Those of you kind readers who know me personally know that there are few foods I adore more than barbecue, unless it's split pea soup made by cooking the peas, some celery, carrots and onion with the remains of a spiral ham. But hoo-boy, I loves me some barbecue.
Barbecue isn't really a food, though, it's more like a cult. Anyone who doubts how serious people get about barbecue has never watched one of those competitions on the Food Network (something those of you who are unfortunate enough to have Cablevision as your cable company no doubt are missing these days). Barbecue competitions, like those insane competitions where people make cakes shaped like the Kölner Dom or the incredibly cruel Chopped, in which "Queer Eye" alum and all-around geek Ted Allen emcees four unfortunate chefs trying to please three insufferably smug and pretentious "foodies" for ten grand, are sort of like a Senior Prom for the flyover states. Barbecue people, no matter where they're from, are deadly serious about their 'cue.
But since I live in New Jersey, searching for authentic Kansas City, or Chicago, or North Carolina, or Texas, or wherever, barbecue is like trying to find good pastrami in Dubuque. Here in the northern part of the State of Sopranos and "Jersey Shore", the best barbecue in the last couple of years has been dished up at Bailey's Smokehouse, a former neighborhood bar just over the New York State border in Blauvelt, New York, a place that was smart enough a couple of years ago to hire Dave "Fink" Finkelstein, late of the adorably-named Fink's Funky Chicken, to bring his smoker up and expand the menu of standard bar burgers into something that has had people flocking there ever since. Because when you want really good barbecue, who else would you see but a Jewish guy from Bergen County? But for whatever reason, Finkelstein doesn't like to settle in one place too long, so it remains to be seen if he's trained a successor, or if the plates of lovely red-rimmed brisket dabbed with just the right amount of spicy-sweet sauce, barbecue beans, and sinful bourbon-glazed carrots are consigned to history.
Closer to home, we have the no-longer-part-of-a-chain Jim Dandy's BBQ Grill ("Home of the Killer Ribs"), which doesn't turn the neighborhood redolent with the aroma of smoking meat, so I don't see how it can market as a "real" BBQ Grill, even if it does have a reasonably nice, if overly sweet, pulled pork sandwich and onion rings to die for (and a huge cardboard cutout of a pig outside, which bears an alarming resemblance to Dick Cheney). A few years ago, Backwoods BBQ opened in a cavernous space that had been home to about four restaurants in as many years, but around here people aren't really interested in antelope chili, and don't want to pay twenty bucks for a plate with a scoop of underseasoned pulled pork, some bland slaw, and not nearly enough baked beans. So Backwoods fell by the wayside, until it reappeared three miles away in a local biker bar with the unfortunate moniker The Dog House, perhaps named because that's where the town's erstwhile mayor used to hang out until he got busted for DWI with a bar waitress from that establishment in his car, which put him in enough of a doghouse that the house he shared with his wife went on the market soon after. We haven't tried this establishment yet, but with the Jets actually in a playoff game this weekend, we just might try it this very weekend.
But since I don't consider myself a conoisseur of barbecue, my eye was caught by the newest entrant in the refrigerator case of Tasty Dinner Foods for Busy People: Pulled Beef Brisket in Smoky BBQ Sauce. Now, this purchase fell into the I'll Eat Anything With Barbecue Sauce Slathered On It category, until I opened what looked like a hardened lump of meat, heated it up in the microwave, put a third of the package on a bun as indicated by the servings-per-package, and found that this is a package of lovely, lean brisket, with a smoky flavor almost obscured by just a wee bit too much spicy-sweet barbecue sauce. It is, quite frankly, delicious. It's not the kind of stuff Fink cooks up, but until he gets his shit together YET AGAIN, it's not a bad thing to slake one's barbecue lust.
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