Even on the nights when things aren't hitting across the board, you can see the vision and potential that lies ahead, and the staff—from hostess to server to meatcutter—has been super friendly every time.
PigTrip is Eleven Years Old Today
Today PigTrip turns eleven. If continuing the site on a sporadic basis beyond the first ten years was the goal (and it was), I succeeded. But I'm incredibly disappointed that I haven't posted more reviews and more opinion. Part of the drought is due to being busy, but a big part is also procrastination. I'll never duplicate the prolific pace of eight to ten years ago, but I want to post more—by posting less. By that, I mean that I'm no longer going to worry about trying every menu item and comparing quality over umpteen visits. Not posting a review of Smoke Shop (Cambridge MA) after 20 visits is inexcusable. With a few exceptions for the more important joints (like Smoke Shop), the reviews will be shorter, more to the point, and involve fewer visits. And if I forget what the cole slaw tasted like, I'll either say so or be brief, and not keep you waiting to tell you about the ribs and brisket that I do remember.
With this new philosophy comes another change in philosophy: the goal of this site is no longer to visit and review every joint. The joints that disappoint me will be getting a much shorter leash, and the joints that fail me might not get any leash at all. What I haven't decided on yet is whether I'll skip the reviews for them entirely or drop the bomb with less evidence than I've presented historically.
About that procrastination: I've recently put my thoughts into words for more than 30 barbecue joints—some that are new joints and some that have been documented before. I'll be posting these, probably in installments, later this week and next week. As always, they'll be honest and as complete as makes sense. And as always, I still love barbecue.
BBQ Essays: 40 More Truisms, Observations, Mottos and Rules of Thumb permalink
Here's a follow-up to last year's listing of truisms, observations, mottos and rules of thumb. Some have appeared before, some truisms lean more toward opinion and some are controversial, but I believe in all of them. I hope some are worth remembering, if not sharing.
41. When that moment hits that you're not going to finish your 3-meat combo and will be taking home leftovers, lay off the pulled pork. Better to save it for the doggy bag, since it's the most forgiving when reheated.
42. If your server mentions in the introduction that she’ll be “taking care of you,” she won’t be taking care of you.
43. If you've become a regular at a restaurant and get comped a dish or two or a drink or two, tip your server extra generously. A good starting point is at least twenty percent plus at least half of the comped value.
44. Never question why a friend chose restaurant A over restaurant B in your absence. Sometimes geography, work, family, traffic, weather and timing have more to do with the choice than whether restaurant A is better than restaurant B.
45. Stop saying "Nuoc Cham" and just say "Fish Sauce." Even if nuoc cham were fish sauce (in Vietnamese it actually means any kind of condiment), saying it makes you sound like Ray Barone’s in-laws. Vietnamese people just call it fish sauce and so should you.
46. Similarly, just call it "avocado cream" or "horseradish cream" and not "avocado crema" or "horseradish crema." No need to douche it up unless you really need to charge a few extra bucks or you're one of those chef-wannabe types who likes to play restaurant at home with pretend menus and hyper self-conscious plating.
47. Brooklyn has the best concentration of barbecue in the Northeast and some of the best barbecue in the country. That doesn't mean there's a Brooklyn style of barbecue.
48. Regarding greater Boston Mexican food: if your favorite place is Ixtapa, your taste buds are mixtupa.
49. If you’re reading an online restaurant roundup and the blurb for a particular restaurant says “look no further”: look further.
50. On a per capita basis, there are more man-crushes in barbecue than any other avocation.
51. Not that it makes any sense, but heed this warning: it is considered a far greater offense to refer to someone as a douchebag than to actually be the douchebag.
52. Before reading a restaurant website's ABOUT page, grab a pencil and paper or open Notepad on your smart phone to take notes. Before reading a restaurant website's OUR STORY page, also grab a pair of boots, because it's going to get deep.
53. Always watch Saturday morning restaurant shows with your smartphone or laptop handy. No, not so you can take notes, but so you can quickly research what the food really looks like when served to actual paying customers. (Note: food bloggers at blogger events aren’t paying customers.)
54. If you're texting and receive the thumbs-up icon/sticker, know that your conversation is done.
55. Recognizing one of your regulars immediately behind me in line and preparing his coffee or bagel before you prepare mine is a pretty good way of ensuring that I'll never become a regular.
56. If you're trying to date your server and want to leave her your number, your chances of getting her to call it will be exponentially raised if you a) actually say something during the meal to make an impression, b) leave more than a $2 tip, and c) have the balls to personally tell her and hand it to her rather than sheepishly scrawling it on the bottom of the check.
57. If a social media post starts off with "I'm so humbled," get ready to read the brag that not so humbly follows.
58. Food writers and bloggers: if a first email from a "fan" asks about going out to eat together, say no. If an invitation arises organically after much correspondence, take it.
59. Arts and crafts are wonderful and everything, but seriously: a $25 gift in an $8 basket beats an $8 gift in a $25 basket any day.
60. Restaurant owners bitching the loudest about the lack of knowledge and qualifications of online reviewers with negative reviews are also the quickest to take bows after positive reviews from other online reviewers whose credentials never get questioned.
61. Unless you're under the sheets with a Victoria's Secret model, it's better to pick up the pizza than have it delivered. And just as important: when picking up that takeout pizza, it's better for you to wait for the pizza than for the pizza to wait for you.
62. Nothing against showing off your food at its best, but if you only post a photo of that one time out of a hundred your brisket doesn't look dried out, you've forfeited the right to say "no filter," even if you haven't performed any photo editing tricks.
63. Little known fact: a restaurant review that calls out four things as being great, six things as being good to very good, four things as being decent and two as less than decent is a positive review. Maybe not a review that blows the chef/pitmaster as much as he's used to, but a positive review.
64. If you're under the sheets with a Victoria's Secret model, stop thinking about pizza.
65. “If the most famous thing on the menu is the biscuit, then the barbecue can’t be that good” might be a rule of thumb for some, but it’s a misguided one. That’s not to say the barbecue can’t be a letdown, but there’s really no connection. A standout side or dessert can get more play than any singular meat specifically because it’s a side or dessert, making it more likely to hit more tables than any singular meat.
66. Not all over-the-counter barbecue joints are alike. Some are order-pay-receive-eat, some are order-receive-eat-pay, and some are order-receive-pay-eat. At that last type, keep the ordering down to two meats and two sides, if possible, because at some places there’s a good chance the first meat plated will get cold by the time you bring the tray to the table. You can always go back for more in a second round.
67. If it weren't for women, guys would shower a lot less often.
68. There's no upside to a tongue ring.
69. If you're buying Halloween candy in September, you're not really buying Halloween candy.
70. If you and your loved one have to get so specific on what you want for Christmas that there’s no mystery left, you might as well just give each other cash.
71. I may not have a degree from Harvard, but I know this: even though Cambridge MA restaurants Cragie On Main and Alden & Harlow have two of the best burgers in the region, hyper focusing on them at the expense of the rest of their menus is a HUGE mistake.
72. If someone asks you where to find a Chinese American restaurant that does lobster sauce a certain way, and you know the answer, just say where. Even if you don't like lobster sauce and even if you know (as does the questioner, most likely) that it's not really Chinese.
73. Save a tree. If you're ordering a breakfast sandwich or two burgers to go, their wrapping alone should be sufficient; ask them to omit the paper bag.
74. If you ask them to leave off the fries that come with your burger but they come anyway, those fries have zero calories.
75. Although fresh from the smoker is always preferred, the real problem with the oh-so-common barbecue reheat isn't always the reheat itself. More often it's the way in which it's done: just like with the original cook, low and slow is the way to go, and a little planning goes a long way.
76. If we're claiming fresh fruit by letter, I'll take all the ones starting with P; you can have the rest. If we’re claiming Northeast BBQ joints, I want B and H; you can have the rest.
77. I'm all for tipping real servers generously, but the dude who delivers your mail every day deserves a more generous annual tip than the chick who pours your medium regular with extra sugar every day.
78. If you’re at Barnes & Noble after you and your wife headed to separate areas and you’re bored out of your mind waiting for her to show up, hit the magazine section and open up a Playboy. Guaranteed she’ll be there in a split second.
79. Even if it’s your favorite item, never take anything from a buffet tray that’s less than one-third full. Get something else, let the other suckers finish it off, and head back when a fresh tray comes out.
80. When the elevator door opens, people heading out get the right of way over people heading in. Period. End of discussion, other than this: anytime someone violates this practice and blocks/delays your elevator exit onto the first floor, be sure to press the elevator buttons for every floor, then say, "Enjoy the ride!"
Joints Directory Madness, July 2017: "The Chain, Maine and CT/NJ Cleanup" Edition
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning seven states. This time there are nineteen new joints (or new to the site), including seven expansions, one collaboration from an existing joint, seventeen closings, four moves and two new website URLs.
NEW JOINTS and/or NEW TO THE DIRECTORY
Salt & Bone Smokehouse (Astoria NY) is a new Queens BBQ joint that's getting a lot of attention. The compact barbecue menu includes pork and beef ribs, pulled pork, Texas style brisket, Moroccan chicken, turkey, and homemade beef sausage in pork casing. Vegetarian fare is abundant, with smoked beets, a few different salads, broccoli, string beans, and multiple varieties of pickles. www.saltandbone.com
Brother Jimmy's (New Haven CT) is the New York City barbecue mini chain that's continued its empire expansion northeastward, landing a spot in one of Connecticut's food meccas. The built-in-hedge—and one you'll likely use—is that it's just down the street from Louis Lunch, the birthplace of the burger. www.brotherjimmys.com
Binga's Express (Windham ME) is the third location of the eateries in Portland and Yarmouth that major in wings and minor in barbecue. Although geared for takeout, there's a small bar and a few tables at which you can enjoy smoked wings, pulled pork and pastrami, along with finger foods designed for dipping into their signature sauces. www.bingaswindham.com
Smokey B's Gin Mill (Ogunquit ME) is a new barbecue joint that opened around Memorial Day weekend in the building that also houses The Omelette Factory. Although the menu lists many of the standards, they're seemingly more about the drinks than the eats. But what better beer snack than a pulled pork infused cornbread muffin? www.smokeybsginmill.com
Gaskins Barbecue & Lobster (York ME) is a double threat at Short Sands Beach. Lobster is available a la carte, as standard and smoked lobster rolls, and in tacos, fries and mac and cheese. Smoker selections include the basic four plus sausage, sold by the pound (or rack) and in sandwiches. Thanks to Bill for the lead. www.gaskinsbarbecue.com
Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue (Brooklyn NY) just weeks ago added a new outpost at the new, much-discussed Dekalb Market Hall. The stripped-down menu includes ribs, rib tips, wings and three sandwiches. If the burnt ends aren't available as a special, or if you don't feel like trekking to the Manhattan original, know that the market also has a stand for Katz's Delicatessen. www.fletchersbklyn.com
Traveling Texas Smoke Shop (Laconia NH), in addition to a move (see below), has opened up a second location at the Weirs Beach piers. Meats include ribs, rib ends, chopped brisket, pulled pork, and chicken leg quarters. Facebook
Cask & Pig Kitchen & Alehouse (North Dartmouth MA) is, as the website says, "a New England style gastropub with an eclectic menu influenced by southern barbeque, Portuguese cuisine and local favorites." So it's not quite a barbecue joint, but they do have babyback ribs, pulled pork, pork belly buns, pulled pork pizza, an apple cider braised pork shank, and a smoked double cut pork chop. www.caskandpig.com
Smokin' Betty's BBQ & Bar (Salem MA) is a new barbecue joint by the owners of Gulu-Gulu Cafe and Flying Saucer Pizza Company elsewhere in town. The dinner-only (for now) restaurant boasts a funky interior that's as much of a draw as the wood-smoked meats. Brick walls: check. Reclaimed wood: check. Unusual artwork: check. Tin hightops: check. Lounge chairs: check. Communal seating: check. Outdoor seating: check. Vintage blowling shuffleboard: check. As for the smoked meats: the ribs are babybacks, the sausage is boudin, the other usual suspects (brisket, pulled pork and smoked chicken are also onboard, and the sauces come in six different varieties. Oh, and they have smoked seitan for the vegetarian crowd. www.smokinbettysbbq.com
Johnny's BBQ (Greenville RI) recently opened on Putnam Pike (Route 44) at Powdermill Creamery. They keep things simple with babybacks, pulled pork, brisket, wings, and grilled cheese sandwiches with brisket or burnt ends. They're currently open only on Fridays (dinner), Saturdays (lunch and dinner) and Sundays (lunch and dinner). Thanks to Eric for the lead. Facebook
Crescent Beach Smoke Shack (Niantic CT) is a beachside converted residence with both deck and indoor seating. Since the end of May they've been serving three meals a day, seven days a week, with barbecue just one of the highlights. New Yorkers may remember Pete Daversa, onetime pitmaster of Hill Country; locals may remember him from the earliest days of Taino Smokehouse (Middletown CT). Meats are smoked around the back in a Myron Mixon smoker. www.crescentbeachsmokeshack.com
Reilly's Rib Cage (Bergenfield NJ) is a recent addition to the area across the river from Yonkers. You gotta love their motto: "The sauce is on the side because we have nothing to hide!" A very focused menu includes pork ribs, beef ribs, brisket, pork, smoked chicken, smoked wings and jalapeño cheddar sausage and beef ribs, sold mostly by the pound, rack and bird. But the most anticipated item there might be the bacon wrapped brisket jalapeño poppers. www.reillysribcage.com
Queens Bully (Queens NY) is a new joint proving that one man's international bizarre is another man's international bazaar. The menu features pizza, Korean wings, Mexican style corn, Medierranean mezze, and some Italian and seafood in addition to smoked half chickens and babyback ribs. The kitchen has both a smoker and a tandoor oven. Thanks to Mark for the lead. Facebook
Cook and the Bear (West Hartford CT) is a collaboration between Bear's Smokehouse (Hartford, Windsor) and Millwright's (nearby Simsbury). The upscale approach to barbecue features the usual suspects (ribs, pork, brisket, chicken) scaled to $9.50 portions, plus pastrami, kielbasa, burnt ends sliders and smoked beets. Although many items are also offered at Bear's, the cuts and/or recipes are completely new at this venture. www.thecookandthebear.com
Kimchi Smoke (Westwood NJ and Montclair NJ) are new shops of the Korean/barbecue fusion joint that started as a roving pop-up outfit and later occupied digs in Bergenfield that now serve as the home of Reilly's Rib Cage. On Fridays and Saturdays, Kimchi Smoke's specialty is the "Chonut": smoked brisket, smoked kimchi, bacon, cheese and scallions with barbecue sauce on a glazed donut. www.kimchismoke.com
Beast of Bourbon (Brooklyn NY) has closed. I could rattle off a bunch of theories, contrast the pitmasters or recap visits both good and bad, but in the end, another one with ups and downs has gone down for the count. Thanks to Matt for the lead.
Wolf Cave (Brooklyn NY) has closed.
You Got Smoked (Ridgewood NY) is a food truck that's apparently now off the road.
Rock and Roll Rib Joint (Medfield MA) has closed.
Ol' West BBQ (Annandale NJ) has closed.
Smokey Joe's Tex-Mex BBQ (Teaneck NJ) has closed. A loss for kosher barbecue, but others have sprung up in their wake (not that kosher types have wakes).
Blind Boar BBQ (Norwood NJ) has closed.
Bill's BBQ (Avenel NJ) has closed.
Blue Bayou BBQ (clark NJ) has been closed a good year and a half.
City BBQ (Linden NJ) has apparently closed based on phone non-response, so I'm graying them out.
Memphis Pig Out (Atlantic Highlands NJ) has closed.
Billy's Southern BBQ (Bethel CT) is done.
Southern Hospitality (New Haven CT) has closed.
State Street Saloon (New London CT) has closed.
Smokey's Char Grill (Hamden CT) has apparently closed.
Smoke Box BBQ (Hamden CT) is closed.
The Original Smokey Goodness (Barrington NH) has closed.
Traveling Texas Smoke Shop (Meredith NH) has moved its non-beach setup to a new location. Facebook
Morrell's (Stoughton MA), a one-time barbecue trailer, has moved its operation just down the street to a full-fledged restaurant that offers full service and entertainment. www.morrellsbbq.info
Ricky D's Rib Shack (New Haven CT) has moved from Derby and upgraded from mobile operation to brick-and-mortar joint.
Rib House (East Haven CT) has moved closer to the center of town and has a new phone number. www.theribhouseeh.com
Fink's Smokehouse (Dumont NJ) has a website:
The Bayou Smokehouse (Groton CT) once again has a website: www.thebayousmokehouse.com
Joints Directory Madness, May 2017
The joints, they keep on comin'. Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning five states. This time there are eleven new joints (or new to the site), four expansions, two closings, one looming closing and no Oxford commas.
NEW JOINTS and/or NEW TO THE DIRECTORY
Shed's Smoked BBQ (Boston MA) is a new counter-service joint in Boston's Downtown Crossing area. As of now, it's open for lunch only, weekdays only, so the parking is tough, but it's walkable from public transportation. The meats cover the basics, with sides (in the cafeteria line) and sauce options (in squeeze bottles at the end of the line) diverse and creative. Too many alerted me to this to mention names, but I appreciate all the leads. www.shedsbbq.com
Daddy O's BBQ & Sports Bar (Staten Island NY) is an outer borough institution that's expanded and contracted a few times; this is the new second location on Bay Street in Tomkinsville. It opened in April, so the liquor license may still be pending, but if so you can grab a brew at Flagship Brewing Co.
CC&D's Kitchen Market (Keene NH) is a Tuesday-through-Thursday operation by "Charcoal Charlie" Pini and Denise Meadows, who bring competition experience (and many competition wins) to the proceeds. The barbecue market offers prepared meals, snacks, beverages, local food and gift items during the three mid-week days, then is a home base for catering pickup on the weekends. The menu is typically sandwich-focused during lunchtime, then kicks in with ribs and a fuller complement of barbecue classics for 4pm-to-6pm "Suppah." Thanks to Denise for the info. www.ccanddkitchen.com
Revenge BBQ (Irvington NY) is a recent brick-and-mortar opening of a former pop-up that serves Texas style brisket, beef ribs, sausage (from Kreuz Market), turkey and unsauced "triple threat pork." It's another husband-and-wife operation. Local response has been good. Thanks to Mark for the lead. www.revengebbq.com
Southbound BBQ (Chestnut Ridge NY) is a new entry to the Hudson Valley area just west of the Hudson and just north of New Jersey. Beyond the basics, the interesting comfort food menu features alligator bites, smoked bacon-wrapped meatloaf, jalapeño cheddar wild boar bratwurst, chili, gumbo, naked wings and... wait for it... Louisiana latkes. Thanks again to Mark for the lead. www.southboundbbq.com
The Village Grill Co. (Damariscotta ME) is a good truck permanently parked on Biscay Road east of Route 1. The menu features s mix of barbecue (ribs, pork, brisket, chicken, sausage) and seafood (haddock, shrimp, scallops, clams), along with homemade fries and rings. Thanks to TF for the lead. Facebook
Delta Blues BBQ (Saco ME) is a roadside operation with a wood burning drum smoker and a few shaded picnic tables. Beyond the ribs, pulled pork and chicken are burgers, dogs and hand cut russet potato chips. Facebook
Butcher Bar Smokehouse (NYC) is a very recent Manhattan expansion - Lower East Side, to be exact - of the popular eatery in Astoria. Their signature meat, featured prominently on their website, is the "meat candy" more commonly known as burnt ends. There's an additional expansion at the LIC Flea in Long Island City. www.butcherbar.com
Craft House (Staten Island NY) is a gastropub with a beer garden, an interesting barbecue menu where plates come with potato rolls, and plenty of non-barbecue (fried chicken, chicken and waffles, burgers) and vegetarian items (house-made veggie burger, a few salads) to keep the dissenters satisfied. www.crafthousesi.com
Bad Piggy BBQ (Latham NY) is a new fast-food entrant to the greater Albany barbecue scene. They keep things simple with just four meats and four sides; you can get the boneless ones in sandwiches or burritos. It's in an area that already has more than its share of barbecue joints, so the competition could help. Or hurt. Facebook
Fat Pig (NYC) is a new barbecue joint that's similar to Brooklyn's Fette Sau, and not in name only ("Fette Sau" is "Fat Pig" in German). The display case, the meats-by-the-pound, the German style sausage (in addition to ribs, pulled pork and brisket) and the hipster vibe are all evocative. Early reports are very positive. Thanks again to TF for the lead.
Joints Directory Madness, March 2017
It's been a while, but there's been too much happening lately to not do a long overdue update. Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning all eight Directory states. This time there are seventeen new joints (or new to the site), one reopening, twenty-one closings and seven website address changes. And this time some of the biggest names in Northeast barbecue are included, for better or for worse.
NEW JOINTS and/or NEW TO THE DIRECTORY
Durk's Bar-B-Q (Providence RI) is new joint within a stone's throw of Brown University that has a hipster vibe, a mix of waiter and cafeteria service, and a strong rub that impacts every meat (babybacks, brisket, pork, chicken leg quarters, sausage and pork belly). Thanks to Mark, Ken and Eric for separate leads. www.durksbbq.com
Sonny's True BBQ (NYC) is a midtown Manhattan barbecue joint that spun off from relative newcomer Sammy's; it's unknown whether the name change was done because it's a new entity or because they're avoiding association. For those who remember the introduction of Sammy's several months ago, here's another disassociation: opening pit master "Big Lou" Elrose hasn't been involved for a while.
Charlie T's Barbecue (Seekonk MA) is billing itself as "The Providence area's best BBQ." They're located at Firefly Golf Course at the former Luxury Box location and they use a wood pellet smoker. The diverse menu boasts three kinds of pork ribs, beef ribs, pulled pork, brisket, turkey, sausage, smoked chicken salad, fried wings, corn dogs, burgers, steak tips, meatloaf, chili, a few seafood dishes and plenty of vegetarian sides. A downstairs area has a dozen pool tables. Thanks to Steve for the tip. www.charlietsbarbeque.com
Battle Road Brewing Company (Maynard MA) combines the age old passions of beer and barbecue under one roof in Maynard’s historic Clock Tower Mill. Smoked meat offerings have the basics (ribs, pork, brisket, chicken)covered, plus steak tips, turkey, sausage, corn dogs, wings, steak tips, five different salads, seven different burgers, footlongs, bratwurst and seafood. I'm looking forward to the pepper jack biscuits. Thanks to Steve and Marty for separate leads. www.battleroadbeer.com
Hoppy's BBQ (Peabody MA) is a new joint that evolved from backyard barbecues and pig roasts served to growing audiences, cooked on a homemade smoker. The compact menu features smoked wings, thighs, pork shoulder, pork ribs, brisket and burgers. www.hoppysbarbeque.com
H 'Cue Texas BBQ (Derby CT) is a very recent (February opening) addition that's serving meats by the pound smoked over post oak and pecan. Included are the usual suspects, plus beef tri-tip, beef short ribs, sausage, turkey and burnt ends chili. Thanks again to Michelle for the lead. www.hcuebbq.com
The Crispy Pig (Sea Cliff NY) is a new Long Island joint that defines itself more with its innovative, smoker-influenced comfort food than barbecue, but the menu also includes pulled pork and ribs. www.thecrispypig.com
Bronx Alehouse (da Bronx, NY) is a new, beer-focused joint that lets you know on its website what's on tap, how much is left, and what's on deck to be tapped next. An interesting rewards program gets you 50% off beers on Wednesday nights after you've tried 100 different varieties there. Barbecue selections are limited to ribs and pulled pork (along with pulled pork wonton nachos), but according to a mole, they have a smoker. Fried-then-grilled wings are prepared jerk style, candied, "Angry" (Gochujang sauce), traditional and Thai. Thanks to again Sledneck for the lead. www.bronxalehouse.com
The Cue (Danbury CT) bills itself as "an upscale BBQ joint," featuring entrees like pork five ways (pulled, skin, belly, babybacks and loin). www.thecuedanbury.com
Precinct 10 (Weymouth MA) is a swanky interpretation of barbecue by the Hynes Restaurant Group, who also own the Inn at Bay Pointe (Quincy MA) and Stockholders (South Weymouth MA). Precinct 10, named for owner Kevin Hynes's past as a Weymouth police officer, bills itself as "a modern take on an early 1900s Prohibition-era speakeasy. Vintage fixtures, dim lighting and plush velvet seating meet upbeat music, matching music videos and a full spectrum of modern-day entertainment." Thanks to Blair for the lead. www.precinct10restaurant.com
Goodstuff Smokehouse (Blackstone MA) is a restaurant offshoot of the former food truck by the same name in Uxbridge. The double-barreled smoker churns out the usual ribs, pork and brisket, plus turkey breast, homemade sausage and bacon, burnt ends and pastrami. Thanks to David for the lead. www.goodstuffsmokehouse.com
Pink Pig (Warren RI and Jamestown RI) are the newly-named joints that have replaced Preppy Pig BBQ at those same locations. There's a story behind the story: evidently, there's been an ownership break-up; one of the owners is behind this new venture and the other will be resurfacing later this year under the original Preppy Pig name. Thanks to Eric and Preppy Pig owner Patrick for separate leads.
East Coast Grill (Cambridge MA) has reopened under new ownership (the folks behind nearby Highland Kitchen). Once again, barbecue is secondary to the seafood offerings, but the barbecue menu (spare ribs, pulled pork, brisket) is similar to what it was a year ago right before they closed. For what it's worth, so is the execution. www.eastcoastgrill.net
BrisketTown (Brooklyn NY), closed its Williamsburg location last weekend. The reason: the building will be leveled and become the site of a new development. As for a future development for BrisketTown, or more specifically parent entity Delaney Barbecue: Owner Daniel Delaney promises a new location that will still offer barbecue but feature a Southern menu more geared for repeat visits by the locals. Thanks to Ethan, Mark and Chuck for separate leads.
Mason Dixon Smokehouse (Stamford CT) has reportedly closed after just a few turbulent months in business that saw the departure of opening pitmaster Nestor Laracuente in early 2017 and the departure of the smokers shortly thereafter.
SoulFire (Boston MA and Allston MA) has closed both locations. This is a joint that never got its due for being the best in Boston for several years. Pitmaster Jason Tremblay has resurfaced north of Boston at Horseshoe Grill in Reading.
Joints Directory Madness: the Londonderry Edition
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning five states. This time there are seven new joints (or new to the site) and two closings, including one contraction.
NEW JOINTS and/or NEW TO THE DIRECTORY
Mason Dixon Smokehouse (Stamford CT) is the latest effort from well traveled NYC pitmaster Nestor Laracuente. The downtown Stamford restaurant features meats by the pound that include the usual suspects, plus turkey, pork belly, smoked wings and two kinds of sausage. www.masondixonstamford.com
Sagamore Beach BBQ (Sagamore Beach MA) is a brick and mortar restaurant on Cape Cod by BBQ Mike and BBQ Wife, regulars on the local competition circuit. It features local flavors (cranberry and blueberry barbecue sauces), interesting sides (fried cabbage with bacon) and numerous vessels (bulkie roll, wrap, slider rolls, tacos). Thanks to Sully for the lead. www.sagamorebeachbbq.com
Main House BBQ (Brooklyn NY) is a kosher barbecue joint, opened in early November, that pays homage to a group of friends and their time spent in the Catskills. As expected, it's closed on Saturdays, but a Friday lunch service is offered, as well as parking. Thanks to Mark, Chuck and Marty for separate leads. www.mainhousebbq.com
BBQ Barn (Kittery ME) is a joint open seven days a week from late morning until just before dinner time. The menu is a mix of burgers, dogs, a lobster roll, baby backs, and sandwiches of pulled pork, pulled chicken and brisket. www.mkt.com/bbqbarn
Chub's Blue Pig BBQ (Attleboro MA) is a husband-and-wife catering outfit selling takeout barbecue in select Sundays as they await their future brick and mortar location. Menu items so far have included ribs, brisket, pulled pork and a few different types of wings. Thanks to a different Mark for the lead. www.chubsbluepigbbq.com
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning four states. This time there are five new joints (or new to the site), six closings, one contraction, one move and one website change.
NEW JOINTS and/or NEW TO THE DIRECTORY
Willie Jewell's Old School BBQ (Nashua NH), the northernmost outpost of a southern-based barbecue chain, opened last Saturday on one of Nashua's busiest roads. I'm not generally high on chains, but the appearance of the space, the efficiencywith which it was built and the compactness of the menu (basic four plus sausage and turkey) are all good signs. At the very least, the next "Best of Nashua BBQ" awards by local rags will be based on more than one place for a change. I'll be in soon enough to make an assessment. Thanks to Marty and Jaclyn for separate leads. www.williejewells.com
The Porch (Wakefield MA) is a Southern joint that's been around a while, but it's quietly and gradually done what others have done in reverse: morph from primarily Southern (fried chicken is the focus) to what could reasonably be considered a barbecue joint. Pulled pork is still the only guaranteed barbecue item, but pork ribs, lamb ribs, chicken thighs and brisket have become so common as daily specials that you're almost guaranteed to find at least one of them on any given day. Additionally, they've upgraded the barbecue firepower (literally) with a new smoker. www.theporchsouthern.com
Streaking Moose BBQ (Queensbury NY) they recently opened Hudson Valley barbecue addition not too far from Lake George. Beyond the usual ribs, pulled pork and brisket, Streaking Moose offers chicken four ways (grilled, smoked, pulled, wings), barbecue chili and bacon-wrapped "Beef Bombs." www.streakingmoosebbq.com
Pik Nik (Tarrytown NY) is a new Westchester County barbecue joint that's quickly established a favorable reputation within the area. They offer the basic four, plus sausage, smoked wings and rotating blackboard specials such as beef back ribs. Oh, and even if you're not into barbecue (or not even a carnivore), their deep roster of 14 sides should have you covered. Facebook
Daddy O's To Go (Staten Island NY) has closed its New Dorp satellite location, though the original sports bar concept on Androvette Street is still open and thriving. Owner Greg Fosdal is now focused on another expansion in Tompkinsville: a 10,000 square foot operation on Bay Street next to Flagship Brewing Company.
Lillian's Smokin' Rack BBQ (Boston MA) has apparently been off the road for more than a year. It's always tough to tell with food trucks, especially since this one still maintains a Facebook page, so there's a chance it may be just a temporary lull. Thanks to Steven for some intel on this.
Tres Carnes (NYC), the barbecue equivalent of Chipotle concept, has closed both its Second Avenue and Third Avenue locations, leaving only its original Sixth Avenue location. .
Bear's Smokehouse (Hartford CT and Windsor CT) has effectively moved its Hartford operation around the corner, closing its Arch Street location last week and opening October 14 at 25 Front Street, near Ted's Montana Grill.
Hudson Valley BBQ: Bull & Barrel Reviewed
The site's 350th barbecue review and my second review from the "Albany trilogy" is for Bull & Barrel (Latham NY), a barbecue joint right around the corner from the Albany International Airport. Check the review via the Reviews page, the link above or the red icons in the Joints directory.
See my review of capital Bull & Barrel
Chain "BBQ": Smoked Wings at Hooters
While I don't make a practice of reviewing chains, there have been some occasional chain offerings over the years (such as the McRib) that demand a look and demand a report. Such is the case with Hooters Smoked Wings. The national chain has introduced hickory smoked wings in three of its Northeast locations, so without further ado, my in-depth findings.
See my review of Hooters smoked wings
Hudson Valley BBQ: Capital Q Reviewed
The site's 349th barbecue review is for Capital Q Smokehouse (Albany NY), a barbecue joint considered to be the best in New York state's Capital Region. Check the review via the Reviews page, the link above or the red icons in the Joints directory.
See my review of capital Q Smokehouse
Long Island BBQ: LI Pour House Reviewed
The site's 348th barbecue review is for LI Pour House (Port Jefferson Station NY), a barbecue joint with a unique beer program. Check the review via the Reviews page, the link above or the red icons in the Joints directory.
See my review of LI Pour House
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