Monday, June 19, 2006

New York, New York 2: BBQ Bust

Talk about a Dream Team! Check out this lineup:

bbq block party pitmasters

These were the award-winning pitmasters the good people at The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party had managed to bring in for their 4th annual bash, and we were particularly excited about Ubon's "Champion's Choice" and Bib Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q's pulled pork shoulder, and Mitchell's BBQ whole hog, all three of which were accompanied by legendary cole slaws, and intrigued by Smoki O's St.-Louis-style rib tips, which came with baked beans. These outfits represented the styles and traditions we were most interested in taste-testing, and the fact that they also had the best names didn't hurt either.

The only problem is that we never did taste a lick of barbecue that afternoon. Nothing. Nada. Rien. Not a single, solitary rib. Not a shred of pulled pork. This unfortunate outcome wasn't for lack of trying, though. You see, by the time we went it was about 2:00 or 3:00 on Sunday afternoon and after only two days on the road we were already in "vacation mode," not in the "eyes on the prize mode" we should have been in until we'd secured a couple of plates of pulled pork shoulder and some rib tips. Actually, we got down there in plenty of time, but the "mistake" we made was to stop in at the beer tent, order a few frosty ones, and relax for a bit in the bright sunshine that was raining down on Madison Square Park that day. In all honesty, it never occurred to me that once we purchased those beers we wouldn't be able to roam freely, check out the action in the pits, and queue for 'cue, and that, in fact, we'd be corraled into a fenced-in area of the park until we'd polished off our beverages. I'll never get over just how uptight those kind of restrictions seem to me. Anyway, by the time we made it out of the designated beer drinking area and over to the area where the pitmasters were lined up doing what they do best, panic was already rippling through the crowd. Rumors that 1 or 2 pit crews had run out of barbecue entirely were circulating, and those of us who hadn't yet scored anything started desperately trying to figure out what our best prospects were among the 8 or so massive lineups that remained. The other "mistake" we made was that for the most part our group was hell-bent on getting ourselves pork barbecue in particular and not beef brisket. Either the pulled pork specialists just didn't bring enough pig, or they just happened to be the more popular option at this year's Block Party (the more likely scenario)--either way, it was the pork BBQ guys that all ran out first. Before we knew it, our group had been stalemated on all fronts and the only thing left to do was bid adieu (and if the good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise, au revoir) to Madison Square and and the Big Apple Barbecue and disperse into the surrounding city again. After all, New York's a big city and we had plenty of other stops to make--there was no point in dwelling on "what went wrong." Plus, those unbelievable aromas and the sight of dozens, even hundreds, of others digging into their $7 "meat & one" plates was a bit more than we could handle. So we packed things up, telling ourselves the Block Party makes things too easy, too convenient, anyway. What's BBQ without that roadfood vibe? Besides, this way, when we finally get around to making that Southern BBQ Odyssey we've been talking about for the last few years, we'll be going into it with the wide-open eyes of the initiate. Right.

All of which brings me to the topic of "what went oh-so-right" on our NY excursion...



Stockton said...

Hey, Great site - loved the BBQ blog. we don't get many (if any at all!) BBQ lineups over here. Shame you missed out.

aj kinik said...

Hi Stockton,
Yeah, can't remember seeing a single bbq joint in the two years I lived in London. There were plenty of "Illinois Fried Chicken" specialists for some reason, but no one pushing Carolina-style pulled pork, Memphis-style ribs, Texas-style brisket, or any other regional variation. I'm sure that situation has changed somewhat. Hell, when I lived there you couldn't find a good cup of coffee to save your life (outside of Soho)--and, frankly, that was one of the charms of living in Dirty Old Blighty--whereas now I know the UK is thick with Starbucks-style latte joints. Anyway, we missed out on the BBQ Block Party, but we made up for it later.

Thanks for reading.