Archives - May 2009
In the past four weeks, eating for me has been mostly seafood, vegetables and chicken. So now more than ever I've been enjoying barbecue reports via email (thanks to Tom, Larry and Jared) and recent online coverage (Robert and Scott).
NYC BBQ: White Trash BBQ Visits RUB 1 2 3
NYC BBQ: One Food Guy Visits RUB and Hill Country
Boston BBQ: One Food Guy Visits Blue Ribbon
New York City BBQ: Hill Country's Pete Daversa Explains How To Cook Chickens (and Pick Up Chicks) on ABC's Nightline
Earlier in the month Brooklyn's Fette Sau and Manhattan's Hog Pit got some local TV facetime, but last week Hill Country's Pete Daversa-—one of the most talented pitmasters in the city-—reached a national audience with an appearance on ABC's Nightline. Check out the video to watch Daversa prepare two different rubs, demonstrate the proper way to cook beer can chicken, take a bite out of a whole brisket and explain how to use bacon to meet women.
I love Pete Daversa's cooking, but the camera loves Pete Daversa. I have a feeling there may be a future TV gig in the cards.
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning four states. This time there's three new joints, three seasonal openings, one name change, two seasonal openings that never happened, one closing, one move, two new websites and one removal of a restaurant that's not really barbecue.
Surfing Swine BBQ (Orleans MA), as reported earlier, is the reincarnation of Dr. Frank 'n' Swine BBQ that set up shop on weekends last summer at the Masonic Lodge on the way to Cape Cod's Nauset Beach. This summer they've expanded to a Friday-through-Sunday operation and have a new high capacity smoker.
Uncle Willie's BBQ (Waterbury CT) closed their New Haven location on Whalley Avenue about two months ago and have moved to West Haven.
Way Back Eddy (Westport MA) was a seasonal joint that took a year off in 2008 with plans to open this season, but my moles tell me the joint has been converted to something entirely different. It was fun while it lasted, especially under Steve Johnson's helm in 2004.
Marconi Beach Restaurant (Wellfleet MA) is a seasonal Cape Cod BBQ joint that is now open for 2009. www.marconibeachrestaurant.net
Sunset Ribs (Waterford CT) is another seasonal BBQ joint that is now open for the 2009 season. www.sunsetribs.com
Drumstik Bar-B-Q is a ribs and fried chicken joint that may not be real barbecue, but they offer a gazillion permutations of ribs and chicken and are the closest thing to barbecue between Fairfield and New Haven. www.drumstikbarbq.com
BT Lane's (Jewett City CT) announced last year that they were shutting down with plans to move to a new (nearby) location by March 2009, but the website has not been updated, the phone is not in service and email inquiries go unanswered. I'm hoping I'm wrong, but my guess is they haven't re-opened as planned. www.btlanesbbq.com
Backwoods BBQ (Westwood NJ) has been closed for a few months now, according to a report in Second Helpings that also announces that chef/pitmaster Jay Lippin will have a new gig featuring his barbecue at the Dog House Saloon in Washington Township.
Hog Heaven BBQ & Grill (Clifton NJ) is the flipside of the previous coin: while the Dog House Saloon was a bar in need of barbecue, Hog Heaven was a barbecue joint trying to get its bar, according to a different Second Helpings report.
Applewood BBQ (Chatham NY) lies between Albany and the Massachusetts western border. menu on Urban Spoon
Whiskey's Smokehouse (Boston MA) won't win any points for authenticity, but they have a handy Copley Square address to lure tourists and the unsuspecting. Now they have a website: www.whiskeysboston.com.
Pilgrim Bar-BQ (Ansonia CT) now also has a website: www.pilgrimbarbeque.com
Ashmont Grill (Dorchester MA) isn't a barbecue joint, but it made my directory a few years ago on the basis that it had both ribs and a pulled pork sandwich on its menu. The ribs are gone, so it's more of a stretch now. I'll leave the contact info up but am graying it out for clarity. www.ashmontgrill.com
Boston BBQ: Updated Review for SoulFire
It's no secret that SoulFire (Allston MA) is not only one of my favorite Boston BBQ joints but also one of my favorites in the entire region. I've raved about their improvements and I've posted many mouth-watering photos in the Recent Eats column, but now it's time to bring the review up to date.
read the updated SoulFire review
Restaurant Service: You Make the Call (conclusion) permalink
Last week I described an unfortunate restaurant service experience in the first installment of You Make the Call, then asked for reader feedback on how to handle the situation. Thanks to all of those who contributed comments. Here are my own answers to the questions I posed, along with some scattered facts and thoughts:
Should anything have been taken off the check? I'm assuming that the offer of dessert was intended to be on the house, but regardless of whether we accepted or declined, I thought my wife's burger (a replacement for the botched chicken) should have been comped. It wasn't. It should have been comped for two reasons: 1) it wasn't even what she ordered, and 2) subjecting my wife and me to the awkwardness of having to take turns eating alone while the other watched disqualifies them from charging full price. But I don't happen to be one of those people who demands having something taken off the bill, so I didn't say anything. I found it quite amusing that our server announced with great flourish when delivering the check that the untouched chicken was deducted. Gee, thanks.
Some history, purposely withheld: although it was our first (and last) experience with this sparticular server, it was not our first visit to this restaurant. Ordinarily, a service experience like this one might be the kiss of death, but I like the food there and have had a good track record with the owner (including a few freebies both before and since the described visit). So, yes, I think that warrants a little slack and, yes, I have returned a few times since and had good meals each time. As far as I can tell, that awful server no longer works there.
I also unintentionally failed to mention that the restaurant was not busy, which actually makes our server even worse than initially described. When you're juggling three, four, five or more tables, you might not get a chance to make sure napkins are sufficient, people are happy and empty glasses are getting refilled. But that night our server only had one other table (one that finished up shortly after we arrived, and another that showed up later on). Allowing our glasses to repeatedly become empty, stay empty and go unreplaced while fresh glasses of beer and wine sat on the bar getting warm can only be attributed to one of two things: lack of experience or lack of desire. I like to think of myself as a pretty good judge of character, and I'm choosing the latter on this one. I also consider the repeated neglect a far greater offense than my wife's botched chicken dish. Mistakes happen, but our server's problems-—the drinks, the menu interrogations, the long disappearing act-—go way beyond a simple honest mistake.
What should the tip have been? Were it not for the restaurant's past goodwill and my own intention to return, I'd have left 10% or less. As it turned out, I left about 13%, much of it due to the convenience of rounding and not wanting to wait around for change. While stiffing the server might have given me some level of satisfaction through justice, that's not how I roll. Plus, it wasn't worth the cost of not being able to return. To the best of my knowledge I have not been served anything that's been lathered in spit on my return visits.
How much of the blame goes to...? I was both grateful and a little surprised by the lack of percentage points of blame allocated to me, the diner. The server had legitimate motivational issues, but it's possible that she interpreted my reluctance to speak up during her visits to the adjacent table as a sign that everything was okay. I was so fascinated by her complete obliviousness while our glasses sat empty and our refills sat unclaimed at the bar that I had to see just how long it would last each time. For that I might assign a few percent to myself. I see the rest of the blame falling about 80% on the server (a cornucopia of rudeness, mistakes and neglect) and 20% with management (bad hiring, bad training, bad awareness).
The owner, manager and even other servers could have and should have been able to notice that glasses were sitting empty for long periods of time, and that one of us was eating dinner while the other was not.
Sometimes you just want to get the hell out of Dodge and not have to explain what all the problems were and what should have been done differently. Rather than having that conversation right after dinner, I emailed the owner the next day and offered some thoughts.
One trick I've used in the past is to take matters into my own hands when sitting with an empty glass for a while. If the restaurant has a bar, that means walking up to the bar and ordering the drinks there. Seeing the tips on those drinks go to the bartender usually elicits the "cattleprod effect" on the server.
Though I'd stop short of the word "sympathy," I can see the difficult situation a restaurant is in when a mistake has been made and they want to make it right. If you comp one of the meals, you're potentially losing money on a customer who still may be unsatisfied and never come back. If you offer a discount on a future meal, you risk looking like you're ignoring the current problem while hoodwinking the victims into another fleecing (even with the discount the restaurant will make money). If you throw a free dessert on the problem, you risk that this will be perceived as just a low-cost, high-markup item that doesn't come close to righting the original wrong. If an entree needs to be cooked over, do you offer to re-fire both entrees (including the one that was cooked right) so that the couple can dine together? Do you offer the victim the option of keeping the sides to nibble on while waiting for the corrected main dish with another batch of those sides? These are some tough decisions.
I also sympathize with the customer. A friend told me of a situation where an order of chicken arrived undercooked-—a conclusion reached after extensive cutting and examining, along with what I'm sure were some less-than-satisfying bites. Long story short, the restaurant cooked the chicken a little more and re-served the same plate, rather than starting over and serving something that actually looked appetizing. Again, it's a tough call for the restaurant: if you start over you're making the customer wait longer; if you cook the existing item longer you're serving something not even close to stellar. If it were my restaurant, I'd ask which option the customer preferred and then still comp the dish. But it's a lot easier for me to say that not owning a restaurant.
Brooklyn BBQ: More Fette Sau Video
Here's another seasonal video visit to Fette Sau (Brooklyn), this time by Shazia Khan of NY1, and this time closely linked not only to the arrival of grilling season but also the (ever so slightly updated) Zagat survey that ranked Fette Sau #1 for barbecue in New York City.
Brooklyn BBQ: WABC Visits Fette Sau and Posts Dry Rub Recipe
With the arrival of Memorial Day weekend comes the onslaught of barbecue news for those who don't think about it every day of the year. To kickoff the holiday weekend las Friday, Lauren Glassberg of WABC TV (channel 7) visited one of my favorite New York City barbecue joints, Fette Sau. Its location in Brooklyn and evening-only operating hours have made it a little tougher for me to visit than some of the more heralded joints in Manhattan, but I can't wait to return. In the meantime, I can live vicariously through WABC's video. Be sure to also check out the recipe for Fette Sau's dry rub, featuring ground espresso beans as one of its key ingredients.
view video and rub recipe
Daisy May's Takes Top Spot in My 2009 Favorite BBQ Chili List
My apologies for posting this on what may turn out to be the hottest day of the year to date, but there will still be plenty of cooler springtime days ahead to put some of these recommendations to use. I could have posted a list months ago, but due dilligence required a few more tastings that unearthed some pleasant surprises.
1. Daisy May's, NYC
(beans: no; spiciness: mild)
Whether you love or merely like Daisy May's chili is a matter of opinion, but there's no refuting its meatiness. This bowl of red is packed with large chunks of brisket that have grown increasingly barbecue-flavored in recent visits and accented with a thick, peppery-sweet brick-colored ancho lather. It may be mild but there's no lack of flavor here. A plus is that there are no beans to get in the way of your enjoyment; a minus is the pre-packed sour cream that's refigerator cold. Fortunately, a chili this good needs no sour cream. Two things pushed it to the number one slot for me: its consistent quality and the freshness of the meat. I may be wrong or just lucky, but the texture on my last two visits didn't seem like repurposed brisket at all—I'd almost swear it was smoked exclusively for the chili.
2. Big W's, Wingdale NY
(beans: no; spiciness: hot)
I love the simplicity of the brisket chili at Big W's, which dollar-for-dollar is even meatier than Daisy May's, and hotter to boot. I think of it more as choppped brisket with chili sauce than an actual chili, and I mean that as the highest compliment. The tandem of the beef and chicken chilis was a serious threat for the top spot, but as of my last visit, the chicken chili was off the menu (the chili's loss is the smokey chicken pot pie's gain).
3. All Star Sandwich Bar, Cambridge MA
(beans: no; spiciness: medium hot)
Chris Schlesinger sold the joint that held the top spot last year, but All Star Sandwich Bar is in good hands. Not only has the chili recipe not changed, it's still being prepared by the same people who prepared it last year. That said, this chili has declined somewhat, now supplying a thinner, saltier broth. It's still loaded with smoky brisket chunks, but they seem less integral to the dish, as if added at the end rather than cooked in. What I still like about All Star's chili is the unique flavor that's big on cumin and other ingredients not normally found in a typical chili.
4. Hill Country, NYC
(beans: no; spiciness: medium)
Executive chef Elizabeth Karmel has taken many shots, both in print and via word of mouth, from the sizeable camp of Hill Country's armchair critics who love the meat, hate the sides. Aside from the once-lackluster cole slaw that has since been improved, I like her sides, especially her deep, complex chili that has more beer in its makeup than any other on the list. I just wish the brisket that's become Hill Country's signature item could make its way into the recipe.
5. RUB, NYC
(beans: yes, spiciness: medium)
Still my highest ranking among the chilis that include beans (though unobtrusive), mostly due to the high quality brisket scraps. This is a meaty, smoky chili tempered by the inclusion of cinnamon (or possibly nutmeg or allspice; I can't tell them apart in small doses) to keep things interesting.
6. Jake's Dixie Roadhouse, Waltham MA
(beans: no, spiciness; varies)
This one's tough to rank, because the heat level (for temperature as well as spice) keeps changing from visit to visit. The constant is the large mass of tender pulled pork and the pleasing backdrop of piquant condiment.
7. Southern Hospitality, NYC
(beans: yes, spiciness: medium)
Dr, BBQ's chili was surprisingly good and far smokier than any of the meats on their barbecue menu. Like RUB's, this chili has beans and a touch of cinnamon. What makes this one distinctive is the use of green peppers that add an addictively pleasing freshness to the bowl.
8. Bobbique, Patchogue NY
(beans: yes, spiciness: mild to medium)
I like that there's an obstacle course of textures in here, with several kinds of beans, two kinds of meat and a fresh, unique flavor.
9. BT's Smokehouse, Brimfield MA
(beans: yes; spiciness: hot)
A frequent participant and occasional winner on the chili competition circuit, Brian Treitman (the "BT" of BT's) breaks from convention with an in-your-face quantity of beans, but counters with plenty of thick brisket chunks that supply the highest smoke level of any of the chilis on the list. The chili is available at both locations, but I recommend BT's "Snack Shack" in Sturbridge, where you can enjoy it with a cold beer purchased at the Yankee Spirits, whose front right corner constitutes said Shack.
10. Redbones, Somerville MA
(beans: no; spiciness: mild)
This is another joint whose ranking is affected by a second chili, in this case the chili verde. It's a whole different breed, made with pork and more herbs than spices. The Redbones beef chili is hardly mainstream: large chunks of beef in a very thin broth that's closer to soup than chili, but it works.
Chili Head BBQ, W. Bridgewater MA: chunky brisket with adjustable heat that requires a waiver if you aim to high.
Virgil's, NYC: Similar to Daisy May's in flavor, with less impressive meat.
Waterfront Alehouse, NYC: straightforward but very good.
Wildwood, NYC: best presentation (mini kettle, thick shreds of cheese) with an ever-increasing barbecue flavor.
Footnotes and miscellany:
Daisy May's may have risen to the top of the chili list, but I've stripped them of their baked beans crown. The bean blend is still fantastic, but the abundant burnt ends that once pushed it to the summit can now be seen on a milk carton somewhere, because they haven't been in the beans the last several times I've had it.
Among the best chili I've ever tasted was an early version by Fatty Beltbuckles (Rocky Point NY). It had the kind of concentrated flavor that comes from plenty of smoked beef, endless simmering and a copious amounts of dark beer. Sadly, the joint's owner and chef last summer ran into some trouble with the law. All charges were dropped and the restaurant may have survived the ordeal, but the chef and that original chili recipe did not.
Firefly's (three suburban Boston locations) never seemed to serve the same bowl of chili twice. Sometimes it was hot, sometimes it was mild. Sometimes it had beans, sometimes it didn't. Usually it was a beef blend, sometimes it had pork. Even though it was usually very good and sometimes outstanding, owner Steve Uliss recognized the inconsistency and decided to pull the chili off the current menu. He plans to revive it after he develops a recipe that can withstand the high volume production that his trio of restaurants demand.
It's surprising how many barbecue joints out there turn out some excellent 'cue but rather ordinary chili. I love just about everything at SoulFire (Boston MA), but I find their chili just okay. Swingbelly's (Long Beach NY) and Goody Cole's Smokehouse (Brentwood NH) both offer fantastic brisket but not even close to fantastic chili. Texas BBQ Company (Northborough MA) is an up-and-comer for their brisket, sausage and beef ribs especially, but their mild, bean-happy chili is strictly a down-and-outer. Dinosaur's brisket and pulled pork sandwiches? [Insert Marv Albert voice here] Yes! Dinosaur's chili? No. Please, no.
Conversely, great chili is also no guarantee of great 'cue. Many of the joints on this list wouldn't rank high on my list of, say, ribs or pulled pork or brisket. Daisy May's has the chili nailed but you could argue that their brisket is their Achilles heel (they would, however, rank very high on a ribs list).
Some joints offer chili as a side, allowing you to cram even more meat into a platter that's already questionable from a nutrition standpoint. Interestingly, most of those joints are in New Hampshire.
Boston BBQ: Blue Ribbon Barbecue Sauce Recipe in Today's Boston Globe
Check out today's Boston Globe for an interesting take on summer sauces that includes a recipe for a Kansas City style sauce by Blue Ribbon (W. Newton MA and Arlington MA).
read the online article featuring Blue Ribbon BBQ sauce
Long Island BBQ: Reggae Night This Friday at HarborQ
HarborQ (Port Washington, NY) will be hosting live reggae music this Friday evening starting at 9:30PM. Enjoy $3 beers, $2 sake shots and free wings, minis and ribs while supplies last. Cover charge is $10.
Restaurant Service: You Make the Call
Here's the first of what I'd like to see as a recurring if not regular feature. I'll describe an actual restaurant experience, then toss out some questions for discussion. Unfortunately I don't have a built-in comments section but I welcome all comments via email at GARYatPIGTRIPdotNET. Later in the week I'll post my own answers to the questions as well as any comments I've received. Just one thing: I've decided not to name the restaurant, so don't ask.
The Scenario: My wife and I are at a restaurant. We've already received our drinks and it's time to order. My wife leads off.
"I'll have the tuna appetizer, but can I get it without the glaze?"
"The glaze is the best part of it, are you sure?" the server asks.
"Yes, I'm sure."
"Why wouldn't you want it?"
"I'm diabetic and I really can't have it. It's too sweet for me. For my entree I'd like the chicken, but can I get it without the barbecue sauce?"
Now it's my turn. I want to try the smoked wings, which according to the menu are available in Buffalo, hoisin and barbecue.
"I'll start with the wings..."
"Do you want those with sweet, hot or teriaki sauce?" she asks.
"Oh, the sauces are different from what's in the menu?" I ask.
The server responds with a "No, they didn't change," but her abrubt tone tacks on the unspoken "you stupid moron."
"Oh, so the sweet is the barbecue, the hot is the Buffalo and the teriaki is the hoisin?"
"Why don't you just use the same descriptions as in the menu?"
"That's just my own little spin."
"Oh, " I say, tempted but not quite willing to take the time to explain that there's actually a difference between teriaki and hoisin. "We'll go with the Buffalo."
"Are you sure you want something that hot? That's pretty adventurous."
"I'm an adventurous guy," I say. "And I'd also like the pulled pork sandwich."
The wings arrive and they are excellent. The sauce? Very nice, though not hot enough to stun an infant.
Before I finished the wings, I finished my glass of beer. I watched the glass sit for ten full minutes before our server noticed, even though she made stops to our neighbors' table to clear plates and present the check. It wasn't until her third trip to the vicinity that she asked if I wanted another beer. A few minutes later, my beer is sitting on the bar, ready to be picked up. Several minutes later, it's still sitting on the bar, ready to be picked up. Eventually the beer arrives. Later, my wife's wine glass goes through an identical ordeal.
A runner brings my pulled pork sandwich (no complaints) and my wife's chicken, loaded with the unwanted sauce. My wife asks to have another one without sauce, the way she ordered it.
With nothing to do but watch me eat my pulled pork sandwich, not wanting it to get cold, my wife goes through her second glass of wine in no time. The owner arrives, apologizes for the mix up and says that another plate of chicken would take a long time. "Would you like to order something else?"
After re-thinking the rest of the menu, my wife goes with the burger.
"Can I get you another glass of wine?"
A short time later, our server returns, the first we've seen her since well before the entrees arrived.
"I'm sorry for the mix up. I deleted the glaze from the tuna but not the sauce from the chicken."
"That's okay," my wife says. "These things happen." And she means it, and I share her sentiment. Sometimes mistakes happen.
"Can I get you another glass of wine?"
"Yes, but the owner was just here, I think she's getting it."
A runner brings the burger, well after I'm done with my sandwich. A short time later, our server returns to ask how my wife was enjoying her burger.
"It was very good," she says. "But it would be a lot better if I had the wine I ordered to go along with it."
The owner returns again. "You never got your wine, did you?"
"No." (We're not sure if that ball got dropped before or after reaching the bartender.)
"I'll get it now."
"Actually, at this point, let's skip it."
"Are you sure? can I get you a dessert?"
"I feel so bad about what happened."
"It's okay," my wife says.
"Don't worry about it," I say. "But when we come back next time, can you make sure we don't get that same server again?"
Questions For Discussion: (boy, did they make for great conversation the entire ride home)
1. Should there have been anything taken off the check?
2. What should the tip have been?
3. How much of the blame goes to:
- the server? (for one mistake, a little attitude and a lot of neglect)
- the owner? (for not overseeing and possibly losing a wine refill)
- me? (for being hypersensitive, judgmental and not proactive)
permalink with reader comments
Cape Cod BBQ: Dr. Frank 'n' Swine to Re-open Friday in Orleans as Surfing Swine BBQ
As promised, Dr. Frank 'n' Swine—the barbecue team that's been competing on the Northeast circuit for more than a decade—is back for another season at the Masonic Temple in Orleans MA, on the way to Nauset Beach. This year the venture will be known as Surfing Swine BBQ and the operation will expand to include Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The fun starts this Friday at 11:00AM.
Click here to see the menu, along with some amusing background info. I can vouch that the ribs, chicken and other barbecue fare are well worth the trip.
Surfing Swine BBQ
107 Main Street
Orleans, MA 02653
2008 Pigtrip review of Dr. Frank 'n' Swine
NYC BBQ: WPIX Visits the Hog Pit
Yesterday's PIX 11 Morning News featured a segment at the Hog Pit (NYC). view video
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning four states. This time there's one new joint, three seasonal openings and one menu change that steers away from barbecue. I have some other developments still being researched that I would have liked to add to the list, but they'll have to wait until I can report conclusively.
Dorothy and Leroy's Restaurant (Bloomfield CT) is a new find that straddles the worlds of barbecue, Southern, Soul and Cajun. Thanks to Mark for the find and the following mini-report: "The food was pretty good; typical nice family run place. I had ribs, smoked meat loaf and pulled pork. The pork was flavorless but the other two were damn good."
PJ's Bar-B-Q (Saratoga Springs NY) is now open for the 2009 season. www.pjsbarbq.com
Smokehouse Cafe (Newport RI) is another seasonal joint that has opened for 2009. www.smokehousecafe.com
Crazy Dave's Pit BBQ (Ellsworth ME) is (you guessed it) another seasonal joint that has opened for 2009. www.crazydavespitbbq.com
Beachfire (Ogunquit ME) is ready for the 2009 season and has continued its morphing away from the original barbecue concept that launched the restaurant in 2006. The brisket was the first to go, then the pulled pork sandwich. Now the only remaining item that could even be loosely connected with barbecue is the "slow roasted pork back ribs." I wasn't a fan of the restaurant, but I give them credit for recognizing what they're good at and what they're not good at, and acting accordingly. www.beachfiremaine.com
NYC BBQ: Wildwood Barbeque Offers Grilling Class With Big Lou Elrose, This Saturday
Wildwood Barbeque Executive Pitmaster "Big" Lou Elrose is holding a demonstration-style grilling class on Saturday, May 16, from 11:30AM to 2:30PM. The grand champion of the 2009 Snowshoe Grilling Challenge and reserve grand champion of the 2009 Grillin' on the Bay will grill warm-weather favorites like skirt steaks, tuna steaks and seasonal vegetables.
The class costs $65 per person (plus tax and gratuity) and includes lunch, beer parings and recipes.
Three-Peppercorn Rubbed Grilled Tuna Loin
Cold Smoked and Grilled Skirt Steak
Wildwood Barbeque’s Signature Rubbed, Grilled Bone-In Chicken
Grilled Asparagus, Portobello Mushrooms and Bell Peppers
Cornbread, Baked Beans and Coleslaw
Fluffernutter S'mores (no demo)
For more info or to reserve your spot, contact the BR Guest special events department at email@example.com or (212) 331-0328.
Worcester BBQ: Brazen Chicken Grilling Challenge at Dr. Gonzo's, This Saturday
On Saturday, May 16, Dr. Gonzo's All Natural Mega Spicy Comestible Emporium (Worcester MA) will host its second spring sidewalk charcoal grilling challenge, starting at 2:00PM.
For this round, it's brazen chicken—your choice of breast or thigh. All entries must be cooked on an entrant-supplied charcoal grill, cooked over charcoal and incorporate at least one Dr. Gonzo product. Judging will be based on plating, balanced flavor, heat and your pitch. The team that takes the top prize will walk away with a pair of tickets to that
evening's Green Street Music Series at the Lucky Dog Music Hall (a night of REM
The Doctor beckons: "Bring your favorite portable grill, charcoal, your recipe, discreet libation, enough chicken to share with the masses, judges and yourself and a big assed smile. If you play an instrument, bring that too."
The Emporium will also be open for tastings of the good Doctor's world class mashes, mustards, hot sauces and other full-flavored fare.
Dr. Gonzo's All Natural Mega Spicy Comestible Emporium
122 Main Street
Worcester, MA 01608
Is Barbecue A Sport?
It's been said that competition barbecue is the next great American sport, and many who
are involved think it already is. So is it a sport, and if not now, can it ever
If it is, it’s the only sport that doesn’t burn calories. The final answer, of course, is a matter of opinion. After all, we can’t get a room full of random people to agree on whether bowling, golf and figure skating are sports (or who has the best barbecue restaurant in any given city). But just for fun, I’ll explore the topic.
Smoking and Drinking
According to a popular school of thought, any activity that can be performed while smoking and drinking can’t possibly be a sport. This argument is usually used to exclude “social” sports like softball and bowling, and by smoking we’re talking about nicotine, not wood. Based on the collection of barbecue personalities I’ve encountered, it would certainly exclude barbecue as well. But I’m not sure if I buy that argument. Basically, it’s a matter of whether there are lulls in the “action” that allow smoking and drinking. If Keith Hernandez can smoke a butt between innings of a baseball game, Mike Davis can smoke a butt while smoking butts. If Vlade Divac (chain smoker) and David Wells (smoker, drinker, fat guy, you name it) don’t disqualify their respective sports from full-fledged sport-hood, then barbecue can’t not be considered a sport on this basis.
David Wells: athlete?
The Figure Skating Comparison
One sport that routinely gets trashed for not being a “real sport” is figure skating. Though it’s considered a “feminine” sport (be the skaters male or female), you probably can’t find a sport that compares closer to the more macho sport of competition barbecue. In skating, you have the required lutzes and salchows; in barbecue you have the required chicken, ribs, pork and brisket. In both, the success of the participants comes down to their ability to wow the judges with a combination of competence and flair. In figure skating, little things like the ruffles of the costume may have that subliminal effect on the scoring. In barbecue, the ruffles of the lettuce in the garnish may just be the thing that pushes the winner over the top. Neither really has anything to do with what’s truly being judged, but skaters and pitmasters will swear by their importance. Unlike basketball (where it’s obvious whether the ball went through the hoop) and football (where it’s fairly obvious whether the ball crossed the goal line), skating and barbecue are subject to the whims and opinions of the judges.
Auto Racing and Fat Guys
Another sport that has its detractors is auto racing. Here you have the fat guy argument: if a fat guy like AJ Foyt could do it (and do it well), how could it be a sport? You also have the equipment argument: who wins has less to do with driving skills than who simply happens to have the fastest car. Anyone who’s been to a barbecue competition knows that I need not address the fat guy argument, so I’ll move on to equipment. I’ve seen contests won using $5000 smokers and huge trailers. I’ve also seen contests won using $200 smokers and a couple of lawn chairs. There should be no argument whatsoever that the skill of the BBQ chef is more important than the equipment.
With auto racing, the camp that considers it a sport argues that world class drivers have years of training (ditto world class barbecue chefs). And that the drivers withstand intense heat for long periods of time (so do barbecue chefs, for longer periods of time). And that they possess lightning fast reflexes (anyone who’s seen me dodge tumbling lit chimneys and falling knives knows that’s also true in barbecue). And that it takes guts (just watch the competitors as they gamble with an untested sauce or go for a risky box presentation).
The Golf Comparison
Then there’s golf. Tiger notwithstanding, there’s plenty of skill but not a lot of excitement in this sport. Or athleticism. Watch any barbecue team load a smoker onto their trailer after a long, grueling competition and you’ll see more athleticism in ten minutes than any golfer ever exhibited on a full 18 holes. John Daly might be a decent golfer, but comes across more like a barbecue guy than an athlete. The way I see it, if golf is a sport, then barbecue has to be a sport.
The Baseball Comparison
Baseball has its share of fat guys (the aforementioned Wells), and even the skinny guys don’t have to exert themselves that much. The thing this sport has most in common with barbecue is the stealing of signs. When a runner is on second base, the catcher’s top secret signals must be changed to prevent the opposition from knowing what pitch is coming. In competition barbecue, recipes must be hidden, rubs must be shrouded and sauces must never be discussed. But that doesn’t stop the peeking that goes on.
The Wrestling Comparison
How about wrestling? You’ve got the gaudy championship belts that are displayed before each bout, just like the gaudy trophies that each competitor displays in the team tent. In wrestling, bragging is as much of the sport as the wrestling itself. Trust me, it’s the same with barbecue competitors—they like to brag. Does that make it a sport? Probably not, but it makes it fun.
Refs and Judges
In basketball and hockey, certain referees are known for their tendency to call a tight game, while others have a reputation for “letting the boys play.” Knowing the refs affects game strategy. In barbecue, even though the teams don’t know the judges’ identities, there is some occasional jockeying based on perceived preferences. If the judges like sweet and you present hot, you might not do so well.
In baseball, certain umpires are known for their stingy or generous strike zones, and pitchers pitch accordingly. In barbecue, there are some stingy judges and generous judges. In theory, it all evens out in the end, but getting the right judges for the right categories can mean the difference between going home with trophies and going home with nothing. Say your strengths are chicken and ribs, and those are your best chances for trophies. If you get a few generous judges for those categories while your chief competition gets stingy ones, assuming you both did well, that difference could put you over the top. If your Achilles heel is brisket and you get generous judges for that category, the extra boost is wasted.
Suppose we just agree to overlook the two main obstacles—that the athletic requirements are minimal and that the outcome is determined by judges’ opinion—and just call barbecue a sport. Can it ever go mainstream, the way NASCAR has in the last decade? I say no, and a look at some other sports backs me up. Soccer for decades has tried to penetrate the consciousness of American sport with no success. After Pelé, Kyle Rote and David Beckham, how many soccer players can you name? Professional surfer Kelly Slater can dominate his sport, he can win 9 world titles and he can date Pamela Anderson and Gisele Bundchen, but he’s never appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Ice hockey has been relegated to the Versus network, which ironically also airs barbecue competitions.
There will always be spectators for baseball, football, basketball, boxing and all of the unquestioned real sports. I can’t see the attraction, but there seems to be a fair supply of spectators for marginal sports like bowling, too. Are there spectators in barbecue? Take away the family members and the people looking for a free snack, and you’re not left with many. I think this will change though, thanks to the Food Network. There’s something very exciting about watching a chef—whether it’s Mario Batali on Iron Chef or Adam Perry Lang on that same show or live at the Hudson Valley Rib Fest—battle the final ticks of the clock and submit a kick-ass dish under pressure. But that excitement can only go so far given the logistics of the event: you can’t watch every competitor simultaneously, and you can’t watch the entire event.
From a spectator standpoint, you could argue that American Idol is as much of a sport as competition barbecue. Only Paula, Randy, Kara and Simon get to judge, but everyone gets to watch. And everyone gets to deliver an armchair opinion based on what they just heard. With barbecue, only the judges get to see and taste what’s presented, and they only get to taste 6 entries for each category. In-person spectators might get lucky enough to try some samples, but (just like the judges) they’re not going to taste everything that’s submitted. Television spectators not only suffer from seeing only a small subset of the entries, but they also will never taste them, making it hard to form a real opinion. With Iron Chef, you can declare a preference for Mario’s lamb with fennel over Bobby’s lamb with chipotle vinaigrette, based strictly on appearance. With barbecue, the contestants are cooking the same things with only slight twists, so creativity takes somewhat of a back seat to craftsmanship. Here, not being able to see and taste the entries is a deal-breaker for me.
So, is barbecue a sport? I say no. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a helluva lot of fun.
Nick Solares: the Pigtrip Interview
As promised, here's the interview with Nick Solares, better known as Beef Aficionado and the number one burger reviewer for A Hamburger Today on Serious Eats.
The Nick Solares Interview
Boston BBQ: Bourbon Tasting Tonight at Redbones; Bike Week All This Week
An all-Kentucky bourbon tasting event is happening tonight at Redbones (Somerville MA). Starting at 5:30, the Davis Square joint will present a talk by Tony Iamunno of Downtown Wine & Spirits, accompanied by tastings of six bourbons and two ryes, all from the Blue Grass state, with complementary appetizers for $12. Tonight also kicks off Bike Week at Redbones. Ride your bike and valet park it, and Redbones will provide a free appetizer with your dinner.
Maine BBQ: All You Can Eat BBQ at Muddy River Marketplace, Tuesdays in May
Tomorrow night and on every Tuesday in May, Muddy River Marketplace (Eliot ME) will be featuring all you can eat country style ribs, smoked chicken, corn on the cob, cole slaw, baked beans and cornbread for $13.95. Note that these are outdoor events that will happen only when weather permits.
Rhode Island BBQ: Karaoke at Rick's Roadhouse, Tuesdays Through Summer
Every Tuesday night through the end of summer, Rick's Roadhouse (Providence RI) will be hosting karaoke nights starting at 8:00PM.
Korean BBQ, Indian BBQ, Massachusetts BBQ: Taco Loco Nights at Olé Mexican Grill
Okay, this one might be a stretch, but here goes: on Monday nights Olé Mexican Grill (Cambridge MA) is offering a special taco menu that includes about a half doizen traditional tacos and some chef's specials. The latter group includes some international takes that ceoss into barbecue territory, such as Beef Korean Barbecue with kimchi, Chicken Tandoori, Filipino Pork Adobo and Lamb Barbacoa.
Get Beefy With It
I don't usually tease upcoming posts, but given last week's health scare and vow to adopt some moderation into the routine, I'm fearful that some might think I'm resorting to mere filler (see above). That's not the case; tomorrow I'll be posting an interview with none other than Nick Solares, better known as "Beef Aficionado" and the number one burger reviewer for Serious Eats.
DVR Alert: Adam Perry Lang to Appear on Today's Oprah Winfrey Show
Adam Perry Lang of the New York City BBQ joint Daisy May's will appear on today's Oprah Winfrey show (though singer Seal gets top billing). Perry Lang will be promoting his new book Serious Barbecue.
Other Opinion: BBQ Joints in the News
Here's an assortment of news stories, profiles and reviews of some barbecue joints in the PigTrip region:
PJ's Opens for the Season (Saratoga Springs NY)
Jake Jacobs Improves Roadhouse (Brookline MA)
Silk Road Brings Worldly Street Food (Belmont MA)
Bed-Stuy BBQ at Royal Rib House (Brooklyn NY)
Cider House is a BBQ Joint for Veggie Lovers (Waterbury VT)
Greetings From The Hospital
You're probably wondering where I've been these last few days. Whenever I allow a weekday to pass without a post, I receive a few inquiries about the lapse—some showing concern, some offering a gentle ribbing, equating it to Cal Ripken finally taking a day off. When three weekdays go by without a post, as had happened this week, it makes much more sense to assume something's wrong. Was there ever.
On Sunday morning, I woke and took the dogs out, and as soon as I got outside I felt dizzy. I knew I had to lie down, so I cut the walk short, dragged the dogs in and gently lowered myself to the floor to regroup. My wife brought me some water and I rested for a minute or two. When I went upstairs to go back to bed, I was sweating, breathing heavy, felt even dizzier and could feel myself starting to faint. So I lowered myself to the floor again, this time passing out for at least a minute. When I came to, my wife was already making the 911 call that brought me to the hospital by ambulance.
After a few hours and several tests, the doctors determined that I had several blood clots that traveled to a lung. The next day, further testing revealed that I had another clot in my knee. The immediate risk was that the new clot might break off and also travel to my lung, possibly killing me. Three days later, a combination of rest and blood thinners have brought the situation under control and eliminated the immediate risk. I may be home in a few days and back to work in another week.
My first reaction on Sunday was that all my barbecue eating was finally catching up with me, but that's only partly true. Ironically, the doctors say it's not the barbecue eating but the barbecue driving that did me in. Sitting in a car
for hours without getting out is one of the leading causes for clots
and that's what they suspect caused it. That said, eating healthier and getting my weight down will be keys to my recovery, so regardless of the cause I'm in for a lifestyle change. I'll be making fewer long trips and eliminating trips to barbecue joints I've already reviewed just for an informal progress report. I need to ration my visits, eat less at each visit and make sure each visit has a purpose. And my first visit won't be for a while.
The primary direction of this site won't be changing, but the same principle of moderation that will be governing my diet will need to also impact the frequency of posts. I've been writing or at least finalizing most of my posts in the early morning, before I head out to work. That time would be better spent getting some exercise. But just as writing every morning at the expense of exercising isn't a good idea, neither is exercising every morning at the expense of writing. It's all about moderation. Some mornings I'll exercise, some mornings I'll post, and some mornings I'll do both (cutting out those weeknight trips will allow enough advance writing to have posts completed ahead of time). Regardless of how many posts appear each week, I can guarantee that there will be far fewer first hand eating reports.
There may be some other changes as well, with a "healthy eating" post once in a while. I promise that I'll never post about barbecued tofu, but I am motivated to find and create healthy recipes that also appeal to the barbecue palate.
Meanwhile, I'm still in the hospital, resting up but armed with a laptop and a newfound internet connection. Stay tuned. (And yes, there will be another post tomorrow.)
Boston Dining: Best Pig of the Night Was After Cochon 555, at Lydia Shire's Scampo
After fighting the crowds with not much to show for it at Cochon 555, we were in dire need of a respite. Lydia Shire—who I'd probably choose to cook my last meal if given the option—recently expanded her restaurant empire to include Scampo on the first floor of the same Liberty Hotel the event was at, so our escape plan was an obvious one (coincidentally, scampo is Italian for escape). We had entertained thoughts of stopping into Scampo for a pre-event nibble, but that seemed foolish given the pricetag of the Cochon event and the (presumably) vast quantities of pig we'd be consuming. After an hour and a half of mostly fruitless effort, it was time to execute plan B, foolish or not.
A few glasses of wine and an excellent beef carpaccio hit the spot. Not surprisingly, Scampo presented the most enjoyable pork dish of the night: chestnut pasta "scarves" with mustard greens, pig's ear and crispy pork belly. It was fantastic, and we already have a reservation to return later in May.
Event Review: Boston's Cochon 555 Elevates Piggery to New Heights
On April 5 my wife and I attended the Boston stop of Cochon 555, a culinary roadshow saluting the pig. Held in Boston's Liberty Hotel, the event was also a fundraiser for Farms for City Kids, a unique educational program combining classroom study with firsthand farming experience to give urban kids an understanding of how vital academics are to everyday life.
The original concept was noble: five chefs, five pigs, five wineries. But beyond the number 5, there were a few other numbers bandied about on the amusecochon.com website: 250 guests, 70 pounds per pig, 400 bottles of wine and 100 pounds of cheese. A little simple math tells me that’s 350 pounds of pig, but that's only if you assume zero shrinkage during cooking and zero waste after cooking. A more realistic (and still conservative) estimate would be about 250 pounds of pig for 250 guests. But according to the Boston Globe review, there were 300 guests and 20 judges. So dividing 250 pounds of pig by 320 people, that leaves 0.78 pounds of pig per person. Divide that by the 5 chefs and that yields about 0.15 pounds of pig per table per person (a little more than a McDonald’s small hamburger patty). Considering that the judges received up to six different presentations per chef and that many of the early arriving guests got piggy with the pig, that leaves little room for error, leaving many squeezed out.
For me, the squeezing of pig (even at $125) wasn't as outrageous as the squeezing of humanity—the congestion, pushing and shoving were unbearable. It was a bad setup to begin with: the room was too small for the number of people attending, and the layout made things even worse. The five chefs’ tables were spread around the perimeter, theoretically allowing a good distribution of guests. But the flow of traffic from every direction and lack of any clear entry or exit point for each table turned the proceedings into a free-for-all, closer to a mosh pit than a sophisticated dining event. That squeezing of humanity also squeezed out much of the facetime guests such as myself hoped to enjoy with the chefs, who were struggling to keep up with the demand.
Some numbers that weren’t bandied about on the event website: 0 chairs, 3 tables. The tiny tables had enough room for about six standing guests. My wife and I thought we could camp out at one of them and take turns shuttling food back to the home base. But this strategy proved fruitless: the crowd-to-chef ratio ratcheted the shuttle times to well over 15 minutes; the crowd-to-table ratio ensured that there would be several people occupying the previously-claimed spot. Those who chose to simply eat standing without a table had no place to do so without being engulfed by the traffic. I’m sure there were larger rooms available, and I’d advise the organizers to spring for the upgrade next year.
I witnessed many wine-related accidents, as glasses slipped from the hands of overzealous guests trying to hold a plate with one hand, hold a glass with the other hand and eat with the other hand. It was like watching Wile E. Coyote realizing he stepped off a cliff and only then plummeting. Here, it was the wine plummeting, over expensive dress shirts.
What little we were able to try was all good and often brilliant. The most accessible of the offerings was the pork carnitas presented by eventual competition winner Matthew Jennings, the self proclaimed “cheese and food geek” at Farmstand Inc. (Providence RI). These were attractive soft tacos filled with meat from Red Wattle pig, cabbage, cilantro, red onion and a white, creamy cheese.
Jaime Bissonnette of Toro (Boston MA) used the legs and loins of a Yorkshire pig to stuff Vietnamese-style banh-mi sandwiches on French bread, dressed with jalapeno, cabbage, cilantro and soy sauce. Tony Maws of Craigie On Main (Cambridge MA) had the most variety: garlic sausages, mini pork belly sandwiches and crispy pork confit, all using a Yorkshire-Duroc pig.
Jason Bond of Beacon Hill Bistro (Boston MA) served a few different creations from a Berkshire pig, each overshadowed by his jiggly pig brain gelatin. For me, the most interesting item was pig lard on baguette slices available at an unnamed kiosk near the center of the room. With the consistency of whipped cream cheese, it was a piggy version of butter.
The fifth chef, Joseph Margate of Clink (Boston MA), managed to elude me. I'm sure he was there, but I couldn't locate him (or most of the promised 100 pounds of cheese), and I was too worn down fetching the first four nibbles to persist any further. But I had the perfect antidote in mind for the chaos, and I'll share that in a rare Saturday post tomorrow. (If you know who my favorite chefs are and the geography of the situation, that antidote should be pretty easy to deduce.)
I’ve enjoyed meals at Maws’s Craigie On Main and Bissonnette’s Toro, and I plan to enjoy many more. At both, the food is just as decadent, just as chef-crafted and just as exciting. The difference is I can rest my wine glass on a table, rest myself on a comfortable chair and actually converse with my wife and enjoy the chef’s creations without the pushing and shoving. I can’t say how much of it had to do with the manners of the attendees and how much was simply poor (or stingy) planning by the organizers. But as expected, Cochon 555 was truly a showcase for pigs—just not the pigs that were promised.
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