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Results from BBQ & Tres Leches Chowdown (MSP)

Thanks again to everyone who came out to the Chowdown BBQ and Tres Leches Taste Off. And thanks to the organizers (KTFoley, katebauer, TDQ and myself).

We were able to taste nine different barbeques from all the big names in town.
There were barbeque pork ribs from Pastor Hamiltons, Lee & Dees, Ted Cooks, Roosters, Market BBQ, Scott Jamamas, and Big Daddy, plus Danny picked up some beef ribs from a guy on the side of the road and also brought pulled pork from Aesops.

We had Tres Leches from Bread, Cake and Chocolate, Millies, and a few other places whose names I neglected to write down. I'm sure my fellow chowhounds will help fill in the blanks.

There were lots of tasty sides, too, but the focus was the BBQ and Tres Leches. So now I bring you photos and a few results. Chowhounds, chime in.

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  1. We conducted a blind taste test. BBQs were removed from their original packaging and were numbered in no particular order. We tasted all of the barbeques first and then discussed what we liked or didn't like about each one before revealing the place of origin.

    Pastor Hamilton's were my favorite. They were tender enough that I could suck the meat right off the bone. They were sauced, so I was a little surprised that they were first for me as I usually like a drier BBQ.

    Lee and Dee's were prototypical ribs, but were not outstanding.

    Ted Cook's were good but a little dry and chewy.

    Rooster's were heavily sauced and the sauce had an odd cinnamon/allspice taste that several of us found distracting and off-putting.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Uisge

      Hmmm...I thought the general consensus was that Lee and Dee's had a sauce that was among our favorites. Maybe not warranting an 'outstanding' but I'd think a little higher rating than 'prototypical.' Or am I misremembering?

      1. re: clepro

        I think you are remembering correctly. I meant "prototypical" as what I think of when I think of ribs. The sauce was very good.

    2. Market was a surprising hit. They came unsauced, which worked in their favor as the sauce on the side was blech. But the meat itself was pretty good.

      Scott Jamamas were a little to bony and fatty for me (more than I like in a rib).

      The beef ribs were a complete change of pace and were wonderful, leading many of us to surmise that the best barbeque is 'side of the road' barbeque. This was Danny's find and he can tell the story.

      Big Daddy's ribs were tender, with a good smoke ring and lots of flavor. They came with sauce on the side which was good for those who like drier ribs or who want to modulate their amount of sauce. They were my second favorite.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Uisge

        I am EAGERLY awaiting this "side of the road" information. What gives?

        1. re: MSPD

          The BBQ came from a guy we drove past in North Minneapolis. I had recalled seeing a bunch of people BBQing out there a couple of months ago, so after picking up our Tres Leches Cake in Crystal (more on that below) we followed CR81, and eventually West Broadway to I-94.

          We found one group BBQing on the south side of W. Broadway about a half block west of where Broadway, 26th Ave, and Sheridan Ave all come together. There were 4 or 5 guys sitting out in front of a storefront (that may be abandoned) with a couple of large grills.

          Spotting them, I pulled the car over, and asked what they had. When I was there, all that was ready were the beef ribs, but they had a TON of chicken wings on the grill, and also mentioned Brats and Italian Sausages.

          Since nothing else was ready, and we were heading for a rib extravaganza, this was a no brainer. The "Beef Rib Dinner" included baked beans, cole slaw, and 2 slices bread for $15.

          The guy working the grill asked if I wanted "Old Home" (I think thats what he said) on the ribs. I said, "You're the pro, do whatever is best" and he topped the ribs off with a little pour of what looked like store bought BBQ sauce. (They also had another store bought sauce.) I wouldn't have thought that a store bought sauce would so perfectly compliment the ribs, but they did.

          He said that he had been out there all summer, and only missed two weeks - and that if the weather stayed nice, he'd be out there a few more weeks.

          So, if you don't want to wait on line for Big Daddy, this is another option.

          It also may be the inspiration for a beef rib chowdown. After all those pork ribs, the beef ribs really, really stood out.

      2. Three of the Tres Leches were from the following West Side (St. Paul) locations:

        Milly's Bakery, 421 S. Wabasha St. St. Paul 55107. 651-714-9516
        Bread, Coffee and Cake, 385 S. Wabasha. 651-222-7608.
        Don Panchos Bakery, 140 Cesar Chavez. 651-225-8744.

        1. Tres Leches results: I neglected to write down names so I'll rely on Danny, TCL and clepro to fill in the blanks. I can say that my favorites were Millies (light flavor, lovely amount of moisture evenly distributed throughout), TL2 (small and soaked with a rich milk flavor, this one squished when you ate it). The mocha cake was wonderful in and of itself.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Uisge

            Dang! I was out of town this weekend so I missed this wonderful chowdown. Y'all had great weather for it, too!

            I'd really like more info on the Tres Leches cakes. For example, where is TL2? (Is this a place or the name of the cake?) Where was the mocha cake from? What was the cake from Don Panchos like?

            And was there a general favorite, or did people pick different favorites?


            1. re: AnneInMpls

              The mocha cake and the cake with the yellow looking frosting both came from Panaderia La Loma in Crystal. (In the strip mall kitty corner to Crystal Bistro). The mocha cake was really good, the other one was just okay. We also brought along some tamales - they have styrofoam coolers of Tamales for $1.50 each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

              1. re: AnneInMpls

                Well, personally I think that following up a passel of pork and beef ribs with milk- soaked cake may have been asking a bit much of ourselves. But, we did our duty.

                Looking at Usiage's photos above, going left to right, is Tres Leches cakes from Bread Cake Coffee, then Milly's cake, followed by the two cakes from Panaderia La Loma. Usiage's photo below is of Don Pancho's cake. (I think the reference to "TL2" just meant "Tres Leches 2," i.e., the 2nd Tres Leches cake pictured, which is, in fact, Milly's).

                General consensus favored Milly's version and La Loma's mocha. Don Pancho's cake might have been the one Usiage called "small and soaked with a rich milk flavor" in her note above. And, I think BCC's was generally deemed tasty, but not moist enough. I'm not sure...I was sort of rib-stunned at that point.

                As for me, I've always liked both Milly's for a traditional Tres Leches and BCC's lighter, fresher variation. Don Pancho's was too wet for my taste. The mocha cake was delicious--a good mocha flavor and great texture. I didn't try the yellow frosted one.

                1. re: clepro

                  Thanks for clarifying. What she said about names is correct.

                  And I was a bit rib-stunned, too, at that point. But soooo tasty.

            2. One last Tres Leches picture.

              And a photo of the pulled pork from Aesops.

              1. Big Daddys - I picked up the BBQ from Big Daddy's and took some photos while I was there.

                1. Just want to add some reactions, now that the event has passed and the intervening family visit is history as well.

                  Big Daddy's did seem to be one of the favorites, as did Market BBQ. Good char, good flavor, evidence of smoke.

                  For the others, I remember that Pastor Hamilton's had so much sauce that it was hard to distinguish the char or the smoke. Not bad, but not as strong as the top two.

                  Ted Cook's had good meat on the ribs, but their sauce has taken a turn for the disturbing. Expecting their usual neon-bright & kicky offering that accompanies their potatoes, we instead discovered a cup of something that was a little too much like ketchup.

                  Lee & Dee's ribs seemed to land in the middle this time around. They were pretty much what people expect, no more & no less.

                  Scott Ja-Mama's seemed to have a caribbean flavor to its sauce, perhaps with a bit of pineapple or other fruit. It didn't wow the crowd, but it did pleasantly surprise people who hadn't been impressed with the other item's on this restaurant's menu. We learned that the ribs are a little bit of a secret, since they have to be ordered ahead of time.

                  Rooster's -- yikes. The sauce tastes strongly of allspice and cloves. And frankly, tasted alongside other selections, it just isn't that good. Even though the setup for this event diminishes the influence of other menu offerings, ambience, cost, service, hours, location, I still cannot understand why this place gets any recognition in the polls.

                  I concur with everyone who said the beef ribs really stood out after seven samples of pork.

                  Tres Leches Cake:
                  For me, Millie's cake had an appealing balance of of cake and sauce: puddle, not pudding. The vanilla in the cake was noticeable, and it would have been just fine without the whipped cream or the gelled strawberry.

                  Don Pancho's was a bit drier and the cake itself had less flavor.

                  The pineapple and mocha cakes from the Panaderia were much sweeter overall so the tres leches aspect was harder to appreciate. They probably stood well on their own, but were a couple of steps away from the tres leches prototype we were trying to test out.

                  Usually I hear wonderful things about Bread Coffee Cake, so it was disconcerting to find that their version of tres leches was the farthest away from the ideal. In two layers rather than one, it was impossible to notice any sauce. It offered more of a white-cake flavor, with a touch of almond, and a marshmallow creme frosting. Very pretty, but dry, and not at all what posters on other threads were describing in the debate about what makes a good tres leches cake.

                  Many thanks to all who made this a successful afternoon!!

                  1. I can't believe I missed out on this, even though I am from the Indy area. BBQ ribs and tres leches are among my favorite foods. If you had cheesecake too, it would have been well worth the gas! Glad to see that you had a good turnout.