Archives - June 2009
Boston, Not BBQ: A Truly Outstanding Burger at Craigie On Main
Over the weekend I enjoyed a third visit to Craigie On Main (Cambridge MA), which has quickly become one of my very favorite restaurants. The very good burger with potential to be great from the first visit fulfilled its promise and then some this weekend. Thick and cooked to a perfect medium rare, this burger gushed beefy juices at will. The flavor was unwavering beef at its steakhouse finest, with a noticeable but not overwhelming minerality that gave the meat much character. The blend this time included beef shortrib, beef suet, flap meat and bone marrow (the proportions are top secret and the components vary slightly depending what is on hand each day). Add homemade mace ketchup, a homemade bun and the highest quality cheese and vegetables, and you've got a burger that is easily one of the best in Boston. But above all, it's that beef blend that makes this burger so compelling, and a good match for anything in New York City, including the highly touted Black Label blend. The only thing stopping me from ordering this every time I visit Craigie On Main is my conclusion that the menu's pork and seafood offerings are even more impressive.
Boston BBQ: A Rhetorical Question, Answered
"Who else assembles the best BBQ chefs in the country and the world?"
- Dave Andelman, on the Phantom Gourmet
Why, that would be Danny Meyer, that's who. New York City's most influential restaurateur (who also happened to ignite that city's barbecue renaissance when he opened Blue Smoke in 2002) has been running the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party for seven years. I give that event props not only because it predated the Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party by four years, but because:
it's a well-run event (the Beach Party still hasn't implemented a fast pass feature)
it's free to the public (the Beach Party costs $10 to get in, and that admission does not include food)
it supports a good cause (as far as I know, the Beach Party does not support any cause, though its sister Hot Dog Safari event does)
you can leave and return at will (at the Beach Party, it's another $10 if you want to leave and come back)
there are seminars and book signings
there are truly world class pitmasters and restaurateurs from some of the most iconic joints in America, and about twice as many (15 to 8) as at the Beach Party
The top two or three pitmasters from the Beach Party might not be out of place at the Block Party, but overall I liken the Block Party to a barbecue hall of fame and the Beach Party to a barbecue carnival.
That said, I still believe you can get some decent 'cue at the Beach Party, which I ultimately decided not to visit this past weekend. And I like the idea of tons of sand being poured to create a land-locked beach. And believe it or not, I'm looking forward to returning next year. You just have to look past the over-the-top signage, silly nicknames and goofy costumes and simply focus on the food. If you see a good looking plate, ask where it came from and head toward whomever cooked it.
2009 Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party Recap.
2008 Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party Recap
It's In The Way That You Choose It
Ever go to a joint and ask, "What's good here?" Instead of the usual reply ("Everything!"), I wish they'd rattle off a list like this one.
As a quick exercise, I ran down a list of barbecue joints and ranked their proficiency among what I call "the basic four" of pork ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket and smoked chicken. The first meat listed is the one they do best, and so on. Yes, you could add beef ribs, beef shortribs and sausage, but for the sake of this list, I'm just sticking with the original four. In some cases, those other meats really matter, so I added some comments after the list.
Bailey's Smokehouse: ribs, pork, brisket
Big Bubba's: brisket, pork, chicken, ribs
Big W's: ribs, chicken, pork, brisket
Blue Ribbon: pork, ribs, brisket, chicken
Blue Smoke: ribs, pork
Bobbique: ribs, chicken, brisket, pork
Bobby Q's: pork, ribs, brisket, chicken
BT's Smokehouse: brisket, pork, chicken, ribs
Chili Head: chicken, ribs, brisket, pork
City Flame: ribs, pork, brisket, chicken
Daisy May's: ribs, chicken, brisket, pork
Dinosaur: chicken, pork, brisket, ribs
East Coast Grill: ribs, pork, brisket
Firefly's: ribs, chicken, brisket, pork
Goody Cole's Smokehouse: chicken, brisket, ribs, pork
Hill Country: brisket, chicken, ribs (no pulled pork)
Jake's Dixie Roadhouse: chicken, ribs, pork, brisket
KC's Rib Shack: ribs, pork, chicken, brisket
Lester's: brisket, pork, ribs, chicken
Redbones: brisket, ribs, chicken, pork
Roadhouse: pork, brisket, ribs, chicken
RUB: ribs, brisket, pork, chicken
SoulFire: ribs, pork, brisket, chicken
Southern Hospitality: ribs, brisket, chicken, pork
Southern Q: pork, brisket, ribs
Swingbelly's: chicken, brisket, ribs, pork
Tennessee's: chicken, ribs, pork, brisket
Texas BBQ Company: brisket, ribs, pork, chicken
Uncle Pete's (now closed): ribs, brisket, pork
United BBQ: ribs, brisket, pork
Wildwood: ribs, brisket, chicken, pork
Wilson's: pork, ribs, chicken, brisket
I haven't had the chicken at Bailey's, Blue Smoke, Southern Q, Uncle Pete's or United, and there's not a smoked version at East Coast Grill. I also haven't had the brisket at Blue Smoke (the versatility of their rib combo and the quality of their burger have steered me elsewhere).
At most places, the sausage is an also-ran, but at Hill Country it's a must. They don't do pulled pork.
Ditto chili, which is a must at Daisy May's.
Lester's was probably the hardest to distinguish, as all four of the meats are good to very good with nothing close to a sure-fire standout, but nothing close to a sure-fire clunker.
I don't include beef ribs, but they'd wind up as the #1 item at Blue Smoke and Southern Hospitality, and the #2 item at Daisy May's, Hill Country and BT's.
Turkey is decent at Goody Cole's, good at RUB and one of the best things on the menu at Bobby Q's.
Go ahead and disagree with my order. Arguing over who's the best and what they do best is half the fun of barbecue.
NYC BBQ: Beef Aficionado Chronicles the Pork Ribs at RUB
Nick "Beef Aficionado" Solares spent some time with several racks of ribs and their pitmaster at RUB for an interesting feature on Serious Eats earlier this week. The excellence of RUB's ribs is nothing new, but I did learn a few things about pitmaster Scott Smith.
Photo courtesy Nick Solares. Used with permission.
read the story on Serious Eats
It's Unanimous: I Smell Smoke Wins Rib Wars at Jake's
For the third year in a row, competition juggernaut I Smell Smoke took home a Rib Wars trophy at Jake's Dixie Roadhouse (Waltham MA) last night, but this time they took two. For the first time in the competition's history, the winner claimed both the celebrity judges' trophy and the people's choice trophy. I Smell Smoke bested two restaurant teams and three other competition teams, earning more than 50% of the write-in votes submitted by customers in attendance. The event was officially sponsored by Narragansett.and unofficially sponsored by Blues Hog.
I Smell Smoke's Doug Pini with the two trophies.
I Smell Smoke's winning ribs.
Narragansett girls offered samples and swag. Steve Sack Photo
Competition BBQ: Lakeside Smokers Win First Grand Championship and Jack Daniel's Berth at NH State Championships
I'm backing off my competition "coverage" this year, but this one's too important not to list: Lakeside Smokers (Methuen MA) took the grand championship in yesterday's state championship barbecue competition at the Budweiser brewery in Merrimack NH. Best known for their Friday Night Food Porn on their barbecue, beer and sous vide blog, Mike Boisvert and his wife Kris are well known within competition circles for their string of second- and third-place finishes that promised the inevitable championship that finally materialized yesterday. I say inevitable because I've had the privilege of tasting all four of their
competition meats, and all four are championship caliber. They picked a good contest to win, because they're automatically invited this fall to the Jack Daniel's, arguably the most prestigious competition in barbecue. I Smell Smoke, who won the grilling championship on Saturday, were the reserve grand champions in the barbecue event.
Long Island BBQ: Some New Sauces for BBQ and All You Can Eat Wings at Swingbelly's
Two weekends ago when I was in New York for the Big Apple Block Party I stopped into Swingbelly's (Long Beach NY) for a Friday lunch. Looking to try something different, I started with the rib tips appetizer. These are the trimmed "knuckles" that get removed from pork ribs when converting a rack of spares to a rack of St Louis cut ribs. Typically, there's as much cartiledge as there is meat, but in this case the tips were all meat, with a thin layer of fat running halfway through each well-crisped, well-lubricated chunk.
You can order these with a choice of sauce, but I went dry so I could reacquaint myself with Swingbelly's sauces. It turned out that Swinbelly's has a whole new line of sauces geared primarily for their smoked wings (all you can eat on Mondays), but also available with any barbecue item. I tried them all.
In the back row, left to right, are chipotle honey (sweet plus heat, complex flavor, nice texture that adheres well), Carolina mustard (golden, sweet, tangy, smooth, very light heat) and mango jalapeno (extremely fruity with real mango, good flavor, a better match for chicken than other 'cue). Up front are sweet and sour (Chinese red sweet sauce, better on fried foods than barbecue), red vinegar (sweet, tart, strong, balanced, jammed with spice tidbits, perfect on pulled pork) and teriaki (your basic straightforward teriaki sauce).
The sauce I fell in love with was the chipotle honey, which blended sweet and heat perfectly. Note that these six new sauces are just the additions; the core barbecue sauces (served warm) are still available. Swingbelly's also added a new honey barbecue sauce that's a slicker, sweeter version of their house sauce.
If heat is your thing, Swingbelly's recently developed a habanero vodka, made with Crystal Head vodka and smoked habaneros. Just look for the skull, held here by manager Pete Johnson (who was born to eat wings).
In other Swingbelly's news, pitmaster Dan Monteforte and owner Sean Sullivan recently made a pilgrimage to St Louis, where they trained under barbecue legend Mike Mills. Look for further recipe tweaks and menu changes in the months ahead.
Hawaii BBQ: Happy Father's Day
If I were a father (besides being one to two four-legged kids), the way I'd like to celebrate it would be an afternoon at the Father's Day Up in Smoke Cookoff. The fun takes place today in Kaneohe Hi on the island of Oahu. Now that would be living the dream.
Connecticut BBQ: Phantom Photos
Yesterday I attended the first leg of the third annual Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party at Foxwoods (Ledyard CT).There wasn't time to compile a full analysis, but I posted a dozen photos and a few observations (more to come) in my 2009 Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party Recap.
Connecticut BBQ: Phantom, Here I Come
In a few hours I'll be at the first leg of the third annual Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party at Foxwoods (Ledyard CT). Look for a Sunday morning post that'll have food photos, strategies, pitmaster reviews and assorted thoughts and critiques. I'm very curious to see whether there are any organizational improvements over last year and whether my opinions of the food from last year (seven of the eight pitmasters are returnees) still hold true. If you're going today, check out my recap from last year.
My Recap of the 2008 Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party
Long Island BBQ: A Slightly Updated Review for Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint
Okay, here's the deal: my recent meal at Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint (East Meadow NY)—the first under the pitmastery of Greg Barry—was very positive, but it's too early to make any formal pronouncements just yet. He's still experimenting, improvements are still coming and there are bound to be further menu tweaks (additions, subtractions, recipe changes).
On the other hand, the existing review from my January visit (also positive) is no longer representative. And on a third hand, the two dismal visits I experienced while Ruby's was between pitmasters were neither documented nor representative.
Ironically, I was already working on my retraction of the first review and about to post a negative replacement revioew when I confirmed that I'd be going to the Big Apple BBQ Block Party in New York City last weekend. Staying at my in-laws just minutes away would make one last Ruby's visit a possibility, so I figured I'd wait and give them one more chance. And on that very day, word leaked out that a new pitmaster was in place.
So while I haven't posted a new review, I did add photos from my second and third visits. Then I dropped in my story on Greg Barry from earlier this week, along with four food photos. And I also linked to a very recent (less than 12 hours old) review from the BBQ Brethren. Like Big Barry, I'm looking for feedback, because I'm wondering if this format for reviews in limbo is easy to follow or simply confusing. Either way, the info is all there.
My updated review of Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint
Vinny of the BBQ Brethren reviews Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint
Massachusetts BBQ: Dollar Ribs and Half Priced Wings at High Street Grill, Tonight and Every Friday
On Friday nights, High Street Grill (N. Andover MA) is blowing out the ribs and wings. From 9:00PM to 10:30PM every Friday night, the former are $1 each and the latter are $3.50 per plate.
A Book Review of Sorts: Three Good BBQ Books for Father's Day
This time of year, every year, the only things popping up faster than the dandelions in my yard are the new barbecue books at the bookstore. The glut is to be expected, to take advantage of not only the start of grilling season (and barbecue season for those who know the difference) but also Father's Day gift sales. This year's glut is more of a bounty, because there are a few terrific ones. Among the best are Serious Barbecue by Adam Perry Lang (Daisy May's BBQ, NYC), The Big Bob Gibson Cookbook by Chris Lilly (Big Bob Gibson's, Decatur AL) and America's Best BBQ by Paul Kirk (RUB BBQ, NYC) and Ardie Davis. I'd be happy to receive any of the three as a gift.
Here's a rundown of random thoughts after perusing all three books, all of which I own:
Adam Perry Lang's book probably has the most breathtaking photography, with some of the food shots begging for a frame. I just wish there were more of them, and fewer gratuitous shots of the author posing with pigs and squinting into the smoky fire.
Lilly's and Perry Lang's books are both geared to the serious cook and I recommend them highly for that audience. Some of the recipes in these books aren't just calling to me to cook them, they're screaming to me. That said, I wish both books were more consistent in providing the temperatures at which to pull the meats from the cookers.
I really like how Perry Lang ventures beyond the typical barbecue flavor profiles, making frequent use of fresh garlic, wordly spices and fleur de sel. Any foodie who's not a barbecue fan might just get converted after trying some of the recipes in his book.
Part of what makes barbecue such a passion is the history and tradition that accompany the magnificence of the 'cue itself. The Kirk/Davis book excels in this realm, providing an avalanche of cool barbecue graphics and signage, along with barbecue ephemera that includes postcards, matchbooks, old photos of vintage joints and the like. This makes up for my impression that the recipes here aren't as compelling as in the other two books. For someone who's more likely to tour the country in search of barbecue joints than cook the recipes himself, this is the best choice of the three.
I wish I could say I had the pleasure of watching Adam Perry Lang promote his book on the Oprah Winfrey show or Chris Lilly promote his on the Today show. I did see both shows last month, but neither was a pleasure, and through no fault of the two barbecue legends. It seems whenever there's a barbecue segment on a talk show (and this is also true for the local Boston morning shows), there are too many second- and third-tier cohosts all fighting for airtime with inane comments and questions. The barbecue authority always winds up never having a chance to finish what he's trying to cook or to get a word in edgewise.
I don't have the exact wording of the question or the answer, but on Oprah's show Adam Perry Lang was asked what separated him from the rest of the pack, and his response was that he used flavor throughout the process. That statement could not be more true. In his book, Perry Lang imparts layers of flavors by using rubs multiple times, by using mustard as a binder for the rubs, by marinating, by adding flavoring liquids during a wrapping phase, by using sauces during and after cooking, and by adding herbs, spices and sauces to the cutting board to get that last jolt into the meat.
Chris Lilly's book may be the most impressive paperback cookbook I've ever held. The pages even smell like there's high quality ink on them. Beyond the ink, this book has great appeal because of its balance: there's plenty of Big Bob Gibson's history and plenty of traditional and non-traditional barbecue recipes from a pitmaster who's won some serious hardware over the years.
(06/18/09) (second post)
NYC BBQ: The Past, Present and Future of Smoked Mutton
According to owner Andrew Fischel, RUB pitmaster Scott Smith has "fallen in love with mutton," and expects to see it as a weekly special at the restaurant shortly. The RUB crew prepared the Kentucky specialty last Tuesday according to the specifications of the Moonlight Inn, the barbecue joint profiled in the film Mutton: the Movie, at the NYC Food Film Festival at Water Taxi Beach.
Images courtesy RUB BBQ. Used with permission.
Boston BBQ: Only a Few Seats Left for the Narragansett Battle of the Bones, Jake's Dixie Roadhouse on Monday
The event at Jake's Dixie Roadhouse (Waltham MA) known as both Rib Wars and Battle of the Bones now has a sponsor and a promotional poster. Six competition circuit pitmasters and two restaurant pitmasters supply ribs for blind judging, and every customer is a judge. Whether you come for the competition 'cue, the Narragansett girls who'll be onsite or simply the spectacle and pageantry of the event, it's sure to be a good time. Jake's and Blue Ribbon (W. Newton MA) will do battle against four teams from the competition circuit. If you're interested in dabbling in competition barbecue, you can talk shop with some of the best in the country: Brendan Burek of Transformer BBQ, defending champion Steve Farrin of I Smell Smoke, Chris Hart of IQue and Jed LaBonte of Uncle Jed's BBQ.
Long Island BBQ: "Big Barry" is the New Pitmaster at Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint
Greg Barry, the new pitmaster at Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint
Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint (East Meadow NY) has gone through a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. When it first opened last winter under the helm of pitmaster John Deloach—who trained with RUB's Paul Kirk—Ruby's established itself as a commercial yet credible barbecue restaurant.
Before spring, relations with Deloach unraveled and so did the caliber of the food, though the two may not necessarily be related. The beef shortrib that was their best item on my first visit was yanked from the menu. The pulled pork gently bathed in a well rounded sauce the first time out was mercilessly drowned in a bland one-note sauce the next. Brisket and "smoked" prime rib looked and tasted boiled. Ribs that were once meaty, smoky and perfectly textured turned pale, with soggy meat and exposed bones. To encourage business, a Monday night all-you-can-eat rib special was added, then pulled. Public reaction was not positive.
After operating a few months without a pitmaster, Ruby's management hired Greg Barry, a West Islip resident who once toiled in the kitchen at Willie B's and is best known among Long Island BBQ competition enthusiasts for his Team BigBarryQ. The hire is an interesting choice, because there are other competition pitmasters with far more experience and a far greater collection of trophies. But after a sit-down with Barry last Friday night and a (non-anonymous) sampling of some of his 'cue, I was filled with optimism.
"My goal is to make the food traditional barbecue," said Barry. "And barbecue shouldn't just be a meal but an experience."
I'd chatted with Barry previously at barbecue competitions and events and always considered him an affable guy, but I never got a chance to speak with him at length until Friday. I was impressed by his approach to flavors, the transition to a restaurant environment and his role as not just a cook but as a hub who can make every spoke on the wheel better.
At a time when most pitmasters have an I-know-everything attitude, Barry is taking the opposite approach, engaging in conversations with customers and genuinely seeking feedback from friends within the competition community. He even posted on Chowhound earlier this week, announcing who he was to avoid being labeled a shill, and stating his goals for the restaurant (this post has since been deleted, and shame on Chowhound).
Now in his third week at Ruby's, Barry has already changed the chili (beans are out, tomatoes are in), tweaked the beans (added mustard), gently re-tooled the brisket (mustard plus "a lot of rub") and introduced a new way to check ribs for doneness. "The kitchen staff wasn't familiar with cooking barbecue, so everything was done based on fixed times," said Barry. "I explained to them how a properly cooked rack of ribs should feel and bend, and when they see that, they know it's done."
More significant changes are on the horizon after Barry gets more situated. "We'll be adding more sauces, including a mustard and a vinegar, and thicken some of our existing ones. We'll also bring back the beef ribs."
Barry's communication skills (he's a former salesman) should serve him well in his quest to educate the servers, kitchen staff, customers and even Ruby's management, who "realized that they needed to change their approach."
But it's easy to talk the talk; can he walk the walk? Based on Friday's samples, I'd say yes. Granted, my identity was known when the 'cue was prepared, but all of it was all good and some of it was very good. The pork had a much better texture than on my previous visit, losing the mushiness and adding some apple brightness under the more restrained saucing, The brisket for the first time in all my visits to Ruby's actually looked like brisket, and its flavor was more pronounced. I also liked that we received both slices and chunks. Ribs had more smokiness, a pleasing rub flavor on the outside and a moist meat inside. I liked Ruby's previous incarnation of the chili more than the new one, but that's a small tradeoff for the much-improved barbecue. I have a feeling more improvements are on the way.
Boston BBQ: Redbones Hosts Dogfish Head Keg Party, Thursday June 18
Delaware's first and best known brewpub Dogfish Head is coming to Redbones (Somerville MA) with 10 kegs and a cask on Thursday, June 18. The keg party at Underbones features free appetizers from 5:00PM to 7:00PM and is a a perfect pre-fest to the BeerAdvocate's Craft Brew Festival starting Friday. Redbones will be serving Dogfish Head all weekend long. www.redbones.com
Boston BBQ: Redbones Voted Best Barbecue in Boston Phoenix Reader's Poll
More Redbones news: the Davis Square barbecue joint was picked as the Best of Boston in the Boston Phoenix 2009 Reader's Poll.
NYC BBQ: Wildwood Barbeque Offers Father's Day Surf 'n' Turf Grilling Class With Big Lou Elrose, This Saturday
Wildwood Barbeque Executive Pitmaster "Big" Lou Elrose is holding a demonstration-style grilling class on Saturday, June 20, from 11:30AM to 2:30PM. The competition champion will grill skirt steak, lobster and more.
The class includes a BBQ lunch with beer pairings, instruction on smoking/grilling techniques, rubs and sauces for $65 per person plus tax and gratuity or $100 for two people plus tax and gratuity. For more information or to reserve your spot, contact email@example.com or 212-331-0328.
Things I'd Like To See: the Big Screen, Small Screen Edition
Here's another batch from my Things I'd Like To See series. It's not all barbecue, but it's all food related and mostly TV:
It's too bad Dana Carvey's run on Saturday Night Live predated the popularity of
Chef Rick Bayless, because I'd really love to see a Carvey impression of the
almost-too-easy-to-imitate Bayless. He's got the right physique and the voice is
basically a cross between Church Lady and the character Eugene Levy played in A
The next time Bobby Flay does a ribs throwdown, I'd like to see a few changes in
the "rules." Instead of having his usual time to size up the competition and formulate a game plan, Flay will learn of the challenge mere hours before he has to get his ribs ready. Oh, and he'll have to slaughter his own pig and build his own cooker (I almost said smoker, but that's not how he rolls) while the clock is ticking down. Would this departure from his usual comfort zone provide any indication of Flay's cheffing skills? No, but it would wipe that smirk off his face—the same smirk he exhibited in episode 1 of the Next Food Network Star while criticizing would-be hosts struggling with contrived "makes for good TV" situations neither Flay nor any of his network contemporaries had to endure.
I'd like to see Kevin James as the spokesman for the Famous Dave's barbecue chain, performing in a series of commercials that revive his Doug Heffernan character from The King of Queens. It might be just the vehicle to revive the barbecue chain's sagging sales numbers and James's sagging movie career (though it wouldn't help his sagging waistline). Who wouldn't want to chow down where Heffernan eats? Especially on Long Island, where Famous Dave's is surprisingly a much more viable barbecue option than many of the mediocre mom and pop joints.
Although I take most of their reviews and recommendations with a boulder-sized
grain of salt, I do enjoy the Phantom Gourmet for its leads and entertainment
value. But just once, I'd like to see one of their barbecue reviews tout the
merits of the barbecue itself, rather than resort as usual to fountains of dripping sauce (know what I'm sayin'?). And for their next BBQ Beach Party preview show, I'd like to see the Andelmans talk about the 'cue instead of trying to turn all the pitmasters into wrestling characters and Yosemite Sam wannabes with stupid nicknames and stupider props.
Howie Mandel, if I had my way, would host a second game show in which
contestants had to choose a suitcase filled with barbecue that might be from the
likes of Blue Ribbon or RUB, but might also be from (gasp) Dallas BBQ or (ugh) Wes's Rib House. It would basically be the same show each and every episode, which is why it would be called Dull or Not Dull.
Getting back to Bobby Flay: I've written this already, but I'd really like to see a reunion—whether for one show or an entire series—with his Grillin' and Chillin' co-host Jack McDavid. McDavid's a little bit country, Flay's a little bit rock and roll, and that show was a pleasure to watch.
Fans of the long-running Columbo series from the 1970s know that it takes a
certain type of personality to play what's known as the "Columbo villain." Although it was briefly revived in the 1990s, another Columbo run is about as likely as a smoker sighting at the aforementioned Dallas BBQ, but if the unlikely does happen, I'd like to see chef Todd English play a Columbo villain. He's got "the right demeanor," he likes hanging around other actors, he's already wearing the makeup and it's not as if his schedule is booked doing actual cooking at his restaurants.
NYC BBQ: Tonight's New York Food Film Festival Features Smoked Mutton From RUB
Lost amid all the Big Apple Block Party hubbub is the fact that the third annual NYC Food Film Festival has been underway since Saturday. Tonight's line-up at Water Taxi Beach features Mutton: the Movie, a tribute to Kentucky's Moonlight Inn. Also paying tribute to this legendary barbecue joint (which should have been included at the Block Party) will be New York City's own RUB BBQ (ditto), who'll be supplying the smoked mutton shown above.
After attending the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in New York City last Saturday, I've had a few days to process the photos, digest the meats and gather my thoughts:
The Fast Pass is a serious commitment ($100), but for a person or couple committed to trying a dozen plates (that's what it would take to use it up), the convenience is a just reward. That convenience not only means separate, shorter lines but also separate toilets, washing stations and the freedom of not having to fumble with wallets paying and receiving change. The fact that there's no admission fee is both nice on the wallet and nice in that it avoids time-consuming nuissances like wristbands and hand stamping.
That said, the overall quality wasn't as stellar as you might expect. But just like at a restaurant visit, it's difficult to give thumbs up or thumbs down to a festival pitmaster based on only one taste. With a crowd of 100,000+, a pit crew of hired local help, locally procured meats, different equipment, numerous press requests and customer questions, there's a lot that can go wrong. Or at least wrong enough to bump the 'cue down from great to merely good. So when expectation is sky high and you receive anything less, the temptation is to write the place off. In a real restaurant setting, the meats can receive more TLC and quality control (if the pitmaster is actually there), and be served with pride instead of haste. At a festival like the Block Party, it's necessary to cook in large batches and have buckets of product ready ahead of time to avoid running out. That often translates to luke warm food and/or loss of texture. On the other hand, a fresh batch right out of the pit is also achievable if you happen to get lucky—you may rave about that pitmaster but never receive anything that good from him again.
We had a great group of people sharing line duties (Chuck, Julie and I) and table duties (Steve, Eric) to allow for sensible sampling and to make the whole process hum. The more I think about it, the more I think the best strategy is to have the whole group (a trio is probably best for ribs, a duo for pork) just wait in line together, get some quality time with the pitmaster and eat on the park benches inside the Fast Pass area. It's slower that way, but possibly a better all-around experience.
It's a shame that Ray Lampe, also known as Dr. BBQ, wasn't one of the participating pitmasters. He was at the event doing some entertaining pork demonstrations, but he should have been able to strut his stuff among the vendors. It would have been a great showcase for Southern Hospitality's 'cue, which would not have been out of place at this event. I also would have liked to see Big Lou Elrose of Wildwood offering his spectacular lamb ribs, Adam Perry Lang of Daisy May's vending his spectacular chili (and his new book, Serious Barbecue), and the return of RUB's Paul Kirk—who was assigned the Block Party equivalent of Bob Uecker seats when he participated a few years ago—offering his spectacular burnt ends.
For pulled pork and chopped pig sandwiches, it was difficult to choose a favorite among Big Bob Gibson's (Chris Lilly), The Pit (Ed Mitchell) and Ubon's (Garry Roark). All three were excellent in their own way. Lilly's had the most bark and deep, deep flavor that filled every bite. Mitchell's was chopped much finer than I like, but the natural flavor of the pig kissed with hints of smoke, vinegar, pepper and sugar was every bit as good, and just as moist (if not more moist). But Roark's: was a good cross between the two, with the best combined bark-moisture score and a killer cole slaw that featured pepper heat and bits of pickle for tang.
For ribs, I give the nod to Baker's Ribs for their crisp texture, perfect doneness, bacony flavor and subtle layers of cooked-in sauce. These edged out Pappy's ribs that featured a nice honey flavor to offset the smoke, but a less impressive texture. The 17th Street Bar & Grill (Mike Mills) supplied fattier, soggier babybacks that didn't stand up to the first two. I've had some great ribs from Mills in the past, so I chalk this batch up to the big batch theory. Blue Smoke offered spare ribs finished on the grill with a good dose of a spicy barbecue sauce; our plate received good marks for flavor but struggled with the texture.
For brisket, the plan was to hit the Salt Lick, but even with Fast passes, the lines were too long to endure. Brisket at Hill Country is a no-brainer, but that's better saved for a leisurely visit to the restaurant. After an intermission to digest, two of us hit RUB (just a few blocks away) and had some succulent brisket that was probably the best meat of the day.
permalink with food photos
NYC BBQ: Pretty Pictures of Things We Ate at the Big Apple BBQ Block Party
Joined by a quartet of my most reliable New York BBQ buddies, I managed to try a dozen different samples from pitmasters hailing from eleven different states at the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party.
see my recap of the 2009 Big Apple Barbecue Block Party
As you might expect, I made a few detours along the way, picking up some New York BBQ tidbits that I'll share later in the week.
NYC BBQ: The Questions I'm Asking Myself Just Hours Before the Big Apple BBQ Block Party (and some guesses at the answers)
Will I be able to hit 'em all?
With help, yes. But if sanity prevails, probably no.
Do I even want to hit 'em all?
Yes, for curiosity. I'm a collector and a completist.
Will the people I'm supposed to meet actually meet me?
Some yes, some no.
How long will the lines be?
I'm guessing pretty long.
How fast will the lines move?
I'm guessing significantly faster than a Shake Shack line, because each pitmaster is offering one plate.
Will Shake Shack be open? If yes, how will the barbecue lines affect Shake Shack's lines? If shorter, will I wind up going?
My heart says yes, my heart doctor says no.
Never mind the barbecue lines, will I survive the portable bathroom lines?
I'm hoping yes and using New York Sports Clubs as a backup.
How long before I wind up hanging out at RUB?
Should I avoid the New York guys to concentrate on the out of towners?
Logic says yes, but for some of the pitmasters it may be a good opportunity to talk 'cue that usually isn't possible at the restaurants.
Will any of the barbecue luminaries be familiar with this site?
I'd be lying if I didn't say I hoped that a Mike Mills or a Chris Lilly would have read or even enjoyed my drivel.
Is Chris Lilly as nice a guy as everybody says he is?
I'm bringing two of his books to get autographed, so I'm hoping yes. But I'm also guessing yes, because word would have filtered out if otherwise.
How badly will I sweat through my T-shirt?
I'm bringing extra.
Will I go to the seminars or just eat myself into oblivion?
The spirit is willing but the flesh is fat.
Will I be able to just relax, enjoy the 'cue and soak up the ambience, or will I treat this mostly as an assignment?
Two months ago I would have said the latter, but I have a new outlook on life. Let the big boys and the locals post earlier than I do, get more media access than I do and present more multimedia bells and whistles than I do. I'm just here to have fun.
Long Island BBQ: BBQ Brethren Poobah Phil Rizzardi Serves 'Cue for the Troops, June 14
On Flag Day, June 14, local BBQ impresario Phil Rizzardi and members of the BBQ Brethren will be serving up some BBQ for those who serve our country.
OnSight Support Family and Friends will be hosting an afternoon of fun and family at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale. Stroll through the museum and the special car show while enjoying the entertainment provided by the USO. Food, including authentic ‘low and slow’ BBQ, will be available for purchase. The event will take place from 2:00PM to 8:00PM at 1230 New Highway, Farmindale, NY 11735 (adjacent to Republic Airport off Route 110).
Admission is $15.00 for adults, $7.50 for children. Attendees are asked to bring the name and address of a deployed soldier who they would like to receive a care package and/or a hygiene item or gift that can be included in packages.
Massachusetts BBQ: Village Smokehouse in Lowell Hosts BBQ and Wine Night, June 15
Texas-style BBQ and new world wine unite next Monday night at the Village Smokehouse (Lowell MA). The event starts at 7:00 PM and will feature a Village Smokehouse buffet with wine tastings from the Cono Sur Winery in Chile. The evening’s featured wines will include Cono Sur Vision Sauvignon Blanc, Cono Sur Vision Chardonnay, Cono Sur Vision Carmenere, and Cono Sur Vision Cabernet Sauvignon—the winery’s first wine made from organically grown grapes, certified by BCS Oeko Garantie GMBH Germany.
Tickets are $30. Reservations are suggested and can be made by calling 978-441-2272.
New York City BBQ: Southern Hospitality Cuts 30% Off the Whole Bill, Weekdays 4-6PM
Although I made a reference to Fotomat yesterday, I'm no geezer, at least not this week. But like any good geezer, I appreciate an early bird special-—especially if said special is a barbecue deal with 30% off not just the food but the whole bill. That's what Southern Hospitality (NYC) is doing Monday through Friday from 4:00PM to 6:00PM. www.southernhospitalitybbq.com
New York City BBQ: Citysearch's Josh Ozersky Reveals His Top 5 "Barbecues" in NYC
The Feed Bag's Josh Ozersky, also known as Mister Cutlets, earlier this week posted his New York City BBQ rankings on Citysearch, where he's the Restaurants Editor. As I read through the list, I noticed two things: 1) his rankings were very similar to mine, and 2) Daisy May's was a conspicuous omission.
read The Feed Bag post on the Best Barbecues in Town
New York City BBQ: For The First Time Ever, My NYC Barbecue Rankings (sort of)
Although I don't keep exact rankings, I do maintain a mental "pecking order" of the barbecue restaurants in Boston, New York and everywhere else. Since barbecue quality varies so much from visit to visit even at the best joints, rankings change rather quickly. But the order of the various classes, if you will, usually remains stable. Here, for the first time ever, is my New York City BBQ "Rankings":
RUB, Hill Country
The straight-up barbecue is a wash (hard to decide between RUB's burnt ends and Hill Country's brisket, or RUB's pork rib and Hill Country's beef rib). But I give the nod to RUB on the strength of its sandwiches, wings and pastrami. Both joints are great and both joints have taken turns as #1 and #2, depending on who's having the better day. Neither drops below #2, and it's a steep drop to the next group.
#3, #4, #5, #6, #7:
Daisy May's, Wildwood, Fette Sau, Dinosaur, Rack & Soul
No particular order here; these are all interchangeable with rank depending on the visit. Daisy May's pork ribs and chili rock, but they don't do enough things well to make the first group (or distance themselves from the others in this group), and their brisket and pulled pork are Achilles heels. Wildwood's lamb ribs are among my top handful of barbecue meats anywhere. Fette Sau's ribs remind me of RUB's. Rack & Soul is vastly underrated and might just serve the best pulled pork in the city. Dinosaur is better than I originally thought and much better than its commercial style would suggest. None of these joints ever climbs higher than #3 or drops lower than #7. It's not quite as steep a drop to the next group, but there's a noticeable gap.
#8, #9, #10, #11:
Blue Smoke, Smoke Joint, Virgil's, Southern Hospitality
Same deal. Southern Hospitality is neither as good as its most ardent fans claim nor as bad as their most ardent detractors claim. Virgil's is a lot better than most barbecue snobs will admit. Smoke Joint is a sleeper who's the most likely of any joint to climb up a level.
Bone Lick Park, Georgia's Eastside
Flawed for sure, but enough going on and enough atmosphere to be worth a visit and possibly even a return.
The worst of the real barbecue joints. Fortunately, I really like their sauces. Unfortunately, the 'cue really needs 'em.
God awful no matter how low the price.
New York City BBQ: An Updated Review for Daisy May's BBQ
There's been some Daisy May's bashing lately, whether by what is said (White Trash BBQ's lament from last week) or isn't said (the glaring omission from Josh Ozersky's Top 5 List this week). I'd been planning an updated review for a while now, so the time is right to put Daisy May's into perspective with words and pictures.
read my updated Daisy May's review
Massachusetts BBQ: An Updated Review for BT's Smokehouse
Yes, there is good Northeast barbecue outside Boston and New York, Here's another update that includes a second location, a host of new menu items and recent food photos.
read my updated BT's Smokehouse review
Boston BBQ: I Smell Smoke to Defend Rib Wars Title at Jake's Dixie Roadhouse, June 22
June 22 has been set as the date for the annual barbecue smackdown at Jake's Dixie Roadhouse (Waltham MA). Whether you call it Rib Wars or Battle of the Bones, it's always a fun event where barbecue restaurants and competition teams serve up ribs whose identities are not known, and the customers choose the winner.
This year there's a stronger tilt toward the competition teams, with reigning People's Choice champions I Smell Smoke leading the way. They're also the reigning New England Barbecue Society (NEBS) team of the year.
Other competition teams will include Uncle Jed's BBQ (last year's celebrity judge winner), IQue (3-time NEBS team of the year) and newcomers Transformer BBQ (the reigning NEBS ribs team of the year). Former winners Blue Ribbon Bar-B-Q (W. Newton MA) and home team Jake's Dixie Roadhouse round out the field.
Massachusetts BBQ: A Long Overdue Visit to Chili Head Barbecue and Some Fantastic Wings
Chili Head BBQ (West Bridgewater MA) has long been one of my favorite barbecue joints, but for one reason or another I kept putting off revisiting them for over a year. At one time the location was a convenient ride from where I used to work, so I was able to visit them a little more often. But I think the greater culprit has been my need to either stay local and hit joints closer to home, or to make those long drives to distant joints in Connecticut and New York. Regardless, I made it back this weekend and had both a good meal and a good time.
Caribbean wings (left) and wasabi ginger wings (right).
The highlight for me was the wings. As we caught up with chef Paul Bello prior to being seated, he said to be sure to try the Caribbean Wings special he was offering that night. This included 12 pieces, so I asked our server if it would be possible to get six of the Caribbean and six of another type of wing (although I hadn't visited in a while, I had been paying attention to Chili Head's online menu that recently introduced new wing varieties such as honey mustard, tequila barbecue and wasabi ginger). It was a go, and both wings were fantastic. The Caribbean wings were served dry but liberally covered with a coarse Jamaican style dry rub whose flavor penetrated deep into the succulent meat. Our other choice was the wasabi ginger wings that carried a mildly sweet sauce. Its wasabi component lurked further into the background than I was expecting, but the flavor was definitely there. Both wing types featured noticeable smokiness, nice crispness, and every piece on the platter was a plump, meaty drumette.
For my entree, the spare ribs and chicken were up to par. The ribs
were moist and gargantuan as usual, with a mellow bacony flavor I've come to expect at Chili Head. The chicken was also very moist, especially for a breast quarter.
I'm always on the lookout to see what other people are eating (partially to see if they're getting the same level of quality and quantity I am), so I was fortunate to sit next to a table that ordered the new Chili Head steak burgers and the new "Angry Paul's Fries" smothered with cheese, apple smoked bacon and caramelized onions. Both items looked good.
Angry Paul's Fries at a neighboring table.
Steak burger at a neighboring table (with a jalapeno popper as garnish).
On previous visits the service at Chili Head, while never a problem, was often the weak link in the operation. This time all of the servers (I also pay attention to servers other than my own) were much more familiar with the menu and showed much more initiative in checking with the customers and fulfilling the orders. I liked how they worked as a team, covering for each other in the small dining area. Our server Amanda was a standout, contributing as much to our enjoyment of the meal as those memorable wings.
I learned after the meal that the wings had been smoked over a combination of woods that included blueberry. When's the last time you had that? I also learned that the burger rolls, which look like a variant of brioche, are "pretzel rolls" special ordered from a bakery in Philadelphia.
There was one downside to the visit. Buoyed by those outstanding wings, I was already planning a return trip with a barbecue buddy who's even more into wings than barbecue. I asked if the all-you-can-eat wings deal on Wednesday nights was still in effect, and it turns out it's not (the recent price hikes for wings, making them more expensive than breasts, were the stated reason). A definite disappointment, but for someone like me who's trying to eat lighter, that may not be such a bad thing.
Boston BBQ: Eating Vicariously, Part 2— IQue, ISnooze, ILose
This was originally supposed to be a heads-up post announcing the BBQ and Bourbon Dinner scheduled for June 15 at Tremont 647 (Boston MA). Barbecue and bourbon hit the spot anytime, but when the event's guest chef is Chris Hart, pitmaster of the nationally ranked IQue competition team, that spot deserves extra attention in the form of a reservation. I actually knew about the event and the date before it was announced to the public, but held off from reserving a table so soon for fear I'd look like a nutcase. Dealing with some real-world matters put this on the back burner, and by the time I revisited this event it was sold out. Who's the nutcase now, Ray?
Even though Tremont 647's BBQ and Bourbon Dinner with Chris Hart is sold out, his menu is well worth a look. I'll be eating vicariously a week from Monday for sure.
Brooklyn BBQ: Char No. 4's $22 BBQ Plate On the Patio, Wednesdays through Labor Day
Char No. 4 (Brooklyn NY) is showing off their new patio as well as their skills with the smoker each Wednesday night through Labor day. This week's New York magazine reports that the $22 barbecue plate includes "three meats (a rotating selection includes spare ribs, chicken, pork, brisket and beef links), two sides, a draft beer and a one-ounce whiskey pour."
Boston BBQ: Steve Uliss of Firefly's Offers Healthy Grilng Classes, July 14. Aug 11, Aug 25
With grilling season in full swing, Firefly’s Bar-B-Que owner Steve Uliss is putting a healthy spin on an old favorite. With help from registered dietician Tricia Silverman, Uliss has already conducted numerous classes for firefighters, police departments school departments and town officials. The duo are now offering classes to the public. These will be held on Tuesday July 14 in Framingham, Tuesday August 11 in Quincy and Tuesday August 25 in Marlborough,
In the class, the following will be discussed:
tips for safe grilling and limiting the formation of carcinogens associated with grilling
the importance of adding (and even grilling) fruits and vegetables to a barbecued meal
various unique attributes of the ingredients that will be featured
studies that show that certain professions (for example, firefighters suffer premature deaths due to underlying heart disease and firefighters have higher risks of cancer) have a higher health risks than others-—used to promote the heart healthy and cancer-fighting ingredients in the meal
the connection of food and the brain, such as the often maligned corn, which is actually a healthy food and a good source of thiamin that is critical for mental functioning
how to cut various fruits and vegetables and how to simply put together mouthwatering nutritious marinades
how summer alcohol consumption can pack on the pounds
Participants will enjoy a family-style meal after the class. The class is $35, which includes tax and tip, starts at 6:30pm. For more information and to reserve a spot in a class, please call Elizabeth
Price at 508-357-6393.
Connecticut BBQ, Boston BBQ: 2-Phase Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party, June 19-21 at Foxwoods and June 26-28 at Suffolk Downs
Just as New York City is gearing up for the 7th annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, two locations this year will be welcoming the third annual Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party on the following two weekends. The former 5-day Boston event is splitting into two 3-day events: June 19-21 at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods (Ledyard CT) and June 26-28 at Suffolk Downs (East Boston).
The line-up of pitmasters includes:
Dennis Carino (of Porky 'n' Beans, Florida)
Dallas Green (of Cowboys Barbeque and Rib Company, Texas)
Dan Johnson (of Johnson's Bar-B-Que, Virginia)
Paul Mackay (Awesome Aussie BBQ, Australia)
Jack McDavid (of Jack's Firehouse in Philadelphia and co-host of Food TV's Chillin' and Grillin')
Joey Sutphen (of Joey's Texas Thunder, Texas)
Steve Uliss (of Firefly's BBQ, 3 locations in MA)
John Willingham (of Willingham's, Tennessee)
With the shift to a weekend-only operation and a 20% reduction in participating pitmasters (Joe Alexander, Butch Lupinetti and Tuffy Stone are out; Sutphen is a new addition), expect significantly longer lines. Early arrival and a well developed contingency plan are musts.
My thoughts on the 2008 Phantom Gourmet BBQ Beach Party
NYC BBQ: Big Apple BBQ Block Party Is Less Than Two Weeks Away, June 13-14
It's that time of year again: in just twelve days, the 7th annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party rolls into Manhattan. On June 13 and 14, you can taste the array of barbecue profiles from Texas to Alabama to Mississippi to the Carolinas and back to New York City, as national and local pitmasters converge for this 2-day event. The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party is also an excellent opportunity to meet some of the nation's legendary pitmasters, such as Chris Lilly, Mike Mills, Ed Mitchell and more.
The announced line-up of New York BBQ restaurants includes:
Blue Smoke (Kenny Callaghan)
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (John Stage)
Hill Country (Pete Daversa)
Rack & Soul (John Wheeler)
The line-up of nationally-known restaurants/pitmasters includes:
17th Street Bar & Grill (Illinois, Mike Mills)
Baker's Ribs (Texas, Joe Duncan)
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (Alabama, Chris Lilly)
Black Jack BBQ (S. Carolina, Jimmy Hagood)
Jim 'n Nick's Bar-B-Q (Alabama, Drew Robinson)
Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint (Tennessee, Patrick Martin)
Pappy's Smokehouse (Missouri, Skip Steele)
The Pit (N. Carolina, Ed Mitchell)
Salt Lick BBQ (Texas, Michael Rodriguez)
Ubon's (Mississippi, Garry Roark)
Wilson's (Connecticut, Ed Wilson)
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