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Phantom Gourmet BBQ Festival

Headed over for lunch today. Lot of overlap from last year. Willbraham's, Cowboy's(I think I was the only 1 to like them last year..:)), Johnson's, "Rasta Guy" from IN..few more ..only local was Firefly's.

I didn't take notes but enjoyed a sunny afternooon pigging out...:)

A couple of points. The least expensive item at any vendor is a 3 rib (they always gave 4) sampler for $7. So either go with a group or bring something to take home leftovers..which is what I did. Ms 9 was'n in a rib eating mood...and I wanted to sample a lot.

Bring lots of money. It can add up quickly.

If last year is any indication, go early..lines get crazy long by the PM.

This is sort of a "soft" recommendation for the event. I go because I've always gone to them. and enjoy the ability to try a bunch of different places without travelling very far..but keep your expectations low and know what you're in for.. It can be fun but won't be if you hit long lines on the weekend...a lot of justifiably unhappy CHers last year.; for a good bbq meal, I think I'd rather just go to Blue Ribbon or Uncle Petes

pics from last year..which would look pretty much like pics from this year if I took any..:)


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  1. thanks for the report - last years festival coincided with our move here (we've been here a year - woohoo) and although there were things about it I could have lived without (cheesy budweiser beer garden), I have been dreaming about the pulled pork sandwich I had from Big Daddy's in Tennessee...sadly they are not going to be there this year, but we'll still try!

    1. so what would be the thinking for tomorrow and being there when the gates open?
      will the Celtics Rally spill over swamp the place or will it be manageable until the Rally leaves Govt. Center? would Friday at the open be a better bet?

      we're stay in the Back Bay a few nights and wanted to do this event either Thursday or Friday.

      1. 9lives,
        I've been to a few of the establishments represented at the common and know they use smokers for their bbq, but after checking out some of your pics, it looks like people are grilling. Grilling ain't bbq.
        Does anyone there have smoker setups onsite?

        3 Replies
        1. re: janzy

          from my experiences they all are smoking and have been for a few days (the teams came in last friday/saturday). what they do is just bring everything up to serving temperature on the grills.

          1. re: ScubaSteve

            Yeah, I popped over there this afternoon, and when I got back to work I noticed that my shirt smelled strongly of smoke (and I ain't talkin' about cigarette smoke) so they clearly have smokers going over there :)

          2. re: janzy

            I walk through that area on my way home from work every day and have watched the set up- there are DEFINITELY smokers present.

          3. When you say you've always gone, did they had this before last year? I thought that was the first? Or maybe the 1st on City Hall Plaza. I'm going around 6:30 tonite, will that be a zoo? Damn, I thought that would be a good time to go but can't deal with the lines they had last year. At least the sun won't make me almost faint at that time.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Joanie

              They had them on City Hall a number of years ago...and also on Fan Pier 1 year. No entry fee and mostly local restaurants, a fhandful of "national teams" and a few "amateur" teams. $1 /rib..so over the course of a few days you could easily try everyone..at least once..:) With no entry fee, obviously you could go in and out as often as you wanted.

              It was a big $ loser for the city and they discontinued it..till PG brought it back last year.

              They have smokers. I just didn't post any pics. A rack of ribs finished on a grill just makes for a better pic than a black metal box..:)..IMO



              The $5 entry fee midweek is a definite ripoff; but Wed, they let cab drivers and hotel concierges (Ms 9) and guests in free. Thurs..Boston City workers, Fri..Military. Weekends, it goes to $10.

              1. re: 9lives

                Southern Pride Smoker between Wilbrahams and Q..


                No crowds at 4 ish today

            2. correct me if im wrong please, last year wasnt it like 30 bucks to get in this mess and then you have to pay for food once you get inside? If so this could be the biggest rip off of all time.

              6 Replies
              1. re: vegathechosen

                I think it was $10 last year, but if you bought early you could could get 2 for the price of 1. This year Firefly's had tickets for $1. Last year they also sold tickets at the gate and the place was an absolute zoo. I didn't even bother to go in.

                1. re: vegathechosen

                  Tix are $5 during the week and $10 for weekend - advanced tix were avail online for $1 and $5 online but that expired.

                  1. re: gramercyfoodie

                    The $1 online tkt was very misleading. I tried to buy a handful to give away...When I tried to check out, there was a $3 "handling charge" per ticket..so $4..no big saving .I was all set to pay the $5 at the door but got lucky.

                    I've been to a few $25-30 events in SC. No charge at the booths AYCE..cept drinks..and the entry fee generally goes to a local charity. You really waddle out of those things..:)

                  2. re: vegathechosen

                    $10 for weekend, $5 for weekday. If you get them in advance, it's $3 weekday at Edible Arrangements (and there were other random places selling them) and as mentioned, even cheaper at Firefly. I wish you'd get one rib or something, but I'm curious about all these different places. Has anyone had the "Awesome Aussie" yet?

                    1. re: Joanie

                      in the old days I would drive all over town for them to save some $, now with gas prices I think I'll be buying them there :)

                  3. Watch out for the Celtics rally crowds today. The Phantom event is the reason they're not doing a City Hall rally today. One more reason to crack on the Andelmans (I know, they couldn't have foreseen it).

                    1. Last year I went at 3PM on Saturday afternoon, the lines were so long that I could only go to two places so, logistically, I can say the place was a utter disaster, as for the food, I went to Jack McDavid's (from FoodTV and Jack's Firehouse restaurant in Philly) and thought his ribs were worth the wait and Q which I thought were the worst ribs that I have ever actually paid money for. Seriously, I would rather have gone to Texas Roadhouse in Everett (well, maybe not) they were so bad. I actually didn't finish them. they had the consitency of a pork chop and I highly, highly doubt they were ever within 5 feet of any smoke. I live 10 minute walk from City Hall plaza and am a huge BBQ fan (I have been to memphis in May several times and eaten BBQ all over the country, NC, KC, SC, TX) and this whole event just fails to live up to even my lowered expectations. Save your time a dn aggrivation and head to somewhere else if you want a BBQ fix this weekend.

                      1. Headed over last night around 6 PM with my $1 tickets from Firefly's. I am sure it will be crazy today with the Celtics parade but last night the lines weren't bad. For some inexplicable reason, the only long line was at the Australian BBQ stand, the other lines were not very long (I am sure that on the weekend it will be intolerable). I tried 3 bone rib samplers from Willinghams, Butch's BBQ and Johnson's BBQ; also tried pulled pork from Butch and brisket from Willinghams. Johnson's had the best tasting ribs in my opinion (and, yes, they had the smoker cranked), Butch's just fair and luke warm, Willinghams were hot and beautifully cooked with a perfect pink "smoke ring" but the spice rub that they used did not have a great flavor otherwise they would have been #1. Pulled Pork from Butch was just fair and I was also disappointed with the brisket from Willinghams...I expected slices but instead got dry, shredded meat more like pulled pork but very dry.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: bakerboyz

                          I headed over Thursday night. I got a sampler from Johnsons, with Ribs, chopped Pork and Smoked sausage.

                          Friends got pulled pork from Q and ribs from Willinghams.

                          My opinion, the ribs and pork were cooked perfectly at Johnson's, ribs especially were extremely tender and juicy. However, neither the pork or ribs had much flavor, aside from the overly sweet sauce that drenched the meat. Thankfully, the sausage was spared the sauce, and it was tasty! Nice smokey flavor, mildly spiced with skin that popped and very smooth consistency.

                          I sampled a friend's ribs from Willinghams which were better overall than Johnson simply because of taste. They weren't *as* delicately tender as Johnsons, but they had a nice smokey spicy crusty rub, and the sauce, while "sweet," was more subtle with slightly vinegary finish.

                          The pulled pork from Q was excellent, very tasty without sauce, as it should be!

                          So to sum up, while preparation of the meat, especially ribs, was very good at Johnsons, I'd have to give the nod to Willinghams for ribs and Q for pulled pork.

                        2. This event is always a disaster and nothing more than to make money for the PG enterprise. Get there early in week and be prepared to shell out your money- you won't have the luxury of spending money on the weekends because the line are long and event over sold. Poorly managed production.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: jtown

                            Forget those Thanksdad Andelman brothers, if you want good BBQ and a good time head up to Merrimack NH this weekend for the Rotary Ribfest! Good times and the money goes to charity!!


                            1. re: SleepyDaddyof2

                              Is that THIS weekend? Hmmmm, might have to adjust my weekend plans. I agree, there's definitely good BBQ to be had at this festival!

                              1. re: SleepyDaddyof2

                                so the same vendors make better bbq in nh? Or is the budweiser better closer to the factory?

                                1. re: SleepyDaddyof2

                                  I generally prefer smaller BBQ events to the larger PG event..but the guest list at Merrimack includes 2 mediocre natl chains..Dave's and Sticky Finger, 2 groups that are in Boston.. Rasta Joe and the Aussie and M&M which is good; but I can get there in 10 mins by bike.

                                  Probably not a bad take if you live nearby; but doesn't make much sense to drive 100 miles r/t if you live in Boston.

                                2. re: jtown

                                  People are such grumps. While I agree it's horrendous on the weekend, it was pretty pleasant last nite. None of the bbq was super wowing, but the lines were minimal, it was a nice nite, and we enjoyed some tasty ribs and cole slaw from the Aussie guy. The shrimp were okay but on the small side, rub had a kick to it. Beans were decent but with a flavor I couldn't quite place. $15 for the combo. For $8, we got a Kansas City sandwich from Porky's n Beans which was brisket and pulled pork on a double decker. I removed the bread, added some of their smokey bbq sauce and that it was good. The least successful was Johnson's sausage sandwich which was advertised as coming w/ slaw, onions and pickles. But it was more of a plate w/ slaw on the side and more beans. Sausage was on a hamburg bun which doesn't work as well, didn't taste smoked, not worth $8. We'd tried to get the hot dog at Wilbraham's but they were out. Red velvet whoopie pie for $4 was huge and okay, and the last thing I needed at that point. Ernie and the Automatics music was what you'd expect (i.e. I hated it) but I had a good time.

                                  1. re: Joanie

                                    I agree, Joanie. As I mentioned earlier, last night was really nice there, with no lines, mostly good food, and no blazing sunshine or sandstorms to deal with. I really do think that weeknights are the time to go, though my stomach doesn't seem to agree (that much BBQ that late at night doesn't go down as well as it used to).

                                    Heh, you hated Ernie and the Automatics, huh? I'm not a fan of the group Boston by any means (bombastic 70s rock isn't really my cup of tea), but I thought they did a decent job overall, even when they did do some of the music put out by Scholz and co. BTW, did you know that Tom Scholz wasn't even from Boston? They should have named the band Toledo, chuckle chortle....

                                    1. re: hiddenboston

                                      Some people will just complain about anything PG has anything to do with, regardless if they have ever been or not. Same as the hot dog safari. Everyone was crying about 2-3 hour lines, etc.. I went the past 2 years and got whatever i wanted there without ever waiting more then 5-10 minutes in a line. And that was only at the 2-3 most popular places. Most places had no line. Plus when you went up you could get as much as you wanted. 4-5 dogs at a time if you wanted. So we would just take turns getting them for the entire group.

                                      1. re: hiddenboston

                                        Man, their set was lots of little teases of songs, yapping in between, no flow. It's not my style music obviously, but to me it wasn't presented too well either (all my band friends know they have to segue songs or I complain).

                                        I was sorry not to like Johnson's better cuz I like his southern accent saying he's the "Tom Brady of BBQ". I think the Texas guy has such a big personality that people feel they have to try his stuff. I was surprised no one had an ice cream stand there, maybe on the weekend.

                                  2. Went last night - had a great time - couldn't find pulled pork as good as last year but loved the ribs at Willbraham's. The lines weren't bad at all...I think tonight would be a great time to go (assuming it doesn't rain)...

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: gramercyfoodie

                                      I tried two places last night, Jack's Down Home BBQ (on the left side as you enter) and Cowboy's. Jack's was my favorite. The ribs were incredibly flavorful, with a subtle glaze. The sauce was spectacular -- the perfect blend of sweet, salt, smoke, and vinegar.

                                      The Cowboy ribs were flat and plain by comparison -- no glaze, just overcooked meat and some cloying, molasses based sauce. The stand, with its pile of t-shirts and pyramid of plastic bbq sauce bottles, should have set off an alarm. Merchandise usually signals a tourist trap.

                                      Ironically, the line at Cowboy's was half an hour long, and I was served immediately at Jack's.

                                      1. re: Guilty Glutton

                                        When I went yesterday around 12:30 the Cowboy line was the only long one. I wasn't sure why that would be.

                                        1. re: jgg13

                                          Cowboy's seems to have more name recognition than some of the other places. I avoided Cowboy's because I heard that they didn't have the greatest food...

                                          1. re: hiddenboston

                                            I was surprised there wasn't a bigger line at Butch's, due to his Food Network exposure. Heck, that was the sole reason I went to his booth. The other one I hit up was Rasta Joe's and that was just because they had the jerk pulled pork and I'm a big fan of jerk

                                    2. Just returned. We got the 1$ tickets for the weekday at Firefly's so it wasn't too expensive.We also showed up at 11 which meant no lines. By 12 they were quite long. LOVED the cornbread and sauce at Johnsons and the ribs were good, too. My husband enjoyed the big beef ribs at Porky's. I thought the Q (Virginia) ribs were good-very smoky. Jack's were good, but I prefered the others. Finally, had some moist shredded chicken at Wilbrahams (sp?) that was quite moist and flavorful. I almost wondered if they used nutmeg! A fun event, but I could see how the lines and extra ticket price could make some question going. Finally, I'd go with a group. The 7$/3 rib combo adds up and it is more fun if you can eat one rib from each place. We came prepared with cooler bags and have enough food for a few more meals at home!