Category Archives: BBQ

Of things smokey, saucy and usually porky.

Atlanta Day 2

We sleep in a bit today. No furry alarm clock. Breakfasting this morning at Ria’s Bluebird, across the street from Atlanta’s famed Oakland Cemetery, where we will be spending a good part of the early day before the heat becomes to oppressive. I think Southerners must pride themselves on their heat tolerance like a Canadian prides themselves on wearing flip flops at least until the first snow. I like the heat but I am melting.

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Bluebird is a short drive from the W. No reservations. The small parking lot is full and there is a significant lineup out front. The wait is 45 minutes we are told, but it’s more like 25. They move people through well but don’t rush you. Soon we are ushered in and brought fresh squeezed lemonade on ice. Icy cold, lemony sweet-tart. Perfect.

Bluebird&DaddyDzB 004We have had a minute to peruse the short menu in the hipster meets summer cottage surroundings. I note here that they have several veggie options and they are creative and not second thoughts. Tattooed service is friendly and efficient.  The vibe, noisy and fun. Lots of young families, couples and friends meeting up.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 001Rob and I decide on the brisket breakfast but then he is swayed by today’s special when the server returns and reads it off to him. Eggs Benny with pickled shrimp, melted lardons, fennel, onion and chile peppers on toasted French bread with a side of very good, peppery grits. Very Scandinavian. ‘Cept for the grits.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 004We also choose a short stack to share because the NY Times declares these pancakes to be the best in the world (not fact checked other than for us eatin’ them).

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Breakfast arrives and we tuck in. My brisket breakfast is melt-in-your mouth beef soaking in a dish of beefy, salty, rich sauce with two poached eggs and toasted baguette on the side. The short stack does indeed have world class aspirations. I am not a fan of sweet breakfasts for the most part, but these were delicious….especially when you dipped a forkful in maple syrup and then into the beefy sauce. It reminded me of a dish Alton Brown created on a road trip (big inspiration to us getting going). He went to the kitchen where the old cook was making rib tips for dinner service and he told her he wanted the rib tips on pancakes. She fussed a bit but finally gave him what he wanted. Then his whole crew wanted it. Then it ended up on their menu. Rob makes it from time to time. But I digress.

Bluebird&DaddyDzB 005Breakfast was wonderful and the portions were not crazy. Just satisfying. It is hard not to waste food in the south, but Bluebird has it just right. As we head off into the sweltering sun, our server offers us icy lemonade to go. Free refills he says. They go down good.

We hop into the white behemoth hereafter to be referred to as Moby, and head over to Oakland, Atlanta’s historic cemetery founded in 1850 and our entertainment for the day — cruising leisurely through an old graveyard. It is a great place to take pictures, beautiful, serene and tells the story of a place. Some people like city halls and other attractions. We like cemeteries. The architecture, the history, the ghosts. It says so much about an older city. This cemetery is unique because it’s also an open city park that has art shows, concerts, culinary events and other fundraisers. It’s a gathering place in the city, which is a beautiful thing for a cemetery to be.

It is the final resting place of notables such as Bobby Jones and Margaret Mitchell. Oakland is also home to many ancient oaks and magnolia trees, art and sculpture. When the cemetery was first established, it was designed in the “new” rural garden tradition that was a forerunner of the public park. It still operates today as a park. People in the early 19th century picnicked and communed there. Sunday was a day where families gathered to tend their dead. More acreage was added to accommodate fallen confederate soldiers as the civil war raged through Atlanta. At this time, Jews were buried apart from Christians and African Americans apart from them. The last sites were sold in 1884, but we saw a grave as recent as 2012 in a family plot. The cemetery fell into serious disrepair some time in the 20th century as people moved away and lost touch with their ancestors. In the seventies it was declared a historic landmark and government and public funding has restored a large part of it to it’s former glory. The cemetery has a 10 stage refurbishing plan, dependent on funding. As we walked through today, we could not help but notice that the African American section is in serious decline.

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Oakland 005The sun is now pretty much directly over head and molten. Still we persevere and decide beers are in order and maybe a little BBQ. This is silly because there is no such thing as a little BBQ. In any event, we spied a place on the way over this morning, Daddy D’z.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 006Daddy’s is hard to miss. It is total homemade shack. Gaily painted with African American culture and a hammered together smoker out back it screams “Good BBQ Inside!”

Bluebird&DaddyDz 010We order a couple of beers and some small plates. 4 ribs and two sides. I ask for just one side of mac and cheese as it is seriously almost too hot to eat.

Bluebird&DaddyDzB 008I get six ribs and a double order of mac and cheese plus a huge chunk of really good cornbread…sigh I really hate to waste food especially when an animal died to provide it, but I just can’t eat these quantities. Rob orders the small plate as well, with really good collards and yams as sides. It comes piled high and he can’t finish it either.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 012Ooh yeah. The ribs. Excellent, beauty pink smoke ring, perfect bark. Comes with either spicy or sweet sauce. We chose sweet. It was everything you could want in a sweet sauce, thick and tangy.

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Bluebird&DaddyDzB 009Back to the hotel to escape the heat and regroup and maybe a siesta. For our final evening in Atlanta, we choose a Triple D joint, Varsity, the world’s largest drive-in. Food is cheap and homemade. Rob whispered earlier that I could eat in the car! This is one of my dirty secrets. I hate going into fast food places to eat. I love to eat it in my car. Rob hates to eat in the car.

Varsity 001Varsity is not too busy this Sunday evening as we pull into a parking spot. Immediately a young carhop, #47 comes by shouting “What’ll ya have?”

Varsity 004Rob’s having the chili slaw dog and I’m having the hamburger. We both try the homemade, hand dipped onion rings, a fried peach pie and a small frosted orange.

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Food arrives window side quickly. I only order onion rings if they are fresh not frozen. These don’t disappoint. Classic. My burger is a simple house made patty with mustard, ketchup and dill pickles. Nothing fancy. Exactly what I was looking for. The burgers are on the small side, but at $1.89, if you are still hungry you could order a second and be able to finish it.

Varsity 008Rob’s chili slaw dog was terrific. Good dog, good chili and creamy slaw, yet not messy and easy to eat. The frosted orange was amazing. A dreamsicle in a cup. Icy cold. The fried peach pie was not terribly memorable. The peaches we good quality in a sugary syrup, but the crust was quite thin and didn’t hold together very well for eating by hand.

Varsity 009I long for the old days of McDonald’s fried fruit pies. (Editors note: Ignore that last sentence — she’s a loon.)  #47 pops by to pick up trash. Tomorrow we head for Savannah.

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Le Gros Jambon

Late July finds us in Montreal once again for Just for Laughs, the hugely popular ,and largest, comedy festival in the world. Friday night had us take in Ron White and one of our faves, Mike Birbiglia, two immensely different comedy styles, making for a very entertaining evening. Saturday, is packed with Greg Proops, the self-styled “smartest man in the world”, Mark Maron and the very edgy Jim Norton at midnight. Because our day and a half whirlwind tour is so packed with comedy, we have little time to have a leisurely meal in one of Montreal’s many high end establishments. We are on an eat and run schedule. We also are spending most down time at the bar in the Hyatt, where you are more likely than not to run into the talent, comedy giants who are happy to say hi. These are the superstars of the comedy world, hanging with each other, busting each other’s balls and without entourage to keep the plebs away, so we grab a cocktail, blog and people watch.

We get a rare morning to sleep in Saturday with no furry assault alarm clock. After a leisurely start to the day we head off to Rue Notre Dame to a little real-deal diner, Le Gros Jambon.

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We arrive just before the late morning rush and grab stools at the open kitchen/short order station. Waitstaff is friendly and serves us in lightly accented English. Indeed most of the customers appear to be English speaking.

The diner is narrow and offers diner stool seating only. Gold flecked formica bar tops, Route 66 wall paper, creamy yellow and mint green walls, license plates, a lack of A/C and a respectable amount of built up “patina” give the resto an authentic aura. But Le Gros Jambon is not a throwback. The menu and the soundtrack are updated and modern.

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We get settled in with menus and coffees and OJ. I spy chicken and waffles on the menu and am tempted. We are headed on a two week road trip to the Southern USA in a month where they invented this culinary giant that has been making it’s way north. And so with that in mind I go with the interesting option, Mushroom Toast, which I have never seen anywhere on any menu. Rob, it seems, cannot wait it out and succumbs to the chicken and waffles.

From our vantage point we watch the cook dip fresh chicken and drop it in the pressure fryer. Meanwhile a second cook manning the flat top is doing the dance with several patrons orders. He then dunks Texas toast in a creamy mixture, I assume is mushrooms, and fries it like French toast. In a saucier pan he cooks the finishing sauce, which smells heavenly like a classic mushroom, cream and white wine concoction.

The Mushroom Toast arrives plated on a pig shaped dish. The bread is nicely done and topped with a perfect runny egg, a good amount of smoked meat and then topped with the creamy, delicious sauce. On the side is a hash brown, a loose, home made potato patty, crisp and dark from the flat top. A small container of what can only be canned Libby’s beans also graces the plate. I don’t mind that the beans aren’t home made. They are lightly sweet and go perfectly with the toast. Would have liked more beans. This could be a happily vegetarian meal without the smoked meat. Sorry no pic…I screwed it up :(.

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Rob’s chicken and waffles came with the same beans and hash brown, a large, round, crisp, chewy waffle topped with a leg and breast of freshly fried chicken and doused in a grainy mustard maple syrup. The chicken was surface-of-the-sun hot as it was right out of the pressure fryer. Giving it a little time to cool, beans and hash browns were sampled, and photos were taken. The chicken was perfect with the sauce providing a sweet and vinegary bite.

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With contented tummies we pay the bill as the diner begins to get quite crowded and a little bit too hot. Pro tip: turn on that oscillating fan. Off to enjoy our second day at Just for Laughs.

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The Highline & Texas BBQ in NYC

Today is perfect. Sunny, a little cloudy, heading towards a nice 17 degrees. A good day to walk the 1.3 miles of the Highline, the abandoned, elevated section of rail that has been converted into a park. I have seen the Highline in the fall when it was home to grasses and late daisies. I wanted to see it in the spring, green and bursting with colour. Winter has been long and harsh everywhere in the north, and it appears that spring is a bit delayed here in New York City as well.

Highline2 003Many plants were about to bloom and that was a little disappointing. However as we progressed along the rail, a few plants had made the effort and all was not lost. The Highline boasts some remarkable views of the city in an area that is very industrial and where aesthetics is not even an afterthought. You can hop on and off the park at various spots to grab a bite. We went to street level at 23rd street and had a quick breakfast of heuvos rancheros on the sunny patio of The Half King, a neighbourhood joint, hosting locals, families and some pups.

Highline2 001After our tour of the Highline, we cabbed it to the Chelsea Market. The market is very crowded with locals and tourists. We managed to hop into a few shops we had visited before and settle on a bench to have a lunch of an authentic lobster roll.

Highline2 005Tonight we are headed to the Hill Country BBQ. Promises of Kreuz sausage dance in my head. NYC has experienced a real renaissance in BBQ recently, and the culture is real. When we arrive at 7pm, the place is boisterous. We are seated at basically a communal table.

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Blue Moons are ordered and cardboard troughs are delivered. At Hill Country you line up at the meat counter and then the sides counter. The line moves quickly. We order a pound of the pork ribs, a jalapeno cheese and a regular sausage link, burnt ends, corn pudding, potato salad and corn bread.

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The meat is wrapped in butcher paper like at Kreuz Market in Texas. Unlike in Texas, they provide forks. We unwrap and dig in. The ribs are perfectly smoked with a nice peppery crust and a deep, penetrating, rosy smoke ring. A dark, sweet, tangy but not smoky sauce is provided on the side.

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The jalapeno sausage is as delicious as we remembered. Spicy and juicy. The cheese is not evident but no matter. This is an awesome sausage with a great snap. The regular sausage is merely good as it must bow down in the presence of its spicy brother. The burnt ends are dry and hardly worth it. This is my second experience with this “delicacy” and I am hard pressed to see the allure. Our dinner is rounded out by some decent sides. The eggy, well made potato salad is good but the sweet corn pudding is better. Corn pudding is a lot like a corn fritter but not fried. The corn bread was good and made better by a butter with orange rind added.

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Urban Cowboy. Woah!

Indian Summer here in Ottawa, sunny but with the crisp of fall hovering on the air. Another great day to check out Ottawa’s food truck offerings. We intended to check Dosa Inc out, but they were very late to their stated location and did not update their Twitter feed. Jake answered my email to apologize. We will try again on the next sunny free day. So, plan B: Urban Cowboy at its permanent location, Bank and Glen streets.

UCAs it turns out, Plan B would have been a fabulous Plan A. Parking, unmetered at this point, can be found fairly easily. Only six people wait in line ahead of us today. Our orders are taken by a friendly fellow outside the truck, who inputs it into an iPad for the kitchen. Rob selects the Belcher Burger Combo (A BBQ brisket sandwich), which includes a drink and a side of Sweet Potato fries. I choose the Shrimp Taco Combo, and go with the Truffled Mac and Cheese to round it out. Josie is getting a treat today and has decided on the Belcher burger with no sides.

UC 1After about an eight minute wait, food begins to hit the street and soon we are laden down with good sized baskets and looking around for a shady place to eat. There are not many within easy sight but we managed. We tied Josie to a tree and spread out our picnic.

First off, the side portions are extremely generous. The truffled mac and cheese, delicious and creamy, topped with fresh green onions, satisfies with the first bite. The kitchen uses a light hand with the truffle oil so as not to overpower the delicate cheesy pasta. Rob’s sweet potato fries are tempura battered, lightly salted with sea salt, topped with some fresh green onion and served with Urban Cowboy’s own sweet, tangy aioli. The fries are firm, large cut and not greasy. Quite possibly the best sweet potato fries in the city.

UC 2The mains are equally well considered and executed. The brisket burger had a small bakery bun but was packed with thick slices of smoky beef brisket in a sweet, homemade BBQ sauce. My shrimp taco was one of the best ones I have had anywhere, off a truck, or in a restaurant. Sweet, succulent shrimp are piled into a soft flour tortilla with slaw. The taco is the perfect combo of a little sweet, a little heat, and a little crunch. It was so satisfying, in hindsight, I should have forsaken the very excellent mac and cheese for another one of these.

UC 3Josie gave me her dill pickle and then polished of every molecule of her Belcher Burger and gives it three paws up. Four and she falls down.

UC 5$30.50  for two mains with combos which included canned drinks, and a main, no combo. Highly recommended. The only improvement this truck could make is location and I’m not sure how much of that is under their control. Near a park with lots of seating would be awesome.

 

Cowtown BBQ!

Finally made Calgary last night by midnight. We are looking forward to seeing what Calgary has to eat. BBQ seems perfect for an early lunch. Seafood and  snow crab are also featured on the menu. Booker’s, a cavernous joint is our first stop. Sufficiently scruffy outside, slick and industrial chic inside, a bank of flatties lights up the bar, funky art and a Jim Beam guitar grace the walls. Buddy Holly, Johnny Rivers, Elvis, SRV and Clapton echo through the towering space.

Bookers 001We order up a couple of local beers, Grasshopper, a nice refreshing wheat beer and an app of burnt ends. The burnt ends arrive quickly. They are tasty, prized cubes of brisket but mostly fat. Rob says this is exactly how they are every time he has tried them. Two are enough for me.

Bookers 007Our mains, BBQ smoked chicken for me and St. Louis ribs for Rob arrive literally on top of our appetizer. Not sure if the poor spacing was due to a virtually empty restaurant at 12:30 on a Wednesday or because we ordered them after we told her what we wanted for mains.

Bookers 004Entrees come with BBQ standards of corn on the cob and baked beans. Whipped potatoes replace potato salad. My perfectly smoked chicken, moist with smoky pink meat, has toughened skin from the smoker. The Kansas City sauce which lends a delicious sweet heat remedies this. Rob’s ribs are excellent, tasty and well smoked. A good smoke ring balanced by a sweet maple bourbon BBQ sauce.

Bookers 008The beans are homemade, decent BBQ beans. They are not very sweet and don’t appear to have any bacon or brisket added. They are not to my preference and I leave them. The potatoes are bland and unseasoned. They could uses a good deal more butter. On second thought. It’s BBQ. stop being creative and serve potato salad as god intended. The corn is a nice surprise. This is usually a throw away item that does nothing more than add colour to a plate full of meat. Bookers corn is dropped into boiling water for 5 when ordered. Fresh, sweet, toothsome. Not mushy like 99% of other BBQ joints. No bread is served. BBQ demands bread.

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