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Thursday, June 25, 2009


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Meatzilla Vs. Manhattan

You've seen this one before, friend.

Creatures from Island X and Outback Y descend upon Giant Metropolis. Locals are confused and divided. Some take optimistic approach (they come in peace!), whilst others pick fights (these outsiders are up to no good). Either way, smoke and fire. And a fragrant chaos which draws great crowds. In the end everyone bands together around a common purpose (rise to the challenge, best the beasts, eat) and order is restored... after we learn a valuable lesson.

Here's one lesson, champ: unless you have the strongest of constitutions, never ever ever use a port-a-potty at a BBQ event. And another: if you really like meat, quit fretting and enjoy thyself at Madison Square Park's annual Big Apple BBQ Block Party.

As parties go, this has to be New York's most popular and controversial both. Each year people complain about the lines (“unbearably” long), the pitmaster selection (“not real 'cue”), the price (too high), and the organization (or lack thereof). Yet every year it gets bigger and (with experience) easier to navigate. And while you may not find the holy grail of backwoods dixie bbq, you will be privy to the boldest and broadest selection of smokey slow-cooked southern meats ever assembled in NYC. As to what you should have been eating...Last year's favorite ribs courtesy of Joe Duncan and Baker's Ribs (Dallas, TX) were as good as we remembered. Terrific rub and cooking technique = moist, meaty, succulent. It's as simple as that.
Newcomer Pappy's (St. Louis, MO) brought a different style. We liked the peppery rub, but the sauce lay a bit heavy and sweet, and the meat tasted as tho it had been sitting around a few minutes too long. Still, it's ribs. And ribs = good.
Another newcomer, Martin's Bar-B-Que (Nashville, TN) brought some whole hog action. Not our favorite seasoning of the pork entrants, but it was well pulled. And it's a whole hog. Points detracted because the pitmaster's picture makes him look like Bret Favre.
Hill Country BBQ made the unfathomable trek from 26th Street, bringing some fatty smoked brisket and a refreshing side of sweet, vinegary cucumbers.
An even better hometown option: the pork shoulder from Dinosaur BBQ (Harlem, USA). Very generous sandwiches, a wonderfully salty rub, and a balanced sauce to finish. Plus the server looked *exactly* like Rod Stewart. We're fans.
Our favorite of the day? Homemade Smoked Sausage with Pimento Cheese and Saltines courtesy of newcomer Jim 'N Nick's Bar B-Q (Alabama, et al). Each toothsome link – coarsely ground with snappy casing – is hickory-smoked for a modest 45 minutes, then finished for about 15 on the grill. The cheese (a mix of mayo, cheddar, and fire-roasted peppers) adds tang and creamy body; a sliced Serrano gives it crisp heat; the cracker settles things down; and the sauces (smokey habanero or their eminently balanced tomato-based original) seal the delicious deal.
Drew Robinson (above), talks sausages and the South

The maestro of this meat is one Drew Robinson. A relative young'n (36), he got his start at “white tablecloths” around the country before heading back home to Alabama. [cue Skynard] Six years ago he began working with Nick at Jim 'N Nick's, hoping to blaze bold new flavor trails steeped in southern tradition. So rather than reinvent the wheel, Robinson is looking to improve things: make southern standards like pimento cheese sing anew; borrow something from east Carolina (vinegar) and St. Louis/Memphis (tomato) to create a sharp, savory sauce; pair everything with a sausage heartier than its Texas counterpart, yet every bit as delicious. Especially when they bring it up to NYC.

After all, good reader, that's what this shindig was all about: flavor to the people!

Hot links for all,

– J. Slab

Labels: ,

Saturday, June 06, 2009

What's Going On


Friday, June 05, 2009

Duck Amuck

Have you ever been arrested for disorderly conduct, friend? The morning after is the confusing bit: stiff neck from awkward night's sleep; brisk inventory of whatever you had on hand/in pocket; uncertain exit amidst disapproving glances; and the mild unease that comes from trying to reconstruct a good time not well-remembered.

So it felt the day after D'Artagnan's Fifth Annual Duckathalon, where all I had to go on was one pink plastic duck, one french boule, one black nylon Logo backpack, a case of the spins, and warm fuzzy feelings for foie gras. One month later and I'm still not sure what happened. But I can say this: everyone's favorite charcuterie company throws quite a party.

Duckathalon begins earnestly enough: a room full of chefs from top NYC restaurants dressed in goofy costumes, sharing breakfast glasses of Corbières before hitting the meatpacking district to have fun and rise above. This is, after all, an obstacle course–cheery and uninhibited, but held together by a series of challenges that range from dull (pop the Moet cork in the beautiful Moet offices without a sabre) to athletic (the duck-feet egg-on-spoon-in-mouth obstacle-walk) “PG-13” (dunk the saucisson sec in a decanter), to NC-17 (guess the testicles!); sweet (a macaron eating contest) to savory (blind oil tastings); fragrant (i.d. that spice) to sublime (which one isn't aged armagnac).

I think someone won; but the details of how and why remain gray and murky, a rainy May bog punctuated by surreal exchanges of plastic ducks (what we, as judges, were given to reward teams for notable pluck, skill, etc.) for shots (what the most discriminating teams offered judges for “duck consideration”).

If memory serves, our favorites did not “win.” But really, everyone at this thing was a winner. And here were a few worth remembering:

Top Dogs: Hands-down, Ace and the lads from Bar Boulud brought skill, unabashed enthusiasm and good cheer. They showed True Culinary Grit on the difficult olive oil tasting, and had jokes for days.
Runners-up: Craftsteak, on the strength of their Cow Masks. Also, one of the chefs went by “Hash Brown.” And they seemed genuinely down for Meat Twister.
Nods to: The appropriately stylish team from The Modern, who maintained poise in the face of the silly; and the folks from Action Against Hunger, who brought a little extra heart to what really is The Best Food Event Ever (TBFEE).

As for the real champs? Lily Hodge, Director of Public Relations Extraordinaire, who conceived and executed this extravaganza; along with D'Artagnan's founder and, I assume, Best Boss Ever Ariane Daguin; and Eric Sherman (of Blind Bacon Tastin' fame) who manned the armagnac challenge something proper; and everyone else who helped put on the ritz. Porkslaps for all...