Friday, September 9, 2011

Bachelor Party Itinerary

In a few days, a group of friends and I will be piling in a RV sporting our 3rd Degree Tanktops dominating some barbecue as we make our way from Dallas to Austin to New Orleans to Memphis before finally settling down in Oxford, MS for the UGA at Ole Miss game. With so much going down over that week, its hard to point what I'm most excited about.

City Market in Luling
Shiner Brewery
Lockhart, TX BBQ
Trying Franklin, Louie Mueller and Coopers in Llano for the first time
Having the guys in the caravan direct the 'butcher' at Opies to what meats we want to eat
The Joint in New Orleans
New Orleans
Leatha's in Hattiesburg
Dinner in Memphis
Juke joints in Clarksdale (Po Monkeys and Reds)
Ole Miss and the Grove
Rocking to Night Ranger's Sister Christian

Seriously couldn't be more excited. In all honesty, I really hope the wildfires in Austin have been extinguished and that life wasn't too disrupted down there. I will see for myself soon enough.

Day One Itinerary
Day Two Itinerary
Day Three Itinerary
Day Four Itinerary

Monday, July 18, 2011

Smoque BBQ (9/10) - 3800 North Pulaski Road # 2, Chicago, IL 60641

M: Closed
F-Sa: 11a-10p
Su: 11a-9p

The team that runs Smoque BBQ in northern Chicago has basically accomplished all the goals that I'd have set out for myself if I ever had the courage and / or was completely burned out on working in finance. After years of slugging it out in the corporate world, I believe the Smoque team's specialty was in the IT arena, the two owners methodically approached the idea of opening a unique restaurant in Chicago. The idea: a delicious barbecue joint (note: I'm not from Chicago nor do I care for the sake of this post if there are existing great barbecue joints in the city). The owners traveled the country trying the various regions approach to barbecuing (would love to cross notes and observations with these two) so they could combine and provide all their favorite attributes to the hometown locals.

To rehash, the owners:
1. Love food, want to bring the goods to the people.
2. Traveled the country eating barbecue.
3. Wrote out a sound business model. As an indication of how sound they believe their approach was, they are shared their manifesto online for all their potential customers. (Anyone with an Manifesto is either ground-breaking, passionate or any other combination of other various descriptions to fit the bill). I'm a 0 or 100mph kind of guy so I applaud their passion towards this venture.
4. Introduced a very solid barbecue restaurant to a city less known for its smoked meat than the other epicenters of barbecue.

A buddy from college got married in Chi-city in May 2010 so I pulled together some troops to venture up to Smoque the early afternoon of the festivities. I had heard enough buzz about this place from other barbecue enthusiasts (not to mention the endless segments on Food Network that tour the Smoque facilities and try to decipher the secret barbecue rub concoction) to know deep down that getting to Smoque and hopefully meeting one of the entrepreneurs that got this place up and running in solid form was objective #1 when I initially booked the trip.

Traffic was brutal on the 90 so we hit up the surface streets in the cab until we finally arrived at our spot. If you're nearby the "L", would definitely recommend taking that up to avoid traffic. While I'd love to dive in and explain why everything was ridiculously delicious, I'd feel unethical about rehashing descriptions that would most likely be best guesses from false memories from over a year past. The brisket was as well executed as any I'd have tried in Texas (still need to get to Franklin but will do in September) and the pulled pork was moist and chalk-full of incredible flavor. Both styles of ribs we tried had an incredible crust and smoke flavor. The entire crowd was very well impressed with all the main cuts of meat (we had a fair amount of midwest and southeast representation in the crew) and I'd really be sadly surprised if any of them didn't make the effort to recreate this trip on any subsequent visits to Chicago.

Barry, one of the owners and regular on-site manager, was an incredibly friendly host who voluntarily sat and talked general barbecue with our table during our entire visit. The only downside to the trip was when he said that while he loved his restaurant and entire experience opening up a restaurant from the ground-up, he at times gets repulsed from the thought of eating barbecue. The the fear of ever over-indulging on barbecue makes me too sad to stomach. It's a good thing I'm moving to Dallas in early August as I'm going to try to dominate that state's barbecue scene in grand fashion just like the Texans would love. Steph, my fiance, on the other hand is probably a little nervous considering that we're basically staring down a one year window until our wedding date. I hope my little heart and body can make it.

Smoque BBQ

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Maddy's Ribs and Blues Joint (8/10) - 1479 Scott Blvd., Decatur, GA 30030

**Word out of Atlanta is that Maddy's recently closed its doors. That makes me a bit sad.**

Kansas City - Gates and Arthur Bryants.
Memphis - Charles Vergo's Rendezvous
Texas - Kreuz and Black's in Lockhart, Salt Lick in Austin, and Coopers in Llano.
Carolina - Lexington #1.

Independent of whether its universally regarded as the best, each region boasts a restaurant or two that is nationally -- and potentially internationally --- famous for barbecue.  Each of those restaurant draws tourists, businessmen, and barbecue fanatics who willingly reschedule plans to ensure they make the necessary arrangements to frequent each landmark.  

Well it's no secret that Atlanta, or rather Georgia, lacks a big-league player in the barbecue business.  Although there are a few regionally recognized barbecue restaurants (i.e., Harold's and Fatt Matts Rib Shack) in the city, neither are attractions that top a tourist's to-do list. It's my goal to search out the best restaurant in the city in search of a hidden gem.  Maddy's is a lesser known 'Rib and Blues Joint' whose reputation is starting a stir in the Atlanta (Dekalb) community.  I call up Timmy and we head out for Thursday night ribs.

The restaurant has a decent size crowd -- despite the parking lot looking complete desolate in the above picture -- who seem to be enjoying the seemingly all-white band's rendition of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff".  Timmy and I peruse the menu and settle on their specialty, a slab of ribs, + pitcher of Magic Hat (first time for Timmy) + half a chicken + Brunswick stew.  Although I had heard that the ribs were large enough to resemble something most likely devoured in prehistoric times, we were ambitious and over-ordered.  Watching one of the cooks separate ribs with a cleaver only whetted my appetite further.

The Brunswick stew had a fairly good consistency but lacked the kick I had been spoiled by at Harold's Barbecue.  Then the plate of hickory smoked ribs appeared.  At first glance, the sheer thickness to them escaped me.  Further investigation uncovered a second buried line-up of ribs.  And these weren't the typical sized baby backs one gets at a typical barbecue restaurant, they were the thickest ribs I've ever seen.  The sauce that accompanied the meat was thick and spicy, and the meat, while not easily falling off the bone, was very moist and tender.  The sauce on our half chicken was the same that was on the ribs, and the flavors couldn't have matched worse.  To make matters worse, the breast meat was very dry, a rare attribute for a slow cooked bird.  Maddy's does ribs well, and I suggest sticking with the ribs no matter how intimidating they are.

I would recommend Maddy's to anyone looking for ribs in the local area.  They're not perfected like the ones at The Joint or BBQ Shop in Memphis, but they're unique and meaty with a great subtle kick of spice.  I took them down a point for the chicken, but the rest of the meal was great.

Maddy's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 20, 2010

12 Bones Smokehouse (3/10) - 5 Riverside Drive Asheville, NC 28801

M-F: 11a-4p
Sa-Su: Closed
(p) 828.253.4499

I was talking to a barbecue pitmaster in Atlanta and he essentially instructed me to make my way to 12 Bones Smokehouse whenever I was ever going to be in the Asheville, NC area.  He claimed that in addition to having great tasting smoked meat, 12 Bones had some delicious barbecue sauce recipes to take the meal up a notch.  My ladyfriend accompanied me on my drive from Atlanta to NYC, and she laid down some groundrules for our upcoming drive: one barbecue joint per day.  12 Bones Smokehouse was added to the itinerary and by the time we arrived a little before noon, a solid line formed out the front door providing assurance that this place indeed had product the locals thought was worth waiting for.

As the name suggests, a typical order of ribs contains 12 blades/ribs/bones.  12 Bones allows its customers to split the 12 rib orders in half, so I decided to sample the Blueberry Chipotle and Spicy Peach BBQ varieties and a pork sandwich.  My companion got a BLT (much to my chagrin), perhaps as a subtle objection to the amount of barbecue I've consumed over the past year.

The blueberry chipotle sauce didn't taste anything like chipotle or blueberries, and the spicy peach wasn't spicy nor peachy.  In a blind taste test, there would be zero chance that I could have deciphered each rib against the other.  They were basically slow smoked ribs with an application of a non-descriptive flavored sugary glaze.  It didn't take long before I determined that a disaster of a meal was quickly unfolding in front of me.  Shockingly, the pork sandwich was worse.  Bread, too firm and thick.  Pork, too dry and tasteless.  The sweet potatoes were adequate and the vinegary odor emanating from cole slaw was nauseating.

I was alloted one barbecue meal for the day and I blew it.  Also, the bacon in my ladyfriend's BLT was delicious, and I was upset about being out-ordered in a barbecue joint.  The owners/chefs need to focus less on being creative and put a lot more emphasis on executing the basics when it comes to smoking barbecue.

12 Bones Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Ssäm Bar (7/10) - 207 2nd Avenue New York, NY 10003

Su-Th: 11:30a-3:30p, 5p-12p
F-Sa: 11:30a-3:30p, 5p-2a
(p) 212.254.3500

When I first moved to Manhattan a few weeks back, a friend and self-proclaimed food connoisseur demanded that I head to the East Village with him to try Momofuku's pork steamed buns.  This tasty morsel has basically every attribute that I could dream of in a hand-held pork package.  To summarize: the steamed buns were light and delicate, the pork belly was fatty and delicious (and was gelatinous enough to be spread on toast), it was topped with green onions and pickled cucumbers, and customers are provided sriracha to spice it up (yes please).   I seriously considered eating nothing but steamed buns  but decided the overkill might risk ruining a great thing in the city.  The rest of the dishes we shared were done well but nothing highlighted the buns.  When another friend recently invited me to return to Momofuku to partake in its bo ssäm, I immediately committed without hesitation.

The step by step process of the bo ssäm goes as follows:

remove a leaf and coat with rice

select an oyster

position the oyster on top of the rice

pull a substantial tong-full of pork from your table's personal smoked shoulder

add pork to the lettuce wrap

top with your choice from an assortment of sauces and kimchis

There was supposedly 10 of us lined up to share the shoulder, but after a few cancellations, the group was narrowed down to 6 (including the "host's" vegetarian girlfriend).  I approximated that we probably had somewhere between 1lb - 1.5lbs of pork per person.  I was quite surprised to be instructed to add an oyster to the wrap but it provided a nice consistency and flavor I was happy to taste.  The pork lacked any natural smoke flavor, but the sugar and kosher salt rub provided a good flavor complex to complement the sauces, rice and oyster in the wrap.  Once I took my first bite, there was no slowing me down until I was physically and emotionally incapacitated (I believe I stopped counting after my 7th wrap).

Although the food was difficult to compare against more traditional barbecue meals I've had on my sabbatical, it was still definitely an enjoyable, delicious and memorable experience.  I would just suggest going with a group larger than 5 so you don't overeat at one sitting and definitely starting with a few orders of pork steamed buns -- they are a must.  And if you depart as full as I was, I suggest not walking by the monstrosity of a pile of pork belly behind the counter at the restaurant's adjourning Milk Bar as it may make you ill. 

 Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dinosaur Barbecue (9/10) - 646 West 131st St., New York, NY 10027

M–Th: 11:30a-11p
F-Sa: 11:30a-12a
Su: 12p-10p

A recent trip up to NYC provided the perfect opportunity for me to make a return visit to one of my favorite barbecue outfits in the country, Dinosaur Barbecue (originally from upstate NY -- Syracuse).  A friend and I rented bikes at 10th St and the West Side Highway and rode our way up along the Hudson River making a pitstop at Tom's Restaurant before reaching our supposed final destination at Dinosaur Barbecue.  Our only dilemma is that we began our journey a bit too early in the day and barbecue wasn't to be served for at least a half hour.  We had another meal/brunch planned so we had to postpone this barbecue adventure for the next 24 hours.

The next morning I awoke with purpose, and one (not myself typically) needs some motivation to get uptown up to 125th-130th street when there seems to be an unlimited amount of alternatives in such closer proximity in Manhattan.  The 1 train dropped me off literally a block away from Dinosaur Barbecue so the effort to get door to door was quite minimal.  My bloody mary, pork sandwich, and ribs were all exceptional.  The pulled pork tasted like the best batch of home-smoked pork shoulder I could ever dream of making, and the slowly smoked (15+ hours) ribs highlighted Dinosaur Barbecue's great rub flavor and subtle wood smoked flavor.

My appetite was completely nonexistent by the time I had 3 ribs remaining but I still couldn't slow myself down to save some leftovers.  By the time my bill came, I had devoured whatever rib meat was remaining and I couldn't decipher between whether I was exceptionally proud of my appetite, excited by haven just eaten a great meal, or embarrassed by how gluttonous I had become over my barbecue sabbatical.  Luckily for my health, I decided that this would be one of the final destinations on my barbecue tour.

**  Please note that Dinosaur Barbecue carries a fairly impressive and eclectic draught beer menu.

** Also note that I'm moving to NYC in a week and plan on eating at Dino at least 1x a month.  Hence, one could argue that I can never escape my undying love for barbecue.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Blue Smoke (5/10) - 116 East 27th St, New York, NY 10016

Su-M: 11:30a-10p
Tu-Th: 11:30a-11p
F-Sa: 11:30a-1a
(p) 212.447.7733
Menu (pdf)

While on my latest escapade to New York, some friends and I made reservations at Blue Smoke -- a relatively upscale barbecue joint in Gramercy that literally stands above a renowned jazz club, the Jazz Standard.  I never made my downstairs, but I still liked the vibe of the  restaurant -- basically, provide all the elements for our customers to ensure there's at least something for everybody approach.  Blue Smoke tries to include the best aspect of the barbecue from each region of the country (Texas, Memphis, Kansas City, Carolinas, etc) to accommodate its customers' needs.

We were seated above the main dinging room on the restaurant's second story balcony and we ordered some drinks from Blue Smoke's extensive and eclectic drink menu.  While waiting for my beer, I sampled the sauces and was very pleased by the variety of the two.  They both reminded me of my trip through Kansas City: fairly thick tomato-based sweet sauce with a hint of liquid smoke (makes me think KC Masterpiece) but a decent amount of spice that kicks in at the end.  Our first order: pork belly on toast, or what Blue Smoke likes to refer to as PBJs.  The plating of the dish was a nice touch comparative to more traditional barbecue joints I've frequented.  I thought the belly was smoked nicely, and there was a good concentration of fat that matched well with the crushed peanuts and light dressing prepared with the dish.  It resembled a PBJ, but with thick cut of bacon fat to get a customer like myself excited.  I assume the greens were just for decoration, cause I saved up all my room for the barbecue to follow.

For entrees, I settled on the Rhapsody in Cue: baby back ribs, pulled pork, smoked chicken and sausage so I could sample as many of Blue Smoke's smoked meats as possible in the most cost advantageous way ($24 is pricey).  My friends (or couple, or married couple, or lovers?) decided to split a rack of Memphis Baby Backs which we hoped would provide enough food for the three of us.  While I waited and the alcohol started to ease in, I decided to experiment once more with the barbecue sauces.  Instead of the master cleanse, I wish somebody somewhere would finally invent a barbecue sauce cleanse.  Maybe I'm looking for the easy way out since I've started, quit, restarted, and quit p90x more times than  I care to count.  That workout system works for 99.99% of its customers. Not 3rd Degree Berns.

There she is.  Good Old Rhapsody in Cue to the left.  The chicken was smoked very well, even though I would have preferred the option so I could have only sampled the dark meat.  The pulled pork had the best flavor of the plate.  I really enjoyed the the few dry strands that I was able to separate from the already sauced mound of pork.  The sausage was the least memorable item on the plate while the ribs unfortunately tasted as though they had been glazed throughout the smoking process.  I would have preferred ribs that had a dark and thick adhesive bark attached to the meat.

The heavy glazing application was even more evident on my friends' order of baby backs.  The meat had spent a long time in Blue Smoke's pit, and subsequently, the fat had been well rendered which made made the meat moist and juicy and easily able to pull off the blade with a slight tug.  A slight application of Blue Smoke's Magic Dust took each bite up a notch, and I regretted not taking that action sooner.

Blue Smoke also prides itself on its extensive list of sides so we were hoping jalapeno corn bread, mac & cheese and collared greens would nicely complement our meal.  The collared greens were fairly tasty (slightly sour) while the mac & cheese started off incredible in my opinion.  Ultimately the thick cheese base resembled Velveeta as the plate cooled, quickly diminishing my affection towards the dish.  The jalapeño cornbread appeared to win-out as our highest approved side dish.

When considering eating out in New York, I found it difficult to get excited by this meal that was priced at such lofty levels, especially since I didn't believe the quality of meat mirrored that cost.  Don't get me wrong. The food and presentation was strong, it was just significantly overpriced for comparable options, even in the city.  There are alternatives inside/outside the city for barbecue (especially if one doesn't have established plans to attend a live jazz session immediately afterwards), so I'd suggest Dinosaur BBQ or Fette Sau: both are more affordable although they're more difficult to reach from Midtown -- but the big kicker is that their food is both a lot better while the atmosphere are more relaxed settings for barbecue consumption.

Bernstein + Isenhour reunions are typically the best, evident by our campaign flyers (enclosed) when were both graduate students at Texas (UT).  Our classmates fortunately knew better than to vote for us in the 2005 elections.  Despite a short stay in Texas, our alliances still remain with the SEC (although Isenhour loves the Pony's at SMU) and we'd never care about anything in the Big XII outside an enjoyable Bob Stoops big game loss.

Blue Smoke on Urbanspoon

Ratings and Reviews

In order to provide a consistent grading standard across each restaurant/region, I order a barbecue pork sandwich (and other meats/sides if a restaurant/region specializes in another specialty). In addition to comparing the quality of food, I will also take into consideration other intangibles (ambiance, atmosphere, service, authenticity, etc.) in my ratings as I deem appropriate.

Basically, a 10/10 represents an incredible meal, while a 6/10 score indicates a decent dining experience but a substantial number of dishes fell short of great. Lower scores indicate unpleasant experiences which I would most likely not even recommend to my worst enemy (Jonas Singer).

I reserve the right to continuously edit/update previous posts and to change rating scores as I see fit.