As many of you know, I love good barbeque, especially Texas barbeque, enough that several times I’ve even traveled down to Texas almost every year for at least one smoked meat bender. But living up here in New England, good BBQ joints are few and far between, and it takes more than a little bit of research to find the good places (another nod here to the excellent work of Gary over at PigTrip.net who does an excellent job picking the wheat from the plentiful chaff). But while a few of the places up here do some decent work, I’ve been really craving some good barbecue, so one weekend in late June, we got on the bus, and headed down to check out Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque in New York City.
The first full day of our vacation involved waking up in El Segundo, having another trip down into Manhattan beach for a breakfast at Uncle Bill’s (you can read a previous review here), and then driving East to Phoenix. That’s not a short drive (it’s around 7 hours counting basic stops and the like), and that usually leaves one looking for lunch around Blythe, which is pretty much the only real “civilization” for about an hour in each direction. And I’ll be honest, most of the options in Blythe aren’t that great, mostly chains (Denny’s and Pizza Hut, for example), and a few local places (La Casita Dos is pretty good Mexican, and probably should get a review visit from me sometime). But there’s one place in town that does indeed serve up an excellent lunch, and that’s Rebel BBQ. I always have a bit of a hard time writing two types of reviews: Pizza places and BBQ places. The reason is that both of these types of food have both a substantial number of regional varieties, and both of these also have, in my opinion, a much wider spread of quality. There are a lot of mediocre pizza places, but there are a few places that are truly head and shoulders above the rest (like, say, Pepe’s Pizza in CT, or Pizzeria Bianco in AZ). The same goes for BBQ: there are a huge number of BBQ places out there, but the very best (like, say, Franklin) that are in a very different league than most, quality-wise, leading to a surprisingly large gap between “best” and “really good”. So, with that in mind, let’s talk about Rebel BBQ.
After a very pleasant and successful visit to Burlington, it was time to head back down I-89 to New Hampshire, which gave us a good excuse to stop by and check out Prohibition Pig. Like my previous review of Church and Main, Prohibition Pig is a joint that rose of out the ashes of another well-regarded restaurant. In this case, Prohibition Pig replaced the well-loved Alchemist Brewpub, which after the damages of Hurricane Irene, decided to close the brewpub and focus on their nearby brewery/cannery (which produces the well-regarded Heady Topper). The Brewpub was sold, and thus Prohibition Pig was born. Prohibition Pig keeps much of the same focus on beer that The Alchemist did, instead bringing in beers primarily from nearby breweries… and doing a good job at it. Choices during our visit included beers from Lawson’s Finest Liquids and Hill Farmstead, both top-notch VT brewers, and even some Peche Mortel from one of my favorite Quebec brewers, Dieu du Ciel. But the motto of Prohibition Pig is “Smoked Meat and Libations”, and they pair their excellent bar with a menu focusing on local meats, primarily with smoking and curing. The result is that the restaurant’s new incarnation still packs people in, and we even found the place fully busy during what I call the “lupper” period (the doldrums between lunch and supper service).
As I mentioned in the last post, my coworkers and I were based out of Gold Canyon, AZ for several days of desert testing. Gold Canyon isn’t exactly known for its wide variety of dining establishments, so we drove into downtown Gilbert most evenings for dinner. When I was growing up in the Phoenix area, the phrase “Downtown Gilbert” would always result in a little bit of snickering, since until the early 90s, Gilbert was a fairly sleepy suburb, and Gilbert Road (“Downtown”) doubly so. At the time, one of the main eating establishments was “Sideburns: Durn Good Vittles” which closed a few years ago (a shame, since I actually once got a damn fine chicken fried steak there). But the area is changed. Gilbert is now a major suburb, and the downtown area has had a lot of modest development, with a few nice parks, and, most importantly, restaurants. Liberty Market, Oregano’s Pizza Bistro, the Farmhouse, and Joe’s Real BBQ. The last of these was our destination, as regular readers know, I’ve been on a bit of a BBQ kick recently, and wanted to revisit Joe’s (I went there a few years ago, but didn’t blog it) and see how it stacked up against some of my more recent experiences.
Ever since they opened this Spring, I’ve been getting people asking me if I’ve tried out 3 Guys yet, and if so, what I thought. I’ll be honest, it took me a while to get over there and try it. First, I’ve been traveling a lot this spring and summer (as I write this, I’m sitting at a gate a BWI…), and I’ve barely been around Hanover to check it out. Seocnd, I’ll be frank, it wasn’t my top priority—I’ll be the first to admit that I’m more than a bit of a BBQ snob (check out my various BBQ reviews) for a sampling). In particular, I’d recently completed two trips to Texas, both featuring pretty good BBQ. Meanwhile, my general experiences with BBQ here in New England have generally been…. very, very disappointing. To the point where I believe that the phrase “New England BBQ” needs to trigger “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!” sort of alarms, and an accompanying adjustment in one’s expectations. Oh, it’s not completely dismal, there actually are a few decent BBQ joints hiding out there, but they are interlaced between some truly horrendous places (here’s where I need to plug the excellent Northeast BBQ review site, pigtrip.net, which has allowed me to find several of these gems in my travels). So New England BBQ joints don’t exactly trickle up to the top of my priority list. But last Thursday, I found myself needing lunch, and with an important choice on my hands: go find lunch someplace, or attend our corporate Wellness seminar on “how to pack a healthy lunch.” My choice was made for me… I grabbed a handful of coworkers and we went to 3 Guys to finally check them out.
On our last full day in San Antonio, we headed to the northern part of town to check out both Freetail Brewing Company and Ranger Creek Brewing and Distillery. After thoroughly pleasant tours at both (I highly recommend both breweries), we decided we needed a late lunch as we headed back downtown. And we decided that BBQ is what we were craving. Well, unlike nearby Austin, who has a very vibrant BBQ scene, there’s nowhere near as much good BBQ action in San Antonio (if I’m wrong, let me know here…). Sure, there’s a lot of BBQ places, but a good chunk of them are all Bill Miller BBQ, which basically is the McDonalds of BBQ (they smoke stuff at a central location and ship it out). Bill Miller’s is decent stuff, but it’s not anywhere near the quality of a good Texas BBQ joint. But thankfully, the good folks over at Full Custom Gospel BBQ keep a handy map available of the places they’ve reviewed, and on our way back into downtown San Antonio, we passed pretty close to Two Bros BBQ Market, so we decided to give it a shot….
After three days of touring around central Texas eating BBQ and food from trucks, it was finally time for le pièce de résistance! Another trip to Franklin Barbecue! I’m not going to do a full repeat review, because, in short, Franklin is doing just as phenomenally this year. The brisket is still top notch, with good bark, excellent moisture, and good smoke, and it’s pretty much worth all the hype. Just two things have changed… The first is that the lines are, if anything, quite a bit longer. This year, we got organized at the hotel and all headed over to Franklin, arriving 30 minutes before they they opened (on a Sunday….), and the line was all the way down the block… Indeed, at T-30, I’m pretty sure that the people at the end of the line were going to find themselves getting… coleslaw…
If your plan is to visit the Austin area for barbecue, it is somewhat mandatory that you get outside of town a bit, and visit the towns of Lockhart and Luling south of town. Lockhart is the self-appointed “BBQ Capital of Texas”, and it’s basically earned it, with three top-rated BBQ places all located walking distance of each other (Smitty’s, Kreuz, and Black’s). Similarly, most any mention of top-rated Austin-area barbecue includes a mention of City Market. So when we planned this year’s itinerary, once we got down knocking off the two Austin-proper newcomers (JMueller and Stiles Switch), it was time to make the Southern run. This year the itinerary was a stop of Black’s, followed by Kreuz, and then City Market…
After a rather successful outing at JMueller BBQ, our BBQ crowd decided that our next stop would be another relative newcomer to the Austin BBQ scene: Stiles Switch. Stiles Switch opened up late last year on North Lamar towards the north end of Austin (down the street from Black Star Beer Coop, which Carol and I had enjoyed the night before). For those of you that recall the cult 1993 hit Dazed and Confused staring Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, and others, Stiles Switch is actually located in the same storefront that was the cheezy pool hall (The Emporium) in that film. Stiles even has a few stills from the film located in the dining area. But our trip was not about mediocre 90s films, it was about BBQ, and BBQ is what we got. One of the nice things about Stiles Switch is that unlike many of the BBQ joints that are set up like butcher shops or food carts, Stiles Switch actually runs a full BBQ restaurant…
(Closed) After our breakfast at Flaco’s, the 2012 Central Texas BBQ run began in earnest on May 11th with a visit to JMueller BBQ (That’s pronounced “J. Meller”, btw). JMueller was definitely one of the most anticipated places on our 2012 itinerary, since it is one of the up and coming BBQ spots of the Austin area, and has been getting favorable reviews from the standard sources like Full Custom Gospel BBQ, who give it a solid 5 star rating. Since none of us had been there, we made it our first stop. Carol and I were the first of our group of eight diners showing up that Friday morning. And, true to our expectations, JMueller is still a relative newcomer to the scene, running out of a modest cart and smoker on South 1st St (in much the same sort of setup Franklin was running a few years ago). JMueller has been “discovered”, but hasn’t yet gotten the crazed following that several of the other area places (again, like Franklin) have gotten, so a mere five minutes before their official opening, there was actually no line at JMueller. Yup, we showed up, and managed to even sit and relax at a table waiting for the rest of our party to arrive. So JMueller might be getting some good press, but it’s not yet attracting the massive throngs of BBQ-seeking fanatics that some of the other places have….