Archives: February 2007
My 100th Review
Today I posted my review for the Connecticut BBQ joint Wilson's Holy Smoke BBQ in Fairfield. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Chipotle Chiles Go Mainstream?
As February draws to an end, I realized I forgot to mention one of the top trends in the Saveur 100, the cover story in the February issue of Saveur magazine. In the #5 slot was Chipotle Chiles Go Mainstream.
Remember when smoky-tasting, superhot Mexican chipotle chiles were as hard to find as hen's teeth? We do, and we couldn't be happier to bid those days of dearth good-bye. It's a joy to see this versatile chile become part of the American vernacular.
Like most fans of smoky flavors, I love chipotle, but I do have a few issues:
1. I wouldn't exactly call chipotle "superhot." According the Scoville scale, chipotle is about half as hot as serrano and 5% (at best) as hot as habanero.
2. Though not incorrect, I'd also hesitate to use the term "chipotle chiles," since chipotles are simply smoked jalapeños. Similarly, ancho is a dried version of poblano.
3. If chipotles are part of the American vernacular, why can't most Americans prounounce the word correctly? Many of the planet's most educated people and most accomplished chefs (and yes, there's overlap) routinely mispronounce the term. It's prounounced chee-POTE-lay. I cringe every time Emeril Lagasse butchers the pronounciation.
Chipotle doesn't rhyme with Nick Nolte.
4. Okay, so maybe pronouncing "chipotle" as "chipolte" is an involuntary act, something that can't be helped. But you'd be amazed at how often it's misspelled.
Chipotle isn't Chipolte.
Who Are You Wearing?
If you watched any of the Oscars pre-awards shows last night, you probably heard that question dozens of times. I'll take "hot 'cue tour" over haute couture any day.
Yesterday I made my second visit to Wilson's BBQ in Fairfield CT. I'll try to get a review posted later this week.
Firefly's Beef Rib Preview
Over the last few weeks I had opportunity to monitor the progress of the new beef ribs, the modified chili and the new catfish entree that will be on the next Firefly's menu. Owner Steve Uliss said he'll be using all-natural beef ribs from Creekstone Farms, a Kentucky-based supplier that raises beef humanely and without added hormones or antibiotics. Last night Firefly's tested the beef ribs as a special, served with shrimp on a skewer. Look for the new beef ribs to be incorporated into the regular menu soon, most likely coinciding with the opening of their third location in Quincy MA.
I tasted several incarnations of the modified Firefly's chili, which will be a somewhat spicier version than the one already on the menu. Some versions had beans, some didn't; I'm hoping the final version leaves the beans out. Either way, the addition of ancho and poblano chiles should be a pleasant surprise. Steve said there will will be more than one kind of meat in the chili, most likely brisket and pork.
Some Connecticut Closings
Barbecue joints are becoming quite popular now, with many new ones opening each month. But there seem to be just as many that are closing. Here are three that I learned of recently in Connecticut:
Bar-B-Q Restaurant, Milford. I visited this place nearly a year ago and wasn't all that impressed.
City Smoke, Bridgeport. I stopped in yesterday to their former location on Madison Avenue. The sign is still out front, but insde (it's a supermarket) there's no evidence of any barbecue. Their phone number is no longer in service, so I'm not optimistic that they moved to a different location.
High on the Hog BBQ Bistro, Bridgeport. Although the BBQ Bistro wooden pig sign still hangs on the bracket, this place has converted (under the same ownership) to the Avalon Cafe. The Playhouse Square eatery now specializes in coffee and espresso, but they still have pulled pork and beef brisket sandwiches. I tried a pulled pork sandwich there yesterday and it was a little funky. I don't think it was smoked.
That's two closings in Bridgeport. With a population of nearly 150,000, there ought to be some decent Bridgeport BBQ joints. Right now, I don't know of any.
At many barbecue restaurants you'll see lots of knick knacks: competition trophies, plastic chile peppers, posters from Texas or the Carolinas, perhaps a photo of a legendary barbecue restaurant. Visit a competition event and you'll see plastic and porcelain pigs everywhere. At the larger events there are even booths set up for vendors to sell pig collectibles.
I'm a collector myself. Here's a Hot Wheels barbecue vending truck I picked up about 5 years ago.
Bob's Southern Bistro Reviewed
Today I posted my review for Boston soul juggernaut Bob's Southern Bistro. This brings the total to 99 reviews. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
The Zubba Bubba BBQ Kit
We've all heard of Christmas in July, but how about Father's Day in February? At my local Barnes & Noble book store the other day, I saw this kit in the discount section, available for a mere $5.95. Curiosity got the better of me and I bought it.
The kit includes the following:
A bright red "Who's Your Big Daddy?" apron. It's made of vinyl, has the smell of a cheap shower curtain and highly flammable. A warning advises you to use caution when working near open flame.
A bright red "custom BBQ" squeeze bottle that is identified as not being microwave safe.
A disposable meat thermometer. This is made out of cardboard and seems to operate on the same principle as a mood ring.
A cookbook with over a 100 recipes. Its cover art features the same William Shatner look-alike that graces the box. The bright spot is a foreward by Remus Powers, PhB (doctor of barbecue philosophy), a regular contributor to the KCBS Bull Sheet newspaper. There are a few interesting recipes, but overall, I wasn't impressed by this book. Many of the recipes involve the use of an oven.
I just threw $5.95 away, but I have to admit: I can't wait to try that lame meat thermometer.
Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez
That's French for "let the good times roll." Today is Fat Tuesday, the last day before lent. In New Orleans, that signals the start of Mardi Gras and a chance to get that final splurge of good food and good times. A number of restaurants are offering special menus to get into the spirit, many with a New Orleans twist. If your 3-day weekend didn't include enough calories already, check the News page for some of these specials.
Bob the Chef
Last night my wife and I dined at Bob's Southern Bistro in Boston. Formerly known as Bob the Chef, the restaurant has been serving Southern comfort food for 50 years. I'll have a review posted later this week.
Gumbo For a Cause
Holy Smokes BBQ and Whole Hog House in West Hatfield MA will be celebrating its third anniversary in April by sending members of its staff to New Orleans. They'll be assisting in the rebuilding effort that is still underway in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The restaurant is currently selling gumbo as a fundraiser for the cause. See the News page for details.
According to legend, President Lyndon Johnson had barbecue regularly flown in from Black's Barbecue in Lockhart TX. The Texan was serious about his barbecue; somewhere in my den I have an old Life magazine with a nice feature on LBJ and his barbecue dinners at the White House.
President Jimmy Carter's favorite barbecue joint was the Pink Pig in Ellijay GA. The same town is also home to former candidate Pat Buchanan's favorite joint, Poole's Real Pit Barbecue.
President Bill Clinton's favorite? McClard's Barbecue in Hope AR.
The favorite joint of President George Bush (senior) is Otto’s
Barbecue in Houston TX. It features a "Bush Plate" consisting of his favorite items: brisket,
hot links, and ribs.
Chris Schlesinger, the owner/chef of the East Coast Grill in Cambridge MA, is the nephew of Arthur M. Schlesinger, the noted historian who wrote books about presidents Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.
Two of my favorite barbecue joints are on streets named after presidents: Blue Ribbon (on Washington Street in W. Newton MA) and Goody Cole’s Smokehouse (originally on Lincoln Street in Exeter NH).
Al Gore was never elected president (or was he?), but he does claim to have invented two of the things that have been a huge help to amateur BBQ chefs in the Northeast:
global warming (allowing outdoor smoking all year long)
the internet (sharing of recipes, opinions, photos, sources)
Happy Chinese New Year
Happy New Year to all Chinese Americans. Get that old Al Stewart LP off the turntable, because this is the Year of the Pig.
I bet most barbecue fans tasted their first pork rib at a Chinese restaurant. I know I did. Like barbecue, Chinese cuisine has somewhat of a lowbrow reputation, but when it's done right, it's a true art form.
Many of the great barbecue joints of the Northeast regularly celebrate Chinese influences.
East Coast Grill in Cambridge MA almost always has a special Asian style rib sold by the bone. On April 2, they'll be hosting a Chinese-style whole pig dinner in the Lava Lounge, a room that's a tongue-in-cheek homage to Polynesian style restaurant decor of the 1960s.
- RUB in New York City has an Asian style pork belly special on Tuesday nights. They also have Szechuan smoked duck on the menu every night of the year.
Szechuan smoked duck at RUB, NYC.
Not that long ago, it was difficult finding truly spicy food in the Northeast other than at some of the more authentic Chinese restaurants.
Many of the foods we take for granted have been a part of Chinese cuisine for centuries. Exotic ingredients we now associate with other cultures (cilantro, chile peppers, cumin) have strong roots in Chinese cooking.
Keith Foulke Quits For Good
Last week, baseball training camps opened, with pitchers and catchers reporting for duty. The big news from the Cleveland Indians camp yesterday was the retirement of former Red Sox closer Keith Foulke. The temperamental (read: crybaby) pitcher raised controversy two years ago for a secret trip to Alabama. Speculation at the time was that it was to see a noted orthopedist whose facility was in the area. Foulke denied that rumor, claiming he made the trip to visit a barbecue restaurant called Happy Day.
2005 Boston Globe story
Diverging Opinion and a Cool NYC Link
One of the goals I had for 2007 was to incorporate other people's opinions into the site. I'm still struggling with the formatting details, but my updated reviews for Daisy May's (NYC) and Bailey's Smokehouse (Blauvelt NY) have some links to other sites' reviews, photos and information. As I create new reviews and maintain the existing ones, I'll be looking to provide an array of additional opinions, whether they agree with mine or not.
A new website that does exactly this—not just for barbecue but for all restaurant types in Manhattan —is BlogSoop. Like the show Talk Soup, it scours existing material (including mine) and presents it in an easily-digestible form, with excerpts, links and a good restaurant search feature. New York City BBQ fans should check it out.
New York State of Mind
Some New York BBQ thoughts while walking the streets of Manhattan a few times over the last week:
The BBQ Darlings. It seems like the fab four of New York City barbecue are the four that invaded the city between 2002-2005: Blue Smoke, Daisy May's, Dinosaur and RUB. These are the restaurants that dominate the press, and for good reason. All started with legends in the kitchen or behind the scenes before they opened the door. All serve varying degrees of "authentic" barbecue, if there is such a thing. All provide good customer service. If you talk to different people, check the various publications or surf the foodie websites, you'll see the different camps: some swear by Dinosaur and hate RUB, some swear by Daisy May's and hate Blue Smoke, some swear by RUB and hate everyone else, and so on. For most people it boils down to a choice of style more than a judgment of competence. But it always seems to boil down to these four. Personally, I think two of the four are world class and the other two are just OK. But I think Virgil's might be unfairly shut out. It's an old-school restaurant that's been around forever in a very touristy area, and it's not as sexy as the other four. I'm not suggesting it's the best in the city, or even close, but I'll say this: Virgil's is in my NYC barbecue top four.
iPod, schmiPod. Last week there was a big brouhaha about pedestrians in Manhattan with iPods, along with a movement to enact legislation to make it illegal to cross the street while listening to an iPod. Every time I drive through an intersection in Manhattan, there are pedestrians crossing despite the orange "Do Not Walk" sign, whether they have an iPod or not. Similarly, when I'm a pedestrian and have the white "Walk" sign in my favor, cars (many with drivers illegally using cellphones) still try to mow me down. Let's try enforcing the existing laws before worrying about iPods.
Most Popular. Dallas BBQ makes me laugh. The signs in the windows and on their Times Square advertising proclaim it "New York's most popular BBQ restaurant." Not New York's "Best BBQ" or New York's "Best Ribs." Just the most popular. As in having the most customers. With at least 7 locations, I should hope they have the most customers. You'd think they'd have some balls and boast about something related to culinary excellence, but that would probably just make me laugh even more.
I posted a three reviews today, all for New York BBQ joints: a first review for Golden Chicken & Ribs, an updated review for Virgil's and an updated review for Daisy May's that includes coverage of the Big Pig Gig.
This brings the total to 98 reviews. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Happy Valentine's Day
Did your sweetie get you one of these plush toys from www.sweet-meats.com? Personally, I'd rather have the real thing.
Plenty of News
Check out the updated News page for several new items from New York, Connecticut and the Boston area.
While in New York for my feast at Daisy May's, I also stopped into Golden Chicken and Virgil's for quick bites. I should have a review for Golden Chicken and a slightly-updated Virgil's review posted in a few days.
The Big Pig Gig at Daisy May's
I just got back from New York, where I took a very big bite out of the Big Apple yesterday. I had wanted to try the Big Pig Gig at Daisy May's ever since I had heard about it a few months ago. The Big Pig Gig menu offers a whole pig, a half pig, a whole smoked pork butt or an 8-bone American rack of lamb, cooked to order (advance ordering required) at your party's reserved table. It's a great concept that ensures not only the spectacle and pageantry of the presentation but also the high quality of the barbecue, since it's prepared just for you and prepared to be eaten at the time you specify.
This wasn't one of those things I could do alone, or with just one dining companion. So I joined a group of about 20 Connecticut and New York barbecue enthusiasts for great event organized by Eric Johnson of the Smoke on the Water competition team and presented by Daisy May's chef/pitmaster Adam Perry Lang. The group consisted mostly of competitors and judges from the New England Barbecue Society and the Barbecue Brethren, including many who shared my enthusiasm for food photography.
Adam took time to meet with us before and after the meal, and explained some of his preparations while presenting the fantastic array of meats. We tried not only the whole pig and several whole shoulders, but also pork ribs and beef ribs.
This was a glistening brown 30-lb pig, brought to the table on a wooden platform that had channels to collect the juices. Adam carved this like a surgeon, opening the flap of skin to scoop out some silky tender meat. Using gloves, he mixed into some of the shoulder and loin meat a sauce that included mustard, molasses and honey. The meat was good with the sauce but also very succulent without it. I have to confess that although I came down for the pig, I was so smitten by the next dish that I didn't taste as much of the different parts of the pig meat as I
The beef ribs were a different cut from the Oklahoma beef rib on the regular Daisy May's menu. It's a new preparation Adam is considering as a possible future menu item. He smokes the ribs in sets of 3-bones and slices the ample meat perpendicular to the bones. The crust was very thick and the meat inside was tender and bursting juices. A light sprinkling of fleur de sel (a coarse sea salt) brought out the meat's flavor even more. I hope this becomes a regular menu item, because it was spectacular.
These were whole butts, generously lacquered with sauce and prepared in more of a competition style than the pulled pork from the regular Daisy May's menu. Adam pulled a couple and left some others for us to do ourselves. These were full of flavor.
These were super plump, well crusted, just a little spicier than their regular ribs and cooked to perfect competition tenderness. They were a delicious cross between their wet and dry styles from the regular menu.
A dramatic presentation.
The channels in the tray slowly filled with juices from the pig.
Chef Adam Perry Lang.
Beef ribs loaded with bark.
The beef ribs were sliced against the bone.
A slice of the beef with fleur de sel.
Pulling the pork.
Meaty pork ribs.
The pig's natural juices (left) and applied sauce (right).
Organizer Eric Johnson (left) and chef Adam Perry Lang (right).
Happy Birthday Kelly Rowland
Today Kelly Rowland turns 25. I bet most of the people reading this have never heard of her, and that's exactly my point. Kelly was one-third of the vocal group Destiny's Child, which featured Beyoncé. It's Beyoncé who gets the attention and it's Beyoncé who's the household name, but she's not a better singer and she's no prettier than Kelly Rowland.
Kelly Rowland: not exactly chopped liver.
So what does any of this have to do with barbecue? Beyoncé is flashier, and we've become conditioned to think of her when we think of Destiny's Child. It's like the way most of us think of ribs when we think of barbecue. Ribs are the flashy meat; for many, pulled pork and sliced brisket are nothing more than also-rans. If you've gone to the same barbecue joint more than 5 times and you still haven't tried their pork or brisket (or even the chicken), it's time break out of your rut.
Sliced Deckle Sandwich at RUB
Last Thursday at RUB (NYC) I also tried a sneak preview of a new sandwich that will soon be featured on their menu. It's a sliced deckle sandwich, made with the same part of the brisket they use for their burnt ends. I don't think I'll ever have a better brisket sandwich.
Joints Directory Madness: an opening, a closing, a move, some new discoveries and a name change
Today I updated the Joints directory to reflect the following changes in the roster of Northeast BBQ joints:
BLFGT at RUB
Today I tried RUB's famous bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich with fried green tomatoes. It was very good, with all the ratios just right, and the tartness of the FGTs balanced by the smokiness of the thick-cut bacon. I had half as presented and the other half deconstructed. As good as the sandwich was, I think I liked the bacon better all by itself.
Valentine's Day Countdown
There's just one week left until Valentine's Day, and my advice last month was to steer clear of barbecue that night unless you want to risk the future of your relationship. There are exceptions, of course. I look at Valentine's Day the same way I look at New Year's Eve: it deserves to be celebrated, but it's best celebrated at home or in an intimate setting. That's why I usually avoid the crowded, commercialized hustle and bustle that typifies that night at most restaurant Valentine's Day "deals." With Valentine's Day falling on a Wednesday, an alternate route is to schedule the splurge dinner this Saturday or next Saturday night, and spend next Wednesday night at home. Or maybe at your favorite barbecue restaurant.
Some barbecue restaurants are offering interesting Valentine's Day menus that veer off the barbecue theme and into more romantic fare. Take a look at their websites linked in the Joints directory. Today I updated the News page to mention some Valentine's Day menus, along with some other barbecue restaurant tidbits.
Go Whole or Go Home
That's the mantra at East Coast Grill in Cambridge for their 4-part series of whole pig dinners, with each pig treated to a different ethnic aproach. Last night's second installment was Jamaican, and it was good. I've had whole pig before, but never in such an intimate setting: ECG's Lava Lounge seats less than 30 diners, and the pig was cooked just for us. It was presented with great ceremony, then carved while we watched.
All of the diners got to make repeat trips to select various cuts from the animal. I took advantage of this to try a little ham, belly, shoulder, cheek and even a foot. Some parts had very light, flaky skin with a consistency similar to a Chinese spring roll; other parts had about a 1/2-inch of thick, super crunchy skin. As you'd expect, the meat also varied greatly depending on where it came from. The foot had hardly any meat on it, the ham was slightly tender and the belly and cheek were silky tender.
We also sampled Jamaican style appetizers like smoked curried beef roti, salt cod fritters, grilled shrimp with mango chutney and fried sweet plantains.
I'll have more to say later on this, but for now, feast your eyes on some photos from the event.
An interesting contraption, with the heat source on top.
See www.lacajachina.com for more details.
The butterflied pig, just before being turned.
It takes two to lift the 80-lb pig from the box.
Chef Eric Gburski carves the beast.
A close-up of the juicy meat and crispy skin.
My second plate: plantains, yuca, belly meat and a foot.
National Weatherman's Day
Yes, that's what today is, so let's salute all of the weather men and women who help us figure out what to wear each morning and how to plan our weekends. The late week weather report is critical for me when determining whether or not to fire up my Weber Smoky Mountain smoker over the weekend.
Just for fun, I sent out some emails to the planet's best known weather personality, NBC's Al Roker, and my local favorite here in Boston, Jeremy Reiner of WHDH TV. I didn't hear back from Al (maybe he's busy studying for his next Food TV special on Memphis in May), but Jeremy responded very promptly.
Q: Do you eat BBQ?
A: I'm not much of a BBQ guy.
Q: Do you have any favorite BBQ joints in the Boston area?
A: I don't know of too many BBQ spots-- I may have had some at Durgin Park years ago.
Q: You previously worked in Charlotte. Is New England BBQ as good as North Carolina's?
A: Carolina BBQ is pretty special. Either that or it's the NASCAR atmosphere.
Q: What's your favorite BBQ item?
OK, so now we know Jeremy's not a big BBQ fan. Whenever he's ready to switch gears from meteorology to meatier foods, he knows where to look.
Prepare for the onslaught of more Peyton Manning commercials.
Ready for the Super Bowl
Over the last week I popped into Spitfires (Canton MA) for some ribs and pork, Firefly's (Framingham MA) for another bowl of chili, Chili Head BBQ (W. Bridgewater MA) for some chili and and assortment of barbecued meats, and Blue Ribbon (W. Newton MA) to try their new St Louis ribs. I got some Blue Ribbon brisket to go for use in some home made chili for the big game.
Today I updated the Links page to include the New England Barbecue Society and Kansas City Barbeque Society websites. Readers who are already a part of the barbecue competition scene should already be familiar with these sites, but they offer interesting information for the barbecue restaurant fan as well.
I'm also linking to Ted Lorson's blog, which focuses mostly on competition but now includes a couple of restaurant reviews. Last June, Ted's team QHaven was grand champion at their second competition ever, earning a trip to the Jack Daniel's in their first year. Not too shabby.
I also expanded the links to White Trash BBQ, Roadfood and Ted's blog to allow easy access to their restaurant reviews for joints in the Northeast. This is part of an ongoing effort to provide other opinions in addition to my own.
In surfing some websites while planning upcoming roadtrips, I noticed that Chico's BBQ in Guilderland NY has an all-you-can-eat wing special on Monday nights. I added this to the All You Can Eat page.
I welcome suggestions of other useful barbecue review links and any other all-you-can-eat offers.
Super Bowl Sunday
This Sunday, the Colts face the Bears. Who am I rooting for? Not the Colts, that's for sure. I'm just rooting for a lot of conversions. Not third down conversions, but barbecue conversions. With plenty of take-out barbecue at Super Bowl parties, there may be some new barbecue fans on Monday.
Super Bowl Sunday is a day many wives and girlfriends dread, and not necessarily because they hate football. It's because careless eaters will be fumbling salsa or barbecue sauce over the new carpet. I'll be watching the game with a bowl of chili (made with leftover brisket from Saturday), while my wife watches my every move.
Six Months Old Today
Pigtrip has been going half a year now. In some ways it seems like only yesterday that I started doing this, yet it also feels like I've been doing this forever.
I was hoping to have 100 reviews posted by now, but I fell just a little short, with only 97. Part of this is due to some family health issues we've been dealing with over the last 6 weeks, and part of it is due to my desire to visit some joints at least twice before posting anything official. Professional food critics typically visit a restaurant three times to gather material for a review, allowing them to factor out a single exceptionally good or bad experience that's not representative of the whole. With no major magazine or television station paying for my meals, I don't always have that luxury, but I do want to give some of the major players, such as New York's Dinosaur, multiple tries.
Although the weather won't be optimal, I'll have some extra time on my hands in February, so look for more coverage of joints west of the Connecticut River over the next two months.