Friday, August 29, 2008

HowFresh + BBQ Festivals = Fat Pig... Hudson Valley Rib Fest and the Hudson River Blues Festival

I am Carnivore. Hear me ROAR!! Straight gluttony. I ate a lot of meat. Pause. Now I understand Jeru's issues with Trichnology, the Gate Keeper of Trichinosis. One evil motherfucker just waiting to infest your intests.

The past 2 weekends have been filled with pork, tunes, lines, smokers, and Henry Hudson. August 16th was the Hudson Valley Rib Fest and a week later on August 24th was the Hudson River Blues Festival. Luckily the upcoming weekend will be protein deficient. Hopefully. Just a lot of sports. On my T-Rex or Donny Baseball, I'm so fucking macho.

New Paltz's Ulster County Fairground hosted the 4th Annual Hudson Valley Ribfest & BBQ Tournament from August 15-17, 2008. Unlike the NYC Big Apple BBQ Block Party, there was plenty of space to enjoy oneself without feeling confined to a tiny area. One huge field had vendors selling 'cue, dry goods, a stage, 2 large covered dining areas, kiddie rides, and behind the cue for sale was the area cordoned off for the participants in the bbq contests. Smokers from Texas to Connecticut showed up to partake in the New England BBQ Society Grilling Competition and the Kansas City BBQ Society BBQ Competition.

I didn't have a game plan for who and what to hit. There weren't many vendors offering grub so I figured I'd be able to sample all, plus I wasn't too aware of the vendors slinging 'cue. The Big Apple BBQ had nationally renowned pitmasters while this event had more local and regional grillers. And honestly I didn't care. I was just excited about taking Metro North all the way up to Poughkeepsie. Scenic, tranquil Hudson River views for close to 2 hours on an early Saturday morning. Nothing could beat that. I never took that ride before and this was the perfect opportunity. See that ladies. The kid has a sensitive side and appreciates life's finer things. Sunset walks on the coast and petting baby buffalo in Big Sky Country. You get the drift. Shit, I almost plagiarized D's co-best man speech at Buck's wedding. He murdered me on that one.

First off we hit Butch's Smack Your Lips BBQ from Mt. Laurel, NJ. For the Food Network enthusiasts, Butch challenged Bobby Flay on a showdown. He was the short stout guy with a big white bushy beard. I believe he won. That gave me the impression that his product would be pretty good. Ordered a half rack with beans and slaw and was quite impressed with the non-typical flavors.

The ribs weren't that meaty, yet were easy to bite off the bone and had a nice bark. There was a subtle smoky and spicy flavor. I really enjoyed them. The type of rib that you could eat an entire rack and not be overwhelmed by the sauce or spices.

Also tried the pulled pork sandwich. Moist and smoky swine was plagued by a weak excuse of a bun. D, one of my BBQ cohorts, was very disappointed with this and felt a better bun would have produced a better finished product. You hear that Butch??

Next up was Smoke' N Dudes BBQ Co. from Bensalem, PA. Ordered the combo of 3 ribs, chopped brisket, pulled pork, slaw and beans. We also ordered the pulled chicken sandwich and a brisket sandwich.

The ribs were much meatier than Butch's but taste wise they came up short. Aside from the sauce on the outside of the rib, the porkiness was overwhelming. They lacked smoke and other flavors, prevalent in the meat of Butch's ribs. The pulled pork was decent (Full disclosure- I'm not a huge fan of pulled pork, or I just haven't had that transcendent mouthful- pause) and the brisket was good but too sweet. I prefer brisket to be sliced as opposed to chopped or pulled. Let the meat rest on it's own laurels without any sauce.

D and wifey got down with the brisket sandwich and he approved of the bun this time. You can just tell from the shine.

The pulled chicken got a huge BOOOOOOOO mainly because it was cold. I don't understand how vendors unknowingly serve cold food. There were plenty of people behind the counter to prevent this. Some dude needs to get smoked. Real talk.

The final vendor we hit was Hickory BBQ from Kingston, NY. Their signage was nothing compared to the other vendors and that was probably the reason their line was the shortest. But you should never get wrapped up in all the bells and whistles, as Hickory put out some good food.

They were the only spot with sliced brisket so you know I went in, and D ordered the chicken thighs. They must have put a pound plus of meat on that plate and there was no way I could finish it. It smelled and looked great, but unfortunately the meat was a bit tough. There was a nice smoky taste, but too much chewing. Either the meat wasn't of the best quality or it needed to stay in the smoker a little while longer. Even the pieces with the extra fat were too chewy. I need that glistening buttery fat, not the dense opaque off-white flab. It happens.

Turns out the chicken won this battle. And I never eat thighs. Strictly breasts or legs- you know how I do. The golden brown skin on the moist and tender meat was some serious business. The chicken was so moist and smoky with a slight pink smoke ring. Good stuff.

As if that wasn't enough grub we also went in on some fried pickles and garlic. Sliced half sours in a light batter. Who doesn't like fried anything? The garlic was chewy and sweet, similar to platano maduros. Home made fudge followed that and some fried dough ended the party. Throw in some beers and fresh lemonade and there you have it folks.

I'd be remiss to omit the hot sauce- pause- episode. One of the vendors was selling his own hot sauce and giving out samples. I tried the regular and habanero versions without incident and then asked to try the headless horsemen version (that was the image on the label). This tiny dot on a toothpick almost took me over the edge. It was the HOTTEST shit I ever had. It caused hiccups and odd bodily movements. I thought vomiting was inevitable. Buckemdown didn't believe me so he gave it a shot. He's a believer now.

A week later and I'm at the Hudson River Blues Festival on Pier 54 at 14th Street. There were only 4 local vendors there this year, Dinosaur BBQ, Mara's Homemade, Dallas Jones BBQ, and Brother Jimmy's. The lines were crazy. What's new? I wasn't fazed.

For some reason I was set on going to Dallas Jones. I think the line was so long last year and I didn't have time to wait, that it filled my head with the idea that they made that bomb shit. Boy was I wrong. First off, the food was cold. As mentioned earlier, just unacceptable. Was that fake fire under the grill? I just don't get it. I ordered a half rack of ribs and my sort of blues and BBQ afficionado friend Mark ordered the chicken.

The ribs had nice flavor but no bark and no pink smoke ring. You know I love that pink. The question is- is it really BBQ without the pink? If it isn't smoked is it BBQ or just grilled meat? Everybody has their own opinion on this. I'm not sure what the correct answer is, but I'm growing partial to slow cooked meat in a smoker.

The room temperature chicken tasted decent but the temperature issues disqualified both plates off the jump. The only item that came heated up was the beans- and they were very good. Cooked in a tomato base with chunks of tomato and some nice spice. The problem is I didn't come here for the beans.

Dinosaur BBQ renewed any doubts I was having about BBQ on the Hudson River that day. They provided me with visions of plump little pigs bathing in fine mud puddles as the sun set yonder the grassy knolls. I would like to take this time to personally apologize to John Stage and the entire Dinosaur BBQ staff for listening to all the lies and slander about the how quality of their product was waning.

The first bite I took of my half rack immediately crushed any doubts I had. I hadn't been to Dino for about 2 years after being a semi regular for a little while and just lost touch. Never again.

They make close to a perfect rib. A burnt red bark covers a beautiful mix of that thin layer of fat and supple swine flesh with a very prominent smoke ring. Each bite is a reason to thank the heavens for pig and smokers. It should be noted that Dino was the only vendor with a visible smoker. Further reinforcing my earlier gripe, a smoker really takes it to the next level.

I'd be lying if I told you who was performing. But I do know I was around blues royalty. And I was protected. Rich made sure nobody bothered HowFresh and Marky B while we grubbed it out.

The blues served as a nice backdrop to some 'cue slinging. Several beers and a lot of sun, and life is good. Since it was getting late and I was pretty full, 2 plates were enough. I had no interest trying Brother Jimmy's and whoever reads this site knows I'm a huge fan of Mara's but just wasn't in the mood to test my intestinal fortitude.

1 comment:

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