Archive - January 2010
New York City BBQ: Hoedown for Haiti at Hill Country Tomorrow Night
The recent glut of fundraisers for Haiti seem to be more geared to self promotion and shameless attempts at boosting various businesses, but tomorrow night's event at Hill Country (NYC) looks like a refreshing exception: a $35 donation gets you a 3-hour open bar (beer and wine), Texas style barbecue, live band karaoke and exciting raffle prizes. Even more refreshing is that Bono won't be there. www.hillcountryny.com
Brooklyn BBQ: Fatty 'Cue Offers Super Bowl Catering
Fatty 'Cue (Brooklyn NY) still isn't open yet (and Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead), but you can get a sneak preview of their menu on Super Bowl Sunday next weekend. The menu, as reported by Andrea Strong on The Strong Buzz) includes:
Kobe style Smoked Brisket with sweet cilantro sauce ($25/lb)
Heritage Farms Pork Ribs with Indonesian long pepper & smoky fish glaze ($28/lb)
Smoked Lamb Shoulder with goat yogurt ($23/lb)
Jumbo Chicken Wings with curry lime marinade & brown rice vinegar ($19/lb)
Cucumber Salad with toasted chili & sesame (serves 10) ($18)
Celery Salad w/ tianjin preserved vegetable & yuzu (serves 10) ($18)
Toasted "Dragon" Pullman Loaf (serves 10) ($16)
The deadline for ordering is Monday; minimum order is $100; the pick-up is free; a $40 delivery option is available for Manhattan. Place orders by phone or email Andrew@fattycue.com or (917) 476-2901.
Boston BBQ: Dinosaur Headed to Hub?
Grub Street and Eater both had vague reports yesterday speculating on Dinosaur Bar-B-Que's expansion plans that could include a Boston outpost. The barbecue mini chain is looking for "buildings with character" that also have 6,000 to 10,000 square feet. Even though Boston hasn't always been accepting of New York imports, I think this one has a good chance of succeeding. Fanueil Hall would be ideal, but I'm thinking Arsenal Street in Watertown makes more sense, assuming that's still "Boston" enough for them. Don't hold your breath for anything immediate—the Albany area Dinosaur that opens later this summer has been in the works for at least two years.
Some Menu Updates
Spanning the northeast to bring you the constant variety in menus:
"Death By Bacon" (chicken fried bacon with cream gravy) is back at Jake's Dixie Roadhouse (Waltham MA). Jake's is also getting their Nawlins thing going on Super Bowl Sunday, with fried oyster po' boys, "Big Easy" gumbo, Abita Turbo Dog beer and beads. www.jakes-bbq.com
Gran'daddy's Smokehouse (Putnam CT) is now offering three sizes of steak chili cheese fries made with their smoked steak chili. Also available is a quarter pound chili cheese dog topped with the same smoked steak chili and served with fries and slaw. www.grandaddyssmokehouseandbbq.com
Big Daddy's Clam Shack and BBQ (Acton ME) has brought back their "50 Ways to love your lobster" menu explosion Thursday through Sunday. Unfortunately, the all-you-can-eat lobster deal is not currently available. More unfortunately, the barbecue seems to be taking more of a back seat, as the "Clam Shack" gets top billing now. (The real star is neither; go for the wings.) www.bigdaddysbarbecue.com
Boston BBQ: M&M Ribs Reviewed
Rather than wait until I finally make it down for a second visit, I decided to take this month's first impressions of M&M Ribs (Dorchester MA) and turn it into a full fledged review, the 172nd one for the site. Check it out via the link above, the Reviews page or the red icons in the Joints directory. When I go again, I can always update it, but for now it's available and easy to find. And I still have a guest review on M&M on the way.
A Little Home Cookin'
Barbecue restaurants had to yield this weekend to other endeavors: a little healthy eating on Friday, a little Asian on Saturday and a little backyard cooking on Sunday. The ribs and chicken were finished shortly before the clock struck midnight for the New York Jets early in the second half. I normally don't cook or eat babybacks, but then I don't normally root for the Jets either. Sometimes you just have to empty out what's in your freezer. Ditto the boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Everything came out okay, but nothing came out spectacular.
Catching Up on Some Recent Eats
Here's a grab bag of candid thoughts from my most recent barbecue meals:
Firebox, Bedford MA
I visited Firebox last Friday for the first time after posting a pretty positive review.
Smoked turkey: This was cut thick, strong on smoke flavor, light on moisture (not dry but not moist like you'd see in a turkey commercial). I liked the turkey aside from the fact that it was served very cold. I'm not talking luke warm or even room temperature, but out-of-a-cold-refrigerator cold.
Brisket: In my review, I noted the difference in quality between my two brisket tastings and hoped the better, more recent one was the barometer. Friday's was about halfway between the dry, pale first visit and the pink, moist most recent visit. There was no bark, no pink, decent texture (not moist, but not dry) and a down-the-middle flavor. Not bad, but a slight backslide from the previous batch.
Pulled pork: Moist, smoky, good bark content, good flavor. No dropoff from Firebox's previous excellent performance in pork.
Pork ribs: As I mention in the review, these sometimes can be firm and with a rub coated surface that's not crisped up as much as it should, and the ribs from Friday had both faults, undermining what was a good flavor. I prefer ribs with a little bite to fall-off-the-bone tender, but these were undercooked.
Miscellaneous: I mentioned to the chef/pitmaster that the turkey was very cold, so he took my plate back to the kitchen and grilled the slices. That's good reaction and good intentions, but he should have simply replaced the turkey with a new batch, without taking my plate away. Or replaced the entire plate, including the luke warm ribs and brisket that were getting colder by the minute while the turkey reheat was in progress.
There were some positives and negatives to this visit, with some of the negatives making me question my original review, but Firebox's greatest strengths—pulled pork and chicken—had not slipped. The turkey was basically good, so I'll chalk the temperature issue up to a correctable oversight. Much more disappointing was that the ribs were undercooked and undercrisped again. So my endorsement of Firebox stands, just stick with the pulled pork and chicken as your safe bets.
Tupelo, Cambridge MA
This darling of a joint near Inman Square gets the label of Southern cuisine stuck to it way before barbecue or soul, and that's okay. And it's a somewhat highfalutin brand of Southern at that, but that's okay too. A July first visit had some very high highs and much promise, including the vague promise of smoked meats down the road. Fast-forward to winter, and ribs and pulled pork are on the menu. I visited with a friend last Thursday night, and here's what we had:
Cornbread: Slightly dry, finely granulated and more savory than sweet (though I'm sure some vanilla was in there somewhere), this minor upgrade from the first visit was a decent start to the meal.
Oysters: Plump, crisp and juicy, with a slightly higher batter-to-oyster ratio than the first time and now accompanied by housemade pickles instead of green tomatoes. These are fantastic. I could eat several orders.
Gumbo: An entree that easily fed two as a split appetizer, the hefty bowl overflowed with smoked Andouille sausage, smoked chicken, large chunks of okra and a few other unidentifiable goodies. The dark, thick broth carried a good amount of smoke, or possibly carryover from the Andouille, but whatever it was, it was very good. I initially wanted to ask for some Tabasco, but I held back and was glad I did, because there was enough flavor in there already.
Ribs: Attractively plated as criss-crossed 2-bone pairs, the ribs showed good bone retraction and a light, crispy bark that held its texture under the sauce. The slightly stiff texture indicated a reheat, but the flavor was pleasing, though not smoky.
Pork: Light and very tender, the pulled pork was a little overcooked and underseasoned, relying on the sauce to wield flavor. I detected neither smoke nor bark. Somehow, it still worked, but I'd recommend satisfying your pulled pork cravings elsewhere.
Chicken: A half bird had rubbery skin and no smokiness, but I liked everything else about it: the liberal dose of assertive rub, the just-saucy-enough condiment, the wiltingly tender meat and the intensity of the flavor that permeated it.
Adding ribs and pulled pork still doesn't make Tupelo a barbecue joint, and that too is okay. Despite some minor technical issues, I enjoyed both, and they might have been smoked, but there was a clear line of demarcation of quality between the Southern items (oysters, gumbo) and the barbecue-like items ("barbecue" was not mentioned on the menu). I'd skip the latter, but I'd go back in a heartbeat for the former—as well as the friendly, attentive service and appealing overall vibe.
Firefly's, Framingham MA
Since Firefly's is so close to the Mass Pike's Natick exit, I often choose it as a meeting place or jumping off point for other destinations. Such was the case last week when I met a friend for a trip to Tupelo in Cambridge. While waiting, I tried a single rib. As I've mentioned previously, single ribs are an offering that's common among Boston BBQ joints. At Firefly's, the rib can be ordered with choice of sauce, and I ordered mine with Dixie Kiss, a dark, sweet sauce with a little more heat and a little more nuance than your typical Kansas City style sauce. It arrived piping hot, so there was clearly some reheat, but it had a fresh taste and mouthfeel. The meat was pink and full of flavor aside from the sauce. The outer bark was still a little crispy under the sauce. Overall, a good rib and one of the better ones I've had at Firefly's lately.
SoulFire, Allston MA
SoulFire is the barbecue joint I visit most, for a variety of reasons on top of their more than respectable 'cue: it's fairly close (a half hour) to my home, it's very close to a Boston Sports Club that's open later than most of the rest, and it's one of the few places I can dine/drink solo and never feel uncomfortable. I wound up dropping in two Wednesdays ago after a late (for me) workout nearby.
Brisket: This was an unusual (in a good way) presentation, with the slices laying on their sides rather than flat on the plate. The coloring was different from what I've had at SoulFire lately: lighter (uncrispy) edges and paler inner meat. But it was still appetizing, with a faint sheen and prominent pink smoke ring that made the slices look a little like larger, beefier versions of Chinese pork strips. Even though it didn't have that familiar bacony appearance, the meat had echoes of the bacony flavor I've noticed in the brisket here lately. Fat was almost nonexistent, but its flavor and moistness made their way into the meat without any steaminess.
Babybacks: These had a good color and a thin but well defined crust. Tenderness was almost exactly what a barbecue purist looks for: a bite that pulls of cleanly and evenly while leaving a little snap. For me, the doneness was ideal, but someone who thinks of Chili's as the gold standard for babybacks would probably be disappointed. The ribs had a nice porky flavor and a faint smoke, noticeably lighter of smoke than usual.
Collards: Typical SoulFire collards, cooked well past wilting, more sweet than savory.
Rice and beans: It had been a while (maybe two years) since I tried this before rediscovering it on my previous visit, and I was impressed: very moist rice with black beans and lots of vegetable goodies thrown in to keep things interesting.
Cornbread: SoulFire's cornbread is the cakey style, and they execute it as well as or better than anyone, with a mosit, fresh good sized piece.
Overall, a good visit with everything good, nothing through-the-roof wow-worthy.
New York City BBQ: No Bull: Adam Perry Lang Cooks for Professional Bull Riders
First Bucky Goldstein, now Adam Perry Lang. Check out the story from FOX News yesterday.
Fox Foodie article on Adam Perry Lang of Daisy May's BBQ
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning seven states. This largest update ever includes two moves, three expansions, one new website, one web site change, five closings, nine new joints and one that came back from the dead.
Green Apple BBQ (NYC/Harlem) now has a website: www.greenapplebbq.com.
Soul Fixin's (NYC) moved six blocks south to West 28th Street and now also has a website: www.soulfixins.com
Whiskey Sunday's (Brooklyn) and its sibling Since 1963 (also Brooklyn) are now both closed. Thanks to
Robert for the info.
Fatty Beltbuckles (Farmingdale NY), a second (and unlikely) outpost of the Rocky Point eatery, opened within the last few weeks. www.fattybeltbucklesbbqrestaurant.com
P & P Soul Food & BBQ (Brockton MA) is a joint that leans more toward the soul realm than barbecue. Thanks to Mark for the lead.
Smoke Shack (Manchester NH), as mentioned here last week, is a food court occupant at the Mall of New Hampshire. Thanks to Sean for reminding me of this expansion. www.smokeshacksouthernbarbecue.com
Bar BQ Restaurant (Milford CT) is a joint that closed three years ago but reopened (after another restaurant opccupied it in the interim) a few weeks ago, according to a report on Chowhound. The employee who fielded my call told me it's as much a new restaurant as it is a revival of the old one.
BT's Smokehouse (Sturbridge MA) has, as reported here earlier, opened its sit-down joint across the street from Sturbridge Village and has shut down its Brimfield trailer park location. Perhaps as significant as the heat, roof and seats is the expanded menu that includes a wider offering of sides and a rotating assortment of fried food appetizers. www.btsmokehouse.com
The Ribbery (Indian Orchard MA) is already the site's most recent review but it's also a new addition to the directory.
Sports Depot (Allston MA) either has a new website or I got it wrong the first time (it's .net, not .com). Thanks to Kevin for the catch. www.sportsdepotboston.net
Nat Hayden's Real Pit Barbecue (Windsor CT) is a month-old joint that seems to stick mostly with barbecue but goes deep with pork ribs, beef ribs, pork, brisket, sausage, chicken, smoked turkey. www.haydensrealbbq.com/Menu.html
Sticky Fingers (Providence RI), a joint that bore no affiliation with the national chain of the same name, is now closed, making way for the new restaurant Ladder 133, possibly under the same ownership (the phone number is the same). Thanks again to Mark for the info.
Big D's BBQ (Southampton NY) is a joint that, according to a recent profile in the Southampton News, has a pitmaster who was trained by BBQ legend Paul Kirk. Thanks to Robert for the lead.
Smoke BBQ Pit (Queens NY) is a spacious joint not too far from JFK International Airport that looks promising based on the numerous website food photos. Thanks again to Robert for the find. http://www.smokebbqpit.com
Wo's Wicked Fine BBQ (Bangor ME) is the northernmost, easternmost joint in the directory. Thanks to Sledneck for the find and for Wo himself for clearing up some confusion. There's a seasonal outpost in Verona Island, but the Bangor flagship (strangely not listed on their soon-to-be-updated website) is open year-'round, everyday but Tuesday. www.wosbbq.com
Dorothy and Leroy's (Bloomfield CT) is closed. I'm pretty sure I reported this one previously here on the main page, but I might have flaked and not made the change in the actual directory.
City BBQ (Linden NJ) is a new addition. Thanks to Robert for the find.
Front Street Smokehouse (Elizabeth NJ) had earlier cut back to an "appetizers-only" mode while revamping for a new look, but it looks like the new look isn't happening. Thanks to Robert for the update.
The Rib Cage (Brooklyn NY) is a soul joint that serves breakfast. Thanks again to Robert for the find.
Port Royal Pub and Grille (Islip NY) now occupies the space formerly held by Island BBQ. The focus seems evenly split among wings (26 varieties), pub fare, seafood and barbecue (listed as "from our smoker" on the menu, so there's some hope). Thanks again to Sledneck for the discovery. www.portroyalpubandgrille.com
A Few More All-You-Can-Eat Options
Some recent web surfing has unearthed a few new all-you-can-eat deals at barbecue restaurants in three different states.
Jeff's Cuisine (South Norwalk CT) has a Sunday brunch buffet for $24.99 that includes two kinds of ribs, brisket, pork, chicken, jambalaya, shrimp and grits, five sides and four desserts. www.jeffscuisine.com
Marfa (NYC) had all-you-can-eat deals which I mentioned at the outset, but I hadn't added it to the All You Can Eat page until now. On Mondays Marfa offers all you can eat wings for $9, all you can eat ribs for $12 and all you can eat barbecue shrimp for $15; on Wednesdays, it's all you can eat fried chicken for $9. What I didn't know until I viewed the site after a recent chef change is that the barbecue meats at this West Texas style eatery are in fact smoked (or at least claimed to have been smoked). www.marfanyc.com
Little Dan's BBQ (Lewiston ME) has a deal on pulled pork sandwiches, with or without slaw: for $5.99, you can eat as many as you want between 11AM and 2PM. www.littledansbbq.com
New Hampshire BBQ: Much Improvement at Smoke Shack's Food Court Location
Last Friday's date night had me at the Mall of New Hampshire (Manchester NH), so I could not resist the opportunity to check out the food court outpost of Smoke Shack Southern Barbecue (Boscawen NH). But the greater opportunity lied with Smoke Shack: it was a chance to redeem itself, since my visit to the flagship nearly a year ago saw what was probably my single worst meal of 2009. The bar was set low, but I'm happy to say Smoke Shack cleared it. I ordered a three-meat combo with two sides to get a good survey. Here's the run-down:
Brisket: This was the single worst item from the 2009 visit to Boscawen (see evidence), but brisket was easily the highlight of this visit. Cut to order, the brisket had good though uncrispy bark, excellent moisture, an appetizing mahogany color and good overall flavor (beefy but elevated with a just a little spice), somewhat similar to Goody Cole's brisket a little further southeast. This wasn't just an improvement from the last one; this was downright good. And from a mall food court no less.
Ribs: These were thick babybacks with a sturdy crust drizzled with a standard sweet sauce before cutting. They also had an appealing pink color, good flavor but only slight moisture. Flavor-wise, I had no complaint, but the texture was disappointing. Clearly overcooked, my first rib literally fell off the bone when I picked it up. Since that's what happened a year ago (but with a lesser rib), I'm guessing that's what they strive for.
Pork: Stringy and dry, so I only had a little and can't really remember the flavor. But it was a huge portion that would be more than enough for a large sandwich.
Cole slaw: Creamy and very bland.
Beans: Sludgy and ordinary.
Sauces: The Carolina sauce was much thicker than what I think of as a typical Carolina sauce. For both taste and texture, it seemed like it might have been Frank's hot sauce mixed 50-50 with ketchup. The outstanding Smoke Shack hot sauces are available for purchase here (and I bought two), but unlike at the Boscawen restaurant they didn't appear to be offered as condiments for their over the counter barbecue.
Miscellaneous: The meat and sides portions were all extremely generous. For less than $20, there was enough food to feed two people. You could easily spend that much at a place like Sbarro and not be as satisfied.
Service: This was odd. After I placed my order, the counter person didn't take my money but instead took the next person's order, then took his money. At this point I headed back to the counter and asked if I could pay, and I did. She then took the next person's order, and then another's. I figured someone in the kitchen would be processing my order based on their order entry system, but the counter person at this point started preparing my order. I'm guessing this is a strategy to strike while the iron is hot, taking as many orders as possible before would-be customer #2 explores a different food court option while customer #1's order is being assembled.
Overall, a mixed bag for sure, but there were some clear bright spots and much improvement. I'll be visiting Smoke Shack again, this time with a lot less fear.
New York City BBQ: BBQ and Bubby Champagne Event at Wildwood Barbeque, January 17
The New Year's festivities have come and gone at most places, but New York City's Wildwood Barbeque is just getting started. This Sunday night, master sommelier Laura Maniec and Wildwood pitmaster "Big Lou" Elrose present four Champagnes and a 3-course family style BBQ feast featuring a whole pig.The event starts at 6:30PM, costs $85 and is limited to 40 guests.
Gaston Chicquet, Brut Tradition, Champagne NV
rubbed wings, chopped salad, cornbread, bottle caps
Jose Dhont, Blanc de Blancs, Brut, Champagne
hand pulled pork from the whole pig, applewood smoked chicken, full cut spare ribs, smoked brisket, mac & cheese, baked beans with burnt ends and bacon, Brussels sprouts, coleslaw
Vazart-Coquard, Grand Cru, Special Club, Champagne 2002, Margaine Brut Rose, Champagne NV and Lahert Freres “Les Clos”, Champagne NV
To reserve, call 212-331-0328 or email@example.com and mention "Zagat Presents." All reservations must be guaranteed with a credit card. www.brguestrestaurants.com
Massachusetts BBQ: BT's Smokehouse, Three Visits and Counting permalink
One of my last visits of 2009 and two of my first visits of 2010 have been to the all-new, indoor BT's Smokehouse (Sturbridge MA). This new location across the street from Sturbridge Village has raised the bar on several fronts:
Comfort: The stand-up counter in a cold trailer has been replaced by three plush, spacious booths in a well heated room. Four swiveling stools face an open diner style kitchen, the perfect stage for chef-pitmaster Brian Treitman to hold court. Homemade pickles and pickled onions are now on offer in serve-yourself bins; pumps dispense a quartet of barbecue sauces. TVs are on the way. And there's a bathroom, a creature comfort not even imaginable at BT's original Brimfield trailer park location or the Sturbridge "Snack Shack" at Yankee Spirits. A beer and wine license is pending, with a BYOB option looming in the more immediate future.
Menu: Pork ribs now include spares and St Louis cut. These are trimmed in house, making sticky rib tips a new appetizer. Fry vats have made hush puppies, Andouille sausage bites, corn dogs, French fries and onion rings possible. New sides have already included collard greens, skillet cornbread and carrot/raisin slaw, with mac and cheese on the way. The Bison burger with brisket burnt ends mixed into the meat is now a menu staple. Four varieties of wings are now on the menu, served as whole wings. There are more desserts. House smoked salmon is available hot or cold. A chopped salad can be had on its own or with smoked meats, salmon or fried tofu.
Execution: The new high volume smoker, higher volume of customer traffic and expanded arsenal of kitchen equipment have combined to improve the freshness of the product. Ribs, for instance, are now prepared for service as ordered, rather than being held in warmers.
Value: Sandwiches are available in three sizes: mini, regular and large. Previously, the mini was only available at the "Snack Shack". Whole wings at 3 for $3 is almost unheard of, especially considering that you can mix and match the sauces. Sides are still $1, with cups at $2, pints $3.
Sticky rib tips, lightly sauced on visit 2. These feature a new sweet barbecue sauce that would be at home at a barbecue competition. The exterior gets a char similar to a Chinese takeout rib, but with smokier, juicier meat beneath.
St Louis cut ribs (tips trimmed off).
Andouille sausage bites are like hot homemade cornbread donuts with a surprise inside.
Bison burger with brisket burnt ends, onions and secret sauces. The roll is grilled and the ketchup is homemade. The is an extremely juicy burger with a lethal dosage of flavor. The brisket gets a little crisped up while the Bison meat remains soft, offering a unique texture. This is probably my new favorite barbecue restaurant burger.
permalink with more photos and more commentary
Boston BBQ: A First Visit to M&M Ribs
Since the inception of this site three-plus years ago, I had been meaning to visit M&M Ribs (Dorchester MA) but had delayed doing so for two reasons: 1) I had already tried their ribs at BBQ festivals, and 2) I wasn't super enthused about the inner-city location, especially if venturing alone. Last summer, M&M garnered "best-of" awards from both the Improper Bostonian and Boston Magazine, piquing my interest past the tipping point. (I was also a little surprised, because although I'd enjoyed M&M ribs at those festivals, I'd hesitate to call them "best-of" caliber.) A few attempts in the fall fell through, but an M&M pilgrimage materialized last Saturday as my first barbecue visit of the new decade.
M&M Ribs vends out a trailer parked in a vacant fenced-in lot, surrounded by trailer trucks. Waiting in line, you can see the old school big drum cooker puffing smoke as you make your own with every exhale in the cold. Joined by a well-known barbecue buddy whose name—and account of the visit—will be revealed in a later post, I toured almost the entire menu, which I'll summarize briefly, item-by-item.
Ribs: lengthy spares with plenty of meat; decent crust; very tender; not much rub; more grill taste than smoke; somewhat reminiscent of the soul style stewed ribs, but retaining more crispness and bite.
Sauce: thin, tomato-based sweet sauce with a little tanginess; not as sweet or as tangy as the sauce at Pit Stop.
Pulled pork sandwich: no smoke or bark; very finely chopped; lightly sauced; very porky flavor; the bun was much fresher and higher quality than I expected.
Chopped brisket sandwich: also finely chopped (sliced is not offered); more heavily sauced than the pork; strong beef flavor but not along the lines of the familiar brisket/barbecue. The saucing, texture and flavor reminded me of a hamburger (if you close your eyes and imagine it as a burger, it's a pretty good burger).
Fried chicken wings: I'd heard raves about M&M's fried chicken, but only fried wings are available, not the rest of the bird. Lightly battered; very lightly seasoned; served crisp. I really liked the two dipping sauces, one a barbecue and the other a jerk.
BBQ Chicken: a whole chicken cut into pieces and sauced like the ribs but heavier; good moistness and tenderness; odd texture; no smoke flavor.
Jerk chicken: a special; large thigh served over rice; chicken was dry' really nice "topping" that had some heat but also delivered spice beyond heat and complexity of flavor.
Cole slaw: refreshing and crisp; thinly sliced with peppers and pickles.
Mac and cheese: very orange and very mild.
Cornbread: tiny loaves that reminded me of a Stop 'n' Shop variety I had as a kid.
Collards: large leaves cooked past wilting; pleasingly mellow flavor.
Overall, a solid if unremarkable meal on a cold day. Was it the best of Boston? Not on this visit, but the timing (late Saturday lunch on a day when it was snowing, following two earlier days of snow and cold temperatures) wasn't ideal for any barbecue joint, much less one that's strictly an outdoor operation. But there were enough good signs to warrant a return trip.
Massachusetts BBQ: BT's Is Green
I've already visited the new indoor BT's Smokehouse (Sturbridge MA) twice and have another visit planned, so stay tuned for a full report. In the meantime, check out this Worcester Telegram article that last week called BT's a "model for the state" in the area of environmental practices.
Read the article on BT's Smokehouse "Greening the Grease"
Massachusetts BBQ: Ribbery Reviewed
The site's 171st barbecue joint review for it is now posted for the Ribbery (Indian Orchard MA, near Springfield). Check it out via the link above, the Reviews page or the red icons in the Joints directory.
Boston BBQ: Hell Nights Sold out at East Coast Grill; Menu Announced
The upcoming quartet of Hell Nights January 11-14 at East Coast Grill (Cambridge MA) are sold out, but seats will be available at the bar on a first-come, first-served basis. Seats made available by cancellation will be announced via Facebook and Twitter. The Hell Night menu is now posted and it's worth a look.
New York City BBQ: New Specials at Hill Country
The 'cue at Hill Country (NYC) is about as good as it gets, but the prices can add up quickly if you're ordering by the pound and a la carte. To help remedy this, Hill Country has introduced two new combos to their roster of dine-in specials. The "Longhorn Brisket Chomp" ($12) includes 1/3lb lean brisket, one 8oz side and cornbread. The "Pitmistress" ($14) includes 1/4 chicken (white or dark), one pork spare rib, one 8oz side and cornbread.
Massachusetts BBQ: BT's Smokehouse is Now a Sit-down restaurant in Sturbridge
The roadside shack in Brimfield known as BT's Smokehouse has moved to a new indoor location in Sturbridge, about a quarter mile further west of its satellite "Snack Shack" outpost at Yankee Spirits on Route 20. Much of the promising expanded menu is still being tweaked and will be unveiled gradually in the coming weeks. I offer a very brief recap of my first visit below but will have more detailed reports after some repeat visits. www.btsmokehouse.com
Some End of the Year Eats
The last two days of 2009 saw visits to four barbecue restaurants, with a 3-joint crawl on Wednesday and a quick lunch on Thursday. That Wednesday crawl had me changing my mind about a dozen times, as I had considered a New York City BBQ trip but ultimately decided to stay more local. Here's a brief run-down:
The Ribbery, Indian Orchard MA
This Springfield area joint had been in my head since long before I started the site, but I wasn't so sure it still existed (it does) and I wasn't so sure it was real barbecue (and I'm still not so sure). The Ribbery is equal parts bar and restaurant, with a dark, laid back vibe and a menu that's a throwback to the 1980s or earlier. This will most likely be my next review, so I'll have more to say in a few days, but for now think of the Ribbery as a watering hole with chain/pub style ribs that despite claims of a smoker were most likely cooked in an oven. The onion loaf was the highlight of the meal.
Flaggstead Smokehouse, Farmington CT
I dropped the ball by not reviewing this one after four visits by early autumn, so I wanted to get a few more visits in now that some time has passed. The simplistic summary of my first visits was that Flaggstead had the barbecue textures totally nailed down (fresh, tender, juicy every time) but was holding back on the smoke and the flavor. On a late lunch visit I tried the brisket and ribs and found that the textures were still dead on, but with an improved flavor that offered more smoke, more heat and more overall oomph. I really liked the hamminess of the ribs; the brisket could have used a slightly crunchier crust but was otherwise quite enjoyable. This was probably my best visit to Flaggstead, which I rank as the best of the Hartford area BBQ joints and one of the leading candidates for the best in Connecticut BBQ joints (Big Bubba's, Bobby Q's, Chester's, Smokin' With Chris and Wilson's would be my others, but Flaggstead has been the most consistent).
A nice improvement since my last visit is Flaggstead's introduction of 2- and 3-meat combos that include a quarter rack of ribs (previously the only combo was brisket and sausage, with ribs available a la carte as full or half racks). They've also added cornbread as mini loaves, with a choice of regular or jalapeno. The special of the day was bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed jalapenos, a nice little snack at 3 for $5.
BT's Smokehouse, Sturbridge MA
The roadside shack in Brimfield known as BT's Smokehouse has moved to a new indoor location in Sturbridge, about a quarter mile further west of its satellite "Snack Shack" outpost at Yankee Spirits on Route 20. Wednesday was day #1 (actually night #1), but because this was as much of a move as an opening, the full expanded menu wasn't available yet. So rather than something exotic, I went with the pork ribs, which were thicker than usual and just as aggressively rubbed. BT's rub seems to have more salt than average and less sugar than average, so that gives the ribs a unique flavor. The new digs allow a high heat finish that crisps up that crust. At BT's I prefer the brisket (crunchy, salty, tender, juicy and a perfect match for that rub) to the ribs (less of a match, sometimes a little too firm), but on both of my last two visits, the ribs have been solid. I'll be visiting the new BT's a few more times over the next few weeks, so I'll have a more detailed report soon on some of the new menu items (wings, burgers, sausage of the day, onion rings, collards, assorted appetizers). But for now, let me recommend the new deep fried cornmeal battered Andouille sausage appetizer: the moistness of the meat is amplified by frying; its heat is tempered by the sweetness of a thick shell that's closer to a homemade "cornbread donut" than your typical corndog batter.
Lester's BBQ, Burlington MA
One of my Christmas presents was a gift certificate to Lester's, a joint that's always been among my favorites but one that I had not visited in quite some time. Looking through my photo folders, I realized that I had not visited Lester's at all in 2009, so I remedied that on the last day of the year. It seems like I'm always looking for higher smoke levels wherever I go, but Lester's delivered that (without overdoing it) in both the ribs and pulled pork on my 2-meat platter. The ribs were firm, possibly a little firmer than I like, but had excellent overall flavor from the smoke as well as the rub. The pork was cooked to perfect tenderness and also had excellent flavor, but the reheat was steamy, losing crispness from the abundant bark. Cornbread and collards were excellent; rice and beans were nothing special. Overall, the meal fell a little short of Lester's best but was still very satisfying.
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