Below is a transcript of a live online chat with Gary Goldblatt of pigtrip.net, which took place on Thursday, March 8, 2012. The 45-minute talk focused partly on some of Gary's favorite little-known BBQ joints in the Boston area and elsewhere in New England, and it included viewer participation, with folks asking Gary questions mostly toward the end. [Note: The original discussion can be replayed at the following link: http://www.hiddenboston.com/online-discussion-0312-2.html and please go to the restaurant discussions link to check out our other chats.]
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Hello, all! Welcome to another live online discussion on food and restaurants. Over the past couple of weeks, I've talked with Jasper White of the Summer Shack restaurants, Dave Andelman of the Phantom Gourmet, and Laura Raposa of the Boston Herald, and today I'm talking with Gary Goldblatt of pigtrip.net, a directory and review site for BBQ joints across New England and New York. For the next half hour or so, I'll be asking Gary about some of his favorite places for BBQ in the Boston area and elsewhere in New England, emphasizing the more independent and lesser-known spots out there. And toward the end of the chat, I'll take a few questions from you for Gary to answer.
Marc H.: Hello, Gary...are you there?
Gary/PigTrip: Yes I'm here. Marc, thanks for having me on. And thanks to one of your readers, who pointed out Grantlee's, a Maine BBQ joint I didn't have in the PigTrip directory.
Marc H.: Thanks for being here! Where is that restaurant in Maine?
Gary/PigTrip: Up north in Farmington I think.
Marc H.: So before we talk BBQ, why don't you tell everyone a little about yourself? How did you get started with the website? Did you have a passion for ribs and other barbecue items growing up?
Gary/PigTrip: Always loved barbecue, ribs, whether Chinese or American.
Gary/PigTrip: I've been a fan of barbecue for more than two decades, starting at now-questionable joints like Tony Roma's and Victoria's Station, then up the ladder to Porterhouse Cafe and Jake & Earl's in Cambridge, and Redbones in Somerville.
Marc H.: Wow, I remember the Porterhouse. I think Spirit is in that location now.
Gary/PigTrip: Yes, Spirit is in that spot.
Gary/PigTrip: Several years ago a group of coworkers and friends would often email each other after hitting an out-of-the-way BBQ joint, and I stepped it up at one point and attached photos and an updated spreadsheet of BBQ joint names and contact info. They urged me to convert this info to the PigTrip site that's there now.
Marc H.: So you know Excel as well as you know ribs? :-)
Gary/PigTrip: Maybe : )
Marc H.: What kind of information can folks find within your site?
Gary/PigTrip: The real heart of the site is the directory, because that's useful whether you agree with my reviews or not.
Gary/PigTrip: Addresses, web links, names, locations. And for the places I've been, a link to my review. I try to rely on photos as much as possible so readers can look at them and form their own opinions too.
Marc H.: Before we start talking about places to go for BBQ, I do have a couple of questions from viewers. The rest of the questions we'll hold off on until the end. Here's the first question:
Michael: How far west have you serched for the elusive hole in the wall bbq joints?
Gary/PigTrip: I've limited my search to New England and NY/NJ for the site. Probably somewhere in Jersey.
Baj: Can you say a little about the history of BBQ in Natick?
Gary/PigTrip: Natick? No barbecue history there, but there are two joints in Framingham.
BajBQ: Yah, Natick's always been a bit of a dry town.
Marc H.: So why don't we start off talking about places in the Boston area and work outward from there...where do you like to go in Boston and the surrounding suburbs for BBQ? What particular items do you like at these spots?
Gary/PigTrip: I'll start with what I order.
Gary/PigTrip: usually ribs, pulled pork and brisket. Chicken if i'm with a crowd. Wings and burnt ends if they're on the menu.
Gary/PigTrip: The top two in Boston for me right now are SoulFire (Allston) and Sweet Cheeks (Fenway).
Marc H.: SoulFire has been around for awhile now, but Sweet Cheeks is a relative newcomer. Did you get there the week they opened, or did you wait?
Gary/PigTrip: Sweet Cheeks (Boston) is one of the most talked about BBQ restaurants in the country right now, since chef/owner Tiffani Faison is a Top Chef alum. But the attention is warranted based on the 'cue, which is often outstanding.
Gary/PigTrip: I got there the week they opened. Call it obsession.
Marc H.: I definitely understand that!
Gary/PigTrip: They've gotten better over time, as do most. And they're focusing a little more on providing value lately.
Marc H.: Are there any very little-known spots in Boston neighborhoods that you like? I'm thinking some of the places on or near Blue Hill Avenue. Have you been to Pit Stop in Mattapan?
Gary/PigTrip: I'm not so crazy about those two because I consider the meats they serve to be more grilled than smoked.
Josh B: Hi guys, I'm enjoying the chat. Just "liked" garys fb page.
Marc H.: Thanks, Josh!
Gary/PigTrip: More along those lines as a hidden gem is Mrs Jones in Dorchester.
Marc H.: I'm a huge fan of Mrs. Jones. Sometimes I'll grab some grub to go from there and head over to the Neponset River on a nice day.
Gary/PigTrip: Foodwise, Mrs Jones is almost the antithesis of the typical southern/soul joint in that the fried chicken isn't as good as the smoked chicken which came in high on my recent Wings rankings.
Gary/PigTrip: And Mrs J has ribs that are really smoked (not stewed) in a real smoker, and a quality one at that. Good collard greens with okra to boot.
Marc H.: I love everything there, though the mac and cheese can be a bit inconsistent.
Josh B: Hadn't heard of Mrs Jones. Thanks!
Marc H.: How about elsewhere in Massachusetts? Any places on the Cape or South Coast, around Worcester, in the Pioneer Valley, or in the Berkshires?
Gary/PigTrip: I'll start in Worcester...
Gary/PigTrip: Smokestack Urban Barbecue is the only "real" BBQ joint in New England's second largest city. I was a fan of the restaurant as a whole (apps, burgers) but aside from their smoky wings, not the barbecue.
Gary/PigTrip: They upgraded their smoker to an Ole Hickory a month or so ago, so I'm looking forward to giving them another try. Working in Worcester, I'd love to have a nearby go-to joint.
Marc H.: I've never been there. I'll have to try it the next time I'm in central MA.
Gary/PigTrip: Lemme know when you're going!
Marc H.: Will do! It may be part of another Worcester food trip (including some of their great diners).
Gary/PigTrip: Further west...
Gary/PigTrip: BT's (Sturbridge MA) has a strong fan base that gets them good pub on Chowhound, my Facebook page and elsewhere, and I think that acclaim is well deserved. The meats are usually fresh from the smoker, the owner is usually the one doing all the cooking, the sides are great (except the al dente beans). Great bison burger that's a misnomer because it's also mixed with burnt ends. Even if you're not a brisket fan, his brisket is a must try. Might be my favorite BBQ joint in Massachusetts.
Josh B: Love the BTs rec. Adding lots of bookmarks in my Yelp.
Gary/PigTrip: Further west...
Gary/PigTrip: Route 7 Grill (Great Barrington MA) is super local. It's been a while since I've been, but they are well worth a look if in the western part of the state. Very good pork ribs and pretty good beef rib slab. When I did a rankings of my favorite fries a few years ago, R7G made my #1 slot.
Marc H.: I've heard about that place from a Boston food writer. Haven't been, but sounds like a place worth driving to, at least while in that area.
Josh B: How about north of Boston?
Marc H.: Yes, how about the northern part of MA or northern New England? And also the Cape?
Gary/PigTrip: there's not much in Cape cod, but in Orleans there's an outside stand called Surfin' Swine done by a former competition BBQ cook. Some really good stuff if you catch him at the right time.
Gary/PigTrip: North of Boston to me is New Hampshire, want some recs there and Maine?
Marc H.: Sure, maybe the best of the best, since we're running short on time. By the way, is Surfin' Swine at the Nauset Beach parking lot?
Gary/PigTrip: Yes, you been?
Marc H.: I walked by it on my way back from watching a sunset. I guess I should have stopped!
Gary/PigTrip: Goody Cole's (Brentwood NH) is my favorite NH BBQ joint. Best brisket in NH and among the best in New England. Ribs are small on size but big on flavor, with a nice smokiness, some bite to the rub and a tenderly chewy consistency. Even the chicken's good. I like their cold sides over the hot ones.
Marc H.: A few of my Facebook fans have talked about Goody's.
Gary/PigTrip: KC's Rib Shack (Manchester NH) is probably the best known NH joint. The gigantic ribs are the go-to item here, and they can be had as is or finished with a few different "slatha sauces" to add more flavor. Brisket is pretty good too. Not crazy about their sides. I love their onion rings. Great service and atmosphere.
Gary/PigTrip: Beauford's (Hillsborough NH) is the epitome of a hidden find. Smoky ribs loaded with crisped-up rub, nice moist brisket with tons of flavor. Not high on their pork. Sides are good.
Marc H.: Hmmm, that last spot may be a good one on the way to VT. That's pretty close to Route 89, I think?
Gary/PigTrip: West of it. You have to get on 89 for just a bit.
Marc H.: How about VT, CT, and RI?
Marc H.: And Maine, of course.
Gary/PigTrip: Also check out Lobster Q for a BBQ/seafood mix. Get the ribs, skip the pork, try the onion rings and get an extra order of their cornbread.
Gary/PigTrip: VT and RI have no killer must try places that I've been....
Gary/PigTrip: But I've heard very good things about Cider House (Waterbury VT).
Marc H.: Yes, sadly whenever I drive by Cider House, it always seems closed. Maybe this summer...
Gary/PigTrip: Belted Cow Bistro (Essex Junction VT) is not totally BBQ but is high on my wanted list.
Gary/PigTrip: There might be a shortage of GREAT barbecue restaurants in Connecticut, but per capita that state has more good ones than any other.
Gary/PigTrip: I'll just rattle off some names. Wilson's, RW's, Smokin With Chris, Bobby Q's, Southern Q. All have strengths and weaknesses, so check out the reviews.
Marc H.: Wilson's (Fairfield) was on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. I want to go there, but when a town also has Super Duper Weenie and Rawley's, it's kind of tough...
Gary/PigTrip: Not tough if you're willing to hit em all! Teamwork.
Gary/PigTrip: And in Maine, Buck's Naked in Freeport.
Marc H.: Great name.
Marc H.: So are you ready for a few questions?
Gary/PigTrip: Sure thing.
Michael: Even though we all love to hate on the chain restaurants, do you ever rate them? I used to think that Tony Roma's baby backs were good bones. And I still think that they make one of the best spicy sauces out there, their Tony Roma's Red Hots sauce.
Gary/PigTrip: I haven't really hit the chain BBQ places in a few years, but I'd rank Famous Dave's tops.
Gary/PigTrip: But I'd rather hit a mom and pop if I can.
Marc H.: I have a question from a Twitter follower...
Marc H.: From @lalunkee: Where can I get a whole roasted pig dinner?
Gary/PigTrip: Several NYC joints offer these regularly, but I don't know of a Boston area one that does it as a standard offering.
Gary/PigTrip: Many do them as specials, which is why liking them on Facebook is useful.
Gary/PigTrip: I know Redbones does them in August. Casey's in Holliston does them occasionally. Rick's Roadhouse in RI is doing one soon.
Marc H.: Just curious, Gary--have you been to Remick's in Quincy or the Salty Pig in the Back Bay?
Gary/PigTrip: No, but both are very high on my wishlist!
Josh B: What's your take on my favorite BBQ gem, Texas BBQ Company in Northboro MA?
Gary/PigTrip: Possibly the most overlooked one in the area. It's not stellar, but more often than not it's very good.
Gary/PigTrip: TBC's brisket and beef ribs are the standouts. Pork ribs are an unusual mix of smoky, sweet and peppery, with a candy-like texture but not too sweet. Get the okra. Skip the chili. Good sausage.
Marc H.: One more question from me, and I know it's outside of the area, but I'd love to know. What are your top two or three BBQ spots to go to in NYC?
Marc H.: Last question coming in a minute, by the way...
Gary/PigTrip: Ah, NYC.
Gary/PigTrip: It's only a recent phenomenon (last half decade or so), but the population, demographics and high standards of NYC have made their 'cue superior to Boston's. Trust me, as a Bostonian it pains me to say it, but it's true.
Gary/PigTrip: Two of my favorites, RUB and Hill Country, are located just a few blocks from each other (and from food lovers destination Eataly near the Flatirron building).
Marc H.: That would be a trifecta of goodness right there.
Gary/PigTrip: Wildwood is a few blocks south of that. In Brooklyn's Williamsburg area are a couple more: Fette Sau (no real region, just original and spectacular) and Fatty Cue (Asian/barbecue fusion).
Marc H.: Fatty Cue?
Gary/PigTrip: Yes. Odd name. It's an offshoot of Fatty Crab, another Asian-influenced place.
Marc H.: Ok, these two questions will be it for the day:
Guest: When is the best time to go to get fresh BBQ? I always seem to get yesterday's fare.
Josh B: Does Texas Roadhouse fancy themselves as a BBQ chain?
Gary/PigTrip: I'll answer Texas Roadhouse first. They're kind of a steakhouse that has ribs. Not good ones, so I pass.
Gary/PigTrip: The best time question is an interestuing one. It varies from place to place. I often ask.
Gary/PigTrip: If you like brisket and pork (long cook items) you may have better luck at lunch than dinner because they cook overnight.
Gary/PigTrip: For ribs, dinner may be the better bet, but it does vary with each joint. At many, you'll never get from-the-smoker product.
Gary/PigTrip: BT's often notifies their Facebook fans when items are coming out.
Josh B: Agreed about TR chain. Manager had no idea why I wanted smokey ribs.
Marc H.: I think that's about it for today, Gary. Lots of good info on places to go here. Thanks again for chatting! And thanks to all of you out there as well!
Gary/PigTrip: Thank you Marc.