Archives - April 2009
Long Island BBQ: Tennessee Jed's Reviewed
The site's 158th review is now available for Tennessee Jed's (Wantagh NY). Check it out via the Reviews page or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Rhode Island BBQ: Smokehouse Cafe Reopens Friday With Newport Storm Beer Dinner
The seasonal joint Smokehouse Cafe (Newport RI) lifts the curtains on 2009 on May 1 with a special Newport Storm Beer Dinner. Executive chef Chris Ferris created a five-course meal to pair with the brewery's offerings. The event starts with a reception at 6:30 and dinner at 7:30; cost is $39.
To reserve, contact the Mooring at 401-846-2260.
www.smokehousecafe.com (intermittent service lately)
Boston BBQ: Mint Juleps and Free Appetizers This Saturday at Redbones
The Kentucky Derby is this Saturday, and joints all over the region will be offering the classic mint julep, but Redbones (Somerville MA) raises the stakes with mint juleps and free appetizers from 5:00PM until race time at 6:04PM. The Davis Square joint will also be celebrating Kentucky later on in May with a Kentucky bourbon tasting on Monday, May 11. For $12 you can sample 1/2-ounce pours of six different bourbons and two different ryes, all from Kentucky and served with complimentary appetizers once again.
Home Cooking: Ribs Rule But Picnic Ain't No Picnic
It seems like we hardly had any spring before the weather turned downright summery this weekend. Temperatures reached the mid 80s with no humidity—perfect weather for long duration outdoor cooking.
I was eager to get my first pork butts of the season on the smoker for an overnight cook. My usual sources didn't have the 8-10lb bone-in shoulders that I usually use, so I settled for some "pork shoulder picnic" (under 5lbs each) from one butcher and one local grocery store chain. The smaller size would equate to a much shorter cooking time, but I was more concerned about the unfamiliar cut. Was it really the same pork shoulder I love and equate with "pulled pork"? That would be a big fat NO. As it turns out, the picnic comes from the upper front leg of the beast, which makes it a little tougher.
When all was said and done, the meat was tender enough and juicy enough, but much whiter and much firmer than I wanted, even at an internal temperature of 200 degrees. The textture of the meat lacked the butteriness of a bone-in shoulder and was more conducive to slicing and servinfg with gravy (last night's dinner) than pulling and serving as pulled pork sandwiches (Sunday night's dinner). Two lessons learned: 1) never get picnic again, and 2) increase my rotation of butchers. I could have had a couple of bone-in shoulders with my name on them if I'd ordered them last Monday, but I rarely know on Monday what my weekend schedule will be.
The rest of the weekend's eats went smoothly, successfully and uneventfully. On Saturday we had smoked spice-rubbed Pearl franks followed by grilled clams with chile-garlic butter, followed by the smoked lemongrass chicken that's become my wife's favorite. I purposely put as much rub as I could on the chicken to see if there would be any textural issues, but it came out okay.
On Sunday the picnic was preceeded by a couple of racks of ribs and more smoked chicken thighs. All of these were familiar recipes, so I didn't exactly cover any new ground, but I did introduce some new tools to the festivities. After monkeying around for years with cheap, unreliable digital thermometers and knives, I finally stepped up and bought some worthy replacements. I now use an insta-read Thermapen that can obtain accurate meat temperatures with no ramp up delay. That savings of 3-4 seconds per read may not sound significant, but when you're checking three different shoulders, with four test points per shoulder, that improvement in time improves a dozenfold. The payoff, besides the reliability of the temperatures, is not having to have the cooker lid open any longer than necessary, helping the meat cook faster. One of the knives I obtained is a Wusthof Santoku knife that I now use to cut ribs. Instead of sawwing with zig-zag results, I'm now able to cut perfectly straight with little effort. Words can't express how pleasing that is.
Chile Pepper Magazine's May Issue Names 8 Northeast BBQ Joints
The May issue of Chile Pepper magazine is on the stands now, and the annual Barbecue and Grilling issue includes a roundup of 8 recommended barbecue joints in the Northeast USA. The featured restaurants include Big W's BBQ (Wingdale NY), Blue Ribbon Bar-B-Que (Newton MA), Goody Cole's Smokehouse (Brentwood NH), Hill Country (NYC), RUB (NYC), SoulFire (Boston MA), Swingbelly's (Long Beach NY) and Wilson's (Fairfield CT). Sounds like a list I'd put together myself.
Chasing a Pizza Legend at Frank Pepe's
This post is as much about barbecue as it is about pizza. Hear me out.
It may sound like blasphemy to readers in Brooklyn or East Boston, but for many neutral observers, the best pizza in the country is believed to reside in New Haven CT. For years I've been hearing about Frank Pepe's brick oven pies, and on Monday I tried one for the first time. I was driving back home to the Boston area from Long Island, where I judged the Williepalooza barbecue contest on Sunday, and I needed to stop somewhere for lunch. But it took a while to get there.
While sitting at the counter of Super Duper Weenie in Fairfield, I took several photos of a hotdog, which inevitably led to some conversation with the locals.
"You know, it tastes a lot better if you actually eat it."
"Very true," I say. "But I'm waiting for my fries and my other dog."
"What are you, a food critic?"
"Not really, I just like food. But I do have a barbecue review site. I'm so used to taking photos of barbecue for the site that it's become second nature at other meals too. I try to take photos whenever I'm somewhere good."
Overhearing the implied compliment, griddle honcho Super Duper Gary joined in: "Have you been to Wilson's BBQ? It's just a few exits from here."
"Yeah, I've been there and it's good. I'd be there now, but they're not open on Mondays."
The local, unfazed by the now-completed order of two dogs and boat of hand-cut, aggressively peppered fries in front of me, kept the suggestions coming. "Frank Pepe's Pizza is also nearby."
"But they're not open for lunch, are they?"
"They didn't used to be, but they are now."
My hotdog drops to the counter. "Really? How close are they from here?"
"Go up one block, take a left, and they're two traffic lights down the street."
As much as I was diggin' those dogs and fries, I slam the brakes on this meal so I can make that 3-block drive. Within minutes I'm at Frank Pepe's Fairfield outpost, trying to figure out the best way to get as much variety as I can into a small pie. I wanted to get a 2-way, but I also wanted to try their signature white clam. Since you can't mix white and red on the same pie, I took some suggestions from the staff and went with all red: sausage and mushroom on one half, bacon and onion on the other.
A few minutes later my pie was delivered by Beautiful Dawn, who made it a point to tell me a few different times during the meal how many compliments she was receiving for her beautiful face and beautiful skin from a large party of older ladies she was waiting on in the next room. A pretty girl for sure, but the pie was prettier: a nice thin crust, a little blackening on the underside, balanced cheese-to-tomato ratio and toppings more artfully done than in most Massachusetts pizzerias (then again, Sbarro is more artful than most Massachusetts pizzerias).
In the end, I'm not really sure how much I liked the pie, as it can be difficult to judge a legend (be it pizza, barbecue, steak, you name it). Expectations are sky high, so anything less than perfection is certain to disappoint. Was it good? Absolutely. Excellent? Absolutely. Perfection? Not quite. The best ever? Absolutely not. Was it good enough to go back? Absolutely.
A quick digression:
There's a lot of similarity between pizza and barbecue, and one of the reasons the subject of who makes the best pizza is as hotly debated as who makes the best barbecue is the myriad of styles. With barbecue, some like it smoky, some like it spicy. Some like it saucy, some like it dry. Some just like it smoked, some like it grilled after smoking, some don't even care if it's smoked. With pizza, some like a thick crust, some like a thin crust. Some like it crispy, some like it droopy. Some like deep dish. Some like a lot of cheese and very little tomato, some like it the other way around. In the end, people's favorites tend to be more of an endorsement of a favorite style than a favorite joint. If you ask me where to go for pizza or ribs, I'll never tell you the name of a joint. Instead, I'll ask a question. "That depends, how do you like your pizza?" Or "How do you like your ribs?"
Back to the story:
Fairfield must be a friendly town, because I struck up a conversation with one of the locals at Pepe's as well. Over in the next booth, a gentleman in his 60s told me that he'd been coming to Pepe's for more than four decades.
"I have to ask you, and please answer honestly," I say in the most respectful tone I can summon. "Is Pepe's as good now that they've expanded as they were a few years ago?"
"Not even close," he said, quickly shaking his head. "They're still the best, but they're nothing like they were before. If you want to keep a tradition going for years, you can't have kids who don't give a shit making the pies. To them, it's just a job—they don't care how the pies come out. When I first started coming they had men who had been there for years, who treated it as a craft, who put LOVE into it. Today there's no love. I have family who come in from other parts of the country once a year just to have the pizza they love so much, and when they try it now, they ask, 'What happened?'"
Like I said, there's a lot of similarity between pizza and barbecue.
A Roundup of Recent Eats
Sometimes a barbecue meal generates a new review. Other times there's enough "news" to warrant a post of its own. More often than not, the meal adds a photo to the Recent Eats column to your right but otherwise goes undocumented, serving only to share a bite with friends or bump my opinion of the joint slightly north or south of where it started. Here's a roundup of ten fairly recent joint visits that have slipped through the cracks—until now. As I've menioned recently, I'm still compiling my 2009 chili rankings, so many of these visits made a dent or two into a bowl of red.
Southern Hospitality, NYC
It took over a year to get that elusive (and somewhat disappointing) "representative visit" in at Southern Hospitality, and as luck would have it, some New York City friends wanted to join me there less than a month later, so I got a second visit in. This time the ribs were meatier and the brisket thicker, but the star of this visit was the chili, which may have been the smokiest item we sampled that night, and which will almost certainly make my chili list. Buffalo wings were fried, not smoked, but were tasty and mighty hot. The Lone Star beef rib was again very good, but probably not in the same league as the similar rib what's available at RUB (Monday/Tuesday) or Daisy May's or Wildwood. Overall, I'd rank Southern Hospitality a clear notch above Brother Jimmy's, but I lump them in with Blue Smoke and Virgil's in that second tier of Manhattan 'cue.
Earlier in the year I had a stretch of New York City visits where I visited RUB something like three times in a month, so in recent visits I've backed away my standard (and always excellent) order of ribs and burnt ends in favor of lighter and more obscure items. I finally tried the Szechuan duck, enjoying its smoky essence and Asian-meets-barbecue glazing treatment. That berry flavored barbecue sauce could easily drive some ribs from the competition circuit a little closer to first place. I also enjoyed the fried catfish, as much for the taste as for the fact that it diversifies the menu enough to lure couples who claim only one barbecue fan among them. On my most recent RUB visit I returned to the wings and the chili. The smokiness and tanginess of the former reaffirmed why they made the #1 slot in my Super Bowl wings list. The brisket-heavy chili won't make it to numero uno on my chili list, but it's a lock for the top 10 (probably about halfway down). Next time it's ribs for sure.
Firefly's, Marlborough MA
This one's always been a tough joint to write about, partly because of its wide-swinging inconsistency. If you told me you visited Firefly's last night and had the worst barbecue meal of your life, I wouldn't be surprised. If you told me you visited last night and had the best barbecue meal of your life, I also wouldn't be surprised. If I describe something here at either extreme, those who've experienced the opposite extreme will scratch their heads and wonder if I'm nuts, a know-nothing or on the take. That said, let the record show that on Friday, March 27, I had one of the best racks of ribs I've ever been served, and it was at Firefly's. The meat was juicy and perfectly tender with a lightly crunchy crust. I could really taste the rub, whose flavor didn't just sit on the outside but penetrated far into the glorious meat. And no sauce was necessary as a crutch. I forget what sides I had, but I remember boring my wife the whole ride home by repeating how good those ribs were. Now if I can only get them again.
Q Restaurant and Bar, Port Chester NY
I still think of this one as a Connecticut joint, because I get to it by taking exit 2 off I-95 in Connecticut. On the way to a grilling contest in Brooklyn a few weeks ago, I stopped here for a Friday afternoon lunch. It had been about two years since I'd last visited, but I remembered Q's ribs as being one of the best of the sauced varieties, and I remembered liking the collards a lot. This time the collards were just as good. The ribs were another story though: I don't expect fresh-from-the-smoker 'cue at every joint I go to, especially at lunch, but despite a very good flavor, these ribs were an obvious re-heat. Brisket was a little dry but had nice flavor. Pulled pork had a stewy consistency. Mac and cheese was excellent.
Jake's Dixie Roadhouse, Waltham MA
Jake's has also demonstrated some inconsistency over the years: one visit the spare ribs are tender, the next visit they're as stiff as tree trunks. The babybacks have been consistently good, so that's usually what I order when I'm sharing a half rack with someone, and they were pink, juicy and full of flavor the last time out. Brisket was tough. The porky chili was just okay (not that warm or spicy) two visits ago but very fresh tasting and full of pop a few weeks ago, good enough for a repeat appearance on my upcoming chili rankings.
SoulFire, Allston MA
In the last six months I've probably visited SoulFire more than any other barbecue joint, and for several reasons: the unsauced ribs are my favorites in the Boston area, the brisket is cooked to a bacony smokiness, the pulled pork is always fresh and the fried chicken keeps me up at night wondering how they do it. The sides probably aren't as good as they were two years ago (less meat in the collards and beans), but the barbecue is guaranteed good, often great. I wish their smoked chickens were larger, but the flavor is pleasant and the meat is usually juicy. SoulFire's chili is too tame to make my chili list, but the wings that made my wings list keep getting better, with innovative flavors like pineapple, jerk and peanut butter and jelly on Monday all-you-can-eat wing nights. On my second-to-last visit I tried the new "knuckle sandwich" special: a pile of saucy rib tips served open faced on two slices of bread. These require careful navigation, but if you like a bargain and like your ribs saucy, they're a treat.
Two months after a very positive visit, I returned to Dinosaur as a piggyback to Rack and Soul on a Harlem BBQ crawl. While this wasn't anywhere near a bad visit, it was still disappointing in that it fell short of the higher expectations set by the previous one. The chili was a straightforward ground beef rendition that had more sauce than meat, and no barbecue flavor. Ribs were again just okay, with none of the bark or juicy meat I keep seeing in photographs taken by others. Luckily, the sides were all up to par (possibly the best all-around barbecue sides in the city) and a brisket and bacon sandwich was simply phenomenal.
High Street Grill, N. Andover MA
I've visited six times now in the six months they've been open without posting a review, and here's why: like Roadhouse in Brookline, they kept changing things so much that it didn't make sense to review it right away. Wings were nowhere to be found until about two months in; now the once-smoked flappers are merely fried. Although I liked their early St Louis cut ribs more than the spares they're pumping out now, I think overall the barbecue is better now than when they first opened, and even then it was pretty good. My main issue is the sauces, which I think are perfect on the ribs but a mismatch (too sweet) for the pork and brisket. That personal preference aside, both the pork and brisket have been fresh and moist on recent visits, and the Asian style wet ribs compare favorably with the original at East Coast Grill. Speaking of which: an early opinion I had on High Street Grill was that they had no business charging essentially the same prices as East Coast Grill when they had far less notoriety or cachet (and I'm guessing much lower rent) than East Coast Grill. The pricing structure seems more reasonable now, with most items under $20, some weeknight $10 specials and the Asian wet ribs a steal at $2.
BT's Smokehouse, Brimfield MA and Sturbridge MA
I stopped into the "Snack Shack" satellite location in Sturbridge two nights ago to try some chili, brisket and pork. I like the bumpy, lumpy chili, which succeeds not just in spite of the beans but because of their contribution to the aforementioned texture. It's hot enough that it needs no additional hot sauce, but there are a few to choose from on hand. Tender brisket is served with crispy fat intact, ready to be taken in or discarded (I chose the latter). Pulled pork mini sandwiches are the perfect sidecar for the chili, with plenty of wiltingly tender meat and dark, crunchy bark suffed in. This is a rustic approach to barbecue, both in the presentation and atmosphere (no seats), but it works.
Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint, East Meadow NY
I already described my disappointing visit last month when I hit Ruby's as part of a 4-stop Long Island BBQ crawl. It was at this visit that we were served a half rack that consisted of all "shiners" (ugly exposed bones). While on Long Island last weekend to judge a barbecue contest, I stopped in for a quick takeout order to make another assessment. I took a few bites each of a pulled pork sandwich and brisket sandwich; neither
were horrible but neither were anywhere near good: brisket again lacked flavor; sauce on the pork was nondescript and nothing like
that tasty sweet/vinegary sauce I tried the first time; pork had several blobs of fat that should have been
trimmed and discarded after cooking; both sandwiches depended
on pickle chips for flavor; fries were again limp and undercooked.
Everything was steamy. Part of that had to do with the takeout aspect, but I only took it next door to McDonald's. Both sandwiches were packed in salad bar style aluminum pie plates with plastic lids that sealed in the heat. Although that helped with the tenderness of the meats, it hurt the overall texture. I think it's time for a new review.
The best thing I had on that first semi-positive visit was the beef ribs and they're no longer on the menu.
Competitions: Smoke on the Water's Yanni Wins American Culinary Foundation Honors
Smoke on the Water BBQ team member Marc Yanni captured a silver medal at the 2009 ACF Culinary Competition in Albany NY last Sunday. Competing in the mystery basket event, 12 chefs had 4 hours to prepare a four course “hot” presentation using 12 ingredients presented to the chefs 15 minutes prior to the commencement of the contest. Yanni, who owns Yanni's Too Restaurant just south of Albany NY on the Hudson riverfront, is the Grillmaster of Smoke on the Water. This team is just one of several that compete under the bigtop of Mr. Bobo’s Traveling BBQ All Stars, featuring pitmaster and BBQ socialite Eric Johnson. Mr Bobo’s All Stars will be appearing in 13 contests and six different states in 2009.
On the weekends that the team is not competing, the restaurant will be hosting “Smoke on the Water” Sundays. Each week will feature the standard fare, plus gourmet twists including BBQ spaghetti, pork spring rolls, pork belies, bacon adaptations and a prime rib lightly smoked and then poached in 8 pounds of butter for 6 hours.
Connecticut BBQ: Black-eyed Sally's Tops Hartford Advocate's Readers Poll
Just when you've had it up to here with Boston or New York coverage, there's talk of Connecticut BBQ two days in a row. The Hartford Advocate's 2009 "Best Of" Readers Poll is a glossy insert in this week's issue, and the winner for "Best Ribs/BBQ" is Hartford's Black-eyed Sally's, who also took top honors for "Best Southern/Cajun." Finishing second were Little Mark's Big BBQ (Vernon) for Ribs/BBQ and Rajun Cajun (Hartford) for Southern/Cajun. Finishing third in both cateories was Smokin' Rock BBQ (Cromwell).
Competition BBQ: I Smell Smoke Wins Pork in the Park in Salisbury MD
The juggernaut is back and in midseason form. Last Saturday Steve Farrin and the I Smell Smoke gang bested a field of 92 teams in the Pork in the Park competition in Salisbury MD. Their consistent performance yielded a 10th place finish in Chicken, 7th in Ribs, 3rd in Pork and 11th in Brisket. full results at Pork in the Park website
Competition BBQ: Chubby Hubby Wins Williepalooza, American Royal Berth
The 2009 edition of Williepalooza in Brentwood NY last Saturday assembled some of the finest Long Island BBQ competition cooks in a friendly battle won by Chubby Hubby. After receiving the grand championship trophy, the fledgling team learned from contest organizer Will Breakstone (of the now-closed Willie B's BBQ) that the contest was a state championship and that they'd won an entry to the prestigious American Royal in Kansas City next fall. Chubby Hubby also claimed first place chicken; other first place finishers were Purple Turtle Catering Company for ribs, Blazin' Nuts for pork and Educators for brisket. Swamp Pit BBQ took first place in both auxiliary categories, winning Saturday night's chili competition and Sunday's burger competition.
Connecticut BBQ: Burnt Ends and Award Winning Sauces at Westport's Bobby Q's
I had been meaning to get another visit in to Bobby Q's (Westport CT), especially on a day when the burnt ends would be available. When my wife and I returned home last Wednesday from a non-BBQ trip to New York City, we made it a point to take advantage of Bobby Q's Wednesday burnt ends special. These are thick cubes of beef cut from the fattiest part of the brisket known as the point or the deckle. Smoked until lightly crisp on the outside, they remained supremely tender and very juicy inside. They're sauced sparingly, allowing the beef flavor to take the forefront. Smoke is fairly mild. I'm a huge fan of the burnt ends at RUB (NYC) and still haven't tried anything in these parts that rivals them, but Bobby Q's easily comes the closest.
Gandering at the Bobby Q's menu the morning before our ride home, I noticed that the three barbecue sauces (original, sweet honey, bold) all made the top 11 at the Kansas City Royal last year. So I looked up my review from 2007 to see what I said about the sauces: "There were three sauces on the table, all pretty good. I liked the bold and
spicy the best." In retrospect, "pretty good" is an understatement, because when I tasted them last Wednesday—on their own and on the barbecue—they were excellent. I like that they're all much thinner than the typical store-bought sauces, allowing easy application to the meat without overpowering the meat. Flavors all around are assertive and complex, with little specks of pepper and other spices mingling with the liquid. I now have a bottle of each in my kitchen.
We started the meal with an order of Bleu Balls, an interesting mix of intense bleu cheese and crumbled bacon that's beer battered, deep fried and served with a Buffalo sauce. I liked them, and would recommend them to anyone who likes bleu cheese. For my entree I went with a 3-meat combination of ribs, "spicy pulled pork" (you can get it two ways) and the burnt ends. The ribs were a little drier than my first visit but had much more flavor, thanks to a good dose of dry rub. Ironically, the light dab of sauce atop the spicy version of the pulled pork is a thicker, more tomatoey sauce than the table sauces, and I did not care for this one. But the meat itself was solid, with a gentle porky flavor, plenty of bark and a tender texture that never verged into mushy. Overall, it was a good lunch, and I'm already working on a dinner visit in tandem with nearby Wilson's.
Massachusetts BBQ: BarbeCure For Autism This Saturday in Northborough
This Saturday Catahoula BBQ and Romaine's Wood Grill and Bar (Northborough MA) will be hosting the first annual BarbeCure to enefit children with autism. For $25, you can enjoy ribs, brisket, pork and chhicken, while knowing that 100% of the proceeds will be headed to the Asperger's Association of New England and Autism Speaks organizations. www.barbecure.org
BBQ Marketing: Ohio BBQ Joint Does Boffo Business Thanks to Busty Mannequin
Here's a video from CNN that's been circulating rapidly today. Kenny Tessel of KT's BBQ (Reading OH) has been cooking barbecue for more than two decades, but when business started sagging due to the recent economic bust, he placed a voluptuous, scantily clad mannequin named BarBe Q outside the restaurant to develop more customer interest. Tessel claims business has increased by 30% in the three weeks since he introduced the mannequin: "We let BarBe bring 'em in and our food bring 'em back." See the video on CNN.com
Long Island BBQ: Ruby's Famous to Offer All You Can Eat Ribs, Starting Tonight
Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint (East Meadow NY) kicks off a new Monday night feature with all you can eat pork ribs for $18.95, starting tonight. As luck would have it, I was there last night after judging yesterday's Williepalooza barbecue competition, and saw this sign. Maybe this promotion will be a win-win, with the customers getting a good deal and the restaurant getting some much-needed practice. I'll talk about last night's pork and brisket later in the week.
Boston BBQ: Tremont 647 Opens at 10:30; SoulFire's Lynch to Run Boston Marathon
Tremont 647 (Boston MA) will be serving their award-winning brunch menu today from 10:30AM to 2:00PM in honor of the Patriots Day holiday and Boston Marathon. The bars will be open all day. www.tremont647.com
Here's wishing Wyeth Lynch the best of luck running in today's Boston Marathon, whose path runs mere footsteps from his Allston barbecue restaurant SoulFire. He's been training for months, steadily increasing his daily mileage well into the double digits, so he should do well. www.soulfirebbq.com
New York City BBQ: 2- and 3-Course Specials at Wildwood Barbeque
Wildwood (NYC) has quietly been offering 2-course lunch specials for $14.95 and 2-course dinner specials for $20.09, with a choice of appetizer and entree. You can add a third course for $3.95 at lunch or $4.95 at dinner. For me, the real appeal of these deals is that some of the selections are special items not available on the regular menu. Venison rib tips, anyone? How about pulled Colorado lamb on a wrap? Or a smoked brisket quesadilla?
There was no way I wasn't going to try the venison rib tips on my Tuesday lunch visit. Cooked to a crisp outside and tender but slightly chewy inside, the tips were coated with an offshoot of the apricot glaze that's also used on Wildwood's chicken. There's some noticeable gaminess to the meat, and the glaze provided a nice foil. I also cut the sweetness by sprinkling on some of the tableside rib dust. These venison rib tips are definitely worth a try, and I would love to see them added to the regular menu.
I also tried the quesadilla, made with Wildwood's smoked brisket, mushrooms, caramelized onions and plenty of diced tomatoes. This was a nice little appetizer, with plenty of beef flavor but not too heavy for lunch.
Massachusetts BBQ: Village Smokehouse in Lowell Unveils 3-Pronged Stimulus Plan
The Village Smokehouse (Bookline MA and Lowell MA) has announced a three-pronged "stimulus plan for hungry individuals" at their Lowell outpost. Recession specials include 25-cent wings every Sunday through Wednesday (4:00PM to 7:00PM, no minimum), free live music every Thursday night, and a 20% student discount (also available to Middlesex Community College and University of Lowell faculty and staff) with valid ID. www.villagesmokehouse.com
Boston BBQ: Lester's Offers BBQ Class, May 2
Lester's Roadside Bar-B-Q (Burlington MA) is hosting an afternoon barbecue workshop at the restaurant on Saturday, May 2 from 2:00PM to 5:00 pm on the outdoor patio. The workshop will focus on ribs and chicken, with class topics covering rubs, sauces, cooking times, temperature controls, the different types of barbecue smokers and how to turn your backyard charcoal or gas grill into a barbecue "smoker".
Steve Eastridge of the Meat at Slim's competition barbecue team will be the main presenter. Lester's owner and pit boss Doug Shaffer will discuss the restaurant aspects of barbecue, lead a "backstage tour" of the restaurant, show off the smokers and offer samples of the barbecue meats and side dishes. Andy King of the New England Barbecue Society will talk about barbecue competitions and what it takes to be a barbecue competition judge.
The total cost for the workshop and food is only $45, or sign up before April 29 for $35. To register for the class, call 781-221-7427 to prepay by credit card, or email email@example.com for a registration form.
Boston Events: The Boston Globe Reviews Cochon 555
On April 5 the Cochon 555 traveling competition hit Boston, featuring five different heritage pigs, five world class chefs and five local wineries. This salute to the pig was also a fundraiser to raise awareness for Farms For City Kids. My wife and I attended the event and I've been vacillating ever since over whether I should weigh in with my own take. Until I do, check out J. Kenji Alt's review in yesterday's Boston Globe:
Here's a few excerpts, with the phrases highlighted in red a hint as to what my review will have to say:
A parade of piggy balloons line the walls in the over-crowded ballroom. Guests stare as they watch butcher Joel Cox expertly removing the jowls of a whole hog. In an age when even butchers have groupies, a pig-butchering demonstration can draw a huge crowd. Around the perimeter of the room, more guests jostle each other to grab samples of red-braised pork belly, skewers of crispy head and tail fritters, and pig-shaped bacon-flavored marshmallows.
...[Jamie] Bissonnette is assembling diminutive sandwiches. They are an easy hit for those who got to taste them. But having to simultaneously plate for 20 judges seated upstairs and feed guests at the same time slows down production and costs him valuable points from impatient guests.
New York City BBQ: Whole Hog at Hill Country
Last night Hill Country (NYC) ran their Tuesday night smoked whole pig special for the second time, and I was there. I actually had to be in New York City for another matter, so the timing worked out perfectly.
So how was it? The skin was golden brown, though (as with most whole pigs) not edible. The shape of the animal was quite different from others I'd seen, reminding me of a swiny version of Jennifer Lopez.
I tried the meat from the hams, the shoulder, the loin and the belly, and all were very moist, with the textures ranging from stringy (ham) to silky (loin) to downright buttery (belly).
the outdoor sign lures 'em in
Chris hauling hog
carving the beast
the moist meat is exposed
The flavor across the board was bland. I don't fault Hill Country as much as I fault the nature of the beast (literally). I've tried whole pig or whole hog (the difference is size) a few different times and I've come to the conclusion that I'm just not crazy about it. I'd even go as far as to say it's overrated. The ceremony is a treat and the appeal of the whole beast in its golden brown glory is a sight to behold, but the flavor just doesn't live up to expectation. I much prefer the individual parts, which properly butchered can receive more smoke, more rub and get crispier and tastier. Each part gets perfectly cooked without compromises made for the greater good of the whole. And there's more surface area—make that edible surface area—with all the flavoring elements intact.
I still enjoyed myself and had no regrets. Well, maybe one: the brisket flat being sliced up last night looked phenomenal, and I could have had that instead. There's always a next time.
New York City BBQ: Sauza Tequila Tasting Tonight at Southern Hospitality; Baseball Celebration Tomorrow
Southern Hospitality (NYC) is hosting a tequila tasting starting at 7:00PM tonight. For $30 you can sample six differet varieties, with expert guidance from tequila maven Jaime Salas. The tequila roster includes Hornitos Plata, Hornitos Reposado, Hornitos Anejo, Tres Generaciones Plata, Tres Generaciones Reposado, and Tres Generaciones Anejo.
Tomorrow night, the theme shifts to baseball, as former Met/Yankee Darryl Strawberry and former Yankee Charlie Hayes host the festivities to celebrate the opening of New York's newest baseball parks. Watch the baseball action on 14 high definition TVs as you enjoy specially priced adult beverages.
Long Island BBQ: Swingbelly's To Offer Special Menu for Long Beach Restaurant Week
Swingbelly's (Long Beach NY) is participating in Long Beach's restaurant week event that starts this Friday night and runs through Sunday, May 3. Their 3-course menu is $19.99 per per person and offers a choice of appetizer (fried pickles, onion strings or cheese fries), a smoked meat platter (pulled pork, turkey or a half rack of ribs) and a dessert (brownie Sundae, peanut butter pie or Key Lime pie).
Home Cooking: Lamb Three Ways
First, a couple of disclaimers: 1) No, this isn't the first wave of an attempt to turn Pigtrip into a cooking site. I'll leave that to others far more talented. 2) I hardly ever cook, much less cook lamb, and this is the first time I've ever attempted lamb, so please be gentle.
For years my wife has been trying to convince me to whip up some smoked lamb for Easter, and for years I resisted. It was too much of a commitment for something that might totally bomb, since it would be my first attempt. This year I deciced to give in—sort of. I'd grill the lamb rather than smoke it. My thinking as the holiday got closer was that I'd do "lamb three ways." Sure, it sounds cool, but the real reason I chose that is to give myself a built-in hedge. I could totally destroy two of the lamb dishes and still see a chance for a successful meal.
Here's some of the thinking behind the creative decisions, along with my assessment of how things turned out:
If I had my druthers, one of the three choices would be lamb ribs, as is done at Wildwood (NYC). But I didn’t want to use the smoker, so this was best saved for a future project.
Another choice I would have made but wasn’t meant to be was lamb sausage. If Sausage Heaven (Manchester NH) was still in business, this would be a no-brainer. Man, I miss that place.
The more moving parts a plan has, the more there are that can go wrong, so I wanted one of the lamb dishes to be either a chili or a stew. Having a slow simmering item would eliminate the timing challenge, since it could be ready in four hours, five hours or whenever I wanted. Fearing that an intense chili would lose the lamb flavor amid the spices, I decided on a stew of lamb, chopped onions, celery and carrots. I coated the stew meat with a dry rub modeled after Chris Schlesinger’s Latin style rub (Big Flavors of the Hot Sun), then turned it over to my wife, who browned it in olive oil before adding a half bottle of Shiraz and the vegetables. Five hours later, the lamb was fork tender and the flavors had concentrated nicely.
Mini lamb burgers made a lot of sense: everybody loves sliders and the size would fit right in. I chose a simple preparation, with nothing but ground lamb, dredged in a fennel-coriander rub. Ketchup or any other sauce seemed alien to lamb burgers for me, so for a condiment I made a simple fennel slaw with mayo, cider vinegar, black pepper and more ground fennel seeds. I also made a small batch of a second slaw with habanero peppers. Fennel in the rub and in the condiment made me want to echo that licorice flavor one more way. I’d heard of a burger joint that filled mist bottles with vermouth to spray flavor to the meat while it grilled, so I sprayed Sambuca on the lamb. For the bun, I went with a mini egg roll—I thought it would be funny to use an offshoot of challah for Easter, especially during Passover.
Small but thick-cut lamb chops were the third installment. I applied a thin coating of rosemary-infused oil, then added a rub of garlic powder, smoked salt and ground rosemary. Since mint is such a staple with lamb, I wanted to incorporate it somehow, but in a different way. So I borrowed a page from the Bobby Flay playbook and made a mint oil: fresh mint, blender, olive oil, a little black pepper and lemon. My wife hated it. I loved it.
I have to admit, the lamb stew my wife took the lead on was the best dish of the day. And the lamb chops were pretty good, cooked to a perfect medium rare. The burgers, not so good: I overcooked them, underseasoned them (they desperately needed salt) and I wasn’t happy at all with the bun. But I’ll take two out of three any day, and I’ll take a few of these ideas into some future meals.
lamb chops with rosemary
fennel slaw for the sliders
mint oil, Bonny Flay style
Sambuca spray for burgers
lamb chop, mint oil, fennel slaw
Guest Post, New Hampshire BBQ: Some Early Intel on Smoke and Spice in Derry
Here's a quick guest report from my friend Erik, who knows what a good rib tastes like even though he didn't try one at Smoke and Spice Bar-B-Q (Derry NH):
We went Thursday for lunch. Wasn’t anything special. We had the pulled pork, pulled chicken, and brisket sandwich specials. It wasn’t very smoky, but then the bottom of an ashtray isn’t smoky enough for me. The meat was decent but the sandwiches were a little over sauced. The chicken seemed like it had plenty of meat on it but there was a bit less on the pulled pork and brisket. The sides were very good. We had the brisket chili, the beans, and the dirty rice. The cornbread was of the sweet moist variety—good, but I’m not a fan of that. All and all, we’ll be back.
over the counter service
pulled pork sandwich
pulled chicken sandwich
Never Trust A Skinny Chef
"Never trust a skinny chef" is the motto of Hawaiian chef/restaurateur Sam Choy, whose shadow looms large not just over the Hawaiian food scene but looms large, period. At first take it's easy to dismiss the seemingly throwaway line as just a self-deprecating comment on his rather large frame. Over the years since I first heard it, "Never trust a skinny chef" has become my motto as well, for all that it implies. It's surprisingly applicable to the barbecue world, and not just because that demographic tends toward large shadows.
Disclaimer: the idea here isn't to make generalizations about body types, just to look past the throwaway line and think about what "Never trust a skinny chef" is trying to convey.
1. The not-so-skinny chef has eaten more than the skinny chef, so he knows more about food than his slimmer colleague. Sure, there are exceptions. But more often than not, the premise is true. Who would you rather have preparing your barbecue platter? Someone who's only tasted his own cooking, or someone who's tasted his share and then some of all that barbecue has to offer? Give me the chef—okay, pitmaster—who's traveled the country, comparing the differences between pork sandwiches made with only shoulder versus all parts of the hog. Give me the pitmaster who's tried every possible permutation of burnt ends. Give me the pitmaster who's tried ribs wet, ribs dry, ribs dry with extra dry rub applied after cooking, ribs glazed, ribs smoked then braised, ribs braised then smoked, ribs smoked then grilled, ribs every which way but loose.
2. The not-so-skinny chef likes food more than his slimmer colleague. There are some people in the food industry who do what they do because that’s what they do. And there are others who do it because they truly love food. I’m talking about the types who hear about a certain strawberry being at the peak of season at a new farmer’s market and rush out the door, Sonny Corleone style, because they have to have some now. I’m talking about chefs who scour the Internet and rare book shops for inspiration for new dishes. I’m talking about chefs who dine at other restaurants on their days off because they want to expose themselves to new flavors and new approaches that may just improve their own cooking. Sitting on a desk chair or a barstool after hours isn’t going to do much for that chef’s physique as on the tiny bicycle seat at spinning class, but it may do much for the meal he prepares for me.
3. The not-so-skinny chef tastes his own food with a critical eye. Check out any high-end celebrity chef who's actually working in his own restaurant (okay, that rules out Todd English) and you'll see that chef checking plates for neatness, consistency, preparation, doneness and flavor. No, he's probably not eating off what will soon become your plate, but you will see the good ones—such as another Hawaiian chef, the great Alan Wong—tasting here and there to make sure everything's just right. The chefs who just let every plate go out as is may be skinnier or more confident, but I'll take the plate from the chef who's on his toes, correcting mistakes before they ever see the table. But more importantly, I want to taste the food from the chef who’s tasted it first to make sure it tastes good. Recipes have a way of gradually morphing away from the master plan if you don’t stay on top of them. Even if the recipe is right the flavor could be off (a particular batch off peppers may be hotter or milder than usual, or a change in another ingredient’s sourcing may affect its flavor). I want the chef to know what his vision tastes like months or years after that recipe is created and be on hand, tasting to make sure everything’s perfect. That can’t be done without consuming some calories along the way.
In the barbecue world, tasting is even more important because the product changes throughout its lifetime. Barbecue isn't cooked to order, so the brisket that came out of the smoker in the morning may have quite a different consistency at lunchtime than at dinnertime. The pitmaster can poke at it all he wants, but tasting should be mandatory. The spices, bark and crust on a rack of ribs may have been perfect when the pitmaster tasted a few bones as the ribs came out of the smoker, but that’s a completely different product from what the customer will taste. How’s that exterior a few hours later: still as crisp? If the ribs are refrigerated, then reheated, are they warm enough? Are they moist enough? Does that abundant layer of rub taste as good after reheating, or is it an ashen, slushy mess?
I've heard many a pitmaster say, "Nobody else's barbecue comes close to mine!" But if he's only tasting what comes out of the smoker and not what sits around and gets reheated for the customer, he's not only making an unfair comparison, he's also very likely to be completely wrong.
How’s the chicken? Can you taste the flavor only at the skin, or does it penetrate all the way into the inner meat? Is the skin crisp? Is there too much vinegar in the pork? Not enough vinegar in the pork? Is the pork getting soggy? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to taste early and taste often.
I want my pitmaster on top of these things, tasting and adjusting along the way. If he can do that and still be skinny, good for him. But if tasting along the way means he’s not skinny, that’s still good for me.
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning seven of the eight Pigtrip states. This time there's five new joints and three closings.
TLC Vittles (Windsor VT) is now in its second year and gearing up for the season with a Spring Brunch and a whole host of barbecue specialties. To view their hard-to-find online menu, just click the link below, then click the second instance of "Online Menu." Thanks to TLC Vittles ownerhip for notifying me of their existence. If you are a barbecue restaurant owner, don't be shy, just drop me a line. www.tlcvittles.com
Uncle Pete's Hickory Ribs (Revere MA) has closed following the death of its namesake owner Peter Cucchiara. In recent years, Pete had assumed more of a "face of the franchise" role, allowing younger hands to man the kitchen. Here's hoping that the advance transfer of knowledge will lead to a resurfacing of a bigger, better Uncle Pete's down the road. Thanks to Sue for first alerting me of the situation. www.unclepetes.com
Jackalope Barbecue (Fishkill NY) is no more. Thanks to Mark for finding out the hard way and reporting back.
CT's Bar-B-Que (Somerset NJ) is also closed, and thanks to Bill for also finding out the hard way.
Heartland Brewery (New York NY) is a small chain known more for their beers than their food, but the South Street location (called Heartland Brewery & Barbecue) is serving beef and pork ribs, pulled pork, brisket and more. I wonder if they are using the same smoker that previously pumped out the meats at Spanky's, their now-closed sister restaurant. Thanks to Vinny for the lead. www.heartlandbrewery.com
Newport Blues Cafe (Newport RI) is part clubby, part restauranty, and the restauranty part is sort of a greatest hits of pub food, pasta dishes, seafood, Southwestern and two barbecue items: "in-housed smoked" St Louis ribs and pulled pork sandwich. www.newportblues.com
Good Cookin' Southern Cuisine (Bridgeport CT) offers fried chicken, ribs, baked mac and cheese, honey BBQ wings and southern desserts like sweet potato pie and red velvet cake.
Pit Stop Smokehouse (Westmoreland NH) has been open just a few weeks in the former Pudgie's location on Route 12. Thanks to Marty for the lead.
Boston Events: Feel the Pleasure and the Pain at East Coast Grill Hell Nights, Monday to Wednesday
Another Hell Night tripleheader is on the docket next week at East Coast Grill (Cambridge MA). The chile-infused specials will set your tongue on fire, get the beads of sweat flowing, clear your sinuses and wreak havok on your nervous system, but that's what it's all about, isn't it?
As has been the case with recent Hell Nights, the entire menu is viewable online in advance of the event. All of the selections are presented a la carte, allowing you to order according to your heat tolerance, and if you're especially brave, the Pasta From Hell requires a signed waiver of responsibility. If you lack the courage to face the wrath of the chile peppers, a limited "Wimp Menu" is also available.
Massachusetts BBQ: High Street Grill's BBQ Recession Remedy Is On Tonight
High Street Grill (Andover MA) feels yourpain, hunger and otherwise, and is offering two-meat barbecue combos for $10 every Wednesday and Sunday. Choose from smoked jumbo wings, beef brisket, pulled pork and Kansas City ribs. www.25high.net
New York BBQ: Hill Country Goes Whole Hog Every Tuesday, Starting Tonight permalink
There have been a few unpublicized dry runs already, but tonight Hill Country (NYC) officially kicks off its weekly Tuesday Night Whole Pig event. Although whole pigs are available elsewhere in the city by advance reservation and by committing to the entire animal, Hill Country is changing the pig paradigm by offering it in any quantity to anyone who happens to get a craving around 7:00PM. It will be sold by weight and be priced at around $22 per pound, about the same as the moist brisket.
Pitmaster Pete Daversa recommends getting there early. “In our test runs we elevated the pig on upside-down hotel pans on the meat counter, and that attracted a lot of attention. We sold out in less than 45 minutes.” He also encourages customers to request any part of the animal they like: “The cheeks, the hams, the loins, the legs, you name it, you can have it.”
Hill Country pitmaster Pete Daversa
Daversa has been experimenting with various sized pigs and should have one weighing more than 50 pounds for tonight’s festivities. He immersed it in a brining liquid last night so it would be ready for its 11 hour stint in the smoker. “The brine is to infuse moisture, not flavor,” notes the pitmaster. “We want to maintain the integrity of the pig’s natural flavor.”
Here's lookin' at you, pig
Granted, Hill Country is a Texas barbecue joint and whole hog isn’t exactly a Texas staple, but Daversa shrugs that off. “Despite the stereotype about Texas barbecue being primarily beef, there’s a lot of pork being done down there, whether it’s ribs or chops. We decided a long time ago that we weren’t going to do pulled pork sandwiches, because everybody else is doing that. But this sets us apart. This is our take on pulled pork.”
Guest Post, Boston BBQ: Farewell, Uncle Pete
After my wife, nobody has accompanied me on more barbecue restaurant visits than my friend Steve Sack of the Smoke Em If Ya Got Em competition team. Steve is everything I look for in a dining companion: he returns phonecalls in a heartbeat, he shows up on time, he’s agreeable to any ordering strategy I run past him, he’s easy to split the check with and he likes to tip big. His only problem (aside from lame joking with waitresses and whining if we don’t order wings every time) is that he forgets everything he eats within a few days of eating it, rendering those “How does this place compare with that other place” discussions impossible. But the one place he never forgot was Uncle Pete’s Hickory Ribs (Revere MA), his all-time favorite. He can rattle off every detail of the beef ribs, the pork ribs, the unusual cornbread made with cheese and the wings he insisted be part of every order. With the untimely passing of owner Peter Cucchiara, Uncle Pete’s has closed, having served its last meal Saturday night. A few days earlier, Steve ventured in without me to pay his final respects and enjoy the beef ribs and wings one last time. Here's his report:
As my wife and I pulled into the parking lot, we thought we were too late, as the place seemed abandoned. The neon sign was flashing OPEN, so we entered. Seated in the first booth were Aunt Pha (Pete’s widow) and a few of the remaining staff members. Pha was sincerely touched that we came to pay our respects and that we knew they were closing. They were not advertising that fact. After expressing our sorrows and best wishes, we were seated in the next booth and then it was business as usual.
Deb, who had served me every meal I’ve ever eaten there, took our order. I stuck to my favorites while my wife ordered the chicken salad. A complimentary cheese quesadilla was a light and crunchy start. The cornbread loaf we ordered worried me as it seemed undercooked and microwaved. The rest of the meal, however, left me with memories that I will cherish forever.
The wings reconfirmed why they were among my all time favorites. Crispy yet well sauced with an original recipe. The beef ribs were meaty and succulent, the champions of New England. The peanut-topped Asian slaw was on point with an addicting sweet sauce that had my bowl empty within minutes. My wife ate almost the entire basket of crunchy onion rings by herself as she passed them through the remainder of the wing sauce. The creamy, mild mac and cheese had no chance of surviving as a leftover and by meal’s end, the only food remaining was the garnish and some cornbread. The joint was now quite busy as other loyal patrons scrambled to get their final meals in. The wings must have been the hit of the evening, as we observed many plates of those crispy critters being delivered to waiting tables. We departed on a positive note wishing them all prosperity in a struggling economy and they thanked us for our support. For me, the meal itself served as a great last memory of a truly great BBQ joint. Thanks for the memories, Uncle Pete.
Competition Grilling: Transformer BBQ Wins Grillin' on the Bay; Wildwood Takes Reserve permalink
Two weeks earlier, it was a New York City team—Wildwood Barbeque—who took the grand championship at the Snowshoe Grilling Challenge in suburban Boston. Transformer BBQ of Canton MA returned the favor on Saturday, driving into Brooklyn and winning the fourth annual Grillin' on the Bay, a competition that doubles as a fundraiser for the St Mark School.
Brendan Burek takes the Grand Championship trophy as contest reps Michelle Taft and Andy King look on.
Transformer's Julie and Brendan Burek built on their earlier success at the Snowshoe. Although the husband-and-wife team finished fourth overall at that event, they were one of only two teams to receive three calls to the stage, one of which was first place for pork loin. On Saturday, Transformer duplicated the balanced attack and was the only team with calls in all four categories: first place pork, second place chef's choice, third place fish and sixth place chicken.
New York City barbecue restaurant Wildwood Barbeque took reserve grand championship honors, also receiving calls for first place chef's choice, third place chicken and fourth place fish. As at the Snowshoe, Wildwood pitmaster Lou Elrose teamed with Robbie Richter, who two summers ago was the pitmaster at New York City's Hill Country Barbecue.
1st place chicken: Ribs Within
1st place fish: Ribs Within
1st place pork: Transformer BBQ
1st place chef's choice: Wildwood
Ribs Within, led by Doug Keiles of New Jersey's Grub Hut, finished third overall, taking first place trophies for chicken and fish and a third place trophy for pork.
IQue finished fourth overall. The Boston-based team, led at this event by James Beard nominated chef Andy Husbands of Tremont 647, received calls for second place chicken, second place fish and sixth place pork. Fittingly, IQue also took first place in the "RUB Rapid Fire Challenge," cooking a
secret ingredient (hanger steak) supplied just
45 minutes before turn-in by co-sponsor Pat LaFrieda Meats.
With a shortage of judges, I was called into duty as a table captain, responsible for distributing entry boxes to the judges for the actual tasting and scoring. Although I've judged many times, this was the first time I had fulfilled this role. The downside of being a table captain was not being able to taste all the food (not such a bad thing) and not being able to observe the action outside. The upside was that I got to see all the entries that hit my table (there were three judging tables), play along in my head and then compare my mental appearance scores with the judges' actual scores for appearance, taste and tenderness.
Only when teams supply more than six portions for the six judges are there opportunities for table captains and contest representatives to also sample the entries. Two such opportunities came with two of the only three entries reaching my table that visually wowed me. Both tasted as good as they looked and both I later learned were cooked by ultimate champions Transformer BBQ. One was their chicken breast from the first round and the other was their steak with lobster from the chef's choice. The other entry that wowed me was beef short ribs on a bed of risotto with mushrooms, which received several perfect scores from the judges. This later turned out to be Wildwood's first place chef's choice. At a neighboring judges' table, there was much buzz about IQue's stuffed shrimp entry.
It was both a treat and a humbling experience to not count myself as one of the top bloggers at the event. Eric Devlin of Home of BBQ was one of the contest officials. Food writer Josh Ozersky of The Feedbag traded in his notepad for an apron and competed in a couple of the contest categories. Husbands pens the Fearless Chef blog; both Bureks take turns writing the Transformer BBQ blog; Clint Cantwell of Smoke In Da Eye regularly shares cooking tips and food porn on Blog In Da Eye. Ted Lorson of the QHaven blog and Lisa Fain of the Homesick Texan blog served as judges. Nick Solares of Beef Aficionado and Serious Eats was on hand to cover the event and join me on a panel who judged the surprise RUB Rapid Fire Challenge. Matt Fisher of the Hampton Smoker blog was onhand vending ribs and chicken to passersby who happened upon the event. And Robert Fernandez of the White Trash BBQ blog put the whole event together.
Fernandez, sponsor RUB BBQ and contest New England Barbecue Society (NEBS) representatives Andy King and Michelle Taft all ensured that the day's events unfolded rather smoothly. Despite heavy winds, it turned out to be a great day.
For complete contest results, see www.nebs.org.
permalink with more info and more photos
BBQ Contests: It's Back—Williepalooza 2009 is April 18-19 in Brentwood NY
Pitmaster Will Breakstone of the now-closed Willie B's BBQ (Bay Shore NY) is orchestrating the revival of Williepalooza, the Long Island barbecue contest that debuted in 2007 and took a sabbatical last year. The 2009 event will be held at the Brentwood VFW in Brentwood NY.
"This is a very cook-friendly contest and a perfect contest for new teams," said Breakstone in a phone interview. "Even if you don't plan on competing in the event, we want interested teams to come see what competition barbecue is all about."
Breakstone also notes that "because this is a non-sanctioned contest, it's also very judge-friendly. This is a very relaxed contest where we not only allow the judges to hang out and have a beer with the teams, we actually make it mandatory."
There will be a 22" Weber Smokey Mountain cooker being raffled off on Sunday afternoon and great-looking trophies for the winners. A chili contest with its own trophy is planned for Saturday.
Whether you are interested in competing or just watching and learning techniques from some of the best barbecue chefs on Long Island, Williepalooza should be a fun event. To sign up for cooking or judging, contact the organizers via the contest website. http://williepallooza.blogspot.com
Boston BBQ: Uncle Pete's to Close Saturday
The sad news gets even sadder: just 15 days after the untimely death of owner Pete "Uncle Pete" Cucchiara, the Revere barbecue joint Uncle Pete's Hickory Ribs will close its doors after last call this Saturday. www.unclepetes.com
Long Island BBQ: Notes From Saturday's 4-Stop Long Island Barbecue Crawl
Last weekend my wife and I visited the in-laws on Long Island. For her, it was a chance to reconnect with family. For me, it was a chance to reconnect with five friends (all with barbecue judging, competition and/or restaurant experience), who joined me on a tour of a quartet of Long Island barbecue joints. Here's the run-down, in chronological order:
Tennessee Jed's, Wantagh NY
This one will receive a more detailed treatment in my upcoming review, but for now the quick assessment is that they're a cozy, friendly place that for the most part has the doneness and barbecue textures nailed down, but is struggling somewhat with the flavors: some items were a little too smoky; other items were vastly underseasoned. One of the hidden gems here is the honey chipotle sauce available on the smoked wings; we also used it on the ribs. The cornbread here is another star, served in generous blocks that are as warm and moist as cornbread can get and still be fully cooked.
Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint, East Meadow NY
Ruby's was one of our more anticipated stops, because they were somewhat impressive a few months back, especially for their beef ribs. Unfortunately, the beef ribs are gone, as is opening pitmaster John Deloach. Whether the personnel change, time of day, lack of management alertness or just the usual capriciousness of barbecue was at fault, the second visit to Ruby's paled (literally in one instance) to the first.
Chili started the meal off on a positive note, supplying a drizzle of spiced cream and a thick layer of melted cheese on top of a heaping—and beanless—crockful of savory brisket chunks. Though the chile pepper component was faint, the overall flavor was intense, with a high salt content that might suggest beef bouillon or similar additive. Wings weren't bad, but noticeably different from the earlier rendition, carrying a tamer rub and less smoke. Things went downhill from there.
One of the half racks of ribs had all "shiners" (exposed bones), with the overcooked meat falling off the bone with nary a poke. The other half rack was grossly pale, as if the fat that had congealed during refrigeration and never got a chance to render during proper reheating. Although ordering the ribs unsauced is a stated menu option we chose to exercise, I'm guessing so few do that Ruby's figures they can just apply Josh Ozersky's axiom that "sauce covers a multitude of sins." Pulled pork was stiff, with less pop in the sauce than the more pleasing version I tried earlier. Brisket had good flavor but was dry and crumbly. Chicken was good, with a nice texture, good flavor and relatively crisp skin. A smoked prime rib sandwich was satisfying as far as everyday sandwiches go, but with none of the characteristics (smoke, rub, color, texture) of barbecue.
After my first meal there, I thought Ruby's had some promise. After my second, I'm less optimistic, but I try not to give a place the seal of approval after one good visit or the permanent hook after one bad one. The next visit should be interesting.
Bobbique, Patchogue NY
Clearly one of the best looking backdrops for barbecue on the Island, Bobbique combines the classiness of Manhattan's Blue Smoke (framed images from Smokestack Lightning photographer Frank Stewart) with the down-to-earth brickwork of Smokin' Al's, along with the best beer and bourbon selection in any barbecue joint east of the city. Full table service has now replaced the original format of order-first-and-wait, adding another level of comfort. Our order here was almost identical to Ruby's: wings, chili, five-meat combo.
The chili was fascinating, for a number of reasons. We asked for cheese on the side, so on the tray they arranged cheese, sour cream and onions all in separate ramekins, plus a good sized piece of coarse, dense cornbread. The chili itself offered a range of brilliant colors from the variety of different beans and shapes of meat. We thought some of the cubes were bits of ham, but it's all beef. The lubricant was minimal, accentuating the texture of the beef, whose enjoyable flavor actually benefitted from the inclusion of beans. This is another chili with not much chile, but regardless of whether you call it chili or a meaty stew, it's still a winning creation.
I liked the landscaping of the meats on a metal tray with paper liner between. Prettily glazed ribs were cooked to the point where they had more give to them than I like, but not so much that they risked becoming mush; the flavor was mild and pleasant in a mainstream sort of way. Brisket on a bed of lettuce with a drizzle of sauce looked better than it tasted, which was pot roasty. Pork picked things up with a good mix of textures, a fair amount of bark and light, sweet saucing. This rendition was also somewhat mainstream, but decent. Sausage was a generous portion of pink, moist, boldly flavored kielbasa whose casing became lightly crisped in the smoker. Chicken was incredibly tender and incredibly sweet. Aside from the kielbasa, nothing stood out as being really memorable, but all of it was enjoyable.
The sides on the whole are among the best of the Long Island barbecue joints. Taking the lead were a zippy, creamy cole slaw and a silky macaroni and cheese that packed sharpness while exhibiting enough restraint to allow the noodle to also bring some flavor and texture to the party. Molasses infused beans, crisp sweet potato fries and fried pickles were also good.
Swingbelly's, Long Beach NY
We saved this for our last stop because many of us regard Swingbelly's as the top barbecue destination on Long Island. I'd even go a step further and say that Swingbelly's is the only Long Island barbecue joint that could be uttered in the same breath as some of the more notable Manhattan barbecue titans.
Unfortunately, we hit Swingbelly's on an off night. The good news is that even on an off night, it was still good enough on Saturday to cling to its standing as Long Island's best. The bad news is that it could have stretched its lead and didn't.
Six adults shared a 5-meat combo and an extra rack of babybacks. Instead of babybacks, we received a rack of St Louis cut spare ribs that were very dark and over-crisped on the surface, creating an appearance that belied the pink, porkily flavorful and moist meat within. Aside from the exterior that was disconcerting visually and overly crumbly texturally, these ribs were actually very good. The stout rack of replacement babybacks had an ideal crust but was fairly dry meat below the surface. Pulled pork was fairly ho-hum, consistent with prior visits. Brisket was probably the biggest disappointment, arriving in long shreds rather than the beautiful, pink-tinged slices that were so impressive from the beginning. Fortunately, the shreds were reasonably moist, and fortunately, this is not a stylistic change. It turns out that the combination of beach location and unseasonably warm day created more business than expected, causing the brisket to run out early, thus requiring the replacement. (I would rather have been notified that they were out or at least given the option to substitute). Smoked chicken was back in the money, with plenty of rub, smoky flavor, moist texture and perfect tenderness. We hit the sides fairly lightly, but what we ordered (slaw, breadcrumb-topped macaroni and cheese) was good.
Epilogue (with apologies to Quinn Martin)
Well, there you have it: four Long Island BBQ joints, four different experiences. Some I had hoped would be better than they were and some showed me some things that made an unexpected impression; that's how it goes sometimes when you're on a crawl with a crowd. Regardless of the cue caliber, it was a great day for talking trash, sipping a few adult beverages and just enjoying the process of determining that constantly changing pecking order. Next time, I'll try to finally make a second trip to Seconds, a first trip to the Massapequa outpost of Smokin' Al's and a follow-up visit to Ruby's to see which of my two visits was the abberation.
Boston Events: Taste of the Nation Features Barbecue and Fine Dining, Under One Roof, Thursday Night
If you're a regular reader of this site, you're familiar with talk of barbecue crawls that cram two, three or even more barbecue joints into a single day's journey. Tomorrow night at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, you can sample barbecue from Blue Ribbon, Firefly's, Jake's Dixie Roadhouse and Redbones, all under one roof at the 21st Annual Taste of the Nation Boston. Organized by Share Our Strength, Taste of the Nation features more than 70 of Boston’s finest restaurants, over 40 great wineries, an extensive silent auction and live entertainment. Other restaurants from the BBQ Joints Directory include Ashmont Grill, East Coast Grill and Tremont 647.
Some of Boston's most talented celebrity chefs will be on hand, including Jody Adams of Rialto, Gordon Hamersley of Hamersley’s Bistro, Andy Husbands of Tremont 647, Jason Santos of Gargoyles on the Square and more. Thanks to an all-volunteer committee, 100% of ticket sales from Taste of the Nation are granted to the most effective anti-hunger organizations working to end childhood hunger in America.
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