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Blue Ribbon Rules

Ate at their Arlington location last night.

The outdoor tables were open, which is my favorite time of year to eat there.

The food was awesome. When they got a side wrong they comped me the original side order rather then just keep it and give it to the next person.

There was also another more complex service issue which I observed while I was there and they absolutely bent over backwards to accommodate the customer to the point that I was honestly shocked. My reaction was: "what kindness."

All the while I felt like the interaction with the clientele, not just me, was one of caring and genuine hospitality. The vibe I get there is that every single person who works there actually cares about the customers and the food. This is not something I often experience in Boston.

For me the folks at Blue Ribbon define hospitality.

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  1. Not only great Q, but it's refreshing when a business model realizes that employees are not there to take peoples money, but take it from them and have them leave happy, and then come back and do it at another time. That's why Blue Ribbon will be catering the Metrowest HOG charity ride this sunday.

    1 Reply
    1. re: trufflehound

      You've really hit the nail on the head. The place contrasts so much with say any of Barbara Lynch's places where they do manage to provide good service most of the time (though folks have had some bad experiences) but the overriding vibe is that first and foremost, her goal is to separate you from as much currency as humanly possible, providing quality food somewhat secondary.

    2. Wholeheartedly agree. Not only do they offer the best Q around, IMHO, they do so with genuine affection for the product and the customer.


      1. Love Blue Ribbon!
        I think they define unpretentious. Good food, generous portion, and very friendly service!

        1 Reply
        1. We have had Blue Ribbon cater parties for us for the last 8 or 9 years. Not only do all of our guests love their food, the catering staff could not be more pleasant and helpful. Even their delivery guys are personable, and have told us that they remember our house from previous years.

          2 Replies
          1. re: crabtree

            I used Blue Ribbon for a swim team banquet and I couldn't agree more. They were incredibly helpful and friendly on the phone and again at delivery. The quantity of food - despite ordering for less people than actually attended (and these were high school boys and their parents) - was amazing, and everything was delicious. I would absolutely use their catering again.

            1. re: crabtree

              Love their catering. It really is amazing what the provide if you, say, order food for 12. Aside from their excellent key lime pie, their pecan, and sweet potato are also awesome.

            2. I love Blue Ribbon's food and people too. They've always bent over backwards when I've asked for their brisket served whole, so I could chill it and slice it myself into nice pieces. Having to have eaten at Redbones recently for a birthday party really reminded how unbelievably beter Blue Ribbon is. In addition to their excellent brisket, their "gold" BBQ sauce really makes it for me. The Key Lime Pie at Blue Ribbon is also a hidden treat.

              I don't get the dig at Barbara Lynch though --- sure her restaurants are expensive, but I've never gotten that "vibe" from anything or anyone there.

              3 Replies
              1. re: lipoff

                With regard to Lynch the primary reason for my comment is that every single place of hers seems to charge the absolute maximum possible for every single thing on the menu frequently drifting into the "gouge you" realm for often scant portions. Butcher Shop is a perfect example. When you feel like every single price point for every single morsel was designed to be as pricey and scant as possible, that for me is not really hospitality.

                1. re: StriperGuy

                  This is my overriding complaint about many "quality" restaurants...they are there to get you. Sure, the food is of high quality, but is it worth it when they are taking you for whatever they are able? Everyone gets so caught up in how "great" it is, people don't even stop to think, "hey, I'm getting screwed...but everyone says this place is wonderful, I am ready to fork over whatever they need" I had a "bowl" of housemade gumbo at a place the other day...after tax and tip it came to 11 dollars for a tiny plate of gumbo. Because it's so *special*...authentic housemade gumbo. I can make my own *special* gumbo for a sliver of the cost *and* I will have all I need. Restaurants can really be rip offs, but I guess that's capitalism and the level of demand.

                2. re: lipoff

                  Howdy, I *almost* agree with you (and most folks here) wholeheartedly, but have to clarify my feelings about Blue Ribbon vs. Redbones. I like the food, but I love the consistency and the people. My problem with Redbones is that they are very inconsistent on the food front. When they are on, I think their BBQ is the best around, but all too often it's just... meh.

                  On balance, I'll take Blue Ribbon because I know they are going to serve a consistently good product.

                3. I have no intention of starting a debate on tipping (or not) for takeout, but at Blue Ribbon, they don't even provide the option- the credit card receipt doesn't have a line for a tip, and there is no container near the register. I was impressed (and with the food and service).

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: AnnieP

                    If you try to tip, they will not accept it.

                  2. Noticed today that they sell Blue Ribbon's Carolina BBQ sauce at Dave's Fresh Pasta. I bet that would be good slathered on a shoe. Low and slow, of course.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: yumyum

                      Saw it at Wilson Farms for the first time this past weekend, too.


                      1. re: yumyum

                        I saw some of their BBQ sauce (don't remember which one) at Whole Foods in Newton a week or two ago. Looks like they're starting to sell their sauce in a lot of stores.

                      2. I wholeheartedly agree. I went to the Blue Ribbon in Arlington for years and then recently moved and got too busy to drive back over. When I finally did... they were all like "where have you been!?" It was the friendliest response ever. Everyone there is always super nice. And I dig the cheesy potatoes...

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: langley

                          Are the cheesy potatoes a new item? I've been going there for years and I've never noticed them. They have some of the best mashed potatoes around. YUM!

                          1. re: sweetsgirl

                            They are usually the daily special. They don't always have them, but they seem to have them most of the time! :)

                            1. re: 02139

                              Exactly and I was talking Arlington -- sorry forgot to specify. I don't know if both shops do the same specials!

                        2. Wow - Chowhound thread with 19 replies and no dissent - Gotta say, I love Blue Ribbon too, we have had them cater office events, and I agree wholeheartedly with all the love - but I am shocked that there isn't some hound that has some ax to grind...cornbread too sweet...not sweet enough...yadda yadda yadda...could this be the consensus best of boston?

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: roejimmy

                            I think it's long been considered Boston's best barbecue, overall. Admittedly, there's little competition -- personally, it's the only barbecue I'll eat in town -- but it's a genuinely worthy spot. (Although I've only ever been to the Arlington location, so I can't speak to the Newton one.)

                            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                              Curious if you already tried and dismissed Soul Fire in Allston and, if so, when that may have been.

                              I understand the meat for both BR locations is now prepared in the same off premise kitchen, I'm not sure how much difference there is between the 2 anymore in that regard.

                              1. re: PaulB

                                I wanted very much to like Soul Fire and gave it many many chances before being served the single worst sliced brisket I have ever had, at which point I said the hell with it.

                            2. re: roejimmy

                              I don't like their baked beans at all. The cornbread, however, is beyond reproach. =)

                              1. re: roejimmy

                                Although I think they are the best all round bbq joint that I've tried in the Boston area (still need to check out Soul Fire which has been getting good reviews with those with views I trust on BBQ), I think others do some things better. Since they stopped smoking at the Lexington location, the meats have been less smokier - which I miss. I used to love the smokiness of the ribs, now Lester's in Burlington is my go to joint for ribs. Brisket is totally inconsistent and I think Redbones does it better on a consistent basis. Now that BR has stopped chopping the pork into the consistency of chunk lite tuna, I think they have the best pulled pork in town - but ranges from good to great depending on level of smoke. I like BR's sides and love their sauces.

                              2. Inspired by the board, I went to Blue Ribbon for the first time tonight. It's an easy bus ride from Harvard Square on the 77 bus, which leaves every 10 minutes or so. It takes about 20 minutes to get to Blue Ribbon (across from the Stop and Shop, a bit after the Arlington city hall).

                                The North Carolina pulled pork was moist and intensely, deliciously smoky. Blue Ribbon cooks the pulled pork over freshly cut oak and hickory, resulting in a smokier and more flavorful meat compared to Red Bones. The Gold BBQ sauce is one of the best sauces I've ever had -- sweet with a great mustard tang.

                                I strongly recommend the tea (sweet without being too sweet) and the amazing key lime pie. I took a second slice to go and am eating it now as I type. The tartness is nice and subdued, unlike most key lime pies I've tried elsewhere, which are too sour. The consistency is perfectly creamy. Perhaps I should have gotten a third slice . . .

                                Some misses: the Texas beef brisket was moist but had less of the awesome smoke flavor that made the pork so irresistible. The sides that I tried -- mashed potatoes and gravy, baked beans -- were solid but unremarkable. The potatoes were fresh but could have used more butter, and were less flavorful compared to top-rate versions (e.g., the mashed potatoes at the Franklin Cafe). The restaurant lacks a liquor license, so there's no beer (one of the essential complements to BBQ), and the dining room is fairly small, though there is seating outside for the summer.

                                If you want a great beer selection or have a large group eating out, Red Bones might be a better fit. But the BBQ at Blue Ribbon, as Lipoff mentioned, is far superior, and the pulled pork, Gold BBQ sauce, and key lime pie were spectacular. Blue Ribbon is the best barbecue in Boston.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Guilty Glutton

                                  I like Blue Ribbon, but would disagree that it is "far superior" to Redbones. Both have their strengths and weaknesses (e.g. pulled pork better at BR and ribs better at RB), and both can be inconsistent on any given night (Blue Ribbon also varies by location). They are the two best in Boston which ain't saying much.

                                  1. re: Gabatta

                                    Woo dissent! ;)

                                    While we like Redbones, too, and agree that each has its strengths and weaknesses, IMHO Redbones strengths are the bar, the breadth of the menu, and the fryolater. Great catfish fingers, hand cut fries, etc. Blue Ribbon, on the other hand, wins hands down on the ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and frankly every side dish I've ever tried EXCEPT Redbones corn pudding.


                                    1. re: BJK

                                      I think Redbones has better ribs and brisket (and beer) and killer catfingers and mac and cheese while BR has better pulled pork and corn bread.
                                      I do agree that the ribs at Soulfire are better than both Redbones or BR though.

                                  2. re: Guilty Glutton

                                    Their strongest sides are the veg: collards, blackeyed corn, string beans, slaw and Pozole when they have it.

                                    1. re: StriperGuy

                                      Second the collards, and if you ever see cheesy grits as a special side, they are dreamy.

                                  3. Piling on to say Blue Ribbon is my favorite for their service and the best BBQ brisket, consistent ribs, jerk chicken (that is not really jerk but truly smoky and delicious), cornbread, collard greens, green beans, pickles and potato salad, but I do think that ribs on good day at Redbones can be better, they win for pulled pork and they have that great beer selection. This thread makes me want to try cheesy grits and key lime pie there as well as find a reason to have them cater something.

                                    I will go as far to say I have not had better BBQ in either Texas (Railhead in Ft Worth was the best by far) or North Carolina (still looking for a good one) where I have tried at least 5 different recommended spots in each - some as good, but none better - maybe I haven't searched high and low enough yet but Blue Ribbon is really solid (of course, I have never been to Memphis....) and consistent and priced well.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: rlh

                                      I travelled EXTENSIVELY in the South for 6 years for work. TX, NC, SC, GL, GA, TN, AL, AR, etc. etc and ate cue everywhere I could.

                                      I did not hit a single place that would have blown BR away. Awesome, mindblowing cue yes. But anything to shame BR, nope. One total shack in Americus, GA was pretty amazing, but it's a loooong way to Americus.

                                      Oh, and to RLH, the cue at Rendezvous in Memphis is lame. The other two spots whose names eluce me at the moment were quite good.

                                    2. What are the main differences between the Newton and Arlington location? I've been in the Newton one once, but it is so small that I didn't really feel comfortable there. Is the Arlington location more like a sit-down restaurant?

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: taterjane

                                        Not a ton of sitting space in Arlington either, but in the summer they do have some great outdoor seating.

                                        1. re: taterjane

                                          They are pretty much the same these days.

                                          1. re: taterjane

                                            Newton has only about a dozen counter seats, if that, and perhaps two tables outside. Arlington has table seating for about 12 people (3 4-tops?) plus 6 - 8 counter seats and seating for another 12 - 16 (3 or 4 4-tops?) outside when the weather allows.


                                          2. I went to Blue Ribbon in Arlington a second time. The portions are extremely generous. The duo with two meats and two sides is meant for one but easily feeds two. It's surprising how heavy the black tray is when you pick up your order. They do not stint on food, which is good news when it's BBQ.

                                            The pulled pork and Gold sauce were as good as before. The Memphis ribs were ok -- the fatty end was quite moist but the meatier end was rather dry and a little tough. The St. Louis ribs at Red Bones were more tender, though to be fair it was prepared in a different style (I haven't tried the Memphis ribs at Red Bones). Blue Ribbon's black-eyed corn -- fresh and spicy -- was much better than the baked beans and mashed potatoes I had on my first visit. I recommend it as a side. The cole slaw was finely diced and cooled the palate.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Guilty Glutton

                                              I love Blue ribbon, but I've got to say the 3 times I've tried the brisket it's been dry, tough,underseasoned, and stone cold. Everything else I've had I've really liked.

                                              1. re: Steve L

                                                Yeah, the brisket is iffy but the burnt ends are amazing. Go figure.

                                                Also agree 100% with the recommendations for catering. They do a great job and provide tons of food "per person". Even when you order the "Meal for 6" (or whatever) off the menu, you get lots of leftovers.

                                                That said, I still love Redbones for the variety, the beer and the atmosphere. When they're on, they're in the same league as BRBBQ and I've found that they've been "on" much more often than not over the last couple of years (after a dry spell).

                                                1. re: scratchie

                                                  Weirdly, the brisket is iffy in opposing ways from one visit to the next: Barmy and I succumbed to a craving for Blue Ribbon a couple of weeks ago, and impulsively added a small portion of brisket to our order. Barmy prefers his brisket a little on the lean side, while I don't mind the fat so much, but what we got was SO fatty that even I couldn't really stomach it.

                                            2. I gotta say, guys, the best blue ribbon meal is definitely the burnt ends. get the sandwich. it's the best thing you'll ever have.

                                              ps. tried soul fire this weekend, no good in comparison.

                                              1. I hit Blue Ribbon in Arlington for the first time last night after years of Redbones as my local go-to Q joint, and I've got to agree with StriperGuy wholeheartedly.

                                                Really excellent all around. Great pulled pork, killer baked beans & collards. They were out of the burnt ends when I got there, so I'll just have to go back. Honestly friendly & prompt service, no attitude. Very reasonable prices for the amount of food I got. I just wish I'd gone here sooner.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                  They also make a superb pecan pie, sweet potato pie, and key lime pie. Just really, really good!