Showing posts with label bbq. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bbq. Show all posts

Monday, April 18, 2016

best thing i ate last week: grilled eggplant salad at Vagabond Backyard Cookout

I'm a big fan of all the good things happening in Miami's "MiMo District" along Biscayne Boulevard, anchored of late by the refurbished Vagabond Motel. Yes, it's partly because it's a straight shot from home across 79th Street Causeway for me, but it's also because the neighborhood has some old 1950's Miami feel, which many of its new inhabitants are looking to preserve in some fashion while still bringing new styles and flavors.

So I was particularly happy to see Chef Alex Chang, who runs the Vagabond Restaurant, team up with Chef Phuket Thongsodchaveonde of Cake Thai Kitchen up the street for a Backyard Cookout around the Vagabond pool. Two of my favorite spots, at one event? Sold.

Together they did a Thai-style BBQ that included grilled corn slathered with coconut cream and palm sugar, a fragrantly spicy Isaan style pork shoulder larb dusted with roasted rice powder, BBQ chicken with papaya salad and sticky rice, grilled whole fish cooked in banana leaves, and for dessert, an ice cream sandwich tucked into a hot dog roll topped with toasted peanuts and fish sauce caramel (a LOT better than it might sound).

(You can see all my pictures on the back end of this Vagabond Restaurant flickr set).

But my favorite dish was this eggplant salad. Little golf ball sized Thai eggplants were halved and grilled so their edges blackened and their insides had just started to go soft and custardy. They were doused in a key lime vinaigrette packing sour, sweet, and just a little heat. But the clincher was the toppings: those crispy shallots, those chewy, funky dried shrimp, like little flavor bombs that keep you digging in for another bite.

It was the best thing I ate last week, and a really fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

travelogue: three days of eating (and other things) in and around Memphis, Tennessee

Despite getting to do my fair share of traveling, there are still huge swaths of this country I've never seen. With all of the family together over winter break, I aimed to make a small dent in the long list of "Places I Haven't Been" with a week-long, three-city trek that started in Memphis, Tennessee. As always, my pre-trip research resulted in a list of places to visit about five times longer than could possibly be achieved in the time we had. To see the complete list and plot your own adventure, click on this Memphis / Nashville / Louisville google map. Here's where we ate, with a few inedible highlights along the way.

If I knew one thing about Memphis food before this trip, it was dry-rub ribs. And if I knew one place to get them, it was Charles Vergos' Rendezvous, a nearly 70-year old restaurant downtown where you enter through a back alley and head downstairs into the basement. The ribs here are swabbed with a vinegar and spice mop, cooked over hot charcoal, then dusted with a heavy shower of dried spices. Except for a small puddle of the meat's own juices, there's not touched by any sauce, though there are a couple squeeze bottles on the table. These are not your fall-off-the-bone kind of ribs; they've still got some traction, matching the assertive flavors of pork and spice.

It's not your typical barbecue (in fact some might say it's not barbecue at all), and the place has a little bit of a tourist trap feel to it, but I've had plenty worse ribs than these. I was also fond of their slaw, which had a pronounced yellow mustard kick, and am grateful to Allison Riley for counseling me not to miss the simple pleasures of a sausage and cheese appetizer plate.

(You can see all my pictures in this Charles Vergos' Rendezvous flickr set).

Charles Vergos' Rendezvous
52 S. Second Street, Memphis, Tennessee

Our first night in Memphis found us at The Second Line, a New Orleans inspired restaurant from Chef Kelly English. The Louisiana-born chef first started cooking professionally in New Orleans with culinary godfather John Besh, then made his way to Memphis to open his first spot, Restaurant Iris, in 2009. A few years later he opened The Second Line, a more casual place featuring lots of Big Easy staples, right next door to the fancier Iris.[1]

What better way to start an evening than a sazerac? Followed by some New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp (with a shout-out to English's mentor: "Besh's BBQ Shrimp") and a nice loaf of French bread? All that was missing was, alas, my favorite part: the shrimp's heads. When I'd order these at Mr. B's Bistro in New Orleans or Red Light in Miami, I'd give Mrs. F all the meat and just suck on all the heads.[2]

English's fried gulf oyster poboy, dressed with lettuce tomato mayo and pickles, was as good as any I've had in New Orleans (seen up close in cross-section here), with a hearty sidecar of red beans and rice. And while much of the menu consists of several other varieties of poboys, there's also a good beet and feta shwarma, and even a "reasonably healthy dinner salad" if you had ribs for lunch and don't see a fried oyster sandwich as an exercise in moderation.

For our first night in town, this hit all the right spots.

(You can see all my pictures in this The Second Line flickr set).

The Second Line
2144 Monroe Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee

Much like eating dry-rub ribs, you can't go to Memphis and not go to Beale Street. This three-block stretch, with a history as an entertainment district stretching back to the 1800's, feels a bit like a low-budget Bourbon Street. It has its share of kitsch, but it also has its share of charm. I couldn't figure out why I was hearing an extra horn line over the recorded music coming from one of the bars until I spied a wandering trumpeter playing as he walked down the sidewalk.[3] And a troupe of street gymnasts used Beale as the stage for an impressively athletic series of flips, culminating in this high air in front of the 140-year old A. Schwab Trading Co. store.

(continued ...)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Festivus for the Rest of Us

If you're skipping out on the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, or just looking for something to do in your downtime when not elbowing your way in to grab a burger or waiting to see what royalty Mario Batali offends this year, Mango & Lime has put together a great list of other good foodstuffs going on this week. I can't do any better than this list, so here it is:

Not going to SoBe Wine & Food Fest? Try these events

A couple comments:

The Seven Courses of Offal menu from Talula, for $78, available Friday-Sunday, is bound to be a winner. I just had a preview of the tripe cassoulet last night (brought some home after our visit over the weekend) and loved it. So did Frod Jr. (and, unlike the "lamb fries incident," this time he knew exactly what he was eating before he tried it).

The Q Miami opening party for Chef Jonathan Eismann's new restaurant on Thursday also ought to be a lot of fun. Barbecue, beer, blues - what's not to like?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bulldog BBQ Redux - The Pros Check In

I gave my thoughts on Bulldog BBQ a couple months ago. Now, on the same day, the pros from Miami Herald and New Times check in. You'd think everyone had the same crib sheet.
  • look - sleek and modern
  • good - turkey chili, fried oyster app, burnt end beans
  • bland - curiously under-flavored meats, cornbread and slaw
  • not quite right - smoky, sour mac & cheese
  • portions - large
  • beers - lousy selection
  • "hot chocolate puddin' cake" - molten chocolate cake in blue-collar drag
  • bbq purists - don't bother
  • verdict - still a decent meal, even if it ain't real 'cue.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bulldog BBQ - North Miami Beach

Howie Kleinberg is probably known to most people for his appearance on Top Chef Season 3, shot in Miami, where he was one of three local products. While Howie may be remembered best by Top Chef viewers for his abrasive manner and propensity for perspiration (given that among my talents are sweating and growing hair in inappropriate places, I can sympathize), he also seemed to cook his best when working with pork. The bulldog personality makes its appearance in the name of his new restaurant, and the affinity for pork also shows up in many items on the menu at the recently opened Bulldog BBQ.

Though the space is in an undistinguished strip mall along Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami Beach, it's actually reasonably pleasant once you step inside. It's clean and modern looking, with some red walls, simple furniture, an open kitchen with about 8 bar seats around a portion of it, and a soundtrack of guitar rock of the late '70s and early '80s that made me feel like I was back in high school. It looks like most of the 'cue items are done in a couple cabinet smokers, with ribs and chicken heated up on a grill for service and small amounts of other meats pulled throughout the night and kept warm in a steam table setup. It's not likely to please a bbq purist, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's not good eats.

On our first visit, we started with "BBQ Lettuce Wraps," which brought a pile of pulled chicken (or pork if you so choose), a pile of shredded cheese, a ramekin of scallion studded sour cream, and a few big crisp leaves of iceberg lettuce for some DIY lettuce wraps. Not the most elegant presentation, but tasty, in a slightly white-trash-y, Bennigan's kind of way. I'm not knocking it, it tasted good; Little Miss F loved it. On a return visit, I tried the cornbread-crusted oyster starter which brought three wee fried oysters, each over a little bed of diced avocado, tomato and onion, and dotted with a garlicky green aioli. The oysters were nicely crisp on the outside without being completely obliterated, and the flavors were on target, but this was an awfully dainty portion (particularly compared to some of the mammoth servings of other items). The turkey chili on the other hand was a hefty and hearty portion, with ground turkey, white beans, a layer of toasty cheddar cheese, sour cream, and crispy bits of cornbread on top (these in particular were a nice touch). Really almost a meal unto itself, I can't imagine eating a bowl of this and then moving on to a full plate of 'cue.

As for that 'cue ... a pulled pork main was decent, not stellar, very tender but a bit bland - though it perked up quite a bit when doused with some of the neon yellow mustard-y bbq sauce provided (a milder red bbq sauce is also available but this was just sweet and insipid). A hot smoked salmon was also good, distinctly but not overly smoky, and cooked nicely to a medium so that it stayed moist and tender throughout. The next time around I ordered the beef brisket, which was an outrageously humongous portion - there may have been an entire side of beef on my plate. This was not bbq brisket like I've ever had it before. Served up very wet, some of the slices had some nice deep char on the edges, but certainly no discernable smoke ring. In an interview, Howie's made clear that he's not trying to do super-traditional 'cue, and describes his brisket as "a cross between Jewish brisket and Texas brisket." An unusual goal, but I actually think he's accomplished what he set out to do. Me, I'd still probably prefer one or the other, but this still ain't all bad. Generally, though, all of the meats were somewhat bland, and it seems that if Bulldog isn't going to go hard-core on the barbecue technique, they should be working on something else to elevate the flavors some.

Mains come with coleslaw (good but unremarkable), cornbread (ditto, though the kids loved it) and a choice of one side. First time around, we went with cheddar grits and mac & cheese, and added on an order of the sweet fries. The cheddar grits were interesting, surprisingly using what I believe was whole hominy rather than ground grits, held together with a nicely gooey white cheddar. Not at all what I was expecting but I liked it quite a bit. The mac & chee was of the neon orange variety (but not out of the blue box), and used a distinctly smoky cheese which I found overpowering and somewhat redundant, what with the smoked meats and all. The sweet potato fries were OK, a bit limp (tough to avoid with sweets) but tasted fresh and well-salted.

On our second visit, we tried the "burnt end beans," which might be the most substantial side dish I've ever encountered. Containing far more than just some burnt ends (the crispy bits of brisket trimmings that don't make for great presentation but offer great flavor and texture), these beans were loaded with almost as much brisket as my plate - along with a topping of crispy fried sweet onions. It was so loaded with brisket it took me a few minutes just to find any beans, enough to possibly reach the point of overkill (somewhat ironic because I'm pretty sure I saw Howie prepping these, while I also later witnessed him riding one of the other kitchen staff for sending out over-large portions of the desserts). I brought home most of the beans and thoroughly enjoyed them reheated with a fried egg on top for breakfast.

For dessert the kids went with s'more pie and milk & cookies. The s'more pie was a dense slab of chcoolate with a graham crust, topped with a generous shmear of gooey marshmallow which gets toasted with a blowtorch. A sweet, sticky guilty pleasure, though what I believe was some shredded coconut in the pie filling was an unexpected and unnecessary addition, which also contributed a disconcerting grainy texture. Milk and cookies was just that, about a half dozen home-made cookies (chocolate chip, white chocolate chip, and butterscotch chip), which hit the spot for Little Miss F.

Beer selection was pedestrian, seems like a place that could really use even just a few carefully chosen microbrews to go with the 'cue. There are about a dozen wines, all nicely priced at under $25 / bottle.
Service was completely warm and friendly and food got out to the tables reasonably quickly on both our visits; it looked like they were doing a good job of turning the tables throughout the restaurant, impressively so for a packed house and a soft opening.

So is Bulldog BBQ going to be a barbecue mecca for the true believers of the low and slow arts? I doubt it. But while a number of the items could stand to be refined, I've still enjoyed a couple good meals there.

Bulldog BBQ
15400 Biscayne Boulevard
North Miami, FL 33160
T 305.940.9655
11am - 11pm daily

Bulldog Barbecue on Urbanspoon