Archives: July 2007
New England BBQ: Two More Joints
I updated the Joints directory to add two new joints. Scarlet Oak Tavern (Hingham MA) is the steakhouse with barbecue touches that has expatriates from East Coast Grill and Blue Ribbon Bar-B-Q in the kitchen. And up in northern Vermont, there's Localfolk Smokehouse in Waitsfield.
NYC BBQ: A Dissenting Hill Country Opinion
I made a very minor update to my Hill Country review to add a link to Beef Aficionado's recent review, which (based on 4 visits) suggests that Hill Country started out strong but has gone slightly downhill.
The Whole Greater Than the Sum
The two keys to any great sandwich are great ingredients (a no-brainer) and having the whole exceed the sum of its parts. Sometimes you can have the former, with perfectly smoked meat, but still not wind up with a really noteworthy sandwich. Other times, you can have less-than-stellar meat but make up for that with the other ingredients, or simply having everything come together as a creative, cohesive whole.
The two sandwiches from this weekend serve as good examples. When I first saw the mustard on the Scarlet Oak Tavern brisket sliders, I thought, "This doesn't go." And then, "OK, but if you're going to use mustard, why use a plain yellow mustard? " But you know what? When I took a bite, the flavors blended into a whole that worked. The sliders also had cole slaw, a common ingredient in a pulled pork sandwich.
Sunday's Reuben at the Way Back Eddy had a white sliced pork that wasn't awe-inspiring, but the habanero cole slaw, the fully-integrated cheese and the crisp, buttery pressed bread made this a truly memorable sandwich.
Speaking of Reubens, I'm working on my smoked Reuben rankings, which I'll announce on either August 27 or December 17 (see if you can guess why). The Reubens at Dinosaur (NYC) and Bobby Q's (Westport CT) are among the few I haven't tried yet.
Boston BBQ ('burbs): Weekend Wrap-up
On Saturday night my wife enjoyed a nice dinner at the Scarlet Oak Tavern (Hingham MA), a one-month-old restaurant on the South Shore that was formerly Blackfin Chophouse.
I'll be adding Scarlet Oak Tavern to the Joints directory tomorrow, but it's too refined to call a joint. I'd also hesitate to call it a barbecue restaurant, because it's basically a steakhouse with a few barbecue touches. Still, it meets my self-imposed criteria for inclusion, because there are at least two smoked meats on the menu. I learned before Scarlet Oak Tavern opened that their smoker is the J&R that previously resided at the Arlington MA outpost of Blue Ribbon. The Tavern has a unique pedigree: its executive chef is K.C. O'Hara, who worked in the East Coast Grill kitchen under Chris Schlesinger in its early days. The chef de cuisine is Brian Sway, who previously worked at Blue Ribbon's West Newton branch.
Sunday was a beach day at Westport MA, where we grabbed a quick snack at the Way Back Eddy. This seasonal joint's ownership, kitchen and menu have all changed a few times since chef Steve Johnson (now of the Rendezvous in Cambridge) first opened it between gigs in the summer of 2004, but it's been a worthy stop throughout.
Adam Perry Lang in Men's Journal
I picked up the August 2007 issue of Men's Journal today, because one of the cover features was A Man's Guide to Meat. Inside, I was pleased to find Adam Perry Lang of Daisy May's BBQ (NYC) talking about his secret rub ingredient: cherry Jell-O. Believe it or not, it's something I've tried in a rub years ago, so I can vouch for the flavor boost it supplies to a rack of ribs. You'll have to check out the magazine for Lang's recipe, but I'll give you a hint: it's about 8% Jell-O.
Competition BBQ: Harpoon in Windsor VT
The most eagerly anticipated event on the New England competition calendar is happening this weekend at the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor VT. The Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue features a KCBS barbecue contest Saturday, with the grilling event Sunday.
This is a favorite among competition teams, because the order of the barbecue and grilling events is reversed from the norm. Grilling on Sunday allows a much more relaxed weekend after the KCBS event is completed and most of the heavier equipment is cleaned and put away.
It's also a favorite for spectators. You won't see humongous vendor stands that are common to the similar event at the Budweiser brewery in Merrimack NH. But unlike at that event, you'll be able to purchase barbecue from many of the competition teams at Harpoon. And the beer is in another league. Let's hope the rain is minimal.
Boston BBQ: A Smoken' Joe's / SoulFire Crawl
Last night, a friend and I did a Boston crawl, with SoulFire (Allston) and Smoken' Joe's (Brighton) the barbecue representatives. I wanted to try the new fried chicken at the former and get another data point for my upcoming review on the latter.
SoulFire's fried chicken is cooked to order, with a 15 to 20 minute wait. The chicken is brined first, then fried, so the flavor in the meat underneath isn't only coming from the batter. This was the crunchiest, crumbliest fried chicken batter I've had in a while, a lighter, more brittle version of the Colonel's extra crispy. It's a totally different texture from their signature fried macaroni and cheese bites.
New York BBQ: Two More Joints
Two more New York BBQ joints opened in the last few days: Oklahoma Smoke in Harlem and Townline BBQ in Sagaponack (Long Island). See the Joints directory for details. Thanks to Matt for the heads-up.
NYC BBQ: Hill Country Reviewed
My 115th review is my longest and most photo-intensive (44) yet: Hill Country in New York City. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
NYC BBQ: Hill Country Review Tomorrow
I'm taking an extra day to work on my Hill Country review (there's a lot to say), which will be available tomorrow. I haven't counted the photos yet, but it will probably have more than any review to date.
Long Island BBQ: Freedom BBQ Opens Today
Another Long Island BBQ joint is scheduled to open its doors today: Freedom BBQ on Austin Boulevard in Island Park. Last night was the friends and family private opening, so today's opening is a pretty safe bet, although they're not expected to be open for lunch. Check the Joints directory for more details.
On Saturday night my wife and I visited Chili Head BBQ (W. Bridgewater MA), where we hadn't been for almost four months. They're known for the ribs, but I'm starting to think the chicken is the standout here.
On Sunday I judged the barbecue contest at the first annual Willie Palooza, an informal competition among Barbecue Brethren teams in the parking lot at Willie B's BBQ (Bay Shore NY). While there, I tried Willie B's new Reuben sandwich, made with smoked pastrami. In addition to their line of dry rubs, Willie's now offers their barbecue sauce for sale in bottles.
A Weekend Cartoon: Ribs
It's been a while since I linked to a YouTube video, so here's an interesting cartoon called Ribs. It shows ribs being prepared and eaten in a restaurant.
I like the fact that even though this was done in 1980, the chef removed the membrane from the ribs! Nearly three decades later, that's still something you don't see too often except at competitions.
Village Smokehouse Named Best BBQ in Boston by Improper Bostonian
It's that time of year again, and the Improper Bostonian's annual "Best Of" issue is on the stands. This year's barbecue stand-out is the Village Smokehouse in Brookline, a joint that's been around for 20 years. I should note that the winners were selected by a "celebrity" panel.
NYC BBQ: Justin Timberlake Does BBQ
Southern Hospitality, the Manhattan barbecue joint owned by Justin Timberlake, is scheduled to open its doors to the public today. Their menu is as heavy on Southern specialties as it is on barbecue, and the only other joint I can think of that offers both fried pickles and fried green tomatoes is one block north and across the street at Brother Jimmy's.
www.southernhospitalitybbq.com (ignore the countdown timer)
This is just a part of a new wave of barbecue joints opening this week. Georgia's Eastside BBQ is run by a New Hampshire native who claims that true barbecue is steamed (huh?); Johnny Utah's in Rockefeller Center has the city's only mechanical bull, an accessible menu and a chef who worked previously at Blue Smoke and Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill.
Worcester BBQ: Catcus Pete's Closes
OK, so it was only faux 'cue. And not very good, even with that stipulation. But at one time, Cactus Pete's (Worcester MA) was a decent place to get a rack of ribs and a cold beer, with free salted peanuts in the shell and a game on in the boisterous bar. They closed two Sundays ago, to make room for a new CVS. This comes not too long after Armadillo Depot, the real barbecue joint diagonally across the street, shut its doors.
More Worcester BBQ: Kudos for Texas BBQ Co
In last week's Worcester Magazine, Matt Quinn, while acknowledging the city's new barbecue entries Westside Steak & BBQ and Woodfire BBQ, called Texas BBQ Company in nearby Northboro MA "unquestionably the best barbecue meat I have ever had—anywhere."
Rhode Island BBQ Review: Smokehouse Café
Today I posted my review of Smokehouse Café in Newport RI. This is the 114th review so far. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
NYC BBQ: Another Great Meal at Hill Country
My wife and I drove into Manhattan Saturday afternoon so we could pay a visit to Hill Country (her first, my second). I got a chance to try the beef rib and the game hen, which weren't available on my first visit. Overall, we sampled six meats, six sides and two desserts.
The quality and freshness were every bit as good on a Saturday afternoon as they were on my initial night visit last month. I already noticed a change in the seasonings from my first visit, with the black pepper coarser and much more intense.
I'm still working on my review, which should be up early next week.
We had a quick meal at Firefly's (Framingham MA) on Friday night. Just a pulled pork sandwich to keep things light before our trip to Hill Country the next day. On Sunday, I smoked a few racks of babyback ribs for guests, along with some more Huli Huli chicken.
I added a few items to the News page today.
More Hill Country
I know I promised more photos and Hill Country content last month. Today I added a dozen more photos, including some views of the pits, along with some historical info and links to other opinion, in my Hill Country thoughts and comments page. I'll have a formal review very soon.
Big Bubba's Bummer
Earlier in the week I mentioned a disappointing meal at Big Bubba's BBQ at Mohegan Sun (Uncasville CT). I was really looking forward to this meal, since my wife and I enjoyed our first visit back in December.
The lamb that my wife targeted was no longer on the menu. Ditto the jalapeño poppers. There's nothing wrong with changing the menu, but it would have been nice if their glitzy website reflected the current menu. I remembered that on the December visit that the Big Bubbaque platter was $3.00 more than the website price and the site still hadn't been updated in July.
Popcorn crawfish were again good, but the chicken wings (though huge) were a little soggy. Those wings arrived at the table less than two minutes after being ordered, so maybe they were sitting in a steam table. The entrees arrived surprisingly quickly too. My wife's catfish was oversalted, and I'm talking 200% oversalted. They replaced it with another order, but that took much longer to arrive.
Meanwhile, I had the ribs and brisket platter. I ordered this because the brisket was excellent last time and I wanted to get a handle on the ribs, which were melt-in-you-mouth tender (not a good thing) last time. The brisket was very good, though not as good as last time. The ribs were overcooked this time too, with some spots falling off the bone (again, not a good thing) and some spots tough and rubbery. Baked beans weren't as smoky as last time.
Overall, the meal was still pretty good, but didn't live up to expectations based on a really good first visit. Service, despite a full house on a holiday weekend, was excellent. Holiday weekend vacations may have had an impact on the kitchen, so I'll cut them some slack and give Big Bubba's another try in the fall.
"Award Winning" Barbecue at Restaurants
In a recent Pet Peeves post, I talked about “award winning” barbecue, effectively saying that you’ve got to take these awards with a grain of salt. Now don’t get me wrong (or as Roger Clemens likes to say, “make no mistake about it”), I have the utmost respect for both restaurateurs and competition BBQ chefs. Winning first place in a BBQ competition is a huge accomplishment and a testament to the skill and dedication of the entire team. I’m just saying that the ‘cue served in the restaurant at a restaurant that touts its awards will usually bear little resemblance to the ‘cue that won those awards.
But how can it?
In competition, the pitmasters know the turn-in times (one for each different meat) and structure their entire cooking and serving process around the notion that the barbecue will be at its absolute peak at its one designated time. That won’t happen in a restaurant, even by sheer coincidence.
In competition, the meats are served right out of the smoker, never having seen a refrigerator after cooking. With very few exceptions, that doesn’t happen even at the best barbecue restaurants. Unlike a steak that’s cooked to order, barbecued meats have to be cooked long before the customer even thinks of dining in the restaurant. In order to handle the anticipated volume, the restaurant needs to cook just enough product. Cooking less than that could mean turning business away (i.e., for customers who only come for the burnt ends and have no interest in the brisket). Cooking more than that results in two difficult choices at the end of the day: throw the leftover meat away (which is tantamount to throwing money away) or refrigerate it and reheat it the next day. Some joints do a really good job reheating, but it’s just not the same as meat right from the smoker.
Restaurant pitmasters usually use different equipment at their restaurants from what they use in competition, whether due to the high volume or their smoke ventilation requirements. In competition, they may be using different woods and a stronger level of smoke than is commercially viable at the restaurant. Barbecue judges like more smoke than soccer moms do, but it’s the soccer moms who may be keeping the restaurant in business.
There’s something about a competition that gets the creative juices flowing. The restaurant pitmaster may be experimenting with new rubs and sauces that are completely different from what’s used in the restaurant. If these get good responses from the judges and the friends who taste samples, they might make their way into the restaurant.
Most importantly, there’s that extra level of care and attention paid to serving that one container of ‘cue. Everything has to be perfect and everything is checked and double-checked for doneness, flavor and appearance. There will be more time spent getting the lettuce to look pretty at the bottom of the competition container than will be spent making sure everything’s right on your plate in the restaurant.
So does all this mean that you should dismiss the rows of trophies and claims of awards? Absolutely not. At a joint with trophies, chances are you’re going to get a good meal (and there's one I know where you'll get a great meal). Just don’t expect the same barbecue that won the trophy.
Boston BBQ: Smoken' Joe's Opens
Yesterday Smoken' Joe's BBQ (Brighton MA) opened, and as luck would have it, I was there. I'm in a merciful mood, so for now, I'll limit my commentary to this: Joe spells better than he cooks.
No, I can't just offer a one sentence hit-and-run slam like that without further explanation. It wouldn't be fair to the restaurant or the reader. I generally liked the flavor profile of the meats. I liked the level of smoke that was present in the meats, especially the ribs and the chicken. I liked that they had an Alabama white sauce among their half dozen or so barbecue sauces. I liked that the servers, though mostly inexperienced, seemed eager to please.
So what was the problem? The jalapeño poppers were served still frozen inside. The chicken was overcooked and dry, even the thighs. The pork was extremely dry and not very flavorful. The ribs were soggy. The burnt ends were cold and tough. They forgot one of the sides on one plate. They forgot bread and one of the meats on another plate. There was a small bone in the collard greens. It wasn't just my table—I saw a few plates from neighboring tables also return to the kitchen for corrections.
Some of the issues you just chalk up to opening night jitters, the unexpected volume and the learning curve all new restaurants go through. Let's hope.
New Jersey BBQ: Bourbon BBQ Looks Good
No, I haven't been there myself (yet), but the mouth watering slideshow over at Off the Broiler has me ready for my first trek down to Bourbon BBQ in Wyckoff NJ. They serve 'cue by the pound, on butcher paper. They've got rib tips. Their baked beans are laced with "meat debris." And they have a platter called the "Garbage Plate" that features 6 smoked meats: ribs, rib tips, brisket, chicken, sausage and pulled pork.
The Garbage Plate at Bourbon BBQ, Wyckoff NJ.
photo courtesy Off the Broiler, used with permission
For the complete multimedia extravaganza, including podcast and slideshow, click here.
2 Benefits For Holy Smokes BBQ Next Week
Holy Smokes BBQ and Whole Hog House (W. Hatfield MA), whose building was destroyed by fire on June 21, was a barbecue destination but also an important part of the community. That sense of community will be felt next week as two other local business run benefit dinners to help the Holy Smokes employees.
The first is next Monday, July 16, at Bub's BBQ in Sunderland MA, from 3:00PM to 8:00PM. From their press release:
We are gathering to show support, and hopefully raise some money to help these good people, who have helped so many others, get through these
difficult times. In addition to food from Bubs, there will be
loads of food from many other local restaurants. We are asking
for a $10.00 donation for food, and there will be a cash bar with beer and wine.
Bubs is located on Rt 116 in Sunderland MA. www.bubsbbq.com
For more information,
please contact Maggie, Evelyn or Jim @ 413-774-3150 or
On Friday, July 20, another benefit dinner will be run by Rob Watson of the Lone Wolf restaurant in Amherst MA.
On Friday July 20th we will be hosting a benefit for the staff of Holy Smokes who now find themselves unemployed. All profits will be given to the staff of Holy Smokes. Please come and support this most immediate cause. Reservations are recommended, so please call us at 413-256-4643. We look forward to serving you!
Albany BBQ Review: Chico's BBQ
Today I posted my review of Chico's BBQ in Guilderland NY. This makes 113 reviews so far. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
The weather was nearly perfect this past weekend, so it allowed som driving and some beach time. That took us to Mohegan Sun (Uncasville CT) Saturday, where at the casino we attempted in vain to capitalize on the 07/07/07 karma. For dinner, we hit Big Bubba's BBQ upstairs. I was really looking forward to this meal, since I enjoyed the first visit back in December. Luck ran out at dinner too—I'll explain later in the week.
Sunday, it was a day at the beach in Newport RI. Afterward, my wife and I met some friends at the Smokehouse Cafe downtown. This is an open air restaurant with a full bar on one of Newport's busiest streets, right near the harbor and not too far from the beach. They have one of the more interesting menus I've come across, with options for seafood fans and vegetarians (smoked tofu) as well as the usual barbecue fare. I wouldn't call it destination barbecue by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not a bad way to end a beach day. This is going to be a busy week, so I probably won't have a review until next weekend.
Joints Directory Madness
There are seven additions and one casualty in the Joints directory today, mostly in New York's Hudson Valley and in New York near the Connecticut border. Most of the added joints have been around a while, but I had to confirm that they were still up and running before adding. I didn't get a warm fuzzy from all of these places, so remember that this is just a list, not an endorsement.
- Bourbon BBQ (Wyckoff NJ)—opened on July 1.
- Pioneer Bar-B-Q (Brooklyn NY)—now closed.
- Bar-B-Q Ribhouse (Mount Vernon NY)
- Barnsider Barbeque (Lake George NY)
- Everglades BBQ (Wilton NY)
- JB's Bar BQ (Brewster NY)
- J Lincoln Barbeque (Mount Vernon NY)
- Pig Pit BBQ (Cohoes NY)
Albany BBQ: A Visit to Chico's
Yesterday I was in the Albany area to meet some friends for lunch at Chico's BBQ in Guilderland NY. We sampled wings, links, ribs and pulled pork, all of it good. I'll have a review early next week.
I've been compiling some BBQ lists for a while now, but haven't posted them yet. Most are top-5 or top-10 lists of my favorite joints for dry ribs, wet ribs, brisket, pork, chicken, wings, chili, fries, collard greens and the like. Others are lists of places that have something in common, like easy-off-the-highway joints, beachside joints and great date places. There'll be some surprises (sometimes a joint that's not one of my favorites still manages to excel in one area) and some controversy I'm sure, but these lists aren't meant to be taken as anything more than one man's opinion. Without further ado, here's the first one.
My Top Ten Favorite Freebies
I like it when a barbecue joint provides a complimentary item as soon as you sit down at the table. Sometimes it just puts you in the right mood, getting the meal off to a great start.
- Spiced homemade potato chips and hot sauces at Southbound BBQ, Valhalla NY
- Hush puppies at Outlaw BBQ, Foxboro MA
- Cornbread and biscuits at the Cookhouse, Branford CT
- Cucumber salad and condiment bar (peppers, pickles, onions) at Firefly’s, Marlborough MA
- House pickles at East Coast Grill, Cambridge MA
- Cornbread with honey-cinnamon butter at Horseshoe Café, N. Reading MA
- Cajun popcorn at Waterfront Ale House, NYC
- Peanuts and popcorn at American Barbecue, Rowley MA
- Warm cornbread at Memphis Roadhouse, S. Attleboro MA
- Peanuts at Goody Cole’s Smokehouse, Brentwood NH
The house-made chips at Southbound BBQ are great as is or as a vessel for their own assorted hot sauces.
Happy Birthday, SPAM
Seventy years ago on this day, the Hormel Foods Corporation introduced SPAM (from the original name "spiced ham") to the world. It's still wildly popular in Hawaii, where on supermarket shelves you'll see dozens of varieties instead of the two or three you'll see on the East Coast. It's a cult food that's spawned festivals, contests, fan clubs and websites like www.spam.com.
Jake's Dixie Roadhouse (Waltham MA) has held an annual SPAM Challenge, where barbecue chefs compete for the coveted trophy with a can of SPAM built in. Blue Ribbon's Geoff Janowski, a previous winner of Jake's Rib Wars event as well as the SPAM Challenge, says, "You must be a pretty darn good cook if you can make SPAM taste that darn good."
Dog Day Afternoon
Yesterday at the Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest in Coney Island, Joey Chestnut set a world record, eating 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes. Defending champion Takeru Kobayashi finished second. People often ask me if I'd ever be interested in doing something like that, and the answer is always an immediate no. First, I like to enjoy my food, and you can't do that when you rush it. Plus, I wouldn't stand a chance. That's a rate of 5.5 hot dogs per minute. Doing that in the first minute would be hard enough (if even possible). Maintaining that pace for 12 minutes is beyond possible.
A New Hot Sauce at Blue Ribbon
Last Friday night, my wife and I hit Blue Ribbon (W. Newton MA) for dinner. The ribs were just OK and the brisket and pork were as good as usual, but the big hit of the night was the Angry Wet Hornet hot sauce they've recently concocted. Owner Geoff Janowski said they chose that name "because it's mean like hornets after you spray their nest with the hose."
If you're a fan of Inner Beauty, you'll like this one. Made with mustard, mangoes and habanero peppers, it's as fruity as it is scorchingly hot, with the flavors upstaging the heat. I like the fact that a few minutes afterward, the heat goes away, unlike most
sauces of this caliber.
So far, they've used it as a base for different sauces, adding maple for a Smokey Mountain ham sandwich special last week. It's currently available on request; Janowski said the hot sauce will be a regular offering once the flask bottles arrive.
Joints Directory Madness
A few changes to the Joints directory today:
- Holy Smokes BBQ (W. Hatfield MA) is closed due to a recent fire. I'm hoping they rise again, whether in the same location or somewhere else. On their still-operational website, owner/pitmaster Lou Ekus will keep their many fans abreast of any future plans.
- Smoken' Joe's (Brighton MA) is opening soon, possibly today. Thanks to Don for providing an early lead on this one.
- Cider House BBQ & Pub (Waterbury VT) is a new joint run by a graduate on the New England Culinary Institute who hails from Texas. Thanks to Jim for the info.
- Shady Jake's (NYC), that "BBQ" joint just south of Penn Station, has closed and is now another Brother Jimmy's outpost.
- Smokey's BBQ Pit (Garden City NY) recently closed, according to a post on Chowhound.com.
- Hill Country (NYC), which starts serving lunch today, now has a link to my thoughts and photos page. I'll try to do that for other joints I've visited but have not yet reviewed, such as Big W BBQ in Wingdale (like Hill Country, this is a good one—but I need another visit to determine just how good).
RUB Visits Orange County Choppers
The modest digs at RUB in New York rightfully take a back seat to the barbecue, but at their soon-to-open Las Vegas branch, a little more showmanship is required. As reported on Grub Street, RUB has commissioned the folks at Orange County Choppers to build a custom motorcycle with a barbecue smoker sidecar. Look for the bike to be featured in an episode of the American Chopper reality series next season. Here are some photos supplied by RUB from their whole hog visit to the scene, with heavy metal rocker Josey Scott of Saliva in tow.
Build a hog, eat some hog: Paul Teutul of American Choppers samples some RUB cooking.
A closer look at the beast.
RUB owner Andrew Fischel and pitmaster Scott Smith.
RUB pitmaster Scott Smith and owners Julia and Andrew Fischel pose with Paul Teutul.
Josey Scott of Saliva will unveil the bike at Sturgis Bike Week in North Dakota next month before it goes to the Las Vegas RUB.
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