Your guide to BBQ joints in Boston, New York and everywhere in between



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Archives - October 2008


Massachusetts BBQ: First Visit to Village Smokehouse in Lowell

Joined by three friends from the competition circuit, I visited the new outpost of the Village Smokehouse (Lowell MA) on Tuesday night. This arrangement not only allowed my wife a respite from barbecue but also allowed a better sampling of the barbecue menu with a crew who knew their stuff.


Just like nearby High Street Grill in Andover, the space impresses with high ceilings, brick walls, original industrial fixtures preserved and an open kitchen. Village Smokehouse has the edge in the bar area, with a 36-foot mahogany bar, nine flat screen TVs and additional seating around the bar on high tops, tables and booths.


But enough about the space; I was curious to see how the barbecue at the new joint would compare with the flagship. Village Smokehouse has been around for 21 years in Brookline, starting when there weren't many other barbecue joints in the area. Their sauce-heavy style of 'cue hasn't been a favorite over the years, so I was intrigued when I saw the pre-opening sign that said "Authentic Texas BBQ." Maybe they wanted to steer toward the purist route years ago but were handcuffed by their longevity and success, afraid of losing their core customer base by changing styles. Maybe this would be a chance for a fresh start in Lowell while keeping the old formula in Brookline. Despite what I may have thought or written about Village Smokehouse in the past, I entered with a positive attitude and an open mind.


They're still sauce-happy. But sauce issues aside, the meats were mostly a notch or two up from my expectation.


I've said this before for other new joints and I'll say it again: what follows here isn't a formal review, just some initial impressions:

  • A smoked-then-grilled sausage appetizer was a thicker, meaner version of a breakfast sausage, making a nice start.

  • The lathering of sauce almost covered up the smokiness in the smoked wings, whose inner flavor was a little odd. There was even an extra ramekin of sauce in case we wanted more of it.

  • Pulled pork was dry and chalky without the sauce, but the flavor was decent. Adding the sauce—available in yet another ramekin—added moisture but hurt the overall flavor. (The sauce's heavy cooked tomato presence reminded me of marinara.)

  • Beef ribs were no match for the rendition at Uncle Pete's (Revere MA) or numerous varieties in New York City, but they were probably the best item of the night. Although they seemed more grilled than smoked, the flavor was good, the meat was plentiful and the texture was what I like: slightly crisp on the outside with tender meat beneath. And the sauce was a good match this time.

  • Babybacks were adequate, with not much meat or flavor but a nice texture that avoided being too tough or overtender.

  • Thinly sliced brisket had a mild beefy flavor and a soft texture that wasn't overtly steamy. Unlike the pork, it didn't depend on the sauce for tenderness.

  • Sides were average at best, with no standouts.


Overall, it was a fun night in a fun place that's easy to get comfortable in. The space is inviting and the staff made us feel at home the entire time—especially our server, Karen, who was a real pro. The 'cue? Not worthy of a regular spot in the rotation, but I'd certainly come back once in a while. I'm not sure I would have said that a month ago.



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Pulled pork.


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Beef ribs.


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More sauce, just in case.





Indiana BBQ: J Willy's BBQ Gets the Ramsay Treatment Tonight On Kitchen Nightmares

Yes, I know, Indiana isn't exactly part of the "Pigtrip region," but when was the last time you saw chef Gordon Ramsay screaming in the kitchen at a barbecue restaurant? Never, that's when. Until tonight, when J Willy's BBQ (South Bend IN) gets a menu makeover from the opinionated chef. As with any restaurant, barbecue is at its best when the batches are small, frequent, fresh and home-made, so that's the lesson learned in a nutshell. Still, I'm very curious to see how Ramsay handles the barbecue aspect.


The episode airs tonight at 9:00PM on FOX.


To whet your appetite for the show, check out this interview with J Willy's partner Rick Sutton at Home of BBQ.





Brooklyn BBQ: Goodbye BBQ Island, Hello King's County BBQ in Bed-Stuy

With the colder weather finally upon us, it's no surprise that BBQ Island has moved its truck from Coney Island in search of warmer digs and heavier traffic. It's relocated in Bed-Stuy (168 Quincy St. between Bedford and Nostrand Avenues) as the newly named King's County BBQ, with a new website to boot. The lot space will eventually have seating, but it's strictly take-out and deliery for now. The pitmaster is Chris McGee, a native Kansas Citian who previously manned the kitchens of Blue Smoke and Jean Georges. The menu features the usual barbecue fare, plus smoked drumsticks, burgers and a vegetable of the day.





Weekend Wrap-Up: Roadhouse, East Coast Grill and Daisy May's

East Coast Grill (Cambridge MA) may be hosting its Hell Night tripleheader this week, but I created my own tripleheader this weekend, sandwiching an ECG visit on Saturday night between visits to Roadhouse (Brookline MA) on Friday night and Daisy May's (NYC) on Sunday night.


The servers at Roadhouse now wear T-shirts that bear the joint's motto: "Eat good food, drink better beer." That pretty much sums up the approach, confirming earlier suspicions that the beer is the focus, barbecue merely the sideline. Like a lot of things, the barbecue at Roadhouse is neither as good as its fans would have you believe nor as bad as its detractors would have you believe, but somewhere in the middle. The beef ribs I tried were meaty, pink and reasonably tender, with a nice beefy flavor, though severely lacking in the smoke and spice departments. One thing the detractors do have wrong is the notion that Roadhouse is overpriced, with the usual backing argument the fact that most platters include only a single side. I'd prefer two sides (and more menu flexibility), but five hefty beef ribs and one generous side for $12 is a steal.


At East Coast Grill I started with the pork carnitas, which featured smoked pork on tostones. The lightly glazed meat was tasty and great on the tostones, but as is often the case at ECG, the show was stolen by the third item on the plate: a fantastic papaya-jicima slaw that was slightly sweet and slightly herbal. If I could order a bucket of it, I'd eat just that slaw for lunch. The spit roasted chicken has a new preparation, finished with a sweet South Carolina mustard sauce and served with a large ramekin of mac and cheese topped with toasted cornbread breadcrumbs. This has the makings of an ECG favorite, and should be added to the roster of side dishes.


On Sunday I attended the Battle of the Barbecue Brethren at Sayville NY, so my pitstop in the city allowed a visit to Daisy May's. I was thinking about that chili as the perfect antidote to a brisk autumn day, but it hit the spot even though the temps were in the 60s. I also tried a few ribs: both the Kansas City sweet and the Memphis dry rub varieties were on their game and packed with flavor.





Boston BBQ: Hell Night Tripleheader, New Fall Menu, Special Dinners at East Coast Grill

If you haven't checked out East Coast Grill (Cambridge MA) or its website lately, it may be time for another look. They recently unveiled a new fall menu and for the first time in a while have posted the full Hell Night menu on their website in advance of the event. The Helloween tripleheader of hotter-than-you-can-handle cuisine starts tonight and runs through Wednesday.


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Guava Lava Hell Bone from tonight's Hell Night at East Coast Grill


ECG's next event is Put A Little South In Your Mouth (Monday, November 10), featuring fried chicken hush puppies, gumbo, greens, grits and country ham. Their Spicy Food and Wine Dinner (Monday, December 8) will explore the pairing of wine with boldly flavored food. For more details, check the website.





Connecticut BBQ: Candlelight, Cocktails, Dancing, Networking and Barbecue By SouthernQue

No, that wasn't a typo. When you think SouternQue (Meriden CT), you don't even think dining room, much less dancing, candlelight and cocktails. But tonight they're presenting a special dinner at the Comfort Inn & Suites, just around the corner at 900 East Main Street, on the other side of I-91.


Cocktails and horsd'oeuveres will be served from 6:00PM to 7:00PM; dinner will follow at 7:30PM. The full SouthernQue menu will be buttressed by the addition of pigs in blankets, stuffed potatoes with cheese, bacon and beef, "chicken bark" and Southern style desserts like Red Velvet Cake and sweet potato pie.


Tickets are $45.00 per person and can be reserved by phone (203-238-542) and picked up in person at the Comfort Inn.





New York City BBQ: The Latest Street Food Is BBQ Pork On A Waffle

This one reminds me of that classic Reese's Peanut Butter Cups commercial where two food focused fellows bump into each other, and one says, "You got peanut butter on my chocolate!" And the other says, "You got chocolate on my peanut butter!" This time it's pork and waffles, and the two proponents are a couple of NYC catering heavyweights who might just be onto something.


Photo courtesy Joe Mizrahi. Used with permission.


Smokin' Joe Mizrahi of Staten Island's Smokin' Joe's True Blue Texas BBQ is supplying the smoked pork that's gracing the new creation on Thomas DeGeest's famous Belgian waffles on the Wafels and Dinges gourmet waffle trucks. It's topped with barbecue sauce, cole slaw and a cherry red Kool-icle. You can look for the big yellow trucks or check out the regular locations on the website.





40 Tips On How To Be A Good Waiter permalink

(The Flipside to Waiter Rant's 40 Tips on How To Be A Good Customer)

It seems like Steve Dublanica, the Waiter who penned Waiter Rant, is everywhere these days: The Today Show, Oprah, you name it. As is the case with any hot subject, the various interviewers seem to ask mostly the same questions, in this case focusing mainly on tipping and customer behavior. That might be because one of the easiest sections of Waiter Rant to read is Appendix A: 40 Tips On How To Be A Good Customer. Most of it boils down to simple respect and consideration, but it's a great list and I agree with every single one of his tips. However, disrespect and inconsideration are not monopolized by the customer; waiters are often just as guilty. Here, then, is my list of 40 tips on how to be a good waiter. See how many of these hit home with you.




  • Pay attention to your area to see when new customers arrive. If you're busy with other customers, I don't need to be greeted immediately, but a quick "I'll be right with you" helps. If I'm staring at your butt cheeks for five minutes not because I'm admiring them but because your back is turned the whole time while gabbing with the kitchen crew, that's not so cool.

  • Tell me your name, so I can use it to catch your attention respectfully (without screaming, snapping fingers or waving) or ask another waiter for you specifically if I need something.

  • Be friendly. Be very friendly. But don't try to be my friend, at least on the first visit. Don't touch me. Don't eavesdrop on my conversation and try to join in.

  • For restaurants near a theatre, concert hall or sports stadium, ask me if I have an engagement that requires departing by a certain time and then plan the pacing accordingly.

  • I'm pretty open minded about Mohawk hairdos, tattoos, jewelry (in conventional and unconventional locations) and shaving habits, but there are a few grooming non-negotiables. You should not smell like booze or like you just fertilized your lawn on a hot summer day. You should not have filthy fingernails. You should not have facial scabs or eye problems that require you to insert your finger in your eye every few seconds. You should brush your teeth before your shift, not only for breath control but also so I don't have to watch you pick tuna from your teeth with the same fingers that might touch my food. You should wear pants that make you look like a waiter, not a plumber.

  • If you have another table of customers who are regulars, VIPs or friends, I fully expect you to give that table more attention than mine, and that’s okay. Giving them all your attention and having that affect my table's service is where we might have a problem.

  • Speaking of gabbing with the kitchen crew, or other waiters, or other customers: keep in mind that we can hear you. I don't want to hear about whom you slept with last night, what your proctologist said to you yesterday or your bitching about the tipping styles of certain ethnic groups. Save that for your after-hours drinking binge, when I'm asleep and out of earshot.




  • Don't sit with me to take my order. If I purposely sit at the edge of the booth in anticipation of your trying to sit with me, don't ask me to move over so you can sit with me.

  • If you've just handed me a 60-page wine list and I haven't selected a bottle within seconds, don't assume I'm a complete nincompoop. I'd like a little time to see what you have.

  • If I don't know what confit is and ask you to explain it to me, please do so without eye rolls or other displays of attitude. Just as you'd like me to not think of myself as superior to you because you're a waiter and I'm not, please don’t think of yourself as superior to me because you know a few cooking terms I may not.

  • When answering questions about the menu, don't lie. If you’re not sure about the answer, it's perfectly acceptable to ask the chef and get back to me.

  • When asked for a menu recommendation, choose something you honestly think is a good dish and tell me what makes it good. I really do want to know what you like about it. If you recommend a specific dish unsolicited and I ask a question about it, you should be somewhat prepared. Otherwise, I can only assume that you're either trying to upsell or push an undersold mistake the restaurant is trying to move before it goes bad.

  • When reciting the specials, include prices. It's not a big deal if the specials are roughly in line with their equivalents on the regular menu, but if the asparagus with imported French truffle oil is $79, that information should be disclosed before I order it.

  • For that matter, if there are specials, make sure you recite them at all. If you forget and I later learn that there's a hossenfeffer flambée I could have had instead of the turkey fricassee, I'm not going to be happy.

  • If you're going to correct my pronunciation of a menu item, you'd better be sure you're right, chipolty-breath.

  • Help me out if I order redundantly or missed out on a deal. If I order an appetizer and entree that just happen to be on your prix fixe menu, mention that to me and charge accordingly, noting that the dessert is included later. If I order an appetizer and entree that both happen to have the same sauce or same key secondary item, point that out to me so I can opt out of the duplication. And if I order a side that happens to already come with my entree, point that out to me so I don't over-order. It may lower the bill, but it will raise your tip.

  • Don't "trick" me into a camouflaged upsell. If you ask whether I want soup or salad, the same words can be uttered with a cadence that implies it's included with the entree, while another cadence implies it's extra. (I usually prefer ethnic/BBQ joints with no salads or upscale restaurants with $16 salads, so for me it's a non-issue. But it's still a pet peeve.)

  • Use a pen if you can't remember the order.

  • If we've only ordered appetizers and defer the remainder of the ordering (whether by your suggestion or ours), take the rest of the order either before the appetizers arrive or after we've finished them, not the moment they arrive. I'd rather eat my crispy ham hock surprise while it's still crispy than watch it sog up out of the corner of my eye while giving you my order.




  • After taking our order, enter it into the system before taking another table's order. This helps ensure a much smoother flow of orders into and out of the kitchen. It also helps turn the tables faster for you (more tips), and if there's an issue with what we ordered (kitchen ran out of something or can't accommodate a special request), the menu and specials are still fresh in our minds. And if you ignored the tip about using the pen, our order is still fresh in your mind.

  • Enter the orders into the system to ensure that the entrees do not arrive while we are still "working on" (to use your term) our appetizers.




  • Keep me informed. Lame: "Your entrees will be right up." You know you have no idea if they're 1 minute away or 45 minutes away. Better: "There's a large party ahead of you whose orders just got fired, so it may be another 15 minutes for your entrees, can I get you some more bread?" It's not that I need an explanation, but sometimes the information is helpful for someone who might want to make a quick phone call to a babysitter or have a smoke outside in the meantime.

  • Make sure I have the proper cutlery before my dish arrives (and for that matter, a dish before a shared dish arrives). That means a steak knife for steak or chicken or anything that a butter knife won't penetrate. That means a fork for my entree if you've cleared a single fork used for my appetizer.

  • For a burger or similar dish with expected condiments, make sure that I have them before my food arrives or that you have them when delivering the food.

  • Before bringing the food to the table, examine it to make sure that all of the items that belong are present, all of the requested omissions are omitted and any other special modifications have been executed. A mistake may be the kitchen's fault (or you may have forgotten to enter a key detail into the system), but if you bring it to the table, it's clearly your fault too now for not paying attention.

  • If the above examination uncovers a mistake that requires minimal correction, get that corrected before bringing all of the dishes to the table. If it requires re-cooking, do not under any circumstances bring the other dishes to the table so that the victim who ordered the botched dish has to wait while everyone else eats. This is probably outside your control, but if re-cooking is necessary to correct a mistake, the other diners' dishes should not have to sit under heat lamps, compromising their quality during the re-cook, making them the victims too. In a restaurant that takes itself seriously, those should be cooked over as well.

  • When delivering a plate whose contents need explanation, give me a verbal roadmap. For my "assiette of seasonal sausage," navigate me to the beef, the pork, the ostrich. If there are six dipping sauces with my deconstructed pheasant wing, tell me which one is which.




  • Check back with us about 90 seconds after serving. I empathize with you on this one, because there's a fine line between too soon and not soon enough. Too soon and we haven't really had enough time to assess everything. Not soon enough and you're potentially compounding an error by making us wait longer for a correction.

  • When checking back, ask if there's anything else you can bring and if the food was prepared as ordered: medium rare versus medium, correct choice of vegetable or sauce. The "How is everything?" question is too open-ended. If you use it and get the unexpected "Why, I've had better steak at Attica" response, you need to follow up, not walk away stupefied.

  • Check our drinks throughout the meal. They shouldn't get any lower than 1/3 full before you ask for another. Conversely, conversing is difficult when you’re trying to replace my water after every sip.

  • Look for clues that there may be a problem, even if nobody speaks up: a scowl, a mostly uneaten pile of food left defiantly on the plate, a hushed comment to a dining companion while pointing at the food. Ask if there's something wrong with the dish or if there’s something you can do.

  • On the flipside, if you notice we're really enjoying a particular dish, feel free to fish for compliments. If I rave about something, by all means pass this feedback along to the chef, who deserves to hear the positive comments along with the complaints. Or if we're really enjoying a particular wine, be sure to tell us about an upcoming wine dinner with similar wines from the region that you're having later that month.

  • Be alert non-food issues as well. If you see my wife wearing her winter coat in August, maybe the air conditioner is turned up too high and you should look into adjusting it. If there's a loud table nearby or an out-of-control toddler AWOL from his table and sticking his fingers into my pasta, I’m not saying it's your job to police them. But a quick heads-up to a manager may lead to a suggestion that the loud party be more comfortable in the unused function room around the corner. An expression of concern for the child's safety to the parents may be just the hint to get their heads out of their Mojitos and their hands on their annoying tyke.




  • Plates for each course should be cleared only when everyone at the table has finished that course. If you or your management has a different philosophy—and there's certainly an argument for clearing as soon as possible—always ask before clearing.

  • Never clear a plate or even ask to clear a plate if the diner is in mid bite or has fork in hand. I can appreciate that you may have customers waiting for a table, but as long as we're not hogging the table by lingering unreasonably, they can wait until we're done.

  • If everyone's plate has a fork placed across it and nobody has taken a bite within the last five minutes (remember, you're supposed to be noticing these things), you can safely assume that we're done and can clear the plates. If they're appetizer plates, make sure these are cleared before the entrees arrive.

  • When placing my second beer or glass of wine on the table, never ever remove the first one if there's still a sip or more left.




  • At some point shortly after the entree plates have been cleared, ask if there's anything else you can get, whether that be additional drinks, a second whole suckling pig, coffee or a dessert menu (or a second cup of coffee if we’re having dessert). That's my opening to ask for the check. Incidentally, if you don't ask about dessert and I see the most fantastic-looking cheesecake pass by on its way to another table, it'll be reflected in your tip, even though I hate cheesecake.

  • If I pay with cash, don't ask if I want change. Just tell me you'll bring me the change and leave it to me to tell you to keep the whole thing. If you do bring change, bring it promptly. If the bill is $44 and I give you three $20 bills, don't assume your delay tactics will win a war of attrition, earning you a 36% tip if I’d rather walk away than keep waiting.

  • When you do bring change, bring bills that allow me to leave you a tip that's both fair and generous. The change from that $44 tab should be two $5 bills and six $1 bills. Leaving a $10, a $5 and a $1 forces me to leave at least $15 (unlikely), leave no more than $6 (not so good for you) or leave $10/$11 (likely for me, but you shouldn't assume).


Oh, and one more thing: a sincere thank you goes a long way.







Boston BBQ: Flirting With Rib Perfection at Tremont 647

Yesterday's post recapped Sunday's dinner at High Street Grill (N. Andover MA) and today's is on an adjacent branch of the Chris Schlesinger culinary family tree: Saturday's dinner at Tremont 647 (Boston MA).


Tremont 647 chef/owner Andy Husbands is known for his bold cuisine, and sometimes his menu writing is as bold as the food itself. Calling the rib plate Andy's "180" Ribs is a ballsy move, as it's a reference to the perfect score for appearance, taste and tenderness in a barbecue competition. The ribs have always been good at Tremont 647, sometimes verging on great. But perfect? That's a hard thing to define, much less achieve.


I'll leave the definition of perfect for another day, but on Saturday night the ribs were the best I've had at Tremont 647 and somewhere among the best I've had in restaurants, backyards and competitions. The smoke ring was as bright as the crust was crisp, and the inside was juicy and competition tender. The sauce started sweet, with a jolt of heat and a tangy finish, complementing but not overpowering the smokiness of the meat beneath. Our table of four ordered these as an appetizer, allowing one rib per person. One person sat this round out, so guess who polished off the extra one?


They say it ain't bragging if you can back it up, and it was backed up on Saturday night.


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Massachusetts BBQ: First Visit to High Street Grill in North Andover

Probably the greatest clue that I was on vacation for two weeks was the fact that I hadn't yet visited High Street Grill (N. Andover MA). My wife and I had a reservation for opening night, but that got cancelled when the opening got pushed back a few days, to the same night as our flight to Hawaii.


So our first visit was last night, and that's probably a good thing. As much as I like to visit a restaurant on opening night to satisfy my curiosity, much of what you experience on that first visit—menu, execution, service—gets modified within a few short weeks, so that visit isn't necessarily representative of what you'd get once the tweaks take effect. Usually those tweaks are improvements, but sometimes a spectacular dish is removed or re-tooled simply because it's too labor intensive to produce in high volume.


OK here goes, and remember, these are just a few quick impressions, not a formal review.


First of all, the space looks great. High Street Grill is a converted textile mill, and the combination of modern touches and dim lighting with the stark brick walls and original gears is very appealing.


High Street Grill is hardly a barbecue joint, both in appearance and menu. The food is new American with Equatorial influences and a barbecue menu as a sideline. Barbecue items include pulled pork and burnt ends sandwiches, ribs, brisket, pulled pork and a BBQ trio platter.


I started with the brisket and black bean chili, which featured large, fork-tender chunks of brisket, a dollop of yogurt, some chunks of cornbread and minimal use of broth. Although the heat level was surprisingly low, the caliber of the brisket made the dish enjoyable.


The obvious entree for a first visit was the BBQ trio featuring a couple of ribs, brisket and pulled pork. The ribs were the standout: plump St Louis cut pork ribs with a syrupy Kansas City style sauce that artfully combined sweet, heat and tangy. Pork had a nice consistency and a pleasant smoky flavor; brisket had good flavor but was a tad dry. I really like that sauce, which covers the ribs but is left off the other meats and served in a small container for dipping. It's perfect on the ribs and would also go really well with chicken, but I'm still getting used to it with pork and brisket. My piece of molasses infused cornbread was tasty and almost big enough to sleep on. Overall, a promising first visit, but I'm looking forward to another visit on a busier night.


Red Sox Lose (the Red Sox lose)

It was oh so close, but just as the pesky Rays maintained their edge over the Sox throughout the regular season, such was the case in the playoffs as well. Things might have been different with a healthy Mike Lowell in the line-up, but you can't play "what if." In a way, I'm glad for the Rays. I'm very tired this morning.





Honolulu BBQ: Just Got Back From Hawaii

Astute readers probably deduced that I was on vacation the last two weeks, as the Recent Eats column remained static. When was the last time I went two weeks without barbecue? Ages ago. If that wasn't enough evidence, last Wednesday's clue that I compiled the BBQ Amigos post while on a plane ride should have been the clincher (yes, you can be cryptic without the use of song lyrics).


The vacation was great, but it's also great to be back.





Rhode Island BBQ: Smokehouse Cafe Enters Final Weekend of the Season

Southern Rhode Island BBQ fans who have a hankering for 'cue this weekend may want to consider a visit to Smokehouse Cafe (Newport RI), who'll be closing for the season on Monday. They usually re-open in May.


Red Sox Win (the Red Sox win)

Not since the days of Chief Jay Strongbow has defeat seemed so certain, only to be turned into victory through sheer fortitude (along with a Jagger-like war dance). The Red Sox started their war dance in the seventh inning last night, gradually turning a 7-0 deficit into a dramatic 8-7 win. Winning two more on the road isn't easy, but I don't see either Beckett or Lester tossing stinkers for two starts in a row, and we all know how the Sox can come back.


Massachusetts Events: Georgetown Days Chili and Salsa Competition, October 26

Not all chili fans love barbecue, but just about every barbecue fan I know loves chili. So if you're looking for something to do a week from Sunday, check out the 2008 Georgetown Days Chili and Salsa competition. Sponsored by the Georgetown PTA, the event will be held at the Georgetown Building Supply parking lot at 103 East Main Street in Georgetown. Unlike most barbecue competitions, the chili will be available to the public: $5 gets unlimited tastings. There will also be live music and entertainment, so this has the makings of a fun family event. (And if you still want to squeeze some barbecue in, the site is pretty close to American Barbecue in Rowley MA.)


Slots are still open for competitors. For more information contact Barbie Linares at (978) 352-5999 or Joe Molis at (978) 352-2724.





Massachusetts BBQ: Village Smokehouse to Open in Lowell Tonight

Lowell BBQ is finally becoming a reality tonight at 4:00PM, as the Village Smokehouse (Brookline MA) opens a second outpost at 98 Middle Street. The space is much larger and much more conducive to a party atmosphere than the flagship location. Whether the barbecue itself is any different from Brookline, I'll find out soon. Thanks to Steve, Wayne and whoever answered the phone at the Village Smokehouse in Lowell for confirming the opening.



(10/15/08)(revised slightly Wednesday night)

Happy Birthday Chris, and the BBQ Amigos, Revisted

It would be suicidal strategy to wish a Happy Birthday to a barbecue restaurant one day and fail to do the same for my wife's birthday the next day, even though she rarely reads this blog. So how to do it and still maintain the barbecue angle? Easy.


Here's an updated list, compiled to pass the time on a recent plane ride, of the people who've most often joined me at barbecue restaurants. It's a lot more fun hitting a new BBQ joint when you have someone with you to help surf more of the menu and then analyze and dissect the meal in a spirited discussion on the ride home.


Leading the pack is my wife, Chris, who's usually a good sport, even though she prefers wine and candlelight to beer and pig decor.


BBQ joints


Oh, one more thing: no last names, so don't ask. What happens with Pigtrip stays with Pigtrip. And one other thing: this list doesn't count BBQ Brethren events, where the attendance was hardy swayed by my appearance there.





Boston BBQ: Happy Birthday, Redbones

Today Redbones (Somerville MA) is celebrating its 21st birthday. Sure, we're enjoying a barbecue "boom" right now, but there was a time not too long ago when the Davis Square eatery was the only game in town if you wanted real smoked ribs, brisket and pork. Here's hoping for another 21 years.





Long Island BBQ: Second Annual BBQ Battle at Sayville Fall Festival, October 24-26

Summer may be over, but that doesn't mean barbecue contests and festivals can't continue. The second annual Battle of the BBQ Brethren will be a part of the Sayville Fall Festival on Long Island two weekends from now. Though many of the teams are members of the BBQ Brethren, the sanctioned barbecue contest is open to all teams and is 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.



The cook-off will include Chili on Friday after set-up, Grilling and Kids Q on Saturday and BBQ on Sunday, with a total prize pool of more than $9,000. Note that samples will not be available to the public, but other food vendors will be offering a variety of treats, including roasted corn, kettle corn, pickles, apple fritters, and other fall favorites.


The Sayville Fall Festival activities include a Jack-O-Lantern contest, a children’s Halloween costume parade, a petting zoo, live music, an art show, a magic show, amusement carnival rides and games.


The contest organizers are accepting entries for competition teams through Wednesday, October 15, and are also looking for KCBS certified judges for the event. See the event website for details.





Friday Morning Food Porn

No, I'm not stealing the concept from Kris and Mike Boisvert's Lakeside Smokers blog, just doing my own little tribute to Friday Night Food Porn, one of my favorite features on one of my favorite barbecue blogs.


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Every Friday night, my wife and I will be sitting in our living room with our two dogs, usually enjoying some adult beverages and an array of imported cheeses. I'll have the Lakeside blog up on my iPhone, clicking the refresh button until the new post arrives with a mouthwatering food photo. In this world of too many promises and too few guarantees, it's that rare guarantee that Lakeside's FNFP post will happen, some time around 7:00PM. And it's always guaranteed to be a great read, whether it's about barbecue, seafood, steak, vegetables, baked goods or cheese. So check it out a little later tonight.





Albany BBQ: All You Can Eat Beef Steamship Round Tonight at Chico's

Chico's BBQ (Guilderland NY) is offering an all-you-can-eat beef steamship round dinner tonight for $14.99, served with mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetable. Steamship round is the hind quarter of beef that is cooked whole, sliced thin and known for its tenderness and flavor. This cut is not smoked.


Massachusetts BBQ: Country Good BBQ Reviewed

The site's 149th review is now available for Country Good BBQ in Fitchburg MA. Check it out via the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.




Another Round of Hell Nights Are Coming To East Coast Grill, October 27-29

Somehow, Hell Nights and Halloween make a great combination, and at the end of this month, another Helloween is coming to East Coast Grill (Cambridge MA). On October 27-29 (that's Monday through Wednesday), ECG will be daring you to eat their latest batch of appetizers and entrees that are "hotter than the mantle crust."


Reservations are required for these events, which sell out quickly.


As usual, creamsickles will be provided for those who can't handle the fire. But if you need one, be prepared for the chant: "Wimp! Wimp! Wimp!"





Lists: My Favorite BBQ Beans

Here's another of my favorites lists, where I run through my top joints for a certain category and explain why. As is always the case, I never call this a 'best of" list because my opinion is just that, an opinion.


This is also a good segue from last week's New York Is Boston, Boston Is New York post for a few reasons. First, when you think baked beans or any beans, you think Boston, often called Beantown. Second, the mention of the chef/pitmaster of the joint in the #1 slot gives me an opportunity to explain a detail from last week's post that a few of you caught.


1. Daisy May's, New York City

The first time I had them, I never knew beans could be this good. There were at least three different types of beans, with a variety of sizes and textures, and an avalanche of burnt ends. The meat component varies from visit to visit, but even on a low burnt ends ratio day, the flavor of the beans makes these very appealing. These are the only beans I've ever finished singlehandedly while on a BBQ crawl.


2. RUB, New York City

These are the smokiest beans you'll ever taste, with a more consistent meat level than Daisy May's. Normally, when I describe beans as soupy, it's not such a good thing, but at RUB, you could literally eat this nectar with a spoon to savor the sweet, smoky goodness.


3. Becky's BBQ, Middletown RI

This is another bean symphony, a "three bean bake" with bright colors. Even though they lose points in the meat category, Becky's wins many back for flavor, with an unusual, original and addictive sweet/tart condiment.


4. Big Bubba's BBQ, Uncasville CT

These are a poor man's version of RUB's baked beans. This should not come as much of a surprise, as RUB parter Paul Kirk was a consultant this Mohegan Sun joint.


5. True Blue BBQ, Kingston MA

The only Massachusetts representative on this list is not from any of the usual Boston area suspects but rather from a trailer operating fairly close to where the first beans in America were probably baked in Plymouth. This is another three bean blend, with a refreshing tartness that's offset with some spice.


Site Talk: The Mysterious Disappearing and Reappearing Names

I'm going to warn you, this is really, really boring, but it I know there's a small minority out there that really enjoys this stuff, and it does address a question I received yesterday (no, it wasn't from him).


Speaking of Daisy May's, it did not go unnoticed that the name Adam Perry Lang appeared in last Friday's New York Is Boston, Boston Is New York post, but was mysteriously missing the next day. Why? Was there some change of opinion or rebuff? No, there's nothing dramatic or sinister involved, just some carelessness on my part.


Unlike many food blogs, Pigtrip is a home-grown site with no infrastructure like Blogger or WordPress or TypePad to allow easy content generation. The upside is more flexibility (allowing the Joints directory to exist as an easy-to-reach entity unto itself), but the downside is manageability. I don't have the luxury of a comments section or a built-in search feature or automatic archiving. I also don't have the luxury of being able to use an online interface to create and edit site content. This last point—in conjunction with my carelessness—is what caused Adam's disappearance for a couple of days.


Here's the deal. I create the site content at home using HTML files, then upload them to my host to make the content visible to the public. During the week, I almost always do this before work, often before my first cup of coffee. Unless I bring the home computer to work with me, I can't make site updates during the day. But sometimes, after I've had some coffee and a chance to think a little more (or if someone points out a typo), I have access to the online version of my files, which I can make slight tweaks to, using only HTML code.


What does this have to do with Adam Perry Lang? On Friday, after I got to work, I realized that I stupidly left the name Adam Perry Lang out from the discussion of New York's competition greats. Having won first in pork in the American Royal and numerous other awards at the local level, he absolutely belongs; it's not even a matter of opinion. I simply forgot, since I haven't seen him on the circuit recently. It was very easy to make the addition at work. Done deal, right? Wrong. Like a barber who keeps trimming those stray ends to make everything look neat, I didn't know when to stop. A slight phrase change here, a little nuance there, and before you know it, I had made about a dozen changes.


Before I made Saturday's update, I had to go back and edit the home version of my index file to make sure all of the changes I made Friday were incorporated. I did, but somehow in my hastiness I forgot the Adam Perry Lang edit. Which is ironic, since the whole point of Saturday's post was to make it clear that his Daisy May's (ditto RUB and a few other Boston BBQ joints) was one of my favorites, left out of Friday's restaurant discussion only because I was focusing on joints that opened after August 2006. So when I uploaded Saturday's update, the home version (missing Adam Perry Lang) overwrote the tweaked Friday version (that had Adam Perry Lang). Someone asked about it yesterday, so I fixed it.


And there you have it. No intrigue, no drama, no conspiracy. Just my own carelessness. Remember, I told you it was going to be boring.


Oh, one more thing. Putting Daisy May's beans at the top of my list is not the food equivalent of an NBA ref's makeup call. I've been raving about their beans since my first visit.





More Things I'd, You Know, Like To See

I had a few cocktails while watching the Red Sox lose in 12 to the Angels, so forgive me if this latest batch of Things I'd Like To See is even wackier than usual:

  • Ribs Through a Window. You know those baseballs, or should I say half baseballs, that stick onto your car's rear window, with a fake broken glass sticker, making it look like a baseball broke the window? I've seen it done with soccer balls too, but the scale is all off. I'd like to see a plastic spare rib, with not only fake broken glass but a fake sauce splatter. I'd buy three of 'em.

  • BBQ Booty Phrases. You know those sweatpants all the teenage girls are wearing lately, with the word "Pink" or "Juicy" strategically placed on the posterior? I'd like to see a barbecue (or burger) joint where the servers wear pants that say "Pink and Juicy."

  • Sully: the Action Figure. If you know Lunchmeat's Mike Sullivan and if you knew a Sully action figure existed, you'd run right out and buy one, if not for the figure itself then for the accessories (tin mug, cast iron pan, Damn Dip insert). And you know there'd be a pull string to make him talk, and you know exactly what it would sound like.

  • Ronco BBQ Smoker. I've never purchased a Ronco product—I don't fish, I don't eat jerky, I have no desire to drink vegetables and I have no bald spot to spray paint. But I'd like to see Ron Popeil and company market an affordable and interestimg product to tap into barbecue's growing popularity. You know you'd never buy one, but you know that as soon as the infomercial came on, you'd be watching the whole half hour.

  • The Scent of A Brisket. You know those movies Al Pacino's been doing lately, where for broad demographic appeal the producers cast him as the sage master mentoring a young protégé, played by Hollywood's hunk of the month? I'd like to see a barbecue movie, where Pacino is the brilliant but aging pitmaster who agrees to pass his secrets on to an eager and hungry apprentice. Conflict would ensue when the protégé makes a play for Pacino's hottie daughter, leading to argument and a hasty end to the mentorship. In the exciting climax, Pacino and the ex-protégé, now bitter rivals, wind up competing against each other, with a skillfully-edited, plenty-of-quick-cuts montage of the two going down to the wire in crunch time. You know if it ever got made (and Pacino's certainly done worse), this flick would last in theaters two weeks, tops.





"What About RUB, Daisy May's, Blue Ribbon and Uncle Pete's?"

I might not have made it clear enough in yesterday's post that I was comparing New York BBQ joints that opened after I launched this site in August 2006 to their Boston equivalents from that same time period. That's the only reason for the conspicuous omission of New York BBQ joints like RUB, Daisy May's, Dinosaur, Blue Smoke and Virgil's, and of metro Boston BBQ joints like Blue Ribbon, Uncle Pete's, East Coast Grill, Firefly's, Redbones, ChiliHead BBQ , Lester's and Jake's.


So if you deduced from yesterday's post that my NYC top two are Hill Country and Wildwood, you're reading between the lines. They are two of my top four, with RUB and Daisy May's the other two. My actual rankings, if I kept them, would vary visit to visit, but I generally put RUB and Hill Country at the mountain top, with Daisy May's and Wildwood a few steps below.


To continue yesterday's baseball analogy, there are probably five candidates for the fifth spot in the NYC BBQ rotation, but one I like that most New Yorkers overlook is Virgil's. Yes, it's in the most touristy section of town. Yes, it's been around forever. Yes, if you squint your eyes a little, you could actually convince yourself that you're really in Dallas BBQ. But try those ribs or the pulled pork as a sandwich before dismissing them as just another old school tourist trap.


Here's a bit of a clarification on Wednesday's Mary Bloomfield post, where I said I had plenty to say but didn't feel like saying it. Not saying anything that day had nothing to do with holding anything back, but more to do with making sure that what I did have to say was fully thought out. I had a different, fully written post ready for Wednesday that I decided to shelve for another time. Thursday's post was on the (supposed) opening of High Street Grill (N. Andover MA), so I couldn't move that up. Yesterday's post was too complicated to move up to Wednesday, and I was still making slight changes to it even after posting.





New York Is Boston, Boston is New York

Major league baseball's playoffs are underway, and for the first time in Derek Jeter's career, the Yankees are mere spectators. The Red Sox, despite a litany of injuries that have plagued them all season, are in for the fifth time in six years and have already taken home field advantage away from the overrated Angels.


The Yankees have yet to win it all this century. The Red Sox are the reigning champions and have won it all two of the last four years. Probably three out of the last five years were it not for two steroid-fueled blasts by Jason Giambi in the heartbreaking game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. But those heartbreaks are behind us. It hardly matters that the Yankees swept the Red Sox in this season's final series; the Red Sox are finally the Yankees' daddy. The Red Sox are the Yankees. The Yankees are the Red Sox.


In barbecue, there's been a similar reversal of fortune. It wasn't that long ago that you could take any of about ten metro Boston BBQ joints, plop it down in Manhattan, and it would probably be one of the city's top three. Those days are gone.

In the two years and two months since I launched this site, New York has upgraded its roster of barbecue joints much more effectively than George Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have upgraded the Yankees. Comparing the additions to the New York BBQ scene with their counterparts in Boston is as lopsided as comparing Jon Lester to Phil Hughes. In that time, Manhattan added Hill Country, Southern Hospitality, Georgia's Eastside, Smokin' Q and Wildwood, plus another outpost of Brother Jimmy's. Brooklyn added Smoke Joint and Fette Sau, among others. Outside the city, notable additions include Big W's (Wingdale) and Swingbelly's (Long Beach, LI).


Who did Boston add? Smoken Joe's in Brighton, in the shadows of St Elizabeth's. That hospital served as the inspiration for the 1980s NBC series St Elsewhere, which is why I call Smoken Joe's "Eat Elsewhere." More recently, there's Roadhouse in Brookline, which is still finding its way. If I were to rank all 12 aforementioned joints, Boston's two entries would both be somewhere in the bottom four. A little further outside I-495, Texas BBQ Company (Northboro MA) is the only newcomer I'd rank above the 50th percentile, but they're no match for superior newcomers Hill Country or Wildwood. SoulFire (Allston) certainly is, but their opening predated the 26-month window I'm examining here. Rick's Roadhouse (Providence RI) is basically Brother Jimmy's.

Both New York and Boston lost some pretty good joints just before my site's launch: for Boston, it was Rouge and Jake's Boss BBQ; for New York, it was Pearson's. I never made it to Pearson's, but I have to think Boston suffered the greater loss.

Both cities are struggling with consistency at even the tried and true joints. I've had really good meals and some disappointing ones at even my favorites (all of my favorites, actually) in both New York and Boston. There are no sure things in either area, but right now, there are more good chances for a great barbecue meal in New York than Boston. New York is Boston. Boston is New York.


In the competition world, unless your name was Robbie Richter or Adam Perry Lang, a New Yorker didn't enter a barbecue contest with any expectation of winning, but that's changed too. The eastern New England teams (I Smell Smoke, IQue, Transformer BBQ, Lakeside Smokers, Dirty Dick, Lunchmeat) are still dominant, but the New York teams are no longer the pushovers they once were. Smoke In Da Eye took this year's Grillin' on the Bay and is no stranger to the podium in barbecue contests these days. The BBQ Brethren are the only team to finish in the top three at both Harpoon and Hudson Valley, and are on their way to the American Royal now. R2BQ took the grand championship last month at Westport and will be headed to the Jack next year. Swamp Pit BBQ is a team on the rise, with two recent top-5 finishes against tough fields.


As a Bostonian, how do I look at this? I think it's great.





Boston BBQ: High Street Grill Opening Postponed to Sunday Night in North Andover

Kristi Morris, former manager at East Coast Grill (Cambridge MA), is opening High Street Grill in North Andover. To allow some menu tweaks after a soft opening earlier this week, tonight's official opening has been postponed until Sunday night. Chris Schlesinger, chef/owner of East Coast Grill, is involved in the project as a partner and consulting chef. High Street Grill's pitmaster and executive chef is John Porreca, formerly a sous chef at Sasso in Boston.


The eclectic menu is surprisingly vast for this early in the game, so I'm wondering if some paring is in order.


Note that reservations are required for parties of all sizes during their first week of operation.





Borrowing A Phrase From Mary Bloomfield

Many years ago at a previous job, I was a contributor and editor of the company newspaper. We had a good group of people and the meetings were a lot of laughs, partly because of my good natured battles with Mary Bloomfield, the HR administrator who was also on the committee. A fiery redhead who had more outfits than I have menus, Mary was a fun girl who went out to lunch with me a few times a week over a two year period. Eventually I talked her into having a company Rib Night. No, I never tried to talk her into anything else, despite what many thought based on all those lunches.


But I digress. During one of the newspaper meetings, when we were struggling to come up with enough content for that month's issue, I lamented, "It's tough writing a company newspaper when the company doesn't really have anything to say."


Without hesitation, Mary came back with, "We've got plenty to say. We just don't feel like saying it!" And she was serious. I thought it was a ridiculous thing to say.


Mary's sweater collection (the tight wooly number with the horizontal purple and white stripes was my favorite) has gradually faded from memory, but those words still remain, crystal clear. I still think it was a ridiculous thing to say, but I'm going to say it now.


I've got plenty to say. I just don't feel like saying it. At least not today.




September 2008 archive

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Recent Eats (click photo to view larger image)

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Babybacks and brisket at Village Smokehouse, Lowell MA.


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Dry rubbed ribs at Daisy May's, New York NY.



Hungry Potato: Food and gear from restaurants all over the country

Hungry Potato: Food and gear from restaurants all over the country

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Cuban style chile glazed pork carnitas on tostones with papaya-jicama slaw at East Coast Grill, Cambridge MA.


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Beef ribs at Roadhouse, Brookline MA.


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Ribs on the BBQ Trio at High Street Grill, N. Andover MA.


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Andy's "180 Ribs" at Tremont 647, Boston MA.



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Please feel free to contact me: GARYatPIGTRIPdotNET

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