Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Barbecue Success (and Boners) at Taste of Buffalo 2014

When I wasn't swearing under my breath at all the parents who pushed their kids and strollers through the Taste of Buffalo this year, I was barbecue hunting for the best smoked tastes the festival had to offer. 

Barbecue Success

My first positive shout out goes to Dinosaur BBQ and their Smoked Turkey Sandwich. No offense to Dinosaur's pulled pork (which I sampled at the BBQ Blues Bash few weeks back), but the smoked turkey slapped that pig down pretty good. I generally like a thinner slice on sandwiches, but this turkey was an exception with a nice thicker cut that had a perfectly balanced smoke. The slices were moist and the bite was easy. I'm slowly learning to enjoy barbecue for the true taste of the meat without masking it with sauce, and this sandwich was a great example. Served with just a brushing of sauce on a soft roll, the turkey was front and center...and delicious. We bought two more and brought them home.

A surprising second shoutout goes to the Riverstone Grill and their Bourbon Smoked Brisket Sandwich. Maybe I just don't get out enough, but this restaurant wasn't even on my radar until I saw their booth and the open smoker with a whole pig on the rotisserie. Barbecue bingo. The smoked brisket hit on just about every detail. A great flavor blend of the subtle smoke and beef, accented by the sweetness of the bourbon. Again, this was a sandwich that didn't need to be enhanced by anything other than the meat juices and small amount of sauce on top. If I wanted to nitpick, I might say that the beef might have been cooked a little too long and was just a bit too soft. I'm all for tender, melt in your mouth bites, but I might have liked just a bit more texture and chew. It was a great sandwich.

R'nR BBQ food truck was also at the Taste, but to their credit, the line was too long for me to wait in. I'll try and catch them at another event this summer. (I did get a chance to eat at the R'nR truck last year at Larkin Square, and the Barbecue Bacon Burger was fantastic.)


Barbecue Boners

Okay, so we all know that true barbecue means: meat plus wood plus smoke. Too many vendors that called themselves "barbecue" at this year's event ignored this sacred tradition, and in my opinion, that's just not right. I'll start with an apology, that if any of these restaurants smoked their meats off site and then finished them on a grill at the event, I'm sorry to call you out here. I don't think it's coincidence that my two favorite dishes came from Dinosaur and Riverstone, which both had multiple smokers going throughout the day. 

So I tried ribs at Fat Bob's, and although they did have some smoke flavor, I just didn't enjoy them. Although they had great color and crust, the meat was well overdone and the heavy sauce was just too overwhelming for my taste. (My wife and youngest son also tried them and enjoyed them much more than I did, and they raved about the Mac 'n Cheese.) I did not see a smoker at BW's Barbecue, and since I had their grilled ribs just a couple weeks ago at a catered event, I skipped their tent. I also saw a couple large grills at JD's Smokin' Grill, but by the time I decided to try their dark meat chicken portion, they had run out. Again, without signs of a smoker on site, my enthusiasm was pretty limp. My final miss goes out to Garris BBQ, who chose to offer fried catfish instead of a barbecue dish. Garris is one joint I haven't been too yet, so I was especially disappointed that I did't get a chance to taste their barbecue.


Final Saucy Thoughts

So maybe I'm just being a barbecue snob here, but I really was disappointed by the lack of real barbecue being offered at the Taste. Get your smoker there next year and get the job done right. Special shout out to the folks who did the planning or organizing for the Taste this year, as it was extremely well done. Thanks again to my usual tasting crew of Jill, Taryn, Cale and Carter.