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Posts from the ‘Barbecue’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Portland Update January 2018

It is still slightly weird that I’ve been back to Oregon so many times since January 2016. Portland has its charms but I’m still wary of fully embracing them. It’s not a bad place to eat, though.

Nimblefish I wasn’t really impressed with Portland fave Bamboo Sushi or even Nodoguru, though that was due to more of a vibe thing than a reflection on the product, so I was curious about Nimblefish which seemed to fill the niche between generic sushi and omakase. You can walk in; it’s not a big to do. You check boxes and each piece is made and placed in front of you one-by-one, which I prefer to all-at-once on a plate. It’s not cheap since it’s a la carte not combo-style, but not prohibitive (many nigiri are $3-$4). The menu is tightly edited and changes based on availability. I wanted to try both Hokkaido and Santa Barbara unis (which I’d seen on Instagram) but only the latter was on hand. That was fine. I ended up ordering more than I had intended–seven pieces in all–because I was fresh off of multiple happy hour vodkas at Kachka: hotate, tako, maguro, uni, akami (not pictured), chu toro, sawara. I would probably go here regularly when I get the urge for good sushi without a wait or too much fanfare.

Ate-oh-Ate  I’ve probably said this before but Portland has an outsize Hawaiian presence. I’ve been told it’s because a lot of Hawaiians go to University of Oregon and just stay after graduation. Maybe. I don’t know. I was staying at an Airbnb and tried to acclimate to my daily 10:30am NYC work call at 7:30am, which is very West Coast. Just like the inexplicable Hawaiian thing, people start work very early on the West Coast–at least in Oregon–even if they don’t do business with the East Coast. Like an 8am start time is normal. My mom, who just retired, started around 7am, I think, and her crazy husband gets to work at like 5am when he doesn’t even need to. People think I’m nuts when I say I don’t go to work until 10am (which is more like 10:30am but I don’t want to shock them too much). Anyway, I was working “at-home” and wanted lunch delivered. The Seamless scene is kind of sad, delivery is not a thing, and extra fees abound. Ate-oh-Ate did deliver, though, and why not a plate lunch? The double starch of macaroni salad and rice always gave me pause but I’ll admit it’s really good together (one scoop of each is plenty, though). I completely underestimated mayo-heavy macaroni salad, here served with teriyaki beef, and a side of chili water (the middle container), which might be my new favorite condiment (it’s spicy vinegar, not water).

Langbaan I still love what Langbaan is doing. On my third visit the theme was Bangkok street food (both other visits happened to be Central Thailand). Not all the dishes sounded alluring on paper (think I was just objecting to the “spinach noodles”) but none turned out to be duds. The salad of oyster, tripe, trumpet mushroom, wood ear mushroom, ginger, scallion was up my alley and my favorite might have been one of the three entrees: kor muu pad kapi/pork jowl, shrimp paste, jalapeno, crispy betel leaf, which hit all my fiery, funky, fatty buttons. I discovered that the long-distance boyfriend isn’t really a tasting menu person, which I kind of knew but I wanted to treat because I enjoy the experience from time to time. It can be pretentious for a server to (over)explain all of the ingredients (his complaint) but that just goes with the territory. I’ve been to Yarowat, Bangkok’s Chinatown, but I’m not going to be a brat about someone explaining it to me in the context of a dish.

Chart House When you start your workday at 7am, you can kick off at 3pm, which is disorienting. That seems like a vast amount of free time but then you realize you can’t stay up as late as you’re used to. But one advantage is being able to go to happy hours, something I’m rarely able to do in NYC. Plus, happy hours are more of a thing in Portland, not just at bars but restaurants, even nice restaurants. Chart House is a “nice” restaurant in that it has a view (supposedly of all three area mountains) and it’s where people go for their anniversaries and maybe 50th birthday parties. This is probably the case in all cities (it’s a Landry’s chain). Apparently, in its former incarnation, Hillvilla, my mom went with her eighth grade class for lunch. When I ended eighth grade, we only got to go to Oaks Park on a school bus where the kids were screaming along to John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Rain on the Scarecrow” and mocking the lyrics. I would not eat at Chart House, the restaurant, but I was curious what the downstairs lounge would be like for happy hour. There is cheap wine and well spirits (the discounted cocktail are all too sweet) plus calamari, fish tacos, sliders, ahi nachos, and the like. Nothing mind-blowing. On the non-discounted menu, they featured cocktails made in those Porthole infusers made famous by The Aviary, a trickle-down effect in the wild.

Kachka I still haven’t eaten a proper meal here since I’ve only been solo during happy hours, which are very good value. I ended up with steelhead roe with challah and smetana butter (like creme fraiche), cabbage roll stuffed with beef, pork, and lamb, plus green walnut-infused vodka, cranberry-infused vodka shot and a beer, and one more vodka that I don’t even remember.

Clay’s Smokehouse I wouldn’t seek out barbecue in Portland, and have no desire to try the few spots that get acclaim (and even less desire to try vegan barbecue) but my vote for pizza was nixed when I discovered pies named after old-school Portland music scenesters. Farther down Division Street, it appeared that a long-time barbecue joint that I had never heard of but the companion always liked, moved across the street, so I was amenable to checking it out. The ribs were fine, I don’t love home fries, I wished the Texas toast was cheese bread, and the kale with almonds in a very tangy dressing was surprisingly good. I was more enamored with the Miller High Life pony bottle.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Austin Edition

I am not at SXSW and have no intention of going to SXSW but I was just in Austin for the first time and I did eat some food. Barbecue, Tex-Mex and chili is all fine, but my goal was to eat as much queso as possible. Spoiler: I nearly succeeded.

kerby lane cafe migas
You can get migas at 4am at Kerbey Lane Cafe. The corn-speckled rice, beans, crumbled tortilla chips, plus foil-wrapped tortillas on the side is more starch than I’d normally recommend at this hour sober. I missed a queso opportunity here.

texas chili parlor enchilada

I suspect that Texas Chili Parlor is the Gumbo Shop of Austin. I never want to eat at the touristy restaurant in New Orleans but always acquiesce. Normally, I think chili is disgusting (I also just complained on Facebook about accidentally receiving free hotdogs so I’m a monster) but that’s just because I’m biased against the soupy ground beef and kidney bean style. The dense, stewed Texan all-beef version is right on. Really, it’s like a rendang, or to be more geographically correct, carne guisada. I also thought they were bullshitting on the XXX heat level, but it was no lie. XX was safer, though I just had mine slathered on top of cheese (processed, of course) enchiladas. And yes, that’s a small queso in the background.

true detective assemblage

Bloody marys seemed acceptable on an early Saturday, and for the record, the stubby $2.50 drinks were easily 75% vodka. Two, and you’ll think you’ve hallucinated what appear to be True Detective devil’s nests at the so-called botanical garden (as no plants were in bloom, I’m still not convinced).

nuevo mexico dinner

Enchiladas y Mas down the street seemed more promising, but all the clumps of people out front was foreboding and I needed melted cheese asap, so strip mall El Nuevo Mexico sufficed, despite mildly weird service and a slightly downtrodden atmosphere (I want my Tex-Mex to be uplifting). Queso was followed by an enchilada and tamale combo bathed in more orange cheese (and also included a hard shell taco).

louie mueller bbq facade

Barbecue must be eaten in Austin, obviously, even if it means forgetting cheese for a few hours. Barbecue could also merit its own post, but I prefer to just eat it rather than rhapsodizing at length about smoke rings and bark. Since I won’t wait in line for food in NYC, no exception could be made for Texas either. Franklin Barbecue wasn’t happening. A car means you can drive 30 minutes in two opposite directions for the smoked meat cluster in Lockhart or the singular attraction in Taylor.


louie mueller beef rib

I opted for the latter, Louie Mueller, if only because of the imposing beef rib I’d been tempted by online. While everyone eating on a Friday afternoon (standing inside in 10-minute line that in NYC would take 2 minutes) had accents to my ears, they were clearly not locals because I was asked/ma’amed by a few inquiring about the hunk of meat laying on my tray.

louie mueller bbq tray

Even if one beef rib is too much food for two, get some brisket (a mix of lean and moist here) anyway and don’t stress over the sides because they aren’t really anything special. Wheat bread seemed unorthodox, but they did offer it.

louie mueller christmas in february

Louie Mueller certainly wins on decor with a patina that’s hard to fake.  (The fresh plywood version, complete with gargantuan beef rib is available at Hometown in Red Hook fyi.) How long the Christmas tree stays up, I have no idea.

Stiles Switch, lacking the history but retaining a degree of dusty main street quaintness, is not a bad bet, especially if you want barbecue in Austin city limits on a Sunday evening, indoor seating and a beer or two. I will say that my dining companion preferred the brisket at Stiles Switch over Louie Mueller and leave it at that.

tacodeli breakfast tacos

So much trauma for a breakfast taco. I not only take being open on a Sunday for granted, but that in NYC you can brunch till practically sundown. Procuring a breakfast taco at 12:06 took three attempts and ultimately brought me to Tacodeli where I encountered the longest line of the entire long weekend. Whether due to the brilliance of Tacomix’s fare (organic, free-range, not greasy spoon) or because they are the only restaurant in the entire city that serves breakfast until 3pm on weekends, I’m not sure. I would take a regular cheese-less (yes, I know) corn tortilla taco over a breakfast taco, but if you say you didn’t try one there will be hell to pay. Once again, I shirked my duties by forgoing the queso.

lone star court day

Regrets: No kolaches (also a Sunday problem), not making it to Eddie V’s, Darden’s most unknown brand, or any of the chains at The Domain, an upscale-ish mall complex next to my hotel. I mean, there was a freaking Maggiano’s directly in the line of sight from my porch rocking chairs.

Qui? I will give it its own post.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Good Burger, Bad Burger, BBQ

elm brunch trio

At The Elm there were a lot of empty tables during the brunch Sunday (and I was still told preemptively  that I couldn’t be seated until my full party showed up, even though I didn’t ask to). What gives? I’ve generally considered myself as a member of the opposition in the war on brunch, but I wanted to try that burger. It’s two dollars cheaper during brunch ($16) than dinner , which I suppose is pricey (remember when $12 burgers used to spazz people out?) but more than ok because it’s one of those special, thick, aged like a steak patties, medium-rare without asking, juicy enough to soak through the bottom of the brioche bun if you chit chat too much while eating. The dinner menu says white cheddar while the brunch one says comte–whether different meals actually demand different cheeses or if the two menus are out of synch is a good question. Frankly, I don’t even remember the cheese because the meat blend was so dominant. The pickled onions and tomato confit were a nice touch, though. The fries were real fries (see below) which is the best one can hope for. You could also have an omelet or lobster benedict.

red robin western bbq burger

Red Robin I hate to say this as a chain apologist, but Red Robin is just sort of off. Both of my adult experiences, the latest being at the new Staten Island mall location to visit the recently opened Uniqlo and to take advantage of a housewarming gift card (thanks, by the way) for the house I no longer live in, have done nothing to persuade me. (Last time there was glitter in my ice.) In every way, it’s the anti-Elm burger. You can’t have it cooked less than medium and it doesn’t matter because the patty is too thin anyway. The bun and toppings are all you taste, and this particular burger comes with mayonnaise despite already being dressed with bbq sauce, which shouldn’t be allowed. The most distressing aspect of this restaurant’s M.O., though, is the bottomless fries premise because they’re steak fries and what kind of monster could or would want to serving after serving of soft, mealy potato slabs? When considering this offering, paying $6.50 more at The Elm feels like a true bargain. I did like the pretzel bites with cheese sauce even if they tasted inexplicably like peanut butter.

rookery scotch eggThe Rookery Even as New Nordic flourishes seep into all corners of the culinary world, gastropubs persist. I managed to eat two scotch egg renditions in a single week without even realizing it (more on Alder, which I’m not calling a gastropub, later).  More pub than gastro, The Rookery has a small menu with West Indian tweaks like curried goat in the shepherd’s pie and oxtail used for sloppy joes, however the egg is fairly straightforward with some bitter greens for balance. Order it and the sweet and sour brussels sprouts (with the rashers, of course) which are spicy more than sweet or sour.

Hometown Bar-B-Q It could’ve been the lateness (is 9:30pm late?) or the brutal chill (it was coat-wearing temperature even in the restaurant) but I was surprised by the lack of patrons on a weeknight. The brisket was very good, both crusty and just fatty enough to freak out the lean brisket-lovers (I know you exist, but why?). I wish I had ordered more of the beef than the pork ribs because a pound is a lot for two people, pink with a perfect smoke ring or not.  I’ve never been able to capture bbq adequately with a smartphone; the all-brown food is always set atop a brown piece of paper on a tray that’s on a brown wood table, creating a dark reddish mud-toned photo that only a Martha Stewart would be comfortable sharing online.



Eaten, Barely Blogged: 11211

Le Comptoir It seems like just yesterday I moved to
Clinton Hill, but that was five months ago. Now it’s winter and I’m living in
Williamsburg where there is easily ten times the number of restaurants and I may as well be a grandma. That’s
one reason why Le Comptoir seemed like an odd choice to be name-checked in the
new rental’s glowing ad copy.
I wouldn’t consider the bistro notable enough to
convince anyone to move nearby and only went because I wasn’t in the mood for a
long Saturday night wait after a day of moving and it was empty (while Walter
Foods next door was at capacity) at first, then filled with drinkers up front.
I think they live on their all-you-can-drink weekend brunch. Service was
predictably wonky and my Sazerac, which I only ordered because it was listed,
was served iced like the Manhattans in Southeast Asia. My steak tartare with
salad was fine, if not generously portioned for $11. A fallback, not a first

Briskettown breakfast tacos

BrisketTown I’ve still not experienced the primetime
bbq (nor the just introduced lunch sandwiches) but during the day they serve
the brisket–and you should get the brisket–in Austin-style breakfast tacos.
The floppy flour tortillas make the creation feel more like an open-faced
burrito. Despite tales of lines for dinner and running out before closing time,
there was not another soul inside for the morning shift. Though the pulled pork
and brisket look similar (I did not try the vegetable, the third offering) each
had its own unique garnish: a slightly bitter cabbage for the pork and pickled
red onions for the smoked beef. The latter, blended with scrambled eggs and
chile sauce had the edge. I have never been to Texas so I can’t speak to any
authenticity–bacon or chorizo are the favored meats there–but the breakfast
tacos have been given thumbs up by more than one Austin transplant.

Forcella Part of the 2011 montanara pizza craze that
apparently has died down. And once again, we were the only diners on a
weeknight (not a good trend). I like the concept–it’s not as if they’re going
full-Scottish and battering and deep-frying the whole pizza–but it failed to
deliver. The whole center was sog, defeating the whole purpose of the fry. I
would’ve rather had a langos.

Maision premiere happy hour

 Maison Premiere A wild exception to the
everyplace is empty experience. Arriving at 4:05pm for the 4pm-7pm $1 oyster
happy hour was no prevention against waiting until 6pm until an iced tray of oysters
appeared in front of me. Whether or not this was the result of a
three-day-weekend Monday (I hope to god) or a normal Monday, I can’t say. And
the seating procedure was arcane, to boot. The initial 20-minute quote turned
out to be just to enter the restaurant, which was already at capacity, and not
for any guarantee of bar seating where you can order food (seats with ledges in
the bar are drinks-only). Said prime bar seating is a free for all and
predatory. If you wait another hour or so one of the real sit-down tables will
eventually become available. Logistics aside, a buck an oyster is a good deal,
and 18 varieties means you can get an education (I knew I liked Malpeques but
the super briny new-to-me Beausoleil and Totten Island oysters were the best)
even if it’s unlikely that I would return anytime soon (or could unless I snuck
off work early). The non-raw bar food is ambitious. Loup de mer crudo was
precious in size, though brightly flavored with grapefruit and marcona almonds
for a little richness. And I was not expecting a cloche and tableside saucing
with the langoustine and sweetbreads, especially not as the large group of
young men at the next table were doing their best impression of Dave Chapelle channeling
Rick James by shrieking “I’m rich bitch.”

Omg tacoOMG Taco
Technically 11206 (and no, this isn’t Bushwick) there is not probably any reason to eat
here other than being very drunk and/or needing food on the same block as the
Montrose L station.With that said, the bistec taco (pictured) could’ve been worse.

Taco Chulo There is not a strong argument to eat
here either, though I have done so many times. It is useful for large groups
with varying levels of interest in food–and there’s no harm in a margarita and
queso-drenched  nachos every now and

Fatty ‘Cue Christmas

Writing about a Christmas dinner is about as useful
to anyone as the typical brunch-focused Yelp review (you don’t eat brunch,
right?) so I will keep this brief. Often restaurants serve a holiday menu that’s not representative of what they normally make–last year Red Rooster
went highly Scandinavian
. Fatty ‘Cue kept the cue, but played it straight
American. Perhaps galangal and coriander would offend baby Jesus’

Fatty cue brisket

The only Asian flourish was the sweetened fish sauce
served in a plastic squirt bottle alongside the spicy barbecue version. This
condiment was my favorite aspect of the meal, and perfect for the thick slices
of brisket, righteously fatty by my standards, too much so for my dining
companion. Take heed if it’s not your thing because I’m fairly certain the
Brandt beef is always served like this. If you hate lean pastrami, white meat
turkey or chicken breast, you will be fine.

Fatty cue pork ribs

The pork ribs were hefty, and while eating one
sauceless and cold the next day I noticed the overt porkiness that I’d missed
when they were fresh. Not name checked, but I’m guessing they’re not from
Western Beef, my go to for meat slabs.

Fatty cue duo

Collard greens and mac and cheese were
straightforward while the red cabbage slaw was lightly creamy, but not from

Slices of pie were available, but a Coors and a shot
of Jack was enough of a send off.

Fatty ‘Cue * 50 Carmine St., New York, NY

Lexington BBQ & Jimmy’s BBQ

Even though I have a tendency to issue caveats when talking about iconic American food like barbecue—I’m no regional expert—I would not liken the taste of North Carolina barbecue to roadkill. I will say that I like meat with more chew, bone-in preferably, so if I generalize this Southeastern state’s pulled pork style, it’s really just a pile of mushy meat, delicious mush for the most part. The key seems to be inclusion of many textures, fat and skin plus burnt ends, bark as some call it, to add flavor, interest, and moistness.

Lexington bbq outside

So, I ate the western style, more specifically Lexington style. What’s the difference? From what I’ve gathered in the east they use the whole hog, mince the meat finer, and wouldn’t include any tomato in the chile-flaked, vinegar sauce while in the west they use pork shoulder and a chunkier chop; the sauce might be more red.  Wood-smoking is a dying art either way. Gas is taking over.

Lexington bbq chopped pork sandwich
This is Lexington BBQ’s version on a small bun. I probably should’ve ordered a plate to assess the meat in its pure state (but Keaton’s chicken was already taking up precious space) especially since many would consider Lexington BBQ as the gold standard. It was kind of just a sandwich, frankly. Despite using wood—oak, to be exact—no pronounced smoke flavor was present. A love of consistent textures was apparent; both cabbage and pork were chopped to an unusually fine consistency until meat and vegetable nearly blended into one savory mass.

Lexington bbq hushpuppies

They did have the best hushpuppies—light and moist inside with a golden crust—we ate all weekend.

Lexington bbq peach cobbler

I never did get the banana pudding I was led to believe was a local specialty. They weren’t serving it on this Saturday. The warmed peach cobbler with a block of vanilla ice cream smashed on top was probably better anyway. (How good is banana, whipped cream, and ‘Nilla Wafers really? Tell me it sucks, or I’ll feel worse for missing out.)

Jimmy's bbq side

Sunday is slim pickings. Not much is open. One restaurant listing their hours called Sunday Church Day. Day of resting and eating, in my world. Jimmy’s, far less populated than Lexington BBQ, saved us.

Jimmy's bbq coarse chopped pork plate

This time I got the plate and opted for coarse chop (sliced was also available) to really taste the meat. I’m a little hesitant to call this barbecue dry (though I wouldn’t be the only one who has said so) but the hunks with skin attached were far superior to the interior pieces. Here, you are served a side of warm sauce to dip the meat into and also provided with a house-made hot sauce in a squeeze bottle.

Jimmy's bbq chopped pork plate

All the spice and vinegar, plus the slaw crunch, elevates the meal from a pile of mush.

Jimmy's bbq hushpuppies

I thought of hushpuppies as a french fry alternative but it turns out they’re equivalent to rolls. French fries are default and the roll or hushpuppies question must be answered. These weren’t as good Lexington’s, though the dryness was helped by a dunk in the sauce cup.

Jimmy's bbq counter

I will say that the waitresses at Jimmy’s were the nicest we encountered all weekend. I was curious about something called a skin sandwich, which turned out to be cracklings on a bun. They were out on a Sunday (yes, we already had a shopping bag full of cracklings in the car, but I wanted to experience freshly fried and put on a bun with hot sauce) but at least our server checked to see if they couldn’t scrounge something up for me to go. They couldn’t; no harm done.

Jimmy's bbq dining room

I especially like how everyone’s giant Styrofoam cups of iced tea are constantly topped off, that they remember if you had sweet or regular, and you’re given a refill and a lid for the road. You can never be too hydrated.

Lexington BBQ * 10 US Hwy 29 70 S, Lexington, NC
Jimmy’s BBQ * 1703 Cotton Grove Rd., Lexington, NC


Texas Roadhouse

I’m never ever a jerk to service staff, but when “Have you dined with us before?” hits my ears (which isn’t the sole province of chain restaurants) I feel this childish urge to backtalk in some manner. Really, how much explaining should a dining experience require? I always lie and say “yes” to save the spiel. But as a first-timer at Texas Roadhouse, who only knew about the business because it came in fourth place in a survey of favorite casual dining restaurants, I did kind of want to hear what they were about.

Texas roadhouse

“Hand-cut steaks,” sides made from scratch and freshly baked rolls that are whisked from the front counter and brought with you to the table as you’re being seated, it turns out. The staff wearing I Heart My Job t-shirts and periodically breaking into country line dances and why the chicken fingers are called “critters,” were not explained.

While waiting for a table at the bar, we sized up the restaurant with its chilled giant mugs of beer, bloomin’ onions, woody motif and emphasis on steaks, to be an OSI brand. But not so. That fried, battered onion turned out be called a Cactus Blossom, and apparently has nothing to do with Outback Steakhouse, whatsoever.

What the restaurant really reminded me of, particularly the country music and encouragement to throw peanut shells on the floor, was a restaurant in Tigard called BJ’s Roadhouse that I can find no online evidence of (there’s a BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, but that’s not it). I’ll never forget it because it’s where my dad and his wife took me for my birthday right after I turned 21 and I forgot my driver’s license and couldn’t drink away the trauma (no, I did not appreciate chains and suburban trappings in college). The waiter wouldn’t even let me have an O’Doul’s. The evening ended with a watermelon (the only food in the world I hate) and a diabetic cherry pie.

Texas roadhouse rolls

A decade-and-a-half can make all the difference. Now, I’m soothed by honey-cinnamon butter and warm, fluffy rolls and the ability to drink forty ounces of Sam Adams Cherry Wheat beer without being carded. I practically ate the whole basket while scrutinizing the menu. The bread reminded me of the “scones” at a restaurant I ate at once in grade school called Pa’s Kettle (wow, I can’t believe that it still existed in its 1980s form until 2008). They were warm yeasty triangles served with honey-butter that had me in for a surprise when I first tasted a real dense, baking soda-heavy scone (probably at Starbucks, sadly).

Texas roadhouse rattlesnake bites

Rattlesnake Bites are a take on jalapeño poppers with the chiles and cheese mashed up and formed into a fritter and served with a Cajun horseradish dip. “Hand-battered,” don’t forget. I felt health draining from me with each bite–maybe that's the rattlesnake angle?–but who doesn't appreciate a newfangled popper?

Texas roadhouse ribs & chicken

I tested out my favorite Dallas BBQ combo: ribs and chicken. Well, the ribs, despite being a little dried-out and not likely smoked, still tasted more like real barbecue than BBQ’s. Nothing wrong with them. The chicken, though? Ugh, grilled, boneless chicken breast, my enemy. I was picturing a crispy, skin-on leg in my head. This sad poultry part has a place in my weeknight dinner canon, but I never ever want to eat it in a restaurant and I will never understand Americans’ obsession with flavorless white meat. (Apparently, Chinese don’t like chicken breast—or kung pao, but that’s another story.) To be fair, the grilled chicken was moist and not tasteless—the more peppery than sweet sauce helped—it’s just not what I wanted. Baked beans and steamed broccoli, carrots and cauliflower (my attempt at health) were my choices of sides.

Texas roadhouse steaks

They really do hype-up the beef—the cuts are displayed in a butcher-style case in the waiting area—so, James went all big-spender (relatively speaking; the steak and rib combo was $18.99) and ordered a steak and rib combo. I’m still trying to parse our enthusiastic server’s question “Have you had ribeye before?” Did he mean ever in our lives or at Texas Roadhouse? Am I naïve/privileged to think that the average adult in this country has eaten a ribeye at some point? Must tamp urge to sass waitstaff.

No matter. Texas Roadhouse is worth having in my chain restaurant repertoire. I would go again, if only to be able to answer “yes” when asked the inevitable “Have you dined with us before?” question.

Texas Roadhouse * 1000 US Highway 9, Parlin, NJ


Dallas BBQ Rego Park

1/2 Who says advertising doesn’t work? After my first two subway sign encounters with the words Dallas BBQ superimposed over the familiar red flames, my attention was peaked. And Rego Park? Queens’ first outpost definitely required investigation.

The most sprawling, modern and mildly clubby—glass-encased liquor bottles as room dividers are a prominent design feature—incarnation yet, this branch right off the LIE is part of a relatively new shopping complex that houses a not crowded Century 21, an awkward to get to Costco and bare bones Aldi, Trader Joe’s no frills German parent company (I only bought American cheese, bratwursts and a box of frozen cheese wontons).

Rego park dallas bbq

Clearly, the area was desperately in need of cheap ribs and colorful drinks because even on the early side of Saturday night, the industrial-carpeted foyer was crammed with the antsy and expectant. By the time we left, crowd control was in full effect and a hostess had brought out the bullhorn. Stampede!

Dallas bbq saturday night

Sam Sifton’s recent multi-culti portrait of Red Rooster painted a feel good image of the new Harlem. I’ll give you a celeb restaurant in an underserved neighborhood and raise you a Dallas BBQ. There’s no more NYC a restaurant than this. Staten Island is now the only borough suffering without one. Sure, it’s a chain, but it’s our chain and we love it. Applebee’s and Chili’s could learn a thing or two from them.

Just in my noisy corner of the complex sat Korean-American dudes with pitchers of beer, their dates barely touching their food, frozen drinks melting. To my left was a black, teetotaling mother and daughter downing chicken fingers and giant goblets of cola with nearly an entire jar of maraschino cherries floating in each. On my other side, colorful drinks for all four diners and two massive double cheeseburgers destined for one hungry woman. A multigenerational Chinese family sprawled across four pushed-together tables while an elderly couple conversed in Russian. No one thinks twice about looking like a glutton and men aren’t afraid to order pink cocktails. Merely convivial or debauched, it’s hard to say. The judgmental aren’t welcome at Dallas BBQ.

Dallas bbq cocktails

For me, at least, the fruity, neon frozen drinks overshadow the food. As someone who has to minimize my sugar intake and prefers a dry, stiff cocktail anyway, their pantheon of syrupy “Texas-sized” concoctions provide a welcome respite. It is wholly possible to burn out on artisanal moonshine, mole bitters and hand-carved ice. I nearly succumbed to our server’s promotional recommendation of a passion fruit-swirled pina colada served with both a shot of Alize and Hennessy (they also serve Hennessy wings and the spirit is prominently featured in the above mentioned wall displays—I don’t know if they’re getting kickbacks or if they’ve merely determined that their audience really likes a particular cognac). Instead, I started with the Texas-sized pina colada, then wisely moved onto a regular-sized Blue Hawaii with a shot of rum in a green plastic test tube half-buried in the creamy surface. Less slush, more alcohol is the sweet spot.

Dallas bbq onion loaf

I’m glad that they now serve a smaller version of the onion loaf, which shared between two will still knock you out. The matted stack of thinly sliced battered rings is a must. Could you eat at Outback Steakhouse and ignore the Bloomin’ Onion? You’d better not say no.

Dallas bbq ribs & shrimp

I don’t want to say the namesake barbecue is superfluous, but no one’s going to mistake their pulled pork, beef brisket or babyback ribs for lovingly smoked meat in the style of Memphis, Kansas City, Texas, North Carolina or whichever region you prefer. Tangy-sweet, saucy to the point of ensuring stained clothing and tender, the ribs are perfectly edible, even if they’ve never seen the inside of a smoker. Normally, I would get the $11.99 (most of the menu is under $12) ribs and chicken combo, but we already had a box of Korean fried chicken sitting in the car. I definitely did not need the fried shrimp with tartar sauce. Fries (you can have yellow rice—so very Latino—or a classic American baked potato as a side) and a square of cornbread ensure you get your recommended dose of starch.

When I talk my love of chain restaurants, Dallas BBQ exemplifies what I mean. You go for the experience, not for culinary fireworks. I only ate a fourth of my ribs (which of course I took home for later) because absorbing the genuine New Yorkness while picking at fried onions and sipping sweet, highly alcoholic drinks is fun in itself. The fat and sugar may be gnawing at my organs, but it’s emotionally nutritive being in the thick of things—even when the swell of humanity can be grotesque.

Dallas BBQ * 61-35 Junction Blvd., Rego Park, NY

Fette Sau

I’m not one to say to no to free drinks, but my office’s quarterly Thursday afternoon happy hour in the conference room with Bud Lite, jug wine, mozzarella sticks and pigs in a blanket were no match for James’ annual company Fun Day.

What this means is that they get the day off and can propose just about any fun group activity with a $100 per employee stipend. Last year, he participated in a Le Bernadin lunch. Friday, it was beer gardens of Brooklyn. By the time I got off work, a majority of the group had headed home, leaving me a pint at Radegast, a few bites of venison sausage and $160 to spare.

Fette sau bbq

On to Fette Sau (not technically a beer garden, no) where James, one remaining coworker, myself, and a dismissed former employee happy to splurge on the company’s dime, ordered a pound each of pork belly, pulled pork and beef brisket, a sampling of bourbon and rye, followed by a gallon of Six Point Righteous Rye in an enormous glass jub. Oh, yes, and baked beans…with burnt ends. Meat upon meat.

I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never been to Fette Sau; it’s the crowd avoider in me. We snuck in just under the wire, but being in for the long haul (I really didn’t think we were eating and drinking that slowly) ended up sharing a picnic table with a series of four other groups. Tables are definitely the premium I was afraid they were.

Now I know what all the fuss is about; the meat is ridiculously good and fatty in a pleasing way. The pulled pork shoulder was moist throughout, the sliced brisket was both tender and charred, and even cold (I guess we were eating slowly) the pork belly, which we saved for last due to awkward sharing, was ridiculous. I refrained from gnawing on the bone even though was I was getting egged on to do just that.

At $16 a pound for each meat, the pricing wasn’t outrageous and more economical than Hill Country. I already want to go back and create my own Fun Day.

Fette Sau * 354 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Fatty ‘Cue

I knew I would like the food at Fatty 'Cue even if it was my third choice. Friday night I went looking for fried brains and bone marrow poppers at St. Anselm but they didn't appear to be in business yet. Foie gras pierogies will have to wait. I put my name on the list at Pies & Thighs, then before even sinking into the 15-person-crowd out front, gave up. At 8pm, a table for two at Fatty 'Cue down the street, was no problem.

My hesitation, why Fatty ‘Cue wasn’t destination one or two, stemmed from the spate of early online criticism. And after eating there myself, I am torn. I love the concept. And I love funky Southeast Asian flavors made American without being dumbed down. Pok Pok, the wildly popular Thai restaurant in Portland, is a stellar example of a restaurant doing this right.

Fatty 'cue pork ribs

Lightly spicy, fish saucey, palm sugared pork ribs used the flavor combination of my dreams. But $4.67 per rib ($14 for an order of three—everything is served in threes, which makes splitting between two awkward and impossible among four) did seem a bit much.

Everything comes as it pleases, which is to say mostly all at once. Fun and festive or disorderly, depending on your perspective. Four dishes plus plates for eating won’t fit on a table for two.

Fatty 'cue coriander bacon with yellow curry custard

I didn't get a distinct coriander taste from the thick, meaty bacon, as was advertised, but definitely got the smokiness. The little cup contained steamed custard flavored with yellow curry, like a savory flan. It’s meant to be spread on the toast points and topped with the bacon slices.
Fatty 'cue eggplant nam prik

The smoked eggplant and anchovy nam prik is one of those dishes that would stymie a diner expecting more traditional barbecue menu, Asian-inflected or not. Nearby customers seemed confused by tamarind in the ice tea, so I imagine that this Thai-esque platter would be more challenging than baked beans for some. Sour green mango is one of my favorite vehicles for chile hot, fishy nam priks. This dip was more earthy-salty, nice with grilled garlic, blander radishes and crisp bok choy. Kind of healthy if you gloss over the chicharrones.

Fatty 'cue clams

Smoky was the theme, also with the clams, rife with bacon and sitting in a pork bone broth. Texas toast was the most American part of the meal whether or not they call it dragon pullman toast.

Fatty chocolate

Shoofly or s’mores pie just seemed weird, but I still wanted something sweet. The dark chocolate bar seasoned with Aleppo pepper, almonds and sea salt did the trick even if it felt more like you were eating a souvenir than a dessert proper.

Fatty 'Cue * 91 S. Sixth St., Brooklyn, NY