BBQ Chicken

25 W 32nd StNew York, NY 10001 • (212) 967-8093 • bbqktownnyc.com

Welcome to the Korean Pret of fried chicken. A confusing, and yet surprisingly accurate description made only more confusing by the name, because there’s very little barbecue to speak of. That said, there is chicken in virtually every imaginable sauce you could want, fried, jerk, barbecue (naturally), grilled, thai, coconut, general tso, sesame, honey, spicy. It’s like Forrest Gump talking about shrimp. All pre-made for a quick grab-n-go mission (hence my Pret comparison) or there is a pretty extensive amount of seating if you want to sit and take in the rather nonexistent decor. It’s also very reasonably priced by Manhattan standards, making it one of the only options for lunch in the area under $20.

But here’s the thing, the bowls are all pretty damn yummy. Some served up with rice and potatoes. Others with rice and veggies like their bibimbap. And some are just piled high with poultry. But all of them are surprisingly good. They have other things as well, but chicken is clearly their bailiwick. Oh, and best of all, they have beer! Take that Pret!

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Walrus & Carpenter

2895 Fairfield AveBridgeport, CT 06605 • (203) 333-2733 • walruscarpenterct.com

This is going to sound like a bad porno plot, but after having done Rothbard in Westport, I couldn’t wait do the sister. I mean this in the most culinary sense, of course. After all, this is family blog. Okay, so maybe a highly profane, very disturbed family with kids in need of therapy, but a family nonetheless.

So back to Walrus & Carpenter. I mean, the name alone had me. It just sounded cool. And to know that this was the older sis just had me all the more intrigued.  Unfortunately, in the restaurant there are no walruses or carpenters to speak of, although the predominant wood paneling does suggest that at least at one time there were in fact carpenters on the premises.

Like her sister, Walrus is also a gastropub, but unlike her younger sibling, she is much more hit and miss. For example, I found the heirloom tomato salad with fennel, arugula and almonds to be quite good. Whereas the fried oysters with lemon-shallot aioli, while tasty, was so over breaded that you could taste nothing of the mollusk, essentially netting out as fried balls of batter dipped in sauce.

Speaking of fried and battered things, the chicken is quite good. Cooked moist-ilicious and jazzed up with a spicy-sweet combination that makes it better than your average bird.

The gnocci and the pulled pork sandwich, however, were both the epitome of average. Bland as balsa wood, not that I’ve eaten a lot of balsa before, but I’d imagine it’s even worse than melba toast. For a better pulled pork sammy I’d head to Q in Portchester.

But just when I was about to get all down on Walrus they showed that they are more than just whiskers and tusks, bouncing back with some strong baby back ribs.

We were too full by that point to get dessert though, but thanks to the rally I think we’ll be back to check out their sweets game.

The Salt Lick

18300 Fm 1826 Driftwood, TX 78619 • (512) 858-4959 • saltlickbbq.com

I haven’t seen a restaurant of this scale since Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa.

It’s like a compound with a parking lot that rivals most shopping malls and lines so long they could teach Disney a thing or two; the wait for a table was two hours long, yielding an outdoor waiting area that is the size of most large restaurants. Even the line to return your buzzer when you actually do get a table was crazy long. In fact, the only reasonable wait was to place a take out order, which only took a mere 35 minutes. And then we ate at our “waiting table.” Also, fortunately the line to get booze while you kill time is much more civil.

Naturally after all of that hype and anticipation, you have to be wondering if it was worth it? And my honest answer would be… ish. The sausage is a bit of a letdown. As are the pork ribs. And the slaw and bean sides are nothing more than placeholders. But hot damn are the beef ribs good. As is the brisket with bread as soft as a baby’s bottom and the pickles to boot.

For dessert the chocolate pecan pie is decent, but is no competition to the one at Chili (not the chain, the restaurant in Austin). Whereas the blackberry cobbler proved to pack some serious complexity in it. Mucho me gusto!

But food aside, that’s not why you have to go to The Salt Lick. It’s just one of those seven wonders, you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it kinda places. There’s a vineyard and a bocce court and live music and a grilling pit the size of a Sherman tank (pictured). Sure, it’s a bit of a drive and in the middle of nowhere, but the scale and awe will make it all worthwhile. Particularly if you stick with the beef ribs and the brisket.

 

Exit 4

153 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 241-1200exit4foodhall.com

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The concept of this place is interesting to say the least. Sort of like a mini food court that’s not located in a mall and not made up of your usual chains like Panda Express and Sbarro’s. It’s actually all locally sourced, serving up a jack-of-all-trades menu from all over the map (or more specifically all over Northern Westchseter), yet somehow they manage to let you put it all on one bill (that you kinda have to carry around with you from pavilion to pavilion- it’s complicated).

It’s also a dynamic than can easily become a recipe for disaster should you arrive and not know what you want. Especially with young kids who will quickly become more overwhelmed with the choices than Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson.

On the upside, most everything is surprisingly good, so it’s kinda hard to go too, too wrong, unless you have wildly high expectations. When I say “surprising,” however, I want to temper that by stating that I mean it only in the context of lowered expectations. Nothing will have you swinging from a star, but if you’d rather eat a pig, a fish or a mule, they pretty much have you covered (that was for all you Sinatra fans).

So here’s how I recommend playing it:

Step 1: Grab a table. Put your stuff down and have a member of your party stand guard. The last thing you want to do is get caught with seven trays of grub and nowhere to sit.

Step 2: Order the stuff that takes longer to make first. This would be your pastas, your pizzas, your burger and your bahn mi that are all cooked to order. Whereas the tacos, and barbecue offerings are much more prepped and take about two minutes or less to hit your table. So, assuming you like your family or friends, and want to actually eat “together,” then I recommend doing these options near the end of the batting order.

Step 3: Order stuff that doesn’t need to be ice cold or nice and hot dead last. This would be your sushi and glasses of red wine.

Step 4: Bon apetit!

So now that you’ve circumnavigated one of the more complex dining matrixes in the tri-state, here are my thoughts on the offerings themselves.

First up, let’s start with the sushi, sourced from Mt. Kisco Seafood down the street, so you know it’s pretty darn fresh. But more than just fresh, the sashimi bowls and the maki are really quite inventive and a step up from a lot of other places in the immediate vicinity. Yes, that goes for you Hito and Spoon.

Next up, let’s go Italian. Or more specifically the pizza, because the only pasta I’ve had there was my daughter’s kidsy butter and shells. So not really fair to judge them on that. My daughter, on the other hand, has a ways to go in terms of expanding the ole horizons. As for the pies, I liked both the fig, prosciutto and caramelized onion pie and the one with Brussels sprouts, smoked pancetta and gruyere. Neither compare to the likes of The Parlor in Dobbs or Zero Otto Nove in Armonk, but they hold their own handily against Old Stone and Village Social, which I actually think has one of the best pies in town. Nonetheless, the pizza is good enough to make you forget all about the fact that this place used to be Belizzi (RIP).

And now let’s take things down a notch. As in down South. As in TexMex and barbecue. Starting at the top, I’d go with the brisket sammy. It’s quite solid, topped with a bourbon sauce, slaw and cornichon. After that I’d go with the pulled pork. The sauce has a nice kick to it and it also comes with slaw on it as well. It’s not what I would call a runaway smash hit, but unless you’re willing to roll your bones all the way over to Portchester for Q, then it’ll do the trick. That said, little known secret- Dinosaur BBQ is available via Fresh direct. As is some seriously spicy slaw and brioche sliders. So if you don’t feel like venturing out for your barb-e-fix, then call in the reinforcements. Oh, and skip the tacos if you ask me. Truck and Hacienda are both miles better.

And most importantly… the booze. They have a nice selection of beer and wine by the glass so no complaints there either. Nor do I have many complaints on the whole. Exit 4 is a nice addition to the hood and the only other “something-for-everyone” deal in town apart from Village Social. So, if you’re like me and you’re saddled with two kids who don’t agree on anything when if comes to food, this “good enough” fare quickly becomes good on ya!

3 teeth

Micklethwait Craft Meats

1309 Rosewood Ave. Austin, TX 78702 • (512) 791-5961 craftmeatsaustin.com

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There are several pockets of food truck restaurants throughout Austin, but some, like Michlethwait, are not your average bear. Meaning there is no brick and mortar location as back up. It’s just the truck. But even that isn’t entirely accurate either, because the truck is a permanent fixture on a pretty sizeable plot of land surrounded by picnic tables with an equally sizeable parking lot and a smokehouse with a trellis for shade overhead and a port-o-potty should nature call. So fancy it ain’t, but these are the kinds of places I love. No pomp and circumstance, locals only and off the beaten path.

So off, that it’s a bit out of the way, so if you don’t have a car, be sure to Lyft your way to and from. That, or maybe ride a bike to help burn off the gluttony. But however you choose to get here, it’s definitely worth the trek, especially if you’re in no mood to stand in line for eleven hours at Franklin’s for your BBQ. That’s not to say that there’s no line here, but it’s much more manageable, particularly before 1:00pm when things get more crowded.

For recommendations, I say go full on brisket. It is by far the most tender, moist brisket I have ever had, without having to rely on fattiness to get there. In fact, it’s so damn tender I think I might’ve teared up a little. So good, I would even forgo the bread and pickles and just go it alone with a drip or two of their crack sauce.

On the flip side, I found their pulled pork to be quite disappointing. Very dry and lacking flavor. I’ve had better at Salt Lick in the airport and Q in Westchester, NY. Yes, in Yankee Country! Them’s fightin’ words for sure, but I call it like I taste it.

The baked beans and lemon poppy coleslaw fell somewhere in the middle for me. Both definitely good, but I’ve also had better. For better beans try Daisy Mae’s in NYC or Sandfly in Savannah, GA. And for better slaw, I could go on for quite a while, but for shock effect, let me drop some knowledge on you about Fresh Direct’s spicy slaw. It’s killer with the Que.

For dessert, Mickle came back strong with one of the best pecan pies I’ve had since my best friend’s mother used to make it down in Florida (RIP). That and her spice cake were the stuff of gods. But now I’m starting to depress myself, so let’s get to the knife count…

3 teeth

Virgil’s

152 W 44th St. New York, NY 10036 • (212) 921-9494virgilsbbq.com

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Located smack dab in the epicenter of touristy hell, there exists a beacon of authenticity. That beacon is Virgil’s, shining bright through the fog of over-stimulation (a.k.a. Times Square) with pleasers like their killer pulled pork sandwich (pictured) piled high with pig parts so moist and delicious they probably don’t even need to top it with their coleslaw, but they do anyways, and I’m okay with that. The crunch of the cabbage against the tenderness of the meat- the cool refreshing milkiness of the slaw against the warm, slightly spiced pork- I’m more than okay with it. I’m in love with it.

But as good as their pulled pork sandwich is, the true headliner is their mac and cheese. Best in the city. Wifey and I honestly dream about it. Sure, we should probably be dreaming about each other, but let’s leave that for couple’s therapy. It’s got a nice hit of pepperiness, a perfect blend of basic, none-too-fancy cheeses like cheddar and American I’m assuming. All topped with an evangelical halo of crunchy, ever-so-slightly burnt cheese. Trust me, you want this bad.

I also dig their jalapeño cornbread. It’s cheesy, a little sweet, and of course spicy. Which reminds me, they also have a healthy selection of hot sauces worth trying if their barbecue sauce isn’t doing enough for you.

As for the ribs, brisket, chicken, etc… There are better to be had in the city. Daisy May’s is my numero uno when it comes to ribs, Hill Country and Blue Smoke for brisket- jury is still out on BBQ chicken. But getting back to Virgil’s, it’s still damn good. Especially when you take into account it’s location.

4 teeth

Yellow Dog Eats

1236 Hempel Ave. Windermere, FL 34786(407) 296-0609 • yellowdogeats.com
 
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Located in Gotha, wherever the hell that is (technically Windermere)- just plug it into your nav and you will find this shack de barbecue that apparently a lot of other people seem to have found as well, because the place gets packed fast. Hence why they have two large, dirt parking lots around back, which is still not enough to hold all of the cars during a peak mealtime rush (obviously a lot other people know where Gotha is, that, or they also have navigation systems). And while all of this attention seems like a good sign for greatness, I can’t say Yellow dog hit it out of the park.

I dig the vibe though. An oasis unto itself, with a terrific outdoor seating area, complete with live music and mosaic tables. Inside the shack itself, it’s counter ordering style with laminated menus that are loaded with some of the best names I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. Names like What the Fig?, The Holy Crap, Hong Kong Fooey, The Thin Elvis, White trash, and my personal favorite, The Pig with Benefits.

Of the ones I’ve tried, I had to go purist and start with the Dog’s Famous Pulled Pork. “No tricks. No weapons. Just skill against skill alone.” (a movie quote for all you pop culture buffs). And while it is most certainly good, I can’t say I’m in love with their Fish’s Gold BBQ sauce. It’s a little too sweet for my tastes and whatever else is in it doesn’t quite net out as spice for me, falling somewhere closer to tang, which is an “also ran” in my eyes when you’re up against heat.

And speaking of heat, I have also done me a Fire Pig, which kicks things up a notch with the help of Srirracha, but I still can’t say it’s amazing. Definitely better, because the heat helps balance the sweet a bit, but in the land of pulled pork this doesn’t even pull a top twenty on my list.

There’s fun for the kids as well, with sammies like the Fluffy Love. Basically a peanut butter and banana with marshmallow whip, but not the jarred crap, the real homemade deal. It’s also just okay, however (Yes, I stole a bite from my three-year-old daughter. And yes, I’m a horrible father). One caution though, it’s messy as all get out. We’re talking marshmallow in the hair and peanut butter up the sides of the face like Heath Ledger as The Joker. And that’s just me! My daughter needed power washing! Told ya I was a bad father. So bad, in fact, that after this debauchery, we even shared a slice of coconut cake, but sadly that was the nail in the coffin for Yellow Dog, because once again they delivered below expectation.

All in all, Yellow Dog is a fun adventure, if you simply crave solace from hotel food and/or the Disney scene. But I would definitely keep the expectations lower than the Yelp star count. There’s much better BBQ to be had in Orlando, not to mention better sandwiches. Just not better names for them.

2 teeth

 

Q

112 N Main St. Port Chester, NY 10573(914) 933-7427qrestaurantandbar.com

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There’s nothing better than good barbeque and there’s nothing worse than fake, poser barbeque. Except maybe calling a pass play on the half yard-line in the final seconds of the Superbowl and having it intercepted. But apart from that…

So, it with much relief that I hereby decree Q is the real McCoy. And having just been to Sandfly BBQ in Georgia I can attest with some modicum of cred that Q holds its own quite convincingly. Holding on like Luke Perry in “8 Seconds.” What? Was I the only person who saw the movie?

Well, bad similes aside, the pulled pork is on point. All kinds of moist, with great depths of smoke in every bite. Served with a passable slaw on top and placed in a soft potato roll. Add a little of their homemade sauce and you’ll be doing a hoedown that you don’t have to head into the city anymore to get your fix.

And speaking of getting a fix, their baked beans are so friggin’ good you’ll wanna open a vein. A touch too far on the sweet spectrum, but they make up for it with generous chunks of pork belly mixed in.

Also too sweet was the iced tea, but applause for the mason jar serving vessel. And while you have your hands together, give it up for the collard greens. You’d be hard pressed to find better in the South.

Regretfully though, Q did serve up a few F’s. The mac and cheese is so low rent it’s worse than the crap they serve in school cafeterias, made with pasta shells and what appears to be Velveeta, poorly hidden by the meager dusting of dry herbs on top.

The other fail was the cornbread. No sweetness. No cheesiness. Not even jalapeñoness. Just one crumbly brick of blah. Such a shame too, because great cornbread is almost like an art form.

So no landside victory to be had here, but if you heed my misses and heavy up on the hits, you’ll walk away thinking Q is a B+.

3 teeth

 

Sandfly BBQ

8413 Ferguson Ave. Savannah, GA 31406 • (912) 356-5463 sandflybbq.com

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If it weren’t for word of mouth and Yelp, you’d probably never think twice about stepping in here. Not only is it located in a tiny strip mall, but it looks almost like a poor man’s fast food joint on a respirator- not unlike several of the centurion patrons who managed to gobble down bites in between sips of oxygen from the air hose under their nostrils. I’m guessing they are either try to get into heaven quicker, or they just want a little taste of it before they settle down there more permanently.

Now I’m not sure I would go as far as to call Sandfly’s BBQ heavenly, but there are clearly those who would. That said, it most certainly is worth the visit, provided you don’t mind the Diners, Drive ins and Dives type decor. And to be fair, I’m not even sure if it’s enough of a dive to even make it onto Guy Fieri’s radar.

But the food doesn’t disappoint, after all, it doesn’t get packed by 6pm because it’s bad. To be fair it’s only about 8 tables, but I’m guessing the case would be the same even if they had twenty. So what’s all the fuss? Well, the brisket is solid, as is the pulled pork. And they offer three sauces on every table, one hot, one sweet, one mustardy. All three are good, but my favorite was actually the sweet.

The stars for me were the sausage with peppers and onions, which went killer with the mustardy sauce and the baked beans, which needed nothing but a mouth to call home. A distant third worth getting is also the fried okra. Nothing special, but since I’m a Yankee transplant, I’m a bit of a sucker for the dish.

On the mediocre side of things were the onion rings and the collard greens. And bringing up the rear was the abysmal, watery coleslaw. Sorry, I feel the need to be especially harsh on the slaw because Savannah is the site of two of the best slaws I think I’ve ever had, between Elizabeth on 37th and The Collins Quarter.

And last but not least, the biggest disappointment of the night was the one thing I never even got to try. So hyped up was their infamous coconut cake, “made from scratch everyday.” Well, apparently not EVERY day, because they didn’t bother to make it the day I went. Grudge holder? Perhaps. But not enough to keep me from going back.

3 teeth

 

Blue Smoke

116 E 27th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 447-7733 • bluesmoke.com/blue
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Having grown up in the psuedo-South (Flordia), I know that BBQ is a subject not to be taken lightly. So, in all seriousness, while Blue Smoke is great at some things they are so-so at many others. Basically what you might expect from a St. Louis boy like Danny Meyer. who seems to have never spent more time training in Italy and France than he has below the Mason-Dixon Line.

To help you navigate though the hits and misses, here are my thoughts:

The shrimp po’ boy is a solid good. Has some really nice kick to it and actually manages to best the pulled pork shoulder, which should easily be tops, but tends to be on the arid side, begging for sauce, which is always a cop out in the land of BBQ. Sure, the sauce needs to be great, but it shouldn’t be a moisture crutch.

Back on the plus side, the brisket is pretty damn skippy. I know a lot of people swear by Hill Country, which is also very good, but if you ask for the more marbled meat, you’re in for a fatty face filthin’ feast.

Another HUGE hit, which they sadly removed form the menu, are the sweet potato fries. Served in gigantic wedges the size of canoes and drizzled with a creme fraiche/sour cream that’s worth barging into the kitchen and demanding they whip you up a batch.

And last but not least, some clarity on pricing. Don’t listen to the Yelping consensus who seem to complain an awful lot about how expensive it is, but then categorize it as only $$. Make up your mind. This is why I left Yelp. Too many people with opinions that don’t agree with mine 🙂 Anyways, it’s no more expensive than you’d expect in the Flatiron. So, if you’re craving BBQ and this is closer than Hill Country, I say game on.

3 teeth