Posts Tagged ‘Ribs’

Franklin Barbecue – Austin, TX

Monday, July 28th, 2014 by virginia


Prior to our arrival in Texas, I hadn’t given much thought to Franklin Barbecue. Sure, I wanted to try it, but I also don’t like standing in line or big crowds. I also don’t like feeling disappointed when restaurants don’t live up to their hype. But after getting to Austin and realizing there really wasn’t that much to see around the city, we decided to bite the bullet and make the wait, the logic being that who knows when we’ll ever be back in Austin.

For those of you who’ve never heard of Franklin Barbecue or have never seen the Chase commercial featuring Nobu Matsuhisa, a renowned Japanese chef, visiting the famous Austin joint and meeting Aaron Franklin, the person behind the barbecue, it’s a much lauded barbecue restaurant that started as a food trailer and quickly grew into a brick and mortar location with a line almost as notorious as its food. People literally wait hours each day to eat this barbecue, and brisket, Franklin’s most popular item, always sells out. Once all the food is gone, usually by midday, they close up shop. And so basically, unless you’re the POTUS, there’s no way to avoid waiting if you want to taste that brisket.

Josh and I mapped out our plan of action the night before: he would leave our hotel first around 8:30 am and get in line. I would stay in the room until J woke up and get her ready for the day, including packing the diaper bag full of books and toys that would amuse her during the inevitable wait. While I was getting everything ready, Josh called to say that I should bring whatever beer we had, as the line was long and everyone was drinking. So I put the beer we had left over from the Salt Lick, as well as a few other beers we acquired during our trip, in a grocery bag topped with ice, hooked it up to J’s stroller, and soon J and I were on our way.

I’m pretty directionally challenged, so even though Josh tried to tell me how to get there the night before, I stopped by the front desk for a map and clear instructions. It was almost 10 am at this point. When I asked the nice young man at the desk how to get to Franklin Barbecue, his response was, “Well you see, ma’am, the thing about this place is, there’s this line…” My first thought was, “Yikes! Am I really a ‘ma’am’ already?” Which was quickly followed by my second thought, “Duh, of course I know about the line.” I convinced myself that the “ma’am” was just a polite Southern thing, not a reflection of how old I may or may not look, and I quickly assured him that my husband was already waiting in line; I just needed to know where to go to meet him.

It was a pretty short walk from our hotel to Franklin Barbecue, and as the restaurant came into sight, the line didn’t look too bad. Only when I got closer, and could see down the hill from the building, did I realize just how far it stretched.

At first glance, the line doesn't look too bad

At first glance, the line doesn’t look too bad…

Upon closer inspection, you see just how far down the block the line stretches

Upon closer inspection, you see just how far down the block the line stretches

When I located Josh, who was about three-quarters down in the line, he told me that the line had actually been longer, but they had just given out the “last man standing” sign to someone only a few people behind him, and so a bunch of people who were at the very end of the line gave up and left. The sign indicates that the person holding it is the last person guaranteed to get brisket. Basically, a worker at the restaurant takes a poll of what each person in line is going to order, and then based on that, they estimate at which point they’re going to run out of brisket. There is also an informal rib count, and I was alarmed to hear that the people right in front of us were the last ones guaranteed ribs.

Our position in line

Our position in line

The restaurant officially opens at 11am, and so we still had a bunch of time to kill before the line would even begin to start moving. Looking around, most people were a lot more prepared than we were, with folding chairs, umbrellas, and coolers of drinks set up. One rowdy group behind us (who we later found out was the crew from Uchi and Uchiko, two of Austin’s top restaurants and where Top Chef Paul Qui honed his skills) was drinking endless cups of bloody marys and seemed to be having a great time. I guess if you think of the wait as sort of a pre-bbq tailgating party, it’s just part of the fun. I still didn’t think the wait was fun, but at least we had a few cold beers to help us pass the time. And if you don’t remember or know to BYO, someone comes around selling cold beers and drinks from a tray.

To kill some time during the wait, Josh went to check out where the magic happens - the smokers out back

To kill some time during the wait, Josh went to check out where the magic happens – the smokers out back

At long last, the line began moving at 11, but at a snail’s pace. The pair in front of us, who were students at the University of Texas, were experienced diners and told us that the line moves slowly because they’ll only serve as many people as they can seat in the restaurant. That way, you are guaranteed to find somewhere to sit and eat your food immediately. It made sense to us, but as the line eventually crawled up towards the side of the building, there looked like a few tables were always empty at any given time.

When we ultimately made our way up the ramp and inside the restaurant (a triumphant feeling, 4 hours after Josh first started waiting), we could finally see what was going on. There’s still a decent wait from the time you get inside until you reach the counter to order, and the reason for that is the man himself – Aaron Franklin. Not only was he taking everyone’s order and personally slicing every brisket, he was greeting and chatting with each person that came up. When it was finally our turn, he asked us where we were from, gave us permission to take pictures, and then made fun of us for not ordering enough food (I guess most people order a lot and take home leftovers, which wouldn’t have been practical for us).

When we ordered a quarter pound of brisket, he asked if we wanted fatty or lean. We’re no fools (or so we thought) – of course we wanted fatty! Then he asked if we were sure, and he sliced off a hunk of a lean burnt end for us to taste, which may have been the single greatest bite of barbecue I’ve ever eaten. Seriously.

The master in action

The master in action

The burnt end, which is the end point of a whole brisket, is probably the most flavorful part of the meat. It’s usually fatty and has lots of bark on it, and even though this was a lean end, we literally had juices dripping down our arms when we bit into it. The end had a nice bit of char on it, was smoky but not overly so, and ridiculously rich in the best way possible. Those ends alone were worth the wait, and we were pretty lucky to have gotten to try them. We wound up changing our order to half lean and half fatty because of that.

The lean brisket was still nicely marbled throughout, though it had a meatier texture than the fatty brisket. The fatty brisket was so tender it practically melted in our mouths. I think it’s just a personal preference – it you like to chew your meat, go for lean. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not tough or chewy at all, but it’s definitely got more bite than the fatty. Some people might find the fatty end too fatty and soft, but for me, there’s no such thing when the meat is prepared properly. The char on the outside of all the slices was just great, imparting lots of concentrated meat flavor.

Brisket up close - look at the glorious bark

Brisket up close – look at the gorgeous bark

The rest of the barbecue was no slouch either. Fortunately, they did not run out of ribs ahead of us, so we were able to get a quarter pound of those. The juicy ribs that were meaty and well seasoned. They weren’t falling off the bone but yielded easily to our bites.

Ribs up top, brisket, pulled pork, turkey on the left, plus bread and cole slaw

Ribs up top, fatty and lean brisket, pulled pork, turkey on the left, plus bread and cole slaw

Cole slaw was the only side we ordered, which we used as a crunchy counterpoint to all the rich meat we were eating. It was perfectly fine – fresh, crisp, not overdressed – but nothing to write home about.

Cole slaw

Cole slaw

We also got a quarter pound of pulled pork, which wasn’t the pulverized mash that we’re used to seeing. This was roughly chopped meat, still in identifiable chunks, with a good mix of fatty and lean bits.

Pulled pork

Pulled pork up close

The pulled pork was the best vehicle for three barbecue sauces on the table – Texas-style, espresso, and sweet vinegar. Texas-style was the standard thicker, darker, sweet and smoky sauce. The vinegar sauce reminded us of Carolina barbecue, with its signature tang. The espresso sauce definitely had a strong hint of coffee flavor, but was a bit too out of the box for us to really enjoy the barbecue with; it seem to overpower the flavor of the meat. And we used the other sauces sparingly, as this barbecue was good simply on its own.

Barbecue sauces - espresso, sweet vinegar, Texas-style

Trio of barbecue sauces – espresso, sweet vinegar, and Texas-style

Instead of sausage, we decided to try the turkey, which people in line told us was really something special. The slices we got in our quarter pound order were surprisingly moist for breast meat, and packed a punch of smoky flavor. Josh declared it the best turkey he’s ever eaten, and he desperately wants to try smoking a turkey for our next holiday meal. I’m generally not a turkey lover, except maybe on a club sandwich slathered with mayo, so I probably didn’t appreciate the smoked turkey as much. Compared to the other meats we had, it was much drier in texture, and the smokiness was a bit too strong for my taste. We saved a few pieces of it for J to eat later, as she had fallen asleep while we were in line. She was a definite trooper during the wait – reading books, eating snacks, drinking milk, toddling around, and generally charming the people around her. Aside from a younger baby in a carrier, she was the only kid we saw in line.

Smoked turkey

Smoked turkey

Overall, I have to say, Franklin Barbecue definitely lived up to the hype. We haven’t tasted better barbecue anywhere else, and for us, it was worth the wait. The line itself is an adventure – if you come prepared for it, time passes quickly. The people we met in line treated the wait like a party. They planned their whole day around this. For them, it was a time to drink, laugh, and hang out with friends before eating amazing food. And the barbecue is absolutely amazing. The flavors of the meat, the textures, were all outstanding. Aside from the turkey (which Josh loved), I thought nothing was too smoky but everything had a wonderful savoriness to it that was imparted by the smoker. We ate until we were stuffed, and then continued eating because it was just too good to stop. Besides, we had burned off plenty of calories standing in line for 4.5 hours. And you know what? We would do it again.

Franklin Barbecue
900 E. 11th St.
Austin, TX

Sold out! The sign on the door when we left the restaurant around 2:30 pm.

Sold out! The sign on the door when we left the restaurant around 2:30 pm

The Salt Lick – Driftwood, TX

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 by virginia


We took a much-needed break in San Antonio from eating barbecue after our epic day of feasting through Luling and Lockhart, but we picked back up on the barbecue train after arriving in Austin. We spent the afternoon exploring the south side of the city, including the famed South Congress Ave. area where there are lots of restaurants and bars. It was kind of dead though, as it was still early in the evening, so we decided to make the 40 minute drive to the original location of the Salt Lick, a barbecue place we’ve heard a lot about.

It was fortunate that we made the decision to go when we did, as they were closing the restaurant early for their staff holiday party that evening. There was a short wait for a table, but we had the foresight to pick up a 6-pack of beer on our way to the restaurant (it’s a BYO) so we were able to enjoy a cold one while we waited. It also gave us time to observe the huge pit were all the meats were being cooked, which definitely helped to whet our appetites.

The barbecue pit at the Salt Lick

The barbecue pit at the Salt Lick

We ended up getting a huge table in the back just for the three of us, which gave us plenty of room to accommodate J’s high chair and spread out. We debated ordering family style, which is basically all you can eat beef brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, as well as sides, but we weren’t super hungry and didn’t want to overdo it. At $21.95/person though, it’s a pretty good deal, and a lot of groups around us appeared to be partaking. Instead, we shared combo plate and one double cut beef rib. The combo plate came with two meats, and we selected brisket and pork ribs (the other choices are sausage or turkey). It came with potato salad, cole slaw, and beans on the side, as well as soft bread, pickles, and onions.

Table of food (and you can see J's little hand reaching out to snag a rib!)

Table of food (and you can see J’s little hand reaching out to snag a rib!)

The pork ribs were very meaty, not falling off the bone but still tender. The brisket was on the drier side though, without the marbling that I like in fattier cuts. Fortunately the Salt Lick barbecue sauce was there to help, add some moisture and tangy sweetness.

Combo plate with brisket and pork ribs

Combo plate with brisket and pork ribs

The single order double cut beef rib actually came with two ribs, both massive. I felt like I was in the Flintstones, gnawing on a gigantic rib. Unfortunately, the meat was pretty tough and dry, and even the barbecue sauce wasn’t much help here. The pork rib was the clear winner of the two.

Double cut beef ribs

Double cut beef ribs – you can see the meat sort of dried and shriveling away from the bone on the front rib

Overall, we were slightly disappointed with the barbecue from the Salt Lick. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. The meat didn’t have much smoke flavor to it, which I don’t necessarily mind, but it was definitely drier than other barbecue we tasted on our trip. I don’t know if they were in a rush since they were closing early that evening so we just happened to be there on an off night, or if what we got was standard. I also think that part of the appeal of the Salt Lick (the Driftwood location at least) is the atmosphere, which is usually supposed to be crowded, noisy, and festive, with live music and plenty of seating, both indoors and out. We were there on a chilly winter night just before they were closing, and we were at a big table with just the three of us. I would definitely like to try it again, maybe on a warm day sitting outside with a bunch of friends and a cooler full of beer.

The Salt Lick (multiple locations)
18300 FM 1826
Driftwood, TX

Texas Barbecue Round-Up – Luling and Lockhart

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 by virginia

We spent our second night in Texas at our friends’ home outside of Houston. James and Angie were wonderful hosts to us, and J had the time of her life playing side by side with their boys. After spending a relaxing evening making homemade pizza on the grill (a veggie pizza topped with fresh slices of jalapeno is a brilliant combination) and eating donuts and kolaches for breakfast, we got a late start on the next leg of our trip, San Antonio. James advised us to stop for some barbecue lunch at City Market in Luling, Texas, which was about 2.5 hours away. He also mentioned that about 20 minutes away from Luling was Lockhart, where there were multiple renowned barbecue joints. Since we were hitting the road a bit later than we expected, we figured it would just be more convenient to stop through Lockhart on our way from San Antonio to Austin, which would be the shortest drive on our trip anyway.


Luling was a small, quaint-looking town and City Market was located on a main street among other shops. Inside the tables were set up cafeteria-style, so I found a high chair and got J settled while Josh went to the back room where the pit is to order our food. It was a little after normal lunchtime so the restaurant wasn’t too full, and we wound up having the table to ourselves. Josh came back with an assortment of meats served on butcher paper. He also got some pickles on onions on the side, and a package of saltines for J rather than the usual white bread.

Assorted barbecued meats from City Market

Assorted barbecued meats from City Market

The brisket was on the leaner side so not as tender or as marbled with fat as I usually prefer. The meaty flavor, however, was just delicious. It was smoky but not overwhelmingly so, and I loved dipping it into the slightly spicy/slightly vinegary barbecue sauce that was left out in glass bottles on all the tables.

City Market brisket

City Market brisket

The ribs were a bit tougher than I expected them to be, and also on the drier side. They needed a bit more seasoning to them, and that’s where the barbecue sauce came in handy again. The sauce was the perfect combination of spicy and tangy flavor.

City Market ribs

City Market ribs

James had recommended we order the sausage, and while I am usually not a fan, this was something special. The meat was coarsely ground and reminded me a bit of merguez in texture. The casing had a good snap to it, and the flavor of the beef was smoky and well seasoned. I was surprised by just how much I liked it.

City Market sausage

City Market sausage

After enjoying the barbecue so much at City Market, we craved more. And so we made the split decision to continue on to Lockhart. We had nothing in particular planned for that evening in San Antonio, we were only 20 minutes away, and we were still hungry, so why not? We decided that we would order 1/4 pound each of the same meats – brisket, ribs, and sausage – at the three most popular barbecue places in the barbecue capital.

Our first stop in Lockhart was Smitty’s Market. While the entrance was dark and kind of smoky from the barbecue pit down the hall, the separate dining room was brightly lit and bustling, reminding me of an old school diner or ice cream soda shop. There were long communal tables, many of which were filled with families enjoying an early dinner.


Josh went to get the food while I staked out some seats with J. He came back with the barbecue on butcher paper, more crackers for J, as well as a Big Red soda and Lone Star beer. Neither of us had ever tasted Big Red before, and to be perfectly honest, we both ended up hating it. It kind of tasted like cream soda, but not, and was just too sweet and cloying. The beer, however, was quite refreshing, and paired much better with the barbecue.

Assorted barbecued meats from Smitty's Market

Assorted barbecued meats from Smitty’s Market

The brisket was fattier than the one at City Market, and I liked that better. It was more tender and the meat almost seemed to melt in your mouth. I just wish that it was slightly more seasoned though, because while there was a decent amount of smoke, it lacked the meaty flavor of the City Market brisket. Still, it was very good on its own.

Smitty's Market brisket

Smitty’s Market brisket

The ribs at Smitty’s were fabulous. They sort of reminded me of the Texas version of the barbecued ribs that you get at Chinese restaurants. They were smoky, slightly sweet, and had us licking off our fingers after eating them. The meat was juicy and falling off the bone tender. Delicious.

Smitty's Market ribs

Smitty’s Market rib

Smitty’s sausage, on the other hand, was very disappointing. It tasted like regular breakfast sausage to me, which I didn’t like. There was nothing about it that stood out, and I also found it to be quite greasy. I would definitely pass on it the next time if I came back.

Smitty's Market sausage

Smitty’s Market sausage

Our next stop was just a few blocks away, Black’s Barbecue. The inside looked like a barbecue joint to me, with wood paneled walls and lots of animal heads hanging up. The tables were covered with plastic red checked table cloths, and there was just a casual, homey atmosphere to it that I liked.


However, I found the barbecue at Black’s to be pretty smoky in general, but the brisket was especially so, and not in a good way. All I tasted was smoke, not the flavor of the beef. It got to be pretty overwhelming, even though the meat itself was fine in texture and fattiness.

Assorted barbecued meats from Black's Barbecue

Assorted barbecued meats from Black’s Barbecue

Black's Barbecue brisket

Black’s Barbecue brisket

The ribs had a promising-looking dark crust on them, but they also fell flat. The meat was chewy and surprisingly tough. We wound up using a lot of barbecue sauce to help get them down.

Black's Barbecue ribs

Black’s Barbecue ribs

The sausage at Black’s was also disappointing. It seemed drier in texture than the other sausages we tasted, and again, we needed help from the sweet barbecue sauce on the table to counteract the overly salty smokiness. Part of the problem might have been that our palates had just been overwhelmed by that point with all the smoke. Maybe it’s just an aspect of Texas barbecue that we’re not used to, but we didn’t really encounter that issue anywhere else.

Black's Barbecue sausage

Black’s Barbecue sausage

We were definitely no longer hungry at this point, but we powered on to our next and last stop, Kreuz Market. In contrast to the other barbecue joints we visited, this place was massive, with high ceilings and endless seating options. Like Smitty’s, there was no barbecue sauce offered, though there were bottles of a salt and pepper mixture on the table.


J’s patience with our little food crawl had ended by this point, so we powered up some Sesame Street on the iPad and hunkered down to enjoy our last trio of meats for the day.

Assorted barbecued meats from Kreuz Market

Assorted barbecued meats from Kreuz Market

First we tried the brisket, which was astonishingly bland. It lacked both seasoning and smoke, and was much drier and tougher in texture than the other briskets we sampled. We tried using the salt and pepper mixture on it, but really, it just needed some sauce to add flavor and moisture.

Kreuz Market brisket

Kreuz Market brisket

The rib, on the other hand, was spectacular. It was unlike any rib we’ve tasted previously, and crusted with lots of crunchy bits of crushed black peppercorns. The meat wasn’t falling off the bone, but it was tender and juicy. The seasoning was great, the meat had a lot of flavor, it wasn’t overly smoky, and we happily devoured it.

Kreuz Market rib

Kreuz Market rib

The sausage at Kreuz’s was another surprise winner. We had low expectations after the disappointing brisket, but the sausage was well seasoned and peppery, with a nice snappy texture.

Kreuz Market sausage

Kreuz Market sausage

So the final verdict?

1) City Market
2) Smitty’s Market
3) Black’s Barbecue
4) Kreuz Market

1) Kreuz Market
2) Smitty’s Market
3) City Market
4) Black’s Barbecue

1) City Market
2) Kreuz Market
3) Black’s Barbecue
4) Smitty’s Market

Based on our rankings, I guess City Market was our favorite barbecue of the day. In addition to great meat, that tangy barbecue sauce put it over the top. Both Kreuz’s and Smitty’s had highlights as well, particularly their ribs, while Black’s just really didn’t do much for us. Obviously we’re Texas barbecue noobs, so take what we have to say with a grain of salt. There are probably other meats we should have ordered, but given our agenda and stomach capacity, we did the best we could.

We were beyond full by the time our barbecue binge was finished. Our “late lunch” had rolled into dinner time, and we couldn’t even think about eating another bite. We stuffed ourselves back into the car and finished the drive to San Antonio. After taking a late evening stroll around the River Walk and checking out the Alamo, I finally started feeling a little peckish again around midnight so we nibbled on some leftover brisket and sausage while sharing a bottle of wine in our hotel room. It was a great day of indulgence, and we were thrilled with our last minute decision to go to Lockhart that day. This is what I love best about road trips – the ability to be spontaneous and just pick up and go to whatever interests us most at that particular moment.

City Market
633 E Davis St.
Luling, TX

Smitty’s Market
208 S Commerce St.
Lockhart, TX

Black’s Barbecue
215 N Main St.

Lockhart, TX

Kreuz Market
619 N Colorado St.
Lockhart, TX

Hilton Head 2011 Day 2 – One Hot Mama’s

Saturday, September 17th, 2011 by virginia

One of the restaurant suggestions made to us by a reader was One Hot Mama’s, a barbecue restaurant whose chef, Orchid, participated in The Next Food Network Star competition. I don’t watch that show so I had no idea who she was, but the menu looked good and I always like to try barbecue when we’re in the south.

The restaurant doesn’t take reservations but you can call ahead and put your name down, telling them approximately what time you want to come by. They’ll try to accommodate you as best as they can but it’s not a guarantee. Since we had 15 people in our group, we ended up waiting past the time they said to come in. We actually ended up splitting up into two separate tables to shorten our wait. The “kids” sat at one table while the adults sat at the other.

We decided to get a few appetizers to share. The restaurant offers a wide variety of wings, including their award-winning “Hot Asian” wings, so we knew we had to try some of them out. We ended up getting a mix of Hot Asian, Backyard BBQ, and regular Buffalo wings. The Hot Asian and Backyard BBQ wings ended up being pretty similar. They both had a smokey grilled flavor and sticky sauce, though I think the Hot Asian wings were a tad sweeter with maybe just a hint of spice. The buffalo wings were pretty standard with a vinegary buffalo sauce that had a decent kick to it but wasn’t too spicy. They were served with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks on the side.

Hot Asian and Backyard BBQ wings

Buffalo wings

We also shared a platter of pulled chicken nachos. The chicken was tender and flavorful, and there was lots of it piled on top of the tortilla chips. There was also cheddar cheese sauce, melted monterey jack, pico de gallo, scallions, and jalapenos. The flavors were well balanced and we ended up polishing off the entire plate.

Pulled chicken nachos

Josh and I wanted to try as much of the barbecued meats as we could so we split a rack of baby back ribs (also award winning) and a BBQ combo with hand pulled pork and sliced beef brisket. The rack of ribs was simply ginormous, and the meat was falling off the bone tender. It was slathered with Mama’s Red BBQ sauce, which was a good mix of sweet, sour, and spicy. I really enjoyed these ribs but there was so much food that we only ended up getting through half the rack. We boxed up the rest for lunch later in the week. The ribs came with a side of french fries (perfectly crispy but standard), honey jalapeno cornbread (a bit crumbly), and coleslaw (crunchy, tangy, and not too mayo-y).

Baby back ribs with cole slaw, fries, and honey jalapeno cornbread

The BBQ combo was also supposed to come with fries and cole slaw on the side but we were allowed to substitute for two other sides. We ended up choosing collard greens and macaroni and cheese. The collards were great – intensely leafy but not bitter at all and soft but not mushy. The mac and cheese had a nice tangy, cheesy flavor to it, and the pasta was perfectly al dente. It was a good combination of creamy and gooey, and one of the best mac and cheeses we’ve had. As for the barbecued meats, the pulled pork was soft and melt in your mouth tender while the brisket was smokey in flavor and quite tender as well. We did douse more barbecue sauce on both for extra flavor, a vinegary bbq sauce for the pork and more of the fantastic Mama’s Red BBQ sauce on the brisket. Again, the portions were enormous, and we took home lots of leftovers.

BBQ combo platter

Slice Texas beef brisket

Hand-pulled pork

Macaroni and cheese

Collard greens

We also got an order of onion strings to share for the table. In retrospect, that was definitely way too much food, but the onion strings were actually really tasty. They were very sliced thin, lightly battered, and perfectly fried to a nice crisp. The strings were not greasy at all, and they were perfectly seasoned. There was ranch dressing on the side for dipping but we were happy eating them plain.

Onion haystack

We were much, much too full for dessert, plus we had eaten Spiderman birthday cake before dinner. We also had tons of leftovers that we ended up doggie bagging for lunch later in the week. Overall I think everyone was pretty happy with the food at One Hot Mama’s. It wasn’t anything fancy but the food was hearty and solid. Prices were incredibly reasonable, especially for the amount of food we received. The only downside of the evening really was the fact that they don’t take actual reservations so we ended up waiting a long time, plus we had to split our party into two groups. Nevertheless, once we were seated, the service was fast and efficient, and the food was really good. Authentic barbecue? Perhaps not, but I’m no expert. I have to admit, I had some reservations, especially since the place and a commercial, chain restaurant vibe to it, but in the end, I was won over. I don’t know how well Orchid did on The Next Food Network Star, but I definitely have to give her props. I would happily come back here the next time we’re in Hilton Head.

One Hot Mama’s
7 Greenwood Dr.
Hilton Head, SC

Liberty View

Saturday, November 20th, 2010 by virginia

At a recent Sunday night dinner with the family, we revisited an oldie but a goodie. When all of us lived downtown in the Financial District and Battery Park City, Liberty View was our go-to Chinese restaurant for Sunday night dinners. Since Josh and I moved uptown, we haven’t been to the restaurant in probably a year, which is too bad because the food is really quite good.

Every time we go, we always make sure to order the steamed juicy buns, or soup dumplings/xiao long bao. These are some of the best ones that we’ve had, and believe me, Josh and I have eaten our way through most of the soup dumplings in Chinatown. I was happy to see that they were still as tasty as ever. The skins are super thin but still slightly chewy, the meat full of porky goodness, and the soup inside is hot, flavorful, and has just the right amount of fatty richness to it. Delish!

Soup dumpling in all its glory

Another of our usual appetizers is the spare ribs, which are sticky and citrusy and not too sweet. They can be a little fatty sometimes but they’re generally pretty tender.

BBQ spare ribs

We also got an order of the cold noodles with sesame sauce, which something that we hadn’t tried before at this particular restaurant. It’s a pretty standard, simple dish, but unfortunately, this version was pretty bad. The sesame sauce was watery and not very flavorful, and there just wasn’t enough of it to cover all the noodles. The dish wound up being extremely bland, and it’s not something we would order again.

Cold noodles with sesame sauce

For entrees, the moo shu pork is one of our favorites. Strips of pork are stir fried with scrambled eggs and shredded cabbage, then rolled into thin pancakes dabbed with hoisin sauce. Just make sure you ask for the same number of pancakes as you have people, because if you don’t specify, I think they only give you a certain number. We were short the first few times we ordered so we learned our lesson. The good thing is that they’ll wrap up the moo shu for you and portion it out evenly across all the pancakes.

Moo shu pork

Another favorite is the crispy spring chicken in house brown sauce. The chicken is always tender and juicy with crispy brown skin. The house brown sauce is a mixture of soy sauce and chili oil, and is chock full of scallions and black pepper, which gives it a little kick. The dish comes garnished with crispy prawn crackers that are puffy and crackle delightfully if you leave them on your tongue. These were one of my favorite snacks growing up, and while they don’t really do much for the chicken, they’re a fun addition.

Crispy spring chicken and prawn crackers

My personal favorite dish is the Shanghai style pan fried noodles. It’s a bed of thin egg noodles that have been fried until crispy, then covered in a mix of chicken, pork, broccoli, carrots, snow peas, wood ear, mushrooms, and other assorted items in a flavorful brown sauce. You mix everything together and the noodles add a wonderful crunchy texture to the dish.

Shanghai style pan fried noodles

To add some veggies to our meal, we originally asked for hollow water spinach, which is my favorite vegetable, but they were out of it that evening. We settled for pea shoots instead, which are another leafy green vegetable similar to spinach. The pea shoots were sauteed with garlic and cooked until just wilted, so that the stems still had a nice crunch to them.

Sauteed pea shoots

Last but not least, we got an order of pork fried rice. It was fairly standard but there was lots of pieces of roast pork mixed throughout, and the rice wasn’t overly mushy or greasy.

Pork fried rice

Overall Liberty View is one of our favorite Chinese restaurants in the city. It’s a bit more refined than some of our go-to places in Chinatown, though I wouldn’t really call it fancy. It’s in a nice location though, right along the Hudson River, and has a nice view of the Statue of Liberty. Service can be a bit overbearing at times, however, because they try to plate and serve everything for you. What I like about Chinese food is that it’s served family style, so everyone should be able to help themselves. Aside from that, I think the food is really good, almost up to Chinatown standards. Now that we’ve rediscovered how much we like the food there, I’m sure we’ll be going back more often.

Liberty View
21 South End Ave. at West Thames St.
New York, NY

NC – Ole Time Barbecue

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 by virginia

As promised, as soon as we landed in Raleigh, my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew picked us up from the airport and we headed straight to Ole Time Barbecue for lunch. The restaurant was smaller than we expected, and completely packed when we arrived, which is usually a good sign. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long for a table, though it was a bit of a tight squeeze with Alexander’s car seat. They brought us a basket of hush puppies to munch on while we looked over the menu.

The menu cover

These hush puppies were fantastic! Hot, crispy on the outside, soft in the middle, and full of corn flavor. They were irregularly shaped and clearly homemade, unlike the perfect logs that we’ve gotten at other bbq restaurants in the area. They were addictive and we polished off the basket quickly.

Amazingly good hush puppies

The combination meals seemed like the best way to try the most dishes. Josh and my brother both opted for hand chopped bbq pork and bbq chicken. The bbq chicken was falling off the bone tender and pretty tasty, while the chopped bbq pork was soft and super vinegary. Both were made even better after being doused in the acidic bbq sauce and tangy hot sauce.

Hand chopped bbq pork and bbq chicken

For his sides, Josh selected the french fries (at my request) and fried okra. The fries were pretty bad – cold and soggy – but the fried okra was delicious. The little crunchy breaded slices of okra were bursting with flavor, and not slimy in the least. I may have found one of my new favorite side dishes.

Crunchy pieces of fried okra in front, limp and soggy fries in back

My sister-in-law had the chopped bbq pork and Brunswick stew combination, with sides of collard greens and fried apple sticks. The stew was meaty, but the portion was small compared with the other combinations.

Unfortunately, I had the worst meal of the bunch. I opted for the full rack of baby back ribs, which were so dry and tough that never mind trying to pull them apart with my fingers, I couldn’t even cut through the meat with a knife and fork. The meat was flavorless and stringy, and I ate about two ribs before giving up. What a huge disappointment. My sides of collard greens and baked beans were good, but nothing could salvage the awful ribs.

Dried out baby back ribs, tangy collard greens, and sweet baked beans

Overall I think we were all disappointed by the food we had at Ole Time Barbecue. It came recommended to us by a reader who commented about our dining choices during our first trip to Raleigh, plus it was featured on the Food Network show Road Tasted with the Neelys. While the hush puppies definitely lived up to expectations, everything else was downhill from there. I did like it better than Danny’s Bar-B-Que but it was nowhere near as good as Smokey’s BBQ Shack. The barbecue at Ole Time simply wasn’t as flavorful or as meltingly tender, and the ribs were just terrible. I know my Northern palate isn’t up to the same Southern standards, but dry is dry. None of the meats were really outstanding, and unfortunately, I don’t think that we’ll be going back the next time we’re in NC.

Ole Time Barbecue (multiple locations)
6309 Hillsborough St.
Raleigh, NC

Holiday Wrap-Up and Tailgate Party

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 by virginia

We spent the Christmas long weekend in NJ, of course, having Christmas dinner with my parents on Friday, Hanukkah brunch on Saturday afternoon (Josh’s parents were away the actual week of Hanukkah), and attending the last Giants game at Giants Stadium on Sunday. We did a lot of eating that weekend, feasting on a variety of foods.

Christmas Dinner

With my brother and sister both living out of state, neither of them could make it home for Christmas this year so we didn’t really have a big, elaborate meal since it was just me, Josh, and my parents. We kept it super simple with a hot pot filled with tofu, fish cakes, cabbage, and thin slices of pork.

Hot pot chock full of tofu, fish cakes, cabbage, and pork

In keeping with tradition, we dipped all the items into a combination of sha cha (Chinese bbq sauce) and hot sauce before eating them. The pot bubbled away on an electric hot plate in the middle of the table and we merrily threw more items into it until we couldn’t eat any more, and the broth was rich and flavorful.

More tofu and pork ready to go into the hot pot

We also had a big plate of pan fried soup dumplings, which Josh and I request every time we’re at my parents’ house. Even though they buy them frozen at a Chinese supermarket, these dumplings are actually really good. They have thicker skin than most soup dumplings but the filling is hearty and flavorful.

Yummy soup dumplings

Lastly, we had stir fried beef cooked with scallions, hot chilies, and the latest harvest of pimientos de padron. The padron peppers actually worked really well with the beef, making kind of a fusion twist on pepper steak.

Stir fried beef with scallions, chilies, and pimientos de padron

Hanukkah Brunch

Instead of exchanging gifts every night of Hanukkah, Josh’s family usually does gifts all on one day. We get together with his parents, sister, aunt, uncle, and cousins and have a big brunch first before digging into all of the presents. The highlight of the brunch is always Alice’s latkes, which she makes from a mixture of potatoes, onions, and matzo meal. She blends the ingredients together and then fries up the batter, which makes for a crispy outside and a creamy inside.

Potato latkes

This year Josh decided to fry up a batch using bacon fat, which Alice wasn’t too happy about. Is that sacrilegious? I don’t know, but in the end, there wasn’t much noticeable difference in the bacon fat latkes. They were maybe slightly crispier on the outside but there was only a hint of bacon flavor in the background, and it wasn’t worth the effort to collect the bacon fat.

Potato latkes fried in bacon fat

Brunch at Josh’s house also isn’t complete without bagels from Three Star Bagels in Teaneck, NJ. I haven’t found a bagel in NYC that even comes close to Three Star in terms of flavor and texture. Jersey bagels are bigger than NYC bagels, which a lot of people might not like, but since I love bagels, the more the better. The crust on a fresh Three Star bagel is both crispy and chewy, and inside is airy and chewy but not too dense. These are my favorite bagels, hands down.

The best bagels

You can’t have bagels without an assortment of schmears. We got both scallion cream cheese and lox cream cheese. My preference is the scallion, since its chock full of chopped up scallion that adds a nice freshness.

Lox and scallion cream cheese

I also prefer the scallion cream cheese because I love to pile lox onto my bagels, and doing that on lox cream cheese would just be overkill. I absolutely love lox, and could eat it every day.

Lots of lox, with tomatoes and onions on the side

The salads at Three Star are also top notch. We always get the egg salad, tuna salad, and chicken salad, and break off pieces of bagel to eat with each one. My personal favorite is the tuna salad, as it’s not overly mayo-y or fishy.

Tuna salad (in front), egg salad, and chicken salad

We also got a container of whitefish salad, which was a bit salty and oily. While it wasn’t bad flavor-wise, I still prefer tuna salad.

Whitefish salad

Lastly, we had some slices mozzarella and prosciutto rolls. It was pre-packaged so I didn’t think it would be that good but it was actually delicious. The prosciutto was flavorful and the mozzarella was milky and soft. There were some basil leaves in the center of the roll that tied it all together.

Prosciutto and mozzarella rolls

Tailgate Party

Last summer we got tickets to go to the Giants game that would be over Christmas weekend. We figured it would be convenient since we knew we’d be in NJ that weekend anyway. We didn’t realize that this would be the last Giants game ever at Giants Stadium, which made it all the more exciting. We planned on meeting our friends in the parking lot around 9 am to do some tailgating.

Our tailgating spot right outside gate C

Josh and I volunteered to take care of the chili, which we put together the night before. It was simple – just ground beef, peppers, onions, kidney beans, and lots of garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin. We brought it in a big pot and heated it up on the small grill that our friends brought for the occasion.

Big pot of chili

Our friends took care of everything else, which was really awesome of them. After we warmed up with cups of chili, the brats were next up on the grill. First they were cooked in a pan with onions and beer.

Brats in a beer and onion bath

Then they were placed directly on the grill to get some nice char and grill marks on the outside. These were the first brats I’ve ever eaten (surprisingly!) and I liked them a lot. Juicy, flavorful, and the onions were a nice touch.

Perfectly grilled brat

We finished off with two giant racks of ribs, which were rubbed with a spice mixture first and then slathered with tasty bbq sauce. The ribs came out tender and flavorful even though we were running a bit short on time.

Two giant racks of ribs on the grill

We had also intended to make burgers but ran out of time before the game started. Unfortunately, the Giants didn’t show up for this game at all. It really was quite a disgrace, and we left early, completely disappointed.

Beautiful day for football but bad game overall

Still, it was a gorgeous day, chilly but not freezing, and we had a blast tailgating. It’s nice to be able to drink beer at 9:30 am and not feel guilty about it! When we got cold the guys warmed up with some scotch while the girls stuck with hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps. I couldn’t believe the number of people out tailgating so early in the morning, but the atmosphere was fun and festive. I definitely hope that we’ll be able to do this again!

Three Star Bagels
402 Cedar Lane
Teaneck, NJ

Tahoe Day 4 – The Brewery at Lake Tahoe

Thursday, January 7th, 2010 by virginia

No, I didn’t forget about Day 3. On the evening of our third day in Tahoe, we decided to stay in and finish up all of the leftovers from the previous night. There was still lots of spaghetti and meat sauce, as well as a few of the appetizers and tons of dessert. On our last night in Tahoe, however, we were too tired to cook so we decided to go out and grab some casual/comfort food. We ended up at The Brewery, which is a local brewpub that produces its own handcrafted beers.

We called ahead since there were eight of us going out and they told us it would be an hour wait, first come first serve. We ended up hanging out at the bar while we waited and enjoyed some of their specialty brews. I tried the IPA, which was hoppy as expected, but not too bitter. Josh had the porter, which he wasn’t a big fan of because he thought it was too watery and thin and didn’t pack enough flavor. He ended up switching to the IPA, while I went with the Killibrew Brown Ale, which was not too light and not too dark – just right.

The beer vats behind the bar

The wait wasn’t short but it wasn’t terrible, as we were all deep in conversation. We were seated soon enough and ordered a bunch of appetizers to share. First up was the spinach artichoke dip, which was served with garlic/parmesan toasts. The dip was cheesy and creamy, and though it could have used a tad bit more seasoning, it was a very good version.

Creamy spinach and artichoke dip

We also got a vegetarian version of the nachos, which were a huge pile of tortilla chips covered in cheese, refried beans, tomatoes, guacamole, salsa, and scallions. The nachos were pretty standard but still tasty to snack on.

Vegetarian nachos

Lastly, we got an order of chicken wings with “Hot” sauce, which was in the middle on the mild to hottest options. The funniest comment of the night was from Claire’s friend S, a chemist, who upon reading the hierarchy of spicy wing sauces questioned: “Why is ‘Nitro’ hotter than ‘TNT’? TNT is TRI-nitro!!” Fortunately the Hot sauce wasn’t too spicy, though it did have a nice kick at the end that lingered on our lips. The order came with a pound of wings, which turned out to be a lot of pieces since these were the tiniest wings I’ve ever seen. They were almost half the size of wings that I usually see but they were still pretty meaty and much less messy to eat.

Hot chicken wings

For my main course, I got a Bad Ass® Burger, which is a half pound burger topped with sauteed mushrooms and onions simmered in their Bad Ass® Ale, served with lettuce, tomato, and pickle. I added swiss cheese to the burger, as well as raw red onion (I love raw onion on my burgers).

Bad Ass® Burger + swiss and red onion

Unfortunately, my burger was cooked way past my requested medium rare, so it was a tad dry despite all the toppings. Was it Bad Ass®? No, but it was pretty well seasoned and very filling. I also liked the beer battered fries that came on the side, which were nice and crispy.

Autopsy shot

Josh had a “BYOB” (build your own burger). He requested Bad Ass® onions, bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and swiss cheese. His burger came out without bacon, but at least it was more medium rare than my burger though it was still overcooked. I think the waitress forgot to write down bacon because she didn’t seem to notice that it was missing.

An almost Bad Ass® burger

Claire also had a burger while Sean went with the BBQ Combo, which included half a rack of St. Louis ribs and a grilled chicken breast. His combo came with a side of fries and his choice of soup or salad. He requested the soup but our waitress also forgot to bring that out and had to be reminded. He enjoyed the bbq a lot though, and the bite of ribs that I snagged was moist, tender, and flavorful.

BBQ Combo

Overall I didn’t think the food at The Brewery was spectacular (it’s mostly basic bar food after all), but it was pretty good and I liked the atmosphere a lot. It’s very casual and lively, and from the outside, it looks like somebody’s house. I liked the variety of beers on tap and prices were very reasonable, especially for a ski resort town. The specialty brews were only $4.50 a pint, which isn’t too shabby especially compared to NYC prices. Service was a bit lacklaster but maybe that was because they were so busy that night. I think it would be a great place to hang out over a few pitchers of beer, order a bunch of appetizers, and watch sports games on the TVs all around the room. I would definitely recommend this place to anyone visiting the area, and I would definitely come back here next time we’re in town. And maybe next time I’ll actually try the Bad Ass® Ale!

The Brewery at Lake Tahoe
3542 Lake Tahoe Blvd.
South Lake Tahoe, CA

NC – Smokey’s BBQ Shack

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 by virginia


We arrived in Raleigh early Saturday morning the day before Alexander’s baptism. Not wanting to deal with sub par airport food again, we had skipped breakfast so we were pretty hungry by the time we got to my brother’s house. After settling in and having some quality nephew snuggling time, we headed out to Smokey’s BBQ Shack for an early lunch.

Smokey’s is the Carolina barbecue place that my brother wanted to take us to the first time we were in Raleigh but it was closed that weekend for Labor Day. The hours of operation are pretty sparse, as the restaurant mostly caters to the work lunch crowd. They do usually open on Saturdays from 11-7 so we were in luck this time.

The restaurant is basically a little shack/hut on the side of the road that has a lot of character. There are lots of funny signs posted everywhere, as well as some interesting decorations on the walls.

Just some of the "character" of the restaurant

Just some of the "character" of the restaurant

We ordered at the counter in the back, got some soda from the dispensers, and settled at a table to wait for our food. It came pretty quickly, as the meats are smoked for hours beforehand. Josh and I both got the Smokey’s Sampler because we wanted to try all the meats offered. The sampler came with pulled pork, beef brisket, chicken wings, and a large rib.

Chicken wings and pulled pork

Chicken wings and pulled pork

It also included hush puppies (the same kind that we had last time I think) and a side dish.

Crispy hush puppies

Crispy hush puppies

The sauces are served in squeeze bottles on the table and included a Carolina vinegar-based sauce and a slightly spicy barbecue sauce. We found that mixing both sauces together was the best way to go, as it made a smoky, sweet, and tangy combination that we doused all of our meats with.

Smokey's bbq sauce

Smokey's bbq sauce

All of the meat was tender, a little bit smoky, and very very good. My favorite was the rib, which was falling off the bone and had just the right amount of fat mixed in with the meat to make it really succulent.

Meaty and fatty rib and tender brisket

Meaty and fatty rib and tender brisket

For our sides, we opted for macaroni and cheese, which was pretty standard. The sauce was rich and thick but I missed having a crunchy topping to provide some textural contrast.

Macaroni and cheese

Macaroni and cheese

Our other side dish was Brunswick stew, which was a much better version than the one we had at Danny’s BBQ. This version actually had meat in it and was much thicker and richer. It had a nice tomato base and didn’t have any of the canned quality that marred the previous version we had.

Brunswick stew

Brunswick stew

I definitely thought that Smokey’s BBQ was far superior to the other Carolina barbecue we had, and I liked the casual home-y atmosphere. It’s just sad that the hours are so sporadic, but it’s worth the effort to get there while it’s open. Portions are generous and nothing costs over $10, making it a pretty good bargain. Though the menu isn’t extensive, it covers all the basic barbecue items and sides, and the food they produce is well prepared and comforting. I definitely recommend coming here if you’re ever in this neck of the woods.

Smokey’s BBQ Shack
10800 Chapel Hill Rd.
Morrisville, NC

NC – Danny’s Bar-B-Que

Monday, November 23rd, 2009 by virginia


While we were in Raleigh I really wanted to try Carolina barbecue, which is smoked meat doused in a vinegar based sauce, but because we were there over Labor Day weekend, most of the bbq joints my brother wanted to take us to were closed. Boo. I really had my heart set on having it though so my brother found a place near his home called Danny’s Bar-B-Que that was still open.

The restaurant is located in kind of a nondescript strip mall and the décor is a bit generic but that didn’t really matter because we were here to sample the food. The restaurant is definitely kid-friendly and there was plenty of room for Alexander’s stroller at our table. The hostess and the servers were all super friendly and offered up their suggestions when Josh and I said we were inexperienced with Carolina barbecue.

We started off with an order of hush puppies, something that I’ve had before in Hilton Head. It’s basically deep fried corn bread batter. The ones at here were uniformly shaped logs so I think they were probably the frozen kind but at least they were served piping hot tasted pretty delicious. They had a crispy outer shell that gave way to a sweet corn center.

Crispy hush puppies

Crispy hush puppies

I really wanted to have some baby back ribs so I opted to go with a two meat combination with baby back ribs and beef brisket (baby backs are $4.75 extra). The combination came with Texas toast and a choice of two sides. I picked baked beans and the special of the day, collard greens. The ribs came in a huge slab and were really tender. The brisket was a bit on the dry side but I doused them in the vinegary carolina bbq sauce as well as a spicy bbq sauce. The baked beans were sweet and smokey, and the collard greens had a nice slightly bitter flavor to them.

Beef brisket, baby back ribs, baked beans, Texas toast, collard greens

Beef brisket, baby back ribs, baked beans, Texas toast, collard greens

We wanted to try all of the bbq meat offerings so Josh went with the three meat combination that came with St. Louis style ribs, chicken, and chopped pork. The St. Louis style ribs were larger than the baby backs but not as falling off the bone tender. The chicken was juicy and flavorful, while the chopped pork was a bit fatty but super moist. For his sides, Josh chose french fries and Brunswick stew. The french fries were standard and fried well, but the Brunswick stew was a bit of a disappointment. There was no meat in it, just beans, and it tasted like they were just dumped straight from a can. The stew didn’t have much seasoning and still had a tinny metallic taste to it.

Chicken, chopped pork, St. Louis style ribs, french fries, Brunswick stew

Chicken, chopped pork, St. Louis style ribs, french fries, Brunswick stew

Overall I thought the food at Danny’s Bar-B-Que was decent but didn’t blow my mind. I don’t know what I was really expecting with Carolina barbecue but I thought it would be a bit smokier in flavor. Most of the meats we had were tender but unseasoned and a bit bland. I guess this is so you can pick what sauces you want to douse on top, but then all I tasted was the sauce and not the meat. I did like the vinegary bbq sauce though, as it’s not as sweet and overpowering as regular bbq sauce. Not being a barbecue connoisseur, I don’t know how authentic the food is but it was a nice place to have a fun, casual, and affordable family dinner.

Danny’s Bar-B-Que (multiple locations)
9561 Chapel Hill Rd.
Morrisville, NC