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Seattle BBQ Research Trip: Jones Original Barbeque

 

Jones Original Barbeque

This was my fourth and final stop in Seattle, West Seattle specifically, and it was a great one!

Here’s my rundown:

Beef brisket–not very smoky, tasted like roast beef.
Chicken–excellent! Smoky and flavorful, but still moist.
Hot links–this is what I’m talking about! Spicy and coarsely ground sausage.
Pork spareribs–very good flavor with great texture.
Greens–pretty standard.
Mac ‘n’ cheese–very cheesy with good flavor.
Macaroni salad–I was excited to order this. My late mother made this salad, and I don’t see it very often on menus. This one was pretty bland, but still evoked great memories.

The meat here is pretty good, and the guy below’s facial expression pretty sums up how I felt about the chicken, hot links and ribs. You definitely need to hit this place.

Staffer at Jones BBQ with a very “This is what’s up!” look.

Seattle BBQ Research Trip: Willie’s Taste of Soul

 

Willie’s Taste of Soul Bar-B-Que

This was my third spot. Willie’s is a combination barbecue, Creole food and soul food joint. I had mixed reviews about the food, but mainly because everything was drowned in sauce. I never ask for the sauce on the side because I want to experience the barbecue as the owner would normally serve it. 

Here’s my rundown:

Beef brisket–pretty standard, not a lot of smoke flavor though.
Chicken–very good, bone-in chicken.
Hot links–very good spice and a coarser grind.
Pork chop sandwich–excellent! A thin pork chop, perfectly fried and seasoned.
Pork spareribs–pretty standard.
Baked beans–pretty standard.
Greens–pretty standard.
Potato salad–very good texture.
7-Up–very good, but not super moist as others that I’ve had. This was more like a great sour cream pound cake.

The barbecue here is pretty average, but I would return to Willie’s to try the Creole and soul food options.

 

 

Seattle BBQ Research Trip–Lil Red Takeout and Catering

Lil Red Takeout and Catering

I took advantage of an unexpected trip to Seattle to so some barbecue research. Ahead of my trip, I reviewed some recent “Best BBQ” lists by Eater Seattle, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and people on social media. 

This was my first stop, and it was pretty next-level. It’s a combination of barbecue, Caribbean and soul. The Caribbean influence comes because Red’s wife is Jamaican.  Even though there’s plenty of seating, this is a takeout place. Everything is served in to-go containers. No misfires at all on what I ordered.

Here’s my rundown:

Beef brisket–great smoky flavor.
Jerk pork spareribs–transcendent, mainly because Red doesn’t use a heavy hand with the jerk spice. Very tender ribs, but still has a little chew. These were by far the best ribs that I had in Seattle.
Pulled pork–bursting with flavor and great texture.
Fried plantains–nice carmelization, tender and sweet.
Greens–pretty standard.
Lumpia–a Filipino-style spring roll filled with cabbage and chicken–tasty.
Banana pudding–a great dessert! The pudding has Jamaican accents with a rum-like finish.
Jamaican rum cake–just opening the container, I wondered if I would fail a breathalyzer test. Very moist and flavorful cake, but you have to be a fan of rum cake (which I am).

Loved the fact that Lil’ Red’s also serves sorrel (a hibiscus drink) and red drink! Love to see these related drinks on a menu side-by-side.

I highly recommend this place!

BBQ Research–Memphis Edition

BBQ Research—Memphis Edition

Day 1

A nice group of adventurers joined me for this trip. Thanks to Gary Guesnier, Jennifer Biggs, Ashley Dior Thomas, Wayne Lohman, Chef Raymond Jackson, Angie King Keesee, Dave Mekeel and Joe York! 

Me and the Memphis BBQ research assistants.

I really appreciated y’all’s help in ordering a lot of food so that I could sample a lot of the menu, your barbecue insight, and your company!

Payne’s sliced pork sandwich

Payne’s Bar-B-Q

We started our barbecue trek at Payne’s, a longtime favorite for Memphis locals. We ordered the following: bologna sandwich, chopped pork shoulder, pork spareribs, sliced pork sandwich, smoked sausage (in a bun), baked beans (topped with chopped pork), mustard-based slaw (topped everything), and sliced white bread. Payne’s was thin and peppery. Our favorites were the bologna, sliced pork and the slaw. The latter seems particular to Memphis.

Helen’s Bar-B-Q (Brownsville, TN)

Next we made the hour drive to Brownsville where we visited Helen’s. This place is a disappearing breed because they cook entirely with wood, in a non-mechanized pit. We ordered: bbq nachos (jalapenos were added tableside), hand-sliced bologna, whole chicken, pulled pork shoulder (came out in chunks), smoked sausage, pork spareribs, and a chopped pork sandwich, a finely-chopped slaw, and bbq spaghetti.  Helen’s sauce is thicker and a chocolate color. We loved the whole chicken (moist, good smoke flavor in the skin). Please note that the chicken is made by request, so you have to call ahead. We also loved the slaw which you could tell was made in-house.

Cozy Corner Restaurant

Cozy Corner is another local favorite. We ordered: beef brisket (thinly sliced), BBQ bologna, smoked sausage (cut in two halves), BBQ spaghetti (meatless, sweet sauce), BBQ nachos, Cornish hen, pork baby back ribs (tender, a nice char, nice fine slice). Our faves here were the bologna, BBQ nachos and the ribs. I’ve loved the Cornish hen in the past, but it was just OK this time around.

Bar-B-Q Shop

It was a long day of eating, so we ordered here. We ordered pork spareribs and bbq spaghetti, and both were fantastic!  It was served baked beans, slaw and toasted, buttered, white bread. The competition barbecue judges tagging along with me said that these ribs were the “closest to competition quality.” The Bar-B-Q Shop inherited the original recipe for BBQ spaghetti, so it’s no surprise that it’s wonderful. Their version includes chopped barbecue meat along with a slightly sweet sauce that had great seasoning.

Day 2

Bartlett UMC homemade bread and pot holder

I began the day by worshipping at a church near my hotel. I selected Bartlett United Methodist Church. I enjoyed the service, and I loved the fact that visitors get a loaf of homemade bread baked by one of the congregants . . . and a hand-knitted pot holder.

A&R’s meaty rib tips

A&R Bar-B-Que

Next stop was a place that’s been around a couple of decades, but I’m embarrassed to write that I had never of A&R until very recently. We lucked out in many ways because we beat the afternoon rush by a few minutes. We ordered: ½ chicken (dusted with a spice rub), beef brisket (chopped), bologna sandwich, pork spareribs (uncut, dusted with rub, the last half slab, too), rib tips, chopped turkey, smoked turkey sausage, bbq spaghetti (meatless), baked beans, green beans, slaw and fried pickles with a buttermilk ranch dressing dip. We liked the bologna, and the rib tips.

Jim Neely’s Interstate Barbecue

Next up was Interstate Barbecue, another legendary place nearing four decades in business. We were lucky that, thanks to local food writer Jennifer Biggs, Mr. Jim Neely himself, sat down with us, and shared his story.

The full spread we ordered at Neely’s

We ordered: the family platter (beef brisket, pulled pork, hot link, and pork spareribs), bologna (beef and pork), beef ribs, rib tips, BBQ spaghetti (with a little meat), baked beans, potato salad, slaw, white bread, and I got a red drink. The beef ribs were an unexpected item, and Neely says that he was the first one “to have beef anything on the menu in a Memphis barbecue restaurant.” They were surprisingly delightful. Don’t laugh if you live in Texas, these ribs would make you smile. This was the first truly, spicy hot link that I’ve had since I began my research. We also liked the ribs.

Neely’s beef ribs

Also thanks to Jennifer Biggs, we made a side trek to Gibson’s Donuts, and got a mixed dozen. The plain glazed was pretty glorious.

Then, I saw a beacon of light across the street, and it was the neon sign of my favorite fast food chicken: Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken! I was in a quandary because I was already stuffed, I really wanted that chicken, but I worried it wouldn’t hold up after being in the fridge and then in my carry-on for the flight to Denver. My inventive friends came up with a solution: vacuum-sealing!! So, I got a half bird, gobbled up a wing, so that I could have an immediate experience. We then went to my new friend’s house, and used their Food Saver. Voila! I now had something that would hold the flavor for months without fear of freezer burn!

Day 3

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner (Marianna, AR)

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner is reportedly the oldest, continuously-operating, black-owned barbecue restaurant in the U.S. It may be the oldest black-owned business in the U.S., period. The menu at Jones is pretty simple: a chopped pork sandwich with or without slaw or purchase by barbecue by the pound. Some days, you might be able to get a hot link, but not today. The sandwich is sliced white bread, a nice layer of chopped pork, topped with slaw and another slice of white bread. You can add a thin peppery sauce if you’d like. I couldn’t help but think of North Carolina as I ate this sandwich. As we were leaving, I overheard a potential customer asking “Do you have any skin today?” Mr. Jones said “No,” and the young woman began to leave. I stopped her and asked what “skin” was. She said it was a special request item that was pork skin that the diner sold in sections, and she loved to break it off and eat it. I’ve definitely got to find out more about that!

Abe’s BBQ (Clarksdale, MS)

The last stop on this research trip was Abe’s in historic, blues-soaked, Clarksdale, Mississippi. This isn’t a black-run restaurant, but it’s a place that I’ve wanted to try for some time. We ordered: chopped barbecue beef, chopped pork, baby back ribs and Delta-style tamales. All were served with a very coarsely-sliced slaw with spices and light vinegar and saltine crackers. We liked the baby back ribs (great flavor) and the tamales (nice and hearty).

At the end of my journey, I offer this BBQ research pro tip: if leaving Memphis with carry-on luggage full of barbecue and Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, put all of your food in a separate bin. You lessen the chance of additional screening, and you might even get a “That’s what’s up!” from the TSA agent.

BBQ Advisory–Bludso’s Bar & Que, Los Angeles, CA

This is a throwback post! I was in Los Angeles last January for the 2018 NAACP Image Awards. My book, The President’s Kitchen Cabinetwas nominated for “Outstanding Literary Work–Non-fiction.” As you probably know, I’m always “researching” soul food and barbecue whenever I travel. My friend, Eddie Gehman Kohan, told me about a place called Bludso’s. By the time I got to LA, the original location in Compton had closed, but there was another location in the city.

 

Here’s my rundown:

Meat

Pork spareribs: a true delight! It was everything I want in a sparerib: tender but with a slightly crunchy exterior, and a wonderful smoky flavor.

Beef brisket: If the option is available, I always get a mix of lean and moist (fatty) brisket slices. It too was tender, and had a good smoky flavor.

Hot link and jalapeno cheddar sausage: These were also tasty. The jalapeno cheddar sausage had a nice kick, and I love that the cheese was oozing out as I bit into it.

Sides

Baked beans: Pretty standard, and wonderfully spiked with small chunks of brisket.

Collards–With so many restaurants serving vegetarian greens, I was surprised to find nice, delicious bits of pork to season this dish. Very solid culinary performance.

Potato salad: This version is creamier than what one might expect, headed in the direction of mashed potatoes. I like mine a little chunkier, but this was fine nonetheless.

Cornbread: a nice sweet, soulful cornbread.

Drinks

Cheerwine: This cherry-flavored drink is a local favorite in North Carolina.

Hibiscus agua fresca: My heart leapt for joy when I saw this on the menu. Hisbicus drinks connect this African diaspora, but in the U.S., they are more associated with herbal tea companies and Latinx. Hibiscus is native to West Africa, and is used to make a popular drink called bissap. As a consequence of the Atlantic Slave Trade, that drink was transplanted in the Caribbean, particularly Jamaica, where it is known as sorrel. As it spread throughout the region and was embraced by Latinx, it became agua de Jamaica (literally “Jamaica water”). It has a tart cranberry taste that is mellowed out with some sweetener. This is a WONDERFUL soft drink, and I hope that you will try it.

Dessert

Chocolate chess pie: As Nancie McDermott writes in her authoritative book Southern Pieschess pies are similar to custard pies and are “a luscious combination of eggs, butter, and something truly sweet, such as molasses, sorghum syrup, or brown or white sugar.”

Sweet potato burnt sugar ice cream: Just like a dream. I was expecting a heavy-handed approach with this ice cream, but the flavors are subtle. A great way to end my meal.

I highly recommend this place!

Bludso’s Bar & Cue
609 N. La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036

 

BBQ Advisory: Hungry Wolf BBQ & Catfish, Denver, CO

My friend Mark Antonation, a food writer for Westword, tipped me off to Hungry Wolf BBQ and Catfish–a new barbecue joint in my part of town. Although he did so under whack circumstances. It turned out that right after Hungry Wolf opened, someone STOLE THE SMOKER SET UP IN THE FRONT OF THE RESTAURANT!!  I mean, seriously, who does that? Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident. Several barbecue joints in Colorado have either had their smokers stolen or vandalized.

Hearing about what happened, and that it is an African American-owned barbeue business, I rushed to support them. I went there yesterday, and this was a very welcome sight:

The smoker is fully-operational! I was there for lunch, and I got a nice sample of most things on the menu. I ordered the “Hungry Wolf Platter”: a pork sparerib, a beef short rib, a quarter of smoked chicken, a split hot link, a fried catfish filet, two fried shrimp, and a choice of two sides (I got red beans and rice and coleslaw).

Here’s my assessment:

Pork spareribs–a nice smoke flavor, and my piece was on the lean side.

Beef rib–I was expecting a big rib, but this was more like a short rib. It was tender, and had great flavor. Not too chewy and stringy like so many other beef ribs that I’ve had.

Catfish–fried hard so that it had crunch, but the coating didn’t have a lot of seasoning. Fortunately, there was hot sauce nearby to do the trick.

Chicken–the quarter had good flavor, but the breast was a little dry.

Hot links–had some nice kick, but it wasn’t the really spicy, coarsely-ground hot links that I’m used to getting in an African American-run barbecue shop.

Fried shrimp–they were lukewarm by the time that I got them. Just OK.

Red beans and rice–this was a very good side dish. Please note that all of the sides here are pork-free. As good as this was, I really missed having some Louisiana-style sausage in the mix.

Coleslaw–much too creamy. So much so that the cabbage gets lost.

I was too full for dessert, but I’ll be back. I hope that you’ll give Hungry Wolf a try as well.

I got a chance to speak with the owner who said that he offers “Oklahoma-style barbecue.” I tried to get a fuller description, but his answer was cryptic. I’ll keep investigating!

Hungry Wolf BBQ & Catfish
9865 Hampden Avenue
Denver, CO 80231

  • June 16th, 2018
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My First Tastes of Brooklyn Kosher Barbecue

Me and Andrew Newman

The first time that I’d heard about kosher barbecue was in the context of the annual kosher barbecue contests held around the U.S. I didn’t know that more kosher barbecue restaurants are opening up across the country as well. I was in New York City a few months ago, and my friend Andrew Newman hipped me to a couple of spots in Brooklyn. I owe him everything for this excellent “taste” of kosher barbecue.

Our first stop was Izzy’s Brooklyn Smokehouse.

Izzy’s website indicates that it is supervised by OK Kosher Certification which is practically next door. Izzy’s isn’t a huge place, but I liked  the feel of it when we entered.

Knowing that we had another spot to hit, Andrew and I ordered enough food to get a good sampling.

Izzy’s assertively adopts a central Texas barbecue aesthetic with the tin rectangular plates, butcher paper and pickle condiments. The sliced, beef brisket had a nice smoky flavor, the burnt ends (a daily special) were fantastic, but I really liked the smoked fried chicken sandwich: a nicely seasoned crust, and lightly smoked meat. I could definitely grub on that for a long time!

Izzy’s Brooklyn Smokehouse
397 Troy Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

Next up was Main House BBQ. It took awhile to get there (I had no idea Brooklyn is so big), but it was definitely worth the wait.

Main House BBQ

Main House BBQ is a spacious location, and it has a casual feel. Though the décor doesn’t scream central Texas, the plating does: tin rectangular plates, butcher papers with sliced pickles served on the side.

Lots of tempting options here, but we ordered:

The beef brisket was solid with nice smoke and seasoning, and the house-smoked pastrami was transcendent! That’s the definite thing to get if you only had one choice. The cornbread was soulful which means it was on the sweet side. I really wanted to try the “Sloppy Yosef” sandwich (sauoy burnt ends with pickles/slaw), if only for the name, but I was already pretty stuffed. Next time!

Main House BBQ
6001 Strickland Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11234

BBQ Advisory–Smokin Yard’s BBQ’s New Denver Location

Horse art in front of Smokin’ Yards BBQ

Through sheer luck, I stumbled upon the “soft opening” for Denver location of Smokin Yard’s BBQ (“SYBBQ”). I visited he first location is in Idaho Springs a couple of years ago. I thought the bbq was pretty solid then, and wondered if the Denver location would deliver a similar product.

Inside Smokin’ Yards

Smokin’ Yards menu

Free boiled peanuts, too!

Some good news here. First of all, during the soft opening, the owners are doing a “pay what you want” model. You don’t have to pay full price, but you shouldn’t stiff them either. Please note that the last day to take advantage of this special offer is Sunday, December 31, 2017 until 9 pm when they close!

Fried catfish

Spicy coleslaw, white bread and collard greens

St. Louis spareribs

Sliced beef brisket

I ordered the three meat combo with fried catfish, sliced beef brisket, St. Louis-cut pork spareribs, collard greens, spicy coleslaw, white bread and a light beer from Tivoli Brewery. Here’s my rundown:

  • Brisket–light smoke, slightly tender.
  • Fried catfish–nice seasoned cornmeal crust, not greasy, but it’s Vietnamese catfish. Tastes fine, but different texture than U.S. catfish. UPDATE: Smokin Yard’s contacted me and assured me that they serve U.S.-raised catfish. Evidently, a catfish’s texture changes throughout the year.
  • Spareribs–good flavor, but a little dry.
  • Spicy coleslaw–creamy, mild kick.
  • Collards–soft, but could use more seasoning.
  • White bread–perfect.
  • Service: very friendly staff!

They just opened, so I look forward to circling back in a few months to see how things are going.

Smokin Yard’s BBQ
900 W. 1st Avenue, Denver, CO 80225

900900 W 1st Ave, Denver, CO 80223, USA W 1

Another “Angle” on Barbecue

When I think about traditional barbecue as practiced by Native Americans, I picture smaller cuts of meat being smoked on a raised framework over a slow fire, or large chunks of meat wrapped up and cooked in trenches filled with burning hardwood coals. History has shown me that some Native Americans had a third way with barbecue—the “inclined stick” technique. In his book, The Southeastern Indians(1976), Charles Hudson culled from eighteenth-century sources that the Native Americans in the Lower Mississippi Valley “barbecued fish, small animals, and pieces of meat of larger animals by impaling them on one end of a sharpened stick; the other end of the stick was stuck in the ground with the stick inclined toward the fire. They turned hte stick from time to time to cook the meat evenly.” [emphasis added]

Roasting—make that barbecueing!—salmon today in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Andrea Johnson

This barbecue technique was not limited to the American South, for tribes in the Pacific Northwest have long used the same approach to cook salmon. Sometimes the salmon was hung above an alder or cedar wood fire, and other times the fish were splayed on a specialized wooden frame that was then angled toward the fire. The cook could adjust the level of heat and smoking by moving the frame closer to or away from the fire. So, the next time you get into a heated discussion with someone about defining authentic barbecue, lay this angle on them.

Some Thoughts on Barbecue and Love

Dearly beloved, we are gathered in this post to celebrate the union of love and barbecue.

With the summer wedding season in full swing, love is in the air—and it is increasingly followed by the perfume of burning wood and smoking meat. Once confined to the South, more and more wedding rehearsal dinners and receptions across the country feature a barbecue-laden feast. Recently, as I was leaving his son’s wedding, a Colorado barbecue man—by way of Opelousas, Louisiana—gave me a parting gift of some alligator meat to smoke.

Some couples go whole hog for efficiency by holding their ceremony and reception at a barbecue restaurant. Texans seem to do this the most.

Photo courtesy of Soozums (Flickr).

Aside from these examples, which suggest barbecue as love ex post facto, but how does barbecue spark love? Ophelia Pinkard Taylor, in her 1984 oral history of the Juneteenth holiday in Texas, offered this: “Tradition has it that no maker of a good barbecue sauce will give the recipe to outsiders (those who are not family members). It has been noted that marriages are arranged so that the recipe can be passed on to a family seeking it.” I leave you to decide whether such counts as a shotgun wedding.