When you have a large group with a lot of different personalities coming from different parts of the country and converging on a city for a reunion of sorts (which is what led me to Boston) there are a couple ways to to find a place to have dinner. The first is to plan this [...]
When you have a large group with a lot of different personalities coming from different parts of the country and converging on a city for a reunion of sorts (which is what led me to Boston) there are a couple ways to to find a place to have dinner. The first is to plan this out and advance, find a couple places, call and make reservations, and have everyone meet there at a designated time. The second is to scramble around, send some texts, and eventually wind up in an area hoping to find a place that had enough seating for walk ups. Guess which one we were…
After a few exchanges, it was decided that we would head out to the Kenmore/Fenway area of town and see if we could find a place. Then a couple of phone calls later, we found out that Sweet Cheeks Q had outdoor seating to accommodate a large party and we didn’t even need reservations. For me, this created a whole slew of mixed emotions. I was excited to meet Ashley’s friends and we had a place to sit down (as opposed to wandering around figuring things out). But BBQ in Boston? Of course it was a Tiffany Faison restaurant (runner-up on the first season of Top Chef…arguably the weakest of the seasons). So I was a little mixed, which got a little more mixed when I saw the Vegas-esque marquee that I can’t imagine seeing in some of the big BBQ places like Memphis, Austin, Charlotte, etc. (though I could be wrong). But I’m nothing but open-minded when it comes to food!
Before we could dive into the menu though, the hot day made ordering a drink necessary. And while it isn’t a usual drink for me, the maple bourbon was calling my name. I can’t remember what it was actually called, but I member it came out in a small mason jar with a cherry and was excellent. A little sweet, but not overly so. Not exactly a hot weather drink, so I ordered a glass of water as well. That took care of it!
Now that I had taken care of that, and everyone had settled into a nice catch up/nice to meet you style of conversation, it was time to look at the menu. It was obvious from the description that there was a place that was proud of where their food came from. From the Berkshire pork to Northern plains beef to the locally sourced vegetables, it was all about quality. Definitely a place that fit with my habits and style!
The menu was set up to be served as trays which were complete meals, or a la carte if you wanted to go that route. Looking at what a tray entailed (one meat, one hot side, one cold side) Ashley and I were inclined to split one. Then I noticed that for $8 more we could do three meats. That meant I could try the brisket and we could get chicken and ribs as well! The sides were collards and a nice farm salad featuring seasonal ingredients. After a little talking back and forth, and then a “sure what the hell” decision, we ordered two buckets of biscuits.
The excitement I had around the quality of the ingredients was dampened a bit when I bit into both the brisket and the ribs. They were actually quite bland…almost as if there was no rub on them and they erred on conservative flavors with the hopes that the diner add one of the sauces to get the flavor. And while this is fine, I prefer that my barbecue packs the flavor. The best ribs I have ever had we’re dry rubbed and smoked to perfection. No sauce needed. The best brisket was super moist, melted in your mouth, and had a perfect smoke ring around them. This brisket was a tad dry and had almost no smoke flavor to it. The ribs were cooked pretty well, but left me wanting (interestingly though they were Ashley’s favorite). Of the meats my favorite was the chicken and even that was just ok.
However, as underwhelmed as I was with the brisket and ribs, I was blown away by the biscuits. Three weeks after eating there, we are still talking about the biscuits. They were huge…big enough that half a biscuit was enough for a person. They were light and fluffy and moist and delicious. Then when you added the little bit of honey butter, there was a creamy sweetness that brought everything together so well. These biscuits stood alone, would have made an amazing biscuits and gravy base, or could have made a great sandwich. I used one to sop up every little bit of juice, sauce and dressing that was left on my plate.
We definitely had a great time hanging out outside on the benches, talking, eating biscuits and having drinks. No one opted for a dessert so i cant comment there, but most people seemed to be enjoy their meals. Not that it was bad by any means, just not anything like the Texas or Kansas City barbecue that I’ve had before. It was fun, and I would recommend giving it a shot…maybe just try the pork belly rather than the brisket and ribs. And get the biscuits (and send me one!)
Final Verdict – 3 Stars
When one of our specialists asked me if I would be able to head down to Austin to help with a presentation, my response was “Only if we go to the Salt Lick”. Any person that is a fan of barbecue has heard about the Salt Lick BBQ in Austin. It was chosen as the [...]
When one of our specialists asked me if I would be able to head down to Austin to help with a presentation, my response was “Only if we go to the Salt Lick”. Any person that is a fan of barbecue has heard about the Salt Lick BBQ in Austin. It was chosen as the best BBQ by both Bobby Flay and Duff Goldman on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Adam Richman of Man Vs. Food made a stop there as well. And if it is good enough for those guys, I figured it was worth giving it a shot.
I landed at the Austin airport (there is a once a day direct flight from Seattle) and jumped in the car with Chris. We stopped by the first gas station we saw for a 6 pack of Shiner Bock, and then drove straight to Driftwood to the Salt Lick BBQ. Yes, that’s right, even after 4 hours on a plane, there was no thought of going to the hotel first…barbecue was so much more important. Oh, and it’s BYOB, hence the stopping for a 6 pack.
When you get out to the the Salt Lick, there are two things you notice. First that it’s way out in the middle of nowhere. There is a housing development kind of close, but no town or city or other stores or anything. Second, the parking lot is enormous. It could hold a couple thousand cars easily. It’s the type of parking lot you would see at a state fair or rodeo or any other similar outdoor type event that is typical to Texas. And on this particular night, the parking lot was pretty empty. I owe that to the combination of the fact that it was below 20 degrees as the cold snap attacked Texas, and the fact that it was only like 6 p.m.
There are multiple buildings on the property, and we headed into the one that had the lights on. Chris told me that it was usually the banquet building and not the main building. But it looked like they were using that one because it was bigger and there was room for the propane heaters. As soon as we walked in, there behind the host stand was the open-pit barbecue that the Salt Lick is known for. It’s this huge round stone pit with smoke working it’s way up. Ribs and brisket are on the grate and sausages hang from the hood that collects the smoke. The smells are just intoxicating and my mouth started watering within seconds.
We took our seats and they brought out a bucket to put the beer in to keep it cold. Flipping through the menu, it was an easy choice what to order…the barbecue plate. It was a combination of pork ribs, beef brisket, sausage, cole slaw, potato salad and baked beans. Might as well try a little of everything while there! We placed our order, opened a beer, and started talking about work for a little bit.
It only took about five minutes for the plates to arrive. They were heaping with delicious looking barbecue. Our waitress pointed out the two different sauces on the table; one being a little sweeter with a bit of a bite, and the other being more of a vinegar based sauce. But, I wanted to go straight for the barbecue just the way that they made it, with no extra sauce. I started with the sausage which was really good. Smoky with a nice snap as you bite into it, as well as very juicy. Just a good solid sausage. Next was the pork rib which was another good rib. A lot of good flavor and well cooked. But, the ribs weren’t as good as the ones that I had in Kansas City, and they were about the same as the ones I can get in Seattle at Gabriel’s Fire. I was actually a little let down…that is until I tried the brisket.
The brisket at the Salt Lick was without a doubt the best brisket that I have ever had. There was a beautiful smoke ring circling every piece. The flavor was very intense…the smokiness from the pit and a hint of sweetness from the sauce that was put on during the cooking process. It was perfectly tender and juicy and just incredible. As soon as I ate the first piece of brisket, I wanted to reorder and just have nothing else but the brisket.
The sides themselves were good. I liked the potato salad a lot…not too creamy, not too much mustard, very balanced with the everything else. The cole slaw was good, nothing super special, and the beans were a little less sweet than I expected. Actually, they weren’t sweet at all, no brown sugar or anything which surprised me. All in all though, the dinner was very good, and the brisket alone was worth the trip. But the meal didn’t end there. Even though we were pretty full, we decided to acquiesce when offered dessert. For me it was blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream. And it was sooooo good. I couldn’t stop eating it. About halfway through, I was full and knew I should stop, but couldn’t. It wasn’t overly sweet, but just so well done. The cobbler portion was nice and crumbly with a bit of a crunch. The berries were tart, cooked so they were soft, but not mushy. And the ice cream just added that coldness and extra level of flavor. It was so good that I can’t possibly do it justice.
When we left, it was still cold outside, but I didn’t even notice. I was full and happy. While not everything on the plate blew me away, the brisket and cobbler were things to remember. If I ever have the chance to go back to Austin, I fully intend on going and just ordering a full plate of brisket and cobbler and having a wonderful time. And if you are going to be in Austin, you have to go. It’s like a barbecue mecca, one that any barbecue aficionado has to make a pilgrimage in order to see the open pit, to taste the great food, and to enjoy barbecue like it’s meant to be.
Final Verdict – 4.25 Stars
Over the past few weeks, after softball, a few of us would get together, have some drinks, and just talk about things that guys talk about. Inevitably we would talk about barbeque; places in Seattle that have good barbeque, ways that we prepare barbeque, and on and on. So, tonight when I was trying to [...]
Over the past few weeks, after softball, a few of us would get together, have some drinks, and just talk about things that guys talk about. Inevitably we would talk about barbeque; places in Seattle that have good barbeque, ways that we prepare barbeque, and on and on. So, tonight when I was trying to figure out what to have for dinner, I had barbeque on the mind, and decided I would check out one of the places that we’d talked about. On Gordie’s recommendation, I decided on Gabriel’s Fire in the Ballard/Crown Hill area. Gordie will tell you it was his description of the place that got me to go, but really it came down to the fact that it is less than a mile from my house.
I actually planned on grabbing dinner from Gabriel’s Fire yesterday, and I called to place my carry-out order. It wasn’t until the second time that I called after listening to the recorded message, that I realized that they were closed on Mondays (fortunately I still had leftover braised short ribs, Delicious!). So, today, after work, I called again to place my order. Since I haven’t eaten at Gabriel’s Fire, I decided to take advantage of of the Slammin’ Single; a combo platter that includes brisket, pulled pork, chicken, ribs, two sides and two sauces. It seemed like a great way to sample a little of everything and figure out how everything tastes. I was told it would take 20 minutes which was just enough time to get in a pre-dinner run.
Gabriel’s Fire is located on the corner of NW 80th St. and 24th Ave. NW. It’s a place that I’ve driven by a few times, but never really noticed. It shares an awning with the little bistro next to it, and there really isn’t anything that stands out. However, as soon as you walk in, you know you are in a barbeque joint. The smokey flavors waft in from the rear of the restaurant. There is random paraphernalia on the walls and countertops. I was greeted by a gentleman behind the counter in a very warm and friendly manner with a Caribbean accent. He packaged everything up for me in a nice big brownpaper bag, and $15 later, I headed back home to eat.
The drive home was five minutes at the most. Not two minutes into the drive, the smells from the bag made their way from the passenger seat over to me, and my mouth immediately started watering. I don’t think that there is a smell that guys like more than good smokey barbeque. If there is, please let me know. Needless to say, as soon as I walked in the door, I hustled up the stairs and dove in.
One of the nice things for me is that Gabriel’s Fire puts the sauces on the side. This let’s me try the meat without sauce, and just dry rub and smoke first, and then with the sauce. And there was a lot to try! I started with the pulled pork. It was good, a little bit of smoke, a little bit of salt though I didn’t taste a lot of spice rub and it was just a little too dry. I then tried it in my Carolina sauce (vinegar based) and Kansas City sauce (sweet and spicy). The best combination was with the Carolina sauce, adding a little moisture and a little tang that worked very well. Next was the chicken which I’ve never had smoked before. It was a mixed bag, meaning a couple bites stayed nice and juicy and smokey and delicious, but some got a little dry. Neither of the sauces was a perfect match, but the KC was the better of the two. The sides were just ok. I went with a cornbread muffin that was a little dry, and was missing some needed sweetness (honey). The potato salad was neither smokey or tangy (which surprised me a little). It was a little underflavored, but not terrible.
At this point, I would say that the meal was good, not really great. But, that’s ok because for me when it comes to barbeque it really comes down to two things: brisket and pork ribs. These two items can completely make or break a barbeque place for me; everything else is really looking for an unexpected surprise. So, I started with the brisket. The texture was a little different than I had expected. It’s difficult to describe, but it wasn’t the way you think of brisket in the thick cut chunks. It was almost as if it had been cut 90 degrees from traditional preparations. However, the meat was excellent, very flavorful. There wasn’t a lot of smoke, but it was juicy. And when I dipped it in the KC sauce, the flavor combination was excellent, the sweetness with the trailing hit was an excellent combination.
Things had definitely picked up when I grabbed the rib and took a bite; and was instantly both pleased and disappointed. I was pleased because the flavor was wonderful and the texture was great (maybe a tad overdone, but definitely not a deal breaker). It had a little bit of heat, and even an unexpected hint of fennel which worked really well. I ate the rib without putting any sauce on it, which is actually my preferred way to eat a very good rib; well until I find a sauced rib that I like better. As for the disappointment? It was that I only got one rib and not more.
So what’s the final verdict? The majority of the meal was down the middle, nothing super spectacular, and probably not enough to get me to go back. Then there is the brisket and the rib. The texture of the brisket was different than expected, but the flavor was there. And the rib was very good. Not as good as the ribs that I had at Smokin’ Guns in Kansas City, but probably number 2 all time. And in the end, I will go back and just order ribs (probably try another side). Guess this means I have to thank Gordie
for a good recommendation.
Final Verdict (all in) – 2.5 Stars
Final Verdict (ribs and brisket) – 4 Stars
About a month ago, I was driving through Ballard, and I noticed a small building with a neon sign that caught my attention. I decided that when I had the opportunity, I would swing by and check the place out. This past weekend ended up being the opportunity. So, on my way home, I decided [...]
About a month ago, I was driving through Ballard, and I noticed a small building with a neon sign that caught my attention. I decided that when I had the opportunity, I would swing by and check the place out. This past weekend ended up being the opportunity. So, on my way home, I decided to swing by and check out the Viking.
The Viking is a small place nestled under some trees on 24th Ave. NW in Ballard. In the window is a sign that let’s people know that the Viking has been serving Ballard since 1950. There is also a sign that caught my attention that said “Fresh Smoked Meats, Ribs and Chili”. Now I’m a big fan of the fine dining experience, but at my roots, there is nothing like a great burger or barbeque. So, I felt compelled to try any place that is advertising it’s smoked meats in the window.
Walking in, I noticed that the Viking is the quintessential neighborhood bar. The bartenders greeted many of the patrons by name, knowing what they liked to drink. In the back was a shuffleboard table, and various softball trophies lined the wall. I picked out a seat at the bar, and ordered myself a Manny’s. After taking a sip, I checked out the menu which was a single sided sheet. I was going to order dinner when I noticed that everything on the menu was available for takeout. I’m not opposed to eating by myself at a restaurant, but since I’d been traveling for a little while, and had a nice comfortable couch waiting for me, I decided that taking it home with me would be a good idea. So, I finished my Manny’s, ordered a second, and placed a to-go order for a Number One (beef brisket sandwich) and an order of two ribs. In less than the amount of time it took me to finish my second beer, my dinner was brought to me. I paid the bill (only $25 with tip), and headed home.
On the drive home, the smell of the barbeque sauce was intoxicating. By the time I got home, my mouth was watering and I was excited. I got situated and opened up the two different boxes. I decided the first place to start was the brisket sandwich. Biting in, I was pleasantly surprised. The barbeque sauce was a tangy, not too spicy sauce with a strong tomato taste, and just a hint of sweet. I would say that it was more of a Texas style sauce in my limited barbeque experience. The brisket was good too, very flavorful, though a tad less smoky than I’d hoped for. The whole thing was served on an onion roll that soaked up the sauce, and was the perfect amount of messy.
After a couple bites of the sandwich, I set it down, and turned my attention to the beef ribs. They were coated in what appeared to be the same barbeque sauces as the brisket. Biting in, the flavors definitely exploded in my mouth. The meat was very flavorful, and again complemented nicely by the barbeque sauce. The ribs were very good, and honestly a bit unexpected coming from the little place in Seattle. Compared to the Kansas City Ribs that I had, the spice rub was a little less powerful, and they weren’t quite “bite clean off the bone”tender, but I was very pleased.
The Viking was a great little find for a neighborhood bar with great food. I will definitely be back, especially because there is a Southern Style pork sandwich that I absolutely want to try.
Final Verdict – 3.5 Stars