Sunday, June 8, 2008
I must say, I executed my plan successfully and rather expeditiously. The 3 pits on my list are checked off. That doesn't mean I'd repeat the same itinerary next time, but I'm pleased with the outcome.
It was hot. Hotter than catshit. Hotter than potatoes. Hotter than whatever you choose. But there were enough pockets of shade between avenues and in the park to serve as mini oases. My only complaint is that there weren't enough wetnaps. I probably walked around for hours with sauce on the cheek. Fuck it. But seriously, every pit should have had these in abundance. There were alka seltzer girls distributing tablets, so where were the wetnap chicks? They need to step up their marketing game QUICK.
Got to the festival at 12:30 and the lines were already deep. Did the quick walk-through up Madison Ave. to 26th St. to peep what we were working with. After seeing Salt Lick I didn't even venture down 26th towards 5th Ave, where 6 more pits set up shop. I must have good taste, because Salt Lick had the longest line. The festival placed workers with flags at the beginning of the lines to advise patrons where to go and how long the wait might be. The Salt Lick line was about the length of a street, from 26 to 25, and then it had several squiggles with the rope as you got closer. It wasn't bad though- maybe 30-40 min wait. The photo above is from the end of the line. The Salt Lick stand is on the right side with the flags, not the near stand. Pardon the vehicle in the image.
But who cares about all the sweat and toil. People only give a shit about the grub. Salt Lick served brisket, sausage, and cole slaw. $8 for several pieces of brisket, half a link, and a scoop of slaw. Here is where my first mistake occurred. Seeing that the portions were small, I doubled up immediately. With the heat, it would have been wiser to grab one plate and slowly make my way through the rest of the event. I noticed that the pitmen/brisket slicers cut off all the fat and a lot of brine before they sliced it. I HATE THAT. That buttery fat is a gift from up above. Fuck this health shit. Let me get my fat on. I asked the dude if I could get a really moist/fatty piece and he said to ask the servers. They had no clue- The cashiers and servers are locals while the people operating the smokers and meats flew in for the event. Just so you're not surprised by blank looks. Luckily, as I was about to pay, a new fattier tray of brisket came out and the kind woman behind the counter let me do the switch. These platters didn't have any bbq sauce either- how I prefer it. At least this way I was able to try it both ways.
The brisket was good. Very good. The brine on the fatty pieces was delicious while the insides kept their meaty flavor-top photo. Some of the fat was too chewy and gristly so that was a negative, but overall, enjoyable. I'm sure the heat plays a huge part in this too. Being the slow eater that I am, having it sit out in dessert heat had an affect on the texture and taste. The other less fatty plate with the sauce was good but a bit chewier- it looked a bit more well done- bottom photo. The true star of the show for Salt Lick was the sausage. That shit was bangout. Excuse my hood talk. But for real- delicious. Spicy, juicy, flavorful- and the casing had a nice snap. One of the best links I've ever had if not the best. Visually, the links were super appealing- a burnt orange- brick color if you will, with all the visible spices.
After some downtime in the shade chatting it up with my fellow 'Cue brethren- an extremely friendly bunch, the bell rang for round 2. Luckily I had some people wait on the line for me on this one. Lazy?- maybe. Smart?- yes. Appreciated?- tremendously. Round 2 and second on the list was Mike Mills' 17th Street Bar & Grill serving Babyback ribs and beans. They were the only pit serving babyback- Rack & Soul were too- but being local I look right past you on some Jay-z shit. I prefer the smaller ribs and tenderer meat on the ribs from the top or back of the hog as opposed to the larger spare ribs from the more rotund bottom side.
The ribs were great. Very tender- only the slightest amount of force was needed to remove the meat from the bone. The crust was present without being too crisp and chewy, protecting the soft pink swine. The dry rub combines a bunch of different spices and flavors producing some excellent bbq. The baked beans that accompanied the dish were worthy of some praise too. A mix of regular baked beans with some butter beans- big lima bean looking legumes- in a rich sweet sauce. I didn't get any big meat pieces with any bite, but I believe there were some in the recipe.
At this point I was in a complete bbq coma and wasn't able to do a thing. So I just rode it out and strolled through the park where there were more stands- Wildwood BBQ and Blue Smoke were selling desserts and there were some promotional stands giving out hot sauce, water and yes, WETNAPS. American Express had a booth with oodles and oodles of them promoting New York Dish (I'll gladly give them some free pub for the service they provided). I couldn't have been happier. Horded them shits and proceeded to clean my sloppy ass. A little while later some dude offered me a free sparerib from Mitchell's BBQ. Peep the photo above of the whole hogs being cooked at Mitchell's pit. Seriously we should go eighths on a whole hog and get busy at Mullaly Park before a Yankee game. I'm sure his intentions were completely altruistic, but I prefer not taking unsealed food from strangers. Instead of me, I suggested he offer it to this homeless dude walking our way. And that began a 15 minute conversation with said homeless guy about how his mother was a great chef, numeric memory skills and various other things. Dude was dripping and definitely infringing on my space but when you're surrounded by bbq bliss certain things become more tolerable. But the boogers in his left nostril are still creeping me out.
Fast forward a little- met up with some of my peoples and hit the beer garden. Drinking was nowhere on my agenda initially- not trying to get full on liquid with limited stomach real estate. The wack part was that alcohol couldn't leave the designated area- the fountain in the middle down to the shake shack. That was some bullshit- with all the time you spend waiting on line, you should be able to booze it up in the meantime. On the plus side there was a stage with live performances. I saw some of the Wild Magnolias from N'awlins. 3 dudes in these crazy bird costumes got onstage and starting throwing out beads. I was on some don't say my car's topless, say the titties is out- but I didn't get shit. Now I understand where the Birdman got his moniker. These were the true Bird Men on some cookoo shit. Aside from looking out of their birds, those costumes must have made it feel like 180 degrees.
Press rewind. Earlier in the day I was blessed by Ed Levine's presence and had a minute or 2 to chew the fat. Like that ain't some appropriate shit. For those that don't know of this gastronomic wizard, he's an author - New York Eats and Pizza: Slice of Heaven, is the founder of Seriouseats.com- an NYC foodie mainstay, and is a host on Reservations Required on UltraHD- channel 729 for the Cablevision customers out there. He agreed with me that NYers shouldn't waste their time on the NYC pits, but try the out of town treats. Isn't that common sense? When asked which pit is a must, he suggested Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q and said they had some good pork. This wasn't some everyday good- his good included a smile and had his head nodding- on some I Dream of Miss Piggie. With that I gave him the cue-lovers handshake and he was ghost. When I was finally ready to consume some more I was sadly informed that Gibson BBQ had sold out of all 1,500 pounds of pulled pork shoulder. Though the hours of the event are 12-6, most pits are out by 5 pm.
On a mission to get my last fix, I wound up on Mr. Cecil's California Ribs line. The line was long, probably because they were one of the only pits still cooking. I learned that the last pit serving food at a cue fest is similar to the last chicks staggering at the bar. They are there so dudes might try to snatch them up, knowing that hot mess potential is almost guaranteed. The same can be said for barbecue, or in this case, Mr. Cecil's. The shit was gross. First there was the wait for the food to be taken off the grill and have the racks chopped into single ribs, and second was the terrible flavor. I noticed sesame seeds on the ribs- something I'm allergic to, and after a bite I realized this was nothing like any bbq I ever had. The ribs had a sweet Asian flavor and were very burnt. The hot link that came with it was mush. Brown mush. The cucumber, tomato, and onion salad was the best part of the meal- and I don't eat cucumbers. In all honesty, I peeped some Cecil's reviews on Yelp and many were poor. Now I understand why.
So they came, smoked that shit, and bounced. Not mad at all. Luckily NYC has been stepping up their BBQ game so yearly events like this aren't the only time we can get our hands dirty. The main thing I got out of this is that I need to hit Hill Country very soon for their brisket and it's time I give Blue Smoke a visit. If you missed this one, you're not completely assed out- the Hudson Valley Ribfest will be held August 15-17 in New Paltz, an hour and a half from the city.
The 26th St. side during the day and the remaining few on the main stretch at 6pm.
CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR LARGER IMAGES.