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Feb 7, 2009 08:05 PM

Bulldog BBQ - North Miami

For a place that's not officially open, Bulldog Barbecue, the long-awaited BBQ place from Top Chef celeb chef Howie Kleinberg, was pretty busy tonight. They had a full house when we got there around 7ish, though we were able to squeeze in at the counter (which has about 8 seats), and the place stayed busy the whole time we were there.

Despite the non-descript strip mall location, the room actually has a nice feel to it, with modern furniture and fixtures and some dark red walls. The soundtrack is guitar rock of the '70s and '80s, and when it's full of people (as it was) the room can get a bit loud.

The menu is already up on the website so I won't give the full rundown ->

We started with "BBQ Lettuce Wraps," which brought a pile of pulled chicken, a pile of shredded cheese, a ramekin of scallion studded sour cream, and a few big crisp leaves of iceberg lettuce for some DIY lettuce wraps. Not the most elegant presentation, but tasty, in a slightly white-trash-y, Bennigan's kind of way. I'm not knocking it, it tasted good. We saw some other dishes coming out that looked a bit classier, including a shrimp and corn chowder done w/ a cornmeal crusted shrimp w/ the soup brought out separately in a little teapot (to keep the shrimp crisp until serving, I presume).

Sadly, they would not do a half-and-half of the pulled pork and beef brisket - faced with this difficult choice, I went with pulled pork. It was good, not stellar, super tender but a bit bland - perked up quite a bit when doused with some of the neon yellow mustard-y bbq sauce provided, though (a milder red bbq sauce is also available). Tough to get a feel for how hard core low-and-slow they're doing their 'cue from this, I should have tried the brisket. Looks like they pull several portions of the pork and hold them at a steam-table type setup from which they do plating, which got re-loaded a few times while we were there. Also couldn't really get a good glimpse into the kitchen to see what the actual bbq set up was. A hot smoked salmon was also good, distinctly but not overly smoky, and cooked nicely to a medium so that it stayed moist and tender throughout.

Mains come with coleslaw (good but unremarkable), cornbread (ditto, though the kids loved it) and a choice of one side. We went with cheddar grits and mac & cheese, and added on an order of the sweet fries. The cheddar grits were interesting, surprisingly using what I believe was whole hominy rather than ground grits, held together with a nicely gooey white cheddar. Not at all what I was expecting but I liked it quite a bit. I'm still not entirely sure this wasn't in fact the "corn puddin'" also listed in the "fixin's". The mac & chee was of the neon orange variety (but not out of the blue box), and used a distinctly smoky cheese which I found overpowering and somewhat redundant, what with the smoked meats and all. The sweet potato fries were OK, a bit limp (tough to avoid with sweets) but tasted fresh and well-salted.

For dessert the kids went with s'more pie and milk & cookies. The s'more pie was a dense slab of chcoolate with a graham crust, topped with a generous shmear of gooey marshmallow which gets toasted with a blowtorch. A sweet, sticky guilty pleasure, though what I believe was some shredded coconut in the pie filling was an unexpected and unnecessary addition, which also contributed a disconcerting grainy texture. Milk and cookies was just that, about a half dozen home-made cookies (chocolate chip and butterscotch chip), which hit the spot for Little Miss F.

Beer selection was pedestrian, seems like a place that could really use even just a few carefully chosen microbrews to go with the 'cue. There are about a dozen wines, all nicely priced at under $25 / bottle.

Service was completely warm and friendly and food got out to the tables reasonably quickly; it looked like they were doing a good job of turning the tables throughout the restaurant, impressively so for a packed house and a soft opening.

I've voiced some kvatches here and there about a few of the food items, and I'm not sure based on what I ate that this is a place that will satisfy a bbq purist, but we definitely enjoyed our meal there and will certainly be back.

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  1. Ugh, my suit pants aren't going to fit tomorrow morning.. I ate way too much but enjoyed all of it. Started with a shrimp & oyster po-boy. The shrimp and oysters were large, fresh and perfectly crusted with cornmeal. No issues with the bread. No Domilise's but it worked. Could be a tad small for $13 though. Also tried the pulled pork. I thought it was very tender and understand what Frod said about it being bland. That said, I actually enjoyed the fact that it wasn't over sauced. I thought it was good and easily better than anything I've ever had at Beach bbq. Mac n Cheese was solid and so was the chipolte fries. Looking forward to going back and trying the brisket and ribs etc

    1. I went in for lunch today. Having read these two posts about the pulled pork, I decided to go with the ribs. To my surprise, I was told that there were no ribs for lunch, but that they'd be ready by dinner. I ate at the counter and definitely saw a few sheet pans of raw ribs being hustled around the kitchen. If these were the ribs that were to be ready by dinner, I wonder exactly how "low and slow" you can get between 1 p.m. and whenever dinner starts. Maybe these weren't the ribs for dinner though. I don't know.

      At any rate, I went with the pulled pork instead, which is my usual barbecue choice anyway. As others have said, it was a bland and not very smoky at all. (Does anyone else immediately check to see if you can smell smoke in the air when you get out of your car outside a barbecue restaurant? I do, and I couldn't smell any smoke.) The pork did indeed appear to come out of some sort of steam table, and it was sauced a little heavily, I thought (perhaps to keep it from drying out in the steam table). The sauce itself was thin, not the same as the sauce served in the squeeze bottles. The pork wasn't bad, but certainly not great. I thought the coleslaw was pretty good, as was the cornbread. I couldn't really detect anything particularly "chipotle" about my fries, but they were still tasty--crunchy and slightly battered it seemed. I saw ramekins of what I assumed was the corn pudding, Frod, and I suspect you did indeed get the grits, as the corn pudding certainly looked to be something different than what you described.

      My waitress was very friendly and kept an eye on my iced tea, asking if I wanted a refill before I needed to ask. The iced tea was good, but not sweetened. Big WTF on that one.

      I'm curious about the ribs and I hope someone reports here about them. I'd kind of like to hear something more positive before I went back myself. At this point, I'm not ready to drop another $20 on pulled pork, fries and an iced tea.

      13 Replies
      1. re: Nick

        Yikes! Bubby Brisket.

        I'm with Nick on this one - "Smoke" can not come out of a bottle.

        I know it's best to wait until Bulldog gets past the puppy stage but for a restaurant that was long anticipated, the MEAT simply lacked any soul. BBQ is pretty sacred to some of us and generic cooked meat with "sauce flavor toppings" is not BBQ. Headband Howie needs less shul and more soul in the kitchen... and he needs to buy a REAL smoker or just call the place Bull BBQ.



        1. re: advisor_Girl

          Dang! I was all ready to go and thought I'd hook with FreakerDude so we could write the review together....But at least for the moment....Bulldog BBQ isn't on my "To Eat List" until I hear or read something better......Frod's review might make me re-think....but for the moment...not...not so much.....


          1. re: LargeLife

            EMac - I know you're a real 'cue guy and, as I noted, I didn't eat anything that would tell me whether or not Bulldog BBQ is real 'cue or not.

          2. re: advisor_Girl

            $14 for half-chicken dinner? Dang! That'd better be good!!


            1. re: advisor_Girl

              Agree with AG here. Our experience at Bull BBQ was somewhat unhappy. I had waited for a while and had hoped that this place would deliver. For us, the best part of the meal was the fresh lemonade...the pulled pork my wife had was uninspired, as were the slaw, mac'n'cheese; the chicken sliders seemed ok, but nothing amazing, the shrimp and grits were my big hope - but with the whole hominy or perhaps just riced potatoes - the dish left me feeling completely unsatisfied. I guess i was hoping for ground grits, and I think most people's expectations when they hear "grits" are that.

              The meats seemed to lack an overall care of preparation and seemed almost generic and store-bought in quality. The service was excellent, and I hope that Howie can quickly find his BBQ identity, rather than try to put together a collection of mostly mediocre, IMO, dishes.

              PS. the desserts did look great, however, I could not order any after the mediocre-meal had taken up all the room in my stomach....

              1. re: kevdog


                I do not mean to be "Debbie Downer" but seriously - there are folks who dedicate their lives to perfecting the rub, the smoke, the right woods, the cook times, the marinades, the sauces and the end result is supreme FLAVOR. To review this restaurant and not consider "bland meat" an issue is just a deal breaker for me.

                I eat BBQ in dirty parking lots out of charred kettles in BAD neighborhoods. I will WORK for BBQ. It's just a lovely venue with friendly waitstaff and sub par flavor. Maybe things will improve...


                1. re: advisor_Girl

                  AG - i don't think we're disagreeing here...i was being more euphemistic in my review though....

                  1. re: kevdog

                    another vote...pulled pork = disappointing

              2. re: advisor_Girl

                He has cabinet smokers and you can Google his name to find the article that is in the first search link. He is afraid of oversmoking meat to a charcoal taste as many others do (?). If their pork is smokeless and bland, so will all of their other meats. The process is always the same. Is he serving fully coated pre-sauced pork? If so, this is a big no-no for anyone who has basic knowledge. Tasting the meat before saucing will give you a good indication of the process. Sauce should compliment and never be needed to give it flavor.

                So, how are the sauces? I am a sauce fanatic and am curious if he does these right. Yellow mustard based spicy but what else is in it? Is it sweet? How about the red? Does it appear to be spiced right or just tomato based average stuff?

                1. re: freakerdude

                  The mustard-based sauce was decent, but not great. The red was bland and very ketchup-y.

                  The pork did indeed come pre-sauced, which bothered me as well. While the sauce it was dressed with seemed to be lighter or thinner than the ketchup-based sauce served on the side, it still made it hard to tell what the pork actually tasted like.

                  All that being said, I would still go back after a while and give it another shot. I'd still like to try the ribs or brisket. I want to like this place.

                  1. re: freakerdude

                    The pulled pork was pre-sauced, but, as noted by others, not with either of the table sauces. It was looser and more watery. The prominent notes in the yellow bbq sauce were mustard (powder?) and vinegar, not too sweet. I didn't try the other one.

                    Seems from the interview referenced above (which I've linked to below), they are not shooting for a traditional BBQ joint, but that leaves me unsure exactly what it is that they ARE aiming for.

                    1. re: Frodnesor

                      Yellow bbq sauce is a South Carolina bbq thing and one of my favorites. If youre ever in the Columbia area, you gotta check out Maurice's BBQ. One of the best pork sandwiches Ive ever had, if not the best.

                      1. re: Blind Mind

                        I have bought Maurice's mustard based sauces from grocers in the past but have not seen it in the last few years. There's something about a slightly spicy and sweet mustard based sauce that stands out among the other typical varieties.

              3. Has anyone actually tried the ribs yet?

                4 Replies
                1. re: The Chowfather

                  yes, I was there for lunch today and when I went to cut them, the meat fell off the bone... Enjoyed everything about it. Portion on the brisket was minuscule and almost an appetizer portion. Also we had the oysters in a cornbread batter was great.

                  1. re: jmdhsmiami

                    falling off the bone is not necessarily a good thing...especially in bbq

                    1. re: Wursthof

                      I definitely have to agree and this description is often used as good BBQ. FOTB can be done just as easily in your oven, Most Q aficanados prefer to bite the meat off of the bone rather than it falling off when you pick it up. It's a matter of one's preference really.

                      1. re: freakerdude

                        I'm with Wursthof and FD....Rib meat is to be tender but NOT falling off the bone...At least in accordance with BBQ purists....and I'm definitely a BBQ purist...But even I accepted the fact that it's hard to mass-produce BBQ purist BBQ!.....I love to try new restaurants...and I'll get to Bulldog BBQ sooner or later...and probably later than sooner based on these reviews....

                        I did read one of the links about the owner and what he wants to do and yes, it appears as if he's not aiming towards becoming a traditional BBQ restaurant....Hasn't proclaimed such....And isn't producing such.....It's very likely that he's aiming towards a brand of BBQ that will suit the tastes of those that live near this restaurant....and that's GOOD BUSINESS....I just happen to like Boston Butt Pork Shouders and Briskets to look like big lumps of coal!!


                2. I must have different BBQ taste than most posters. Have eaten at many Q places in North Carolina. BullBullFirst the negatives: bland cole slaw and mediocre corn bread. Positives: pulled pork and ribs very good. Yes, the ribs fall off the bone and that is a bad thing? Very flavorful ribs. Yellow sauce nice. Unique beans. Loved it and a huge portion. Could be an entree itself. Very loud and crowded the night we were there. Friendly service and Howie was watching every plate as it left the kitchen. For beer snobs, the selection was limited. Boo hoo, no Hoegaaden. Not so terrible for us to suffer with Bud even though it is owned by a Belgium company. Bulldog is a work in progress and I hope it will survive and prosper.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: rebus1805

                    Who cares that Bulldog isn't for the "BBQ purist" and which "BBQ purist", Texas BBQ, North Carolina BBQ, Tennessee BBQ etc? Those "purists" don't agree with eachother. Personally if you served me a lump of charcoal and call it "real BBQ", I'll call you insane, send it back to the kitchen and explain to you that lunch was on you for trying to pull that over on me.

                    I ate lunch there the other day and had the Brisket and Beans, and both were outstanding. I understand that Bulldog is going through the growing pains, but the food is what matters to me and it was excellent. I'll be back again, and this time won't have a large breakfast so I can stuff myself silly.

                      1. re: talmazor

                        *Who cares that Bulldog isn't for the "BBQ purist"*?

                        Well, BBQ purists, for one. I don't count myself among that group (though I do appreciate the art), but that's not to say that it doesn't matter to many folks. At this point, Calvin Trillin is probably as well known for his writing on 'cue as for anything else (and it is entertaining reading, here's an example) ->

                        For me, it's simply a matter of describing what kind of food they're dishing up - the same as Texas-style, KC-style, or NC-style etc. would be. Though there's little doubt in my mind that a properly-done, low-and-slow job is better than just about any other alternative, that's not to say that the food at Bulldog BBQ isn't good (indeed, I thought it was good). I hardly think anyone is suggesting serving a lump of charcoal and calling it "real BBQ".

                        1. re: Frodnesor

                          The problem with saying that Bulldog is not for the "BBQ Purist" is you're still not saying who is considered a purist. If you ask someone from Tennessee what BBQ is, they would say pulled pork period. Going out for BBQ in Memphis is going out for pulled pork, not ribs, not chicken....pulled pork. Now ask the same questions to a Texan and you'll get ribs, chicken etc. Again, ask someone from South Florida what BBQ is and you'll be told hamburgers and hot dogs on a grill. So to me the name explains it perfectly. It's called Bulldog BBQ, which tells me you better ask the Bulldog what he considers BBQ because that's what he's serving.

                          1. re: talmazor

                            - actually, Memphis is probably equally famous for its ribs as for its pulled pork.
                            - your response assumes people in South Florida are idiots; I beg to differ.
                            - while there may be differences from region to region as to predominant meat used and sauces, the cooking method (and the results) are pretty consistent; if you're not cooking with woodsmoke for a long time over low heat, it's unlikely you're going to impress a "BBQ purist" of any persuasion. That's what I'm talking about.
                            - by the same token, it seems to me rather obvious that if you are not following any particular "school" of BBQ cookery (and from the interview linked to above, HK makes clear he is not), then you are unlikely to appease a BBQ purist of any particular persuasion anyway.
                            - as I've already said, all of which is PERFECTLY OK so long as the food is good - which overall, I thought it was at Bulldog. The reality, as folks much more knowledgeable than me on the ways of 'cue (like EMac) will say, is that competition-style bbq is invariably difficult to duplicate in a restaurant setting. You don't necessarily have to strive to do that to put out good food.

                            1. re: Frodnesor

                              Very well put Frod!...I am a BBQ purist.....I am a KCBS judge....That doesn't make me an expert....It just makes me someone that's had many opportunities to taste INCREDIBLE BBQ.....And i've had the good fortune to visit many of the "Mother Churches" of BBQ....And as I've written....competition BBQ is nearly impossible to reproduce in restaurants....and I know and accept this....That's why I'm not above eating at Shorty's....Sonny's....and the like.....because I know what to expect....and they deliver it!......After I read up on what "The Bulldog" is trying to achieve on another's obvious that he's headed in that direction.....Of course I was being facetious about the 'lump of coal.....but some 'low n slow' meats are charred on the outside....and delicious on the inside....All a matter fo taste....


                              1. re: LargeLife

                                You had me before you said "Shorty's." :-P

                                1. re: johnmlinn

                                  Shorty's is...what Shorty's is!.....Grilled chicken fast.....Their Doral location is 500 feet from my office and we eat there once per week....It's chicken is so-so...their slaw is is the corn....But it's not 'REAL' barbecue....And that's my point....I don't expect it to there's no disappointment....BBQ is a great debate because there's so many different angles......When I want what I consider 'real bbq'.....I fire up my Big Green Egg smoker.....and do a brisket or boston butts for 16 hours or so....break out the Blues Hog sauce....some white bread..and we're eating 'real bbq'.....


                                    1. re: LargeLife

                                      Blues Hog now now pulling out the heavy ammo eh?

                                      Good stuff

                                      1. re: Wursthof

                                        I keep two bottles around the house for my pork shoulder smoking sessions: Blues Hog and Bone Suckin' Mustard Sauce. :-D

                                        PS - I've never been to the Doral or O.G. Shorty's, but I can tell you that the ones up in Broward serve only the completely inedible.

                                        1. re: johnmlinn

                                          Blues Hog is my fave when it comes to bottled stuff.....I've been on winning KCBS teams that use that stuff right out of the bottle with nothing else...and win....So yea, it's pretty good.....Definitely my favorite "sweet sauce"....My favorite vinegar-based sauce comes from a BBQ joint in Waycross, GA called "The Pig".....Very peppery and flavorful....but not really hot....makes the top of your head tingle and that's it....just enough heat.....And my wife is in Waycross this weekend and bringing another couple of gallons home as it stores indefinitely in refrigeration......But the real 'secret weapon' is the Big Green can't be beat!

                                          Ft. Pierce, FL

                      2. I had been looking forward to bulldog bbq opening, unfortunately it didn't live up to my expectations. My problem was the lack of seasoning! everything we ordered needed salt!!!

                        The cornmeal oysters were very juicy, but had not seasoning. The Coleslaw was actually on the very warm side. cornbread was moist, but not much flavor, the ribs were very tender (yes they fell off the bone, I prefer to bite the meat off the bone, but that is my preference), but agian had no flavor. The baked beans were okay, the mac and cheese looked like it had been sitting for days and was tasteless. the pulled pork was okay but again needed seasoning, and the dinner rolls that they served with the pulled pork were cold. the chipotle fries had NO chipotle (again no seasoning).

                        As for the bbq sauces - well that was a debacle. The red bbq sauce tasted like watered down ketchup and the mustard bbq sauce was just mustard.

                        I think he will actually do well, since the Aventura crowd tends to like a more bland style of food. My biggest gripe is that I ate lots of finger food and only used 1 paper towel, yes only 1...that is NOT bbq. There was nothing to lick off my fingers : (