A&J Chicago Style Bar-BQ
Whilst buzzing over to Niccoli's this afternoon in search of an Italian market to call home (verdict: not Niccoli's), I ran into A&J Chicago Style Bar-BQ and pretty much had no choice but to drop in and give it a look. Judging from the clippings on the walls, they haven't exactly flown under the radar, though I didn't see much that was recent.
First off, yes, Chicago does, in fact, have its own style of BBQ... some of it quite good. If you were to name Chicago's iconic contribution to the BBQ pantheon, it'd be rib tips and hot links from an aquarium smoker. So I stepped in the door and, lo and behold, I was *shocked* to see a full-on aquarium smoker and a tips & links combo topping the menu. I'm sure other aquarium smokers exist outside of Chicago, but that's the first time I've seen one. Couldn't have been more jazzed. Well, yeah, I could have. When my tray came out, the fries were hand-cut.
All downhill from there, sadly. Tough, dry tips with weak smoke. BBQ is inherently variable, and I could see how the tips might not get enough attention and, consequently, the kind of turnover they need here in Phoenix. So I hate to read too much into one visit. It'd probably be best to go back for ribs and see if there's improvement there. But I doubt even the perfect smoke could have saved the links. They were dry and tasteless. Fries were mostly limp, but I'll still take them over frozen, and the cole slaw was something prepackaged.
A shame, since the folks running the place were incredibly warm and welcoming. A follow-up is definitely called for, I think. I want to try something that I'm more confident will be fresh.
A&J Chicago Style Bar-BQ
6102 North 16th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85016-1752
I live near this shopping center, but haven't been to A&J in a long, long time. My memory is that most of the favorable press came in the '90s. Some of the enthusiasm may have been lost since then. I'll have to give it a try sometime and see what I think.
I'd be interested in hearing your impressions of Niccoli's. I've tried it a few times and found some items appealing and others not so much. I'd call it a neighborhood deli and pizzeria with a small selection of specialty groceries rather than a true Italian market.
I've lived in the area for more than a decade and visited A & J's a few times. I believe it was closed for an extended period before re-opening in recent months (correct me if I'm wrong). It's the only place I've ever seen one of those contraptions. It's a spacious comfortable room, a friendly place, but the BBQ is disappointing. It's not bad, but it lacks a wow factor. The meats and sauce are not especially flavorful and they're a bit tougher than one would expect. The pinto beans are good. The one impression I've had every time I ate there was the the food was served hot (thermal, not spice), absolutely incendiary. I like hot food and don't like it tepid or lukewarm but this place really turns it up to where it's really noticable.
As for Niccoli's, like A & J's it's a place I really want to like and support. It's a legitimate Italian deli. I picked up a pizza there a few weeks ago and it was mediocre, very disappointing. It had been a few years since I'd had one there and I remembered it to be much better than it was this time.
I didn't look closely, but the clippings looked about that old, silverbear. And rather than being run by Abe & Jean (hence, A&J), it's now run by Anthony & Georgia. I think one of the latter is a niece or nephew of one of the former. Perhaps the switch accounts for the closing? I'm speculating.
That "contraption", as you put it miso, is very much a Chicago thing :-) Which is why I was so surprised to see one here. I know from experience that it's possible to work wonders on them, but they're touchy and really require a pitmaster who knows what s/he's doing. I don't know if the failure here was with the process, or because rib tips don't get much play in Phoenix and they were sitting for a long time. So I'd like to give the ribs a shot before writing these guys off.
As for Niccoli's, I didn't try any of the prepared foods. I'm really on a market hunt for cooking at home. In that sense, they're pretty disappointing. But I'd agree, they seem as much if not more about the prepared foods than the grocery items. I had better luck with DeFalco's, but they totally fell apart at the meat and cheese case for me. Still hunting (not to imply that I'm blazing a trail, here :-)