Archive - August 2010
(09/30/10) (second post)
Happy 50th Anniversary to the Flintstones
If you used Google at any time today, you saw a Flinstones graphic (different from the one above) that might have led you to discovering that 50 years ago tonight, the first ever full length cartoon aired in prime time, geared to an adult audience. The Flintstones later became regular after school viewing for just about everyone in my generation. When I think of Fred Flinstone, I think of ribs so big they'll tip your car over.
Maine BBQ: Second Leg of the Maine BBQ Crawl at Buck's Naked
The Maine BBQ crawl of a few weekends ago continued with stop #2 at Buck's Naked (Freeport ME). This was my third visit to Buck's and my second to their relatively new digs (a couple years) in their huge log cabin that represents yet another great space to enjoy barbecue.
Here's the food run-down:
Burnt ends: With this appetizer I was expecting a plate of at least a dozen chunks smaller than 2" cubes. What arrived was a quartet of much larger "fillets" of beef. These had thick charring on the barky exterior, plenty of pink coloring and a texture that gave way with the slightest prodding of the fork. Flavor was intensely beefy with a hint of spice and not much smoke, though there was no doubt that these were smoked. Perhaps the burnt ends were finished on the grill to boost the char factor, because grill flavoring was at the forefront. So these wound up reminding me more of a specialized cut of steak than what I normally think of as burnt ends. But that's fine by me, because a) they were damn good, and b) I'm not one of those people prone to saying "Those aren't burnt ends" or "That's not barbecue" when someone else's specifics don't align with my assumptions. A thick and creamy horsradish dipping sauce availed a nice counterpoint to the beef, but even eaten "naked" the beef acquitted itself quite nicely.
Wings: A dozen wings were split among chile lime and jerk, allowing a good sampling of wings with sauce (chile lime) and wings with more of a paste (jerk). Both wings had the advantages of hefty size and immediately obvious smokiness; neither wing type came through on crispness. The chile lime sauce had more lime than chile, confining the taste sensation to mostly sour. The jerk wings had so much of the verdant jerk paste (more of a swampy mud) heaped upon them that it dominated the mouthfeel. They had a light heat (lighter than expected) but a pleasantly strong all around flavor. Overall, I'd say the wings were satisfying though nothing special. Combining their size and smokiness with a little more finishing time and perhaps a different sauce might achieve higher heights next time, so I'd easily try them again.
Onion rings: A mixture of rings and strings, these were crisp and extremely well seasoned with a slightly sweet rub. That horsradish dipping sauce worked better with the onion rings than with the burnt ends. Usually the rings at the bottom of the bowl wind up soggy, but not these.
Fried chicken: A football-shaped breast had a thick coating of cornmeal batter that brought a little sweetness to the equation. Coincidently, it reminded me of the fried chicken batter I enjoyed so much in my youth decades ago at the Yorkway (York ME). Under the hard shell, the chicken was extremely tender and moist, with a faint smokiness (yes, this was smoked, then fried). Cream gravy was thick, warm and satisfying.
Smoked chicken: Included on the "Big Buck" combo plate (chicken, sausage, pulled pork, brisket), this might have had the most impressive crusting of any of the meats, with a good flurry of rub on the dark brown crispy skin that would have been welcome on the wings. The meat wasn't as moist as I'd hoped, but certainly not dry, and a pleasing smokiness might have compensated. This might have also been the smokiest of any of the meats.
Beef ribs: These were the first thing I dug into on the "Show Me Your Ribs" combo (beef ribs, St Louis cut pork ribs, babyback pork ribs). In fact, I remember cutting one bone off the trio, watching my friend cut a bone of the remaining duo and secretly hoping as I enjoyed my beef rib that I'd score the last one while he stuffed his face with fried chicken. As it turned out, that rib went unclaimed. Not because it wasn't worth claiming, but because—and not for the first time, but probably the most obvious time—we simply ordered too much. This rib had almost everything you want in a beef rib: good crust, abundant rub, some sweetness in the rub but mostly savory, tender meat, well lubricated from fatty juices, pink smoke ring. And the things I don't want in a beef rib were missing: no gross fat globs and no annoying membrane. The only thing missing that I wanted was smoke—it was there, just not as heavy as I like.
Sausage: This had more length and girth than any single sausage I've encountered. The edges were just barely crisp, but the inside had plenty of snap. This was a heavy sausage in taste too, with as much artery clogging fat as an Andouille but a little less heat.
Pork ribs: Both the St Louis cut spares (a relatively recent addition at Buck's) and the babybacks were meaty, well crusted and full of spice rub, much of which was applied as a condiment even after cooking. Smoke was again present but light. The appetizingly pink meat fell short of outright juicy but was easily moist or beyond. These were enjoyable with or without the sauces. Although of satisfactory tenderness, the ribs had a bit of a snap to them as well.
Pork: Buried at the bottom of the "Big Buck" combo (pork, brisket, chicken, sausage), this item nearly eluded me. Truth be told, shortly after the entrees arrived, I hit "the wall" for the first time in my 4-year barbecue eating journey. I remember having trouble distinguishing the pork from the brisket, as both appeared pulled. I remember that the pork was neither notably good nor notably bad, but in all honesty I couldn't tell you how smoky it was, how moist it was or how much flavor it packed. I was full and it was a total blur.
Brisket: Ditto. Along with the pork, brisket had the least impact of all the meats. I just can't remember why.
Sides: That eating fatigue set in before I could get a handle on the sides. I remember enjoying the cole slaw while it was in my mouth and I remember thinking the collard greens were undercooked and bland, but the details escape me. The one side that stands out is the potato salad, recommended by our server as the best side on the menu. This was wetter than I'm used to and served at room temperature, so the texture was much more giving than I like in a potato salad. I really liked the flavor though, a zesty blend of dill, spices and mayo. Cornbread was very corny and a little dry.
Sauces: Four sauces are available on the table in squeeze bottles. You'd think the blueberry option would be too sweet, too tart or too weird to be more than an obligatory "Hey look, we're in Maine" novelty, but I rank it as the best of the four. It's less of an in-your-face blueberry flavor and more of an interesting thing going on in background that would keep you guessing for a bit if you didn't already know. I'm usually a fan of mustard sauces but this one was too "yellow" for my liking. The house sauce was a fairly standard but well executed mix of sweet and tangy with faint chiptle heat. A western North Carolina tomato-vinegar sauce was thicker than a typical Carolina red, but worked well with most ofther meats.
Miscellaneous: Restaurants strive to appeal to families and children as well as the drinking crowd, and Buck's does a nice job at both ends of the spectrum. There's a playhouse and Brio trainset that are as much of a draw as the bar in the main level and the game/entertainment room downstairs that features an even larger bar, a couple of pool tables and comfy lounge chairs.
In retrospect, ordering four kinds of chicken (two types of wings plus smoked and fried chicken), four kinds of beef (burnt ends, brisket, beef ribs, sausage), three kinds of pork (babyback ribs, St Louis ribs, pulled pork), six sides and onion rings wasn't the brightest idea. Not only was it too much food, it was too much information to keep track of. But despite a few "just okay" items (wings, sides) and my own loss of clarity (pork, brisket, sides), I can clearly say that Buck's Naked came through big time for the third straight visit.
Maine BBQ: Kicking Off A Maine BBQ Crawl With A Return to Shaw's Ridge Farm
In the introduction to my most recent review, I credited the subject as one of my favorite spaces in which to enjoy barbecue. Equally breathtaking is Shaw's Ridge Farm (Sanford ME), which offers a similar mix of barbecue and ice cream with pastoral splendor and farmhouse appeal. The compound is a landscaping and architectual marvel, with flowers and shrubbery, numerous picnic tables, a miniature golf course, sprawling greenery and natural wood used almost exclusively as a building material. All of the ice cream is made in small batches using all natural ingredients. All of the barbecue is smoked onsite in the Southern Pride smoker installed in front of the BBQ Barn.
I made sure to designate a Shaw's Ridge Farm revisit as the first leg of a recent Maine BBQ crawl, and the ambience did not disappoint. As for the food, here's the run-down:
Ribs: Small babybacks cooked slightly past ideal still maintained a good structural integrity and bore a light and flavorful crust with just enough smoke to let you know it was there. The pink meat was downright juicy with good but mellow flavor from the rub/smoke tandem.
Chicken: Extremely tender skinless and lightly sauced white meat graced the center of our barbecue platter. It didn't match the ribs for smoke or rub flavor (there was hardly any here), but as an exercise in texture, this was a success. The meat was very moist, and not in a steamy way. I liked that a natural chickeniness came through.
Sausage: With both mild and hot varieties offered, we opted for half and half, served in one-inch segments. Neither had snap; both were (over)tender enough to slice with a plastic fork. Flavor, on the other hand, was quite pleasing, offering good sausage flavor, a light but persistent smoke and a spiciness that confined itself to the family-friendly range.
Pork and Brisket: Both were presented entirely as long pulled strings, all of them tender, with the moisture varying from string to string. Like the chicken breast, these were more about the texture than about the flavor (smoke was slightly more noticeable here).
Chicken salad sandwich:: This was the item I most remembered from my last visit and the item I was most looking forward to, and it was a near exact replica: large chunks of all white meat chicken, very light smoke, very light dressing, celery and halved grapes in the mix for flavor, texture and moistness. What I didn't remember was that the fresh bun is also lightly buttered and toasted, contributing a lobster roll feel that really made this sandwich work. As I mentioned in last year's review, Shaw's Ridge Farm's chicken salad sandwich doesn't just rely on leftover scraps—it's high quality chicken.
Hot dog: Ordered on a whim, this very red weiner supplied good flavor, along with the snap that the sausage did not.
Sides: Cole slaw and beans were both fairly average, with the latter likely a slightly-doctored canned version.
Sauces: There are two sauces (dark brown sweet, light brown tangy) available in squeeze bottles, plus a vinegar sauce served with the pork. I liked the little bits of sweet red pepper in the vinegar sauce and recommend mixing it with the less impressive, more commercial tasting squeeze bottle sauces to get the right blend.
Ice cream: My dish of coffee ice cream was strong on coffee flavor and extremely smooth.
Summary: Overall, this was a good start to the day. Although the meats don't have the in-your-face smokiness and high intensity rub jolt I usually crave, Shaw's Ridge Farm cooks up a surprisingly creditable brand of 'cue that relies on a more subtle smoke and gentle textures. The babybacks were the standout, but everything was well worth trying.
Owner Richard Shaw and his neice, barbecue manager Ashley.
Massachusetts BBQ: The Farm Reviewed
The site's 187th barbecue joint review is now posted for The Farm Bar and Grille (Essex MA). As far as spaces go, I rank it among my favorites. As for the food? Find out in the review via the Reviews page, the link above or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Worcester BBQ: Smokestack Urban Barbecue Amidst Grand Opening
Smokestack Urban Barbecue (Worcester MA) has curiously held its "grand opening" all this week, nearly four months after first opening their doors in early June. Is it a PR reaction to a "What if we opened a barbecue restaurant and nobody came" predicament? Is it their way of saying "Everything we've done up to now has been on-the-job training, and now we think we figured it out"? Either is a bad sign. Another bad sign is that they've given up serving lunch. On a positive note, they've added a second, larger burger to the menu, so maybe they've figured out what they can do well and are building on that.
Speaking of what they can do well, let's talk about my recent review of Smokestack Urban Barbecue. The feedback I've received has called me "too soft" and said I was "too easy on them" and "let them off the hook." I must have read my own review a dozen times by now, and I see the following:
Overall, I liked the appetizers and burger but found some problems in seasoning (brisket hash, onion rings, fried pickles), cooking (wings) and lack of generosity (wings, pork belly sliders).
Overall, I did not like the barbecue. There were a few bright spots, such as the early chicken's appealing briny flavor (which they've abandoned for some unknown reason). But in several tries on most of the meats, Smokestack came up dry (literally in many cases) more often than not. If you go through my review meat by meat, there's not a single one that I saw Smokestack execute with any reliable proficiency. I cited a few glimpses of minor competence, but never a "wow" moment and almost never any achievement of flavor and texture in the same bite. Most disheartening was that the barbecue seemed to be getting worse, not better, as time went along.
Some quick-with-the-hook loose cannon food bloggers might simply say, "This place sucks" and call it a day. That would make for colorful copy, but it doesn't really say much. Sorry, that's not me. I try to run down each item, mentioning the good points and bad points, allowing for the possibility that not all readers are looking for the same flavors and textures in their barbecue. In my experience at Smokestack Urban Barbecue, the appetizers have been mostly above average and the barbecue has been mostly below average. Though respectful, I thought I was clear on that in my review.
One of my most frequent barbecue accomplices in Long Island is fond of saying, "I like Smokin' Al's. I just don't like their barbecue." I guess I'm in the same boat with Worcester's Smokestack Urban Barbecue. I like the restaurant. I don't like their barbecue. Perhaps in striving for that respectfulness, I let that central point get obscured. But I'll say it again: I don't like their barbecue.
Over the weekend I'll try to tweak the review to make that a little clearer. Unlike a lot of restaurants, I do take feedback very seriously, and I am not above making a few changes to get things right. And I'm hopeful—if not confident—that Smokestack will make some changes to get its barbecue right.
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning five states. This time there's two new joints, five closings, one menu shift away from barbecue, one changed website and two new websites.
Fatty Beltbuckles (Farmingdale NY), a joint whose alleged "unbuckling" forced some hard times (no pun intended) upon the original restaurant in Rocky Point, has now closed its second location as well. Thanks to Eric for the info.
Doc's Barbecue (Norwich CT) has no working website or phone number, so I'm pronouncing them dead. Thanks to Chris for the lead.
Scarlet Oak Tavern (Norwell MA) is more of a steakhouse/ pub hybrid than anything resermbling a barbecue joint, but its pedigree (key personnel formerly of Blue Ribbon and East Coast Grill), its smoker (a J&R) and its early menu offerings (ribs, pulled pork) made it worthy of the directory. Nowadays, brisket sliders are the only remnants. This restaurant is still more than worthy, but I'm graying it out to distinguish it from joints where barbecue (or at the very least, "barbecue") is the focus. www.scarletoaktavern.com
Weirs Beach Smokehouse (Weirs Beach NH) has been sold and closed. Thanks to Chris for the heads up.
Wide Open Saloon (Weirs Beach NH) took over the space that Weirs Beach Smokehouse vacated. Oddly, their only two barbecue meats are ribs and brisket (usually it's ribs and chicken or ribs and pork if there's two) and both are claimed to be smoked. Unfortunately, a fire that required 50+ firefighters earlier this month
destroyed the building and closed the restaurant. Thanks to Lowell for
responding to today's post. www.wideopensaloon.net
Sunset Grill & Tap Room (Stowe VT) hasn't populated it with any content yet, but they do have a new website: www.sunsetgrillevt.com
Smokey O'Grady's (East Lyme CT) has a new website: www.smokeyogradys.com
Hillbilly's Southern BBQ (North Conway NH) changed its website to a new, slightly different address: www.hillbillyssouthernbarbq.com
Well Dressed Hog (Rochester NH) a long while back closed its restaurant in Dover and reverted to a truck operation in Rochester, but I can't find any evidence that it's still ongoing.
The Rib Cage (Brooklyn NY) supposedly changed its name to "First Dibs on Ribs" late last year, but is now closed.
Auntie G's Barbecue Pit & Deli (Ridgefield CT) is a new barbecue joint addition in greater Danbury.
New Hampshire BBQ: The Draft Reviewed
Here's another one-and-done review, perhaps moved to the head of the queue because it was where I saw the Patriots' drubbing of the Bengals a week ago. The site's 186th barbecue joint review is now posted for The Draft Sports Bar and Grill (Concord NH). Check it out via the Reviews page, the link above or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Joints Directory Madness
Here's the latest batch of barbecue Joints directory activity, spanning three states. This time there's one new purveyor (but no new joints), one expansion, three closings and one new website.
Big Apple Barbecue (Glen Cove NY and Port Washington NY) mysteriously closed both of their Long Island BBQ locations late last month. It's rare for a joint to expand to a second location within its first three months of operation. It's rare for a joint to close after only six months of operation. It's really rare for a joint to do both. I had hoped to gain some insight as to why Poppa Rick's tandem closed so suddenly before mentioning, but I can't dig up anything. It has to go beyond the caliber of the 'cue, which certainly wasn't stellar but certainly wasn't horrible. Someday the story behind the story will surface. Thanks to Andrew for the lead.
Blue Collar Barbeque (Bondsville MA) no longer has a working phone or website, so I'm pronouncing them dead.
HNH BBQ (Brooklyn NY) is a roving barbecue operation started by a quartet of Houston transplants. They've become a fixture at the Brooklyn Flea, Trophy Bar and other locations announced on their website. www.hnhbbq.com
Buck's Naked BBQ (Freeport ME) has a second location in Windham ME. www.bucksnaked-bbq.com
Buck's Roadside BBQ (Auburn MA) now has a website: www.bucksroadside-bbq.com
Worcester BBQ: Smokestack Urban Barbecue Reviewed
There have been eight visits with nary a word about this 3 month old Worcester barbecue restaurant. Until now. The site's 185th barbecue joint review is now posted for Smokestack Urban Barbecue (Worcester MA). Check it out via the Reviews page, the link above or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
Worcester BBQ: Firewood Cafe Under Construction on Chandler Street
It looks like Worcester is finally getting a barbecue presence in line with its stature as New England's second largest city. Firewood Cafe (on Chandler Street a block east of Park Street) will soon be the third barbecue restaurant within the city's environs. It'll be more of a multipurpose restaurant, with a smoker and a wood fired oven; the menu will feature pizza, sandwiches and smoked meats including ribs and pulled pork. The owner hopes to be up and running within a month. That might be optimistic, but the building has made quick progress in the previous month.
Speaking of Worcester barbecue, I'm putting the final touches on my review for Worcester's 3 month old Smokestack Urban Barbecue, and I'll post that review this week.
The Only Earl That Matters
Forget the hurricane. I'm talking about the Earl of Sandwich, who according to legend invented the sandwich. Here are two dozen memorable ones from over the years.
Long Island BBQ: Big Daddy's Reviewed
The site's 184th barbecue joint review is now posted for Big Daddy's (Massapequa NY). Check it out via the Reviews page, the link above or link to reviews using the red icons in the Joints directory.
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