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Neil's Guide to Great BBQ (and Some Other) Restaurants

 

Latest Update - December 2013 (Phoenix, AZ)

"I used to eat all natural foods until I realized that so many people die of natural causes."  (The Village Smokehouse, Lowell, MA)

"You don't need teef to eat my beef."  (Author unknown.  Supposedly from a BBQ joint in Austin, TX.)

"The best barbecue you'll ever eat in in building that isn't condemned."  (Author unknown.)

"Eat well, stay fit, die anyway."  (Big Moe's M&M Ribs, 200 Geneva Ave., Boston, MA)

"Ribs so good even Adam would love them."  (Thanks to Paul Scott, Selectman, Town of Pelham, NH)

Welcome to my ever-evolving guide to barbecue restaurants across North America. The ratings are based on the quality (and quantity) of the food, the quality of the staff, the atmosphere, and anything else that happens to strike me. For example, my new favorite, replacing Werner's Pork House in Wilmington, OH, is Hot Rod's in Lutz, FL, north of Tampa.  Hot Rod's not only did a superb job on most of the standards but also offers grilled "bat" and fried Spam as appetizers and looks like it was put together using lumber scavenged from the side of the road.  Again, it's tough to beat a place like that.

 

I travel often so this list gets updated periodically. Also, feel free to send in your suggestions which I'll add periodically and credit you for. (Note that “periodically” means when I get around to it.)

Interestingly, it's been a year since my last update. That speaks to how much my training and consulting has shifted from live on-site work to remote work through Citrix GoToMeeting. Working remotely is certainly easier on my system, but it does cut into my BBQ research.

 

Restaurants change and sometimes close so I can't vouch for the absolute accuracy of the listings. But I can vouch for the fact that each one was “darned fine” when I ate there.

 

AK

AL

AR

AZ

CA

CO

CT

DC

DE

FL

GA

HI

IA

ID

IL

IN

KS

KY

LA

MA

MD

ME

MI

MN

MO

MS

MT

NC

ND

NE

NH

NJ

NM

NV

NY

OH

OK

OR

PA

RI

SC

SD

TN

TX

UT

VA

VT

WA

WI

WV

WY

Canada

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Q Tips

 

 

 

Arizona 

 

Honey Bear's BBQ

7670 S. Priest Dr.

Tempe, AZ

480-222-2782

Take the Elliot Rd. exit off I10 East, take a right at the first light, take the first left into the Applebees parking lot, go past the Applebees, and Honey Bear's will be directly ahead.

I had a pulled pork sandwich with Texas red-hots (aka sausages) and a piece of sweet potato pie.  The red-hots were very good - hot sausages filled with red pepper flakes.  However, the pulled pork was so mild, almost bland, that it needed BBQ sauce to get it going.  However, the only sauce (in a heated soup tureen, by the way - nice touch) is a thin red sauce chock full of floating red pepper flakes.  It tasted good, but my mouth was so anaesthetized by the time I finished the sandwich that I couldn't taste anything else - a shame, because I love sweet potato pie.  Having a milder sauce available would better balance out the different foods.

 

Overall rating – Good, based largely on the imbalance between the different foods.

 

Big City BBQ - This chain closed sometime before December, 2013. Pity. They were really good.

5118 S. Rural Rd.

Tempe, AZ

480-756-5702

In a shopping mall on Rural Rd. (which may have been rural once, but is now a major main drag) about a quarter mile south of Rt. 60 and a very easy shot to and from the airport.

Somewhat nondescript looking, like most good BBQ places, but neat and well laid out.  You order at a small counter and someone then brings the food to your table.

I had a two-meat combo, brisket and hot links, with mac-n-cheese and candied yams.  The brisket was excellent, thick chunks that needed almost no chewing and that were covered with a thick, slightly spicy sauce with, I think, a hefty dose of molasses.  Unusually, the brisket wasn't sliced.  Instead, it was in chunks, more like pulled pork.  The hot links were also good, chewy and with a good bite but not enough to anaesthetize the mouth like Honey Bear's.  The mac-n-cheese was excellent, slightly grainy as if it was made with real cheddar.  Finally, the yams were outstanding - chunks of yam in a thick sweet sauce.  Add a pie crust and some whipped cream and you'd have the makings of a first-class sweet potato pie.

Overall rating – Outstanding.

Thanks to Maggie Haenel, Jay Jolly, and Karen Pasley for bringing me here, treating me to dinner, and polishing off my leftovers.

Lucille's Smokehouse B-B-Q (Sept. 2010)

Tempe Marketplace
2030 East Rio Salado Pkwy
Tempe , AZ 85281
480-966-RIBS (7427)

http://www.lucillesbbq.com

 

A California chain with a small presence in Arizona and Nevada. The AZ restaurant is in a modern “marketplace” (aka mall) about five miles from Sky Harbor, so it's much more upscale than a traditional BBQ joint. It's basically a restaurant that serves BBQ, among other things. It's got a large bar, and the place is done up heavily in dark wood, leather, brass, etc. Again, not your typical BBQ joint.

 

There's an extensive menu, including a lot of salads (including smoked brisket and shrimp and tasso ham salads), catfish, jambalaya, gumbo, pork chops, and a good selection of BBQ including baby back, St. Louis, and beef ribs, chicken, brisket, pulled pork, hot links, tri-tip (kind of unusual), and a range of sides including various regular and sweet potatoes, cheese grits, greens, cole slaw, mac and cheese, peanut slaw, and more. Basically, a very eclectic menu covering various BBQ styles plus Cajun/creole.

 

I've always wanted to try tri-tip so, in a break with tradition, I ordered the tri-tip plate with mac and cheese and peanut slaw. The tri-tip was excellent – tender, juicy, and with a nice smoke ring. The mac and cheese was also excellent, creamy (a bit too much so according to one dinner companion) and salty enough (hi mom) that I didn't need to add any. The peanut slaw, like cole slaw but without mayo and with peanuts instead, was very good, just a little odd. Lucille's is also a little pricey, as befits a restaurant – the tri-tip plate was $18.95, a standard two-meat plate was $24.95, and an iced tea was $2.95.

They've got three sauces - regular, hot, and Memphis (as I recall) style. All very good, with the regular being just a little sweet and the hot being just hot enough to taste but without anesthetizing your lips.

 

Overall rating – Very good, based on the quality of the tri-tip, the mac and cheese, and the peanut slaw, with some points off for the cost. I'd certainly go back.

 

Thanks to Deb Gabriel, Jan Kruze, Maggie Haenel, and Tom Barnett from the Phoenix chapter of STC for taking me here and giving me the opportunity to finally try tri-tip.

Hap’s Pit Barbecue

4801 E Washington St.

Phoenix, AZ 85034

(602) 267-0181

http://www.hapsbbq.com/

Hap’s is small, with six or seven tables and booths in a little restaurant mall on the northeast side of Sky Harbor airport and a stone’s throw off the Hohokam Expressway. So it’s a handy place to fill up on BBQ before a flight.

I had a two-meat combo – pulled pork and beef brisket with cole slaw and corn bread. The pork was excellent, a combination of chunks and threads with no mushiness. (I ate there at 1 PM, so the meat hadn’t yet spent the day on a steam table.) The brisket was chopped, which I don’t care for, but the consistency was good. The problem was that neither meat seemed to have much smokiness – they were both good but needed the sauce to give them BBQ flavor. The sauce itself was good – smoky and with just enough spice bite to register but not enough to kill your taste buds. The cole slaw and corn bread were both good.

Overall rating – Good, based on the quality of the meat but the lack of smokiness.

 

California 

 

Wawona Hotel (July 2011)

9002 Village Drive

Yosemite National Park, CA
(209) 375-6556

BBQ is offered at this excellent hotel, but only once a week, and only during summers. You can enjoy an old-fashioned summer BBQ on the lawn on Saturday nights. For $25, you get a wrist band and all -you-can-eat ribs, steaks, chicken, fish, and burgers.


The Wawona is an American historic hotel, with lots of memorabilia. The hotel is an excellent venue for guests who are interested in the past. The grounds, hotel lounge, and dining room are beautifully kept. The wraparound porches and Adirondack chairs are great for relaxing with a drink after a long day of hiking.


Each morning the flag is raised by the hotel staff. The morning that I watched, the ranger blew taps on a bugle. Very Americana.


The BBQ: real charcoal grills with real meat! Plenty of sauce, fall-off-the-bone pork BBQ ribs were definitely worth the price.


The steaks were a tad overcooked, but also delicious. Cole slaw, watermelon, potato salad (with fresh dill!), and traditional salad fixings were excellent additions to the BBQ abundance.


Bring your own beer or bottle of wine, and enjoy the BBQ on the beautiful lawn on Saturdays from 5pm to 8pm. Round tables are set up with plenty of seating for all.

Thanks to Barrie Byron for this review. It sounds wonderful...

 

Connecticut 

 

Brannigan's Restaurant

176 Laning St .

Southington , CT

860-621-9311

 

Exit 32 off I 84. You can see the restaurant directly ahead as you come off the exit ramp on 84 E. Follow signs for Travelodge and Holiday Inn Express. Pass the Holiday Inn Express. The restaurant is on the right about 200 yds past.

 

BBQ in Connecticut seems like a violation of the laws of nature, and the place was a little schitzophrenic. I had a half-rack of ribs with chicken breast, rice, and coleslaw. The rib quality was excellent - moist inside, crispy outside, and falling off the bone. The chicken also excellent. The rice and cole slaw were okay - bland. However, the BBQ sauce was bland to the point of being a lubricant rather than a sauce and actually detracted from the expectations set by the look of the meat.

 

The restaurant is really an Irish pub that also happens to serve ribs. Much of the décor consisted of road signs on the walls giving directions and distances in Gaelic. The staff was also young and more of a bar staff than a BBQ restaurant staff.

 

Overall rating – Because of the quality of the ribs, the place deserves an Excellent rating. However, the quality of the sauce brings it down to a Good. Still worth a detour though. (Thanks to a former client, now retired, for this recommendation.)

 

 

Florida 

Bubbalou's Bodacious BBQ

1049 East Altamonte Dr. (Hwy 436)

Altamonte Springs , FL

407-478-1212

 

Pass shopping center and RR tracks, on left. Watch for low sign with 3 dancing pigs.

 

I got ribs and sliced pork. They use pork ribs rather than baby backs, but they're tastier, meatier and less fatty than Kellers'. The pork was good but a little dry. Hot, mild, and sweet sauces were very good – the sweet was the best. The macaroni and cheese had a very good consistency but needed salt. Good garlic bread. The waitress called me "hon", then earned extra points by calling me "sweetie" on her next swing around the room.

 

Overall rating - Very good.

 

Keller's Real Smoked Bar-B-Q

280 South S.R. 434, St. 1047

Altamonte Springs , FL 32714

407-786-7750

 

See review for Keller's in Lake Mary .

 

BBQ Ray's Way


(Just outside Bradenton)

3436 Us Highway 301 N
Ellenton, FL 34222
941-721-4269

Great BBQ, with a good story. Ray had a license to sell bbq from a stand, but he put his stand in his back yard. The neighborhood wasn't zoned commercial, so they shut him down, even though many of his customers were municipal employees.

It took him a few months to re-open, in a small strip mall on 301. He still uses the same smoker out back of the restaurant. You can pick up the smell blocks away. Hickory smoke and pork fat. Mmmm.

I had the standard pulled pork and baked beans. Tried my first bite with no sauce or bread. Very tender, good smoky flavor, more clumpy than stringy ... and did I mention that it was tender. The charred edges were perfectly done also, not tough and thick, just crispy thin and crunchy. I usually like a tangy red sauce, ala Big John's Alabama BBQ in Tampa. I I tried Ray's red sauce and it was just okay. Then I tried the self-proclaimed best mustard-based sauce around. The first bite with that sauce didn't seem like anything special, but by the third bite I was pouring extra mustard sauce on every bite. There is just something about Ray's homemade sauce that is incredibly addictive.

The baked beans were also good, nice balance of bean and brown sugar and molasses. Tangy and sweet but not spicy.

My dining partner had the beef and I tried it. I am not a fan of beef BBQ in general, but it was every bit as tender and flavorful as the pork. I have not found many BBQ places that do both pork and beef to such a high standard, and equally well.

I can't give Ray an excellent on only one visit, but a solid very good / great. Going back 5/3, to do some field research and check for consistent quality / service.

There is an equally glowing review here:
http://www.insiderpages.com/b/15239225961

Ray vaulted straight into my top 5 or 6:
1. Big John's Alabama BBQ Tampa
2. Greenbreir Restaurant, 27028 Old Hwy 20 at Greenbrier Rd, Madison AL [Fried Okra! Hushpuppies!!!] -- careful, there is a Greenbrier BBQ on new hwy 20 ... not the same!
3. Big Bob Gibson's, Decatur, AL and Gibson's, Huntsville, AL
4. BBQ Ray's Way, Bradenton, FL
5. Clark's Outpost, Tioga, TX
6. The Commissary, Germantown, TN

Thanks to Victor Chapel, who seems to run in some major-league BBQ territory, for this review.  Nice work.

 

Keller's Real Smoked Bar-B-Q

3893 Lake Emma Rd.

Lake Mary , FL 32746

407-333-1444

 

In Lake Mary Center, behind Chili's, at corner of Lake Mary Blvd. and Lake Emma Rd., just past traffic light for Primera Blvd. (Another store in Altamonte Springs, in the WalMart Shopping Plaza at the corner of S.R. 434 and 436.)

 

I had the pork, beef, and rib combo. Overall, the meats were bland. The beef was fatty. The ribs were pork ribs rather than baby backs and somewhat fatty.

 

The hot sauce was very hot. The medium sauce was excellent and added a lot of flavor to the meats. The cowhide-look plastic tablecloths added a nice tacky touch. The waitress called me "dear" - not as good as "hon" but close.

 

Overall rating – Good, largely on the strength of the medium sauce and how it added flavor to the meats. Basically, you could view the meat as a vehicle for the sauce.

 

Happy Jack's

3151 US HWY 98 South
Lakeland , FL 33803
863-666-2900
www.happyjacksbbq.com


Happy Jack's is in an industrial section of a still relatively rural (but rapidly urbanizing) area of Florida between Tampa and Orlando . It's a place where you expect people to know good barbecue and likely make a good 'cue themselves as the standard against which all others are judged. A bad barbecue joint wouldn't have much chance and could never have the lived-in look of Happy Jack's.

The building looks like an old former service station. What limited seating is available are picnic tables out front in the dilapidated parking lot next to the big barrel smoker and the sizable woodpile. All of which were promising signs, although I'd heard some mixed reviews of the place.

The menu is a pretty straightforward affair, offering dinners, sandwiches, and family servings of ribs, chopped pork, brisket, and chicken. I ordered a rib and pork combo with green beans and potato salad on the side. They also offered baked beans, cole slaw, and corn cobbet [sic]. The generous dinners were also served with rolls. I also got the sweet tea (jumbo sized only, but comes in non-sweet regular for those without the southern sweet tooth) and a slice of red velvet cake with the optimistic anticipation that I'd have room for dessert (I didn't).

The ribs were almost too tender. I actually bit through a softened bone (yuk!). The meat, however, was flavorful and moist, so not overdone despite the obviously long time in the smoker. The chopped pork was tasty, although a little dry in bites. The beans were well-flavored with pork, but a bit overcooked. The potato salad was a mustardy version that paired nicely with the barbecue.

I tried all three tomato-based sauces: sweet, mild, and hot. All complemented the smoky  flavor of the meat well. As a fan of hot sauces, I was surprised to find the sweet sauce my favorite. It started with a taste of molasses and finished with a clean vinegar kick to give a pleasantly sweet-sour experience. The hot was underwhelming for any true fan of heat.

Overall rating - Good to Very Good. If the meat texture had been a little more consistent and the green beans a little less done, it would be an unequivocal Very Good.

Thanks to Karen Bachmann, one of my southern BBQ mainstays, for this review.

 

Hot Rod's Country BBQ

18430 Livingston Ave
Lutz , FL 33559
(813) 948-7988

http://www.hotrodsbbqgrill.com/

 

The silliest, weirdest, and most memorable BBQ joint I've found… Also one of the best. The only place I've found with “grilled bat” and fried Spam as menu options…

 

Hot Rod's is 20 miles north of Tampa , and just before a traffic light if you're going north on Livingston . That's an important landmark.  Without it, it's easy to miss the place because Hot Rod's looks less like a restaurant than a large shack built out of stuff scavenged off the side of the road. The overall impression is silly schlock but authentic silly schlock, rather than silly schlock put together by a restaurant designer.

 

Eight of us went, so we gave the menu a good workout. The first selection, with some nervousness, was the grilled bat. This apparently used to be a real fruit bat until the health department stepped in, at which point they switched to quail but kept the bat theme. We ordered one on a bed of cornbread pudding. The “bat” was covered in a nice, sweet sauce, but doesn't have much meat. Think of it as a small, slightly moister (“slimy” according to one person) chicken. It may be an acquired taste. Mild but good cornbread pudding. (Note that this isn't pudding in the usual sense, but more like grits.)

 

The second appetizer was an entire can of Spam – “redneck prime rib” – sliced, fried, and laid out on a plate with the can as a centerpiece. If you like Spam, as I do, it was great and I gave it high marks. If not – if you think about what you may be eating, for example – it's best left alone.

 

For the main part of the meal, I'll sum it all up rather than go through each order. Ribs – outstanding, slightly crunchy on the outside and just short of falling off the bone on the inside. No fat whatsoever on mine or Mike's, although Connie wasn't happy about some globs of fat on hers that she had to pick off. Pulled pork – outstanding, not mushy at all and with a slightly sweet sauce. Chicken – very good but too mild without the skin. Cornbread pudding – good, slightly sweet, but didn't really stand out on its own. Cole slaw – very good, finely chopped and sweet. The green beans were apparently explosive. The baked beans were between very good and excellent, firm and with chunks of pulled pork mixed in.   Sweet potato – unusual for a BBQ place and outstanding, half a huge sweet potato done up with orange juice, brown sugar, molasses - we think - and who-knows-what else. (It reminded me of a sweet potato that I bought off a yam cart in Pensacola , FL in 1973 and that I still remember fondly. It was that good and so was Rod's.)

 

There were three sauces – mild (used as a base on the ribs), sweet, and hot. The mild was good but very mild. The sweet sauce wasn't very sweet until I swirled a layer of honey, I think, that had settled to the bottom of the container. Then it was excellent. The Cajun (hot) sauce was excellent, with enough bite to make it hot but without anesthetizing your tongue.

 

The dessert was excellent but not quite what we expected – peach cobbler with ice cream that was more of a cobbler cake with peaches on top.

 

On the dark side, a few people thought the inside smelled musty, as if it had been flooded recently (Florida, land of hurricanes…) and never quite dried out. We sat outside so the smell wasn't a problem while we ate, but it was noticeable enough to be a downcheck from several people.  Several people also saw a cat run by the table, something to be aware of if you don't like animals running through your seating area.

 

Overall rating – Outstanding, with the weirdness plus the quality of most of the food, plus the Spam and the “bat”, offsetting the mildness of the chicken and the musty smell.

 

Thanks to George Smith of SoftComputer in Clearwater for recommending the place (and ironically not being able to make it). Thanks also to Jennifer Morse of MadCap Software Sales for sending me to do a Flare course at SoftComputer and starting all this. Finally, thanks to Nancy and Scott Edson for being willing to try eating in a place that looked like this, Mark Lewis and Karen Bachmann, who'll happily try anything called “BBQ”, Mike and Anne Mauro, who battled Tampa traffic to get there and loved it enough to want to go back, and Connie, just for being Connie. A good and congenial group to go out for BBQ with.

 

O'Boys Bar-B-Q

565 West Fairbanks Ave.

Winter Park, FL

www.oboysbbq.net/

April 2009

West Fairbanks is off I-4 a few miles north of Orlando, and O'Boys is on the left side of the street just past a Y intersection about a mile east of I-4. From outside, the place looks more like a sports bar than a BBQ joint. That impression holds on the inside, with several dozen tables and booths, a large bar, several wide-screen TVs, and a local radio host (I think) running a trivia contest. In other words, not quite a "real" BBQ joint. However, to paraphrase from one of my dinner companions, we weren't in the South. We were in Orlando. So…

The place has a big menu, ranging from BBQ appetizer standards like rib nibblers and Brunswick stew to bar standards like Buffalo wings and nachos. Add a variety of BBQ and non-BBQ sandwiches, salads, tuna melts, etc, sides including fries, sweet potato fries, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and southern staples like collard greens and black-eyed peas. And, oh yeah, BBQ - sliced beef, pork, and turkey, ribs, chicken, and, oddly, fried shrimp and flounder. (I can't imagine not finding something to eat here…)

I got a two-meat combo – ribs and sliced beef – with the cole slaw and macaroni and cheese. The ribs were very good – meaty (more like country-style ribs) with a good char and good flavor, nicely chewy, but a little fatty. The sliced beef was good but a little dry. Both the cole slaw and the macaroni and cheese were excellent, and the macaroni and cheese was one of those rare cases where it was salty enough for me. The sauces – hot, mild, and sweet – were excellent. And the hot sauce was hot enough to taste the heat but not hot enough to anesthetize your tongue. (I highly recommend the sauces just by themselves.)

Overall rating – Very good, based on the taste of the meats, the sides, and the sauces but held back by the mild fattiness of the ribs, and the dryness of the beef.

Thanks to Joan Nelson, Beth Chandler, David Coverston, Mary B, and Woody from First Data for recommending the place, with a tip of the hat to Woody, Mary, and David for their trivia skills, Joan for abandoning vegetarianism in favor of ordering the all-you-can-eat rib special, and Beth for treating me.

 

Hickory Smoke House Bar-B-Que

6769 U.S. 19 N

Pinellas Park , FL 33781

727-525-0948

 

On the main road on the north side of St. Petersburg . A comfortably dark, old-fashioned looking place. I got the combo platter - ribs, chicken, pork, beef. They use pork ribs instead of baby backs so they're less meaty and fattier but tasted good. Tangy sauce but with little aftertaste. The pulled pork was good with good texture. The beef was okay but chopped like the pork and even tasted similar. At one point, I wasn't sure if I was reaching for chopped beef or chopped pork. Chicken was good but all dark meat. Corn on the cob was good but a little mushy. Fries okay.

 

Overall rating - Good.

 

BBQ Rib Ranch

2545 S. French Ave.

Sanford, FL 32773
(407) 321-0090

S. French is a local main drag about 5 miles east of I-4.  The restaurant is on the left side of S. French, about 300 yards south of 46A.  At first glance, the place looked not only closed but condemned.  It was only by accident that I noticed a small neon sign that said Open, so I pulled in (thinking that the place already looked promising). 

The building is a faded reddish-brown, with a faded reddish-brown sign with no neon at all and a battered metal chimney rising out of a smoker in the back of the building.  The inside is paneled in quasi-knotty pine, with 4 x 8 sheets of plywood, painted the same reddish-brown, serving as the ceiling.  Cartoons and old maps of Florida on the wall...  The more I looked, the more points the place gained just in atmosphere.

The menu offered too many things to pick from, so I got the sampler combo - ribs, beef, pork, and a quarter chicken (a breast and a drumstick), with cole slaw and mac-and-cheese on the side.

Overall assessment - Ribs were outstanding, crunchy and spicy on the outside and moist and tender inside.  They used regular pork ribs and left on the tip bones that get trimmed off in a St. Louis cut, but there was almost no fat.  Chicken was excellent, again spicy and crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside.  The beef and pork were both very good, chopped into large chunks but a little dry and needing BBQ sauce to juice them up.  The cole slaw was excellent, as was the mac-and-cheese.  The latter was even salty enough for me, and made me think that if my mother had ever run a BBQ joint, this was how she would have turned out macaroni and cheese.

There were two sauce, sweet and hot.  Both were excellent, although I preferred the sweet for no reason that I can name.

Overall rating - Excellent, held back only by the dryness of the pork and beef.

Thanks to Karen Ozolnieks of SunGard HTE in Lake Mary for recommending this place.

 

Fat Boys' Bar-B-Q

2912 13TH St
St Cloud, FL 34769-5902 
(407) 892-4400

Follow 192 E out of Kissimmee and watch for the restaurant on the left about half a mile past Brown Chapell Rd. on the left.  Big place, with plastered walls set off by dark wood beams.  Nice but a bit upscale for a BBQ place.

 

Went with Connie, her sister and brother-in-law Nancy and Scott, their son Dave, and his wife Ana.  Everyone got various samplers, except for Ana who, somehow, remains a vegetarian in this crowd.  Ana got onion rings - big, thick, hot, and fresh - which largely disappeared after one pass around the table.

The waitress or the kitchen got the orders mixed up - bad sign - but brought extra ribs to atone - good sign.

Overall assessment - Ribs were excellent, moist and tender with good flavor although not that much smoke.  Sliced beef was excellent, tender.  Chicken was very tender but a little bland.  Sauce helped.  Sliced pork was disappointing, tasty but fatty.  Fries were okay.  Ana's corn on the cob was okay but had the usual steam table mushiness. 

Offered three sauces in squeeze bottles - hot, sweet, and honey mustard.  Dave, Connie, and I tested all three and preferred the sweet.  The honey mustard was good but Connie thought it had a bitter aftertaste.

Overall rating - Very good to excellent, held back largely by the fattiness of the pork and the non-descript fries.

 

Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q

4475 13TH St
St Cloud, FL 34769
(407) 892-2285

A southern chain, with restaurants across the south and plastered across Florida and Georgia.  The St. Cloud one is on the right on Rt. 192 east of Kissimmee (Orlando area).  Big place, big dining room, with a big salad bar.  As with Fat Boy's, Sonny's is nice but a bit upscale for a BBQ place.  On the other hand, it doesn't have the cutesy "fish shack" look of Famous Dave's. 

 

Went with Connie and her sister and brother-in-law Nancy and Scott.  Got the Feast for Four - pork, beef, chicken, and ribs, plus sweet potatoes, green beans, and cole slaw, plus corn bread, plus a side of fried squash for Nancy.  The ribs were excellent, moist and tender with good flavor but not that much smoke.  The beef and pork were thin sliced and a bit dry, with good but very mild flavor.  The chicken was excellent, juicy rather than dry as it so often is.  The corn bread and cole slaw were excellent, as were the sweet potatoes which came with cinnamon butter.  Even the green beans and squash were good, and I can't stand either one.

Offered five sauces in squeeze bottles - sweet, mildly hot, hot with chipotle, mild, and mustard.  I liked all five, but the vote was for the sweet. Connie didn't like the chipotle flavor and thought that all the sauces except the sweet were a little gritty.

Overall rating - Very good to excellent, held back largely by the mildness of the pork and beef and Connie's thumbs down on four of the sauces.

 

 

Cuban Breezes

13980 W. Hillsborough Ave.

Tampa, FL, 33635

(813) 814-9939

 

I think I've mentioned the ribs at Cuban Breezes before. Because of some unusual quirks--most notably, the intermittent availability--I've hesitated to write a review. I just had them again tonight, though, and decided that they are worthy of your esteemed consideration and well worth trying. Note that Cuban Breezes isn't a BBQ place and, therefore, doesn't offer their ribs regularly.

Their ribs are marinated in mojo, that delectable blood orange concoction that tenderizes and flavors Cuban roast pork. The result is moist, flavorful meat that is pull-off-the-bone tender. The ribs are served as a short slab, not in full or half slabs (again, not a BBQ joint). They are served with a hot, sweet guava barbecue sauce that has a nice bite and a sweet-tart note from the fruit. The waiter mentioned a "regular" barbecue sauce, but I haven't tried it yet.

The ribs come with two Cuban sides, the same as all the other entrees. I had moros - black beans and rice cooked with olive oil, garlic, and bacon (what's not to love!) - and tostones - smashed and fried plantains flavored with garlic. Other beans and rice variations, the more familiar maduros (lightly fried sweet plantains), mixed vegetables, and a green salad are the other selections. The meal also comes with Cuban bread.

If you want to finish off the light burn from the sauce with something sweet, deserts include a decent flan and a good chocolate lava cake, among others. Their beer menu includes a notable selection of local and Mexican beers. They also have Cuban coffees and sodas. (Ironbeer is the only Cuban soda I've had--I should fix that.)

If you are in the vicinity of the Pinellas-Hillsborough county line sometime, check them out. While they may not always have ribs, their regular Cuban fare is quite good (try the lechon asado or picadillo) and is served by a friendly staff. Their full regluar menu is available on their website:  http://www.cubanbreezes.com/

Thanks to Karen Bachmann, Floridian BBQ fanatic extraordinaire.

 

Jazzy's BBQ

5703 W. Waters Ave.

Tampa, FL 33634

813-243-8872

 

A snap to reach from the airport area - just get on Veteran's Expressway north, get off at exit 6A, go to the light at the end of the exit ramp, and Jazzy's will be almost directly in front of you across the street.  (It's easy to miss.  I went half a mile up and down the street before realizing that it had been right in front of me.  Sigh...)

Jazzy's is built in a defunct restaurant and has an odd mix of "building-that-used-to-be-a-restaurant" features and traditional BBQ joint features like an unpaved parking lot filled with everything from Harleys to Cadillac SUVs.  In the back, there's a large, trailerable BBQ smoker and a huge pile of logs.  A great start...  The inside is pretty spartan, with Jazzy's slogans painted on the walls, an iced tea dispenser against one wall on a folding table, an open counter, and a double-decked grill behind it with a mix of ribs, chicken, and sausage going full tilt.  The place smelled great.  And I took it as a good sign that there were fifteen people in line in front of me.

I got a two-way combo platter - pork ribs and sausage.  The ribs were done to a turn - meat almost falling off the bone.  However, they were very lightly smoked and were charred in a few spots.  The sausage was very good - coarsely ground but with an unusually thick casing.   I got cole slaw as a side, which was a standard good cole slaw.   They only serve mac and cheese on Fridays, unfortunately.

Overall rating - Very good.  Less charing on the ribs would have bumped the place up to excellent.

Thanks to Mark Lewis (who described Jazzy's as "...should be right up your "dirt" alley.") for recommending this place.

 

Georgia 

GA Pig (December 2008)

Route 17 & I-95
Exit 29 (Jekyll Island exit)
Brunswick, GA

912-427-2628

 

"Like something out of Deliverance..." according to my sister-in-law Nancy, "with a fire burning out back and two hound-dogs running around loose." Inside, the place is "filled with Elvis photos and an overwhelming smell of smoke.  'Hundreds' of sauces...  Family-style seating...   The local cops eat there..." Nancy and her husband Scott stopped into the GA Pig almost by accident on their drive from Vermont to Florida for their three-month snow-free stint, and it's clear that years of eating BBQ on my back porch has paid off.

To see what the GA Pig actually looks like, go to this site.  Nancy said she was reluctant to even go in at first.

They split a two-meat plate - chopped pork and ribs.  The pork "... was amazing.  Smoky but not too much so.  So good..."  The ribs were "...chewy, smoky, tasty."  "Nothing over-sauced."

Overall rating - "Outstanding, if only for the ambiance."  (I have to qualify this by noting that it takes a lot to earn a rating of Outstanding.  On the other hand, you have to trust your people in the field.  So, outstanding it is...) Thanks to Nancy and Scott Edson for putting their hides on the line in the interest of pure research...

 

Sam's BBQ-1 (April 2010)

4944 Lower Roswell Rd.

Marietta, GA

770-977-3005

www.bbql.net

 

A storefront operation in a small strip mall in a northern suburb of Atlanta.   Inside, the place is pretty spartan, with a dozen tables and chairs and a great selection of posters from past BBQ festivals.  You order at the counter and they bring the food out.  Fairly standard.

Sam's has an excellent selection of BBQ, with standards like pulled pork, brisket, sausage, baby back ribs, and chicken, along with two unusual ones - pork shanks and beef short ribs (which I associate more with Korean food).  They also had a range of sides, including mac and cheese, cole slaw, collard greens, green beans, fried okra (this being the South), Brunswick stew, and, in a unique touch, tater tots.

I got a two-meat platter - a half-slab of ribs and pulled pork, with cole slaw and mac and cheese.  The ribs were excellent, with a mildly spicy, slightly crunchy crust  and a moist interior with no fat that came off the bone with a slight pull.  The pulled pork was excellent, chunky and moist with no mushiness.  The cole slaw was excellent, as was the mac and cheese; the latter was even salty enough for me.   Sam's had three sauces, a mild one, a "hot" one that was still fairly mild, and a vinegar-based sauce that was actually sweet, which either makes it the oddest vinegar-based sauce I've ever had or just means it was mis-labelled.  All three were excellent.

Overall rating – Excellent overall.  A place that just did everything right, and offered tater tots as an appetizer.

 

(Thanks to Chip Jones, who apparently knows me well enough to suggest a place that has tater tots as an appetizer, and his wife BJ, for this recommendation and for treating me.)

 

J.R.'s Log House

6601 Peachtree Industrial Blvd.

Norcross , GA 30092

770-449-6426

 

Big, old-fashioned-style place (a good sign) with blackboard specials. Tried a 2-meat platter - sliced brisket and chicken. The brisket very good but only mildly smoky, with the smoke ring less than 1/8" deep. The chicken was very good, moist and with a lot of tangy sauce. The macaroni and cheese was thick and cheesy but needed more salt. (This is a common problem with the macaroni and cheese in BBQ joints, but may also be my problem since my mother tended to bury everything in salt.)

 

The Brunswick stew was very good, with pureed tomatoes rather than chunked tomatoes. They only offered one sauce but it was excellent - tangy, a little sweet, and crunchy with small bits of onion.

 

Overall rating - Excellent.

 

Slope's BBQ

10360 Alpharetta Highway

Roswell , GA

770-518-7000

 

Ate here in 1997 so the place may not even exist anymore. But the pulled pork and sauce were excellent. Be aware that they close at 2:30 on Sunday.

 

Overall rating - Excellent.

 

 

Hawaii 

Vicky's Filipino Cafe

Hotel St.

Honolulu , HI

 

Obviously not a BBQ restaurant but too good to pass up. (Besides, it's my list.)

 

A Filipino cafeteria in the group of Asian restaurants and noodle shops on Hotel St. in downtown Honolulu . I was the only non-Asian in the place, which took the staff and other diners by surprise. But the cooks were great and gave me a detailed explanation, sometimes more detailed than I wanted, of all the different dishes. I had adobo, some sort of beef with gravy, and rice, all of which, even the rice, were great. They also served balut (hard-boiled duck eggs with the embryo) which I skipped for obvious reasons but took as a sign that this was the real thing.

 

Overall rating – If you don't mind being an object of curiosity and some giggling by the staff and the other customers, then the place gets an Excellent.

 

Molly's Smokehouse

23 S Kamehameha Hwy
Wahiawa, Central Oahu
621-4858
Open Daily 11am - 9pm

Molly's Smokehouse - Texas-Style BBQ in Wahiawa - My favorite BBQ restaurant on Hawaii (Oahu).

Thanks to Pavel Peroutka for this recommendation

 

 

Indiana 

Smokey Bones BBQ

5910 E. 82nd St .

Indianapolis , IN 45250

(317) 595-0094

www.smokeybones.com

 

In NorthEast Indianapolis at the intersection of Rt. 465 and Allisonville Rd.

 

A crowded place that gives beepers to the people in line. Excellent St. Louis style ribs, very meaty and falling off the bone, with a smoky and tangy sauce. Excellent sausage. Pulled pork was good but, as usual, a little mushy. Very good sauce. Cinnamon apples were good but mushy.

 

Overall rating - Very good. (Would have been excellent except for the pulled pork and cinnamon apples.)

 

 

Kansas 

Hog Wild Pit Bar-B-Q

1200 S. Rock Rd.

Wichita, KS

316-618-7227

About half a mile south of Kellogg Rd. (Rt. 54), on the left in a small strip mall.  Doesn't stand out very well so watch carefully after turning off Webb and onto Rock.

 

The look is what you'd expect from a place in a strip mall - neat and clean.   A sign on the door states that this is a "smoke-free" restaurant - a surreal touch for a place that sells smoked meat.  A row of plants stretches the length of the store above the ordering and serving counter, but this is offset a bit by the fact that the signs for "Order", "Pickup", and the restaurant name itself are made out of twisted strands of barbed wire.

I ordered a two-meat plate - brisket and pulled pork.  Both were very good and tender.  The only problem was that the brisket came chopped and, after covering the brisket and pork with BBQ sauce, it was hard to tell them apart.  Excellent BBQ sauces, by the way.  The mild had a deep taste and the hot wasn't really hot, just spiced up a bit to give it a bite but without making sweat break out on your hairline.  Excellent cole slaw.

 

Overall rating - Very good. (Would have been excellent except for the difficulty distinguishing between the brisket and pulled pork.)

Thanks to Rex Schechster of CCH for this recommendation.

 

Two Brothers BBQ

300 S. Greenwich Rd.

Wichita, KS

316-683-1330

www.twobrothersbbqkansas.com

On the right, about 300 yards north of Kellogg Rd. (Rt. 54) on Greenwich, almost directly across from Subway.  Basically, the place is in the southeast corner of the Raytheon/Beech Airport.  It's in a small, whitewashed brick building that stands alone, but doesn't stand out very well so watch carefully after passing Subway.

 

The inside is nicely spartan, with a small order and pickup counter, ten or so small tables, and two TVs.

I ordered a two-meat plate - brisket and Kansas City burned ends.  The brisket was outstanding - thinly sliced, moist, and with a deep smoke ring. 

I'd read descriptions of burned ends but never had them before.  They're made out of the end pieces that get trimmed off when cutting a brisket and are then smoked all over again.  (Assuming that you save the end chunks rather than eating them.  This never happens when I make brisket at home because my wife steals the end chunks and shares them with the dog, so the idea has never progressed beyond theory.)  Burned ends are usually described as looking like pieces of charcoal covered with BBQ sauce, but these looked just like small chunks of brisket.  You don't get the full effect until you pop a piece in your mouth, at which point the piece just melts away like a meringue.  Absolutely outstanding.  There's a story, probably apocryphal, about a BBQ restaurant in Austin, TX whose sign read "You don't need teef to eat my beef", and you see what they mean when you try a burned end.

The BBQ sauce was also outstanding.  I kept eating it by the spoonful.  The cole slaw was very good, but little more than an afterthought in this meat nirvana.

Overall rating - Outstanding.

 

 

 

Massachusetts 

Lester's Roadside Barbecue

376 Cambridge St.

(Intersection of Rt. 3A and Rt. 62W)

Burlington, MA 01803

www.lestersbbq.com

In a town about 15 miles north of Boston, on a local main drag (3A).  Lester's is in a defunct McDonalds that closed about 20 years ago due to a lack of business, ironic because Lester's was doing a booming business on the rainy Saturday night that we went.  The menu is on boards over the counter, and there's an old Coke chest, an old gas pump, and various other tchotchkes scattered around (though not at the over-saturation level of places like Famous Dave's, so Lester's looked more "authentic").  The tables were also jammed together, which was a little inconvenient but also gave the place a "we're packed" type of energy.

The place has a good selection of traditional BBQ meats, including St. Louis ribs, pulled pork, brisket, smoked sausage, pulled chicken, bbq'd chicken, and, unusually for a place in New England, chopped bbq'd beef.  A very good selection of sides as well, including the staples plus collard greens, homemade pickles, and smashed potatoes with chicken gravy.  I have to give the place credit for trying...

We went with two friends, Deb and Jeff, and their kids, Jillian and Nate, after Deb emailed me that she was having BBQ withdrawal symptoms.  Connie had the bbq'd chicken with collard greens, I had a three-meat combo - St. Louis ribs, pulled pork, and brisket, with mac and cheese and mashed sweet potato.  I lost track of what Deb, Jeff, Jillian, and Nate ordered but, between the six of us, we gave the menu a fairly good workout.

Connie said the chicken was excellent, tasty, tender, and juicy, without being dried out as so often happens.  Jeff and I agreed (several times) that the brisket was outstanding, tender, smoky, and with a good smoke ring.  The ribs were good, excellent consistency but with a somewhat fatty feel.  (We had tried Lester's ribs at the Lowell (MA) BBQ fest in 2007 and had the same opinion.)  The pulled pork was excellent, a good mix of chunks and threads with very little steam table mushiness.  Connie also pointed out that whatever you thought of the taste of the meats, their consistencies were right on the money.

Connie approved of the collard greens, moderately spicy and with chunks of pork, she thought, mixed in to jazz them up.  The mac and cheese was excellent, slightly soupy and (finally!) with enough salt even for me.  My mother would have approved, maybe even signed on as a cook.  The sweet potato was good but too mild, needing the bite of some orange juice, brown sugar, or something.  Jillian thought they'd be better as sweet potato fries and I have to agree.  Jeff, I think, had the dirty rice and approved.   Nate had the homemade pickles for dessert.  (It's hard to know what to say about that...)  I completely lost track of what Deb had, but she made a lot of "mmph" noises so it must have been okay.

They had several sauces - one sweet and moderately hot, one vinegar style, and two others that I don't recall.  All very good.

Overall rating - As I said for American BBQ, a BBQ place in New England has to be rated on a different scale than one in the south but I'd rate Lester's as Very Good to Excellent based on the brisket, pulled pork, chicken, collard greens, mac and cheese, and Pabst Blue Ribbon drafts for $2, with some points off for the ribs and the sweet potato.  Well worth a visit.

 

(Thanks to Deb Sauer for the impetus to try Lester's, and to Jeff, Jillian, and Nate for helping evaluate the place.)

 

 

Midwest Grill

1124 Cambridge St .

Cambridge , MA

617-354-7536

 

Brazilian Barbeque restaurant. There's no set menu. Instead, the cooks go to the market every morning and buy whatever looks good. They then cook the meats on sword-like skewers and the waiters periodically carry the skewers around the dining room and offer to carve some of whatever they're carrying directly into your plate. The pork, steak, and chicken were excellent. Even the chicken livers were excellent and I normally wouldn't touch chicken livers at gunpoint. The feijoada - pronounced "feshwada" - Brazilian fried rice is wonderful. The biggest problem is to avoid pigging out on Feijoada and being too full for the meat.

 

Overall rating - Outstanding.

 

Firefly's

235 Old Connecticut Path

Framingham , MA 01701

508-820-3333

www.fireflysbbq.com

 

Modern place, well-laid out. Owned by the guy who started Tennessee 's, which is also in Framingham . There's another Firefly's in Marlboro, MA, which is more convenient.  (See below.)

 

Went with Nancy and Scott, my wife's sister and brother-in-law. Very good ribs - use St. Louis-cut ribs that were meatier and more tender than mine, and probably a special cut for restaurants. However Nancy liked the taste of my ribs better. (No wonder I like her.) Their pulled pork was better than mine - slightly sweet with a slight zing.

 

The cheesy potatoes sounded good but were bland. However, the sweet potato pudding with chopped pecan pralines was outstanding. The macaroni and cheese was very good but, as usual, needed more salt.

 

Overall rating - Excellent.

 

Beira Rio

26 Andover Street

Lowell , MA

978 - 454 - 5007

 

An Argentine barbecue like the MidWest Grill in Cambridge , MA . (See above.) Beira Rio looks like a cafeteria, unlike the MidWest Grill which was a very nice looking place, but has great food for a lot less money. You can either get buffet only (with some meat, including a great beef with onions but not the full barbecue) for about $6 or everything for about $14. Great desserts too. At one point, the waitress lost track of who ate what and offered to give us the deserts for free if we came back. We told her that wasn't necessary; we'd come back anyway. The only problem was that the food came too fast and had to ask the waitress to slow down.

 

The place lived up to its first impressions on a return visit, which often doesn't happen. The cook was carving meat for me and kept going when I kept saying “no mas”, which I thought was Portuguese for “no more”. I wound up with over a pound of meat which I ate while the rest of the table made fun of my Portuguese language skills.

 

(Thanks to Allen and Susanne Beebe for this recommendation.)

 

Overall rating - Outstanding.

 

The Village Smokehouse

98 Middle Street

Lowell , MA

978 - 441 - 2278 (BBQU)

www.villagesmokehouse.com

6/4/09

 

The Smokehouse is part of the ongoing revitalization of downtown Lowell and is tucked into one of the old buildings on Middle St.  Be aware that the sign is pretty discrete, street parking is tight, and driving in Lowell can be confusing.   (I live in the next town over.  When my wife and I first drove into Lowell, we decided that the reason people lived in Lowell was that they'd driven in and couldn't figure out how to get out, so they just said the heck with it and bought a house.  Be warned.)

The Smokehouse has a fairly eclectic menu that falls into three rough categories - BBQ (baby back ribs, pork ribs, brisket, chicken, and sausage), Tex-Mex-ish (chili, stuffed jalapenos, fajitas), and other stuff (steaks, salmon, catfish, shrimp, and Buffalo wings).  It's also not cheap, as you'd expect from a place in a city - $19.95 for a two-meat combo with one side and a small crock of baked beans "for the table".  I've now been there twice, getting a rib-sausage-brisket combo with a sweet potato the first time and the Texas Hawg (beef rib, brisket, chicken, sausage, and baby back ribs) the second time.  The results were mixed.

I've had the sausage twice and have to rate it as excellent each time.  Ditto for the brisket, tender and with a decent smoke ring.  The chicken was very overcooked - Connie described it as dry at first bite and then mushy.  The baby backs were good but had very little meat on them.  The beef rib was good but somewhat overcooked and dry.   The sweet potato was way overcooked, almost as if it had been boiled.  I also have to note that while the place offers Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miller High Life, and Lone Star beer, it also offers Wachusett Blue Berry Ale and Chardonnay to cater to big city customers.  Good, but not what you expect in a BBQ place.

The place is done up in dark wood booths and tables with an open kitchen.  Part of the entertainment on our second visit was watching the cooks entertain a toddler by squirting oil on the grill to generate a big puff of flame.

Overall rating - Good, based on the quality of the sausage, the brisket, and the Pabst Blue Ribbon and held back by the dryness of the chicken and the low meat count on the ribs.

(Thanks to Allen and Susanne Beebe and Brian and Amy Hunter for this one.)

 

 

Firefly's

350 East Main St.

Marlboro, MA 01752

508-357-8883

www.fireflysbbq.com

 

Second location of the Framingham restaurant.  (See above.)  Owned by the guy who started Tennessee's, also in Framingham.

From Tewksbury - Take 495 South to exit 24A for Marlboro, Rt. 20 East and follow Rt. 20 for about 3 miles.  Restaurant is on a small rise on the left as the road bends to the right. 

Went with Connie, my BBQ partner and competitor (and wife, incidentally).  She got a 1/2 rack of St. Louis ribs and I got a 2-meat platter with pulled pork and sliced brisket.  The consistency of all the meats was great - tender but not quite falling off the bone for the ribs, pull-apart tender for the brisket, and non-mushy for the pork.  The problem is that the ribs and brisket had little or no smoke flavor and were so mild as to be almost unspiced.  The pork tasted good but that might have been the Memphis sauce (which Connie highly approved of).

 

The sweet potato pudding with chopped pecan pralines was outstanding, just as it was in Framingham.  (We debated taking it home in a doggie bag but, by the time we finished debating, we'd eaten it all.  Good sign.)   The macaroni and cheese wasn't as cheesy as the version in Framingham and, as usual, needed salt.  Connie got the collard greens which she said were "good".

 

Overall rating - Good.  If the ribs and brisket had had more spice, the place would have gotten a Very Good or even a low Excellent.

 

American Barbecue

5 Railroad Ave.

Rowley, MA 01969

(978) 948-2626

www.theamericanbarbecue.com

 

In a small town on Boston's north shore, about 30 miles north of Boston itself.   The restaurant itself is just off Rt. 1A and easily visible, and there were signs out at various points in the road.  The building is a log-look with a small porch.  The menu is on boards over the ordering window, and there's popcorn machine and a barrel of peanuts near the door for munchies.

The place has a good selection of traditional BBQ meats, including Texas smoked sausages and beef brisket, both of which are rare in BBQ places in New England.  (One owner once told me that no one in New England understands what brisket is, and by the time he finished explaining the customer had decided on something else.)

We split a three-meat combo - Memphis ribs, pulled pork, and pulled chicken, with baked beans for Connie and mashed sweet potatoes for me.  The ribs were good - a little overcooked with the meat falling off the bone a little too readily and not that much flavor.  The pulled pork was excellent - a mix of chunks and threads with no mushiness.  The pulled chicken was also excellent and unusual, with chunks of chicken as well as threads - as if if had been pulled and chopped.  Very well done.

Connie approved of the beans.  We split on the sweet potato, which had some sort of citrus undertone something like lemon and orange.  I liked it, but Connie thought it was odd.

They had several sauces - a mild one, which we liked very much, a hot one, which was good but had a long and lingering burn, a yellow mustard sauce that we didn't get to try, and a vinegar-based sauce in a shaker bottle which we tried and liked.

Overall rating - Given that a BBQ place in New England has to be rated on a different scale than one in the south, I'd rate the American Barbecue Very good, based on the pulled pork and chicken and the mild sauce, with points off for the ribs.  Well worth a visit.

 

(Thanks to Deb and Jeff Sauer for this recommendation.)

 

 

Smokey Bones BBQ & Sports Bar

431 Middlesex Road

Tyngsboro , MA 01879

(978) 649-5410

www.smokeybones.com

 

Next to Pheasant Lane Mall outside Nashua , NH .

 

Very crowded place, with beepers given to people in line. Very good ribs, very good spicy fries. Other than that, not much stands out about the place for some reason.

 

(Thanks to Brian and Amy Hunter for this recommendation.)

 

Overall rating - Very good.

 

 

Maryland 

Bubba's BBQ

201E. Pratt St .

Baltimore , MD

410-783-0137

 

In the Inner Harbor , facing the Pride of Baltimore Baltimore Clipper. Went with charter members of the STC's BBQ SIG – Karen Bachmann, Julie Bommarito, Nicky Bleiel, and Ed Marshall – at the end of the 2004 STC annual conference. Ribs were good - meaty and tender with a good, mildly spicy sauce. Pulled pork was "a little mushy" according to Karen.

 

Checked oilcloth table clothes was a nice touch. No extra sauce on the table gets points off. Basically a good barbecue place in a very touristy area but still good for all that.

 

Overall rating - Good to very good.

 

Copeland's

1584 Rockville Pike

Rockville , MD 20852

301-230-0968

 

New Orleans Creole cuisine rather than BBQ. I ordered jambalaya, which isn't Creole but was on the menu anyway.

 

Overall rating - Very good.

 

 

Michigan 

Memphis Smokehouse

100 South Main St .

Royal Oak , MI 48067

248-543-4300

 

North of Rt. 696 at corner of Main St. and 11 Mile Rd. in Royal Oak . Take Woodward Ave. exit off 696E, follow service road to NEXT light, turn left onto Main St. , and follow for about 1 mile. Place is on left at traffic light. For municipal parking lot, turn right at same light, go ~100 yds., and turn right into lot.

 

Primary impression of the place was dark – dark wood floors, dark oak tables and chairs, dark ceiling, etc. A very old-fashioned looking place.

 

My first experience with Memphis style ribs, where they sprinkle on a final layer of dry rub just before bringing the ribs out. I also had a long talk with the cook, who said that they cookd the ribs at 270 degrees for about 3 hours.

 

Overall rating - Excellent.

 

Minnesota 

Famous Dave's

2131 Snelling Ave.

Roseville, MN

651-633-4800

Famous Dave's is, in theory, everything that a BBQ joint should not be - part of a huge chain (100+ outlets), in chain restaurant-style buildings with overly cutesy decor, and lots of professionally-done advertising.  And yet...  I like the place.  The meat is excellent, the sauces vary but they're all at least good, the place is clean and easy to find...  More specifically...

This restaurant is on a main drag - Snelling - north of Minneapolis and about four miles south of Rt. 694 at the Snelling Avenue exit.  It's also just across the road from the Har Mar Mall, so it's easy to find.  I went in the late afternoon on a Wednesday, so the place was pretty empty.  It's full of old-looking oak tables and chairs, with a take-out booth at the front door and an apparent take-out booth inside where you actually place your order for someone to bring to your table.  They were playing a great Blues CD in the background, which included Long Tall Marcia Ball on piano.

I ordered a two-meat platter - ribs and pulled pork - with apples and coleslaw.  The platters also come with corn on the cob and a corn muffin.  The ribs were excellent - falling off the bone tender with no fat at all.  The pork was also excellent - chunks and strings, chewy but not mushy, covered with sauce on a slice of white bread.  Apples were excellent, as was the coleslaw.

Overall rating - I'm probably violating some law of nature by doing this, but I rate the place as excellent.

 

Nevada 

The Claim Jumper

4905 South Virginia St. (Redfield Promenade)

Reno, NV

(775) 829-0200

Easy to find - about a mile south of the Peppermill casino and almost directly across from the Olive Garden.

Not a BBQ place but a restaurant with a broad menu that includes chicken, baby back ribs, St. Louis ribs, and beef ribs.  Very nice looking, but expensive and lacking standard BBQ joint elements like neon signs for cheap beers and tacky vinyl tableclothes.

I got St. Louis ribs with cole slaw and the cheesy potato cakes - fried potato cakes mixed with three kinds of cheese and topped with a 1000-island style dressing.  Ribs were very good - meaty and tender but very mild and with little smoke flavor.  The idea seems to be to use the BBQ sauce if  you want to jazz up the meat.  The sauce was a tomato-based sauce with what I thought was a strong molasses note but the waitress said there wasn't any molasses in it.  Whatever it was, it tasted good, with enough bite to spice up the ribs.  The cole slaw was standard good.  The potato cakes were very good but dry and could have used extra dressing on the side.

Overall rating - As a restaurant, excellent.  As a BBQ joint, good.

(Thanks to Kim Radzik of Intuit for this recommendation.)

 

North Carolina 

Allen and Son Barbecue

6203 Millhouse Road

Chapel Hill, NC 27516
(919) 942-7576

There are two locations, one in Pittsboro and one in Chapel Hill. I went to the one in Chapel Hill. It’s in a homey-looking building with a sign that’s so ramshackle that it has to be deliberate. (See http://www.urbanspoon.com/rph/25/290035/142756/research-triangle-allen-son-allen-son-photo.) Across the street from a railroad track, with a gravel parking lot and a rusting trailer next to the building the day I went. If I had to envision a southern BBQ place, this is it. Between the location, the menu, stuffed animals mounted on the walls, a 1960s-modern style starburst clock with forks and spoons in place of the starbursts, and BBQ sauce to-go sold in Mason jars at the counter, what’s not to like…

The menu simply listed “Bar-B-Que” as the generic choice. It did list pork ribs, chicken, and fish further down, but pulled pork – “Bar-B-Que” – is clearly the mainstay, along with baked beans, fries, potato salad, and Carolina-style sides like hushpuppies and fried okra. I got the Bar-B-Que Plate – B-B-Q, slaw, and hushpuppies. Loved it. The pulled pork was tender, the slaw was sweet, and the hushpuppies were just good plain or with BBQ sauce. The sauce was Carolina-style vinegar sauce – tart but not as explosive as some I’ve had. Add a slab of peanut butter pie and some sweet iced tea, all for lunch, and it was a wonder my client and I got anything done the rest of the day.

Overall rating – Outstanding, based on the food and the atmosphere. As one obviously Jewish reviewer said about this pork paradise, “At least the salt was kosher”.

Thanks to Anita and Tyler, the kind folks at UNC-CH, who debated where to take me for BBQ and decided that this was the spot. Good choice.

 

Bullock's Barbecue

3330 Quebec Dr

Durham , NC

(919) 383-3211

 

A very popular place with a line at the door, including many families which seems like a good sign.

 

Carolina style rather than Texas style. No ribs or brisket on the menu but heavy on fried chicken, pulled pork, and southern BBQ style side dishes like okra, as I recall, along with the usual cole slaw, etc. Went with a group and got the family-style order - basically non-stop bowls and platters of fried chicken, pulled pork, cole slaw, beans, etc. Excellent beans, very good pulled pork with a mix of shreds and chunks. Waitress had a bleached beehive hairdo and clearly took no guff from anyone – extra points.

 

Overall rating - Excellent.

 

(Thanks to Sarah O'Keefe of Scriptorium Publishing Services for this recommendation.)

 

Q Shack

2514 University Dr .

Durham , NC 27707

919-402-4BBQ

 

A fairly large and modern looking place with lots of glass and indoor and outdoor seating areas. Extensive selection and a staff that seemed perfectly happy to give out samples. Almost made a meal out of the samples before deciding that we'd better order something.

 

Had ribs and pulled pork, with cole slaw and hush puppies. Excellent ribs, meaty and well cooked with just enough bite to be interesting but not overpowering. Pulled pork was also excellent, not mushy at all and with a mix of shreds and large chunks. Either we got some fresh out of the smoker or else they've figured out a way to avoid mushiness. (A lot of other places could take a lesson from whatever the Q Shack does to prevent mushy pulled pork – highly recommended.) Cole slaw good, hush puppies excellent. Also had fried pies (apple) for desert. Messy and excellent.

 

Sauce was a good, vinegar-based sauce. However, the pork was good enough by itself that the sauce barely registered.

 

Overall rating – Between Excellent and Outstanding.

 

(Thanks to Ann-Marie, Hank, and Lian (my little crème brulee buddy) Grissino for this recommendation.)

 

Q Shack (February 2010)

Main Circle at North Hills

Raleigh , NC

919-786-4381

 

Very different from the first Q Shack that I tried in Durham in 2004, this outlet is in a large entertainment complex called North Hills about 1/4 mile off the highway and is actually built into a block of shops near the movie theater. The place was cleaner and more upscale than the earlier, apparently still existing place, but kept the selection and "here, try a sample" attitude.  And, again, you could almost make a meal out of the samples.

 

Had a three-meat plate of ribs, pork, and brisket, with mac and cheese and cole slaw. Excellent ribs, meaty and tender but not quite falling off the bone. The pulled pork and brisket also had a good consistency. The mac and cheese was almost salty enough, and the cole slaw was very good. What I found most interesting, however, was a distinctive difference in the rubs and sauce, which were far milder than I remember from the other outlet and other local BBQ places. My sense is that the spice and bite were toned down to appeal to an audience that wasn't as familiar with BBQ and wanted a milder introduction.  Still good, just discernably different.

  

Overall rating – Very good, with the down-check from the other outlet being due to the mildness of the meat and sauces.

 

(Thanks to Ann-Marie, Hank, and Lian (who seems to be a lot older than last time) Grissino for this recommendation and for treating me.)

 

Davis Family Barbecue

10208 Chapel Hill Rd.

Morrisville , NC

919-380-9039

 

Directions from the airport - Follow Airport Blvd south/west , cross over Rt. 40, and go about a mile until Airport Blvd ends at Chapel Hill Rd. Left on Chapel Hill Rd. Go about a mile, watch for Morrisville Station (strip mall) on right. Restaurant is about 100 yards further ahead on the left.

 

Definitely not a chain. Looked more like what I expect a southern BBQ restaurant to be. Located in a small brick and cinder block building, with a drive-up window, next to a car wash. Picnic-table style booths inside, with plastic covered menus and a pass-through ordering and serving window.

 

Excellent pulled pork with a mix of shreds and chunks. Almost no mushiness. Chicken tasted great but was a thigh so not much meat. Only sauce is a generic vinegar-mustard sauce in an unlabelled squeeze bottle – sort of a “take-it-or-leave-it” sauce. Hush puppies good but a little bland.

 

Cook called me "buddy". Not as good as a "hon" from a waitress but still enough to earn points.

 

Overall rating - Very Good.

 

Don Murray's

2751 Capital Boulevard

Raleigh , NC 27604

919-872-6270

In a non-descript white building that looks like a large one-story frame house.  The seating brought back memories of the kitchen set in my parents' house in the early 1960s.  Our waitress fit the "tough-but-with-a-heart-of-gold" stereotype that seems so prevalent in southern BBQ places.  Went with Cevin Moran of RemoteSite Training and her friend Alex, also from Boston, and the waitress gave Alex and I some mild ribbing, in a great southern accent, about having to come so far to get decent food.  Speaking of which...

 

This was my first North Carolina buffet, and it was awesome - hush puppies, chopped pork, smothered (in brown gravy) pork chops, smothered hamburg steaks, fried trout, fried chicken, lima beans, collard greens, potatoes, chicken and dumplings, and a bunch of other things that escape me now.  There was also a salad table, although Cevin was the only person I saw go near it.  The desert table looked great, but I never got to it after being stuffed to the gills.  (The takeout menu also includes things like fried okra, fried squash, corn sticks, flounder, black-eyed peas, etc., that sometimes make it onto the buffet.)

The chopped pork was excellent - shreds and chunks with very little mushiness and a tart, thin, vinegar-based sauce.  The fried chicken was very tasty and, unlike most of these places, was either a breast or one of the meatiest thighs I've ever had.  The chicken and dumplings was excellent, with enough chicken fat that a cardiologist could set up shop next to the cash register.  I thought the hush puppies were good but a little rubbery.  (I seem to be in sync with a lot of local reviewers, who said much worse things about the hush puppies.)

Cevin ordered fried chicken livers off the menu, and got a platter that she got about halfway through before giving up and taking them home.

The place was also very cheap - under $10 for the buffet. 

Overall rating - Excellent, as long as you go once a year and take the rest of the time to recover.

 

(Thanks to Cevin Moran of RemoteSite Training for this recommendation.)

 

Old Time Barbecue

6309 Hillsborough St .

Raleigh , NC 27606

919-859-2544

www.oletime.citysearch.com

 

Definitely an old-time looking place, with a counter, five or six tables, and a lot of bric-a-brac all over the walls. Waitress was young and didn't call me "hon" but had a great southern accent of some sort that made up for it.

 

Had pulled pork, fried chicken (this is North Carolina ), cole slaw, hush puppies. Pulled pork tasted great but had the usual mushiness that seems endemic to pulled pork that's spent the day on a steam table. Fried chicken was very tasty, but was a thigh so didn't have that much meat. (Don't these places ever serve breasts?!) Very good hush puppies, standard cole slaw. Offered a moderately zingy vinegar style sauce. Cheap (combo was $7.95) and fast (plates showed up less than 10 minutes after we ordered).

 

Overall rating - Very good.

 

(Thanks to Cevin Moran of RemoteSite Training for this recommendation.)

New York 

Sal's Birdland

Rochester , NY

 

BBQ chicken chain in the Rochester area. There's a site near the airport, very convenient for picking up sauce on the way home from a job. Very good, juicy chicken. Excellent, explosive mustard and vinegar based sauce with lots of red pepper flecks floating around in it. By varying the amount of sauce, you can get the chicken ranging from SissyBird to, as I recall, Nuclear. Go Nuclear but expect your tongue and the corners of your mouth to go numb.

 

Introduced to the place in the early 80s by my brother Jay who attended the University of Rochester and would send me 6-packs of sauce as birthday presents.

 

Overall rating – Excellent.

 

Dinosaur Barbecue

 

246 W. Willow St .

Syracuse , NY

315-476-4937

 

99 Court St.

Rochester , NY

585-325-7090

 

646 W. 131 st St .

New York , NY

212-694-1777

Note that two people independently recommended this place. Thanks to Robert Galloway and Gary Levine.

 

Robert Galloway

 

Next time you are in NYC, I would invite you to visit Dinosaur Barbeque.

http://www.dinosaurbarbque.com/nyc/index.html

 

It's around the corner from my apartment here in Manhattanville in what has become an unexpectedly trendy part of town -- the Hudson River shore above 125th Street.  (Columbia University is planning to expand its School of the Arts into that neighborhood.)

 

I thought that being buried in a former meat packing district in the wrong end of town, under the West Side highway, would make this one venture doomed to failure. To my utter amazement, the house is packed every weekend. I couldn't even get a reservation on a Saturday night.

I am no expert on BBQ, but the catfish is good, and you can't beat the look of the place. They made it look like it's been on the block for the last 60 years.

Gary Levine

 

I always wanted to go on a bar b q tour of the US like on Travel Channel and Food Network. Taking daughter to look at schools in south will take me to Tenn , NC and Va. Going to tast my way while she looks at schools.  

The Dinosaur is the upstate NY rage. I work next door and eat there often. The atmosphere is unique-the waitresses all have an edge, the diverse clientele, the long daily waits, the lack of parking and all in a old former RR building. Great place with consistently great food.  

"Dinosaur Bar-B-Que kicked into gear in 1983 when John Stage, a Harley-loving biker with a taste for barbecue, took to the road cooking sandwiches on a sawed-in-half 55-gallon drum at "biker gigs" up and down the East Coast. Stage sampled world-class barbecue in Virginia , Texas , North Carolina , and Memphis , soaking up "the Southern barbecue vibe" (and picking up Creole, Asian, and Cuban influences along the way) before setting up shop in Syracuse , New York , in 1988. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: An American Roadhouse captures the reach-out-and-taste-it smell of slow-cooked barbecue that hits you two blocks away from the "genuine honky-tonk rib joint," where outfront a row of gleaming Harleys stand at attention and inside a sassy, ready-to-bust-your-chops wait staff cuts through the eclectic crowd of bikers, students, suits, and blues lovers (there's live music almost nightly), serving up half-racks of Dinosaur-Style Ribs, Texas Beef Brisket, and Honey Hush Corn Bread." www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1580082653/104-5755351-8630311.

My NYC CIA (Culinary Institute of America) trained chef brother-in-law loves the Rochester Dino and recently visited the new NYC opening (the third Dino), he liked it but said it was not as good as Rochester or the original in Syracuse .

A review of the NYC version can be found at www.metroland.net/back_issues/vol_25_no15/dining_review.html.   If you ever find your way to Upstate NY, check it out.

Overall rating – None given but it sounds good.

 

 

Ohio 

Damons

Columbus , OH

 

Not a BBQ place but a general restaurant chain in the mid-west that also offers ribs. Had the ribs at the Columbus, OH restaurant. Surprisingly good for a non-BBQ place – meaty, falling-off-the-bone style ribs with a mildly sweet sauce. A pleasant surprise.

 

Overall rating - Very good.

 

Hickory Bar-B-Q

1082 Brown St .

Kettering , OH

937-228-5252

 

Small, neighborhood-type restaurant in a suburb south of Dayton. Old-fashioned place with dark oak booths and a bulletin board with tacked-up calendars and business cards for the local plumbers, carpenters, etc.

 

Not a BBQ place per se but offers ribs and BBQ'd chicken along with steak, fish, and so on. Ribs weren't as meaty as I've had in other places but tasted very good with a sweet and tangy sauce. A pleasant surprise.

 

Overall rating - Very good.

 

Hot Sauce Williams

7815 Carnegie Ave.

Cleveland , OH 44103

216-391-2230

A soul food restaurant rather than a BBQ restaurant.  Then again, a lot of soul food seems to involve BBQ anyway so why quibble?

The place is housed in a building belonging to a now-defunct fried chicken chain and is memorable for its interior color scheme – large swaths of pink and, depending on your color sense, either purple or teal.

 

The place has a wider selection than the typical BBQ place. BBQ'd pork and beef ribs; fried chicken; an unusual range of fish (perch, whiting, cod, and catfish, plus shrimp and devilled crab); soul food-style side dishes like candied yams, greens, fried okra, poppers (whatever they are); hushpuppies; plus the more standard stuff like beans, potato salad, and macaroni and cheese. Desert selections include banana pudding, sweet potato pie, and peach cobbler. All in all, a cardiologist's dream.

 

I got a rib and chicken combo – two big pork ribs and two pieces of fried chicken – plus two sides – candied yams and stuffing. Both meats came with a light coating of sauce which, contrary to the name, was more sweet than hot.

 

The ribs had a slightly crunchy crust with a moist interior. The ribs were regular spareribs rather than St. Louis ribs or baby backs so they were a little fatty and had the small tip bones that get trimmed off in a St. Louis cut, but between taste and meatiness I rate them as excellent. The chicken was dark meat, which I'm not that fond of, but it was meaty and crisp with no greasiness. Excellent. The yams were also excellent – sweet and just a little mealy. The stuffing, unfortunately, was a disappointment – very bland with a ground up texture.

 

Hot Sauce Williams serves cafeteria-style so you can see a lot of the activity going on behind the counter. Better still, they apparently use a real smoker for a lot of the food and it's set up under an awning in the parking lot belching clouds of smoke.

 

One note of caution – This was my first trip to Cleveland and I don't know the city at all, but the restaurant is located in what seems to be a fairly rough area.

 

Overall rating – Very good to Excellent, based on the ribs, chicken, yams, interior color scheme, and the outdoor smoker. Better stuffing would have boosted it to Excellent.

 

Thanks to Bob Dianetti and Bob Young of the Northeast Ohio chapter of the STC for taking me here. Thanks also to the guy who works for Bob Dianetti for suggesting that the Bobs take me to Hot Sauce Williams in the first place.

 

Max and Ermas

Wilmington , OH

 

Not a BBQ place but a general restaurant chain in Ohio, perhaps elsewhere, that also has ribs. (They're the restaurant at the airport in Dayton, OH .) The restaurant in Columbus has what may be The cardiac special – a meatloaf sandwich with fried onions and melted swiss cheese. (People in Columbus must die around age 40 but they're really, really happy.)

 

Had the ribs at the Wilmington, OH restaurant south of Dayton. Same as with Damon's - surprisingly good for a non-BBQ place – meaty, falling-off-the-bone style ribs with a mildly sweet sauce. (Do Damon's and Max and Ermas share the same cook?) Another pleasant surprise.

 

Overall rating - Very good.

 

Werner's Pork House

5356 US Route 68 N@ I-71

Wilmington , OH 45177

937-382-1111

937-382-4279

 

Small, family-owned place just off the Rt. 68 exit off I-71 in Wilmington. Small, white-washed cinderblock place.

 

Got the ribs, with cheese fries and cole slaw. They use loin back ribs dry rubbed, then steamed, then covered with liquid smoke, then steamed again. Meaty, tender to the point of falling off the bone, with enough bite to be spicy but not overwhelm the taste of the meat. Oustanding.

 

Outstanding cheese fries - seasoned fries covered with what appeared to be microwaved Cheese Whiz, which instantly adds bonus points. Even the cole slaw was excellent.

 

As in many of these smaller places, the cook seemed happy to come out to talk technique. She (unusual touch) even told me who their supplier was (Hormel) and gave me the SKU for the ribs! (As it turns out, Hormel only supplies this cut to institutional customers and I've never found a restaurant north of Boston that orders from Hormel. But the fact that she gave me the SKU was enough to earn my eternal devotion.)

 

Another cute touch, which might have become irritating at another time, was the cook's 3 year old daughter doing an endless rendition of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” in the kitchen, with occasional road trips through the dining room.

 

The restaurant's motto is "You will love our loins", and they sell a stuffed pig wearing a vest embroidered with the motto.

 

Overall rating - Outstanding.

 

Pennsylvania 

Fletcher’s BBQ (March 2012)

1409 Easton Rd.

Roslyn, PA

215-659-ribs

www.fletchersbbq.com

Fletcher’s is a storefront in the suburbs northwest of Philadelphia. It shares its building with a beer store, a good omen for a BBQ joint. I went with Nicky Bleiel during the STC-PMC Mid-Atlantic technical communication conference where we were both speaking. The inside is small and minimal – a small counter, one table under a wide-screen TV, and one eating counter.  We learned that the owner had been an IT guy in a previous life, which made the place even more interesting.

Fletcher’s has a wide selection and smelled good so it was hard to decide. But between the two of us, we gave the menu a good workout. The ribs were excellent, coated with a thick, slightly sweet sauce and not quite falling off the bone (which some people claim is a sign of being overcooked) but coming off easily. The brisket was also excellent, with a good smoke ring and able to be cut with a fork. The pulled pork was excellent, a mix of chunks and threads with only a trace of mushiness. For the sides, the mac and cheese was very good – smooth and creamy but still not salty enough (my mother’s influence again). Fletcher’s also has tater tots, unhealthy but excellent by themselves and even better when dipped in the BBQ sauce. Finally, the server at the counter suggested that we try the corn bread – his mother’s recipe and the best in the world, as I think he said. I’d agree. Outstanding – a bit sweeter than the usual corn bread and with an almost cake-like texture.

The only down-check was the sauce, which was great by itself, sweet and tangy, but sort of disappeared into the meat. Basically the meat overpowered the sauce.

Overall rating – Excellent, held back from outstanding only by the sauce’s being overpowered by the meats.

(Thanks to Nicky Bleiel was suggesting Fletcher’s, which I’d never heard of.)

 

Wilson's Bar-B-Q

700 Taylor Ave.

"North Side"

Pittsburgh, PA 15212

412-322-7427

On the ground floor of a fairly run-down apartment building in a fairly run-down area.  Behind the counter is a work table, a cooler, some containers for ribs and chicken, a pile of logs under the counter(!), and a bricked-in smoker that looked like a chimney with several cast-iron doors.  A TV on the wall was playing a soap opera.  A white resin table and a couple of chairs on the sidewalk.  And that was it.  For appearance alone, Wilson's gets extra points for exemplifying what I think of as urban BBQ.

 

A minimal selection - ribs (pork, not baby backs), half-chickens, and four side dishes (cole slaw, macaroni salad, potato salad, and peppered collard greens), and that's it.  And cheap!  A half-chicken was $3.69.  A whole slab of ribs was $19.48, a large rib plate with eight ribs was $9.63, and a small rib plate with four was $6.42.  All the sides were under $1 except for the collard greens which were $1.50.

I got a large rib plate, with the mild sauce, and an order of macaroni salad.  The ribs had a slightly crunchy crust with a moist interior. The ribs were regular spareribs rather than St. Louis ribs or baby backs so they had the small tip bones that get trimmed off in a St. Louis cut but were almost completely fat free and without the facia that you sometimes have to work around.  Wherever Wilson's gets its meat, it's worth every penny and more.  Excellent.

The macaroni salad was very good.  Nicky, my dining partner, also got the ribs (after learning that the chicken was still smoking and wouldn't be ready for several hours) and the collard greens.  She seemed to like the greens, but I'd have to put them down as an acquired taste.

 

One note of caution – I don't know Pittsburgh very well, but Wilson's is located in what seems to be a fairly rough area.

 

Overall rating – Excellent.  Better macaroni salad would have boosted it to near Outstanding.

 

Thanks to Nicky Bleiel, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the STC, for taking me here.

 

Rosey's B-B-Q (March 2010)

505 Old York Road

Jenkintown, PA 19046

215-885-8600

www.roseysbbq.com

In a small, fairly nondescript strip mall in a northern suburb of Philadelphia. Some dark oak booths and tables, with an open kitchen that you can see into while ordering.  Always a good sign...

Rosey's had a fairly limited selection that you'd expect from a simple, Southern-style BBQ joint - Memphis ribs, BBQ'd chicken, and sausage and brisket available either by weight or in what has to be some of the tastiest and least healthy combinations I've seen in a long time.  The winner, which Steve had, was loaded fries with brisket - fries topped with BBQ'd brisket, BBQ sauce, and nacho cheese, and sprinkled with spice rub. It probably would have killed me, but it looked and tasted great from the little sample I tried. To fill in the cracks, the place offered chicken wings, gumbo, a sausage and cheese plate, beans, slaw, greens, mac and cheese, sweet potatoes, fries, corn bread, pineapple upside down cake, red velvet cupcakes, and more. I'm convinced that Southerners die at around age 30 but they're very happy.

I got a half-slab of ribs, and sampled several other peoples' fries and brisket.  The ribs had a slightly crunchy crust with a moist interior.  They were a bit fatty around the tips, which took a little work to get around, but without the facia that you sometimes have to work around.  Excellent.

One of the owners also gave me a guided tour of the smoker (extra points) which burned whole hickory logs (extra points for being able to do that in a strip mall). All in all, I'd describe Rosey's as a classic Southern BBQ joint transplanted up north.

 

Overall rating – Excellent.

 

Thanks to Steve, Marc, Brad, Todd, and Barrie of the Philadelphia chapter of the STC for treating me to Rosey's.

 

South Carolina 

Bessinger's (August 2011)

1602 Savannah Highway

Charleston, SC

843-556-1354

www.bessingersbbq.com

 

Bessinger's looks like a large log cabin, with the inside done up in booths and tables in knotty pine. So it's off to a good start from the appearance side.

 

I was in South Carolina, so I got chopped pork with two sides – cole slaw and mac and cheese (and one onion ring the size of a beer coaster, a hunk of corn bread, and pickle slices on the side). The pork was excellent – chunks and threads with good bark, mildly sweet on its own without any sauce, and with no mushiness. The mac and cheese needed more salt, as usual, but was nice and thick and cheesy. The cole slaw was good - standard. The corn bread was excellent. The onion ring tasted very good but was mainly breading. The portions were huge.

 

The tomato BBQ sauce was excellent – a little sweet with a moderate kick from the pepper. The mustard sauce was excellent – mustardy but without the huge vinegar kick that I find in a lot of mustard sauces.

 

Overall rating – Excellent, based on the pork, the mac and cheese, and the sauces. (This was my first trip to South Carolina and Bessinger's was my first BBQ in South Carolina, so I consider this a good start.)

 

Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ (August 2011)

1205 Ashley River Rd.

Charleston, SC

843-225-ribs

www.hometeambbq.com

 

Home Team is in a converted gas station on a busy main drag (Ashley River Rd., aka Rt. 61). It also has a tiny sign and an odd-shaped parking lot, so you have to watch for the place carefully. Inside, there's a family dining area at one end and a bar/sports bar dining area with several large screen TVs at the other. The place uses somewhat battered tin trays in place of the usual plastic.

 

I was in South Carolina, so I got chopped pork with two sides – red rice and mac and cheese, the latter at the express recommendation of Candy, one of my BBQ consultants. (I was actually there to teach a MadCap Flare class, but the class spent a lot of time making sure I got a good set of restaurant recommendations. I did a lot of eating on this trip.) The pork was excellent – chunks and threads with good bark, mildly sweet on its own without any sauce, and with almost no mushiness. The mac and cheese was excellent – still not salty enough but made with Gouda. A little more salt and I would have rated it as outstanding. The red rice, which I'd never even heard of it until this trip, was outstanding - rice cooked in tomato sauce(?) with onions, chunks of sausage, etc. Loved it. The only disappointment was the corn bread, which had a powdery texture. But since cornbread is usually an afterthought, I didn't count this too highly.

 

The sweet sauce was excellent and just a little tangy. The hot sauce was mildly hot – just enough to add some bite but nothing like the molten lava that I've had in Arizona. And the mustard sauce was excellent – mustardy but without the huge vinegar kick that I find in a lot of mustard sauces.

 

Overall rating – Excellent, based on the quality of the pork, the mac and cheese, the rice, and the sauces.

 

Thanks to my BBQ consultants for the recommendation, and to Candy in particular for mentioning that Home Team used Gouda for the mac and cheese – enough to put Home Team on the must-visit list.

 

West Ashley Crab Shack (August 2011)

1901 Ashley River Rd.

Charleston, SC

843-763-4494

http://www.charlestoncrabshack.com/west_ashley.php

 

Part of a local chain, the Crab Shack is in a small strip mall just off Ashley River Rd., aka Rt. 61 – on the other side of Rittenberg from Home Team BBQ. It comes up fast and is hard to spot, but it's right next to a Walgreens.

 

I went expressly to try Low Country cuisine, shrimp and grits in particular. Many places in Charleston do Low Country food and my BBQ consultants had a lot of suggestions; I picked the Crab Shack because it was convenient to my client's site.

 

Northerners have a low opinion of grits, but they basically seem like just a coarse version of cream of wheat and don't have that much flavor on their own. They're really a vehicle for other things. At the Crab Shack, those things consisted of a dozen shrimp, onions, chunks of bacon, cheddar cheese, and tasso (ham) gravy. It has to be as unhealthy as it sounds, and it was outstanding. I don't know what my face looked like, but my waitress seemed to be getting a tremendous kick out of it. I couldn't eat it more than once a year, but it would be worth the wait.

 

Overall rating – Excellent, period.

 

Thanks to my BBQ consulting team for the recommendation. The consensus was that this wasn't the best Low Country restaurant option but that it would be a good start and they were right.

 

 

Tennessee 

Jack's Bar-B-Que (October 2010)

416 Broadway

Nashville , TN 37203

615-254-5715

www.jacksbarbque.com

 

Jack's is a Nashville legend, so four of us went while at the PCOC conference. Jack's is on Broadway, in the bar, blues, and BBQ district. It's a few blocks down from the Ryman Auditorium and across from Ernest Tubb's Record Shop, so add points for atmosphere.

 

Inside, Jack's looks like a BBQ joint – exposed brick walls with mortar lines, tchatchkes everywhere (a poster of W.C. Fields with a neon pool cue, some stuffed animal sitting on a shelf by the door), booths and tables jammed so tightly together that it took an effort to reach a seat, noisy, and mobbed. Non-stop lines reaching about forty feet from the counter to the door.

 

I had a three meat plate with Texas brisket, St. Louis ribs, and sausage, mac and cheese, and apples, an odd combination to order in Tennessee . The brisket was very good – melt-in-your-mouth tender but too mild. (I mentioned this to a local later who said “what do you expect, ordering Texas brisket in Tennessee ?” – a good point). The ribs were excellent, even with the little tip bones still on – almost no fat, juicy, almost falling off the bone. The sausage was excellent overall. The mac and cheese was excellent, grainy and salty enough that my mother would have approved. The apples were very good but almost an afterthought. Nicky, another “diner” – had the smoked chicken and approved highly.

 

Jack's had three sauces that I saw. The mild was nice and sweet, the hot was mildly spicy but not enough to burn out my tongue, and the vinegar was excellent. Add in a combined order-taker/meat chopper who was one of the most no-nonsense guys I've ever seen.

 

Overall rating – Excellent, between most of the meats and the generally rowdy air, held back from Outstanding only by the mildness of the brisket.

 

Thanks to Nicky (“We have to go out for BBQ tonight! Twice! We're in Nashville for pete's sake.”) Bleiel, Chris Hester, and Deb Sauer for the company and commentary.

 

Bar-B-Cutie

501 Donelson Pike
Hermitage (Nashville), TN

615-872-0207

www.bar-b-cutie.com

 

This is an unusual, two-part review.  Be sure to read both parts...

Part 1 (the original review) - Difficult to pin down.  The slogan is "Get your booty to Bar-B-Cutie", which immediately adds points for tackiness.  The place also looks like a roadside joint.  On the other hand, they're expanding out of Tennessee and even plan to open a store in Valencia, Spain(!), so it's hard to tell whether the roadside joint look is real or the product of an industrial designer.

Donelson Pike is a stone's throw from the airport - take 40 E out of the airport, take the first exit (216C) for Donelson Pike, Rt. 255, and go about 3/4 of a mile to the traffic light at Elm Hill Pile.  (Watch for the Walgreens on the left at the traffic light as a landmark.)  The restaurant is on the right, about 100 yards past the light.

I got takeout (the dining room was being renovated but should be done now) - a three-meat platter of ribs, brisket, and pulled pork with mac and cheese and cinnamon apples and BBQ'd bread.  The ribs were excellent, meat falling off the bone.  The brisket was also excellent, thick slices but cut against the grain so that I could cut it with a fork.  The pulled pork was very good - tender, but a little mushy.  The only problem with the meats was that they were very little spiced and smoked and didn't come with BBQ sauce so they were too mild.  The mac and cheese was very good but, as usual, needed salt.  The apples were excellent but were unpeeled, which gave them a weird texture.

The BBQ'd bread may be one of those local things that's incomprehensible to an outsider without a guide.  The stuff looked like two slightly over-fried pancakes but had almost no taste whatsoever.  I assume they're to be used to pick up the meat, but had no idea.

Overall rating – Very Good, based on the quality of the ribs and brisket but with points deducted for the mildness of the meat, lack of BBQ sauce, and the BBQ'd bread.

Part 2 - The review in part 1 wasn't bad, but it wasn't great.  A month or so after I wrote it, Bar-B-Cutie management emailed me to say that they were sorry that the experience hadn't been better and inviting me to try again.  I explained that my eating depended on where my clients were and that I couldn't say when I might be in Nashville again.  They then offered to send some samples to try again.

A week later, UPS delivered two packs of ribs plus beef brisket, chicken breasts, pulled pork, mac and cheese, baked beans, and mild, sweet, and hot sauces.  I tried the samples with a team made up of my wife Connie, my nephew Dave, and his wife Ana, who doesn't eat red meat (which adds a unique angle to a BBQ review).  Here's the revised assessment...

The brisket came in thick but tender slabs that cut with a fork - outstanding.   The flavor was mild but fine, but also worked well with the mild and sweet sauces.  The chicken was excellent, flavored all the way through, moist, and at the stage where it could easily have been turned into pulled chicken.  (Ana said that chicken that's flavored all the way through is often dry, but that wasn't the case here.  She also stole most of the chicken off everyone else's plates, which I took as a sign that she liked it.)  Like the brisket, the chicken was mild, but also worked well with the mild and sweet sauces.  The pulled pork was also excellent, a mix of large chunks and threads and with no mushiness.  (This was a real accomplishment given that the stuff had been cooked, frozen, shipped, and reheated.)  Like the other meats, it was excellent on its own and with the mild and sweet sauces.  The ribs were also excellent, with Connie pointing out that the meat came right off the bone.   The ribs also went well with the mild and sweet sauces but didn't need them.

The beans were excellent, moderately chewy with a slightly tart aftertaste.  Connie, the bean expert, liked the fact that no one ingredient predominated.  She also loved the meat chunks mixed in with the beans.  The mac and cheese was okay but needed more cheese and more salt.  Ana and Dave put seasoned salt on their portions and approved.

Everyone liked the mild and sweet sauces and kept going back and forth between them.  Dave and I tried mixing them with good results.  The hot sauce was good in small doses, but any more than a dab overwhelmed the taste of the food.  Connie said it was "a killer."

Overall rating - Excellent (bumped up from the Very Good of the first review) based on the quality of the meat, the sauces, and Bar-B-Cutie management's concern over my first review.  That degree of concern for client satisfaction is rare and deserves to be rewarded and commended.  I'll happily go back if I'm ever in the area.

 

 

Neely's Bar-B-Que Restaurant

5700 Mount Moriah Rd Extended
Memphis , TN 38115

901-795-4177

 

A BBQ standard around Memphis . Every person with whom I discussed BBQ down there mentioned it. (Also an obvious selection since my middle initial is E – “Neil E.” A sign from above?)

 

Neely's looks like a traditional (non-chain) BBQ place – a nondescript looking building, a nondescript sign. You walk directly into the takeout area, then down a hall into one of the darkest dining rooms I've ever seen.

 

I ordered a two-meat combo – ribs and pulled pork – with cole slaw and fries. And something new, a Memphis speciality recommended by every person I met, BBQ'd spaghetti.

 

The pulled pork was very good, threads with some chunks. Good consistency, minimal mushiness. Ribs were also very good, large and meaty. But the sauce was disappointingly bland, to the point of detracting from the meat. My client told me later that you can order ribs “tourist style”, with the sauce, or “traditional”, without sauce and with a final sprinkling of the dry rub just before the order leaves the kitchen. I've had the latter at a BBQ place in Michigan and think it would be much better than the sauce in this case. Next time…

 

Average fries. Excellent cole slaw.

 

About that BBQ'd spaghetti… Cover regular spaghetti with a mix of equal parts spaghetti sauce and BBQ sauce and add pulled pork. (What one local described as “spaghetti the way God intended” it.) I'm still unsure about this. It's one of those dishes whose components are all very good individually but don't seem to hang together when mixed. Probably needs some more field testing.

 

The service seemed very slow, but the waitress did call me “honey”, always good for extra points.

 

Overall rating – Very Good, with a possible bump to Excellent if I ever get back to try the ribs with the dry run.

 

Famous Dave's

5000 Old Hickory Blvd
Hermitage (Nashville), TN

615-882-0999

www.famousdavesbbq.com

 

Once again, I feel like I'm consorting with the dark forces - e.g. a huge BBQ chain rather than the quirky little mom-n-pop places but, once again, I like Famous Dave's.  It's still got the industrially designed quirkiness, but it's good.

To get here from the airport, take 40 E, take exit 221 for Old Hickory Blvd, turn left off the exit, and go about two miles.  The restaurant will be on the right, just after one of many shopping malls, and just after the Steak-and-Shake.  Be warned that Old Hickory may have been a picturesque local road at one point but now looks like something out of the Jetsons - heavy traffic and moving fast.

I got a two-meat platter of brisket and, for a change of pace, Texas hot links, with mac and cheese and cinnamon apples.  The brisket was excellent, thick slices but cut against the grain so that I could cut it with a fork.  It was about equivalent to Bar-B-Cutie's brisket (see above) but had more flavor and could be jazzed up further with the six different sauces on the table.  (The Sweet and Zesty is always good, and The Devil's Spit is always worth a shot.)  The hot links were great - sausage basted in the sweet sauce which gave them a nice honey flavor.  They came with a vinegar sauce on the side, which was good but interfered with the honey flavor.  The mac and cheese was very good but, as usual, needed salt.  The apples were excellent.

Overall rating – Excellent.

 

 

Texas 

Iron Works Barbecue (November, 2011)

100 Red River
Austin, TX 78701
512-478-4855

http://www.ironworksbbq.com/restaurant-menu.asp

The Iron Works is several blocks south of 6th Street and, like every other place I found in Austin, in a suitably rat-shack building. This one looked like an old factory building – e.g. an iron works. You order in line and pick out the beer, soda, etc., from two washtubs. There seemed to be quite a few conventioneers in line who didn't know the rules for ordering, so the people behind the counter seemed a bit testy. Try to review the menu board before you get up to the counter.

Iron Works’ menu had the usual items plus sausage, ham, and turkey, this being Texas. I got the Sampler plate, brisket, sausage, and a beef rib, with potato salad, beans, pickle, onion, and cornbread. The brisket was excellent, falling apart tender, except for a surprising amount of fat that I had to trim off. The sausage was excellent. The rib, which could have come from the Flintstones, was outstanding – crunchy on the outside and just a bit chewy. The sides were basically there…

Overall rating – Just a shade short of excellent, brought down by the fattiness of the brisket.

Thanks to Mike and Ryan at TLTA for the recommendation. Nice work, guys.

 

Texas Chili Parlor (November, 2011)

1409 Lavaca Street
Austin, TX 78701
512-472-2828

http://www.cactushill.com/tcp/home.htm

 

The TCP lies in that gray zone between authentically rat-shack and rat-shack by industrial design. But, according to my waitress, the place really is a rat-shack where two main clienteles go to drink – state government employees during the day and the local drunks in the evening. The initials carved into the top of my table seemed to bear out the rat-shack look. A good start to my dining adventures in Austin…

I had chicken and sausage gumbo, with a side of mac and cheese. The gumbo was excellent, just hot enough to be entertaining with big chunks of meat. The mac and cheese was excellent but, as usual, needed salt. One new thing was the sliced jalapenos in the mac and cheese. I think they overpower the cheese, but this Texas, where they put jalapenos in everything.

Overall rating – Excellent, for the combination of the food and the atmosphere.

 

Stubbs Bar B-Q (November, 2011)

801 Red River
Austin, Texas 78701

512-480-8341

http://stubbsaustin.com/

Stubbs is two blocks north of 6th Street, which means it’s authentically rat-shack and also seems to get some of the spillover of the 6th Street night life. Stubbs also hosts concerts and, when I walked in, I was hit by some of the loudest music I’ve heard anywhere. Be warned…

Stubbs’ menu had the usual items plus sausage and turkey, this being Texas. So I got the Stubb’s Minor plate, two meats and two sides – brisket and sausage with mac and cheese and mashed sweet potatoes. The brisket was excellent, falling apart done. The sausage was also excellent. Ditto the mac and cheese. The only disappointment was the mashed sweet potatoes, which were bland to the point of being flavorless.

Overall rating – Just a shade short of excellent, brought down by the sweet potatoes.

Thanks to Mike and Ryan at TLTA for the recommendation. And thanks to Nicky Bleiel for the company, and for cheerfully walking past the fight(?) in the alley.

 

Back Country Bar-B-Q

6940 Greenville Ave.

Dallas , TX

214-696-6940

http://www.backcountrybarbq.com/

 

Easy to get to – about half a mile off Rt. 75S, below 635 between DFW and Dallas, with just a few quick turns. Map it out carefully if you go at dinner time; traffic on that stretch is heavy and fast.

 

A cafeteria-style place with wide-board wood floors and wood walls, and lots of stuffed heads on the walls, including several moose (one wearing a green cowboy hat), deer, elk, a bison, several cow skulls, and two snarling javelinas (wild boars) above each side of the front door.

 

The place had a large selection of meats, some standards like ribs, brisket, chicken, and pork, and some that seem largely or uniquely Texan – sausage, hot links, ham, and turkey. I usually get ribs and something else but, this being Texas , I went for brisket and sausage.

 

The brisket was very good – tender and with a good smoke ring but little smoke flavor, hence the downcheck from excellent. The sausage was excellent, as sausage in Texas invariably is and without the overly-thick casing that you sometimes run across. The sauce was excellent – thick and just hot enough to be interesting without overpowering the food.

 

The place has a wide selection of side dishes ranging from traditionals like potato salad and macaroni salad to unusual ones like hot beans (baked beans with jalapenos) and fried jalapenos. No macaroni-and-cheese though. In an unusual touch, you help yourself to the sides as you go through the line. I settled for cole slaw, which was the finely chopped style and excellent.

 

There's also a selection of deserts ranging from chocolate cake to fried pies. I got a fried apple pie on principle but tried Kathryn's chocolate cake and liked it.

 

Overall rating – A shade under Excellent, based on the over-mildness of the brisket and the lack of macaroni and cheese on the sides menu.

 

Thanks to Kathryn Poe, who decided that a northern boy needed real BBQ and picked the joint, her husband Stephen, Arroxane Ullman, Elisa Miller, Jo Byrd and her husband, and Susie Fox, all of the Lone Star STC chapter – a noisy, good-natured, and thoroughly enjoyable bunch to go out with.

 

Sonny Bryan 's Smokehouse

302 N. Market St .

Dallas , TX 75202

214-744-1610

www.sonnybryansbbq.com

 

Located in Dallas ' touristy West End. Not the original store but who cares? Atmosphere is great – wood booths, lots of neon signs for low-rent beers like Rolling Rock, and a waitress who seemed to be about 18, with talon fingernails, and a no-nonsense attitude, who called everyone “honey”.

 

Excellent, tender brisket. Nice smoke ring about ¼” deep. Pulled pork was okay but had the usual problem of a slight mushiness. Very good, mildly pungent sauce. Very good macaroni and cheese – even had enough salt on it for a change.

 

Overall rating - Excellent.

 

Danny D's BBQ

565 Bedford-Euless Rd.

Hurst, TX

817-280-9741

www.dannyDBBQ.com

 

A single restaurant rather than a chain, and one which my client thought had been around forever.  (The place apparently opened in the last 1960s, so that almost is forever in restaurant terms.)  A small, rustic looking building on the right side of the street as you're heading east from Precinct Line Rd south of the Airport Freeway.

 

Nothing really distinctive about the inside.  Standard ordering procedure - order at the window and they bring the food to you.

 

The place had the usual large selection of meats - a vegetarian would be in serious trouble in Texas - with the standards like ribs, brisket, chopped beef, and chicken (no pulled pork) and the Texas touches of Polish sausage, hot links, ham, and turkey. I got a three-meat platter - brisket, sausage, and turkey.  All excellent.  The brisket was firm enough not to fall apart when it was cut but tender enough to cut with a fork.  The sausage and turkey were both excellent -tender and juicy.  The sauce was very good – thin and slightly runny (Texas-style) and less tangy than Dickey's.  The meat didn't need the sauce, but the sauce made it better.  The sauce was also the same level of afterthought as other Texan BBQ places.   You could get sauce on the meat as you ordered or out of a tureen at a central station, but there were no sauce bottles on the tables.

 

The place has a decent selection of side dishes - cole slaw, potato salad, beans, green beans, corn on the cob, onion rings, and fried okra.  No mac and cheese though.  I got the cole slaw - good, tangy, and with a nice flavor by itself (even better when I dripped BBQ sauce into it) but basically an afterthought to the meat.

 

Overall rating – Excellent, based on the quality of the meat, period.

 

Dickey's Barbecue Pit

1858 Precinct Line Rd.

Hurst, TX

817-656-0200

www.dickeys.com

 

A small DFW-area chain with six stores.  The one in Hurst is easy to get to – about a quarter mile north of Airport Freeway at the Precinct Line Rd. exit.

 

A cafeteria-style place with wood floors and walls, and big white lone stars on the backs of the booth seats.  Nice touch.

 

The place had a large selection of meats, standards like ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and chicken, and the usual Texas touches like Polish sausage, hot links, ham, and turkey. This being Texas, I went for brisket and sausage.  And you get a lot of meat.  (I wound up going back the next night because another place that I wanted to try was closed, so I got brisket again and turkey.  So this is sort of a combined review.)

 

The brisket had a very good smoke ring and was very tender, too tender according to some people because it fell apart as they were cutting it.  It was also too mild and needed sauce and/or salt.  The sausage was excellent, as sausage in Texas invariably is. The turkey was excellent.  The sauce was very good – thin and slightly runny but a bit too tangy.   It also seemed to be something of an afterthought.   You could get sauce on the meat as you ordered it or out of a tureen at a central station, but there were no sauce bottles on the tables.

 

The place has a wide selection of side dishes - cole slaw, potato salad, BBQ'd beans, pinto beans, mac and cheese, corn on the cob, green beans with bacon, and au gratin potatoes.  I went with a cheese theme - mac and cheese and au gratin potatoes.  The mac and cheese was good, with a thin sauce and using shells rather than elbows, but needed salt.   Ditto for the au gratin potatoes.  As seems to be normal in Texas, you help yourself to the sides as you go through the line.

 

Overall rating – Very good, based on the quality of the sausage and turkey but reduced by what I thought was the over-cooked brisket and the need for more salt or spice flavor overall.  Basically, you wouldn't go wrong by going to Dickey's but I thought the brisket was better at Danny D's, above.

 

Vermont 

L. B. Snack Bar

Derby Rd.

Newport, VT

 

LBs is a typical roadside snack bar with the typical mix of sandwiches, ice cream, and dinner boxes, plus poutine (it's near the Canadian border)... and ribs.  It's not much of a barbecue selection, but we're talking about northern Vermont here and LBs did itself proud.  And, since it's a snack bar, we ate at a picnic table with a checked table cloth and under an umbrella on a sunny day.  Excellent atmosphere for BBQ.

Connie and I split a half-rack dinner with cole slaw and curly fries.  The ribs were excellent - loin backs with the meat just short of falling off the bone and covered with a sweet but slightly tangy sauce.  The owner gave my sister-in-law and I a tour of the smoker, which was a standard electric unit with a wood chip box, and said they smoked the ribs for six to eight hours.  Nice job.  Connie rated the cole slaw excellent, but said that the curly fries were too bland and needed more salt and more spice.

 

Overall rating - In terms of BBQ "sense", a place like LBs is clearly in a different league than a place in Georgia.  However, between the quality of the ribs and the cole slaw, the atmosphere, and the charm of finding something this good in a small Vermont town near the Canadian border, I'd give the place an Excellent.

Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law Steve and Cris for thinking of me when they drove by LBs, and to my niece Rachel Perlin for letting me share her BBQ sauce and double-dip once when she wasn't looking :-)

 

Virginia 

Beach Bully Barbecue

Main Concourse

Norfolk International Airport

Norfolk , VA

 

Serve beef brisket, chicken, and North Carolina barbecue (pulled pork) in a pig sandwich (pulled pork topped with cole slaw on a hamburger bun – and it has to be a cheap, white hamburger bun, no sesame seeds, whole wheat, or any other haute cuisine additions).

 

Late in the day when I got there and they were out of cole slaw, so I just had the pork. A bit mushy after spending the day on a steam table. Fairly mild but good with a good mix of shreds and chunks. The sweet sauce ("Mahogany") was too bland. The vinegar sauce was better, with a good tang. The macaroni and cheese was good but needed more salt, which wasn't available!?

 

Overall rating - Good. (I think it would be hard to get above a Good rating in an airport food court. On the other hand, a BBQ place was a pleasant change from the usual airport food so, as long as I didn't get ptomaine, it was worth it.)

 

Famous Dave's

10201 Midlothian Turnpike or 7009 West Broad St .

Richmond , VA

804-323-6112 or 804-755-4450

www.famousdaves.com

 

Contributed by Karen Bachmann - December 2004.

 

A chain with merit and even some character to its food (I'll forgive the stylized fish-shack decor). I went to a location in Richmond, VA , and had a two-meat combo of hot links sausage and chopped pork. The waitress said they made their own sausage, which was good, but not as hot as the menu hype suggested. They had five sauces on the table. The mustard-based sauce (which they claimed was of Georgia origin) was very tasty, and the fiery option, Devil's Spit, had good flavor with its burn.

 

I did not have room to try the ribs as well. Florida is one of the handful of states where they don't have a location, so I won't have a chance soon. On their website ( www.famousdaves.com/), I see that they are about to open a location in Saugus , MA . If this is even remotely near you, check it out if you haven't already been here.

 

Overall rating - Very good.

 

Neil's note – This has to be one of the largest chains in the country, with 105 restaurants listed as of January 2005 and ten more listed as opening soon.

 

 

Washington 

Longhorn Barbecue Outpost

103 First Ave.

Seattle, WA

206-341-9696

www.longhornbarbecue.com/pioneer-square.html

 

Contributed by Kathy Bine and Karen Bachmann - May 2005.

Karen and I went to a restaurant called Longhorn Outpost Barbeque located in Pioneer Square , not far from Henry's Bail Bonds. Our confidence in the place was well placed: it was tasty!  

Great things: the pulled pork, which has a rich flavor without being dank or dry; potato salad which manages to have fully cooked potatoes that retain their "cubeness" long enough to bite them; both sauces, the sweet and the spicy, which I'd combine for perfect barbecue flavor. I don't think they have a wood smoking pit--I didn't see a wood rick anywhere--so purists may have a twinge or two.

Pretty good things: The ribs, which were somewhat dry but had great flavor; turkey, which was moist but not particularly smoky; cole slaw (I happen to favor vinegar dressing and this had mayo); corn bread that has good flavor but texture that verges on cake-like. Chili that has actual chunks of beef in it, rather than ground beef. I was raised a chili heathen and really prefer more tomato in my chili than a proper Texan would ever tolerate, and I like the beans even though they aren't authentic. We didn't try the barbequed ham, which I sort of regret because I don't think I've ever eaten this treat. I am the daughter of an Iowa hog farmer. This shortcoming will be addressed soon.  

Downright disapointing: green leafy salad that was limp and brown, easily the least appetizing thing on the menu. Not too surprising--I mean, how many people expect outstanding salad at a barbeque joint--but room for improvement. Baked beans had a great initial flavor, but a strange, nearly chemical aftertaste.  

Best single thing: amazingly friendly and outgoing service. We were there until after closing. Rather than urge us to leave, the staff kept bringing by new things for us to try--ribs, chili--as they tidied up the line. The manager said that they have catered events for Boeing (17,000 people for lunch, anyone?) and Microsoft. While these numbers are boggling, they also point out a strength of barbeque: it can be made in advance, and may actually get better with a day in the fridge.  

Location: Pioneer Square is where people leave for nightlife in downtown Seattle , and the good people at Longhorn admitted as much. In fine barbeque tradition, the joint opens its doors for lunch and stays open until about 8 in the evening. Somehow the barbeque smells manage to overcome the curry smells from the next-door Indian restaurant, with which it shares a restroom.  

Other reviews at http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/food/223021_eat06.html and the alternative press at   www.thestranger.com/2004-04-29/chow2.html

 

Overall rating - None provided, but appears to be in between Very Good and Excellent.

 

 

Canada 

Bookers

316 3rd Street SE

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

On the right at the foot of the exit ramp as you get off the highway from the airport coming into town.

Interesting place for the decor alone.  Appears to have been a factory converted into a combination bar (old-style, with beer and cigarette smoke) and BBQ/New Orleans restaurant.  However, the look is so quirky that I couldn't decide if it really was an ex-factory converted to a BBQ place or whether the owners hired an interior designer to make it look like that - planned quirkiness.  The prices, which were a bit expensive, suggest the latter but I don't know.

Definitely quirky though...  The seafood section of the menu, which comes on what's made to look like old Alberta license plates, proudly announces "Booker's got crabs!"

Went with my wife's cousin Jeff Lafond and his wife Carolyn - aka Carrie in Eastern Canada.  We got Salt N' Peppa Ribs as an appetizer.  Carrie got pulled pork, Jeff got fish, and I got a two-meat platter - St. Louis ribs and pulled pork with a standard set of sides - corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, cole slaw, and a corn muffin.

Salt N' Peppa Ribs were great.  Boneless riblets with a salt and pepper coating that were great plain - chewy and tasty - or with the Cajun Ranch dip.  Highly recommended.

Pulled pork was excellent - shreds and chunks, not mushy at all, with a light coating of a sweet BBQ sauce.  Ribs were also excellent - dry style, lightly zingy, slightly crusty on the outside, chewy but tender on the inside.  Since I got a two-meat combo, I only got half-orders of each meat which was a good thing as even the half-orders were huge.  Cole slaw was about average and the corn suffered from the usual mushiness that comes from sitting on a steam table for too long.  The muffin was good as were the mashed potatoes, which were slightly chunky.  However, after knocking back an enormous amount of meat, I could barely touch the potatoes and the muffin.

The place has a small selection of deserts, like shoofly pie and cooter pie.  Jeff and Carrie split a keylime pie.  I never did ask them what they thought of it, but they definitely demolished it.

Overall rating - Excellent.

 

DiPamo's Barbecue

514 Eglinton Avenue West

Toronto , Ontario Canada

416-483-4227

 

Take the eastern line of the subway north to Eglinton station, then take a bus, a taxi (about 5 minutes and $7), or walk (about 20 minutes).   The restaurant is in a small storefront along a commercial area several blocks long that includes several clothing stores, an art supply store, and a poster shop.  In other words, the restaurant simply fits nicely into the area but obviously wasn't going to have a stack of hickory and a smoker belching away out in the back.

The place is long and narrow, with booths along each side and a long trestle table with benches down the center.  Lots of wood all around, with blackboards high up on the walls that mainly listed, as I recall, the beers and other drinks.  This being Canada, they didn't list traditional BBQ beers like Pabst Blue Ribbon and Rolling Rock, but the waitress, who I think was from New Brunswick, suggested Moosehead as a good alternative and she was right.

 

On the meat side, the place offers beef ribs (the big, Fred Flintstone-style ribs), plus baby back and St. Louis, along with pulled pork and brisket.   I got the St. Louis ribs and the brisket, since St. Louis ribs have become my standard of comparison for ribs and brisket is just plain hard to get right.  The ribs were barely smoky and didn't have that much meat on them but they tasted good, mildly tangy, crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside.  The brisket's consistency was excellent - juicy and tender - but didn't have that much flavor and needed some hefty shots of the red BBQ sauce.  (The waitress had warned me when I ordered that "we've been having some trouble with the brisket lately".  This may have been what she meant, although I don't understand how a brisket can not have flavor unless there's almost no rub.)

Ate there with what's becoming the Canadian BBQ team - Ed van Beilen and Ian Magwood of New Toronto Group.  Ed ordered the beef ribs and made a lot of "mmph" noises so he seemed happy.  Ian "ordered the Longhorn beef ribs and the baby backs. The baby backs were great, although not as meaty as the Pig. The Longhorns, however, were a standout smash. Ridiculously meaty, tender, and tasty ."

One unusual touch - instead of mints or scooter pies on the way out, each diner gets a fudgesicle at the end of the meal!

 

Overall rating - Good to very good, with a possible move up to Very Good subject to another trip to try the beef ribs.

 

Purple Pig Rib House (December 2004)

1 Richmond St. West

Toronto , Ontario Canada

416-366-6465

www.thepurplepig.com

 

Follow Yonge St. two blocks south of city hall plaza, turn right on Richmond, and walk <50 yds. Across Yonge St. from Cambridge Suites Hotel. You actually go in through a bar, walk to the back, and up a flight of stairs that looks as though it leads into a wall. Just follow the smells…

 

Excellent ribs - Very meaty baby backs. Barely spicy but smoky and sweet with a slight molasses undertaste. Excellent spicy fries. Even the cole slaw was excellent. Corn on the cob was bland; corn just can't sit in a pot of water for long. The cajun pierogies were excellent - potato pierogies with onion, green pepper, and real chopped bacon. Very oily, however.

 

Ate there for the fourth time in December of 2004 with Ed van Beilen and Ian Magwood of New Toronto Group. Both approved. Ian, who ate a rack of ribs during dinner, liked it well enough that he went back with his girl friend the next night and ate another rack. (In Ian's honor, I re-dub the place “The Purple Pigout.”)

(Correction - Ian pointed out that he went back and ate another rack of ribs the same night, not the next night.  He's truly an inspiration...)

 

Overall rating - Excellent.

 

Hog Tails BarBQue (April 2010)

645 Laurelwood Dr.

Waterloo, Ontario Canada

519-888-9911

www.hogtailsbbq.com

 

A storefront restaurant in a small strip mall in Waterloo.  (Be warned that the sign doesn't stand out very well from the road, and my hostess and I drove past it at least once.)  Inside, the place looks like a fairly typical BBQ joint, with some dark booths and the menu highlights on a blackboard.  The place uses two smokers, one burning pellets and one burning small chunks of hickory.  (This from a guy who was chopping ribs and from, I think, one of the owners.)

Hog Tails offered the traditional BBQ standards - ribs, pulled pork, brisket, and BBQ'd chicken - plus wings, fried chicken, and shrimp etouffee.  Sides included the traditional cole slaw, fries, beans, and greens, plus grits, hush puppies, red beans and rice, sweet potato fries, and potato salad.  It's an eclectic mix, but there aren't too many BBQ options in Waterloo, Ontario so offering as many different dishes as possible makes sense.

I had a three-way plate - ribs, pulled pork, and brisket, with the cole slaw and sweet potato fries.  The ribs were excellent, with a slightly crunchy crust and tender inside, with just a bit of resistance to coming off the bone.  Hog Tails also put a sweet BBQ sauce on the ribs, which was excellent.  The pulled pork was very good, chunky and slightly smoky.  The only disappointment was what I think was the brisket.   (I ordered brisket, which came in what I think was one large chunk rather than sliced.)  It was a little mushy.  The cole slaw was standard good, but the sweet potato fries were excellent.  The place also has two sauces on tap, one sweet and one "hot", which was spicy but not as overpowering as many "hot" sauces that I've had that mainly anesthetize your taste buds.  Both sauces were excellent.

 

Overall rating - Very good, boosted by the quality of the ribs, sweet potato fries, and sauces, supported by the pulled pork, but drawn down by the brisket and somewhat blank cole slaw.

Thanks to Fei Min Lorente and Jim Bousquet of the Southwest Ontario chapter of the Society for Technical Communication for bringing me to Hog Tails, treating me, and, incidentally, for inviting me to present an information design workshop for the chapter that got me to Hog Tails in the first place.

 

 

Q Tips 

This new section lists unsolicited BBQ restaurant recommendations that showed up in my email.  Congratulations to my wife Connie for coming up with the name.

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Contributed by Nicki Bleiel - May 2005.

 

Not a specific recommendation but a link to an article that lists numerous restaurants.

www.slate.com/id/2118542/entry/0/

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Contributed by Andrea Schmahl - June 2005.

 

I wound up on your website by way of some research into the future of RoboHelp, and then read with interest your list of barbeque places. As a transplant to the south who is now completely addicted to all kinds of barbeque, but particularly the vinegar-based, cole slaw-enhanced Carolina style, I offer some suggestions, if you're ever in the following areas:

Richmond, VA

  • PQ's, a small barbeque place on Midlothian Turnpike;
  • Double T's Real Smoked Barbeque, downtown (be warned: this is Memphis style, not VA or NC);
  • Buz and Ned's Real Barbecue, downtown.

North Carolina

  • Bills Barbeque and Chicken - 3007 Downing Street SW - Wilson NC - (919) 237-4372 (we've actually had Bill's come to Richmond for corporate events);
  • King's Barbeque - 405 East New Bern Rd. - Kinston, NC 28504 If you ever get invited to a true Carolina pig pickin', and you consider yourself a barbeque aficionado, by all means, attend the pig pickin'! It's a southern tradition not to be missed. Enjoy!

 

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Contributed by Elizabeth Blust - October 2005.

Neil, If you're ever anywhere even close to New Riegel, Ohio – near Tiffin – it's worth the drive out of your way to eat at the New Riegel Cafe. I think the only things on the menu are barbecued chicken, barbecued ribs, french fries and salad. At least those are all I've ever had there. I think it's the best barbecue east of Kansas City. It's been about two years since I've been there, but they probably still have the bowling game in the lobby and a gift shop that's bigger than the dining area. Be sure to get an extra helping of ribs to go, because you'll be wanting more before you hit the interstate.

But if you're in Cincinnati, don't bother with the ribs at the Montgomery Inn. Sure, they may be the largest pork buyer in the Midwest, but quantity and a big sign are not the same as quality. I've tried it twice and both times the ribs were dry and the sauce uninspiring.

Oh, and if you're ever in San Diego, Phil's on Goldfinch St. is the place to go. Be sure to call ahead – especially on Fridays and Saturdays – or you'll be waiting outside for an hour. Worth the wait, definitely, but hard to do when you're starving! Although now a bit touristy, the Kansas City Barbecue downtown – featured in "Top Gun" – also serves up a tasty spread. Happy eating!  

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Contributed by Victor Williams - October 2005.

 

Country Joe's Family BBQ
1005 W. Main St.
Russellville, Arkansas

 

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Contributed by M. Renninger - August 2005.

 

You should try this one. Practically legendary in the bay area:

Big John's Alabama B-Que

5707 N 40th St.

Tampa, FL 33602

813 221 4043

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Contributed by Suzanne Sanders - August 2005.

 

Blue Ribbon Bar B-Q

1375 Washington St.

West Newton, MA

617-332-2583

Blue Ribbon Bar B-Q

908 Mass. Ave.

Arlington, MA

781-648-7427

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Contributed by an unnamed source - November 2005.

 

Uncle Pete's Hickory Ribs
72 Squire Road
Revere, MA
781-289-RIBS
www.unclepetes.com/
www.unclepetes.com/directions.html

I had some great local BBQ the other night - I thought of you and wanted to pass it along.

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Contributed by Shelly Brann - January 2006.

Black-Eyed Sally's

350 Asylum St
Hartford, CT 06103
Phone: 860.278.7427

www.blackeyedsallys.com/default.asp

 

I peeked at your suggestions for CT BBQ and have to tell you that Brannigan's is definitely not one of the better BBQ restaurants anymore.  Next time your in the area check out Black Eyed Sally's in Hartford.  My husband and I enjoy the food and the atmosphere is top-notch.

 

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Contributed by Dave Swanston - February 2006.

Red Rooster's Canadian BBQ and Taps

97 Main Street South
Forest, Ontario N0N 1J0

519-786-4999

www.redroostersbbq.ca


Next time you're in Ontario (out towards Sarnia/Windsor) be sure to visit Red Rooster's Canadian BBQ & Taps.  On route to cottage country and many American visitors say that it's the best BBQ they have ever tasted!  It's a hidden gem in a small town.

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Contributed by Vance Welch - March 2006.

 

I just wanted to inform you that you definitely missed out on the best BBQ Resturant in NC.  It's Called Parker's Barbeque and it's located in Wilson NC.  The places in NC you went to don't hold a candle to this place.  I just thought I'd let you know in case you decide to come back to NC.

Vance

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Contributed by Patti Shaffer of Stow, Ohio - May 2006.

 

Hungry Harry's BBQ is the Best in Fla. Their Beans and bread tops it off and all you have to do to find it is follow the railroad tracks to the big red barn!  Here's the web page for more info: www.hungryharrysfamousbbq.com

Here's more info on other BBQ in FLA - www.flbbq.org/joints.htm

 

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Contributed by Gary Spry - May 2006.

 

If you are ever in Charlottesville, Virginia, try:

Hickory Hill

777 Monocan Trail Rd.

434-984-4227

 

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Contributed by Camille Walker - June 2006.

 

Slope's BBQ in Roswell, GA - update

 

Just wanted to let you know that Slope's BBQ in Georgia is still open and it is still as good as it was in 1997 when you visited.  I don't work there or anything... just a big BBQ fan and they are in our area...  If ever around Athens, GA, you should try the Barbeque Shack - they are absolutely the best - don't go when the Dawgs are playing at Sanford Stadium, you can't get in the door!

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Contributed by Dick Sumberg, The Financial Advisors - June 2006.

 

Don and Charlies in Scottsdale, AZ

I visited your website looking for a rib place in Scottsdale, AZ. You did not have a listing. A local recommended this place and it was outstanding.

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Contributed by Ray Johnston, Welch Allyn, August 2006.

 

If you ever make it out to Oregon (that's pronounced OH-ree-gun [Orygun]), you'll feel right at home. Although the quality, of course, isn't uniform, BBQ is everywhere in Portland. You can't swing a cat on Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard without hitting a smoky, cut-down 50-gallon drum. The best (by far, I'd have to say) is Buster's Texas Barbecue. Buster started up here maybe 40 years ago, and it didn't take long for the locals to recognize a good thing. He now has funky little restaurants in SE Portland, SW Portland, NE Portland, Salem, and across the river in Vancouver, WA. Every day, rain or shine, at every one of his places, the line for lunch is out the door from 10 until 1:30. Don't expect to get baby-backs if you show up after 12:30. This is the real thing. (Texas Monthly magazine periodically declares the Country Tavern, outside Longview, to be the best barbecue in Texas. I've been there. It's great. Buster's is better.) I do up a lot of baby-backs, and they're good--okay, they're really good--but these guys at Buster's are unbeatable.

For a completely different Texas-style barbecue, Campbell's out at SE 87th & Powell is another killer. This is the soul-food version: sweet, juicy, packed with flavor, and hotter than hell. The sides are collard greens, candied yams, sweet potato pie, and cornbread, Perfection, in short.

And last night I made my first, but not last, foray into 'RSQ' -- Russell Street Barbecue. Virginia style, they call it, with a noticeable vinegar tang to all of the sauces. Nice little pile of pulled pork, with candied yams and extraordinary fries. Heather had the brisket, which I thought was pretty good (but I'm not a brisket connoisseur)--firm, juicy, and great flavor.

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Contributed by an unnamed source - June 2007.

 

Grumpy's Barbeque Roadhouse

Allentown, PA

Fat Daddy's Barbeque 

Easton PA

Conway's Barbeque 

Allentown and Kuhnsville PA

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Contributed by Lea Galanter - June 2009.

 

I saw your BBQ list and I have to mention the name of a restaurant in the Seattle area that you should check out next time you' re in town. It's Dixie's BBQ in Bellevue. Here's a review from Seattle Dining: www.seattledining.com/ARCHIVE/restaurants/dixies.htm

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Contributed by Gary Roy - July 2009.

 

I noticed that you left out any mention of BBQ restaurants in Louisiana (where food is KING).  There is a place in Lafayette, LA, called 2Paul's Radically Urban Barbeque, off the chain good ribs, certified Angus brisket that is melt in your mouth tender.  Check it out, you will be glad you did.


Here is their contact information:

2Paul's Radically Urban Barbeque
2668 Johnston St.
Lafayette, LA 70503

337-232-1181

www.2paulsbbq.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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