Archives: September 2007
Boston BBQ: A Return To Lester's
On Thursday night I stopped into Lester's Roadside BBQ (Burlington MA) for the first time in a while. The brisket and pulled pork were good, and the ribs were pretty good, but the standout that visit was the collard greens. They were loaded with pork, and the combination of the onions and light touch of vinegar added some contrast without overpowering the dish. If I worked in the area, I could see myself ordering a pint of the stuff and calling that lunch at least a couple of times a week.
Hudson Valley BBQ: Big W's Named for Best Ribs
The October 2007 Hudson Valley magazine is out, and its annual "Best of the Hudson Valley" issue honors Big W's Bar-B-Q (Wingdale NY) for best pork ribs.
Boston BBQ: Back to Blue Ribbon
On Tuesday night I made my first visit in nearly two months to Blue Ribbon Bar-B-Q (W. Newton MA). I miss the days when I worked so close by, I could walk there. The juicy, thick-cut ribs were as good as they look in the photo.
BBQ Battle Benefit in Sayvile NY, October 20-21
Summer may be over, but that doesn't mean barbecue contests and festivals can't continue. The first annual Battle of the BBQ Brethren will be a part of the Sayville Fall Festival on Long Island next month. Though many of the teams are members of the BBQ Brethren, the sanctioned barbecue contest is open to all teams and will have a minimum $5000 prize pool. It's also being held as a benefit for Breast Cancer Help, Inc., a charity that is at the forefront of the fight against breast cancer on Long Island.
There will also be crafts, food vendors, films, parades and other family entertainment. Barbecue vendors signed up include Willie B's BBQ (an event sponsor, Bay Shore NY) and Tennessee Jack's (E. Islip NY).
The contest organizers are looking for KCBS cerified judges for the event. See the event website or email email@example.com for details.
Joints Directory Madness
Just when you think you're running out of barbecue joints to visit and that you've got a handle on all the joints in the Northeast, there's more change. Some new ones open, some old ones close, some move and some that didn't have a web site when they opened have one now. I've updated the Joints directory to reflect the following changes:
Bad Bob's (Oceanside NY) opened within the last few weeks. They're a franchise of a small national chain, but before images of Famous Dave's and Smokey Bones run through your head like a bad dream, give them a shot. The pitmasters have trained with a veteran of Memphis in May competitions, and a reader who I've judged with says they're good. Thanks to Les for the heads up.
Capital Q (Albany NY) opened recently. An Albany area barbecue competitor/judge whose opinion I trust has promised to check it out and report back. This joint may have the best website name I've seen recently: www.eatmypork.com.
Q Barbeque (Port Chester NY, just over the CT border) now has a website (www.qrestaurantbar.com) with an online menu.
Buck's Naked (Freeport ME) may have already had a website (www.bucksnaked-bbq.com), but I didn't know about it until a reader sent me the link. Thanks to Lowell for the info.
The Cookhouse closed its Branford CT location last week, leaving the operation with three remaining outlets in New Milford, Darien and East Hartford.
Smokey's Rib Pit closed in Garden City NY a few months back, but has been open for exactly one month now in Wantagh NY, under new management.
Hot Rod's BBQ (Wharton NJ) was recommended by a reader. Thanks to Robert for the tip.
Joey's BBQ (Hoboken NJ) is a joint I discovered yesterday doing random Google searches. Sometimes you just get lucky.
Massachusetts BBQ: First Visit to BT's
On Saturday, my wife and I drove to Brimfield MA to check out a joint that I had been meaning to visit during the week but just wasn't able to make it to sooner: BT's Smokehouse. It's pure roadside barbecue, served over the counter at a small trailer at the Village Green Campground. What could be better than 'cue from a custom-welded smoker at a trailer park at dusk? All four meats we tried were good, and I'd make the trip back just for the cole slaw. I'll be back again soon and write a review after my second visit, but I liked what I had so far.
Sunday was a perfect day for firing up the smoker, but I had some plans early in the day, so I settled for grilling. Even though I have a Weber Smokey Mountain smoker, I continued my experimentation with my Weber kettle grill as a smoker. I cooked several links (lamb with fennel, jalapeno pork) from Sausage Heaven (Manchester NH) to go with some grilled burgers.
NYC BBQ: Southern Hospitality Reviewed
Today I posted my review of Southern Hospitality, Justin Timberlake's barbecue restaurant in Manhattan's Upper East Side. I'm not a fan of celebrity-owned restaurants, but I went in with an open mind. To see what I though on my way out, check my 121st review via the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
NYC BBQ: Behind the Scenes at Hill Country
I added some more photos to the My Latest Visit to Hill Country page, where I got a chance to go behind the scenes and see the pits.
Last Sunday I made my third visit to Hill Country, the Manhattan BBQ joint that's justifiably receiving national attention. Actually, you could say I made my third and fourth visits to Hill Country, because I hit it in two waves.
Around 3:30 the food was very good by most joints' standards, but just a shade below Hill Country's high standard. At 7:00 it was back up to their usual excellence. Avoiding turnovers is a key to success in football, but creating high turnover is a key to success in barbecue. On my earlier visit, the beef rib and brisket flat were by no means dry, but didn't have the same burst of juices and punch of flavor that they usually have. A few hours later, their counterparts coming out of the pits were back to perfection. During the dinner rush, the high volume allowed the product to turn over more quickly, making it super fresh.
Some Random Thoughts
- I've said before that Hill Country's brisket flat is the standard by which all other brisket flats must be judged, and I'm not backing off that statement. With the by-the-pound ordering, there's no reason you can't have at least a couple of slices with every meal.
- I need another taste or two to be sure, but I also still prefer Hill Country's brisket flat (the part of the brisket they call "lean") to their deckle (what they call "moist"). The moist is like butter, but their lean is still plenty moist, and it carries a lot more of the flavorful rub on the edges than the moist.
If you're going to be dining downstairs, don't try to get beverages upstairs. My beer bottle nearly slid off my plastic tray when I was descending the staircase. There's a bar downstairs and you can even get beverages delivered to your table.
Hill Country gets slammed for high prices, but at $9 per pound, their beef ribs are less than $4 per bone. I'll take that any day.
I'm not sure whether it's a blessing or downright unfair that the two best barbecue joints in the city—Hill Country and RUB—are less than five blocks from each other.
Some Changes Since My Last Visit
There's a cool new sign out front.
An outdoor patio offers additional seating, a spot for smokers and a nice glimpse of the Manhattan foot traffic.
The downstairs seating area now has a large screen projection TV for weekend football (college games on Saturdays, NFL on Sundays and Monday nights).
The "Pitmaster's Special" sign begind the holding pits announced smoked chicken wings for $6.50 per plate. This will be an ongoing thing for football snacks on weekends.
Cornbread was cut into squares, not wedges. Looks like they're using a pan, not a skillet. I hope this is temporary.
Desserts are now available at a separate dessert counter, making the sides line shorter and smoother.
In the meat kitchen, the three smokers now bear the signatures of VIPs who've eaten at Hill Country: Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Tim and Nina Zagat, Jeffrey Steingarten, Al Roker, other BBQ joint owners and competitors, etc. The night I was there, Michael Strahan of the New York Giants added his signature.
cool new sign
big screen TV for football
big football star, little BBQ star
beef rib, pork rib
Kreuz sausage, moist (top) and
lean (right) brisket
Tomorrow: more photos
NYC BBQ: Georgia's Does AYCE Sundays
Georgia's Eastside BBQ (NYC), one of the latest wave of Manhattan BBQ joints opened in the last few months, has already added an all-you-can-eat option on Sundays. With a 3:00PM opening, Georgia's Sunday menu is even more streamlined than the regular offerings, but the upside is a choice of all-you-can-eat ribs ($28), a pound and a half of crab legs with all-you-can-eat sides ($25), or the crab legs plus all-you-can-eat ribs and sides ($35).
more all you can eat BBQ deals from Boston to NY
Wednesday: Hill Country photos, commentary
Friday: Southern Hospitality review
NYC BBQ: Southern Hospitality in the City
I spent yesterday in New York City, where the mission was to visit at least two of the following: Georgia's Eastside BBQ, Southern Hospitality, Virgil's, Daisy May's, Hill Country and RUB.
The priority was Southern Hospitality, the new Manhattan barbecue joint owned by Justin Timberlake. With the waits to get into Southern Hospitality reportedly unbearable during normal hours, I figured a Sunday afternoon visit would be ideal. Brother Jimmy's is only a block further uptown, and Sunday afternoon football is one of their strong points (stronger than the 'cue), so I had a reliable backup plan. Unlike most patrons of Southern Hospitality, I was actually hoping Timberlake was not in the house. It's not that I have anything against the guy, only that his being there would keep the tables from turning, which would keep me from getting in.
Well, that was the strategy. I wound up hitting Southern Hospitality (no wait, no Timberlake sightings), then walked all the way down to Hill Country for some big screen football, beef ribs and brisket. I couldn't not also visit RUB, so I tried a few bites of their Elvis crusher sandwich with peanut butter, bananas and bacon.
I've seen many mentions of Southern Hospitality on food blogs, but few that actually mention the food. I'll post my review in a few days and I won't have any trite references to "Sexy Back" or dwell on Timberlake's musical talent (or lack thereof) or restaurateurship (or lack thereof). I went in with an open mind. This review will be about the joint and the food, period.
But I'd much rather talk about Hill Country. Over the next few days, I'll post some new observations, some new food shots, plus more behind the scenes photos from the pits and elsewhere.
NYC BBQ: Big Screens for the Big Games
Hill Country (New York City) is famous for their beef ribs, their brisket and also their game hens. Now they've added big screen TVs for the big games: college football Saturdays, NFL Sundays and Monday Night Football.
Boston BBQ: Uncle Pete's Adds Burnt Ends
Uncle Pete's Hickory Ribs (Revere MA) just added another item to his arsenal: burnt ends smoked for 20+ hours.
Boston Herald article
Harvard Fall Festival This Weekend
This Saturday and Sunday is one of your last chances to visit a New England barbecue event: the 2007 Harvard Fall Festival in Harvard MA. There will be a KCBS barbecue competition (Sunday), food and craft vendors, fireworks and a musical lineup that includes Beatlejuice.
Boston BBQ: Spitfires Closes
At day after I "teased" this week's review for Spitfires Barbeque (Canton MA), I learned from a reader that the restaurant had closed. Based on the estimates of the last day from that reader as well as from an email exchange with the owner, it's possible that I not only was their first customer, but also their last.
Since I hadn't finished the review yet, I decided to take a night off from writing last night. I'll post something for Spitfires down the road.
New Hampshire BBQ: Manchester Update, Part 2
A few days ago, I joined some friends from a barbecue competition team for a Manchester NH crawl:
First Stop: Sausage Heaven
I'm going to be grilling this weekend, so I wanted to pick up a few varieties of their outstanding sausages. But I also wanted to check out Sausage Heaven's new location. A few months ago, Sausage Heaven closed their storefront on Elm Street and moved into a new warehouse operation on Canal Street that's more conducive to their increasing mail order business. Although the showcases are gone and the warehouse setting can't compete with an upscale mall, the sausages are as good as ever and still available for walk-in business.
Sausage Heaven ships sausages all over the US, with no shipping fees to any New England location. The sausages are packed in 1-lb packages that are frozen and placed into insulated containers with special ice packs to keep them cold during transit. They also offer smoked ribs and will soon offer a line of specialty hot dogs that are a mix of beef, pork and veal.
The previous location for a while offered barbecue lunches and hot sausage sandwiches. Owner Marc Rousseau said, "I miss
it sometimes. If the location and opportunity comes around, I'll open up another location again with the sausages and the sandwiches of course. I have all my equipment in storage just for that purpose."
new warehouse digs
owner Marc Rousseau
a frozen pack,
shipped to arrive frozen
Second Stop: KC's Rib Shack
We swung over to Second Street to vist KC's Rib Shack, where we were going to have the full-bodied spare ribs and possibly also a deep fried hot dog. They weren't open, but it was just a temporary thing.
Third Stop: City Flame Smokehouse
This was the top priority of the night's mission: visit the two-week-old City Flame Smokehouse on Chestnut Street to sample a good part of the menu for an upcoming review. I recognized owner Ventz Simon from his days at the original Goody Cole's Smokehouse (Exeter NH, now Brentwood NH).
The service is over-the-counter, the smoker is a J&R, they serve beer and the dining area is very comfortable. The 'cue? I'll save the details for my review (and I'll visit at least one more time first), but it's very good. I'd be back soon even if I wasn't planning to write a review.
363 Chestnut (parallel to Elm)
brisket and rib tips
Fourth Stop: Premiere Palette
Since it's just two blocks away from City Flame Smokehouse, we had to grab a post-dinner snack at Premiere Palette on Elm Street. I had visited recently, so I left my camera in the car for this one. They just changed the menu a little to offer a little more flexibility. You can now order chicken and rib combos and you can now order beef ribs by the piece ($4 each). The real reason we went was to sample the mac and cheese, which was spectacular on two visits and noticeably ordinary on our most recent visit. Unfortunately, the mac and cheese was drier and crustier this time. Fortunately, my piece of fried chicken was as good as ever.
Restaurateurs Capture Lowell BBQ Bling
At the KCBS barbecue competition in Lowell MA Sunday, the BBQ juggernaut known as I Smell Smoke continued their winning ways, and team-on-the-rise Lakeside Smokers took another reserve grand, but the New England and New York BBQ restaurant community was well represented in the final results:
KC's Rib Shack (Manchester NH) had multiple top 10 finishes.
Willie B's BBQ (Bay Shore NY) took 2nd place pork.
Joints Directory Update
A few days ago I decided to search for some web sites for barbecue restaurants already in the Joints directory but without a listed web site. Sometimes BBQ joints don't create a site until after they've been around a while. I found and added several new links, mostly in Connecticut: Chester's Barbecue (New London), Porky Pete's (Essex), Russell's Ribs (Groton) and Uncle Willie's BBQ (Waterbury and New Haven). I also heard from the folks at the revamped Brannigan's (Southington), who supplied their new site address. For New Hampshire, I added a link for Sweet Fire (Claremont).
Never Ending Pending
On day one of this site, the Joints listing for Spitfires Barbeque (Canton MA) had a "pending review" icon. More than a year later, still no review, and there's good reason for that. When they opened their doors in January 2006, I was their first customer ever, and I visited it fairly often while I was working in the area. I already had a review written before launching Pigtrip in August 2006, but around that time, Spitfires had a major personnel change. Whatever I said in the review wouldn't have been relevant if they changed all their recipes and cooking methods, or saw a significant change (be it better or worse) in quality.
Since I had a large backlog of reviews at the time and Spitfires was still experimenting with a new regime in the kitchen, I decided to wait. I'd let them seek their level (be it better or worse) and review that, not what they had done previously. I visited Spitfires a few times in early 2007 and again last month, joining some new friends from one of the area's more successful barbecue competition teams. Later this week, I'll post my review, more than 13 months after launching the site and more than 20 months after my first visit.
On Saturday, my wife and I drove to Southington CT, that modest-sized town with a population of around 40,000 and as many as four barbecue joints, depending on your definition. We had a few appetizers at Pig Out BBQ, then had entrees just a few blocks away at Smokin' With Chris. I've got a few reviews I'm still working on, so I'd expect a Smokin' With Chris review in a few weeks.
On Sunday I judged the KCBS barbecue competition in Lowell MA, where luck smiled on my table a little more so than at the last few contests I judged. At barbecue competitions, there are several tables of six judges, with each table receiving only six of the entry boxes for each category (chicken, ribs, pork, brisket) out of a field of 20 to 60 competitors. Sometimes the winner hits your table, sometimes not, but you never know, since it's a "blind tasting" where the competitors' identities aren't known. Although there wasn't any one single entry that blew me away, the food overall was good, with only a few duds.
Western Massachusetts BBQ: Bub's Reviewed
The site's 120th review is now in: Bub's Bar-B-Q in Sunderland MA. UMass students and alums have known about this joint for years, and it's received favorable write-ups from the New York Times and Roadfood. As is often the case with Roadfood-praised joints—at least the barbecue ones—I've got a dissenting opinion. See the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Are You Ready For Some Football?
The NFL season kicks off its 2007 season tonight. I'm more of a baseball fan than a football fan, and I was an NBA diehard before they went WWF on me, but there's something about that once-a-week schedule that makes football a total event. And for whatever reason, barbecue seems to go better with football than any other sport. If you're looking for ideas for a place to watch the game, check out my list below.
Seven Great BBQ Joints For Watching Sports
1. Bailey's Smokehouse, Blauvelt NY
2. Brother Jimmy's, NYC
3. Sports Depot, Allston MA (Boston)
4. Tennessee Jack’s, E. Islip NY
5. Theodore's, Springfield MA
6. Jake's Dixie Roadhouse, Waltham MA
7. Sunset Grill, Allston MA (Boston)
Bailey's has the best overall combination of large TVs, small close TVs, game selection, volume, 'cue quality and a nice array of bar snacks that go beyond barbecue. Brother Jimmy's gets the nod for TV volume—no matter how boisterous the crowd, you'll never miss a play by play call—and for game selection. The Sports Depot has more TVs per square foot than any joint I've ever been in.
New Hampshire BBQ: Manchester Update, Part 1
This weekend, two of my readers tipped me off to a new joint in Manchester NH that's been open just a week. It's called City Flame Smokehouse and it's on Chestnut Street. According to the article that appeared in Sunday's Manchester Union Leader, the owners are from Bulgaria, now living the American dream. Ventz Simon spent almost a year learning how to cook barbecue in Memphis, and his favorite joints there are Interstate Barbecue and the Rendezvous. Sounds promising. Thanks to Dennis and Lowell for the heads up.
Manchester Union Leader article
It now appears that Manchester's Down 'n' Dirty BBQ has closed more than temporarily. On the other side of the river, Sausage Heaven has moved from its previous home on Elm Street to a new retail location on West Auburn Street. And Premier Palette on Elm Street has revamped its menu slightly, making it easier to order with some new combos and beef ribs available by the bone.
I'm going to try to check out ManchVegas sometime in the next few weeks for a more detailed report on these places as well as KC's Rib Shack.
Ribs and Brews in Lowell MA, September 7-9
This weekend, head up to the Tsongas Arena grounds in Lowell MA for the RIbs'n Brews Festival. There will be a grilling competition Saturday, a KCBS barbecue competition Sunday, microbrew samplings Friday and Saturday nights, and vendors and musical entertainment all three days. Barbecue vendors include Redbones, Fireflys, Jake's Boss and M&M. Check the event website for more details.
Unless you count the outdated hamburgers-and-hotdogs definition of barbecue, there was none to be had this past weekend. Earlier in the week, I visited Spitfires in Canton MA and Texas BBQ Company in Northboro MA.
Paul Kirk Shows Off the RUB Smoker Cycle
In case you missed the CBS Saturday Early Show on August 18, here's the YouTube video of Paul Kirk and the now-famous custom built motorcycle that will be on display at the Las Vegas outpost of RUB next month.
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