Very solid barbecue in Needham: Midtown Smokehouse and Grill
This new restaurant's first mention is buried within a thread about the Village Fish (the former occupant), so I wanted to start up a new thread with the name of the place in it.
Excellent and very tasty dinner last night.
We gravitated toward an appetizer of some SUBLIME "catfish bites". Charcoal-briquette-sized chunks of catfish, lightly dusted in cornmeal. Expertly fried; they were not too greasy, and the doneness of the fish was just right. These actually came after our meals arrived, and the kind waitress explained that they'd run out, and had actually driven to the store to buy more catfish (wow). Gosh, these were delicious, and I'll be back for more. Catfish sometimes has a muddy taste, but these had a nice, fresh cleanness about them.
I ordered the "two meats combo plate", for $13.99, with "Texas-style brisket", "St Louis Style pork ribs", mac & cheese, and "Texas Beans". The meal comes with a sizable square of cornbread (the sweet kind, for those who quibble about it), with a biscuit available as an alternative.
-The brisket was wonderful - smoky, NOT ultra fatty, and very tender, lacking any sort of sinewy nasties.
-The ribs were very good. Like the brisket, you could definitely tell they were skilfully smoked. I was happy to report that the meat was NOT falling off the bone (I don't know why "falling-off-the-bone" is necessarily a good thing), had a nice background flavor of "Spicy Memphis-style" bbq sauce that didn't overwhelm the meat, and wasn't terribly fatty either.
-Mac and cheese was solid (figuratively. It was literally quite tender).
-Beans were tasty, and lacked the annoying oversweetness of many other baked beans. Robust, meaty taste.
-My DC had the pulled pork. VERY PORKY GOOD TASTE. Easily some of the BEST pulled pork I've ever had. Like the ribs, it seemed relatively lean (i.e., no distinct fat lumps or gristle), and had an INTENSE pork-y flavor that wasn't covered up by sauce. Many times I find p.p. to be too dry, fatty, gristly, and/or sweetened by glop sauce. This stuff was divine.
Overall, an excellent experience considering their newness. Really, the only glitch of the night was a broken credit card machine (no bigs - ATM across the street). The service was sweet and relaxed, and the decor is cute but not over-the-top cheesy.
Give these guys some love; I think you'll all be happily surprised.
Went back last night for our second visit, brought friends who are big Blue Ribbon fans.
Got there just before 6PM, and only had 3 options for a 4 top. Crowds are good, right?
Waitress had been there since opening for lunch, had already done "800 to 900 covers" was her response to our "it's hopping, isn't it?", along with "it gets busier, up to 60-90 minute waits", so we were pleased to get a table.
Ordered some apps first, had to return the catfish bites as they were very undercooked. "No problem". Also had to send back one of the plates for the apps as it was dirty "Oh, it's just cornbread" (which was the only cornbread we saw until we mentioned it while paying).
Time to order. I got the sausage, which was very good. Friends got the pulled pork and the baby backs and were pleased. Wife ordered the Turkey tips. 2 minutes later "we're out of the turkey tips". OK, her second choice was the salmon. 2 minutes later "no salmon either".
So what else are you out of, at 6:30PM on a Saturday when it's going to get busier?
No brisket. No Spare ribs. No beef ribs.
Wife had the half chicken, which she had and liked last time, but was hoping to get something different (she doesn't do pork or beef, so options were limited).
Food was good, but there was never a "sorry", and the cornbread did come home with leftovers as the portions are great. But I wonder what the folks who arrived at 8PM had available to order? It's been a month now, and they've been busy before, so they shouldn't be running out of so many things that early in the evening, amIright?
Went back on Thursday, for the "last time", if things weren't better. Got there at 6:15PM, place was nearly empty (by 7:15, when we left, about 1/3 full).
First thing I did was ask what they were out of: "Memphis ribs and Stuffed Jalapenos".
I guess everything there must be REALLY fresh, if they can be out of one of their two pork rib options and it's only 6:15 on a quiet Thursday night.
I was planning on having the Baby Backs, wife had the half chicken (again, but this time by choice), and the service was very good, the food was as good as we hoped, and we'll come back again.
It still isn't hitting on all cylinders, and next time I might call first to see what they are out of, but they are still in the rotation.
Tried take-out last week. Had the baby back ribs, pulled pork, brisket, texas beans, mac & cheese and cornbread. Service was not good. Waitress was disorganized. No bother though, downed a Dale's Pale Ale while waiting (tap selection is good). Baby back ribs were dry, not too smoky and slathered in the sweet sauce (I asked for sauce on the side). Not terrible, but probably won't be trying them again. Pulled pork was excellent. I'm no N. Carolina purist, which was good, because they seem to have been pulled in the sweet sauce. Texas beans were awesome. Brisket was a bit dry and also slathered in sweet sauce. Meh. Cornbread was sweet and moist, which I like, but it reminded me a lot of the Trader Joe's mix (which I happen to be find of). I highly doubt they are mixing their bread from scratch. Overall not a terrible experience. I'll definitely go back, if for no other reason than the Dale's on tap, pulled pork and beans.
1427 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02476
Falling off the bone is a good thing because it means the meat is cooked long enough to be tender. (Blackstrap repeatedly fails that test.) Being "terribly" fatty also helps with that, and the fat helps capture the smoky flavor.
I continue to be boggled at what passes for knowledge about barbecue in the Northeast.
Don't vex yourself too much. BBQ is a matter of personal preference and as controversial as anything in the food world, even for us uninformed New Englanders.
Many would propose that a perfectly cooked rib is tender and moist but retains some integrity and does not fall off the bone. The meat should pull away from the bone right where you bite at it. Fall off the bone ribs are often in fact overlooked. This is most likely true in whatever bbq arena you are drawing your 'expertise' from.
"Falling off the bone is a good thing because it means the meat is cooked long enough to be tender."
"I continue to be boggled at what passes for knowledge about barbecue in the Northeast."
I don't believe that we in the Northeast are ignorant about BBQ. Just 2 weeks ago, I stood in line from about 10:30 AM for about 1 1/2 hours at Franklin BBQ in Austin to sample what many have proclaimed as the best BBQ brisket in the world as well as their pork ribs. At least now I have a baseline for what the "world's best brisket" should taste like. And not to brag but I cooked my 1st brisket on my Big Green Egg this past weekend and this Northeasterner did a very credible job if I must say so myself!
With ribs there tends to be a bit of controversy as to whether or not the meat should or shouldn't "fall off the bone" however, it would appear that most (not all apparently) bbq aficionados feel that the meat should not fall off the bone. It would also appear that the Kansas City Barbecue Society also frowns upon meat that falls off the bone based upon their instructions for their annual rib competition. See below for various opinions.
"How to BBQ Ribs so they are falling off the bone tender"
The secret of how to barbecue ribs until they are falling of the bone tender is foil. Cook the ribs until they have a nice crust. Wrap in foil with a little apple juice and cook to 200f internal temp. They will be cooked and falling apart tender. If you want to sauce your ribs roll back the foil but leave it under the rack for support, sauce and put back with indirect heat for 15 minutes."
"Ribs should not fall off the bone!"
Properly cooked ribs will not not not fall off the bone! The only ribs that fall off the bone are ribs that have been boiled and steamed and that process usually robs them of flavor because water is a solvent. Steamed and boiled ribs usually have a mushy texture. Properly cooked ribs will pull cleanly off the bone with your teeth, but they will still have some resilience and chew, like a properly cooked steak, but not be tough. Remember, boiling meat is the way to make flavorful soup, not flavorful meat."
"Championship Barbecue Ribs"
In KCBS and FBA competitions, the judges do not like the meat to fall off the bone. The meat must have some consistency and not be too dry or mushy. What this means is the meat must stick to the bone good enough so you can pick a bone up and eat it without the meat falling off the bone by itself. But when you bite it, the meat should easily pull clean from the bone.
If you have to gnaw on the meat to get it off the bone or some meat sticks to the bone after a bite, your barbecue ribs are probably not done enough. If ALL the meat comes off the bone when bitten, your barbecue ribs are probably overdone. If you can bite into the rib and get that "half moon" bite and then the rest of the meat comes off easily with subsequent bites, then you have probably hit the nail on the head. As you can see from the picture, that is the way our ribs were in Tryon, NC resulting in a 1st place entry.
This is from the KCBS judges instructions...
"Judging pork ribs can be very subjective. However, when judging competition ribs you
must consider a few factors. When sampling a properly cooked contest rib the area of the
meat where the bite is taken should be pulled cleanly from the bone with very little effort.
The exposed bone of a well cooked rib will often dry immediately. Ribs should be moist,
flavorful and possess good texture. They can be presented with or without sauce. Ribs
may be presented in single or multi bone presentation. Any questions should be directed
to the KCBS Contest Representative. When a rib is overcooked most or all of the meat
comes off the bone when sampled. Additionally the meat of an overcooked rib has a
tendency to be mushy and have a poor texture."
This is helpful, thanks. I've always heard that real BBQ aficionados object to "falling off the bone" but your citations help to put that in context. I like mine with just a little bit of tug, a visible smoke ring, and never never no sauce. (Unless I feel wacky and add a bit of vinegar based sauce at the end.)
To keep this Boston related, in my experience the ribs at Soul Fire tread the cooked / overcooked line very nicely. And I like that you can get a single rib there.
Funny, this Texan continues to be boggled that there are still people who think that ribs should "fall off the bone." Ribs that fall off the bone are overcooked and mushy, and true barbecue mavens shudder at the sight of them; what you want is a clean bite with a hint of resistance.
If what you like is pre-boiled ribs -- and it sounds like that's what you like -- then knock yourself out, but don't pretend that everyone agrees with you on that point.
re: Jenny Ondioline
There are, or were, plenty of barbecue joints which can cook meat until it's falling off the bone without the meat being overcooked or mushy, though that's become a lot harder as pigs have become leaner. As for whether those places boil their meat, i've never seen anything to suggest that it is. In my experience, meat cooked long enough and low enough does become that tender without any boiling.
To each his own.
The entire hardcore BBQ community would disagree with your statement pretty much categorically. I have quite a few friends who are high practitioners in the sacred church of low and slow pork cookery.
This has nothing to do with fatty or lean pigs, heritage breeds or Smithfield commodity product. In fact even with the leaning of American hogs, ribs are still pretty fatty regardless, before they are cooked.
My South Carolinian neighbor prepared (3.5 hours in the smoker) proper ribs for me last weekend, and the meat was not falling off the bone. It was however flawlessly excellent BBQ.
Having spent 6 years of my life traveling in the deep south and gorging on cue whenever possible, I assure you that properly prepared barbecue does not fall off the bone.
Sorry. I must really disagree - were we at the same restaurant? We got take out last night and ordered pulled pork sandwich, texas ribs, and baby back ribs. Sadly I must say this was one of the most disappointing I've have had as of late.
Pulled pork was bland.
Both sets of ribs were completely dried out -like pork and beef jerkey and completely burnt. Char can be good, if the meat is still juicy - this was not the case
In terms of service, I stood around for a good 5 minutes before someone bothered to acknowledge me and tell me the order was ready.
I'm not a big bbq snob, and I'm not expecting NC 'cue but this was just awful. I'm a big fan of the Needham dining scene (amongst the best you can do in the burbs for variety, quality, and pseudo urban walkability) so I'm really rooting for this place to improve.
I'm going to go back in 2 months and see if they've shaken out the problems.
I've got to agree with sak on this one. I ate there last night.
- Server was nice enough but terrible. Knew less than nothing about the beers on tap (when I say that, I mean that she gave out incorrect information instead of saying “I don’t know” and finding the right answer), didn’t bring cornbread and then made up a story about why she didn’t (they were out, but then made some more, but the piece I got was below room temperature, so unless they found a new method of baking…)
-Food was not good at all. They were out of many of their bbq items (“We’ve been really busy since we opened”) which seemed odd since they could surely order more food if they had run out earlier in the week. Since I didn’t want chicken or sausage, I had two different kinds of ribs, baby back and St. Louis, both unsauced since they had sauces on the table. The meat came out grey, room temperature, with the baby backs very dry and bland and the St. Louis slightly less dry but equally bland. No discernable rub, no smoke, it seemed like they had been grilled and then left in a pan for a few hours. The texas bbq sauce was pretty bland, the Memphis sauce had a nice sweetness/smoke flavor to it, but no heat (as advertised). My wife had the pulled pork which tasted as if prepared similarly. I had a very bland cole slaw and some ok texas-style beans as my sides. My wife had sweet potato fries, which were very good. I swear the cornbread was made from a jiffy mix box, only because I actually really like their cornbread and blueberry muffins (a childhood thing I think). So I enjoyed it, even though cold and somewhat soggy as a result (think airplane food).
Overall, not a good experience. I’ll probably be back; they had quite a few fish dishes, so maybe that’s the way to go. I’d definitely be back if they got NFL Sunday Ticket; many flat screens and a decent tap list (once you figure out what is on there). But I’d avoid the bbq.
Oh, God...this is not a good development. The other great thing about this place is the price - two meats for $13.99 - I'm pretty sure Redbones and Firefly's are in the upper teens for the double-barreled meat experience.
I had Blackstrap brisket recently, and was not that impressed, BTW - way too slathered in sauce, and not a lot of smoke. Granted, it was takeout that someone trucked in to Needham. Still have to get to BT's though...
55 Chester St, Somerville, MA 02144
Considering how good the ribs often are at Black Strap, it blows my mind that the brisket is so consistently 'meh' at best. I still haven't had brisket in the area that is as good as Lester's. (Though I had some at East Coast Grill once not too long ago that was pretty close).