The Food Freak

Cooking, dining, and appreciating food through the written word. A young West-Coast food-lover has been displaced to numerous small towns and cities on the East Coast; in New Jersey, New England, and now the Hudson Valley. This is his story.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hudson Valley Ribfest (versus Maine Lobster Festival)

Almost exactly a year ago, I drove up to Rockland, Maine for the Maine Lobster Festival. I probably ate between 3-4 lobsters that day, as well as a plate of steamed mussels, and to my memory, some sort of fried shrimp sandwich. My biggest surprise at the Maine Lobster Festival was that all of the lobster was cooked one way; big crates of them were steamed at one time. You would spend about $20 for one or two 1.5-pounders with some butter and bread. Gently steamed or poached shellfish and fresh fish is a staple of the New England diet , as well as in the Far East, most notably Japan and eastern China. I enjoyed the lobster very much, but I expected much more from a Lobster Festival. I had hoped to find interesting ways of cook ing lobster, a competition of creative lobster dishes, and things of that sort. Walk into any good Chinese Seafood Restaurant (and in this country this only means Southern California), and you will find stir-fried lobster with ginger and scallions, deep-fried lobster with spicy salt and garlic, lobster with black bean-garlic sauce, just to name a few. And these are just ONE ethinc group's alternative to steamed lobster. Look into Mexican and Latin-American seafood, and of course Japanese, and you have all kind of interesting ideas for a Lobster Festival.

Nonetheless, I very much enjoyed my experience at the Maine Lobster Festival (who can ever reasonably complain about simple, sweet, and succulent Maine lobster?). This year, I found myself at the Hudson Valley Rib Festival at the Ulster County Fairgrounds in New Paltz, NY. This festival was a little bit more of what I expected from a food festival dedicated to one type of food (although notably absent again was any Asian or Latin-American rendition of ribs. Look for my recipe for East Asian-style BBQ ribs in the near future) . The festival was much much smaller that the Maine Festival, and it was only the second time they've done it. Moreover, the festival was in the state of NY, not Missouri or Texas, not the most famous American region for slow-cooked smoked meat. Nonetheless, there were five rib-vendors and a few dozen competitors who had booths though no food to vend. The five rib-venders were Smoke N' Dudes of Pennsylvania, Big Moe's M&M of Boston, Elia's Texas Connection, of New York by way of Texas, Jack's Firehouse of Philly, and the local favorite, Hickory House BBQ restaurant.

First, the negatives; Big Moe's was perhaps my least favorite, which is not to say it did not have its own positives and character. It was clear that the ribs were pre-boiled because the pork had an almost watery quality to it. The smoke flavor was present, but Big Moe's ribs were cut and served only with a drizzle of sauce on top. For me, this made a bad combination. Sauceless ribs with the sauce added upon serving only works when the ribs are dry, caramelized, and well seasoned. These qualities made Hickory House stand out, and Big Moe's seem like you were eating roasted pork rather than ribs. Hickory House clearly cooked their ribs in the smoker, with a simple rub, finished on the grill. You could put sauce on top if you wish (their sauce was not worth it: watery, runny, and flavorless). However, with Big Moe's, the ribs were almost like eating smoky boiled meat. Their sauce was also watery and a little too "Tabascoey" for my taste, orange, thin, vinegary, and peppery. I can see how some people might like Big Moe's, since it was very juicy. Me, I like my ribs drier.

I would return to the Hickory House again for a meal, since it is the local joint. I would enjoy their ribs for what they are; simple, decently BBQ'd dry ribs. The texture was quite nice; you put a little bit of work into it in order to get the meat to fall off the bone. In contrast, one can have ribs where one bite would give you all of the meat from the bone, or ribs where you work hard to clean the meat off. Hickory House was perfect in that respect, as were the other vendors. However, as I mentioned before, their sauce really blew, and their ribs in no respect stood out from the crowd.

Elia's Texas Connection was the best, in my opinion, in terms of meat texture and smokiness. The smoke flavor permeated the meat beautifully. Elia's fault was that the sauce, while added to the ribs on top of the grill (my favorite method), was not as caramelized as it could have been, leading to a more saucy, rawer flavor than a crispy sweet flavor. The sauce was also MUCH too sweet.

Which leads me to my favorite, by FAR, Smoke N' Dudes. Texture, color, caramelization, quality of sauce, level of sweetness to savoriness, all were absolutely perfect. The ribs had a crispiness to them, not just where the MEAT was caramelized, but where the SAUCE was caramelized also! No burnt spots, neither too salty nor saucy, they were the perfect ribs. I also attended a demonstration done by the guy from Smoke N' Dudes, and, it turns out that simplicity is everything. Equal parts salt, pepper, sugar as the base of your rub, paprika and garlic to your taste, and that's it. I had the sampler platter from Smoke N' Dudes, and they had the best pulled pork also, great cole slaw, and great baked beans. The beef brisket was good for what it was, but nowhere near as flavorful as the other items.

As for Jack's Firehouse, I am sad to say I did not try their ribs. However, I did have their pulled pork, smoked sausage, and bbq chicken breast. The pulled pork was awful. The meat was almost like mashed potatoes, small and fibery like baby-food. If the texture wasn't bad enough, the sauce was much too vinegary; it tasted like someone put red salad dressing onto mashed pork. Jack's redeemed themselves with their smoked sausage and BBQ chicken breast, but they get demerits for going the chicken-breast route...who goes to a BBQ for chicken and asks for the breast? The answer, all you white coastal Americans, since you have all convinced yourselves that you do not like dark are delusional. Dark meat is objectively better tasting. Fattier, more chicken flavor, more bone. I'm going to have to side with the Southerners, Midwesterners, and foreigners on the chicken meat. Dark meat is the way to go. For a mesculun salad with a light Balsamic (puke) vinaigrette, get yourself some grilled chicken breast. For BBQ, it’s a big fat leg with the skin on, preferrably with back meat.

I look forward to the RibFest next year. Good luck on the People's Choice Award, Smoke N' Dudes! You had my vote!


Anonymous athina said...

Hi I enjoyed your blog-I am quite a food freak myself- which is how I happened upon your page. I am going to check out Tacocina-sounds right up my alley. Your description of it was quite good.
In case you didn't know, there is a decent Thai restaurant now in Beacon-It is much better than the one up in newpaltz. It is called Sukhothai and it is on Main st. Beacon. This is a link to their dinner menu:

Good luck, and I will let you know what my thoughts are on Tacocina. My mouth is watering already!-Athina

10:12 PM  
Blogger Raniya Sheikh said...

Nicely Written.. i enjoyed reading it

Pakistani restaurants in Manchester

8:12 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home