Beast of Bourbon’s Bringing it to Bed-Stuy (aka the “Damn Good Barbecue” Post)

Last night Bed-Stuy barbecue joint slash music venue Beast of Bourbon threw a little shindig in honor of their new pit master, Nestor Laracuente, who carved up hunks of brisket and pork belly for an endlessly regenerating queue of barbecue fans — or, at least, fans of free barbecue. A pair of salads accompanied the meaty tastes: a vinegary cucumber salad and a shredded carrot salad with macerated cherries, which was unexpected and totally delicious.

Hook, line and sinker: Those bites only stoked my appetite, so on my way out I ordered one of the “power trios” to go: 1/2 lb. brisket and two small sides, in this case, brisket beans and meat-studded collard greens, plus cornbread: $21.

The brisket power trio

Such a good move, and frankly, a bargain: Two of us shared (or rather, devoured) the meal, as pictured above, and were totally satisfied. The brisket has a gorgeous, peppery crust and is falling apart tender; the beans and collards were incredibly flavorful with smokey notes imbued from the meaty bits; the cornbread, outstanding.

For a 2014 article on brisket in the New York Times, Laracuente is quoted as saying, “Cooking is science, but barbecue is magic.” If ‘cue is magic, the man most definitely has the magic touch. Smart move by the Beast to bring him to Bed-Stuy — that brisket’s worthy of a G Train trip any day.

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$9.99 Chicken Feast for Two (aka the “Dallas BBQ, What!” Post)

It was the vinyl tarp banner, flapping in the afternoon wind, that stopped us:

TWO FULL MEALS FOR $9.99
2 chicken vegetable soups, 2 rotisseried half chickens
served with cornbread and a choice of potatoes or yellow rice
(Avail Mon.-Thurs. until 11:30a-6p, Fri.-Sun. 11:30a-5p
)

What. The chef and I, we stood there, incredulous. Watched the banner flap some more. It’s hard enough to get a decent meal for two at counter-service or fast food restaurants in New York City, let alone at someplace with sit-down service.

Granted, we were standing in front of a Dallas BBQ, a mini-chain perhaps better known for its boobalicious ads, tacky-cheesy quotient and fishbowl-sized drinks than real Texas-style barbecue. (As a friend once pointed out, “You don’t have to point out that the barbecue’s from Texas to a Texan, we’ll know right away whether it is or not. That sign’s for the rest of y’all.”)

Really though, who am I to judge? I wouldn’t go so far to say that I’ve outright avoided Dallas BBQ in the past … but pretty damn close. That is, until today.

The verdict: The soup, pleasant enough, nice rich flavor to the broth. Big slice of carrot, a couple of tender shreds of chicken. The cornbread, a touch dry and mealy, in the just the way a basic cornbread should be. The fries, piping hot from the frier.

And the chicken? Frankly, it was superb.

Skin crisped and golden, the chicken literally falling off the bone, dribbles of juice running down my hands for the rest of the meal.

Writing this post is almost making me crave Dallas BBQ — that’s right, I said “crave” and “Dallas BBQ” in the same sentence — right now.

Maybe this time around I’ll go crazy and try one of those fishbowl drinks …

Dallas BBQ has several locations around New York City.
See www.dallasbbq.com for location information.

Sunday: Barbecue, Squared (and a Birthday, to Boot!)

Almost didn’t make it to the second barbecue of the day because we were busy working our way through a basket of rib tips at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ, which happen to be one of my favorite food discoveries so far in New York City — rib tips are like these gnarled, meaty, fatty end-of-rib knuckles and they’re so, so good.

I think I might like them better than ribs. The ultimate test will be when I rise to the challenge of Brother Jimmy’s Monday night special: $15.95 for all-you-can-eat rib tips and all-you-can-drink domestic draft (maximum two hours). Hot damn. We’ll find out how many rib tips this girl can truly put away when that day comes.

photo-3photo-4Thankfully, I did get to the second barbecue just in time: It was after the dishes were washed and the home-smoked pulled pork, smothered in a delicious hickory-style spicy barbecue sauce, had been packaged into leftover bags … but (and this is key) before the pork, dishes, et. al. walked out the door. Meaning, I swooped in and got one!

They layering of the sandwich is key, my friend, the pitmaster (if you’ll recall, the one responsible for the delicious tea-smoked chickens), advised: Coleslaw, then sliced white onion, then pork, pickles on top. One of these little pulled pork sandwich gems, paired with the cutest miniature cupcakes from Crumbs Bakeshop … this Sunday birthday party was kickin’ yet.

Thursday: Report from Harvest in the Square (the “Ohhh … Good Food Overload” Post)

photo-4To use a terribly-overused metaphor, I was like a kid in a candy store at Harvest in the Square, only the store was a cavernous tented event space stretching three city blocks and the candy was little menu tastes from several dozen restaurants located in the greater Union Square area — and wine shops, wineries and breweries to boot.

An hour and a half? No problem. As far as I can recount, here’s a faithful tally of my candy store rampage:

photo-12Tocqueville‘s chilled tomato consommé with a confit tomato (right) was beautiful to look at, but, pardon my unrefined palate, seemed a little oily. Also not quite a success was Back Forty‘s cold corn soup with Trinidad pepper relish — the soup had a sourness to it that I just didn’t get, and the texture was oddly … fluffy?

photo-13In the veggie sphere, I much preferred  Union Square Café‘s simple zucchini alla scapece or Gramercy Tavern‘s souffléd crackers stuffed with zucchini — so airy and poppable, it’s a good thing I didn’t discover these little gems until toward the end of the night because I would have kept popping them and not had room for, say, my second serving of Blue Water Grill‘s smoked bacon-wrapped lobster sausage (above, served with corn salsa and fennel pollen aioli). Never knew such a form of lobster existed, but my life is better for it now that I do.

photo-14The Strip House — I’ve never been, but they’re supposed to do good steaks — served a crab cake with fingerling potatoes. It was fine. But I much preferred steak places that did meat, like the Knickerbocker. Perfectly cooked strips of the restaurant’s signature T-Bone steak (right) were being snatched up faster than the chef could slice them. (If the point of a restaurant’s participation is to get you interested enough to come in sometime, and you’re a steak place, serve steak.)

photo-3More great beef: The grilled beef tenderloin and malanga fondue with truffle trumpet frisee salad (left) from brand new Pipa Tapas y Mas restaurant was a dark-horse contender for favorite of the night. And BLT Prime served a bacon-crusted Wagyu flatiron with corn roasted bell pepper salad and bacon chimchurri that sounded more complicated in the placard than what I got on my plate, but it was a nice bite.

photo-8Wildwood BBQ‘s whole pig (right) was definitely the most ambitious display of the night; the pulled pork sliders with coleslaw and chipotle BBQ sauce were okay, but a little boring compared to the smoked pork spare riblets being served at Hill Country‘s table (served with mac & longhorn cheddar cheese).

photo-6Hands down, my overall favorite of the night was Almond, who had a gorgeous, potatoes-overflowing and rock salt display and a brilliant dish (left): house-smoked blue fish and potato chips, dill, goat yogurt. It’s like chips and dip deconstructed, pure mouth bliss. And entirely original. I will go to this restaurant specifically to order this dish in the future.

More from the fish front: SushiSamba did a kanpachi tiradito with heirloom tomatoes, fresh yuzu and white truffle oil, which was clean and just a lovely bite of sushi. And while I wanted so much to love ‘Wichcraft’s fluke with vodka-infused watermelon, charred chilies and basil — sounds so exotic — it was really overwhelming. The charred bits were almost gritty, whoa there vodka-soaked fruit.

photo-10… and, dessert. The Stand‘s mini toasted marshmallow shakes were perhaps one of the most adorable presentations of the evening, each topped with its own chocolate-dusted marshmallow. The perfect serving size for this sort of event: a few good sips and you’re done and SO satisfied.

And the guys hand-shaving the ice for market-flavor treats at Todd English’s Olives table get the award for hardest working team. Literally, hand-shaving ice. It’s like kitchen time-out to have to do that job. The flavors were ambitious and fascinating: Horachata was the clear winner. The creaminess improves the shaved ices, and it comes dotted with tiny raisins. Other flavors were: butternut squash, spiced cider and pomegranate.

On my way out I grabbed at beignet from ilili — so glad I did. It was the perfect sweet bite to end on.

photo-15Other miscellany: Whole Foods’ “Ploughman’s snack,” which featured local ingredients from Rick’s Picks, Schoolhouse Kitchen and Sprout Creek Farm on these fantastic plates made from fallen leaves by VerTerra Dinnerware out of Long Island City showcased all the locally-produced items beautifully. You could tell it was a really thought-out presentation. And then there’s the guac — I just couldn’t say no, not when I see the Rosa Mexicano team pounding out fresh batches in giant stone pestels (left).

… And about those noodles from Republic that were handed out in tiny orange and blue-colored take-out boxes? Mine ended up in my purse for later…

The Brocton, NY Edition: And These Are My Grandpa’s Chicken Wings.

In certain circles, my grandpa is known for a lot of things. Of the stories I hear, one of the things he’s most famous for are his chicken wings.

IMG_0993 copy30 pounds of wings … 60 pounds of wings for that … do you remember when we did 100 pounds for such-and-such party? The man has single-handedly cooked tens of thousands of pounds of chicken wings.

To back it up just a bit: Buffalo, N.Y., purports to be the origin of the chicken-wing-as-bar-snack. Somewhere in those murky decades before my existence, my grandpa fine-tuned his own sauce recipe that even now remains a secret. It’s a damn good sauce: lip-smacking spicy in just the way you want it to be, without burning out your throat. Blue cheese dressing cuts the heat, if you need it. No wonder he’s a local legend.

On this visit, the wings were part of that classic American round robin, the pot luck (aka barbecue, or picnic). There is one rule: Bring yourselves, and bring a dish to share.

IMG_0998 copyI just adore these events. You get the most incredible cornucopia of foods you might not ordinarily eat, or even imagine existed. Your plate becomes a veritable petri dish of American food culture.

Consider the specimen that is Plate no. 1, clockwise from the chicken wings: There’s a baked, cheesy, hashbrown dish; baby pickles; half a Johnsonville Beddar Cheddar brat (with spicy mustard); nacho salad made with lettuce, ground beef, Doritos nacho cheese chip crumbles, and more. (bacon?)

No one eats like this, normally, all the time. That’s why it’s such a treat.

IMG_0005 copyTake, for example, my favorite item on Plate no. 2, the dessert plate, which is located at the top. Yes, that fluffy, very orange “7-Up salad” gets its glow from orange Jello, CoolWhip, canned fruit (I think), 7-Up (I’m assuming) and more.

I should know this because I watched my grandma make it this morning, and I pretty much ate a bowl of it for breakfast … Clockwise from the 7-Up salad is a banana creme pudding dish; a strudel bar and chocolate cherry cake. All homemade.

IMG_0006 copy

… And, to wash it all down, your pick of beers. There’s always a fully-stocked beer fridge, which, by definition, is a separate, secondary fridge, usually located in a garage, full of beer.

Oh, to have a beer fridge in New York City…

Where were we partying? There’s an interior shot of the shed, pre-party, after the jump: Continue reading “The Brocton, NY Edition: And These Are My Grandpa’s Chicken Wings.”

Tuesday: A Delicious Feast of Tea Eggs, Tea Leaf-Smoked Chicken and More. (aka the “Weber Smoker Trial Run!” Post)

When I go to a meal at someone’s house, generally there’s something that I can do to help. (And if I’m not in or near the kitchen, it’s because I was told to get out.) (And even then I generally linger.)

At this delicious feast, however, there was a very specific moment when I realized that there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to improve the efficiency of the cooks, even if I tried. So instead, I kicked back, relaxed (it was held in my honor), tended a skillet here, poked a bird there, and learned a couple things…

photo-1… Like, did you know that that most meticulous and technical method of cooking, sous vide, had anything even remotely in common with smoke-cooking foods?

In fact, the proud owner of a shiny, new Weber 2820 Smokey Mountain Cooker/Smoker explained, between the evenly-regulated interior temperature, the bowl of water inside the smoker (which helps regulate the temperature) and the long cooking time, cooking with a smoker is sort of like a hotter-temperature sous vide. Sort of.

(This friend also has a certain tenacity for the highly-technical side of cooking, as opposed to the “throw a bunch of shit in a pot” approach: He’s the author of the occasional blog, Sous Vide or Not Sous Vide?, and carbonates his own water (above), among other beverages).

photo-5photo-6Which means the chickens — (2) 4-lb. chickens and (1) 7-lb. chicken — cooked away over coals and smoldering loose leaf tea from Chinatown for a good three-to-four hours (the big guy even longer), and still came out as moist as could be, with just the faintest smokey taste.*

photo-2photo-7Inside, hard-boiled eggs simmered in soy sauce, tea leaves and a concoction of spices for as long as the chickens cooked, sending one of the most delicious fragrances I’ve ever smelled in my life wafting through the apartment.

… Then the second cook arrived, and yelled at us for leaving the egg shells on that long. Apparently removing the shells earlier in the process (but after the eggs are boiled, of course), sort of speeds up the process, turning the cooked egg white a dark chocolate brown? True story.

photo-3photo-10Then I watched her chop the bok choy. Sure, I’ve cooked bok choy a bunch of times. But to separate the leaves from the cores, and the gorgeous, sconce-like symmetry inside the bok choy? I was a little bit in awe. No wonder designers of all sorts cite nature as their muse. You just can’t make this shit up.

The kale lesson was a little more practical: Just treat it like stauncher spinach. (I’ve cooked kale before but followed some ridiculous recipe that made it way too complicated.) All you really have to do really, I learned, is wash, chop and pan-cook, preferably with some sort of fatty protein like bacon or almonds to get in all the crevices. Like with spinach, be prepared for shrinkage.

photo-8photo-9This was the end result. Fluffy, white rice, with crispy-brown bits on the bottom (yum!), and tea leaf-smoked chicken, to start. Then stuff your bowl with bok choy, kale and topped with a tea egg … and eat.

*For a stronger smoked taste, read your smoker’s manual and opt for the suggested method of lighting, which is probably to use a chimney starter.