During the dog days of summer, there is nothing more enjoyable than an outdoor barbecue, with hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken and ribs. Nothing beat the backyard grill, except a good restaurant, specializing in backyard barbecue cuisine.
There is a difference between grilling and barbecuing. Grilling is cooking the meat or chicken of your choice at high heat for a short amount of time. Great BBQ is done low and slow, around 225 degrees for anywhere from 6-12 hours depending on what's being cooked.
Earlier this year, I watched a show on TLC called, "Pitmasters." It starred various teams of bbqers from all around the country competing for cash sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Many of the events took place in Kansas City, Memphis, Nashville and Dallas. Hoards followed these teams through the event preparing, cooking and presenting their food to the judges.
This season, the name remains the same, but the entire format of the show has changed. Now, in six episodes, 12 teams compete to win a $100,000 prize by cooking against each other and impressing the judges with their preparation, style of cooking, taste and presentation.
Instead of testing on location in various cities, these teams are now on a set, with their fates held by the host and judges. Like many other reality shows, a surprise element is thrown in. Come on, will you, give me a break. These teams have trekked from all over the country to show you their BBQ skills, not how they make coleslaw!
I'll pass on this show and not watch it again.
I love to eat real good BBQ pulled pork, brisket and ribs. On Long Island, there are more BBQ restaurants to visit than you can imagine. You have to search for such restaurants and hope to get lucky with the food. This includes both chain restaurants and independents. Let's talk about my quest for good ribs.
There is a place in Massapequa I wanted to visit called "Big Daddy's" It specializes in BBQ and Cajun food. I made plans with my radio friend, Bob Perry from WHLI-AM to meet for lunch and since my daughter Michelle was off from school that day, I brought her along. Please keep in mind Michelle is the fussiest of eaters.
I love ribs and that's what I ordered. Michelle went with the pulled pork sandwich, which had vinegar coleslaw on it. Naturally, she took that off. I think Bob went with the brisket. My ribs were ok, a bit on the dry side, not that meaty and a bit spicy. Michelle's pulled pork was good, as was Bob's brisket. We won't be back to "Big Daddy's," again.
Next up was "The Spare Rib," in Hicksville. This place has been around a very long time and at the same location. I took my other daughter, Melissa, there for lunch. Melissa is not the fussy eater, she will try anything, even if it is on your plate, so be careful.
Once again, I order ribs and Melissa gets chicken. Are we boring or what. While the ribs are dripping in sauce, they don't have much taste and are overcooked. Melissa's chicken breast was all right. I've grilled better chicken at home.
How far do I have to search for a decent rib meal? Do I really have to travel to Memphis or Kansas City?
A new place called "Ruby's BBQ" opened in East Meadow. I go there with a friend from work. The place is empty, which is never a good sign. Still, the restaurant smells good and the staff is attentive. Of course, I order the ribs, along with fries and macaroni and cheese. The ribs are good, just the right amount of sauce and lot's of meat.
So I take the family out to dinner at "Ruby's BBQ," a month or so later. Again, it's empty, still not a good sign. My wife, Marcy, is very aware of these things and is very fussy about going out. I told her the food was good, so away we go.
The kids are not behaving. My wife is ready to have a meltdown. The food arrives and we dig in. Of course, I have the ribs again, Marcy has chicken and the kids eat from the kids menu. Again, the food is good as is the service. I hope we can go back again. I don't hold much hope as a new place opens up two blocks away.
We left "Ruby's BBQ," not to return. The restaurant closed a month later and turns into an Italian place. That lasted less than a year and it too closes. The location remains empty. I'm wondering what cuisine will open there next.
A new chain also comes to East Meadow, two blocks from Ruby's, called, "Texas Roadhouse." It advertises, "Fall off the Bone Ribs." I'm up for it, so we go for Melissa's birthday. Naturally, I get ribs. Yes, the ribs were falling off the bone. Best of all, they actually taste good and have plenty of meat. I feel like I have found rib heaven. This is definitely worth another visit.
In Bay Shore, there's a place called "Smokin' Al's." I went there two years ago with some friends on a Saturday night and the food was awesome. I had the combo of ribs, brisket and chicken and wolfed down every single bite. Man, was I stuffed.
Last year, "Smokin' Al's." opened in Massapequa Park, much closer to my house. I met a work friend, Greg, for lunch; our food was great. At lunchtime, it was empty and the service quick. The restaurant is pricey, but worth it.
In July 2010, I again met my friend Greg there for lunch. I ordered the ribs and was I disappointed. They were dry, hardly had any meat on them and didn't quite taste right. Yes, I finished them, but wasn't happy. I really considered writing a letter or an email complaining about this meal. I still haven't done it, but will very shortly. That ribs tasted like they had sat around the kitchen for a couple of days, or a week. Were they to lazy that day to prepare a fresh batch of ribs?
I went to "Smokin' Al's" website to submit a complaint. Next morning, I received a call from a polite young man, Jason, who said, "Al wanted to send you a note, but you didn't include your email."
I included my phone number, in my on-line complaint, but not my e-mail address. Always find a way to include your e-mail address in those on-line forms. That's good advice.
I sent Jason my e-mail address, hoping Al might replace my meal. Al sent a note, apologizing for my bad experience at his restaurant. He said I should have complained, right away; he would have replaced my meal.
Yes, Al is right. Complain on the spot. I knew better, but didn't do it.
I replied to Al, thanking him for his e-mail, explaining my hesitation to complain and that I work in retail and know better. Given he took the time to respond to me, I thought he might also compensate me for the meal. My response, to his e-mail, I hoped, might urge him to act.
Eventually, I received a "Smokin' Al's" gift certificate for $20. It wasn't the full amount of my meal, but a good gesture. It's a smart move by Al, as I'll likely return with family or friends, to spend my $20, but the table will spend $100 or more.
Also in East Meadow, we have "Millers Ale House." This restaurant never disappoints. The pulled pork sandwich is off the hook and their ribs are good. Their food and service is always consistent. We all enjoy eating there and never walk away feeling hungry. That's the thing with chains; they are always consistent. The corporate standards are strict and they can lose the franchise if the standards fall.
I like to frequent the small, neighborhood places. There's a place in Wantagh called "Tennessee Jed's," which I had heard about. We had a coupon, so decided to try it. When we get there, a big sign is in the window saying they no longer take these coupons. We go in anyway. Marcy orders chicken. I order ribs and the kids order from the kids menu. My ribs had a funny taste and were not very meaty.
Come on, can't I get a break at these small places? Is there a conspiracy against Matt getting good ribs at the local place? I'm almost ready to give up and stick to the chains.
I'm sure there are great, true BBQ joints on Long Island. I just have to find them. So loyal readers, if you know of any in Nassau or Suffolk Counties, please email me. Restore my faith in the independent business owner who knows what they are doing.
The journey for good BBQ will continue and if you live on Long Island, let's do lunch. You can buy.
Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.
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