Archive - February 2010
Boston BBQ: First Visit to Red Rose Cafe
Last week I hit Red Rose Cafe (Weymouth MA) for a weeknight take-out sampling. Here this week as promised (though a day later than I had hoped) is the run-down.
Ribs: Neatly-trimmed St Louis spare ribs had good thickness and a nice smoke ring but were somewhat pale on the crust. A light application of Red Rose's signature maroon barbecue sauce gave them a nice sheen and a hint of what's served at barbecue competitions (both pitmasters are highly decorated competition cooks). The ribs were fairly juicy and more than fairly tender—to the point where they were a little mushy—but they allowed a clean bite. Neither smoke nor rub were noticeable, but the very porky, slightly salty flavor to the meat was pleasant.
Pulled pork: This was the highlight of the meal. I like bark on my pork and this pile provided one of the highest bark ratios I've encountered. The meat had a nice mix of textures, from crisp to firm to droopy, and all of it was cooked to perfect doneness, offering the proper resistance to each bite. Unlike the ribs, the flavor here showed a lot of character, with some heat speaking loudest in the assertive spice rub. The smoke was also more noticeable. That same sweet house barbecue sauce would not be my first choice on pork, but the meat was so good that it didn't matter. (Ironically, the ribs photos look better than the ribs actually were and the pork photos don't look as good as the pork actually was.)
Sliced brisket sandwich: Thick, jagged slices that were closer to chunks had a pot roasty consistency, clearly overcooked but workable. The meat had some bark and a faintly beefy flavor that struggled to shine through the pervasively sweet sauce. The bun was soft and fresh.
Chopped brisket: Well crusted cubes seemed to be from the fattier section of the brisket. They supplied more bark, more juiciness (there was a nice pool below) and a much better consistency (cooked to perfect doneness) than the sliced. There was more intensity to the flavor too, with more spice and probably more smoke than on any of the other meats. I'd love to try the chopped brisket again unsauced.
Pulled chicken: I only tried a single piece out of a friend's sandwich and didn't detect any smoke or much flavor beyond the sauce. I give credit for the pulled chicken being far chunkier than at most joints.
Sauce: If you want to know what most competition sauces taste like, try the house sauce here. There's a little tartness and a little kick, but it's the intense sweetness that dominates. It's an excellent sauce, and just as at the now-closed High Street Grill north of Boston, I think this type of sauce works better with some meats (ribs, chicken) better than others (pork, brisket).
Cole slaw: Made with crisp, thin-cut cabbage, this was creamy but a thinner version of creamy, with just a touch of sweetness. I ate all of it.
Fries: About halfway in thickness between shoestrings and steak fries, these hand-cut fries were properly seasoned and full of potato flavor. I ate more than I wanted to eat.
Cornbread: This was the only side that was average, reminding me of Jiffy corn muffin mix. I ate one bite.
Pickles: An afterthought at most places, the house made pickle chips here are quite memorable. I liked that the pickling spice took the lead over both the sweet and the sour. I ate all of them.
Miscellaneous: I would have liked some napkins and plasticware included with the take-out order.
Overall, this was a good first visit, with two excellent items (pork, chopped brisket) among the meats. Sides more than held their own. While Red Rose didn't deliver the perfection that some expect and others have already touted, it's certainly off to a good start and should be included in the mix anytime the discussion involves Boston barbecue.
Beyond BBQ: Bobby's Burger Palace
Just as headliners need opening acts and main events need undercards, long distance barbecue destinations sometimes need a few extra stops, even if outside the barbecue realm. Okay, so maybe they don't need the extra stops, but one or more carefully selected add-ons can make the trip a lot more fun. Big Bubba's BBQ at Mohegan Sun was one of the joints I'd been targeting for a revisit, so last weekend's trip was also a chance to investigate Bobby's Burger Palace under the same roof. Long before my fascination with barbecue, I was a burger guy (and I still am), so I'd been looking forward to BBP for a while.
The Bobby in Bobby's Burger Palace is Mesa Grill chef/owner and Food Network personality Bobby Flay. I haven't always been the biggest fan of his television persona, but I certainly like his cooking, despite (because of?) his habit of messing with culinary traditions. Going in, I had my doubts. But I was certainly rooting for the place to be good, and for the most part it was.
Let's get to the meat of the matter. I like the size of the patty, which is wider and thicker than the Five Guys and Shake Shack burgers that are now in vogue, but maybe just a little thinner than your average pub burger patty. And I like the way it's cooked as ordered, with my medium rare burger oozing juices when cut. But like too many burger joints, the actual meat here—though certainly good—doesn't get the same level of attention as the toppings and sides. Flavor was okay, but nothing special. Meat against meat, it's not in the same league as Shake Shack (my favorite burger in New York), Craigie on Main (my favorite burger in Massachusetts) or even Ruby Tuesdays (their underrated Triple Prime is my favorite burger among the national chains). For both cooking and flavor, I'd take a Bobby's burger over Five Guys burger any day, and I mostly like Five Guys.
While the meat was just okay, the burger construction was very good: the bun was fresh and just the right size for the patty; the blue cheese was potent, generously applied and multitextured with creamy liquid and crumbly bits; the bacon strips were lengthy and cooked to a perfect crisp.
Thick cut onion rings had an even thicker batter whose texture and sweetness reminded me of buttermilk pancakes. Fries were less groundbreaking but more enjoyable, managing to achieve the best characteristics of crispy and droopy in the same fry. Helping out the enjoyability factor was a nice little dipping sauce (same color as Bobby's hair in the early days) that had some creaminess and some spice.
You have to love the array of plastic squeeze bottles that allow you to doctor up your burger with standard ketchup and mustard, a chipotle ketchup, a burger sauce (similar to A1 steak sauce) and a jalapeno sauce (sweet, light heat). All were good, though none really stood out. I'm sure it's done more for marketing (all of the sauces are for sale) than customer satisfaction, but count me as a satisfied customer.
Ordering and payment are both handled at the counter before being served. You take a numbered sign to the seat of your choice, where you receive your finished product from the kitchen when done. The seating is mostly at a winding ice cream style counter with matching revolving stools, probably because shakes (which I didn't try) are a big part of the menu. It's just comfortable enough, but it's not a place where you'd want to linger.
So I said I was a satisfied customer, but going forward, am I a motivated customer? Would I make a special trip back just to have that burger again? Probably not. As juicy as it was and as artfully adorned as it was, I'm more about the meat and the meat was just okay. (I might visit every month or two if Bobby's was in my neighborhood.)
Would I make a special trip back just to visit Big Bubba's BBQ again? I'll let you know in a few days.
Long Island BBQ: Blues and BBQ Dinner at Bobbique, March 2
Many joints offer blues music and barbecue, but how many offer a meal cooked by one of the singers? At Bobbique (Patchogue NY) next Tuesday night, guest chef Joseph Felicetta will be presenting a six-course dinner featuring hot and smoky spiced wings, smoked seafood chowder, smoked fish and shellfish and pomegranate marinated babyback ribs, plus a very non-traditional assortment of other goodies (see image below for details), all paired with beers from Tröegs Brewery. He'll also be taking the stage in the all star blues jam hosted by Franny Mae.
The $50 for this event includes food, beer pairings, entertainment, tax and tip. Reservations are required. www.bobbique.com
New Hampshire BBQ: Smoke Shack Food Court Stall Reviewed
The site's 174th review is a posthumous one, as the Smoke Shack food court location at the Mall of New Hampshire has picked up and moved to that great food court in the sky. But I'm posting this review, started before the closure, for the sake of posterity and the sake of balance (the food court visit was more positive than my earlier visit to the flagship location in Boscawen). Check out the review via the link above, the Reviews page or the red icons in the Joints directory.
0 For '09 (The Man Who Never Returned)
Looking back at last year's barbecue restaurant photos, I counted more than a few places that went all of 2009 without a visit. Some of them were obvious and some not so obvious, but it got me thinking about the joints I'd really like to hit again. Here are the 15 joints I most want to return to, whether for quality or curiosity.
Fette Sau, Brooklyn NY
This also happens to be the best of the joints I only visited once, and I can't wait to get back. The problem, as with many of the Brooklyn barbecue joints, is that it's only open at night, making it a hard one to hit on a daytrip. The sides were underwhelming but the meats were as tasty as tasty can be. I like the vibe, I like that the menu rotates to offer different meats on different days, and I like the freshness (they make enough for one night and when they're out, they're out).
Big W's, Wingdale NY
The ribs are cut to order with tips on the side, the chili is excellent, the pulled pork sandwich is the largest I've ever seen, the sides and sauce are out of the ordinary (more Asian fusion than barbecue, but it works), and it's all served up by nice people in a low key room. The last time I visited, they had just introduced smoky barbecue chicken pot pies that would hit the spot on a cold day like today.
Big Bubba's BBQ, Uncasville CT
Yes, it's in a casino and no, it isn't a tourist trap (even though the gift shop is the first thing you see). The prices are expectedly inflated, but the 'cue can be a poor man's version of what you'd get at RUB in New York City. That's not surprising, since RUB's Paul Kirk was involved at the outset. I like their brisket, chicken and smoked wings ahead of the ribs, and their beans were what RUB's used to taste like. The huge onion rings are a well-executed version of what I call "the puffy kind." I want to try their Bayou burger, then compare it to Bobby's Burger Palace (Bobby Flay's restaurant that's also located at Mohegan Sun). I'll think of it as a throwdown with the mute button on.
Smoke Joint, Brooklyn NY
This joint reminds me of a Daisy May's (NYC) or a Blue Ribbon (W. Newton MA) back when both were still hungry, as they say in boxing parlance. Although none of the meats struck me as spectacular on my only visit, all of them were good and the sides were all better than good: in my review I wondered if Smoke Joint had the best all around sides of any New York City barbecue restaurant.
Chester's, New London CT
This was still relatively new on my two visits there in 2008, so I'm curious to see the progress. The brisket is the signature dish, but the pork was the best thing I tried.
Route 7 Grill, Great Barrington MA
Phrases like "locally grown" and "grass fed" and "farm to table" get bandied about when this one's in the conversation, and this can either get you excited or turn you off. Count me among the former, because Route 7 for the most part (and that includes the barbecue part) delivers on flavor and texture.
Buck's Naked, Freeport ME
It works both as a bar and as a family restaurant, and even though babybacks are the only pork rib, they're good. There's a nice array of appetizers, a pretty good beef rib and an interesting blueberry (hey, it's in Maine) barbecue sauce.
Barnstormer BBQ, Fort Montgomery NY
Their saucy rib is not the genre I usually seek, but they nailed it—using humongous spares certainly helped—on my one visit to their previous location in Newburgh. They served some pretty good fries, too. I hope the funky signage I liked so much made the move to the new digs.
HarborQ, Port Washington NY
This is another joint that was still very new on my only visit, and while the barbecue was up and down, I could see flashes of what may have matured into something good. And there's some cheffing skills here for sure, as exhibited in their Buffalo Soldiers appetizer that would easily win the "best use of cheese at a barbecue joint award" if I had such a thing.
Curtis BBQ, Putney VT
I've called this overhyped and overpriced, but my 2008 visit wasn't bad. I'm looking forward to a return visit with an open mind. I'd probably opt for the sister location (actually, "daughter location" would be more fitting) that's a sit-down, full service joint a little further north.
Chico's BBQ, Guilderland NY
Arriving for my only visit on July 5, the day after a major holiday and amidst a minor heat wave, had its plusses and minuses: the bartender's tube top was spectacular, but the 'cue—though still good—might not have represented the best Chico's can do. Maybe a late June visit will net the best of both worlds.
Big Fatty's, Burlington VT
I visited the Hartford branch in 2006, long before a smoker was part of the operation, so I'm curious to see whether Big Fatty's has improved. The flavors were pretty good already, so there's certainly some potential.
Smoking Sloe's, Northport NY
I wasn't wowed by the pork ribs, but the beef ribs that caught my eye on the way in still have me thinking about a return trip. Their all-you-can-eat deal is additional incentive.
Seconds BBQ, Amityville NY
One visit many years ago and still no review, so I need to get back out of a sense of duty if nothing else.
Georgia's BBQ, NYC
Technically, this probably isn't barbecue, but for this saucy style of babybacks, they do a pretty good job, and the place does have a unique charm. The place also has an address right around the corner from Katz Delicatessen, so I'm guaranteed at least one good sandwich that day no matter what.
Catching Up On Some Recent Eats
SoulFire, Allston MA
I had two dinners at SoulFire (Allston MA) 13 days apart with two different guests, surveying the ribs, barbecue wings, Southern fried wings and pork twice each, and the brisket once. Everything was solid, with the first visit's standout the fried chicken (perfect crispness, deep flavor from the brine compensating for minimal seasoning after cooking) and the second visit's standout the pulled pork (high smoke level, high bark content, tender without being overtender). Spare ribs were juicier and smokier on the busier Friday night visit than the slower Saturday night visit.
The deep fried mac and cheese has changed format, now served as squares. Whether balls or squares, I still can't see choosing these over SoulFire's straight mac and cheese topped with crumbled potato chips or their Spaghetti Western (mac, cheese, chili, crumbled potato chips). The collard greens on the most recent visit had a touch more firmness and a little less sweetness. Even though it's not the style I prefer, the cornbread is still stellar: dense, sweet, moist, coarse, fresh and formidable, it's good and consistently good.
On a sad note, baker/pitbabe/server Alana Baker is no longer on the team, but her cheesecake and pecan pie creations remain. On a potentially sadder note, SoulFire's Monday night all-you-can-eat chicken wings deal will now cost you a couple of dollars more at $8.99. Based on the increasing crowds and the increasing cost of chicken wings, it was inevitable, but it's still a great deal.
Tennessee's, Framingham MA
Back in January I stopped into Tennessee's (Framingham MA) for an Oink Cackle and Moo combo with pork ribs, barbecue chicken and beef brisket, plus three sides. I can't remember the details, but I remember that the brisket was a little pale around the edges and that the chicken skin was a little rubbery, making this visit a slight dropoff from recent successes that have buoyed my opinion of the Massachusetts mini chain. The portion (a quarter chicken, roughly 6 ribs and nearly a pound of brisket) was off the charts. Sides were equally generous and well prepared across the board. When I'm craving killer 'cue, Tennessee's isn't the first joint that pops into my head, and it's probably not among the next half dozen either, but for what they're attempting to do, they do reasonably well (and sometimes very well), especially if you stick with the ribs and chicken.
Nat Hayden's, Windsor CT
This is a new joint with counter service, a BYOB option and only a few tables. I like the retro feel of the place, from the logo to the well ived-in space itself to the hominess of the dishes to the friendly service. I'll be visiting again before a review, but here's the quick lowdown on the first visit, made on a Friday night just before closing: the meats were pretty good, the sides very good. Smoke levels and coloring are somewhat stymied by use of Cookshack smokers, but the flavors and textures are promising (especially the tender, smoky chicken). Ribs bordered on overtender but had good flavor. Brisket was held in a thin, sweet broth to preserve moisture and it worked nicely. The collards were jacked up with drippings from the smoker. Creamy cole slaw had a lot of pop. The crew inspired confidence, so I see this as a joint with some serious upside.
Red Rose Cafe, Weymouth MA
Earlier in the week I made my first pilgrimage. More on that next week.
Connecticut BBQ: Flaggstead Smokehouse Visit Report
To say that Flaggstead Texas Smokehouse (Farmington CT) is ripe for a review would be a gross understatement. I've made a half dozen visits already but have been putting off putting it up for posterity. There's no hidden agenda here, just a combination of circumstance and procrastination. Crowds and timing prevented me from trying the brisket on my first visit and the pork ribs on my first two visits. A third visit got me that taste of ribs, but by that time the first two visits were too far back to be as relevant as I'd like for what I consider to be an important joint. A few Fridays ago I made what I hope was my last visit before my forthcoming review (it certainly won't be my last visit period).
The more I visit Flaggstead, the more I see reinforcement of the following early conclusions: 1) the meats are always fresh tasting and juicy; 2) the meats are usually perfectly tender but sometimes over-tender; 3) the smoke levels, rub levels and flavor levels often strike me as lacking; 4) all things considered, Flaggstead gets a thumbs up verdict.
On this particular visit, all of the meats looked fantastic, with texture and flavor varying.
Pork ribs: As usual, the crust was prominent and the juices flowed. As usual, they had a strong, pleasing pork flavor. But this time they also had a noticeable smoke profile. I thought the texture only bordered on too tender, but my two companions for this visit both thought the rack was overcooked.
Beef shortrib: I'd give it a 9 (perfect score) for appearance and another 9 for texture, but the flavor rated only a 6. Though still enjoyable, it needed more rub, more smoke or more of something.
Brisket: Cut thick with a crisp exterior and a juicy interior, this was good all around. For the second straight visit, the flavor matched the texture, with a nice beefiness more noticeably enhanced by the rub and smoke.
Chicken: Inner texture was moist and tender, but the skin wasn't as crisp as on past visits. The skin also didn't carry as much peppery rub as on past visits, and this seemed to be echoed in the inner meat, which was somewhat plain tasting. A little dip in the tangy yellow barbecue sauce boosted it a little.
Sausage: Sourced differently from the early sausage, this is now a kielbasa that has a softer consistency and less of a hot dog flavor with less snap.
Cornbread: Served as mini loaves, it's a nice compromise between the bready and cakey varieties, leaning toward the latter. Both the plain and the jalapeno versions were good, with the jalapeno carrying a little more heat than I was expecting.
Long Island BBQ: Meat the Press (and Meet Me at Swingbelly's)
Shock. Horror. Outrage. Based on the comments I'm seeing and the people I've talked to, that's the general reaction to the Long Island Press 2010 readers' poll results for barbecue and ribs. That was was the case last year and it will probably be the case next year too. Everyone has a favorite style and everyone has a favorite joint, so there's always going to be disagreement, but there really shouldn't be any controversy. And there really shouldn't be any surprise.
Swingbelly's Beachside BBQ (Long Beach NY), my personal pick for Long Island barbecue joint and Long Island ribs, didn't crack the top 3 on either list, losing out to the at-least-respectable Smokin' Al's, the at-least-they-have-a-smoker Bobbique and the more shruggable Zorn's and The Spare Rib. I'm disappointed, but I'm not going to lose any sleep. Nor should the folks at Swingbelly's.
This is a readers' poll, and most readers' polls are rife with ballot stuffing and ignorance. Sometimes there's both: someone stuffing the ballot for his brother-in-law's pizza joint has to vote in the other categories to make it look good, so the more visible barbecue joints probably get picked based on name recognition alone.
Swingbelly's in Long Beach isn't the easiest to get to if you're coming from the North Shore or Suffolk County. Conversely, Bobbique is located close to the geographic center of Long Island, and the other winners have at least two locations apiece. So they're bound to have a greater number of genuine voters who've visited them, a greater number of voters who know someone who's visited them and a greater number of voters who've simply heard the name and nothing more. That's okay. That's what happens in readers' polls.
Don't take these poll results as the gospel. What you should take is an extra half hour trip to check out some real barbecue—the kind that's smoked over wood and has flavor beyond just a gloppy sauce—at Swingbelly's. (If sauce is your thing, Swingbelly's has one of the best sauce lineups on the Island, with everything from traditional to vinegar to fruity to Asian.) You may like Swingbelly's, or you may not. But before you vote in next year's poll, take up to a year to check them out. Unlike a lot of inferior Long Island "barbecue" joints, I bet they'll still be around.
Long Island BBQ: Smokin' Al's Once Again Sweeps Long Island Press Poll
The Long Island Press has announced its 2010 "Best of L.I." reader's poll results, and the winners in the barbecue and ribs categories are no surprise. Winning once again for both categories is Smokin' Al's (Bay Shore and Massapequa Park). It's their third win as a barbecue restaurant and the fifth win in the ribs category.
For barbecue, Zorn's (Bethpage and East Meadow) repeated last year's second place finish and Bobbique (Patchogue) finished third.
For ribs, the results were identical to last year across the board, with The Spare Rib (Commack and Hicksville) once again finishing second and Zorn's again finishing third.
Remember, this is a readers' poll.
Joints Directory Madness Redux
Gathering some forgotten info and some new leads, I tacked on five more bullet items to this morning's listings below.
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning three states. This time there are four new joints, four new closings, two new websites and one website correction.
Bobz Ribz (Staten Island NY) is a sit-down joint that completes the quest for a joint in all five NYC boroughs. Now the question is whether it's any good. Thanks to Robert for the lead.
Mep's BBQ (Canaan NY) is a new Hudson Valley area joint. Thanks to Rich for the find.
Red Rose Cafe (Weymouth MA), as mentioned last week, is an Irish bar now serving 'cue with a strong competition pedigree. This week they have a website. www.redrose-cafe.com
Q Barbecue (Mount Kisco NY) closed the second location earlier this month, but the original in Port Chester is still going strong. www.qrestaurantbar.com
Whiskey's Smokehouse (Boston MA), the subject of the site's most recent review, had the right website listed but the incorrectly entered link (my bad) is now fixed. www.whiskeysboston.com
JB's Barbeque (Brewster NY) now has a website. Thanks to Robert for the addition. www.jbsbarbequeny.com
Roadhouse (Brookline MA), after several personnel changes and the loss of a smoker over an 18 month period, mercifully closed its doors on Sunday. The same ownership is planning a new restaurant with a different concept in the same space, as detailed in this Wicked Local report. Thanks to Sledneck for the lead.
Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint (East Meadow NY), another joint joint whose ownership had a penchant for changing pitmasters and menus with reckless abandon, also closed its doors a few Sundays ago. It'll be reverting to the pizza restaurant that once held that space. Thanks to Robert, Amy and the carpenter onsite who answered my confirmation call.
The Saw Mill (Dracut MA) is a combination pizza joint and smokehouse. Thanks to Mike for the lead. www.sawmillpizzeria.com
The Mason Jar (Mahwah NJ) is a new addition that has a little bit of everything: pizza, deli, eight different
salads and a "Jar-B-Que" menu with two kinds of ribs, burnt ends, a smoked pork loin and the rest of the usual barbecue suspects. Thanks to Eric for the lead. www.masonjar.com
Smoke Shack Southern BBQ (Manchester NH) is no longer in the Mall of New Hampshire Food Court. Thanks to Sean and Jeff for the info. www.smokeshacksouthernbarbecue.com
Massachusetts BBQ: Tennessee's To Sell Milford Outpost; Pepperoncini's II On the Way
The MetroWest Daily News reported yesterday that the Tennessee's barbecue mini chain may be contracting slightly, with the Milford location targeted to become the second location of Framingham pizza restaurant Pepperoncini's. According to the report, there's a chance that some of the barbecue element may remain. For a variety of reasons, this news looks like a win-win.
read the article in MetroWest Daily News
Boston BBQ: Whiskey's Reviewed
Some reviews take time, while others are incredibly easy. Falling into the latter category is Whiskey's (Boston MA), the subject of the site's 173rd barbecue review. Check it out via the link above, the Reviews page or the red icons in the Joints directory.
Boston BBQ: An Unlikely Case of Molecular Gastronomy at Redneck's?
Pork foam: it's what's for dinner if your dinner is the pulled pork sandwich at Redneck's BBQ in Allston. To be fair, the late night eatery that was once Riley's Roast Beef isn't really a barbecue joint—in spite of the name—and that's pretty obvious as soon as you walk in. So maybe the glop they call pork shouldn't be expected to be first rate. But even if they didn't include "BBQ" and "Pulled Pork" in ther signage, they really ought to be serving something better than this.
Soy-Ginger-Scallion Smoked Chicken Salad
I had nearly a dozen smoked chicken thighs to use up as leftovers last week, so as is my wont, I threw together an unusual chicken salad. I've been in an Asian groove lately, so I was looking for some flavors from that palette to complement the lemongrass in the rub and the guava wood smoke. Some scallions in the fridge were hinting for a complement, so I chopped several stalks (green part and white part), chopped about half as much celery, then mixed in some chopped chicken. I've recently explored some citrus-based and vinegar-based chicken salads, so something closer to a creamy traditional was the goal this time for the condiment. I whisked roughly 6 parts fat free mayo, 2 parts soy sauce, 2 parts ginger powder (I'd prefer fresh if it were on hand), 1 part lemon juice (I'd prefer lime) and 1 part Sriracha. The color and consistency reminded me of melted coffee ice cream—which I'd probably welcome after my tasty sandwich, because those scallions pack a lot of flavor if you load up on 'em as I did.
Boston BBQ: Blue Ribbon Visit Report
As I've said many times on this site, I've visited Blue Ribbon a lot less in recent years now that I'm working in Worcester (PigTrip is only a hobby). So when I met a friend in Newton last Monday night, I jumped at the chance to visit Blue Ribbon, where I sampled some chili and a trio. Here's the low-down:
Pork chili: This item from the specials board featured a high meat-to-broth ratio with tender pork, black beans, sour cream and cilantro, accompanied by a large block of cornbread. I was tempted to grab a hot sauce bottle off the shelf, but I resisted. The sneaky heat wasn't noticeable at all at first, then kept creeping up nicely. If it were a permanent fixture, this chili might make the tail end of my chili list. Part of me wishes Blue Ribbon had an every day chili, but part of me is glad there's enough creativity that the soups, chilis and sandwiches not only keep changing but keep my interest.
Ribs: This item has seen some fluctuations over the last couple of years at Blue Ribbon as they transitioned to an offsite smoking program and experimented with various rib cuts and suppliers. The ribs have always been at least good, but not always reliably great as in their heyday a few years ago. On this visit the ribs were great: big and juicy, pink color, good texture, and the flavorful, slightly crisped bark was prominent for the third visit in a row. These tasted fresh, not steamy.
Pulled pork: An ample portion, not as much bark as usual, a little light on the smoke flavor and more than a little steamy even though the overall texture was good. For most other joints, this would suffice, but at Blue Ribbon it was a little disappointing.
Chicken: A thigh was very tender and faintly smoky with marginally crisp skin, good flavor in the meat and fantastic flavor in the maple barbecue sauce that topped it (another special that night). It was a good mix of maple syrup with some heat for balance, and it still let the chicken do most of the talking. If they sold this sauce by the jar, I'd buy one.
Sides: Collards and slaw were their usual selves, with some light heat and good meat content in the greens and a crisp and creamy balance to the slaw.
Cornbread: This is probably more of a referendum on style than execution, but I consider Blue Ribbon's cornbread the prototype for what cornbread should be. It's thick, just moist enough, just sweet enough, with more of a baking powder component than most and no reliance on vanilla, cinnamon or other oddball flavors. Monday night's cornbread was nothing out of the ordinary, but solid. As baseball geeks who value high OBP like to say, it "kept the line moving."
Jefferson Would Have Whupped Namath
If you're doing a little web surfing before the big game and are equally into sports arguments and political arguments, have I got a site for you: America Bowl, where writer Don Steinberg pits the 44 American presidents against the 44 Super Bowl games (first president versus first Super Bowl, and so on) and picks the winner for each one. www.americabowl.net
New York City BBQ: A Beefy "Feed Your Face" Challenge from Hill Country
Here's another one of those eating challenges where if you can stuff your face with more food than you'd ever really want to eat at one sitting, the meal is free. Hill Country (NYC) is known for its beef, so two pounds of it are just the beginning of this interesting challenge. Eat a half pound of lean brisket, a half pound of moist brisket, a half pound of beef clod, a half pound of prime rib, two small sides, a 32-ounce soft drink and a cupcake—and do it in less than an hour with no bathroom breaks—and this $65 meal is free. More importantly, you get a free T-shirt and a lifetime of bragging rights.
I'm itching to get back to Hill Country, but not for this challenge. I'll stick with my usual order of a quarter pound each of moist and lean brisket, a Kreuz hot link and a small Texas caviar. Not hurling when done: priceless.
Lists: Favorite Wings, Favorite Chili
No, I haven't gotten around to revised rankings for the new year just yet. But with the Super Bowl just days away, I thought I'd dust off my 2009 rankings for wings and chili at barbecue restaurants and make them just a little easier to find.
2009 BBQ Wings Rankings
2009 Chili Rankings
My opinion today is pretty close what I had to say in these year-old rankings. RUB and Hill Country, both based in New York City, are the only joints to make both lists. Unfortunately and somewhat disappointingly, wings list finishers High Street Grill (N. Andover MA) and Ruby's Famous BBQ Joint (East Meadow NY) are now both closed.
New Hampshire BBQ: So This Is Texas BBQ?
Last Friday saw another date night, another trip to a mall—this time the Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua—and another opportunity to check out another food court barbecue operation—this time Texas BBQ Factory. There was just one problem: it's Chinese, not barbecue. Some politically correct types might suggest that I'm jumping to conclusions based only on the all-Asian (I'm assuming Chinese) staff, but that's not the case here. The problem was the incredibly familiar steam-table-under-glass setup, with the incredibly familiar assortment of food court Chinese food: egg rolls, fried rice, vegetarian delight, bright red boneless spare ribs and about a half dozen permutations of boneless chicken, running the gamut from mildly sweet to mildly spicy. I know there's a town called Paris in Texas, but who knew there was a Beijing?
A gander at the wall menu shows that they do indeed have brisket, but that's a "special order" item requiring a 4- to 5-minute wait. There's no pulled pork and no pork ribs on the bone (not even the red Chinese American kind). I tried to take a few photos of the setup and the menu, but was told that photos weren't allowed and that I'd have to delete the one photo I took. (They didn't pose any time frame on the request and didn't check my camera, so I deleted the photo from my camera, but after uploading it to this site.)
Compelled to see this brisket, I made the special order ($5.99). The staff in the back room cut some slices off a cold brisket and took it out to the grill to reheat it and get a light char; a few brushings of sweet barbecue sauce added some moisture and flavor. I think it was real brisket. The thin, stringy slices had somewhat of a beef jerky consistency, but the fat along the edges balanced things out. The natural beef flavor poked through the sauce, and all things considered, it wasn't bad, even though it was about as Texan as I am Chinese.
The real reason to patronize Texas BBQ Factory is the Chinese selection. Not for quality, but for the value: a 7-item combination plate is a mere $2.99. I discarded mine shortly after taking photos and a few cursory nibbles, but it's not bad for food court Chinese. I'm guessing that a $3 outlay here will fill you up and a $6 outlay will give you more food than you can handle. So if that's what you're looking for, Texas BBQ Factory is worth keeping in mind for your next mall visit. Just don't expect barbecue.
Boston BBQ: It's Schlesinger's World; We Just Live In It
In the latest issue of Stuff magazine, Louisa Kasdon contributes a "5 Courses With" mini interview with Chris Schlesinger of East Coast Grill. read the Stuff interview with Chris Schlesinger
Boston BBQ: Some Rare Intel on Whiskey's
A few weeks ago, a new publication called Dirty Water News had a review of Boston's Whiskey's Smokehouse on Boylston Street. There wasn't a whole lot said about the 'cue (or even if it really is 'cue), but a quick glance at the Whiskey's website tells me that this is a joint whose main attraction isn't the food.
read the Dirty Water News review of Whiskey's
Boston BBQ: New England's Top Competition Pitmaster Is Now a Restaurateur
The worst kept secret among the Northeast competition barbecue community is that there's a new place in Weymouth to satisfy your 'cue cravings. The joint—the Red Rose Café, an Irish tavern on Broad Street—isn't new, but starting today at 4:00PM, their kitchen will feature the food of New England BBQ & Catering. This outfit is the joint effort of Steve Farrin of I Smell Smoke! (reigning New England Barbecue Society Team of the Year and more barbecue grand championships than any Northeast team in the last five years) and Brendan Burek of Transformer BBQ. If the 6-day-a-week offerings here can consistently approach what I've tasted from this duo on the competition circuit, today may prove to be historic.
Massachusetts BBQ: A Return to American BBQ, This Time in Beverly
Last Wednesday night I met some friends in Beverly MA, where we checked out the second location of the American BBQ, based further north in Rowley. The Beverly outpost is a lot roomier and looks more suburban than the barn-like original. There's no bar; a small but well chosen assortment of beer is available. As for the food, here's the run-down:
Free snacks: There's something welcoming about a place that's willing to feed you a few different freebies before you even place your order. You can help yourself to baskets of popcorn and peanuts in the shell well ahead of the counter, which has a sample basket of homemade potato chips. The chips had all the characteristics I look for in a perfect cookie: crispy exterior, chewy interior and enough of the complementary flavor (in this case, jerk seasoning) to make an impression but not so much that it barges its way past complementary status. I could easily eat a bag of 'em, and were it not for my diet I would have easily purchased a bag for two dollars and change.
Onion rings: Homemade rings made with thick cut onions and puffy batter. These needed some salt, but I still liked the overall flavor, and really liked the crispness, which isn't always a factor with this style.
Chili: Made with mostly ground beef, unmelted cheese and what looked to be a few scraps of barbecue meat, this mildly spiced blend was nothing out of the ordinary and wouldn't receive consideration for making my chili list, but I still give it props as a competently prepared straightforward "everyday" chili.
Ribs: Generously covered with barbecue sauce (my bad for forgetting to request no sauce), these had a good crust, nice smoke ring, faint smoke taste and good overall flavor despite the lack of a real rub presence. What brought these down a notch for me was that the ribs were very overcooked, to the point where they tasted pre-chewed.
Pulled pork: Also sauced but less generously, the pork was similarly cooked past the point of tender. There was a little bark, but not much, and the very thin, very delicate strings had little resistance and minimal flavor. Some Carolina sauce helped.
Brisket: Bark was absent; flavor was decent. I'll give them points for tender, but the parts that weren't rubbery reminded me of pot roast.
Chicken: It was nice to see a half chicken on the 3-meat combo, something I'd only seen done at Goody Cole's (Brentwood NH). The skin was rubbery under a heavy dousing of sauce. Dark meat was succulent; white meat was dry. The flavor had a light smokiness.
Sausage: Served as slices about 1/4" thick, even these were sauced. The edges were crisp and the insides had the same kind of texture you get in a sliced meatball on a pizza. Oddly, I probably liked the sausage the most of all the meats.
Collard greens: These were probably the highlight of the visit, offering a grab bag of leaves and stems that were chopped just enough to be manageable and cooked just enough to make them slightly tender while retaining just a hint of al dente crunch. The condiment was a flavorful broth and a grab bag of pork (or was there chicken in there too?) and sausage. I remembered pepperoni from my first visit, but whatever was in there on this visit was better.
Fries: After a pretty impressive onion ring starter that I thought was homemade, the industrial strength frozen fries let me down.
Mac and cheese: Smooth, creamy, soft and mild. Perfect for children and those seeking childhood memories; not so perfect for those seeking adult flavors.
Cole slaw: This had a lot of potential, with crisp, thinly sliced cabbage dressed with restrained use of a faintly sweet lubricant and a heavy sprinkling of celery seed. It felt and tasted like it was prepared just minutes before serving, but if the flavors had a chance to settle in, this could be very good.
Cucumber salad: Same deal as the cole slaw.
Cornbread: Each combo was topped with a piece of cornbread that was literally the size of a brick, but it was surprisingly light, like angelfood cake. It was sweet like angelfood cake too, with a little crunch at the edges.
Sauces: Four different barbecue sauces are available at a well-stocked condiment, cutlery and plating station (I love that you can get different sized styrofoam plates, cups and takeout boxes). The regular (brown) and hot (more red) are slight variations on ketchup, though the regular that topped the meats as served seemed to have more zing and more spreadability. The "Yellow" sauce (that's the name they use) also had some zing and sweetness, and I'm pretty sure it's a Cattleman's product (not that it's a problem). The Carolina sauce had lots of pepper and spice flecks and was significantly thicker and more full bodied than a typical vinegar sauce.
Overall, a mixed bag, but there were enough highlights and enough promise to make it a worthwhile visit.
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