Review Date: 08/06/15
Visit Date: 07/22/15
Now open in Belmont with an angled entrance at the corner of Belmont and School Streets, Tony G's surprises in a few different ways right off the bat. Hitting you before you even walk in are the aromas of the smoker—that's right, smoker, even though initial reports had the cooking methodology as oven-baked. Then there's the counter staff: mostly Thai (their sister restaurant is Thai/Vietnamese). That counter is theoretically how you order, but the friendly folks come around with menus and deliver the food right to the table. Also in the kitchen is the chef I'm presuming is Tony himself, who looks remarkably like the caricature on the sign out front. And then there's the flavor profile of the ribs, which I'll get to in a bit.
This is a "first look" review that will be updated later after another visit or two and after Tony G gets its sea legs.
The menu is a typical but deep tour of the barbecue standards: pork ribs, beef ribs, pulled pork, brisket, chicken, burnt ends, sausage. With platters of one, two or three meats, plus bulk meats by the pint, quart and even a single rib option, ordering is easy.
A frequent barbecue accomplice joined me for a weeknight dinner a few weeks into Tony G's operation.
Burnt Ends: Ordered as a half pint ($7.99), these left no doubt whatsoever that they were smoked, even coming in at the high end of the smokiness spectrum. While beefiness was also strong; rub was far less noticeable, yielding the stage to the thinned-down barbecue sauce covering each piece. I thought the saucing did a nice job of not obscuring the beef but I wasn't so crazy about the sauce itself—both thoughts purely subjective, of course; your mileage may vary. The texture is where the shortcomings can be stated objectively: although moistened and softened somewhat by the sauce, the cubes were drier and firmer underneath. I didn't detect any salt, pepper, cayenne, cumin or any of the usual flavors.
I've had better, but I've had far worse. Stated another way, but with my usual but, they have a way to go but the potential is there.
Ribs: At first only one rib, long but thin, graced the 3-meat combo ($17.50 with two sides). The exterior got a very nice crusting and an even nicer assortment of exotic spices that veered significantly from the traditional American barbecue palette. Inside, the meat was a lot more juicy but a lot less done—tender but suspiciously tender with pinkish juices. We're talking raw, people.
Then two more ribs came over, delivered by the man whose face matches the caricature on the sign. These ribs were gargantuan, about three inches tall, with one an end piece. The cut was unusual, possibly country style spare ribs. Crusting was even more pronounced, as was the refreshingly potent spice rub. Doneness wasn't an issue as far as safety but it was an issue as far as tenderness: my rib was like a clenched fist, unwilling to tear apart without a struggle. Not all of the fat had rendered. Flavor brought enough smoke, plus some charcoal flavor from the finish, but the texture was a show stopper, unfortunately. In spite of that, I believe there's still much promise, because flavor was wonderful and different.
Pulled Pork: Tender. Mushy. Oversauced. Not too smoky. Forgettable.
Brisket: A healthy pile of thin slices had sauce on the top few and less to none further down. Those top few slices were moist; the rest were borderline dry to outright dry. Some redeeming qualities were still there though: barky, flavorful crust outside and penetrating flavor (both rub and smoke) inside. Those bottom pieces needed an extra dip in the sauce.
There's a sauce station in the back where you can fill cups to bring back to the table. It's a fairly generic sweet and tangy variety. Most of the meats either didn't need it (ribs) or already had enough (pork, burnt ends), but the brisket took advantage.
Cole Slaw: Closer to a lettuce texture than cabbage. Not too much flavor.
Mac and cheese: Gritty. Soft. Mild.
Cornbread: Stiff and standard.
The Bottom Line
Their burnt ends came closer than most and their ribs have potential, so those items and a relatively close proximity will afford Tony G's additional chances to prove themselves after a fairly shaky start. If they do, it will most likely be as a different take on barbecue than strict adherence to the classics.
Yelp reviews of Tony Gs BBQ
Zomato reviews of Tony G's BBQ