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Apr 10, 2011 05:25 PM

Central NJ BBQ Crawl

Got a last minute invite to accompany a few guys on a tour of some of the new BBQ places that have opened up in the area recently. It was decided to try Pom Pom BBQ in MillStone, Mo Greens in Manalapan and Local Smoke in Cookstown.

Started at Pom Pom in the early afternoon. Babyback ribs had a good bite to them (none of that falling off the bone nonsense). Nicely, but not overly sauced with good pork flavor. Chicken wings were good. Sides were tasty. Baked beans were on the sweet side; The greens were excellent! Tasty and not overcooked.

Next was Mo Greens in Manalapan. The rich smell of smoke greeted us as we entered. Indeed, the smoke flavor of the meats here was more noticeable than at the other places we hit. That being said, there seemed somewhat less pork flavor in the St. Louis ribs than at the other establishments. They were cooked to perfection though. We tried the brisket here and found it on the dry side, though a touch of the mustard BBQ sauce helped. We found the brisket could not be cut with a plastic fork alone, as it should be. Buffalo wings had a nice zing to them but the consensus was the dry rubbed wings were the best. I'll have to take the others word on that as I was starting to slow down already and they disappeared before I got a try. The sides at Mo Greens were a world apart! Excellent. Fried pickles were crispy and salty and tangy. Fried Mac & Cheese was wonderful (Be sure to get it fresh out of the fryer). Baked beans were good, not runny, mushy or pasty, they were the best beans 'o the day. Braised red cabbage was tangy, sweet and not overcooked.

Finally we headed southwest to Local Smoke. This establishment is located where Adams Rib formerly operated (And plans to open a branch at the former Adams Rib Neptune location). Only open like a month they topped the list when it came to protein. Ribs were Meaty, smokey and had a nice smoke ring. Brisket was also smoky. fresh and tender (yes it passed the plastic fork test). Wings were good. A nice addition was a house treat of Atomic armadillo turds. Cream cheese & pulled pork stuffed jalapenos wrapped with bacon and hot smoked. Baked beans & mac & cheese were good but not exceptional.

All in all we had to reflect that in the past year this area has gone from a BBQ wasteland, to having a reasonable choice of places to compete with each other for business. These knowledgeable pitmasters are a welcome addition to the boiled & grilled ribs that have been a mainstay of many other local establishments offering "BBQ" ribs as part of their menu. We were not able to include Jersey Shore BBQ in our little crawl simply because of time and logistics, but if you include them there is a reasonable diversity of BBQ offerings that have developed recently. They must be supported!

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  1. As one of the intrepid group yesterday I can say that overall the food was very good and the company even better.
    Agree with all that =Mark has stated above. Direct comparisons are tough to do as some items vary between places but we managed to reach consensus between us.

    As =Mark has summed up the day prety well, here are some brief impressions.
    Pom Pom in Millstone was the first stop. The place is clean, people friendly and helpful. The menu here is a bit limited compared to our other stops but that doesn't stop Pom Pom from delivering excellent ribs, very good wings and nice sides, especially the cooked greens.
    With the lack of good restaurants in the area, this is truly an oasis in the desert :)

    Mo Greens was an interesting stop, full menu, lots to pick from. The brisket and ribs were decent but not the best sampled. Wings were ordered two ways, sauced were good but dry rub wings were great. Sides at Mo Greens were all excellent.
    Good place overall, careful ordering will get you a very nice meal.

    Local Smoke was the last stop. Ribs and brisket were solid, tender and tasty. Wings were large, meaty and good. Sides were nice. Getting an order of the Atomic Armadillo "Turds" were a treat. A lot going on but it was all good.
    We struck up a conversation with the team running Local Smoke and they take their cue very seriously entering several competitions during the year.

    Pom Pom, Mo Greens and Local Smoke are all BYO and we took advantage of that with a variety of "cold ones".
    Whats the next crawl. Burgers from the shore to Trenton, pizza from the icons in the Trenton area, Middle Eastern crawl with falafel and shawarma.
    Lots of possibilities :)

    4 Replies
    1. re: tom246

      I too was lucky enough to be part of this group and a great time was had by all participants. I agree completely with the assessments made by equal_mark and tom246. As for the BBQ, Local Smoke was by far the best of the bunch. In fact, both the brisket and the St. Louis Ribs were some of the best BBQ I have ever tasted. This restaurant is a true gem and I cannot wait for them to open in Neptune (which I understand should be happening in June). While the BBQ was stellar, I did not find the sides to be all that remarkable (both the beans and the mac cheese were pretty pedestrian). I did however really enjoy the jalapeno poppers (or "turds"), While they were nothing to look at (hence the nickname), their smokey flavor was addicting.

      On the opposite end of the spectrum was Mo Greens. While I found their BBQ to be disappointing, their sides were excellent. I enjoyed the fried pickles, fried mac and cheese, baked beans, and red cabbage. The fried items were crunchy and greaseless while the beans and cabbage were toothsome and well flavored. I also found their corn bread to be the best of the lot for the day. As Mark pointed out in his post, the smell of smoke hits you when you walk into Mo Greens. I was disappointed to find however that smoke was the only flavor that came through in the ribs. Curiously absent however was any evidence of the smoking process as there wasn't any smoke ring on the ribs. I also had a problem with the brisket. While it did exhibit a smoke ring, it was sliced "deli" thin and was dry when delivered to the table. I did take home a few of their baked dessert items and must report in not being very happy with the either the cherry pie (maybe a can filing?) or the chocolate bread pudding (which could of benefited from a sauce of some kind). I do however agree with tom246 that if you order carefully from Mo Greens you should be able to come up with a good meal.

      Pom Pom fits in the nicely between Mo Greens and Local Smoke. Not the best sides or BBQ but very respectable in both categories. The ribs (baby back instead of St. Louis) were smoked nicely and had an understated BBQ flavor. The baked beans and the greens were also very good. But for the exceptional BBQ at Local Smoke, I could be see myself being very happy with Pom Pom.

      I would like to thank equal_mark, tom246 and seal for allowing me to join them and I look forward to future crawls.

      1. re: bgut1

        I only been to Pom Pom (twice) and Mo Greens (3 times). I totally agree with the reviews. I am a BBQ novice and have no idea about smoke rings and stuff but I found the briskets and ribs so-so at Mo Greens. I did have some pull pork last Friday and it was the best compared to the other two entrees i tried. Mo Greens' best attribute might be the sides especially that fried mac n cheese.

        As for Pom Pom, I tried the fried chicken and ribs. Ribs were great, much more tasty then Mo Greens'. Fried chicken was good but pale in comparison to the ribs. The choice of the sides at Pom Pom is very "Boston Market". They are good but there is nothing you make you crave like a fried mac n cheese.

        One thing I would like to add is Pom Pom's price is cheaper especially if you order Pom Pom's lunch special.

        I would like to say I am in no means complaining about Mo Greens; both places are welcome addition to the area.

        1. re: yCf

          On a similar crawl weeks ago, I thought Local Smoke was the best of the 3 I tried, but Mo Green's was quite good. The brisket was chewy but had great flavor.

          1. re: yCf

            For what it's worth, the pulled pork did not make it into the foods we had decided to sample. As it was we were barely able to finish after 4 solid hours of BBQ broken up by a few drives through the country. One thing that really helped us at the end was the great Que at Local Smoke...

      2. So, I guess this was the Central Jersey (no ladies need apply) BBQ Crawl? LOL

        Well, I'm not too put out since as you may have seen from my second set of Mo' Greens photos, Mr. R. and I got our bbq fix there on Friday and finished up the leftovers (plus adding another order of brisket because we thought it was so excellent) on Saturday. And the best part is that for us, it's a no shlep less-than-five-minute-drive to go there. :))

        To keep you guys from feeling totally bad about not including us, we couldn't have gone anyway because were in the city yesterday. Tickets for a fabulous classical concert followed by a delicious dinner at Ciano. :)

        5 Replies
        1. re: RGR

          Is this crawl group limited to a group of known friends or is it random associates/posters from Chow?

          1. re: rapidnj

            RGR - You were sorely missed.

            rapidnj - It was suggested by tom246 in the following thread and open to everyone.

            1. re: bgut1

              Very sweet of you to say that, bgut!

              When that thread went up, seal said those interested could contact him, so that's what I did. But I take it he did not participate yesterday? As I said, we would not have been able to do it. Still, it would have been nice if someone had at least contacted me to ask. However, it seems seal and Tom did not exchange info as to who was interested.


              1. re: RGR

                Yes RGR, I don't like you anymore ;o)

                Seriously though, we would have loved to have you and Mr. R along. I miss you guys and take full responsibility for getting wires crossed and missing you two on this one.

                This is why I only coordinate things at my house, so I don't have to do anything but cook.

                But we are all up for another crawl soon and this time you can coordinate and leave me home :o(

                1. re: seal

                  No biggie, seal! As I said, the super day we spent in NYC totally takes the sting out of missing the crawl. :))

                  Thanks, but no thanks! I am now out of the coordinating events in NJ thingy. Of course, Mr. R. and I would love to get together with you and Mrs. seal, as well as our other NJ pals if we can find an agreeable date. To be continued via private email....


        2. Sorry I'm late to the party - long day.

          I was the final member of the Q Crawl 4, as TMZ has dubbed us. And It truly was a great afternoon - beer, food, and company were all first rate.

          I got to Pom Pom first and told them we would be four men so they opened up one of the tables to accomodate what they assumed would be a huge feast. Little did they know they were only the appetizer of our day. I like Pom Pom a lot. My son likes the wings there, and I thought they were the best of the three we sampled that day, albeit a tad mild for my taste. Their ribs are good, and properly cooked, but I don't love their sauce. We also shared my favorite side there - those yummy greens.

          Mo Green's is another family favorite, but more for eating there than for taking out. For us, the real draw of Mo's are all things that must be eaten hot and fresh. I love their fried mac n cheese, fried pickles, and those teeny fried candy bars. I brought home some desserts from them this time - a slice each of cherry and blueberry pie and some fresh baked double chocolate cookies. I was all set for a nice treat last night and ended up disappointed. The cherry pie filling was not in the same league as the excellent crust and tasted like a can of Comstock. The cookies were a bit better, but still not great. I am sticking with those fried candy bars.

          I hadn't yet made it out to Local Smoke so I was psyched for the last leg of our run. I had already planned to get too much food to go if the meat was good there. Well, it was more than good, it was great. The only thing I wasn't thrilled with meat-wise was the wings, and they were far from bad. But so far I have sampled the ribs, pulled pork, and both sliced and chopped brisket. Not only do I really enjoy their meats, but they have two very good sauces. Oh heck, I hear two more ribs calling my name now.

          1. Sounds like an awesome trip.

            I've seen many BBQ places open and close in NJ in the past 5 or so years. And I've seen a BBQ boom in NYC in the same timeframe (starting a bit before, actually). And I wonder why NJ can't figure it out.

            I think these places are underfunded, and can't weather the ups and downs in the economy and interest in general. That's a shame, because I think there are plenty of folks who can make damned good BBQ. But that's just part of the equation when opening up shop.

            This thread is a nice summary of a bunch of the places that I haven't yet tried. I'll put them on my list, and take all of the good ideas, and then open a place in north jersey with a liquor license...which I feel could make a BBQ joint a destination, rather than a nice local joint. Kidding, of course, I won't be opening a BBQ restaurant in north jersey.

            5 Replies
            1. re: tommy

              One aspect noted about all three places visited was that there was a liquor store next to or across the street from each of them.

              1. re: equal_Mark

                I was suggesting that a liquor license with the business could help cash flow, rather than helping the cash flow of the liquor store next to the business.

                1. re: tommy

                  I always wonder why the local BYOB restaurant and the nearest liquor store don't have pairing suggestions. Seems like a good opportunity for both owners. There's a liquor store within walking distance of Mo Greens...

                  Check menu for pairing suggestions
                  Order food
                  Walk to liquor store and pick up booze
                  By the time you get back food is almost ready

                  1. re: jrd303

                    They do that at Dish in Red Bank. Not sure how well it would work in a BBQ joint...

                    1. re: jrd303

                      The reason you don't see this is most liquor store owners and restaurant owners aren't very good at running businesses or providing services.

                      There are exceptions, like Picnic in Fair Lawn, who proposed to the liquor store next door that they could set aside some shelf space for wines that the chef thinks will pair well with their dishes.

              2. Been lurking on this site for a while enjoying the reviews. Now you all have me interested in trying to find good BBQ. I travel a bit for work and just last week had some really great ribs in Alabama at Dreamland... mmm.... Atlanta is up next - gotta start doing some research!

                One of my all-time favorites for BBQ in the "North" is Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse. I can't wait until the Newark restaurant opens!

                Living in Ocean County I've found it challenging to find good 'que - my wife and I nearly cried when Ben's eXtreme BBQ closed. Now, after reading this I think I may add Local Smoke to my "must try" list.