Event Review

Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party

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2008 Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party Recap

Here are three days' worth of posts from my two visits to the Phantom BBQ Beach Party in Boston. Overall it was a good time.

 

Everybody has a different palate, so I try to let the photos do a lot of the talking, but I had some clear-cut favorites among the vendors. I also thought at least a few of the vendors had no business being at an event where the promotors claimed to have "searched the country" to bring "the finest pitmasters on the planet." I'll leave it to you figure out who those might be.

 

 

(06/20/08)

Boston BBQ: A Night at the Beach Party

Work got a little crazy this week, so I didn't get a chance to hit the Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party until Thursday night. I was fearing Celtics celebration crowds making the lines unbearable, but for the most part the waits were pretty reasonable. I'm not so sure that will be the case Friday night or throughout the weekend.

 

 

 

(06/21/08)(a few additions 06/22/08)

Boston BBQ: Phantom Beach Party Tips, Random Thoughts and Observations

I may go back tonight (if I can sell my wife on this one), but if not, I'll get my stream of consciousness going right here, right now:

  • Given today's weather and tomorrow's expected weather, the lines will be pretty long tonight.

  • To avoid wasting time in lines and money on bad barbecue, be sure to circle the entire area, take a look at the food on other people's plates and determine what looks good to you. Don't be afraid to ask people where they got that plate of ribs from and whether they like them. Ask where else they've been. Chances are if they also like another place you liked or also disliked another place you disliked, you can put some weight into their opinion.

  • If you're going with a group, the best approach is to share line duty meet in a designated spot with the food. Unfortunately, there's not much seating, but good options include the upstairs bar area at City Hall, the steps facing the stage and any condiment table you can commandeer.

  • When choosing which barbecue vendors you'll patronize, look at their signage. Almost all of them try to impress you with a roll call of their many barbecue awards, but pay close attention to the details. If "Best Ribs 2005" is followed by "American Royal" or "Memphis in May," that's good. If it's followed by "Kankakee Pumpkin Festival" or "Myron Fafoofnick's Bar Mitzvah," that's not so good.

  • Save the long lines for after you've already hit a couple of stands and you're not too hungry. You can digest while in line, a key multitasking technique.

  • Be forewarned: you can't bring beer out of the designated areas. I figured I'd get a beer first and bring it with me while I waited in one of the longer lines, but was told I couldn't take it out of the area. They should have said this on my way in. They should also have said you can't leave the event and come back in. That policy is a shame, because with Fanueil Hall so close by, I can see some people wanting to hit the Beach Party in two waves, with some shopping in between.

  • Based on my experience Thursday night, I don't see much correlation between line length and quality.

  • Speaking of quality, as a general rule (there are some exceptions), I've found that quality here runs inversely proportional to the amount of schtick and spectacle exhibited by the pitmasters on the Phantom Gourmet preview show last Sunday (all that was missing was Mean Gene Okerlund).

  • One more thought on quality, both food and otherwise. On other sites and at the office water cooler, you'll find the pro-Andelman camp who love this event and you'll find the Andelman bashers who can't say enough bad things about the event. I fall right in the middle. It is what it is. I wouldn't equate this event with New York's Big Apple BBQ Block Party, whose participants included some of the most respected and legendary pitmasters in the business, but you'll definitely find something to like at the Beach Party.

  • One thing the Beach Party needs to borrow from the Big Apple Block Party is the speed pass concept, allowing you to pre-pay and bypass the long lines. It's good for the public and it's good for business, generating higher sales. I'd gladly buy a $100 pre-paid ticket and wind up buying more rubs, sauces and T-shirts than I would ordinarily.

  • The 3-rib sampler most stands offer (usually $7) is the best deal, even though you can get 6 for $12. Get this even if you're a twosome and one of you will only get one rib. It'll save stomach space and if it's not your cup of tea, you dodged a more expensive bullet. If it is your cup of tea, you can always go back. Think of that extra $1 as rib insurance.

  • Grab extra napkins ahead of time. They're not readily available at every stand, so the ones stashed in your pocket will come in handy.

  • There's an old addage: if you have bad barbecue, you try to save it by covering it with sauce. That strategy won't fool the barbecue connoisseur, but it does work all too often with a largely unsuspecting crowd. The popularity of some vendors at this event proves that if you have really bad barbecue, you cover it up with sauce, gimmickry and silly costumes.

  • There's more than just 'cue here. You can grab a slice at Sal's Pizza, clams at Firefly's and hot dogs from many of the barbecue vendors. Celebrities spotted Thursday night: Former Celtics great Cedric Maxwell (hanging with the Andelmans) and KCBS official Linda Mullane (offering some sisterly love to fellow Philadelphian Jack McDavid).

  • Avoid the platters that come with sides. Save that stomach room for more meat.

  • As Emeril likes to say, make friends. If someone asks you how you likeyour ribs and you have a boat of six, offer one. Again, you'll have more stomach room to try more items and the good karma just might come back to you.

 

 

 

(06/22/08)

Boston BBQ: Another Night at the Beach Party; Behind the Scenes With Tuffy Stone

I returned to the Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party last night [Saturday], this time with my wife. The goal was to visit a few of the vendors that I hadn't tried two nights earlier, and to revisit two of the better vendors. I made a few additions to yesterday's random thoughts and observations post.

 

 

The highlight of the visit, foodwise and otherwise, was the stop at Cool Smoke. Their competition team is ranked #2 in the nation according to The Pickled Pig and #10 according to National BBQ Rankings, so I was eager to try them on both nights I visited. On Thursday, the ribs were good. On Saturday they were superb. Pitmaster Tuffy Stone was kind enough to give me a tour of his event kitchen, which included two smokers. He's literally counting down the days (69 as of Saturday) until his barbecue restaurant Q opens in Richmond VA.

 

Professional service.

 

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Ribs on deck.

 

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Cutting ribs.

 

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A closer look.

 

 

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Cool Smoke pitmaster Tuffy Stone.

 

One of two smokers.

Greeted with beads.

 

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Willingham's ribs-- probably the best of the first night.

 

 

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Pulled pork sandwich at Cool Smoke.

 

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Ribs at Cool Smoke.

 

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Jack McDavid's ribs.

 

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Chillin' with ribs and Jack McDavid.

 

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Butch's ribs, before applying his Lip Smackin' sauce.

 

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Brisket at Cowboy's BBQ.

 

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Fried clams at Firefly's-- a good strategy from the local guy to counter the "Why go there now when I can visit him anytime?" approach..

 

 

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Steve Uliss (right) of Firefly's with Eddie Andelman.

 

 

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Willingham's ribs.

 

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Johnson's ribs.

 

 

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Porky and Beans' ribs.

 

 

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Ribs at Cool Smoke-- the best of the night on Saturday.

 

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