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Posts from the ‘Barbecue’ Category

Char No. 4

1/2 The tickly smell of smoke did hit me when I entered Char No. 4 but it wasn't an assault. I'm afraid that I've become desensitized to the strong fragrance due to periodic household experiments with a mini smoker. Venting the fumes towards an open door helps but keeping the apartment from smelling like a piece of jerky is nearly impossible.

I chose to use my experience with smoked food as fodder for my Spanish class response to "What did you do last week?" a question I stumble through every Thursday. But it only caused my teacher to ask if it was normal to keep a smoker in one's apartment and if that didn't bother the neighbors (he lives directly above Caputo's and says that smoke wafts into his apartment–what do they smoke in house, I wonder?). Well, as long as those neighbors continue to use the tiny foyer, a.k.a. the ten feet in front of my door as a stroller parking lot, I don’t care if the entire building reeks like a giant campfire. But I couldn't say this in Spanish because I didn't know the word for stroller or foyer and besides, it's tough to convey humor coupled with disdain in my painfully slow, dimwitted second language style.

So, post-11pm is a good bet if you insist on weekend dining since that's when the ratio of bar drinkers to back room sit-downers begins to shift. The restaurant may look mobbed from the street but it's just whisky sippers crowding the space in the front.

Char no. 4 bourbon

With 100+ choices ranging from one ounce of Fighting Cock for $3 to a $100 portion of Old Grommes 121 Proof, there’s something at all price points (none of that $120 per glass MacCutcheon Scotch). If I were feeling more flush I would experiment a bit more. As it stood, I tried a two-ounce pour of Woodford Reserve. Not so adventurous.

Char no. 4 fried pork nuggets

I was most interested in the fried pork nuggets and they weren’t disappointing. The soft centers contrasted with the crispy surface of the cubes like a meaty petit four. What they refer to as Char No. 4 hot sauce seemed like Sriracha to me, not that I mind since it’s my condiment of choice for nearly all fried food. Something about the heat cuts the fattiness.

Char no. 4 cheddar cheese curds

While I expected greatness from the above pork, I actually preferred the fried cheddar cheese curds (once the fried food floodgates have opened there's no stopping). The firm chewiness worked even better with the crusty exterior. I assumed the creamy (bucking that hot with fatty trend) lightly spiced dipping sauce was remoulade but it’s described as pimento sauce. That’s a lot of orange on one plate.

Char no. 4 pork sandwich

The city is rife with pulled pork sandwiches, so many that I’m not always sure I should bother. They can't all be special. I do think this one was above average because of the whole package. The meat was moist, more chunky than shredded, and mixed with a barbecue sauce that tasted vaguely creamy and mustardy. The bun was toasted, which is very important to me, and the pickled onions and peppers added just enough heat and tartness. The baked beans weren’t bad either.

Char no. 4 smoked chicken

I shied away from the proper entrees because after a few ounces of whiskey priced in the double digits, the bill adds up. James wanted to try the smoked chicken, though, since it’s a meat we haven’t attempted in our smoker yet. Wanting to learn more about the preparation, he piped up, “I had a question?” to which our waitress responded a bit defensively, “The pink?” Clearly she was tired of explaining the poultry's doneness despite the deceptively rosy color. Uh no, just the details on how they keep their chicken juicy and not overly smoked. The answer, as it turned out, was using a pickle brine, and smoking at 225 for one hour. We’ll test it out.

Char No. 4 * 196 Smith St., Brooklyn, NY

Hill Country

With the obvious exception of vegetarians (of whom I know quite a few), barbecue seems like a style of food anyone could agree on. What’s not to like about slow smoked meat? That’s why Hill Country seemed like the perfect post-holiday meet-up with a friend who will beat me with a bland buttered noodle if I mention her baby palate once again (maybe the Olive Garden gift card James gave me to give her will temper her ire if she reads this).

I needed someplace that wouldn’t be a killer from Brooklyn (that nixed Dinosaur, and besides I was just there a few months ago) or too painful from Morningside Washington Heights (no Smoke Joint or Fette Sau). Daisy May’s has those kooky commercials, but Wildwood has lamb ribs (lamb is the new pork, right? Or is that goat?). In the end I picked Hill Country, top tier as any. Even though the original pitmaster left year, it’s not like I would detect any difference since I had never been anyway. And you could also tell me all sorts of tales about Texas barbecue and I would be none the wiser, having never set foot in the Lone Star state either.

Hill country interior

The cavernous, woody restaurant was quiet on a Sunday afternoon. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is great that way, a dead zone. I’ve been entertaining moving to Red Hook just to experience that soothing desolation on a daily basis, never mind the nuisance of bussing to the subway. (I finally convinced James to call about this seemingly awesome house for sale near the Ikea but it had already gone into contract. Even in this supposed down economy, properties are selling quickly in third-rate NYC neighborhoods.)

Hill country brisket and ribs

I liked the by the pound approach so you could get just what you wanted. And I didn’t mind carrying around the little check off card to individual stations for meat, sides and beverages and ordering from the chalkboard menus. I did lame out and got the lean brisket, half a pound, when normally I’m one for the moist, i.e. fatty cuts. With the addition of a quarter pound of pork equaling two hefty ribs, all was well. I know our citified ‘cue is overpriced by Southern standards, but $12 plus change for the meat above wasn’t wildly outrageous.

The brisket is definitely the star and that was no surprise being a Texas-style joint, complete with imported Blue Bell ice cream, Kruez sausages and Big Red soda. Even the lean slices encased in char with pink substrata were juicy. The ribs weren’t necessary and they were a bit tough and dry, which wasn’t helped by the fact that I talk too much when I eat and was futzing around with a new camera (I still have kinks to work out, clearly, but I’m getting there) so they were cold by the time I got around to gnawing on  them.

Hill country spread

Even though it was still 2008 at the time and I said I wasn’t making resolutions anyway, eating more beans has been a vague plan I’ve been meaning to adopt (I’m making a white bean chorizo soup tonight, well, the same idea but with tepary beans and chicken sausage). Unfortunately, I think the addition of rubber eraser-sized “burnt ends” to the baked beans might’ve mitigated any nutrients potentially gleaned.

I shared pickles and corn pudding that Heather picked out because I’m a beast who doesn’t like mac and cheese. Starchy and creamy corn is more desirable than starchy and creamy pasta.
Next time I’ll ignore the ribs, opt for a little of the Kruez jalapeno cheese sausage instead, and try one of the mini, though not two-bite mini, pecan pies.

Hill Country * 30 W. 26th St., New York, NY

Chaps Pit Beef

To be honest, I was kind of disinterested in pit beef. I knew that it was a regional form of barbecue but I’m not one who goes gaga over piles of smoked (which this isn’t, technically it’s grilled) meat. But as I’ve often found with vacation food, you never know what will be a hit. We ended up at Chaps two days in a row, despite a big poster of Guy Fieri near the order window. That’s saying something.

Chapps pit beef sandwich

You generally eat pit beef, cooked rare and sliced thin, as a sandwich on a kaiser roll. It’s nothing like Arby’s, though on the surface that’s how the sandwiches appear. But they do have a horsey sauce kept on ice in one of a handful of squeeze bottles provided for doctoring. Plain thick horseradish is the traditional condiment. I added the chilled spicy white sauce, Tabasco sauce and a few pickles. Perfection.

Chapps interior

With a side of fries and an indoor picnic table (I’m very pro-air conditioning) you have a fine meal. It’s not as if the outdoor view is particularly noteworthy anyway. Chaps is next door to a gentleman’s club and this strip of the Pulaski Highway is lined with liquor stores, adult book stores, convenience stores and little else.

Of interest to me because I’m a reuben fan despite rarely eating them, was their special board advertising its sister sandwich, the rachel. I’ve heard of this treat that swaps corned beef and sauerkraut for turkey and coleslaw but I’ve never seen one first hand. I still haven’t seen one up close. A guy in line behind us ordered one but I didn’t want to stare.

We got sandwiches and ribs to go on the way out of town and I’m glad we did because there’s nothing grosser than a New Jersey turnpike rest stop Sunday night at the tail end of a holiday weekend. I did have to wait in a 40+ deep line to use the bathroom at one point but I wasn’t about to queue for heat lamp Roy Rogers fare when we had the real deal in the car. We did grab some paper bags and napkins from the chain to use as barriers on the storm-soaked picnic tables beyond the parking lot, though.

Chaps ribs

We ate the ribs for dinner when we got home around 9pm rather than the anticipated late afternoon. I don’t think we will be driving anywhere July 4, 2009.

Chaps exterior

Chaps Pit Beef * 5801 Pulaski Highway, Baltimore, MD

Lucky Mojo

3/4 Cajun, Tex-Mex, bbq and sushi? Sounds like kitchen nightmare waiting to happen. The cuisine at Lucky Mojo is about as convoluted as the restaurant’s history. This cavernous bi-level, barn-like space is the current incarnation of the now-shuttered Upper West Side Jacques-Imo’s, which was an offshoot of a popular New Orleans restaurant.

Lucky mojo interior

I liked my meal on a visit to Louisiana some time ago, never heard anything good about the NYC version and was even more scared of this Long Island City mishmash. It’s not the kind of place you go out of your way for, but if the urge for sushi and etoufee strikes while you’re at the Water Taxi Beach, Lucky Mojo is your place.

Lucky mojo crawfish sushi

There’s a full on sushi bar upstairs, which churns out standard rolls in addition to specialties like this one using crawfish and Tabasco.

Lucky mojo shrimp & alligator cheesecake

I was not weirded out by the shrimp and alligator cheesecake because it’s a Jacques-Imo’s signature that I’ve had before. It only sounds creepy because they call it a cheesecake, which it is–oh, and because alligator meat doesn’t sit well with some. The alligator is in sausage form and with all of the cream and spices you would have no idea you were eating a water reptile unless someone told you. No, this is not healthy food but split among four it was reasonable.

Lucky mojo bbq shrimp

Bbq shrimp is another frighteningly rich New Orleans dish that has nothing to do with barbecue sauce or grilling. I’ve had a wonderful rendition of this buttery, Worcestershire and black pepper drenched treat, and this didn’t quite match. The rice was on the undercooked side, too. And they forgot my side of collard greens.

 Lucky mojo shrimp po boy

I did not taste this shrimp po boy.

Lucky mojo catfish sandwich

Nor the catfish sandwich.

Lucky mojo vegetarian tacos

Vegetarian taco. What more needs to be said?

As we finished our meal, my dining companions and I began discussing a movie we were about to watch, The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief, about gender reversal host bars where young Japanese women pay good money for the attention of hired men. The Japanese propensity for fantasy indulging and role-playing gave us a brilliant idea: Beta Kappa McPaddysteins.

This would be a faux frat house where Japanese girls would shell out big bucks for a simulated American-style date rape experience. Don’t worry, no sex would actually occur, this would be a professional establishment. First, our patrons would be serenaded by Dave Mathews and sloppily wooed by gentleman in cargo shorts, flip flops and baseball caps. Beer pong would be played and jello shots would be in abundance. Good clean fun, a little cosplay never hurt anyone.

Huh, and then our waiter broke up our genius business plan when he stopped by with a tray of shots. Did he overhear? Did he want in on the action? No way, mister, Beta Kappa McPaddysteins is all mine.

Read my less date rapey take on Lucky Mojo for

Lucky Mojo * Long Island City, NY

Shorty’s BBQ & Fox’s Sherron Inn

Shortys_facade Are you as sick of hearing about Miami (and bbq) as I am? No worries, this is the last food-related recap of my Labor Day mini-trip. I can’t say when the NYC barbecue mania will die down, however. I’m behind the times anyway–I still haven’t been to Fette Sau, I can’t even think about Hill Country yet.

As I’m certain I’ve made clear before, I’m no barbecue know-it-all. Not even close. (I can’t even recall the logic that brought us to Shorty’s. For our last meal I said, “no Cuban” because I really wanted Asian, any country, but nothing seemed very promising from that continent.) Sure, I can determine if the meat is too fatty, dry or flavorless but I can’t speak to regional styles and adherence to authenticity. In fact, I have no idea what Florida-style barbecue is exactly.

Shortys_more_interiorShorty’s appeared to do a little of everything, ribs dominated the menu but they also served pulled pork, chicken and beef brisket. The ribs were dry-rubbed and two sauces were available along the wooden communal tables. One, in a shaker bottle more typically used for pizzeria chile flakes, was smoky. Another in a squeeze bottle was kind of spicy. It made sense to tinker with both.

Shortys_brisket_2Uncharacteristically, I went Texan and chose the brisket instead of anything made of pork and was thrilled by what my $8.95 got me. The portion was more substantial than the photo shows. You can’t even get mediocre (yet strangely likeable) bargain Dallas BBQ entrees for that price. It’s really about the meat. The crinkle cut fries were ok, garlic bread nothing special, well, the coleslaw was actually edible.

It felt negligent to visit Florida and never try key lime pie, so we shared a slice. Once again showing my lack of refined palate, I couldn’t tell you if the tart dessert was truly made with the tiny local variety or with ordinary limes. It seems that I’m not the only one who can’t differentiate (there’s something unnerving about the Food & Wine blog not allowing comments—not that I ever partake in online conversations).

Shortys_key_lime_pieAll meal long I was wondering what might be in the windowed metal heat lamp box at the front counter. Crispy Critters was emblazoned across its top. Something creepy and deep fried like rocky mountain oysters or perhaps frog legs? Nah, just little chocolate chip cookie nubs, as it turned out. Chocolate chips are not critters.

One of my favorite finds in Miami involved no food at all, just two gin and tonics up the highway from Shorty’s at Fox’s Sherron Inn. I love dark, burgundy vinyl booth, mid-century cocktail lounges. Real hold outs, not contrived Swingers era bars that were popular last decade, or total dumpy dives where old men dominate or faux modern speakeasies. Just an unassuming place where regular folks commingle with a younger crowd. Oldies play, not indie rock. And they serve food food like steak and chops.

Maybe it’s a west coast genre, it feels kind of Vegas or L.A. Portland still had a few left during my day. I can’t think of a single place that fits the profile in NYC. The only problem is that these joints should be filled with smoke and like many a state in the U.S., cigarettes are no longer allowed indoors in Florida. Lately, I try to keep my smoking to a minimum, maybe three cigarettes a week, if that, but a cocktail cries out for an unhealthy accompaniment.

Shorty’s BBQ * 9200 S. Dixie Hwy., Miami, FL
Fox's Sherron Inn * 6030 S. Dixie Hwy., Miami, FL 

Smoke Joint

I'll admit to being fascinated by the smoked vs. deep-fried throw down over on Grub Street. For me, there’s no question. Fried anything beats all (in fact, just two nights ago there was an impromptu canned biscuit frying session that erupted in my kitchen). I’ll dabble in the smokier side every now and then but I’m not passionate about barbecue. Though after seeing Little Children (admittedly, a more conventionally satisfying film than Old Joy, the last one I saw. I can’t resist those movies about nothing, especially when they’re steeped in northwest-ness) at BAM, it seemed silly not to check out nearly new Smoke Joint up the block.

Smokejoint For once, our timing was right. There was only one other table occupied and the order counter was free and clear. Of course, after we grabbed a four-seater and our food arrived, the fairly small space became completely swarmed and guilt set in for occupying a large table with two unused chairs (but then I force myself into inconsiderate, oblivious NYC mode and all is well). The circumstances did cause me to eat faster than usual. At prime dining times, I can see the set up definitely lending itself to take out.

It probably wasn’t the wisest to order two pork dishes but it happened. We tried the ribs and the hacked pork. The loose meat came with coleslaw and an assortment of pickles. The bones stood alone. I didn’t have a problem with either, though the ribs had a slight edge over the shredded meat, which leaned towards dry. Or maybe that was just the relentlessness of pure unadulterated flesh that got to me. I had to intersperse bites with the cabbage and cukes to stay sharp. We rounded out the meat with fries and corn on the cob, both chile spiced.

For the record, they serve Blue Point Toasted Ale in bottles and it tasted nothing like the problem pint at Sheep Station. (I have no qualms about Sheep Station, if it were walking distance, I’d pop in every now and then, but I was amused by this line in last week’s New York Times review, “Make sure the tap lines at the bar are clean!” Ahem.)

Smoke Joint * 87 South Elliott Pl., Brooklyn, NY 

Pioneer BBQ

This is a good lazy Friday night choice, assuming you live nearby. There would be nothing lackadaisical about it if you had to trek on the G/F, then bus it. The vibe is a little more bar than restaurant, the service is casually hands-off like most of Red Hook (I wouldn't call it neglectful, but it's de rigueur in these parts for staff to just up and leave, wander outside, smoke a cigarette, socialize, etc. for long stretches of time) but you'll get your beer and you'll get your food and everyone will be happy.

I tried the pulled pork, which for $12 comes with jalapeo cornbread and two sides. I chose French fries because I'd heard they were top notch and collard greens because I love a mess of stewed leaves. As I'm no bbq maven, I can't be constructively critical. For me, the meat was fine, possibly a tad dry. Purists would probably take issue with something. The fries were skinny, crispy and parsley-flecked and plentiful. Portions are generous all around. The scene is low key and rustic, totally befitting a growing enclave that's as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get in New York City.

Pioneer BBQ * 318 Van Brunt St., Brooklyn, NY


I dont really understand the catalyst for the bbq craze that seems to have swept the city in the past year. Not that I'm complaining, but I'm certainly neither bbq addict nor aficionado (duh, Ive eaten a Dallas BBQ by choice). I cant discern which wood is being used, or tell how the meat has been smoked by the color of the flesh, or speak at length on regional styles. But I do like barbecued meat, particularly anything porcine.

I had a Friday night urge and wanted to try someplace I'd never been. Smoked, in the East Village, seemed small-portion, big-prices off putting. RUB rankled me slightly with the Righteous Urban Barbecue acronym, but it has the Paul Kirk pedigree, which is more than many of the newcomers have to offer.

The Chelsea space is pretty bare bones, though hardly as no-frills as what youd find down south. I should've been trying the pork ribs, but they come solo, just ribs, and I like variety. While I do like barbecue, its not the sort of food that Ill eat till I'm breathless (like Thai food). I'd prefer lots of smaller tastes over one big entrée, so I tried a barbecue sampler where you can choose different meats and sides. I went for two and two and picked pulled pork, beef brisket, mixed greens (collards, mustard and kale) and baked beans, which were full of salty pork chunks. I liked the pulled pork best, beef brisket second and house made pastrami (that James ordered) third, but thats primarily because pastrami isnt one of my favorites in the first place. I prefer corned beef, even though I'm not sure what the difference is. It's definitely fattier.

In addition to the pastrami, other atypical offerings included szechuan smoked duck, which Ive heard is quite good, and deep fried ribs. Both are items I'd consider upon a second visit. You dont want to go wild on a maiden restaurant voyage, its best to assess standards first.

RUB * 208 23rd St., New York, NY

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que


I tend to scoff at New Yorkers who deem anyplace in the boroughs or far
reaches of Manhattan impossible to get to. There are very few subway
inaccessible spots on the big island, there's no excuse except not actually
wanting to make the effort. Ill cop to being ignorant of most of everything
above midtown, mainly because everyone I know lives south or east, not
north, but I'm not opposed to trying unfamiliar corners. When it came to
finding Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, my Brooklyn-centric stripes began to show.

In theory it seemed like either the 137th or 125th
street stations would be fine since theyre both equidistant number-wise from
131st. The 1/9 went screwy and bypassed 125th for
137th. Fine, no biggie. But instead of walking the six simple
blocks down Broadway, I opted away from the crowd and went for the next
block west, Riverside Dr. This shouldve been a tip off because I knew the
restaurant was underneath Riverside Dr. and how could it sit underneath a
street and also be along it?

Despite the snow flurries, as usual I was still sweaty from impatiently
huffing around. I made it past 134th before realizing that I was
up in the air on an overpass that extended as far as my line of vision.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que was clearly somewhere beneath my feet. And I'd already
trudged what felt like a long way. I couldnt cut back to Broadway without
completely backtracking to where I'd originally came from. So frustrating,
and I had no one to blame except myself. At least I was working off my large
lunch from Bryant Park Grill (weird restaurant choice, but it wasn't mine to

Once inside, cozy with an IPA microbrew I was able to settle down and
take in the peculiar surroundings and now pretty falling snow. There would
be no guessing you were in New York City if you hadnt traipsed through East
Harlem (and had a large party of heavily accented, muscle bound, New
Jersey-esque type guys with cell phones attached to their ears, sitting
right next to you. I did appreciate that they considered Cuban sandwiches to
be perfectly normal appetizers to order. Never mind why Cubanos are on the
menu at all, though I faintly recall the same weirdness at Blue Smoke) to
get there. For one, the space is quite large, and woody, rustic like a
roadhouse. I don't know their whole history, except that theyre from
Syracuse, have something to do with bikers and have a loyal following.
Clearly theyre shooting for an outlaw vibe, which I've never really
understood about barbecue, how its somehow developed this extreme or tough
persona, perhaps because grilling, smoke and fire are mens domains, who
knows. The staff were also unusual for NYC—friendly, guiless,
bubbly—perhaps they are upstate tagalongs.

We started with spicy, earthy boiled shrimp, which felt very New
Orleans. I had the big-ass pork plate, despite minor reservations with
saying the name (not out of piousness but because I have issues with silly
food titles—moons over my hammy, anyone? I noticed a guy near us just
ordered “the pork plate” which prompted his server to force him
into saying big-ass).

Despite a short southern jaunt last summer, I'm hardly a barbecue
aficionado, but I would give high marks to the limited items I did taste at
Dinosaur. My pulled pork came with a slightly sweet sauce, which was fine
though others might prefer a different style topping (there are three sauce
choices on the table). I like that the meat was tender, yet also with a few
crispy bits on the fringe. I only ate one pork rib, but it was also
flavorful and not overly fatty. Barbecue isnt about the sides, but my beans
and salt potatoes were surprisingly good. I'm not usually a fan of bbq
beans, but these were loaded with smoky meat, and the potatoes were in a
slick of oozing butter. It's hard to beat butter and salt for simplicity and

There wasn't room for dessert, though I've heard good things. I hate to
say it, but I'd be inclined to use a car next time. Even so, Ill still
harbor ill will towards the subway-impaired, I cant help it.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que *
646 W. 131st St., New York, NY

Blue Smoke

Some moderately clever reviewer could craft some line about Blue Smoke and
mirrors, since most BBQ aficionados don't believe this latest Danny Meyer
creation is all that it's beefed up to be. I'm no bbq aficionado. Heck, I
enjoy Dallas BBQ. I've never been to the Carolinas, Texas, Kansas City or
Kentucky. I've lived in one city in the NW and one city in the NE. What I'm
saying is that Blue Smoke made a perfectly acceptable Saturday night
excursion because what you don't know won't kill you.

BlueSmoke * 116 E. 27th St., New
York, NY